The Crown of Life
If you will give me a moment, I want to do something I’ve never done before. (Put on hat)
There – that’s better! I’ve never preached from the pulpit while wearing a hat. But I think Joy would be delighted.
This hat thing found its inspiration is a Bible verse that the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians. He was addressing the issue of hair length, specifically that the length of men’s hair should not be that of a woman’s. Down through time the tradition of women wearing hats in the church was considered a respectful and proper thing to do.
Joy kept the tradition alive and we were glad for it. Her hats were never outlandish or showy. They always complimented the rest of her ensemble. She dressed up – for her Lord. Joy looked very classy. She put the “S” in style. And, if she were here she would probably be shaking her head at all of these platitudes. Joy did not live for fawning compliments.
But Joy lived up to her name, didn’t she? Some people suck the joy from every place they go. But Joy filled the places she went to with an overflowing, abundant joy. Her laughter was infectious. Whether she was playing a hot game of cards or just visiting with good friends, people were touched by her joyful spirit.
The word, “JOY” has sometimes been used as an acrostic to convey the message – Jesus…Others…You. Here again, Joy lived up to her name.
Joy’s love and trust in Jesus couldn’t be missed. She loved being in God’s house. She rejoiced in the singing of hymns…was filled with gratitude for the words of the forgiveness the Lord spoke to her as she made her confession…eagerly received God’s Holy Word as it was read and proclaimed…humbled by the Lord’s invitation to come to His table and receive His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.
As I ministered to Joy and Terry in these last months I couldn’t help but admire her Bible. It was worn. It was being used a lot, regularly. And still, in the midst of her pain, she never stopped from turning to her Lord and Savior to receive his Word of comfort and peace. And she never stopped desiring the spiritual nourishment that the Lord’s Supper gave her.
Yes, Joy loved Jesus. But she loved others too. Let me ask a question – how many of you here today received at one time or another, a greeting card or a phone call from Joy? Wasn’t it such a blessing to know that you were being thought of and prayed over by Joy? I can’t tell you how often I was lifted up by the cards she used to send me. Or when she called the office and said, “Don’t want to bother you – just praying for you.” And it wasn’t just to check on me – she called often to ask about someone on our 5:16 prayer list. These gifts of prayer and encouragement given to Joy by the Lord did not go to waste. She put them to good use. And in that way her name, Joy, really came alive – Jesus…others…you.
She lived this life of Joy in spite of all the trouble her friend caused her – and Terry, I’m not talking about you! Amazingly, she referred to MS – multiple sclerosis – as a friend. I could think of other words and you could too. Joy once wrote, “It is very strange how these two friends (MS and the Lord Jesus) have become so intertwined. Each are silent, but very strong – yet always with me. Each one has a definite hold on me, in their own way!!”
Rather than curse God for allowing Joy to be saddled with this affliction, she rejoiced that God was present with her and giving her the power and strength not to be limited in the life she wanted to live. Joy wrote, “For you see God is in my every movement, saying, “Go, gal, you can make it – I’ll see that you do.” That was Joy, the woman who loved her husband, adored her sons and their families, prayed and cared for her church family, lived life as fully as any of us and put the “S” in style with her wonderful array of hats.
And it gives us such great comfort today to know that even as Joy rests in the arms of her Lord and Savior, she has traded in her hat for something much better.
It is a crown. We call it the crown of life.
The apostle James, the brother of Jesus, wrote about this crown in his epistle: Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when He has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.
This crown is also described in the book of Revelation: Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Notice that this is not something that is earned. It is a gift from God. It is given to the faithful. Those who trusted Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life. It is placed on the heads of those who trusted Jesus in spite of personal suffering, like the suffering that is experienced by those afflicted with MS.
So Joy left behind her 150 something hats for something better, much better to wear.
And it has happened because Jesus chose to wear a crown as well.
A crown of thorns. (Display crown of thorns)
It is early on the Friday morning we call “good.” Jesus has been illegally taken captive by the Temple Guard and unfairly tried by the Jewish religious leaders, the Sanhedrin. He has been dragged before the Roman governor, Pilate, who sentenced Jesus to be crucified. Jesus then received a horrific flogging and then was led into a place called the Praetorium where an entire company of soldiers gathered around him.
Listen to St. Matthew’s description of what happened next: They (the soldiers) stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in His right hand and knelt in front of Him and mocked Him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. The spit on Him, and took the staff and struck Him on the head again and again. After they had mocked Him, they took off the robe and put His own clothes on Him. Then they led Him away to crucify Him.
These words are so very hard to read. The Son of God being made sport of. The King of heaven being made to wear a crown of torture. Imagine the sharp thorns piercing Jesus’ scalp. See the blood trickling down His cheeks. Picture the pain etched on His face.
As horrific as those images are, they are nothing in comparison to what Jesus suffered next. Jesus carried His own cross to Golgotha. His hands and feet were nailed to that cross and then that cross was lifted up for the people of Jerusalem and for all the world to see. He suffered fully and completely. Those who should have been begging for His forgiveness mocked and baited Him. They shouted out, “He saved others but He can’t save Himself.”
But that which perhaps causes the greatest pain for us is to hear Jesus cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”
It was bad enough that it seemed that the whole world, in that moment, had turned against Jesus. But to be abandoned by His Father in heaven – why?
It was because Jesus, as he hung from the cross, had become the biggest and worst sinner the world has ever known. On the cross, as the apostle Paul teaches, Jesus became sin. He bore Joy’s sins. He bore your sins and mine. Resting on Jesus were the sins of the whole world.
And because God is a holy God and will have nothing to do with sin, Jesus was punished for our sins. He was punished and also abandoned by His Heavenly Father. As He hung from the cross, Jesus experienced hell.
You and I can’t come close to imagining or appreciating what Jesus endured during those six hours of suffering on the cross. But we can truly rejoice and offer our greatest thanksgiving and praise as we hear those wonderful words, “It is finished!”
Finished – Jesus’ suffering is complete. Our sins are paid for. Our sins will no longer be charged to our account. Jesus has paid off those sins accounts – in full! And as we sing in “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “God and sinners reconciled!”
So because Jesus willingly wore that crown of thorns, we are blessed to receive the crown of life, a gift given to all who trust in Jesus alone for forgiveness and new life and salvation. On July 2nd, the Lord said to Joy, “Welcome home. You’re the hat lady, right? Try on this crown – you’re going to love it.”
You know, a crown is often seen as a symbol of victory. It comforts us to think of Joy as victorious. I’m reminded of some other words Paul wrote to the Corinthians: Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is why we can celebrate even in the midst of sadness. Joy is with Jesus. She wears the same crown that you and I will receive. Those who believe in Jesus’ victory over sin and death and the devil will wear the crown of life. On the Last Day, Resurrection Day, the dead in Christ will rise. We will see Joy again. You’ll know her and be able to hug and love on her. But there’ll be something different about Joy. That old friend, MS – gone, abolished, a thing of the past. She will be whole. No trouble with her legs. No problems walking. How wonderful is that?
So you ladies – keep on wearing those hats. They look great. I think Joy would approve. But don’t hold onto to them too tightly. God has something even better in mind for you – and the guys too. We’ll be just like Joy – wonderful wife, mother, grandmother, friend. We’ll all be decked out in the crown of life – a gift promised to us by our merciful and gracious God. Amen.