Some of you know that I did a long fiction-nonfiction writing project, a few years back, to try to bring the Book of Acts into a more first-hand focus. Below is a little bit of it. First, you'll see the passage where some of the disciples from Cyprus and Cyrene decided to go ahead and start preaching to the Gentiles in Antioch, not just the Jews. Then, from there, you'll see my imaginative write-up of, perhaps, what it was like when one of those men suddenly decided that it was time to do so. I tried to bring into focus the potential presence of Simon of Cyrene (who carried the Cross with/for Jesus) among them. Hope it stirs your heart for this Monday!
Now those who had been dispersed by the persecution which arose over Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, giving the message as they went to Jews only. However, among their number were natives of Cyprus and Cyrene, and these men, on their arrival at Antioch, proclaimed their message to the Greeks as well, telling them the good news of the Lord Jesus… (Acts 11:19,20)
A Man of Cyrene on the Road to Antioch
My blood is quickened within and I walk this road and I think on the ways of the Holy Spirit, and, my brothers, I am tempted to throw all constraint on the winds which blow up from the Sea, and past us. Feel them blowing by us, west to east. Smell that scent of adventure that first carried us from the coasts of Africa to there, on Shavuot, and think of all that has happened unto us since! What is man to stand before the whims of our Jesus! Who were we to think this thing could be contained within the Hebrew race! My brothers, as we approach upon Antioch, I’m of a mind to say goodbye to the past; to walk right into the courtyards and marketplaces and, yes, synagogues; to proclaim the name Jesus to any man, woman or child who’s made of flesh and blood like me; to say that it is only in the name of Jesus that anyone finds rest for their souls and a place of heavenly peace for their minds…
Peter has broken the mold – let’s shatter it now, brothers! Let us enter the town with the roving gaze of Jesus and see all mankind as the quarry, the prey, of the whispering will of the Holy Spirit! Let us conquer the hearts of man and woman, Jew or Gentile; have no fear that wrongdoing comes on the voice of the Spirit that gave Jesus life from the dead!
I see the fear in your eyes, Simon, my brother of Cyrene. What for? Did not you yourself once fall under the gaze of the darkhearted Gentiles and are you not the very man whose shoulders quaked under the cross with our Savior, our Jesus? Brother! Have we not come too far to ever turn back now? Sometimes I place myself within your flesh and mind, using of my imagination to imagine that day, and here’s what I come to – tell me if any of this reprises anything like any of your memories…
I am standing, that day, along the road watching him pass. The smell of the crowd is thick and pungent with sweat and rage. Suddenly, all eyes turn from him to me – to you, I mean! – and I’m thrust from within my hiding into the hot sun of the Jerusalem day. I feel naked under the gaze of the people, the soldier who calls, and, most of all, him – Jesus, the sufferer under the weight of the cross. I slip under the right side of the horizontal crossbeam – Jesus slides over – his fleshless shoulders shearing against the grain – and he turns his eyes to meet my eyes.
That moment, Simon, what was it like? What came upon your mind? Did you not know that this was the Christ, our Savior, our God?
Together, as yokefellows walking, we trudge up the hill with crowds a-lining both sides of the twisting path and I talk to him of my sin, of their sin, of the whole world’s sin – past, present and for all the futures to come. He listens, walking, and I know he hears. When we finally arrive at the top of Skull Hill, I am shoved aside by that same soldier who first called me, and I disappear from the center of the moment I’d shared with Jesus. I look back down the hill and relive each and every step with him. Coming up and up the path we just trod together, Jesus and I, I see the thick drag-mark of the upright of the cross which has furrowed the dirty of the trail so deeply. His side, the right side of that furrow, is a way marked thick with blood. My side, the left side of that furrow, is clean and spotless…
Brother Simon, look ahead! Look at the town of Antioch! This town is filled with men, women and children who know nothing of the Kingdom of Heaven; who are lost as we once ourselves were; and who hunger and thirst for the taste of life – the taste of that blood – the taste of Jesus of Nazareth! Shall we not go and set them free with the Way you once trod with Him? What have we to fear when you’ve seen him dead and then risen again!
All you, fellow Wayfarers, listen unto me! Where’er and from whence you hail, I renounce all ties to the age-old past! I will descend to this city and preach to Jew and Greek alike!
