Dear friends, have you heard the true story about a Christian evangelist traveling in a mountainous area of India who was attacked by bandits? These robbers bring the man down and steal everything he has on him and with him. As they run away with the spoils, some clothes, some money, and a watch, etc., this man, shaken but not badly hurt, calls out after them, “Do not go away, I have more for you!” Well, the bandits return, laughing to see what more this poor traveler could have for them. “I have Jesus, my Saviour!” he says to them…and he very briefly explained the gospel, asking the question, “Won’t you follow Him too?” And as the story goes, one of the thieves did respond, by God’s grace, to the gospel call as it was thus introduced to him.
The reason for telling this story is because it so brings out someone valuing Christ Jesus and trusting and following Him above everything else in life. Do you and I so know and love the gospel that we realize and reflect too, there is nothing of so much value and worth as the precious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ? We are in the time of the year in the weeks before Good Friday and Easter, a time when often the Christian church especially focuses on how Jesus suffered on sinner’s behalf, and humbled Himself, even to the death of the cross. Every detail about all Jesus’ suffering and His death is most meaningful. “Each event” said someone correctly, “is pregnant with meaning, for never in the entire history of the world has so much, done in so short a time, been so significant.”
Today I want to study with you just one of the many small details of Jesus’ suffering, a detail that just by itself speaks such volumes of gospel tidings. We read in John 19:2a, “And the soldiers plaited [weaved or twisted] a crown of thorns, and put it on His head...” And in vs. 5 we read, “Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns…” Jesus and His crown of thorns is our theme. Let us think about what a shocking detail we have here, what a significant detail, and what a splendid detail in connection with Jesus the Saviour.
How can and should the historical fact of Jesus being mocked and hurt with having a crown of thorns placed and beaten down on His head shock us? Well, consider with me the following. This crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head happened in a time in His trial after Jesus had already been brutally and unjustly scourged. Scourging was a horrible custom of whipping with a whip that would leave your body a bloody pulp. Scourging preceded crucifixion, and in between the soldiers could and did have a time, as it were, of fun and games with the person who was judged unfit to live, and sentenced to die. And what should so strike us as most shocking is that this all took place actually before Jesus was sentenced at all. Pilate allowed the scourging not because of having judged Jesus guilty of some crime and worthy of death, but rather that he might arouse pity for Jesus from the people and release Him as He deserved. For what evil had He done? Pilate knew Jesus was innocent of the crimes brought against Him. But think of it, what Jesus suffered and endured even before being actually condemned! He was falsely and wrongly treated here and falsely and wrongly judged.
It is very striking in this regard, let me just say this for a moment here, how the Scriptures make so plain Jesus’ innocence of any wrongdoing. Seven times, a number of completeness, Jesus being faultless and innocent is maintained. First, Judas declared in Matthew 27:4, “I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.” Second, Pilate’s wife forewarned her husband in Matthew 27:19, “Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.” Third, Pilate himself declared Christ innocent saying in John 19:4, “I find no fault in Him.” Fourth, Herod likewise says the same as Pilate himself informs us in Luke 23:15, “No, nor yet Herod: for I have sent you to him; and lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him.” Fifth, we know too the dying repentant thief on the cross testified to the other thief in Luke 23:41, “…we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man [Jesus] hath done nothing amiss [wrong].” Sixth, we hear the Roman centurion confess in Luke 23:47, “Certainly, this was a righteous man.” And seventh, in Matthew 27:54 we learn that from those in the crowds around Jesus’ crucifixion, upon Jesus’ death, there were a number who testified, “Truly, this was the Son of God.” So you see here indisputable evidence of Jesus condemned to suffer and die not for any sins and wrongdoing of His own, that is for sure!
But now see Jesus there in the soldier’s hall, made a sport to them and subject to their horseplay you might say, and to their ridicule and scorn and shameful words and deeds. What happens in the soldiers’ hall is especially them having their wicked fun with Jesus, scoffingly treating Jesus as a king, the supposed king of the Jews. Before, in the court of Annas and Caiphas, Jesus was mocked as prophet. Now in the soldiers’ quarters, He gets mocked as king. They put a purple robe on Him, and they give Him a reed as His staff, and they also weave this crown of thorns for Him and put it on His head. Can you picture it? Imagine Jesus so mocked and how the soldiers in scandalous and devilish disrespect and mistreatment of Him made fun of Jesus as supposed king. They kept bowing before Him as king, and then promptly would hit Him in the face and also take turns spitting in His face, one after the other. Each solider also took that reed or staff they had Jesus hold, and unfeelingly pounded Him on His head, in so doing also pressing down that crown of thorns more and more on His head, so that thorns pierced and pricked His scalp and forehead in a way that hurt sharply and led to much bleeding on and from His head.
