A sermon preached at Episcopal Church of the Ascension on 3 April, 2015 (Good Friday).
“The soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on Jesus’ head.” In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1. How clever. The Jews had accused Jesus of claiming to be a King, so the guards decided to play along.
Where’s your crown, King? A King has got to have a crown. Did you leave it at home? Ha, ha, ha. O wait, here it is. Just a bit out of shape. You must have dropped it on the road? Ha ha. Let me put it on you.
So they pressed the thorns upon him.
But where is your robe, O King? Did you leave that behind too? Left it at the royal laundry? Ha ha ha. Maybe your Queen has it! Yes, yes! The queen has kept his royal robe and is waiting for him to return to bed. Here I am, King, I have your robe. A passionate, purple thing. Come, and let me clothe you.
So they draped him in purple.
Now, behold the King. Here he is, before us, crowned, and robed in splendor. Hail, King of the Jews! Yes! Here’s your Queen to praise you, King. Hail, King of the Jews! ha Ha HAIL, King of the Jews!
And so they mocked him.
2. “All who see me laugh me to scorn.” The psalmist says, in the psalm that Jesus cites from the cross. “They curl their lips and wag their heads.” Perhaps for Jesus the flogging was worse than the mockery. He felt the pain in his flesh. He need not have regarded their ridicule.
But we wince at the soldier’s wagging heads. Our faces fall at their derision. For Jesus is our Lord, locked up and played at for sport. That is the man who has healed us. That is the man who has taught us. That is the man who has loved us. “Ah, Holy Jesus, how hast thou offended, that man to judge thee, hath in hate pretended? By foes derided, by thine own rejected. O most afflicted.” Our Lord is afflicted, and there is nothing we can do, but be offended, and angry, and seek our revenge on any who would follow in the footsteps of such soldiers.
3. But in the paradoxical economy of God, what those soldiers meant for evil, God intended for good. Let me explain. The soldiers did three things to mock Jesus: they gave him a crown of thorns, they clothed him in a purple robe, and they acclaimed Jesus as King.
First, the crown of thorns. A crown of thorns is a false crown, if the crown is meant to show dignity. Thus the mockery. But Jesus’ work in the world was not meant to be dignified. Jesus’ work had to be undignified, for only in indignity could Jesus take sins upon himself. What is more, thorns are a sign of sin. After Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, God pronounced his judgment. “Cursed is the ground because of you. In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you.” So the crown of thorns was not a false crown. The crown of thorns precisely illustrated the sin that Jesus took upon himself. The soldiers thought they were giving Jesus the false crown of a King, but in fact they gave him the true crown of a suffering servant.
4. Second, the soldiers clothed Jesus in purple. In the Roman world, purple was the color of royalty. Thus, when the soldiers wrapped Jesus in a purple robe, they were giving him the color of a King. But Jesus had just been flogged, and his purple robe would be stained with the blood. Thus the soldiers mocked any notion of kingship. They made Jesus a king who cannot even keep the color of his royal robe.
What the soldiers did not know is that the Bible does not often use purple to refer to Kings. For God’s people, the color purple refers to priests. Purple cloth was used to make the ephod of Aaron, the high priest. Purple cloth was used to make his breastplate and his vestments. And before Aaron was consecrated to make sacrifice, his purple vestments were sprinkled with blood. Thus Jesus wears a purple robe, a robe that is stained with his blood. In his passion Jesus is “our great high priest,” the one who makes sacrifice for our sins.  The soldiers thought they were giving Jesus the false robe of a king, but if fact they gave him the true garment of a priest.
5. Third, the soldiers acclaimed Jesus as King. Every king receives acclamation. When a King is crowned, all his subjects say “Hail!” His subjects say it reverently, awe-fully, with adoration and respect. The soldiers acclaimed Jesus with laughter. They bestowed upon him false praise. Hail, King of the Jews, they said, thinking it was a joke.
