"The Crown of Thorns"

March 16, 2008 1Peter 1:13-21

(adapted from 'He Did This Just for You' Church Outreach Kit by Max Lucado, excerpts from The Crown of Thorns)

What Kind of Crown for a King is This?

There's a painting in Milan of a tiny angel with a look of wonder and puzzlement on his innocent face. His chubby finger is touching Christ's crown of thorns. The angel doesn't seem to understand the purpose of this crown or why and how it ended up on the head of the King of heaven.

Matthew tells us in chapter 27: "They made a crown of long, sharp thorns and put it on his head, and they placed a stick in his right hand as a sceptre" (27:29, NLT). Unlike the angel, we don't seem shocked by the mention of the crown of thorns - we're used to it; we've heard about it, we may have seen it in artworks. Another reason it doesn't surprise us is that we're all too familiar with human cruelty.

Not the angel, who resides in realms of holiness and purity. The angel might be thinking: "A crown of majesty? Yes! But mockery? Unthinkable!"

This crown is a symbol, a picture of Jesus' life- what he surrendered by becoming a man. Its form suggests so much that the Son of God gave up in order to secure our salvation: in coming to earth and dying for us He surrendered timelessness, boundlessness, and sinlessness.

II. The Perimeter of the Branches--The eternal entered time

The shape of the crown -- a tight, repeating circle (cyclical) -- bears similarity to the cycles of life. Winter, spring, summer, fall; breakfast, lunch, dinner. Empires wax and wane. History has a way of repeating itself.

By contrast, the calendar of heaven is not cyclical. It is endless. God's nature is eternal. Psalm 90:2, "Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God." Job 36(26), "How great is God-- beyond our understanding! The number of his years is past finding out." The Lord is everlasting; He has no beginning and no ending. "We may search out the moment that the first wave slapped on the seashore. We may someday search out the moment that the first star burst in the sky. We may even search out the moment that God put breath in the lungs of Adam. But we will never search out the first moment that God was God, for God has always been God. He has never not been." What a limitation for Christ Jesus to leave the everlasting halls of heaven and confine Himself to a singular place and time, even to 33 short years of human life! As one writer put it, "He who had known no boundaries -- the stallion of heaven -- was put in the corral of time." So, in coming to earth, Jesus removed the crown of timelessness.

III. The Plaiting of the Crown--The boundless was bound

It's really not enough to say the soldiers just made a crown of thorns, as if it sort of popped out of their hands without deliberate involvement. They "wove a crown of thorns" (Matthew 27:29, NASB). They "twisted together a crown of thorns"(NIV). "They plaited a crown from branches of a thorn bush and set it on his head" (MSG). There was malicious and intentional design involved. Some of the artistic renderings show the soldiers using wooden rods to sort of press it into Jesus' head.

But consider the twisting together of the free, wild thorn branches...Doesn't the weaving of the branches into a tight circle hint at the confining of Christ into a body? One moment He was a boundless spirit, firstborn over all creation, begotten not made, by and for whom all things were made and in whom all things hold together (Col 1:15ff); the next moment (speaking in eternal terms) He was bound in a body. The true nature of God? Theologians have wrestled through the ages to describe how Jesus could be fully God AND fully human.

Psalm 139(7--10, NC) describes God's omnipresence this way: "I can never escape from Your spirit! I can never get away from Your presence! If I go up to heaven, You are there; if I go down to the place of the dead, You are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there Your hand will guide me, and Your strength will support me". God says through Jeremiah (23:24), "Do not I fill heaven and earth? God is everlasting and God is ever present.

Yet Jesus reduced Himself voluntarily to walk among us. He who controls the storm clouds got rained on. Was he ever tempted to break forth from these self-imposed limits and boundaries? If so, he never yielded.

It was a long, long way from the throneroom of heaven to Golgotha. A native of a South Pacific island brought a gift to a missionary. The native walked a great distance to a remote shore where he found the best seashell and then walked the same distance all the way back and presented the shell to his friend. As he gave the gift, the native added, "Long walk part of gift."

Part of God's gift to us is the length of the Son's journey. In coming to earth, Jesus, for thirty-three years, removed the crown of boundlessness. Could He have gone to greater lengths than leaving eternity and entering our world of time? Is there a greater sacrifice than the boundless One becoming confined to a body of flesh? Actually there is. There is a sacrifice even greater.

IV. The Point of the Thorns--The sinless became sinful

In Scripture, thorns equal not sin, but the consequences of sin and rebellion. After Adam and Eve sinned, God cursed the land. A direct result of the curse was the appearance of thorns. In Genesis 3(17f, NLT) God states, "I have placed a curse on the ground...It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains."

See the connection with the crown of thorns? "So the ancestors of the brambles that day that were stuck on the scalp of Christ can be traced all the way back to the sins of Adam and Eve." Rebellion results in thorns. "In the paths of the wicked lie thorns and snares, but he who guards his soul stays far from them" (Proverbs 22:5, NIV).

