'When they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!' (Matthew 27: 29).
Calvary is a strangely attractive place. It is attractive to both the Christian and to the non-Christian. I remember, in my own unconverted days, how a sermon on Calvary would hold my attention as no other sermon would do. I used to wonder what the whole theme was about. Jesus, such a good man, and yet men, men like ourselves, took this good man Jesus and they led him outside the city of Jerusalem and there crucified him. What was it all about? I pray that if you do not yet know Jesus as your Saviour that as we come to Calvary again, Calvary will leave a question mark in your heart and you will have to ask, 'What is it all about?'
Calvary brings us near to the heart of what Jesus was doing dying for our sins, taking our place before the majesty of the God who is righteous and holy and of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. Why did the Lord Jesus go through with the crowning insult described in the text? He was already wounded and bruised from scourging and almost the only place that had not known pain was his head. Why was he made to suffer this final indignity? This crown would have caused him physical suffering. It must also have caused him terrible spiritual suffering considering who he was. That the Jews and the Roman soldiers should mock his kingship in such a cruelly tangible way - a crown for the King of the Jews - and should force it on his head must have caused him great anguish of mind and body and soul.
A symbol of all his suffering
Jesus had already suffered greatly. He had been led from one great man to another. He had been roughly and brutally handled all through the night. He had been stripped and scourged and on his back on the orders of Pilate. Now the soldiers are ready to take him away and to fulfil the cry of all the people to crucify him. Before they do that, they weave this crown and place it on his head - a symbol of all his suffering and of the fact that his greatest suffering is not physical pain. His outward sufferings were terrible. But we believe that these outward sufferings were nothing compared to the suffering of his sinless soul. It was John Owen who expressed this so beautifully when he said, 'The sufferings of his soul were the soul of his suffering.
Think for a moment of who was being subjected to the sort of treatment that this text summarises. He was the one of whom John the Apostle wrote: 'All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men' (John 1.3, 4).
He was the one who from all eternity was with God and was God and had fellowship with God, face to face. He was the one who was 'the upholder of all things by the word of his power' (Heb. 1:3). He was the one who was upholding the very people who were subjecting him to suffering and to indignity and mockery. if this is true, and we believe with all our minds that it is true, what a sharpness there must be in his suffering. The creatures he has made in his own image, that he had made to fellowship with, that strangely he had loved from all eternity, of whom he had said prophetically, 'My delights were with the sons of men' (Prov. 8:31) - they rejected him. The rejection comes fully to light here when they make him suffer the great indignity of the crown of thorns
A symbol of his substitution
In Genesis 3:18 God said to Adam that because he had listened to his wife and had eaten of the tree which had been forbidden to them the ground would be cursed and thorns and thistles would grow - symbols of God's curse on disobedience. The same truth is set out in Hebrews 6:8: 'that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.'
What is happening when men take Jesus and weave a crown of thorns and place it on his head? Something is happening of which they are not aware. Something of which these soldiers have never dreamed is taking place in this simple, cruel transaction something that will be spoken of as long as the gospel Is preached. They are taking the symbol of man's sin and disobedience and they are weaving it into a crown. Who will they crown as the chief of sinners? Who will they crown as the one who will stand in the ultimate place of God's curse? They take the one who is holy and harmless and undefiled and they take this symbol of sin and they crown him. Why? Because this is why he came. This is why he is there at all.
He is taking delight in doing the will of his Father. He Is coming into the place of the shadow. He is coming under the shadow that came into God's universe when created intelligence turned round and attempted to wrest God from his throne. He is coming under the shadow of that mystery of iniquity. He is coming into the place where evil is crowned and holds sway. He is coming in there as the one appointed so to do by God himself.
Who is he when he comes under the shadow? Who Is he when he stands under the cross with a crown of thorns on his head? He is the man who takes your place before God. He is wearing the crown that you should have worn throughout eternity. That crown is a symbol of what happens when a holy God comes into contact with sin. When his curse comes out it bears thorns. What a crown there must be for those who go into eternity without Jesus.