Who follows? Who walks the way I walk?
I know the One who leads it!
“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’” (Mt. 9:35-38)
The pivot in this section between Jesus’ own doings and His famous words on the plentiful harvest is the “compassion” He feels when He sees the shepherdless crowds.
compassion (noun) : sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it
I think the Church of our day too often meditates upon Jesus having compassion on us because we’re “harassed and helpless,” wearied and cast-off; but remember, that’s the look of sheep “without a shepherd.” That’s no longer us; that’s over now! We stand now shoulder-to-shoulder with the Good Shepherd: our new life’s work is meant to be the “sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” And how is their distress to be alleviated? He just told us: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Friends, we must either be reaping today or praying for reapers. The harvest is plentiful; it’s the harvesting that isn’t. In any given week, we spend far more time thinking of our own harassed helplessness when, because we already have a Good Shepherd, we’re supposed to be knee-deep next to Him in the work. Along very similar lines, my favorite of the Stoic philosophers, Epictetus, had this to say in his day:
‘From now on, then, resolve to live as a grown-up who is making progress… And whenever you encounter anything that is difficult or pleasurable or highly or lowly regarded, remember that the contest is now, you are at the Olympic games, you cannot wait any longer, and that your progress is wrecked or preserved by a single day or a single event. This is how Socrates fulfilled himself by attending to nothing except reason in everything he encountered. And you, although you are not yet Socrates, should live as someone who at least wants to be Socrates.’
My friends, although we are not yet totally like Jesus, we should be living as men and women who at least want to be totally like Jesus. “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Let's do it!
"Your pride in your church is lamentably out of place. Don’t you know how a little yeast can permeate the whole lump? Clear out every bit of the old yeast that you may be new unleavened bread! We Christians have had a Passover lamb sacrificed for us—none other than Christ himself! So let us 'keep the feast' with no trace of the yeast of the old life, nor the yeast of vice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of unadulterated truth!" 1 Corinthians 5:6-8
So, literally and figuratively, Jesus brings to the table, to the "feast," Himself: the perfect Passover Lamb. And what does Paul say that we're invited to bring? The unleavened bread. That combination of salt, water and flour.
The "salt" that is the Good News, the Gospel, the Reality of who Jesus was and is, and all that's He's done and is doing.
The "water" that is His Holy Spirit, the Spring of Life that wells up within us, the inward experience of His very life.
And the "flour," our personal personalities, refined and made ready for His purposes: consecrated for new, beautiful things.
Friends, there is NO NEED for the "yeast of the old life," here: we are a New Ingredient of a New Life in a New Covenant.
All things have been made New on this Monday!
"We are writing to you about something which has always existed yet which we ourselves actually saw and heard: something which we had an opportunity to observe closely and even to hold in our hands, and yet, as we know now, was something of the very Word of life himself! For it was life which appeared before us: we saw it, we are eye-witnesses of it, and are now writing to you about it. It was the very life of all ages, the life that has always existed with the Father, which actually became visible in person to us mortal men. We repeat, we really saw and heard what we are now writing to you about. We want you to be with us in this—in this fellowship with the Father, and Jesus Christ his Son. We must write and tell you about it, because the more that fellowship extends the greater the joy it brings to us who are already in it." 1 John 1:1-4
I've probably taught through this section 15 or 20 times, and I don't think it has ever ceased to thrill me as much as it did the very first time I read it in this, the Phillips translation. It's this wonderful combination of "high" and "low" Christologies: knowing Him as He is as the glorious King of Heaven while fully remembering Him as He was, as a Man, as that bearded Teacher-Carpenter out of Nazareth in Galilee: He is "something which has always existed"; He is "the very Word of life himself"; He is "life"; He is "the very life of all ages"... and yet "we ourselves actually saw and heard" Him; we "observed [Him] closely"; we touched Him; He "became visible in person to us mortal men."
Friends, there is nothing more glorious in all John's writings than the idea that his Best Friend - a Man whose scent he can still remember, a Man whose extra cloak he's perhaps kept with him all these years - is Himself the Meaning, the Definition and the Purpose of all life under the sun.
This is GLORY. This is the glory that's YOURS. This is the glory that's yours TODAY.