Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Seeing Jesus in Cancer (The Crown of Thorns)

In just the last 24 hours we found out that two people we know and have been praying for passed away to cancer. One yesterday (Jamie's mom) and the other this morning (Rich L - 40 yo with 3 children). Please lift up the families of Rich as well as Jamie as they make funeral arrangements and grieve the loss of their loved ones. Our hearts grieve with them. Cancer is a horrible curse. It's so difficult to understand because we all inherently know it does not belong in this world. The disease is merciless and cruel. How could a loving God permit cancer to exist? Today's post attempts to understand why cancer exists and its ultimate destiny....
"...and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said." -Matthew 27:29

Like many of you, I've been meditating on the last week of Jesus as found in the gospels and I'm intrigued by the "crown of thorns" placed on Jesus' head. For many years I just glossed over this detail as nothing more than one added form of mockery the Roman soldiers bestowed upon Jesus, but I've come to realize there is something much more profound going on here.

Scripture tells us that when God created the universe "it was good" . However, once man fell (Gen 3) and sin was introduced into the world a curse fell not only upon humanity but upon all of creation - and since that day all that God created as good has been marred by the effects of sin. These effects include evil acts of mankind, natural disasters, all kinds of sickness (yes, including cancer!)and even death. In the beginning this was not how God created the world. The tell-tale sign that this curse had fallen upon creation was that the earth would now produce  "thorns and thistles" and the work mankind needed to do for sustenance would no longer be a source of joy but a source of "painful toil" (Gen 3:17-19). In other words, "thorns and thistles" became a profound symbol of "the curse" upon all of creation.

"Sacrifice of Isaac" by Caravaggio
Later in Genesis we see God instruct Abraham to offer up His son Isaac as a sacrifice on an altar. Many of us grew up hearing this story, but if you think about it this is one of the strangest (if not most disturbing) stories in the Bible. Is God actually commanding child-sacrifice? No - not at all. He commands Abraham to do this to provide one of the most dramatic pictures of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament - 2,000 years before He actually sends His Son to be that substitutionary sacrifice for us. If you recall, Abraham is stopped by an angel of the Lord immediately before Isaac's death - and a ram (i.e. adult male lamb) that is "caught in a thicket by his horns"  (Gen 22:13) is provided as Isaac's substitute. If you can picture this in your mind's eye, this ram's head was essentially caught in a "thorn bush" (i.e. thicket). Remind you of anyone? 

acacia greggi
In the very next book (Exodus 25) we see God lay out very specific instructions on how to build a tabernacle, the furnishings of the tabernacle, and the centerpiece of the Tabernacle - "the Ark of the Covenant" (yes, that thing Indiana Jones was after). If you read these long and sometimes yawn-inducing passages you will notice something very conspicuous. All the furnishings from the altar to the table, to the Ark to even the frames and the crossbars were to be made with a very specific wood - acacia wood - and then overlaid with gold. Now if you're wondering what kind of wood "acacia" is a simple Wikipedia search (HERE) will shed some interesting things about this particular tree. 
"The name derives from the Greek word ακις (akis, thorn)....acacias are also known as thorntrees, whistling thorns or wattles..."  (Wikipedia - "acacia")
How interesting! Of all the trees God could have chosen to build the tabernacle He chooses a thorn tree and overlays it with gold. I would have chosen oak or cedar myself but maybe God is trying to tell us something here. 

So here's the kicker...

When Jesus comes into the picture centuries later and offers Himself up as a substitutionary sacrifice for us - we all know he is nailed to a cross. This is the symbol of our faith. However, in light of above, the "crown of thorns" should hold new meaning and significance. 

His death and resurrection not only redeems us from our sin and restores us back into a right relationship with God - as it was in the beginning. His death and resurrection was a profound sign that he was "reversing the curse" for all of creation. All that is wrong will one day be made right again. 

We saw this all throughout Jesus' earthly ministry. During his three years on earth, we see him reversing some of the horrific effects that sin brought into this world (e.g. disease, demons, even death). His healing powers hinted at this. His resurrection power left no doubt.  Make no mistake, when he wears the "crown of thorns" it is not just a Roman mockery of his Jewish royalty  - he is demonstrating the reversal of sin's curse itself. We need only place our faith in the One who gave Himself up for us - who dies for our sins. How awesome is that? 

Paul tells us that all of creation is groaning (Rom 8:22) to be redeemed and restored back to its original state and the prophet Isaiah (and later the apostle John) tells us that God will one day, restore all that was lost under the curse by creating a "new heavens and a new earth".

What a beautiful thought! For those that have placed their faith in the cross of Jesus Christ, we realize that the effects of sin (e.g. cancer, disease, death) have no ultimate power over us. And the crown of thorns reminds us that Jesus will completely finish in all of creation that which He  has already done in our hearts - He will make all things new. (2 Cor 5:17). God is not in the business of improving on something that is broken. He is in the business of making things new. Whether it is myself  or all of the universe (Rev 21:5). May you find the "newness" that only comes from Jesus today. May you see the blessing that rises above the curse.

In His Grace,

Peter & Kim


  1. great post! thanks for the insight on this thread found throughout scripture! love it.

  2. Jill/Scott HiestandApril 3, 2012 at 2:44 PM

    Wow - what great insights! So thankful that God is using your writing skills to impact us all!

  3. Thank you for this post, Peter. I plan on sharing it with my grandma, who isn't a believer. She just recently found out she has cancer for a third time over the past 15 years, and she is not a believer. Her name is Gail, and I would appreciate prayers. I also continue to pray for Kim and your family.

    1. Jennine, we will definitely pray for your grandma, Gail. It sounds like the Lord loves her very much and will not let her go without a fight. Please direct her to our testimony (tab on top called "Our Living Hope")as well which explains the gospel a bit better I think. Lord bless you and your grandma.

      - Peter & Kim

  4. good stuff, pete. thanks for illuminating God's word to us! each entry is like a convicting Gospel-centered sermon! :)

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