19:1 So then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him. 2 And the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe. 3 Then they said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they struck Him with their hands.
Thorns. Why thorns? Why a crown? Why did Pilate beat an innocent Man, why a purple robe? Why are Roman soldiers so caught up in humiliating and beating this Stranger? Why?
When I was pastor in my first church back in my early 20's one of the Sabbath School teachers really put me on the spot. Her kindergarten class had a question for me she said. Down I went and stood while 5 pairs of eyes looked expectantly up at me. The teacher turned to one of them and said "Ok, ask pastor your question."
Then with a sincerity and seriousness I will never forget this little girl asked "Why did Jesus have to die?"
Why indeed. The truth is I don't even remember what my fumbled answer was.
Some like to make it a simple legal issue. Life for life. We were headed for death and Jesus was our substitute. Certainly that's part of it but it's more than a tit for tat substitution, much more. If it was only a matter of life for life I suppose any life would have sufficed. If God was just really angry and needed some blood I suppose any blood would have filled the bill but that certainly wasn't the case either.
They twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. The thorns here are deeply significant. They make a good crown because they hold together very nicely. They also become a dual purpose prop. The crown mocks Jesus as the "King of the Jews" and it inflicts discomfort and pain as anyone who has handled thorns knows.
Thorns have a long Biblical history. They enter the Story way back in Genesis 3:18. God explains to guilty Adam that from then on the ground will produce thorns and thistles. When the dominion of the earth was given to the father of lies by Adam and Eve it altered everything. Nature itself was deeply affected and the one thing God pointed out above all else was the emergence from the now cursed ground of thorns and thistles. Thorns cause us pain and make us bleed and thistles cling to us and won't let go.
Fast forward about 2000 years and you find Abraham on top of Mount Moriah (which later became the place where the permanent temple was built in what would become Jerusalem). He is there in front of an altar on which lays his son Isaac. He is about to offer him as a sacrifice when a Voice stops him. As he looks up to here where the Voice came from he sees a ram caught by it's horns in a thicket. I can almost guarantee that thicket was made up of thorn bushes and thistles. The ram became a substitute. Isaac lived. The ram died.
Fast forward another 2000 years and we see Jesus on this same elevated piece of land on which Jerusalem was built having a crown of twisted thorns placed on his head and a robe of purple placed on his beaten body. Thistles come in many colours ranging from deep lavender and violet to red. The dye used for royal robes by the Romans at the time of Jesus was a purplish red.
In every literal and symbolic way Jesus is suffering all the effects that sin has brought to our world - injustice, pain, thorns, mockery, the apparent domination of evil over good, darkness over light, and the father of lies over the Father of love.
Why did Jesus have to die? So many why questions and the dark day has just begun. As the Christmas season intensifies it seems odd to be at the cross. Last night I was at my sister's house and when we arrived a young man was singing "Mary Did You Know?" on the television. It's one of my favourite Christmas songs. Did she know what began in a manger would end here in a mock trial? No she did not. But it had to. Why? Why indeed. See you tomorrow.