A meditation on John 19:2 given by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD on April 10, 2020, Good Friday.
“And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe.”
I’ll begin by saying what I say most every Good Friday: preaching on the Cross of Jesus is like trying to hold the ocean in your hands. It helps to break off little bits and hold them close to see their meaning better. If you were with us Last year, you may recall that we looked at the very wood of the cross, connecting it’s meaning with the entire sweep of Scripture. This year, I want us to focus, not on the wood of the Cross, but on the crown of thorns borne by Jesus. This detail, preserved for us in the Gospels, specifically John 19:2 in tonight’s reading, is a mine, and it is full of Christ’s atonement for us on the cross. Would you pray with me as we meditate on this together tonight?
Lord Jesus Christ, as we consider the crown of thorns you bore, help us to consider the weightiness of sin and the magnitude of your grace to us. May all those who hear this gospel receive it and know themselves to be within it. Amen.
King of Heaven
To understand the meaning of the thorns pressed onto and into Jesus, we must first understand who he is. Scripture is unequivocal that Jesus is the King of Heaven. He is God from God, Light from Light.
Hebrews 1:3 says that “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” John 1:1-3 emphatically declares, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”
Prior to taking on our humanity, Jesus, as the Word of God and the eternal Son of the Father, was in perfect glory. He wore an untarnished and unfading crown. As the great “I AM” he had no need of anything.
But we did.
Thorns are mentioned right at the tragic onset of man’s fall into sin. Because of sin, God’s judgment is that “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.” (Genesis 3:17-18) So, thorns themselves become an image for life in a fallen and sinful world. Even now, we experience anew the painful and disastrous thorns of life in the wilderness. Life under the oppressive curse of sin.
Exchanging the Crown of Glory for the Crown of Thorns
Now take that picture given to us in Genesis and turn and see Christ exchanging his crown of glory for his crown of thorns. That old hymn, “Who Is This?” by William How asks the question and then gives the answer:
Who is this that hangs there dying
While the rude world scoffs and scorns,
Numbered with the malefactors,
Torn with nails, and crowned with thorns?
Tis our God Who lives forever
Mid the shining ones on high,
In the glorious golden city,
Philippians 2 summarizes it this way: “[Jesus] 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.”
Thinking specifically about the thorns here: in them, we should see the burden of life under sin, indeed, sin itself, being rolled onto the very head of Christ. The burden of life with thorns and thistles becomes his! Friends, since this is real Jesus, the real Savior, why would we not run to him as fast as possible? Why would we not trust him? I urge you to do that this very night.
But the truth is, many do not run to him because of the humility entailed in doing so. Christ crowned with thorns, Christ bearing our lot, Christ in our place, offends us and speaks to us of our own desperate need and our deep sin. Martin Luther writes, “When we meditate on the Passion of Christ the right way, we see Christ and are terrified at the sight. Our conscience sinks in despair. This feeling of terror needs to happen so that we fully realize how great the wrath of God is against sin and sinners. What happens to us when we see the dear Child of God struck down like this? We realize how inexpressible, even unbearable, is the Son’s total commitment to saving sinners.” (Meditation on the Holy Suffering of Christ by Martin Luther)
John Stott puts it this way, “We cannot stand the humiliation of acknowledging our bankruptcy and allowing somebody else to pay for us. The notion that this somebody else should be God himself us just too much to take. We would rather perish than repent, rather lose ourselves than humble ourselves.” (The Cross of Christ, pg. 162)
The Lord desires not the death of sinners, friends. He is giving the world a chance to know afresh our frailty in a life filled with thorns. Will we humble ourselves before the One who was humbled himself beyond measure?
Crowned with Many Crowns
Lastly, Jesus was humbled, but now he wears a new crown. The New Westminster Dictionary of the Bible tells me that the crown of thorns that was twisted upon him, “May have been an improvised caricature of the radiate crown worn by sovereigns as depicted on coins from Egypt and Syria several centuries before the Gospel incident.” (pg. 195) If that seems hard to picture, think of the crown on the Statue of Liberty, and your own the right track. But deigning to wear that false crown of mockery, Jesus’ untarnished, unfading crown has been restored to him, and then some.
Philippians 2 goes on to say that, “God has [now] 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.” (vs. 9-11)
Jesus now wears our restored humanity before the Father and welcomes people everywhere to willingly cast down their crowns at his feet. Revelation 4:9-11 gives a picture of the entire Church at worship before the throne of God. There, the saints cast every crown before the throne of God for Jesus to rightfully wear. Christians don’t have pretend to be their own god, they don’t have to live as rebels any longer. They can know peace with God their Father because of what Jesus did for them. Jesus now wears many crowns – the crowns of his redeemed people, who have been delivered from the piercing thorn of sin and death! The old hymn says it all:
Crown him with many crowns,
the Lamb upon his throne.
Hark! how the heavenly anthem drowns
all music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing
of him who died for thee,
and hail him as thy matchless king
through all eternity.
It’s my prayer you receive him, anew or for the first time, this evening. All praise and glory to the God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, now and ever more. Amen.
Art courtesy of Michael O’Brien. Used with permission. Changes made.