Weep More for Yourselves than for Jesus – Luke 23:26-31

By: Northern Seminary

Here is a question. Was it good or bad to be Simon from Cyrene who carried Jesus’ cross up the hill to Calvary? Was he blessed or cursed, privileged or punished, glad or sad?

My mind tends to the downsides:

  • No one wanted to be shoved around, given orders, or in any way fall into the hands of Roman soldiers. And especially not when they were carrying out executions. You wouldn’t want to be noticed, so I suspect Simon wished he could have stayed clear of these tough, merciless soldiers.
  • The task he was given would have exhausted him. Simon would have been made to carry only the crossbeam, but that would still have been a substantial piece of wood and very heavy. Getting that on your shoulder and heaving it up the hill was no small matter.
  • Simon must have had other things to do. Maybe he was on his way to the temple, or to the market, or to visit friends in the city. Whatever, his day was not empty, but now his whole agenda was changed and he was being made to help Roman soldiers take a Jewish brother to experience crucifixion, the worst form of execution ever devised.

Simon was not having a good day.

Yet:

  • He was helping relieve the pain and agony of a man about to die.
  • This man was being followed by a large crowd, and many of them were his supporters, and they would be grateful for Simon aiding this Jesus.
  • One day, maybe this Simon came to really know who this Jesus was, and then realized he’d been given the great privilege of helping the Savior on his way to die.

Perhaps Simon’s bad Friday came to be also his Good Friday.

Luke 23:26-31
26 As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’30
Then “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”
and to the hills, “Cover us!”’
31 For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

These verses begin to show the price Jesus paid to die for us, and they have a warning of the price which was to be paid by those who watched Jesus walk to Calvary that day.

  1. Jesus was already suffering so much he needed another’s help.

It was normal that a condemned man would carry his cross to the site of his execution. But the whole cross might weigh three hundred pounds, an impossible weight for one person to carry, so the custom was for just the crossbeam to be carried.

But that alone might weigh one hundred pounds. That’s the equivalent of two fully laden suitcases, a heavy lift for the fittest of people. For many, carrying even that crossbeam could also be impossible, so Roman soldiers were allowed to compel anyone they chose to take over and carry the center piece of the cross to the place of execution.

What made that intervention doubly necessary for Jesus, and for others about to be crucified, was the scourging which preceded the walk to their death site.

Scourging was required by law as part of the punishment. The flogging was intended to do two things. One was to inflict severe pain, and the other was to deliberately weaken the victim by trauma and loss of blood so he wouldn’t take long to die on the cross.

So Jesus was brutally scourged. His hands were tied to a post. Whips designed to rip into flesh were brought out. The whips had leather thongs into which small metal balls or sharp edges of sheep bones had been tied. As his back, buttocks and thighs were whipped, layer after layer of flesh was torn off right down to the skeletal muscles. Many victims of scourging died tied to the post.

The movie Passion of the Christ[1] depicted the scourging of Jesus in graphic detail. It was very brutal, and no one accused the movie makers of exaggerating. But many found the savagery too horrific to watch. So one year after launch, an edited version was released from which five minutes of the most explicit violence had been removed.

But no five minutes were missing from the violence and suffering of Jesus when he was scourged. He was left weak, hardly able to stand and walk, and certainly not able to carry any part of his cross up the hill of Calvary.

The fact that Simon was needed to carry the cross for Jesus is evidence of how much Jesus suffered even before the cross.

  1. Jesus showed compassion even while he walked the road to his death.

As Jesus put painful foot in front of painful foot along that road he knew what lay just ahead. Up that hill, the beam carried behind him by Simon would be joined to the larger vertical beam. He would be nailed hands and feet to the wood. It would be raised up vertically and dropped into a hole in the ground. There he would suffer unimaginable agony and he would die.

As his slow footsteps went along that road, Jesus knew each one took him to his death. If ever there was a moment for someone to be preoccupied with their own needs, to be concerned only with their own welfare, this was the time. Anyone facing crucifixion was focused only on themselves, no one else.

Except Jesus.

In verses 27 and 28 Luke writes:

“A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.’”

Through the whole of history, executions have drawn an audience. A ghoulish curiosity brings people to see suffering and death.

But that was not the motivation for most who followed Jesus to Calvary that day. These were people who had heard from God through his teaching or who had been healed or delivered by his touch. The women in the crowd let their feelings show with deep wailing for the death that lay ahead for Jesus.

Then Jesus turned to them and said:

“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.”

Why Jesus said that we’ll get to in a moment, but first we should not miss the remarkable fact that he spoke to them at all, and that he showed concern and compassion for them. Jesus was more concerned for what lay ahead for them than what lay ahead for him. Jesus models a level of care for others – for loving his neighbor – far beyond anything most of us know or do.

On the day of writing this I was driving towards lights, and when I was about eighty yards away they changed to red. I began to slow, and about twenty yards from stopping I glanced in the rear view mirror. Only one vehicle was behind me, a small pick-up truck and I noticed his right flasher was on. He wanted to turn at the junction.[2] Quick as I could, I pulled over into the outer lane and stopped at the line. Up came the truck, paused at the red light, and as he began to move off to the right the driver looked over at me, gave me a double thumbs up sign and mouthed a loud ‘thank you,’ and then made his turn. I appreciated his thanks, and I smiled back.