Those thorns are painful. Last week the Governor of New York State, Eliot Spitzer, resigned following reports he'd used a high-end call-girl service. Such devastation for the man and his career, not to mention his wife and children! Such public shame and disgrace! Ironically, it was said of Spitzer that he "rose to prominence as a hard-charging attorney general [who] was known for rooting out corruption within Wall Street and on the streets." Now all that seems undone by his moral lapses. Similarly, one can't help but wonder how much 'baggage' haunts Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton as a consequence of her husband former president Bill Clinton's moral failures. Thorny ground indeed.

You may recall that Jesus compared the lives of evil people to a thorn bush. In speaking of false prophets he said, "You can detect them by the way they act, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit.You don't pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles" (Matthew 7:16, NLT). The presence of thorns symbolizes the fruit of sin. Hebrews 6(8) notes, "But if a field bears thistles and thorns, it is useless. The farmer will condemn that field and burn it" (NLT).

If thorns represent not the sin itself but the fruit of the sin, and Jesus received on himself a crown of thorns, what's the picture here? Jesus had never felt these things, these awful consequences of sin, because he had never sinned! And there on the cross, they came upon him like an avalanche! There "...Jesus cried out in a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?'-- which means, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'" (Mt 27:46) The cry of a forsaken sinner! He uttered it so that we would never have to! In coming to earth, Jesus surrendered the crown of sinlessness.

"For God to enter time was remarkable; yet, he created time. For God to enter a body was astounding; yet, God created flesh and bone. We admire the eternal God for entering time, we applaud the boundless God for entering a body, yet we worship Him for becoming sin. Unlike time and space, sin was not His idea. He did not create it, nor did He know it. Sin was foreign to Jesus. And so for Him to come into something He did not even create, that's why we worship Him. That's how far he went."

V. The Promise of the Crown--The unrighteous become right

Jesus our Saviour was crowned with our thorns so that we might be crowned with His goodness. Paul envisioned that crown when, shortly before his approaching martyrdom he wrote, "Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing" (2 Timothy 4:8, NIV). This crown will be thorn-free. And, we, like the elders in John's vision in Revelation 4, will gladly place it at the feet of Jesus--the only true King (Revelation 4:10).

Jesus no longer wears the thorns. The author of Hebrews states, "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone" (Hebrews 2:9, NIV).

Once bound in a body--he is again boundless. Once confined by time--he is again timeless. Once cut by the thorns of sin - He is again sinless. He did all that for us, sacrificing His eternal qualities to save us flawed, perishing mortals.

The Sacrificial Visitor

An old man walks down a Florida beach. The sun sets like an orange ball on the horizon. The waves slap the sand. The smell of saltwater stings the air. The beach is vacant. No sun to entice the sunbathers. Not enough light for the fishermen. So, aside from a few joggers and strollers, the gentleman is alone.

He carries a bucket in his bony hand. A bucket of shrimp. Its not for him. It's not for the fish. It's for the seagulls. He walks to an isolated pier cast in gold by the setting sun. He steps out to the end of the pier. The time has come for the weekly ritual.

He stands and waits. Soon the sky becomes a mass of dancing dots. The evening silence gives way to the screeching of birds. They fill the sky and then cover the moorings. They are on a pilgrimage to meet the old man.

For a half-hour or so, the bushy-browed, shoulder-bent gentle man will stand on the pier, Surrounded by the birds of the sea, until his bucket is empty.

But even after the food is gone, his feathered friends still linger. They linger as if they're attracted to more than just food. They perch on his hat. They walk on the pier. And they all share a moment together...The old man on the pier couldn't go a week without saying ''thank you.''

His name was Eddie Rickenbacker. In October 1943 he was reported missing at sea. He had been sent on a mission to deliver a message to Gen.Douglas MacArthur. With a hand-picked crew in a B-17, Eddie set off across the South Pacific. Somewhere the crew became lost, the fuel ran out, and the plane went down. All eight crew members escaped into the life rafts. They battled the weather, the water, the sharks, and the sun. But most of all, they battled the hunger. After eight days, their rations were gone. They ran out of options. It would take a miracle for them to survive.

And a miracle occurred. After an afternoon devotional service, the men said a prayer and tried to rest. As Rickenbacker was dozing with his hat over his eyes, something landed on his head. He would later say that he knew it was a sea gull. He didn't know how he knew: he just knew. That gull meant food...if he could catch it. And he did. The flesh was eaten. The intestines were used as fish bait. And the crew survived.

What was a seagull doing hundreds of miles away from land? Only God knows. But whatever the reason, Rickenbacker was thankful. As a result, every Friday evening this old captain walks to the pier, his bucket full of shrimp and his heart full of thanks.

We'd be wise to do the same. We've much in common with Rickenbacker. We, too, were saved by a Sacrificial Visitor. We. too, were rescued by One who journeyed far, a long long way, from only God knows where. Let's pray.