Can you imagine all the laughing and scorn and abuse Jesus silently and meekly suffered with this all? It is unimaginable really! Think of it, how Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords, as Creator of all and Provider for all, come to be the one and only Saviour of sinners gets treated and mistreated under the loud laughter and brazen acts of the soldiers. How true it is what someone wrote about laughter. “While laughter is a gift of God, there is no other gift of His which is more frequently abused and [changed] from a blessing into a curse. When laughter is directed against sacred things and holy persons; when it is used to belittle and degrade what is great and reverend; when it is employed as a weapon with which to torture weakness and cover innocence with ridicule, then, instead of being such a blessing, it laughter] becomes a deadly poison. Laughter guided these soldiers in their inhumane acts; it concealed from them the true nature of what they were doing; and it wounded Christ more deeply than even the scourge of Pilate.”
Have you ever thought about how great our sins and miseries are just in connection with so much of our laughter in our lives? How mean and cruel and wicked sinful man is by nature, and how that comes out even just in our laughter all too often when our laughter is about things God could not and would not approve. Haven’t you yourself too acted like these soldiers over against Jesus before? Isn’t any continuance in any sin, or any excuse for any sin, like laughing at Jesus in His face, and spitting in His face really, and hitting that crown of thorns further on Jesus’ head, as if you don’t really care? Have you never been guilty of more or less laughing at Jesus, the suffering Saviour, and guilty through unbelief and sin of pressing that crown of thorns more upon His tender scalp? What we cry about and laugh about is so telling by itself, if you only think of it.
I need to come back to the crown of thorns. The weaving and placing of the crown of thorns on Jesus’ head was all part of the mock coronation, all part of the unholy fun time these soldiers were having with Him. One solider must have come up with the idea to give Him a mock crown of sorts and perhaps another ran outside to one of the many prickly and thorny bushes in Palestine, taking twigs from it to weave a crown for Jesus’ head. No one knows exactly which kind of thorn bush was used but without question “the fierce and formidable thorns of almost any thorn bush around there could have caused acute pain.” Just think of a blackberry bush and its little thorns or a rose bush and its nasty thorns. How they can hurt when they prick and pierce you. It is not uncommon to find in Palestine thorn bushes with two inch or at least five centimeter long hard sharp thorns. Think of this shocking detail with Jesus’ suffering. The soldiers weaved a crown of thorns and placed it on Jesus’ head in scoffing mockery of Jesus and cruel torture of Him. Commentator William Hendriksen writes, “With fiendish cruelty the soldiers [weaved a crown of thorns] and pressed down this crown upon His head, causing rivulets of blood to run down His face, neck, and body (still aching sorely from the scourging). They wanted to torture Him. They also wanted to mock Him. The crown of thorns satisfied both ambitions.” And remember, this is just one detail of Jesus’ suffering that we are focusing on besides the many others.
What we should find so shocking too is just the fact of the very idea of a crown of thorns. I mean, how did they come up with this even? It seems actually so ridiculous if you think of it. But behold Jesus now as He comes out before the people, and Pilate says, “Behold the Man.” That is, take a good long look at Him now in your minds and hearts. “…then Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns.” The Scriptures want us to pay close attention to this detail. And why now do you think the Holy Spirit wants us to pay close attention as well to this detail in Jesus’ suffering with Him also wearing a crown of thorns?
In answer to that question, notice further with me, this crown of thorns detail is not only so shocking but so significant, that is, so very meaningful in reference to all Jesus’ Person and work. It is meaningful that God let this mockery and laughing brutal behavour against Jesus take place, and that Jesus allowed them to place this crown of thorns on His head. This is so significant, for what does this all underscore to us? It proclaims to us how great and glorious God is, taking what man does at his worst still to fulfill His glorious gospel plans and to make it all the more clear what a Saviour of sinners Jesus truly is and came to be.
