Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Two Crowns

“And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head …”
(Matthew 27:29)

This event is recorded in three of the gospels and has become the basis for many paintings over the centuries. A crown of thorns is commonly referenced in pop culture and there are relatively few who aren’t familiar with the Christian source of the image.

But pause for a moment and ask yourself this: where would someone get a crown of thorns? These are not naturally occurring items that come easily to hand at a moment’s notice. Instead — as the gospel accounts tell us — such a crown needs to be woven together; it would actually require some skill, care and time.

Weaving the Crown

If you or I were the Roman legionnaire charged with the duty, we would need to seek out an appropriate thorn bush, select the best thorns possible for the job at hand and then — with a mind to the possible injury to one’s own person — twist the largest and sharpest thorns together in such a way that they resembled a crown. The crown, once fashioned and presented, could then be thrust forcefully down on the head of Jesus.

Who would take the time and effort to instruct or actually do such a thing? Thorny crowns were hardly commonplace or a necessary part of crucifixion and if this Jesus person were about to die the most painful and shameful death possible, it hardly seems necessary to layer on the additional indignity of such a crown.

There really is no rational explanation possible, absent an almost unimaginably deep and passionate hatred of the Lord himself. Pilate did not order the deed; it was not necessary for a promotion within the Roman cohort; it did not need to happen at all. Without a deep — dare I say Satanic — desire to injure, to humiliate and to abase the Saviour, no crown of thorns would be part of the historical account.

But there it is in three of the gospel accounts. It is most assuredly one of the final indignities offered to the Saviour as a part of his rejection by both Roman and Jewish cultures. “We will not have this man to reign over us” is fittingly pictured with the crown of thorns and the humiliation intended by such a symbol.

Evicting the Moneychangers

Turn away from that image, over to another passage of scripture earlier in Matthew 21. There we read the astonishing account of Christ physically evicting the moneychangers from the temple proper; immediately afterward he taught that the temple was not a place for commerce but rather a place for prayer. He then lives out his own teaching and takes the place of the moneychangers to begin answering prayers personally. The blind and the lame come to him there in the temple and, as was his common practice, he healed all who came to him.

What does such an event provoke? Well, in the eyes of the children watching, it provokes repeated cries of “Hosanna”. “Hosanna” came from an expression that began in the Psalms times as a cry for help: “Lord, save!” By the time of Christ’s arrival, it had morphed (as language does) into an expression of praise more than a plea for help — it really came to mean “salvation has come”.

Taking the Temperature

The scribes and the rulers are stirred up by both the Lord’s healing and by the praise being directed at him by the children. They were likely troubled as well by the eviction of the moneychangers. Here’s how Matthew records the moment:
“But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ they were indignant, and they said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read,

“Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise”?’ ”
In response to their indignation, the Lord quotes Psalm 8. It’s interesting to note what He is suggesting. If I may be forgiven a paraphrase:

“Don’t you understand that my Father has been working behind the scenes throughout human history to ensure that I was accorded honour appropriately? These children aren’t speaking solely on their own impetus but rather have been brought by the inspiration of God to this place, at this time to witness these events — just so that they could honour me as they are doing.”

Praise to the Son

Now if you’re not particularly fond of that paraphrase, let me fully quote some other texts that really contain the same idea:
“As he was drawing near — already on the way down the Mount of Olives — the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.’ ”
(Luke 19:37)

“… and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’ ”
(Matthew 3:17)

“Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.”
(John 5:23)
Is it not abundantly clear that the Father is deeply invested in praise being accorded to the Son at every possible turn?

Siding with the Father

The world and its ruler have already declared their deep and abiding hatred for the Lord Jesus. They have demonstrated that hatred most clearly by seeking out the sharpest, thickest thorns they could find and — driven by a passionate rejection of Christ’s authority — have woven together a crown fit only for a dying pretender.

God the Father has made rather clear that he disagrees violently with this world’s assessment of his Son.

As Christians, we have chosen to side with the Father. It is appropriate then, as we wander the wilderness of this fallen and fruitless world, that we do so driven by an equal and opposing passion and by love rather than by hatred. From time to time amid our daily struggles we ought to be people who pull from the wreckage around us those thoughts and words and songs that are beautiful and precious. They are things which — if we could see rightly — we would understand were placed there long ago with intent by a loving Father.

As Christians we have the grand privilege of fashioning our own answering crown for Christ to wear: a crown of honour, of praise, of glory and of ultimate authority. A crown fit not for a dying pretender but for a risen ruler. A crown he should wear.

Our lives become the work of weaving together all that the Father has given us — to return it to him by speaking well of his Son.

Hosanna indeed.


  1. Good stuff, Bernie.

    He gives us the "crown of life, crown of victory" (Rev 2:10, James 1:12) after He accepted and endured the crown of death and defeated it on our behalf.

  2. Great one, Bernie. Now write more often.

    1. As Official Blog Statistician, I feel compelled to point out the following stat:

      IC in 2015 -- 5 solo posts
      Bernie in 2015 -- 6 solo posts

      But I do agree with the sentiment ...