But the soldiers did not realize that Jesus was the King of the Jews. Laughter was coming from the soldier’s mouths, but the sound was God laughing at them. “He who sits in the heavens laughs. The Lord has them in derision.” For God had sent his son to be “king on Zion, his holy hill.” “All the nations would be his heritage,” even the soldiers of imperial Rome. God would soon terrify them in his wrath. The soldiers thought their praises were false, but in fact they spoke the truth.
6. And so we need not be offended by the soldiers actions. What they intended for evil, God intended for good. The crown of thorns was the true adornment of Jesus’ sacrifice. The purple robe was the true vestment of Jesus’ priesthood. The acclamation was the true identification of Jesus as the son of God.
We need not be angry at the soldiers. Poor soldiers. Perhaps we should laugh at them.
But if we do, we will realize that we are laughing at ourselves. For it was not only the soldiers who gave Jesus a crown of thorns. We weave the thorns that make up Jesus’ crown. It is not only the soldiers who turned Jesus into a priest to sacrifice himself. We need atonement for our guilt. It is not only the soldiers whose mockery belies the power of God. Our unfaithfulness does the same.
“Who was the guilty, who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus hath undone thee. Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee: I crucified thee.”
With every sin we mock God. We honor him with our lips but not with our lives, making a mockery of his truth. We offer endless sacrifices but we cannot clear our guilt. Our praises stink to heaven. “Hail, King of the Jews.”
Our very worship is twisted upon itself, and we do not please God.
What will we do? What can we do?
7. When a man becomes a king, there is an enthronement ceremony. And in any enthronement ceremony, the King receives a set of gifts that symbolize his position. He is given a crown to adorn his new position. He is given special clothing to elevate him above other men. He is given acclamation to show that he deserves the praise of all.
Jesus received all of these things. The crown of thorns adorned him as a man of sorrows. The purple cloak elevated him above other men as a high priest. The acclamation stated his identity and the worthiness of praise.
But there is one further object that a king must receive in his enthronement ceremony. In some ways, this fourth thing is the most essential of them all. For a king is adorned, elevated, and praised, but why? What is the reason that he receives adornment, elevation, and praise? The King receives these things because, as King, he has power and authority. And so the most important object the King receives in the enthronement ceremony is the scepter. The scepter is the object that symbolizes the King’s authority.
And so we might wonder, did Jesus receive a scepter? At first it might seem that he did not. The soldiers gave him a crown of thorns, a purple robe, and acclamation, but no scepter. But if we look closer, we find that the soldiers did give Jesus an object he would hold in his hand. They did give Jesus an object he would carry. They did give Jesus an object through which he would manifest his power.
For the soldiers gave Jesus the cross.
8. They gave Jesus the cross, the scepter of his divine power. For it was the cross that Jesus carried in his procession to his throne. It was the cross by which Jesus triumphed over sin and death. And it is by the cross that Jesus rules the hearts of his people.
How deep is this mystery. The cross, an instrument of torture, death, and weakness, is made the symbol of divine power. But that is the way of our God, whose “power is perfected in weakness.”
It was only by an instrument of death that our sin might be put to death. It was only in Christ’s sacrifice that we might attain new life.
“Lo, the good shepherd, for the sheep is offered. The slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered. For our atonement, while we nothing heeded, God interceded.”
 John 19:2
 Psalm 22:7
 Hymnal 1982, #158 (“Ah, holy Jesus”), verse 1.
 Genesis 3:17-18
 In the ancient world, the purple dye was extracted from a particular species of sea snail. Thousands of snails had to be crushed to color a single garment. The process was laborious and expensive, and so the color indicated status, wealth, and royalty. See “Tyrian Purple” on Wikipedia.
 See Exodus 28:5, 6, 8, 15, 33
 Exodus 29:21
 Hebrews 4:14
 Psalm 2:4
 See Psalm 2
 Hymnal 1982, #158 (“Ah, holy Jesus”), verse 2.
 2 Corinthians 12:9
 Hymnal 1982, #158 (“Ah, holy Jesus”), verse 3.