Here, of course, and perhaps you are waiting for me to say this if you know your Bible, we need to think of what happened in Genesis 3 when in the beginning of the world Adam and Even fell into sin. With their fall into sin, God states a result was that now the whole world has come under the curse of sin, and in Genesis 3 God states how there would be thorns and thistles in the land as a direct result of the fall and curse of sin. When Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden for their rebellion and sin, then thorns and thistles became one clear sign of the curse that fell upon them and all the world on account of sin. “And does not the thorn, staring from the naked bough of winter in threatening ugliness, and lurking beneath the leaves or flowers of summer to wound the approaching hand, and tearing the clothes or the flesh of the traveler who tries to make his way through a thicket, or burning in the flesh where it has sunk, fitly stand for that side of life which we associate with sin, the side of care, fret, pain, disappointment, disease…and death even? In a word it symbolizes the curse. But now [consider] it was the mission of Christ to bear the curse; and as He lifted it on His head, He took it off the world.”
This is the great gospel message we may proclaim concerning Jesus Christ, the one and only Saviour of sinners. You see, dear friends, Jesus came to bear our sins and to take our sorrows and to bear them in the place of sinners like us, .and wearing this crown of thorns, Jesus is declaring and displaying this gospel story and fact, for whoever has ears to hear and eyes to see. Behold Jesus wearing this crown of thorns, and isn’t your mind and heart melted and overwhelmed too in repentant wonder and praise before Him? Jesus would wear such a ridiculous crown causing even so much more pain for Him, because as the Royal Son of David, yes, as the King of kings He truly came sinners to save. Jesus came to save His people from their sins, and to take away all the guilt and curse and bondage and punishment of sin. Jesus bore the full holy and just eternal wrath of God against sin, all in the sinner’s place that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. He came to wear the crown of thorns you and I forever deserve, that we might be given a crown of glory instead, even as many as repent and believe on Him.
Do you see Jesus in your mind wearing this crown of thorns? Jesus with that crown of thorns on His head literally, why, it is truly like a visible preaching whereby Jesus would proclaim to us also still today, ‘Look what I have come to do for sinners….see what I am about as Saviour of sinners. The curse of sin I, the sinless One, have taken and carried on behalf of sinners, as the just for the unjust for the salvation of sinners.’ Oh, will you today see and understand what Jesus as Saviour of sinners came to do to save sinners like you and me? Behold Jesus wearing that cruel crown of thorns, yes, that we might be saved from sin and rescued from the curse and given only underserved and countless blessings from God for Jesus’ sake, because of His shed blood and His crown of thorns on sinner’s behalf. It makes the gospel message so unmistakably clear with Jesus wearing also this crown of thorns. Have you maybe up to this point never understood the gospel message? Oh, see Jesus, the holy King of kings with His spit-covered, blood-dripping, and bruised face with that crown of thorns on His blessed head, and will you stay unmoved or remain unconverted before so great and gracious and complete Saviour from sin as Jesus came to be and truly is? May this historical fact and message about Jesus wearing a crown of thorns pierce the hardened into true repentance, and may it melt the believing in renewed love and adoration for Jesus the Saviour. Yes, for Jesus wearing that crown of thorns is so significant indeed.
It is really so amazing, this crown of thorns on Jesus’ head. You notice too how it so ties together all the Bible, linking the Saviour of sinners with the fall of man in the beginning, and telling of the significance of the Saviour with the saints’ crowns of glory cast at the feet of the Lamb on the throne as told us in Revelation 4:10. Jesus is the Saviour King Who laid aside His glory and humbled Himself even to the death of the cross all for the gracious complete salvation of sinners. And His crown of thorns just so underlines and underscores His salvation work on behalf of sinners. I can’t help but think here of that song composed and sung in connection with Jesus’ birth into this world, Joy to the World. As that song so jubilantly exclaims:
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing…
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found…
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love…
With this I have come already now to our third main point about Jesus wearing this crown of thorns. We have seen how this is such a shocking event, but also such a significant event, and notice yet, what a splendid fact this was and is too.
