Who’s been watching the Olympic games in Tokyo where athletes are striving to win a gold medal? In the ancient games the winner received a laurel wreath to place on their head. The wreath was a symbol of victory. The Greek god Apollo wore such a wreath. And Julius Caesar wore a wreath to show his power. So, the laurel wreath was an ancient symbol of victory and success.
When the soldiers taunted and mocked Jesus, they put a crown of thorns on His head and knelt before Him saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” (Mt. 27:29; Mk., 15:17; Jn. 19:2, 5NIV). The fake “royal crown” was painful. And it was all humiliating. What a contrast to a wreath of victory and success! And to the celebration of an Olympic medal! But we know that Christ’s humiliation and death was actually a victory and success. How ironic!
If you were a Jew at that time who knew the Old Testament, the thorns of the crown might have reminded you of three things:
– Thorns and weeds were one of the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin (Gen. 3:18). These made the cultivation of crops “painful toil” and hard work that resulted in “sweat”. So, thorns and weeds are a symbol of God’s judgment of sin.
– Proverbs says that lazy farmers will have thorns in their fields (Prov. 24:30-31). So thorns and weeds are symbols of neglect and laziness.
– Because of Israel’s idolatry and rebellion against God, the prophets warned that they would be judged by God when they would be invaded by their enemies and their farms would be turned into wasteland with thorns and weeds (Isa. 5:6; 7:23-25; 32:13; Jer. 12:13; Hos. 2:12). So, once again, thorns and weeds are associated with God’s judgment of sin.
And we still have thorns today. Fortunately, I can still do volunteer gardening. I have a “COVID-19 essential worker authorization” letter. Last Monday I pruned a wild citrus tree that had large thorns. And the week before I pruned a bougainvillea vine with lots of thorns. These were tedious jobs as we had to cut them into small pieces and put them in a green bin instead of tying them into bundles for the Council to collect. Years ago I pruned a bougainvillea on a farm that was taller than the house. And my shirt and trousers got ripped so much I had to throw them out!
Because we have thorns today, we are still suffering the consequences of our sin. There is still sin in the form of idolatry and rebellion against God. People are devoted to many false gods. They neglect and are apathetic towards the true God. The main impact of our sin is that we are separated from God and deserve punishment in hell.
But the Bible says, “But we … see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9).
Jesus suffered and died for everyone. He took our hell so that we might share His heaven. But because of Christ’s sacrifice we can be reconciled with God and look forward to being with Him forever. He took the penalty for our sin. There will be no thorns or weeds in heaven!
The humiliation (including the crown of thorns) was part of Christ’s suffering for sin. That’s why we offer thanks and praise for all that God has done for us through Jesus Christ.
Our God, we acknowledge that the sin of humanity is as prevalent as the thorns and weeds in our gardens, fields and landscape. We thank you for addressing that sin at the cross. The humiliation and death of Christ was a victory and success because it paid the penalty for our sin.
So at the Lord’s Supper we take the bread and the wine with thankfulness for your great love and provision shown through Jesus. They are symbols of sustenance – food and drink. Father, we thank you for sustaining us in more ways than the physical.
In Jesus name.