What is the spiritual reality of which this speaks? What will it be like for the soul to stand in the place of the utmost curse upon sin - to bring forth, not fruit, but briars and thorns in its own living spiritual experience? We don't know, but Christ knew and went through the depths of pain for us. He knew it personally.
That was just the outward crown that men made. But there was another hand at work. There was the hand of God the Father, the representative of triune deity, the representative of a Godhead that is holy and just and who had said, 'The soul that sinneth, it must die.' That hand wove another crown that can't be seen and laid it on the man Christ Jesus. It is the crown of God's eternal curse on the sins of all his people. Jesus stood there and bore the wrath of God. I don't know what that is, nor do you. He bore the wrath of God although he did no sin. What sort of twisted, awful thing must sin be when it does such a thing in one who is a substitute for others. What an awful thing sin must be if it can do this to the man who is God's fellow, if it can bring him into the suffering and the darkness and the death of Calvary. The crown of thorns Is a symbol of his substitution, of his standing there for us, crowned with the symbol of God's curse.
He was a king, God's king and the king of God's people - and as king he was bearing God's wrath for them. He was never more of a king than he was then. He is now on a throne - the throne of God and of the Lamb. Because he suffered on the Cross, crowned as our substitute and representative, there is a place in the universe of God where these beautiful words stand written, 'There shall be no more curse' (Rev. 22:3).
What was due to your sin? What was due to my sin? What was due to us became his, and he took the curse into his own infinite and eternal being and he bore it away
A symbol of his salvation
He's crowned in mockery, as a taunt. In this action we can see the distortion that sin brings into the mind of man. It is described to the smallest detail so that we will be able to appreciate the wonder of his saving love to us. When Paul wrote, 'the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me' (Gal. 2:20), he knew that Christ loved him because he had given himself for him. How do I know tonight that Jesus loves me? It is because I can go to the place called Calvary. There I see what he bore for me and what I see tells me of the reality and of the strength and of the power of his love. That love brought him to the place of suffering. He endured it because of his love for you and for me. Oh, the love of the Lord Jesus to people like us! How do we react to it?
Oh, the love that drew salvation's plan,
Oh, the grace that brought it down to man.
Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span,
What do you see in his crown of thorns? You see one great sign of his kingly love to your soul. How Jesus loved you! Words can't express that love, only the heart can experience it. I hope that you know it for yourself. The love that went as far as that is a love you can trust. Through any shadow or any darkness, through the melting of the universe itself, you could trust the love that stood there.
As Christ felt the thorns pierce his head he, who had suffered so much already, was willing to suffer this further indignity. He was willing to have the kingship of his divine nature mocked for your sake and for mine.
We would never have asked him to stoop so low, would we? Would we have asked that the Son of God, whose glory is the same as the glory of the Father, whose Godship and Godhead is as real as that of God the Father, would bring his love as low as this? Would we have believed that he would have brought his love from heaven's throne to the place where he would allow the scum of the earth to crown him with thorns? We would never have asked him to go so far but his love had to go as far as that because that was as far as man's sin went - where they could take God and crown him with thorns. That is the essence of sin - to tear God from his throne. That same sin works in us in myriad ways. We refuse to give God his lordship over us. That essentially is the same sin. It is the sin that will shut God out from any corner of the heart and from any part of the life and which will look at Jesus and say, 'We will not have this man to rule over us. In order that sin in our hearts should be unraveled and removed from its rule over us, Christ came all the way to Calvary - and he came in love.
When they had crowned him with thorns they bowed the knee and they mocked him. 'Hail, king!' They didn't know how truly they spoke even although they spoke in mockery. Christ indeed is king. Is he your king in truth and in love and in salvation? Or is he your king only in mockery and in refusal and in rejection of his claims? Only you can answer that question. May God help you to answer it honestly and may God open your heart to feel and to know the love that stooped so low, and to experience the great salvation that is symbolized in this event.
What can you do with this Jesus who was crowned with thorns for you? You can take him as Christ and him crucified and make him king of your heart and of your life and of all your days.