This is something most splendid for it fit Him so well, if I may say that reverently speaking. You know how sometimes a piece of clothing so doesn’t match a person at all but the crown of thorns so matches Jesus’ Person and work as Saviour. As Christians, indeed, we shouldn’t only think of Jesus’ crown of thorns as a matter of horror and pity but also as “a matter of exultation which cannot be suppressed!” Because cruel as was the soldier’s jest, there was a divine fitness in the act. Does not God’s amazing providence so in service of sinner’s salvation just shine through the soldiers’ wicked deed? It proclaims all the more concerning Jesus, “Hallelujah! What a Saviour!” Do you see this with me? This evil deed flung at Jesus as a further mockery and insult against Him, God makes into another fact proclaiming the beauty and worth, and purpose and love of Jesus as Saviour of sinners. Just like when the Pharisees in derision called Jesus “the Friend of publicans and sinners”, they actually by God’s amazing grace gave Jesus a title and reputation by which, who knows how many, from hundreds of generations, have been drawn to Christ and loved Him so! So also when the soldiers cruelly put on Jesus’ head this crown of thorns, what they meanly did, God took care that it has become the noblest wreath that man could weave Him as Saviour of sinners.
Oh, don’t you too just love this gospel of Jesus? All through the ages Jesus is proclaimed still as the One Who wore this crown of thorns and truly all His followers desire for Him no other crown. It makes the gospel just so extra precious and sure and real, this little detail about Jesus wearing a crown of thorns. It is a splendid fact of salvation history which gives reasons for so much confidence in all the Bible, and in everything about the Saviour. Does this detail of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns in His last hours and even when crucified serve to lead you in true faith in Him if not yet saved, and to increase your faith in Christ if you are already saved? How inexcusable all unbelief is before this Saviour also with this extra detail about Him in His suffering and death as Saviour of sinners? This shocking, significant, splendid detail of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns, how shall any escape if you neglect or turn away from so clear and complete gospel revelation and proclamation?
Speaking of this crown of thorns Jesus had placed on His head and beaten down on Him even, can we not say it is a splendid detail also because it can help us in a very small way to identify with something of His suffering on behalf of sinners? I mean here, who of us hasn’t experienced something like the shooting pain of a thorn stuck in our flesh? It is not likely that you and I have ever been scourged, and so we can’t specifically identify with that and neither do we know about the awful torment and suffering with crucifixion, but the piercing of thorns and thistles most of us know about at some point in life. Jesus’ suffering with that crown of thorns, also in His being scorned and laughed at, probably most of us know something of being ridiculed too at one point or another in life, even just a very little. There is something splendid in this detail of Jesus’ crown of thorns for it makes in some fashion His sufferings a little less abstract to us and for us. It brings His sufferings, you might say, a little closer to us. I know too of people who have suffered pain and hurt in one way or another, who have said to me, “My pains and hurts in body and soul are nothing like what Jesus the Saviour endured in His salvation work as the sinless One on behalf of sinners.”
One other splendid fact yet about Jesus’ crown of thorns is that we can be so exhorted and encouraged in the Christian life. As Jesus so willingly gave Himself for the cause and glory of God and the wellbeing of others, suffering much, so the Bible teaches us, as Christians living for God and taking up our cross, living to God’s praise and the wellbeing of others, we may expect a road of sufferings and hardships when following Jesus’ footsteps. But let us not shrink from following Jesus knowing also that He can and does turn even the greatest trials and sufferings for good in His amazing grace and providence for all who trust and obey Him. God forbid that we should live the Christian life only always seeking the way of ease and refusing to sacrifice and suffer for His Name’s sake as God gives us opportunity and leads us in the way everlasting. And let us not be afraid, for think again how Jesus’ crown of thorns should encourage us whatever trials and afflictions might come our way that God can and will turn it around for good. I like the way one put it, “If the crown of thorns now becomes Christ so well as to be the pride of men and angels, be assured that any twig from that crown, which we may have to wear [in Jesus’ Name and for His sake] will one day turn out to be our most dazzling ornament.”
Oh, behold the Man, Christ Jesus, wearing this crown of thorns. It is a most shocking detail but most significant too, and most splendid as well, all telling without a doubt,
“Truth and mercy toward His people, [God] has ever kept in mind,
And His full and free salvation He has shown to all mankind.
Sing, O earth, sing to Jehovah, Praises to Jehovah sing;
Hans Overduin, Radio Pastor