In “Why Didn’t Jesus Come Down?” I made an observation about the fact that as Jesus hung on the cross suffering unimaginable agony in front of both jeering humans, His loving Father and rulers in heavenly places,1 He was still fully God. Therefore He could have, with only a few willful thoughts, released Himself, restored His body and obliterated His enemies. His restraint clearly demonstrated that one of the basic characteristics of God’s nature, and therefore of Godliness, is self-sacrifice.
Over the years I’ve heard Christians talk about living at the foot of the cross. In fact there is a song by that title. The metaphor means seriously considering the meaning of what happened there and learning to trust and identify ourselves, not only with what was accomplished on our behalf, but also in the person who hung there so many years ago. It is an essential step to becoming a born-again child of God.
But living at the foot of the cross, gazing up as an onlooker, even in respect, awe, worship and trust is not where we are to stay. God wants us to “attain to … the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.2 Elsewhere the Apostle Paul put it “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. ”3
This is said in many ways in scripture, perhaps the clearest is this command:
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. ” (Philippians 2:5–8)
I think of sharing Christ’s self-sacrificial attitude as living on the cross.
There’s a crown that comes with the cross
Each Sunday as I look at the cross at the front of our meeting place, an image comes to mind of Christ standing next to it beckoning me to come climb up on it, to learn to see and feel through His mind, to sacrifice my will to obey the Father, and totally trust the Father’s care despite what others say, even if that means poverty, shame and dying like a criminal, when I’m not.
But I’m reluctant. I want to, I do at times, But there are fears. Imagine Christ beckoning you to be like Him in this way. In fact, He is, right now. Is there anything that makes you hesitate? What do you find yourself fearing?
I’ll tell you the first fear that hits me. The cross we have is made of two stained four-by-four posts and right where they meet hangs a dark-brown crown of thorns, big thorns, sharp thorns. To put my bare back against that cross I would first have to reach out and grasp that crown, then put it firmly on my head before I climb up there. It’s part of sharing His cross. That crown makes me cringe.
Some years ago I went climbing in Nevada near Lake Mead. After working my way up the face of a crumbly rock cliff I started back toward the edge to survey my accomplishment when I slipped on loose rock and headed for the edge on all fours. I quickly became less concerned about the precipice than a large barrel cactus in front of it. Over a foot in diameter, it had two inch needles sticking out. I stopped short of both, but became curious to see how much damage those thorns would do. I touched the tip of one. It was like a fine medical needle, so sharp I didn’t even feel it penetrate my skin until it was well into my finger. I made a mental note to bring bandages the next time I go hiking and to stay away from thorns.
What is the crown of thorns about?
Isaiah predicted Jesus’ treatment
“…his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind.”4
As part of the process they put a crown of thorns on his head and an old purple robe, probably discarded by some royal person, was thrown around his shoulders5. The crown and the robe were were part of their mockery. The one who is really the creator and before whom every human will eventually acknowledge His Lordship, was there before them. They slapped His face, taunted and beat Him while shouting “Hail, King of The Jews” in cruel, contemptuous disbelief.6 They mocked Him. The crown is a symbol of the world’s contempt and mockery of Jesus.
To live on the cross, we must accept that crown
Jesus said that
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.”7
So to have Jesus’ attitude, as the Apostle instructed, we too must allow the crown of mockery to pierce our heads.
Many of us have had our faith mocked openly by family, neighbors, co-workers, classmates, strangers. But we also suffer indirect mockery. We are constantly subjected to society’s expressions of contempt, derision and disbelief at what we hold dear while they proudly proclaim that they have superior knowledge and insight.
The crown of thorns can hurt, and make us shrink back from that part of being Christian, but we should at least let it remind us of the depth of spiritual ignorance, darkness and rebellion of the world, things that still taint us, by the way. We may respond in fear or anger at first, but eventually we must learn to see things through Christ’s eyes, from the vantage point of living on the cross. We must let its pain remind us of God’s compassion and self-sacrifice for sinners. It’s certainly a dangerous thing the mockers do, but knowing the ultimate shock they will receive at facing Jesus and their eternal doom can replace our pain with tears, service and patience toward them.
But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. Romans 14:10–12
Our first crown is only temporary
The crown of mockery is inseparable from the cross and our identity with it. In this life, one cannot be embraced without the other. But the thorns of mockery are only temporary. It is just our first crown, for one day we will shed it forever and share Christ’s new crown of glory.
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.
O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary.
In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see,
For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me.
To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
It’s shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away,
Where His glory forever I’ll share.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.
How are you wearing your crown?
Look at the words and ask yourself if you are living your life captivated by this cross and worthy of the one who died there. Now is a good time to take a moment and consider your fears that surround living on that old rugged cross, and the recent times you’ve failed to handle mockery and rejection of your faith with all the compassionate dignity worthy of one who will exchange the cross and its crown someday for the golden crown of a co-ruler with Christ 9.Footnotes
- Eph. 3:10, 1 Peter 1:12 and Dan. 10:13 are strong clues that besides God, other spiritual beings witness and involve themselves in events on earth. There is no evidence that deceased humans are able to do so. [↩]
- Ephesians 4:13 [↩]
- 1 Corinthians 11:1 [↩]
- Isaiah 52:14, ESV [↩]
- Matt. 27:29, Mark 15:17, John 19:2 ff [↩]
- Mk 15:17 [↩]
- Matthew 10:24–25, ESV [↩]
- The Old Rugged Cross was written by George Bennard (1873-1958) in Albion, Michigan. Or Pokagon, Michigan. Or Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. All three towns claim to be the birthplace of this hymn. [↩]
- 1 Peter 5:4, Revelation 2:10, 3:21-22, 4:4, 14:14 [↩]