Yet, as I still waited for the lights to turn green, I reflected that all I’d done was get out of his way so he didn’t have to wait for the lights to change. I’d seen which way he wanted to go and I’d switched lanes. It was no big deal. It cost me nothing. But the other driver was very appreciative.

I don’t want to make much about so little, but what intrigued me was that so little meant so much. The pick-up driver clearly thought what I did was unusual, almost an exceptional kindness. How sad when something so small seems so big in comparison to the norm, a norm that gives little or no thought to others.

Jesus was about to give his life in dreadful agony on a cross he did not deserve. On his way, he stopped to show compassion to the women of Jerusalem, concerned for the suffering that would lie ahead for them. It is a model of supreme care for others.

  1. Jesus told the onlookers to weep more for themselves than for him.

Verses 29-31 are a prophecy of a time ahead for the women of Jerusalem. One part of the prophecy is very clear in its meaning and another part has the opaqueness of a riddle.

First, clearly Jesus imagined a time ahead of appalling horror and suffering for the people of Jerusalem. To the women of that city, Jesus said:

“For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then
“‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”
and to the hills, “Cover us!”’ (vs. 29-30)

Most of the women along the road that day were mothers. Jesus spoke of a day so dreadful, when the women without children would be more ‘blessed’ than those with children. Childlessness was usually seen as something to regret, something of which to be ashamed.[3] But his meaning is that the women who have no children to be slaughtered will be more blessed than those who have to watch their children die.

Why speak of this at all? What Jesus sees in the future is the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, and that happened in AD 70. After a long siege, the Roman armies overcame the defenses of the city and razed most of it to the ground. With great brutality they killed almost every man, woman, and child. The Jewish-Roman historian Josephus estimated that over a million people died, the majority of whom were Jewish. No one was spared, and some reported that the Roman legions had to climb over heaps of dead bodies to continue their work of killing everyone in the city.

Using words from the Book of Hosea[4], Jesus pictures people crying out for the mountains to fall on them and bring an instant end to their suffering. Jesus saw clearly that coming catastrophe for Jerusalem and the Jewish nation.

What is less clear is the riddle-like words of Jesus that follow:

“For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (v. 31)

Freshly cut wood doesn’t burn easily. Often there is a green tinge to the lumber because it’s still damp, and it’s hard to set it alight. But when the wood has been dried over time, it burns easily and quickly.

Most likely, Jesus is saying this to the mothers of Jerusalem: “You know I am innocent. I have done no wrong. Yet see how quickly I am hacked down, condemned, and taken off to die. If that is done to me, it will happen so much more readily and dreadfully when Jerusalem, led by zealots and rebels, has stoked up Rome’s anger over time and doomed the city to destruction.”

Or Jesus could be warning that if God has allowed his innocent Son to be led away to death, imagine the appalling horror that lies ahead when people hardened in their sin and rebellion against God face his wrath.

Whichever is true – that these words refer to the dreadful judgment that lies ahead for Jerusalem or the even more appalling judgment to be faced by those who oppose God – there is a warning that refusal to change will lead to a frightening end, one which no one should ever choose to experience.

Across much of my homeland of Scotland are mountains covered in trees, towering above rivers and lochs.[5] It is very beautiful. People visit from all over the world, but Scots get out too and admire the awesome scenery. I have memories of many picnics gazing at the hills and glens while eating our way through piles of sandwiches.

But at every stopping place I also remember the warning notices about the dangers of fire, especially in summer. Contrary to popular myth, it doesn’t rain in Scotland all the time. In the town where I grew up, it rained less than five days a month in the summer. Sometimes there were weeks with virtually no rain. All vegetation became very dry, and up in the hills there was a serious danger of forest fires. So anywhere someone might stop, there were large notices prohibiting all camp fires, and urging people never to leave bottles which, with the sun’s rays, could ignite grass and then trees. There were stacks of giant brushes (like oversized yard brooms) so people could beat out a fire if one did break out.

There was a lot of danger. When the dry trees of the forest went on fire, it would spread across those hills far faster than anyone could run. To be in the path of fire racing through dry wood was certainly to die.

Jesus had already been scourged and left so weak and near death he could not carry his own cross. Now he is being led away to crucifixion. He pauses to show compassion to the women who are already mourning for the death he will die on Calvary, but he warns them that something even more dreadful than what is happening to him lies ahead for them.

Jesus would speak the same message of warning to all those who have not found peace with God, that what lies ahead for them is dreadful and is certain unless they seek God now.

 

[1] 2004, directed by Mel Gibson with Jim Caviezel playing the part of Jesus. To date it is the highest grossing R-rated film in United States history.

[2] For my friends who live in countries where they drive on the left, it’s helpful to remember people drive on the right in the USA and to know that most states allow a ‘right turn on red’ after stopping and checking that the way is clear.

[3] For example, how Elizabeth saw herself before her unexpected pregnancy, Luke 1:25.

[4] Hos. 10:8.

[5] Lochs are lakes, but don’t call them lakes when you visit Scotland!

March 3, 2015




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