The Good Friday Relay
If you have ever watched a relay race you know it is about one runner passing the baton to the next. Success is based on the accuracy and speed of the many handoffs.
We are finishing our journey in Lent. We are approaching the Cross where Jesus died, the end of His earthly race. I want to suggest there are several handoffs of the Cross in His story.
A year ago January I was in Jerusalem and preached the story of Simon of Cyrene. We stopped on the Via Delarosa, the Way of Suffering, where Jesus carried the Cross through the crowded, dirty and narrow streets. He had been beaten and tortured the night before; mocked, spit on, ridiculed. Then there was the trial before both Pilate and Herod. Mark records it like this:
Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate. "Are you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate. "You have said so," Jesus replied. The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, "Aren't you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of." But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed. Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. "Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate, knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead. "What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?" Pilate asked them. "Crucify him!" they shouted. "Why? What crime has he committed?" asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, "Crucify him!" Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified (Mark 15:1-5).
Barabbas is the one starting the race carrying the baton called the Cross. Because of Pilate’s inability to stand up to the crowds, not wanting a riot, not wanting his superiors to see him as weak, releases Barabbas. Barabbas, a man guilty of murder and insurrection, who deserves to carry the Cross to the finish line of death, is pardoned and passes the Cross to Jesus. Jesus is sentenced to death on the Cross.
Barabbas name means ‘son of the father.’ A son of the father is released because Jesus was now carrying the baton called the Cross. Do we know Barabbas represents us? We are the guilty ones and deserve death. But the Son of God carries the Cross for us, sons of the Father.
Jesus is now carrying the Cross, weak, tired, bleeding. He stumbles - about the place where I was preaching that day. There is a man named Simon from a country called Cyrene who has come to celebrate Passover with his two sons named Alexander and Rufus. When Jesus stumbles a Roman guard compels Simon to now carry the Cross for Jesus. Jesus has passed the Cross to Simon. Simon also represents us. Jesus said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24).
Simon of Cyrene carries the Cross to Golgotha, the place of the skull. Here he hands the Cross back to Jesus. The Savior is now nailed the Cross and lifted high for all to watch Him die. We don’t know for sure, but I think Barabbas was there; watching this man die for him. I know Simon, Alexander and Rufus were there as well.
When it was over and Resurrection day came, the Spirit of God passed the baton of the Cross back to Rufus. His name is only listed twice in the Bible. Once at Jesus’ crucifixion and again in Romans 16:13: here Paul writes: Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.
Could it be this Rufus is the same Rufus at the Cross? Could it be Rufus went all the way back home, to Cyrene, which is now Libya in northern Africa, and told this story to many, including his mother of how his dad carried the Cross for Jesus? Could it be that Rufus’ mother somehow met the Apostle Paul on one of his missionary journey’s and witnessed to him the account of Jesus’ crucifixion? Could it be Paul got his theology of the Cross from a mother who cared enough to pass the baton to him? Paul wrote, May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14).
As followers of Jesus we are in this great relay race of life. We have been handed the Cross to carry. And we are called to pass it on – not so to escape its pain and suffering but to share it with our children as mothers and fathers. To share it with neighbors, friends, and co-workers so they will run this race with us, carrying the Cross.
May many see us this season carrying the Cross, may many others receive the Cross as we pass it on to them. Jesus said, “When I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 13:32).