Tom Sykes: Associated with the following address are some revealing experiences for which I am most grateful. One Sunday evening in a rather rough zinc picture house [movie house], I had to speak to six hundred men, most of them workers in blast furnaces and unattached to any place of worship. I gave the address on the "Kinghood of Jesus." The men listened, appreciated, and many of them were deeply moved. Six of them at the close quite spontaneously came forward and knelt where the screen hung. I had never mentioned any such action. It was another proof that men everywhere are saying, "Sirs, we would see Jesus." (John 12:21)
This year by the invitation of a Trades and Labour Council I was asked to preach in a cinema one Sunday morning. The previous experience and many others prompted me to take this subject, and even yet results are being reaped by the Churches as a result of that service. One thing I am sure of, there is no need to apologize for the Gospel nor dilute it in any way. A big heroic Christianity appeals and wins.
"And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon His head." Matt. 27:29.
Tom Sykes: And if we had been there and seen them do it could we ever have forgotten the sight? Would it not have made an indelible impression and ever afterwards been a kind of standard and test of behavior? What kind of impression does it make upon us now? Surely if we have any gift of historical imagination it will stir us deeply.
Everything depends upon how we approach. If we come to this scene in the temper [frame of mind] that would botanize on a mother's grave, to analyze and dissect, we shall go away empty. The redeeming truths of life do not disclose their secrets to the querulous [complaining, peevish] mind. It is when we come to the stooping reverence of wonder that His wounds become the windows of His love. The light of love streams into us casting out the darkness and making our souls incandescent with luminous purity; the light of love.
There is a striking disparity between the seeming occasionalness of this incident and its real immensity of meaning. Looked at outwardly, are you not shocked by the sheer brutality of it all? Looked at inwardly, are you not amazed at the demeanor of the sufferer? He does not shrink or protest, He is girt with the muffed gentleness of a divine strength. He demonstrates an inward support in the midst of outward agony and hate. Perhaps this was the bitterest ingredient in the ashy, gritty cup of death He had to drink. It also introduces us to the nature of the agony.
His agony was not fear of death, shrinkage from suffering, and concern for Himself. He paid the costly price of living for others. What would happen to them if they behaved in this brutal way to Him? "Daughters of Jerusalem weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves and weep for your children." He had heard their morally insane cry, "His blood be on us and on our children." He was afraid that it might come - He shrank in horror from being the innocent occasion by which hurt might come to others. "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). Thus the matchless regality of Jesus was manifested in scenes and treatment calculated to obscure it. "There was none other good enough to pay the price of sin"; but He was.
The circumstances need not detain us long. Here is a mark of Roman civilization. The condemned prisoner ceases to have any value. He is the legitimate subject for the sport of His guards. Those Roman soldiers could not let Him alone. He always wakes people up to do something. They make a mock king of Him and crown Him with thorns. They kneel before Him offering a false homage, little suspecting that what they do in ridicule some day the human race will do in reality. For Him is reserved the final Monarchy; "King of Kings and Lord of Lords," (1 Tim. 6:15) and He shall reign, because when we were at our worst He displayed His best. The government shall come to be on His shoulders, and of His government there shall be no end (Isa. 9:7).
But can we judge these Roman soldiers? Is He not still being crowned with thorns? Suppose it is true that "what is done to one of the least" (Matt. 25:40) is done to Him? Think of what is done to thousands of the least? [John Greenleaf] Whittier witnessed an auction slave sale in New Orleans slave market. He heard the auctioneer ask for a special bid for one girl because she was a Christian. The contradiction and the wrong roused the poet's soul and fired his imagination. "A Christian up for Sale," he wrote:
"A Christian going, going, gone.
Who bids for God's own image?
In that poor victim of the market place,
I see Thee stand once more,
Bound, scourged and sold again."
John Greenleaf Whittier
We have got to realize Him in this way. He is still identified with our human lot. Redemption is by identification. Our Saviour is our Brother. The insertion of His redeeming challenge is the power by which we shall find salvation.
We have then here the Coronation of Jesus. Never a Coronation like it, but, then, never a King like Him. Pilate said, "Art Thou a King?" He replied, "I am" (John 18:37); and He was and is and will be. But He added significantly, "My Kingdom is not of this world." His Royalty is in the Realm of Spirit and therefore creatively eternal.
This is the secret of the wonder of Jesus. There is nothing like Him in history. He emerged from the obscurity of His artisan home in Nazareth without the prestige of social birth or the authority of the powers that were. He went about doing good: His greatness was not in what He did, but in Who He was. Within three years He is trapped, betrayed, denied, crowned with thorns and executed without the gate, but He lives for ever. He is in deed and truth "the world's imperishable wonder."
