Friday, November 13, 2015

Who was Simon of Cyrene?

The gospels' focus during Jesus's crucifixion is rightly on our Savior Jesus Christ. His suffering for our sins as foretold by Old Testament prophets is told in frank terms in every gospel. It is a sobering story which we would do well to think about often. Jesus died in our place. However, during the inspired record of his suffering and death, each of the gospels includes the names of others who were also there: Peter, Pilate's wife, Barabbas, the thief on the cross, John, Jesus's mother Mary, his aunt, Mary of Clopas, Mary Magdalene, the mothers of James and John, and Joseph of Arimathea to name a few. Each of these people is mentioned in the gospels for a reason. They were eye-witnesses of what happened and were affected by what they experienced.

But there is one whom I have not yet mentioned. His name is recorded in each of the Synoptic gospels (Matt. 27:32; Mark. 15:21; Luke 23:26). As Jesus was being led up to Calvary to pay the price for our sins, a Roman soldier "pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross" (Mark 15:21). When Jesus was physically unable to carry the cross anymore, Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry it up to the place of crucifixion. But who was he and why was he forced to do this?

Who was Simon of Cyrene?

People of that day were often referred to by their city or country of residence. Note that they referred to the Lord as Jesus of Nazareth. Simon was from Cyrene in northern Africa.

"Cyrene was situated in modern-day Libya, on the northern coast of the African continent. Settled by the Greeks in 630 B.C. and later infused with a significant Jewish population, Cyrene was the capital of the Roman district of Cyrenaica at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. By then, Cyrene was home to a large number of Greek-speaking, or Hellenistic, Jews."1

While some believe that Simon was a black man because he was from northern Africa, it seems more probable that he was a Jew who had "come to Jerusalem to attend one of the great festivals (in this case Passover), as was the custom of many Jews, including those from Cyrene (Act 2:10)."2 Many loyal Jewish believers who lived in other countries would make this trek to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover each year. This is evidenced by the large number of Jews from foreign countries who were still around at Pentecost to hear Peter's speech (Acts 2).

Why was Simon forced to carry the cross?

Simon was seemingly in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was a mere passerby who was heading for the city when he was called upon to help Jesus carry the cross. Simon was there when Jesus needed him.

Jesus, too, carried his own cross (John 19:16, 17), but not for long. Sheer physical exhaustion made it impossible for him to carry it very far. Consider what he had already endured within the last fifteen hours: the tense atmosphere of the Upper Room, the betrayal by Judas, the agonies of Gethsemane, the desertion by his disciples, the torture of a totally hypocritical trial before the Sanhedrin, the mockery in the palace of Caiaphas, the denial by his most prominent disciple, the trial before an unjust judge, the terrible ordeal of being scourged, the pronunciation of the death sentence upon him, and the seven-itemed abuse by the soldiers in the praetorium! Humanly speaking, is it not a wonder that he was able to carry the cross any distance at all?2

Simon was exactly where he needed to be at the right time. At the time when Jesus needed him the most, Simon was walking by. Isn't it amazing how things like this work out? In the midst of Jesus's suffering on our behalf, he allowed Simon (someone with no connection to Jesus) to minister to him. What seemed like an imposition became an experience that would change the life of Simon forever.

I say this because it would appear that this "chance" meeting with Jesus made a permanent impact on his and his family's life. Mark describes Simon as the father of Alexander and Rufus expecting his readers to know who they were. "The identification, not necessary for the story, implies that his sons had become persons of some distinction in the church."3

While it is difficult to make hard and fast statements about Simon's conversion, is it a stretch to assume that his meeting with the Lord Jesus led to the conversion of him and his family members? Probably not. Not only were his sons known by Mark's readers but a "Rufus" and his mother were mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:13. There he ends his letter by saying, "Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine." This man, Rufus, was probably Simon's son who, by that time, become a spiritual leader. Paul also refers to his mother in endearing terms as she had probably ministered to him at some point. It is also interesting to read how men from Cyrene later preached the gospel to the Greeks in Antioch (Acts 11:20). Perhaps Simon and his sons were a part of this missionary endeavor.

While there are only a few mentions of Simon and his family in the Scriptures, there is no doubt in my mind that meeting Jesus on that day made an impact on his life. The meeting which was forced upon him by the Roman soldiers was unexpected, but it caused him to consider what was happening and who Jesus was. I am glad for his sake that God worked out this providential meeting and am encouraged that the God who arranged that meeting can do the same for many others in the future. That in itself should encourage us to keep speaking the gospel to those we meet as "chance" meetings are often ordained by God for good.

1"Who was Simon of Cyrene?" as viewed at on 11/13/2015.

