"And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus." (Luke 23:26)
This was not Simon's cross. In reality, it had nothing to do with him. It did not signify any hatred for him but was an extension of the hatred for Jesus Christ. It did not have his name on it, yet he would forever be connected with its famous (or infamous, depending on one's outlook) significance. Unfortunately, we are not privy to his own estimate of that day when he was pressed into service, and called upon to carry a cross for at time, with the words, "King of the Jews" scrolled at the top.
I am reminded of the (to me) enigmatic verse in Colossians, where Paul characterizes his own perspective on the trials he was suffering for the cause of Christ: "Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church" (Col.1:24). To Paul, he was taking up where Jesus left off. Not that his own suffering matched in any way Christ's suffering, in either intensity or efficacy. No one has, or ever will, suffer the pain and agony that Jesus bore on Calvary that culminated in His very soul being dipped in hell; nor could such horrors, if they could be repeated by anyone else, ever pay the price for sin, since a perfect, sinless sacrifice was required. But, says Paul, I am willing to follow in this splendid succession of suffering for His sake and the Church.
I am inclined to think that not all our suffering falls under this category. Unless His name, His glory, or His cause is at stake, it would seem to me that it is "our cross," not His. This is not to minimize our own personal sufferings in any way. Jesus experienced these same afflictions while He was here on earth and was "tempted in all points like as we are," and is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities," says the writer of Hebrews (Heb.4:15). Our sorrows are His sorrows. But what of those times when His sorrows are our sorrows?
Those times when our Christianity truly costs us, when denying Him or disobeying Him would ease our circumstances, or when our witness for Him brings ridicule, persecution, or even pain; then, it would seem to me, we are bearing the cross "after Jesus," like Simon, and "filling up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in [our] flesh," like Paul.
I may be putting too fine a point on suffering. Perhaps all suffering can be identified with the Cross. I may have read too many biographies, or seen too many exceptional saints, whose identification with Jesus Christ has brought them untold suffering. To me, there's a difference.
Charles Spurgeon says of such saints: "When you are molested for your piety; when your religion brings the trial of cruel mockings upon you, then remember it is not your cross, it is Christ's cross; and how delightful it is to carry the cross of our Lord Jesus! You carry the cross after him. You have blessed company; your path is marked with the footprints of your Lord; the mark of his blood-red shoulder is upon the heavy burden."
Our cross, or His?