Fresh Eyes on Easter
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.
The Crown of Thorns is an image we associate with Jesus as much as the cross. As we celebrate Easter, let me challenge you to see it with fresh eyes. I want you to take the whole story of the crucifixion, flip it upside down and see it as a coronation ceremony. The true king of the world had come and everything He did and allowed to be done to Him, was deliberate and meaningful. What did Jesus do when He died on the cross? He bought our redemption with His own blood. A proper understanding of the whole story arc of the Bible is essential or we will miss precious truth. The crown of thorns is not just evidence of Roman cruelty. What are thorns? What is a crown? Why is the combination such a powerful image? What does it reveal about Jesus and His mission? So let us go back to beginning.
God the Gardener
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. With these words the Bible begins. We see the story of creation laid out with God at the center and His creative work springing up at His words. All He created was good and beautiful.
Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil---
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
God is a gardener. After He called forth all the raw materials of the world, then he fashioned it into a home His people. Our first home was a garden, satisfying to our soul, “pleasant to the sight” and satisfying to our bodies “good for food.” How many of you like to garden? What draws you to grow things? How easy is it? Does a garden just take care of itself? No you have to tend it! The words here “work” and “keep”, mean to serve and protect.
Did the people protect? No, they failed to protect the garden from evil and even succumbed to it’s lure. Did the people serve? No, they served only their self-interest, seeking to elevate themselves to be like God. As a result they come under the weight of the curse of sin. It radiates out from them, touching everything in the world, even the very ground they stand on.
And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
Did you see this? Thorns are evidence of the curse of sin. The hearts of these first humans were turned away from the humility of being made from the ground. They sought to be exalted in knowledge like God’s. The very material we are made out of, the earth, is now at war against us. We cannot live without the produce of the earth, but we cannot get it without a struggle. Neglected ground will become a wilderness. Into the physical and spiritual wilderness our first father and mother were sent, with thorns as an ever present reminder of the pain of sin. We all wander in a thorny wilderness of our our sin. Pricked and pained, we are hedged in all around.
What is a crown? A ruler will wear a crown to display their power and authority over those they rule. Made from the best and richest materials, it is a visual reminder that the ruler owns and controls these materials. The winner of a race might receive a crown of laurel leaves. He has conquered and is set apart from the other runners by his crown.
From a neglected corner of a courtyard, a pagan soldier grasps and uproots a branch of thorns, thick with sin’s curse. His heart is hard, even as his hand is pricked. With only intent to torture, he twists it into a circlet and presses in down on the head of the only one who could reverse sin’s curse. Ultimate Power. Victory. Authority. In one man. Standing before a rabble of soldiers who serve an earthly ruler. They knew what power looked like and mocked the very idea this broken man could be a king. Jesus, God and Man at the same time, a walking contradiction, is now crowned with another contradiction. He allowed himself to be crowned with the very symbol of the curse earth.
“What better way to diminish the King of the Universe than to crown Him with the very curse that hangs over His creation? What better way to triumph over Him than for evil to adorn His head? What could be more humiliating than to have our brokenness rest on Him? But it is from these very thorns that Jesus proves His power. It is from these very thorns that He shows how humility overcomes the brokenness. It is from these very thorns that He produces sweet, abundant fruit. And so, in His humility, He opens not His mouth. ‘When he was reviled,’ Peter writes, ‘He did not revile in return; when he suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.” Hannah Anderson, Humble Roots
Can you see? Do you understand? Jesus was even at this moment of suffering, fulfilling God’s will that we might live. What to outside eyes looked like pointless suffering at the sharp points of mockery, was in fact a deliberate picture of a king, patient, enduring, extending mercy and grace to those who reject Him. They kneel before Him in a farce of worship, sharp words of derision hailing Him as a King. Stripped, beaten and bleeding, he is accepting the burden of our sin and it’s punishment. Thorns, the symbol of a cursed world, merged with a crown, the symbol of authority. Here we have a new thing! A crown of authority over the curse! Instead of fighting the thorns to produce the food that brings life, this man receives the thorns willingly and in doing so He actually becomes the spring of our new life. Behind this terrible moment, a beautiful reality is taking shape.
Jesus has come to the end of His mission here on earth. He has run the race well, and now He receives His crown. As he ascends the hill of death, He is ascending to His throne of Kingship. Victory is in His hand, even as it is pierced by a nail. The first man, Adam, grasped after equality with God and lost all. This man of God, our King Jesus, carves the way for us to follow and it is the way of humility and obedience and trust.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
A Home in the Crown of Thorns
We must make our home here, in the crown of thorns. In preparing for this devotional I read and listened to several sermons on the crown of thorns. I had planned to have you paint the crown of thorns and then the nest over top of it. After all this I found a sermon by Charles Spurgeon who lived and preached powerfully for God many years ago. He preached it on April 13th, 1874.
“I thought this day of how ofttimes I have seen the blackthorn growing in the hedge all bristling with a thousand prickles, but right in the centre of the bush have I seen the pretty nest of a little bird. Why did the creature place its habitation there ? Because the thorns become a protection to it, and shelter it from harm. As I meditated last night upon this blessed subject, I thought I would bid you build your nests within the thorns of Christ. It is a safe place for sinners. Neither Satan, sin, nor death can reach you there. Gaze on your Saviour’s sufferings, and you will see sin atoned for. Fly into his wounds! There is no resting-place so safe for you. Build your nests, I say again, among these thorns, and when you have done so, and trusted Jesus, and counted him to be all in all to you, then come and crown his sacred head with other crowns. What glory does he deserve ? What is good enough for him? If we could take all the precious things from all the treasuries of monarchs, they would not be worthy to be pebbles beneath his feet. Come let us weave our praises together and set our tears for pearls, our love for gold. They will sparkle like so many diamonds in his esteem, for he loves repentance, and he loves faith. By Charles Haddon Spurgeon Apr 13, 1874
The work that Jesus did was to take the curse and reverse it. Everything is turned upside down! Death leads to life. Humility leads to victory. Instead of wandering in a thorny wilderness of pain and sin, we follow our King to a place a beauty, joy and hope. His ways are not our ways. Who could have imagined a crown of thorns could be more beautiful, more precious than one of gold and jewels. Only God, the Gardener of the world and our souls, could make this happen. His words go out into the world with just as much creative force as when they called the world into being, now calling your new life into being! He is making a way for us to come back to the garden, to His presence, to our true home. As sure as the rain soaking into the ground brings life, so also He will bring new life to all who seek Him. Listen to this passage from Isaiah, a prophesy about Jesus. All around us the earth is waking up from the sleep of winter. Let your soul wake up too, to the light, love and grace of King Jesus, taking the thorns of our sin and giving us a forever home in His presence.
“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
5 Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know,
and a nation that did not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near.
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
“For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”