Out of His Kinghood arises His perennial challenge. His call was for followers. Following Him does not mean talking about Him: it means living after His spirit; personally and gladly, repeating Him and His works. Truth is the summit of being, and character is truth radiating forth upon the world through our lives. That is what St. Paul means when he says, "God's Son was born in me." (?) "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me" (Gal. 2:20).
He does not ask for our adulation and compliments. We are qualified to follow Him only when we worship Him. Worship means adoration, surrender, obedience. Our surrender is the acceptance of His power to save. Our obedience is the joyous response He qualifies us to make. He becomes our Prophet, Priest and King.
This Coronation with thorns was the fulfillment of His opportunity. He had come along the royal road to this highness. He need not have been here unless He had willed it. Physical lot [condition] counts for little compared with Spiritual fidelity. We cannot measure life by its years. Arithmetic is futile in the calculation of worth.
"We live in deeds not years, in thoughts not breaths,
In feelings not in figures on a dial.
We should count time by heart throbs. He most lives
Who thinks most - feels the noblest - acts the best."
P. J. Bailey
Jesus could have had another Kingship. It was offered to Him. "If Thou wilt fall down and worship I will give Thee all the Kingdoms of this world" (Matt. 4:9). The disciples came and would have made Him king. But these offers were far too costly. There are some successes so cheap that we cannot afford them. There are some defeats so dear that we must pay the price. If a man violate his principles, pawn his conscience, catch the nearest way, he may come to temporary power, but what of himself. The blush to be dreaded is the blush that blisters the soul when memory accuses it of treachery.
"Let thy mind contrive not against thy mother, Hamlet, leave her to heaven and those thorns that in her bosom lodge to prick and sting."
Jesus might have saved His skin, but it would have been at the expense of His soul. He hurled from Him the suggestion of compromise. The skin was torn with thorns, but His soul was sovereign through it all. This is the great demand He makes upon us. John Bunyan said to the Magistrate, "I will do nothing contrary to my conscience." Twelve years' imprisonment and domestic anguish was the price, but the immortal vision of The Pilgrim's Progress was the reward. Jesus is ever seeking for loyal hearts and true.
The way in which He fulfilled His opportunity made possible His triumph. I know you can ask what good did it do. I would answer, sometimes the best good seems to do nothing but is everything. Good has resident in itself strength to suffer and to triumph. We have got to seriously revise what is powerful and majestic in life. Not the trumpery [worthless finery] pomp and circumstances of outward show. Not Caesar, but Jesus. The power of God unto salvation is a power of love.
Love is so self-respecting in its pristine purity that it cannot sully itself with duplicity. Love is so plastic and supple that it can stoop to the lowest indignity and suffer out to the uttermost, and at the point of seeming extinction is reborn and mighty to save.
If I may illustrate, they took His poor body from the Cross and laid it in the new hewn tomb in Joseph's garden. They rolled the stone and sealed it with the Imperial signet and strengthened the guard. But great Caesar himself and his Imperial army could not have kept Him there. Here is the world's Armageddon. When Caesar falls Caesar is finished. When physical force is broken it is done. But when Jesus dies, crowned with thorns, He is just beginning. Unhorsed, unafraid, unarmed, He faced the worst, marched into the black night of death, defeated death, and brought Life and Immortality to Light (2 Tim. 1:10).
Here is the most important truth that has ever broken in upon our human race. The redeeming God really realizing His redemption within the limit of our human experience. He was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Cor. 5:19). In Jesus, God was crying out, "This is My Beloved Son, hear Him" (Mark 9:7).
In conclusion, there are two glorious truths inviting our ready response. The first is that however sharp the thorns may be for many of us there is One who understands them. He is touched with the feelings of our infirmities. To Him, when loneliness and grief and darkness overtake us, we can turn for light and aid. When other helpers fail and comforts flee, He will be there.
"Is there diadem, as Monarch,
That His brow adorns?
`Yea, a crown, in very surety,
But of thorns.'
"If I ask Him to receive me,
will He say me nay?
`Not till earth and not till heaven,
John Mason Neale
Second, here is the Evangel of Good News. Dora Greenwell depicts in one of her poems a Durham pitman confessing to his wife what it is that had changed him. He had been a drunkard and lived a dissolute life. His wife could not make out what had altered him and he answers in his own way.
"I have got a word like a sword in my heart that has pierced it through and through,
When a message comes to a man from heaven, he needn't ask if it's true,
There is none on earth could frame such a tale, for strange as the tale may be,
Jesus, my Saviour, that Thou should'st die for a man like me.
It was for me that Jesus died. Me and a world of men.
Just as sinful, just as slow to give back His love again.
He didn't wait till I came to Him, He loved me at my worst.
He needn't ever have died for me if I could have loved Him first."
He first loved, and we must love Him too.
Sermon preached by Tom Sykes, Special Missioner of the English National Free Church Council, 1925, BV3797.A1T4.
Go to Literature Index Page
This URL is abcog.org/sykes.htm