2 Hendriksen, William, Mark, (Grand Rapids: Naker, 1975), 648.

3Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, (Greenville: Bob Jones University Press, 1994), 450.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Greatest Tragedy of Modern Ecumenism

Peter's warnings in the second chapter of 2 Peter are a potent reminder that false teachers will come from within the Church and turn many away from holy living and pure doctrine. While the warnings are not particularly enjoyable to read, they do serve as necessary warnings against what has happened in the past and will happen in the future. The Old Testament believers and the early Church faced false teachers. Our current generation is also being influenced by false teachers. Because of this, we do well to heed Peter's warnings and to speak out against false doctrine and those who propagate it.

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.1

This morning, I came across this commentary on 2 Peter 2:1-3 by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones which was originally published between 1948 and 1950. He was a Welsh pastor known for his understanding of the Scriptures and his opposition to liberal Christianity. When Lloyd-Jones wrote his commentary on 2 Peter, some were calling for unity without purity of doctrine. With the warnings of 2 Peter 2 in mind, he wrote these warnings about ecumenism.

The whole emphasis at the moment is that we should all be getting together and forming great organizations. The concern is not so much as to the truth of the message, but to gather ourselves together into one great community. The tendency today is to minimize truth in favor of organization, and men are telling us with unwearied reiteration that the greatest tragedy of the world is the disunited church. But the tragedy, the greatest tragedy, as I understand the New Testament, is not the disunity of the church, is not the fact that the church is divided into groups and denominations, is not that we are not all in one organization, but that all the sections are preaching a false message and there has been a departure from the truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus. If we were all brought together and formed into one organization, that is no guarantee that the message preached would be true. There are false teachers; there were in the Old Testament and there are and always have been in the church.2

The modern ecumenical movement leads to a minimizing of doctrinal differences for the alleged greater good of the Church. Sadly, this idea leads instead to a steady decline of doctrinal purity. While we should seek unity amongst our Christian brothers when possible, unity must always proceed from pure doctrine and practice. As Peter points out in his second epistle, there is too much at stake. So, take heed to his warning and guard yourself against the false teaching that has pulled so many people down. Remember what God has done for you (2 Pet. 1:1-4), diligently add godly character to your faith (2 Pet. 1:5-11), and follow the divinely inspired Scriptures (2 Pet. 1:12-21) as you seek to guard yourself from anything that would pull you away from the Lord.

1Scripture quotation of 2 Peter 2:1-3 was taken from the NASB.

2D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, 2 Peter, (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1983), 128-29.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Ohio Issue Three: A Christian's Perspective

Ohio is poised to vote on an important state constitutional amendment that among other things would legalize marijuana for individuals and setup a monopoly for a single company to produce the drug in ten Ohio counties. You can read the proposed amendment here:,_Issue_3_(2015)#cite_ref-48

It will come as no surprise to you that I am opposed to the amendment. As a Christian, I seek to be controlled by God’s Holy Spirit instead of intoxicating substances like marijuana. However, curiosity about the subject led me to a recent forum facilitated by the Ashtabula County Conservative Club on October 27, 2015. During the forum, approximately ten individuals gave credible reasons for their united opposition to Issue 3. I found their opinions to be helpful in confirming my opinion of the issue.

But there are a large number of people who are in favor of the constitutional amendment. They believe that making marijuana illegal is the cause of many crimes. They also say that marijuana isn’t any worse than alcohol. Still others think that legalizing marijuana in Ohio will create jobs and increase revenues. While some of these arguments may have some merit, I am still convinced that marijuana is not good for Ohio. Here are a few of my thoughts about the subject.

1. Is marijuana really a problem?

a. Not according to one user.

“The effects of pot generally make people more reserved, calm, quiet and less likely to take risks which is the opposite effect that alcohol has. If I were to take 3 hits of weed I would be just a little buzzed like 3 beers would maybe have you a little buzzed. However booze is much harder to control because it weakens your judgment causing people like me to push way beyond what’s responsible. I've seen many people ruin their lives with booze and I've done my share of really dumb things drunk also. Not to mention all the people who I've seen die from alcohol related diseases. People can function well on weed because it has nowhere near the intensity of alcohol and as I've said it's not possible to reach beyond the basic state of being stoned. It only has so much of an effect.”1

And yet another former user told me the exact opposite view about marijuana. So, who is right? Let's consider what others have said about the effect of marijuana on people.

b. It is a federal problem.

“The Food and Drug Administration classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, defined as the most dangerous of all drug schedules, with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse."2

c. It is bad for children.

“Imaging studies in human adolescents show that regular marijuana users display impaired neural connectivity in specific brain regions involved in a broad range of executive functions like memory, learning, and impulse control compared to non-users.”3

d. It may cause mental problems.

