O Sacred Head Now Wounded, With grief and shame weighed down.
Now scornfully surrounded, with thorns thine only crown. With thorns thine only crown.

Mark’s gospel tells us that, “they put a purple robe on Jesus, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him.”

In the Greco-Roman culture of the 1st Century, crowns were placed on kings as a sign of majesty and honor. Crowns were given to people of superior rank. A crown was given to the victorious Roman conqueror when he brought peace through battle. In the Greco-Roman world, the awarding of a crown often signified appreciation for exceptional contributions to society. Crowns were given to those who served the Roman state at their own expense.

But now the Roman soldiers place a crown of thorns on Jesus. This crown is not meant for honor, but dishonor. It’s not meant to show rank but ridicule. They gave him this crown, not to celebrate his peace and victory, but to accentuate his devastation and defeat. They could not see in him exceptional contribution, but only an instigator of revolution. So they placed a crown of thorns on his head.

They didn’t just mean to show mockery, they meant to increase his agony. If they simply wanted to mock him, they could have used straw or tree branches to fashion this crown. But they wanted to increase his pain — so they placed a crown of thorns on his head.

However, in making this crown of thorns, they didn’t realize that what they were intending for mockery and agony, God was using to reveal His Son’s majesty and authority — to lead us to the very purpose and promise of King Jesus. The whole story of God is about the crown and the thorns.

At the very beginning of the story, God was known as the king and his favorite creation; Adam and Eve received him as their King. But when they believed the lie of the serpent, they rejected their King and decided to crown themselves. And haven’t we all done this? Haven’t we all tried to crown ourselves? Haven’t we all made ourselves out to be authoritative? Haven’t we all treated people as pawns in our schemes, using them for the glory of our own little kingdoms? Haven’t we all, at one time or another, crowned ourselves and rejected our King?

In our pride, we crown ourselves and reject our King.
In our lust, we crown ourselves and reject our King.
In our self-glorification, we crown ourselves and reject our King.
In our ethnocentrism, we crown ourselves and reject our King.
In the plotting and planning of our lives, in our ladder-climbing and career building, we crown ourselves and reject our King.

God’s word of judgment to Adam is this: Because you have crowned yourself and rejected me as King, “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you…” The result of Adam’s sin was the curse, yielding pain and thorns. The first Adam made a mockery of God’s kingship and God laid upon him, upon all of the creation, upon you and me, the agony of the curse. But before God told Adam of the devastating results that his sin had brought into the world, the Lord said that he was going to do something to deal with the sin, to deal with the curse, to deal with the thorns.

According to God’s plan through the ages, this first gospel in Genesis 3:15 became the full gospel of our passion narrative. In this passion narrative, the second Adam, Jesus Christ, shows his majesty and authority by absorbing the mockery and the agony introduced by the first Adam. The story of God is all about the Crown and the thorns. God’s story is all about the King coming in and the curse going out.

But before the king arrived, we were given insight into the ruin that the curse brought upon the world. The prophet Isaiah looked out over the broken people of God and said, “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no health in it.”

The prophet Jeremiah looked out over the wayward people of God and said, “Behold, the storm of the LORD! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked.”

The prophet Ezekiel brought the word of the Lord to the corrupt people of God and said, “Because you have not remembered righteousness, but have enraged me with all of your evil, therefore, behold, I have returned your deeds upon your head, declares the Lord GOD.”

But the wonder of wonders in this text, the marvel of the ages, the good news into which angels long to look is that the King himself has taken the place of his people! Behold, the storm of the Lord in this passion narrative! Wrath is now going forth, a whirling tempest, and it is bursting upon the head, not of the wicked, but of the righteous one! Because we have not remembered righteousness, but have enraged God with all of our evil, God is returning our deeds upon his head!

In this moment, there’s much more than a crown of thorns upon his head; it’s the curse that produced these thorns; it’s the curse that lies heavy upon his brow. It’s upon his head that the weight of our sin is resting. It’s upon his head that the waves of our transgressions are crashing. This crown is a sort of sacrament of the curse. Upon his head fell the ancient pain of judgment that entered into the world when humanity made a mockery of the true King’s rule. Here he has gathered up every pain since that day and it now rests on his sacred head.

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.

And don’t miss that most gracious and glorious pronoun: They placed a crown of thorns on his head. Place that crown of thorns on any other head, all you end up with is a headache. Place that crown of thorns on any other head and the curse remains.

But because they placed that crown of thorns upon his head, the curse has been cursed. Because they placed that crown of thorns upon his head, death has died. Because they placed that crown of thorns upon his head, the grave has been buried. Good Friday is the funeral of every pain and sorrow of God’s people.

And in the mysterious reversal of the gospel, this crown of thorns that was intended for mockery, has become the sign of His majesty and honor. It’s become a most beautiful mark of the King who would conceal his superior rank to give us a superior redemption.

We worship the King who wore the crown of thorns because his temporary defeat became our eternal victory and his utter devastation became our complete restoration.

This crown marks him out as the conqueror who wins by losing, who gives true gain through true loss, who brings the greatest peace through his greatest calamity.

This crown signifies that his exceptional contribution to society is curse-lifting love because these thorns crown the King who was willing to serve the world at his own expense.

And as we read this text, it’s as if Jesus is saying to us, “I’m wearing this crown of thorns so that you can wear the crown of life. I’m wearing this crown of thorns so that you can wear the crown of righteousness. I’m wearing this crown of thorns so that you can wear the crown of glory!”

The whole story of God is about the crown and the thorns. And as the Apostle John gets a sneak peak at that final chapter of God’s story, he passes on his vision to us saying,

“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many crowns…On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” Things will one day return to what they were always meant to be and the curse will be no more! But on this Good Friday, it was not the many crowns of universal sovereignty, but the one crown of immeasurable agony.

And as we stagger at the mockery and agony that our King endured in our place, as our substitute — as we marvel at the sign of the curse upon his head instead of ours, there is perhaps no greater question and no greater request than this:

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

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The Front Porch

Conversations about biblical
faithfulness in African-American
churches and beyond