As I spent this time clearing the brush, most of it being thorny briers, I (obviously) got thinking about thorns. I especially made some observations about them that I hadn't noticed or seen before. Some of those are physical and others more spiritual, I guess.
The first thing I noticed, that really triggered my thoughts on these unpleasant plants, was that there were birds nests nestled into these briers. I kinda couldn't believe a bird was crazy enough to build its summer home there. But considering why makes it obvious. A small bird is light so it hardly has the weight to make thorns a threat on its own life or comfort. Most creatures don't come near briers because of the obvious pain they inflict. Not only do they hurt, but they are engineered to maximize pain and frustration. Let me explain briefly.
The thorns on these plants aren't just sticking out in any direction; they are sticking out at an angle pointed toward the root of the plant. On top of that, the branches of these plants stick out in all directions. So, if you ran into the briers, not only will you have thorns sticking into you, but they will not let you easily escape without causing even more harm to your skin. If that's not enough, briers grow and produce "patches", clumps of multiple briar bushes all tangled together and thorny in every direction. If you parachuted into a brier patch, you're not getting out without a lot of blood loss or an army of buddies to cut all the briers down to rescue you. There's no walking in, turning around and walking back out with your clothes and skin on. It takes calculated precise action to attach a brier bush.
If you're a tiny bird who can dodge a few thorny branches and build a summer home there, you've got a pretty quiet neighborhood all to your self. And, if you're lucky, there are probably patches of berry bushes nearby for food. It's almost heaven for a paranoid delusional bird; free food, very few predictors, branches galore to settled down among.
Cutting back these briers got me thinking about the Jesus dealt with thorns. He wore a crown of thorns, and I'm told they were not small thorns. We don't really view this as a symbol of royalty like a golden crown, but Jesus definitely wore it. It's interesting to dig into this one a bit. Here are some verses to consider.
- (Genesis 3:17-18) ...cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.
- (John 19:5) So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, "Behold the man!"
- (Ester 6:7-8) And Haman said to the king, “For the man whom the king delights to honor, let royal robes be brought, which the king has worn, and the horse that the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal crown is set.
- (Matthew 26:39) And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will."
- (Rev. 19:12a) His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns.
- (Rev. 6:2) And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.
- (James 1:12b) For when [a man] has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
- (John 15:6) If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
The passages in Revelation are interesting here too. He wore many crowns. Maybe scholars have other ideas, but consider we all had a crown of thorns, and Jesus has taken our crowns on his own head to pay the debt of sin that we all owe. We all were bound to a life full of thorny sin, and Jesus has freed us from the briers. Additionally, this crown was given him! God sent him to live among us and to fulfill this mission on the cross. In Gethsemane, he prays three times this prayer in Matthew, in the weight of his despair, that our many crowns be passed on because of how unbearable it seemed, yet he knew this was God's will. This was his mission to save us, and it was absolutely painful to bear, and he conquered it.
But what is so hard to believe sometimes is that, as James says (and many others), Jesus took our crowns in exchange for crowns of life all under the pledge that we simply believe him, not through merit, but simply responding with love. Why would God give us life, pay our debt, and ask nothing from us besides a relationship with him? This isn't saying God demands our love in exchange for life. To me, this is closer to simple gratitude. If someone gives you something you can't afford, asks nothing in return but to believe that you just received something awesome, you're not going to respond by hating them, no? I'm pretty sure you'll either really love what that person did for you, and maybe you'll break down and cry about how much of a blessing you just received.
This is quite amazing stuff! And we ignore the thorn so often. We gloss over the crown of thorns like a small detail of the crucifixion rather than the huge deal it is.
Just to help see how real that is, consider the parallel between physical briers and the briers of sin. It doesn't take long to see the parallel.
As I mentioned, it's easy to walk into briers, but it's painful to turn around (or move) and come back out. In the same way, sin is really easy to walk into, but to turn around and walk back out takes a lot of vulnerability and suffering to overcome. Even with the cross of Christ paying our debts, getting out of sin is not simple. We can sin a little and maybe get out without a lot of pain, but we'd probably have some holes in our clothes.
If we get too far into a thick patch of briers, we'll definitely need assistance to get back out. Just cutting back the briers today, throwing aside a single branch often tangled with my jacket or gloves or hat. I even had to take my jacket off once to get at a branch that tangled across my back. I can't imagine what it'd be like to fall into a bush and attempt to extract myself from it. But we do that with sin; we get so deep into it that the only way out is to ask for help. Sometimes it's may just be Jesus, but other times we need that accountability to tell us to stay out of that sin. We need to be reminded that going into that bush may not hurt now, but it's painful coming back out no matter how many times you go in and out.
At another angle, not direct-on sin, but in the area of habits, we find another brier metaphor. If we do something or live a certain way, changing our habits can be a thorny process. People ask questions, or we're too attached to living in a certain habit. There are many ways we may find ourselves living our life in autopilot because we are too afraid to take that pain to change our habits. This is something that was discussed in a mens group this morning, something I just recently joined. Maybe we didn't discuss habits directly, but we discussed taking risks in our lives for Jesus. This doesn't mean we have to be super-Christians, but we need to take the risk and change things about ourselves that aren't aligned with Jesus' plan for our lives. Instead of living the same thing through our whole life, we need to stop being timid and make a change so God can bless us; Stop complaining and do it. A doer gets things done, but someone who's afraid of the details wastes their own time away. More than anything, Jesus wants us to be doers and not hearers only (James 1:22).
Don't forget what's in John 15. If we aren't useful, we're cut out and committed to burn with the other useless branches. You can't get rid of briers by just cutting them all to pieces. If you throw them aside, the thorns are still where you left them. Only by burning them are the thorns truly eliminated. And honestly, there are sticks and old birds nests in those briers that would much easier be burned than be extracted for preservation apart.