"Research shows a link between marijuana use and mental health problems like depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, short-term psychosis, and schizophrenia. While it’s not clear if marijuana causes these conditions, it can make them worse."4

e. It impairs users.

“Essentially, cannabinoids' effect on our brains is to keep our neurons firing, magnifying our thoughts and perception and keeping us fixed on them (until another thought takes us on a different tangent). That's why when you're high, it's really not a good time to drive, study for a test, or play sports that require coordination, like tennis or baseball.”5 It can result in "slowed reaction time (If you drive after using marijuana, your risk of being in a car accident more than doubles.)"6

f. It affects families.

One of the child care professionals in Ashtabula County, Ohio testified at the forum that marijuana has had a negative effect on the families she works with. She cited one family in particular where the father refused to give up marijuana, lived in a filthy house, and was irresponsible with his children.

I also found it interesting that Bill Denihan, CEO of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board of Cuyahoga County is opposed to Issue 3.7 His experience with addicts has probably flavored his opinion of the issue.

g. It can cause scary results.

“At high doses—and if you don't follow the 10 commandments of marijuana edible safety—marijuana can produce scary curled-up-on-the-couch-for-hours hallucinatory states.”8

h. It can cause heart attacks.

"Smoking pot can increase your heart rate by as much as two times for up to 3 hours. That’s why some people have a heart attack right after they use marijuana. It can increase bleeding, lower blood pressure, and affect your blood sugar, too."9

i. It can be addictive.

“While marijuana addiction is real, it is a rarer addiction than other (legal or illegal) substances. Statistics say that 9 percent of people (roughly one out of 10) who use marijuana become dependent on it, compared to 32 percent of tobacco users, 20 percent of cocaine users, and 15 percent of alcohol drinkers.”10

j. It is difficult to know much about an illegal substance.

"Longer-term effects may depend on how you take it, how much you take, and how often you use it. Since its use has long been illegal in the United States, large-scale studies have been difficult to manage."11

As you can see, there are various negative aspects that come with the use of marijuana. While they may vary according to the individual, its negative effects on people cannot be denied.

2. Is there a real association between marijuana and crime?

At the forum I attended, several judges and an attorney agreed that marijuana was almost always found at the scene of the crime. While clothing, cars, and toothbrushes may also have been present, the fact that marijuana is a mind-altering substance makes that connection different than the other items.

"Gil Kerlikowske, the White House director of national drug-control policy, said a study by his office showed a strong link between drug use and crime. Eighty percent of the adult males arrested for crimes in Sacramento, Calif., last year tested positive for at least one illegal drug. Marijuana was the most commonly detected drug, found in 54 percent of those arrested."

Also, the Ohio State Board of Education has voiced its opposition fueled by a recent report about the effect of legalizing marijuana in the state of Colorado.12

“Among the report's findings:

• The average number of marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 41 percent in 2013-14 compared to the three years when medical marijuana was commercialized (2009-12).

• The Denver Police Department reported twice as many DUIs involving marijuana -- from 33 in 2013 to 66 in 2014.

• Drug-related school suspensions and expulsions increased 40 percent from the 2008-09 school year to the 2013-14 school year.

• Colorado hospitals reported a 38 percent increase in the number of marijuana-related hospitalizations in 2014 compared to 2013 -- from 8,272 to 11,439. This number reflects lab tests, self-admitted marijuana use or some other form of validation by a physician but does not necessarily mean marijuana was the cause of the emergency admission or hospitalization.”13

3. Is marijuana a gateway drug?

According to, the jury is still out on this question. But they did note “THC’s ability to "prime" the brain for enhanced responses to other drugs.”14 They also noted that alcohol and nicotine also do the same thing.

“The ability to draw definitive conclusions about marijuana’s long-term impact on the human brain from past studies is often limited by the fact that study participants use multiple substances, and there is often limited data about the participants’ health or mental functioning prior to the study.”15

4. Should marijuana be legalized in Ohio?

Because of the negative effects of marijuana use both to the user, his family, and community, I do not think the drug should be legalized. The health risks for the individual are negative and especially so for children. When a parent spends too much time in an altered mindset, his level of responsibility drops accordingly leaving his or her family in a difficult situation. The community is also affected by those who choose to drive or make important decisions under the influence of the drug. For these reasons, I do not see the advantages of legalizing marijuana.

5. What should be a Christian’s response to the issue?

a. Recognize the depravity of man.

Think back to what the Bible says about the human heart. It is “more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9). And from God’s perspective, nobody is righteous, or seeks after God (Rom. 3:10-18) without regeneration. Because of this, people who are not influenced by God may make bad decisions that affect the rest of us (see Rom. 1:17-32). Realizing this will give us discernment about the issue.

b. Recognize God’s plan for human government.

In the United States we have a unique government that allows us to have an input into the way our government works. By voting, we can have an influence on what is allowed by law. Seeing that God’s design for government (Rom. 13:1-7) is the protection of law abiding citizens and the punishment of evil doers, it is wise for us to vote for a government and laws that accomplish this part of God’s plan. In my opinion, voting against Issue 3 will help to do this.

c. Recognize the ultimate solution.

We can talk for the next twenty year about possible solutions to the problem. But unless people recognize their sinfulness in God’s eyes, repent of their sin, and put their faith in Jesus, we are only putting a Band-Aid on the situation. Sinful people need to be regenerated before they will have a genuine desire to do what pleases God. Without Him, they will continue doing what is best in their own eyes. And that doesn’t always match up with what is best.

Whether Issue Three passes or not, people will continue seeking for something to satisfy their longings. Some choose marijuana to get them through difficult times or just to make their life momentarily more enjoyable. We who know Jesus know that these things don't bring complete satisfaction. Only He offers what truly satisfies. That's pretty much what Jesus told the woman at the well (see John 4). So, let's remember to take the Good News to those we meet every day whether they agree with our political views or not. Perhaps God will use even this contentious issue to draw people to himself.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Thankful for Sleep

Have you ever gone to bed with something on your mind? Perhaps you were thinking about a big decision you had to make the next day or something out of your control. The truth is that we all face those nights where sleep doesn't come easy because of that something that is on our mind.

When David wrote Psalm 3, he had a few things on his mind ... just a few. His son Absalom had killed his own brother. He later won the hearts of the people and was leading a rebellion against his father. David's own son was angry enough to kill him! Think of how troubled David must have been as he fled from Jerusalem and crossed the Jordan River. It must have been hard to sleep. And yet amidst all the danger and turmoil in his soul, David penned these words:

"I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the Lord sustains me."

David's situation was not good. He and his family were on the run. The enemy could strike at any moment. He would soon have to battle against and perhaps kill his own son. Amidst all this turmoil, David still trusted the Lord to take him through the night and took the time to thank God for a good night's sleep. Isn't that noteworthy?

How often do we notice the bad things that happen and forget to thank God for a good night's sleep? We think about what is troubling us so much that we forget to be thankful for what we receive every night. There have been things on my mind of late. I have been asking God for a specific need for quite some time. My mind constantly thinks about it throughout the day. But should that ruin my day? No, I just need to remember the little things that God has already done for me. Though my specific need has not yet been answered, I am thankful that God has given me the sleep I needed.

Trust God for your situation. But don't forget to recognize the "little" things God gives you every day. It made a difference for David's peace of mind and will for you as well.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Christian Effort -- 2 Peter 1:5

While studying 2 Peter 1:5-11, I came across this commentary on the needed Christian effort for continuing spiritual growth.

“It takes every bit of diligence and effort a Christian can muster, along with the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, to ‘escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires’ (1:4) and to bring in alongside of his faith a complement of virtue.”

Gangel, Kenneth O., “2 Peter” in Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament Edition, (USA: SP Publications, 1983), 865.

It is a good thought to consider today as it is easy to become lackadaisical. Considering all that God has already done for me (2 Peter 1:1-4), is this really too much to ask of us?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Head or Heart Knowledge? We need both.

I came across this practical application while studying 2 Peter 1:1-4.

"In our day we are rightly warned about the danger of a sterile faith, of a 'head' knowledge that never touches the heart. But we need equally to be careful of a 'heart' knowledge that never touches the head! Too many Christians know too little about their faith, we are therefore often unprepared to explain how our 'God' differs from the 'God' of Mormonism or of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Again and again the New Testament makes plain that our very salvation can depend on confessing truth about God and his revelation in his Son. The biblical writers demand a 'knowledge of God' that unites head and heart. We must be careful not to sacrifice the head in favor of the heart."

Douglas J. Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, Grand RapidsL Zondervan, 1996, 39.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Lessons from Acts 27


Orwell Bible Church meets in various pavilions during the summer for prayer meeting. This week, we met in North Bloomfield and Pastor Dan Greenfield gave us a lesson from Acts 27. You may recall the account of Paul's voyage and eventual shipwreck on the island of Malta. It was quite the experience! But what stuck with me after hearing the message was this truth: "No matter how bad the situation may seem, God’s promises are never in jeopardy." Paul prayed, fasted, tried to persuade people, and swam during his harrowing escape. But God's promises were never at risk of not being fulfilled. That's a good thought to take today as you consider the promises of God.

If you would like to read more, click here for a copy of Pastor Greenfield's notes.