Jim T Brown (Edinburgh)

Hebrews 2: 9 (to “honour”)

2 Timothy 4: 6-8

Revelation 2: 8-10

1 Peter 5: 3-4

Revelation 3: 11

How fine to get a fresh impression of Jesus crowned with glory and honour; He is rejected publicly but enshrined in the hearts of His own and crowned in heaven too. What a day it must have been when Jesus entered heaven. The Father had raised Him from the dead by His glory, “raised up from among the dead by the glory of the Father” (Rom 6: 4), but how special must have been the meeting when the Father welcomed Jesus as He entered the realm of glory, “whom heaven indeed must receive”, Acts 3: 21. Why must heaven receive Him? In order to crown Him! It was a glorious coronation day when Jesus entered heaven: “For thou hast met him with the blessings of goodness; thou hast set a crown of pure gold on his head”, Ps 21:3. “Gone into heaven” Peter says, “angels and authorities and powers being subjected to Him”, 1 Pet 3: 22.

The Father’s greetings, honours rare,

Are heaped upon His Son’s blest brow;

He is the mighty Victor now.      (Hymn 350)

What a telling contrast to the crown of thorns! Mark, in his gospel, puts his account of it in the present tense, as if ever to remind us of what it meant to Jesus to suffer and to die in order to secure our place in these wonderful thoughts of divine purpose: he says, “they clothe him with purple, and bind round on him a crown of thorns which they had plaited”, Mark 15: 17. Wicked hands had plucked these thorns, wicked hands had woven them into a crown, and they bound that crown of thorns on to the head of the Lord of life and glory. Satan, you see, used men to heap upon the Lord Jesus every shame and every humiliation. How keenly He would feel, in the perfection of His Manhood, the taunting, the jeering, the sneers. He was struck with the palm of the hands of His creature, and then He was spat upon, the nadir of human behaviour. It reflects the essence of man’s fallen nature that wicked men would dare to do such a thing. We read in Numbers about the altar, covered with a cloth of purple. The scripture says, “they shall cleanse the altar of the ashes, and spread a purple cloth thereon” (Num 4: 13), spread upon it, as if to convey that there was not an aspect of these precious sufferings that was not faced with moral and kingly dignity. How deserving He is of the Father’s laurels! Indeed I suppose that every day of that precious life met with the approbation of heaven.

But then John says, in that remarkable, majestic parenthesis in chapter 19: 5 of his gospel, “Jesus, therefore, went forth without, wearing the crown of thorn, and the purple robe”. That is a unique expression; John refers there to the crown of thorn as singular, as if to suggest that the whole race was collectively guilty of the rejection of Jesus; elsewhere in the gospels, it is referred to as a “crown of thorns”. We read in Psalm 22, “Bashan’s strong ones have beset me round” (v 12); how the Lord Jesus must have felt the contempt, laced with envy, of the religious hierarchy. Then the Roman soldiers, with their gross brutality and insults, making game of Him, as it says, “an assembly of evil doers have surrounded me”, v 16. All these awful atrocities were perpetrated on the blessed Saviour as men sought to thwart what was according to the divine will; but they never could. In regal dignity, “He went out, bearing His cross”, John 19: 17. Wonderful Jesus! “Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and granted him a name, that which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow ... and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to God the Father’s glory”, Phil 2: 9-11. Men speak about the social divisions, they speak about cultural differences, but at Calvary, never was the world so united and unanimous in its rejection of the Lord Jesus. But one day soon, every knee will bow - will have to bow - to Him. How fine to give glory to Jesus now as God has done. “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in Him, God also shall glorify him in himself, and shall glorify him immediately”, John 13: 31-32. How choice to think of God in Himself glorifying Jesus. He spared not His own Son but then in Himself He has glorified Jesus. May we have a fresh view of Jesus glorified.

But there are these other crowns. There is first the crown of righteousness, conferred by the Lord Jesus as righteous Judge, suggesting a fine consonance between the One who confers the crown and the person who receives it, because, of course, if we think of righteousness, our minds turn to the Lord Jesus. He Himself said, “thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness”, Matt 3: 15. Everything Jesus did was exercised and discharged in perfect righteousness. He did always the things that pleased the Father, John 8: 29. Then, part of His sufferings was on account of righteousness. What He endured at the hands of men was on account of righteousness. Peter says, “when reviled, reviled not again; when suffering, threatened not; but gave himself over into the hands of him who judges righteously”, 1 Pet 2: 23. What it must have meant for Jesus to have His creature treat Him in such a despicable way. It was ‘the violation of every delicacy which a perfectly attuned mind could feel’, JND Collected Writings vol 7 p172. Jesus felt things with a sensitivity which no other could. But then, at Calvary, supremely, He met God in order that the claims of righteousness might be met, in order that the righteousness of God might be extended to you and extended to me, “righteousness of God ... towards all, and upon all those who believe” (Rom 3: 22); “that we might become God’s righteousness in him”, 2 Cor 5: 21. Then one day soon, a bright scene will be ushered in, where righteousness will reign. What a day that shall be when He, the King of righteousness, will reign. We too look forward to a day when there will be “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness”, 2 Pet 3: 13.

Here in Timothy was Paul coming to the end of his pathway. His life was being poured out: wonderful expression. How much was for the divine pleasure in Paul’s life. As it was being poured out, every drop, as it were, would be assessed by the righteous Judge according to the divine standard, and Paul clearly had the assurance that a crown of righteousness was laid up for him. But you might ask why there should be a crown of righteousness for Paul? Was not this Saul of Tarsus, the man who persecuted the saints, “who ravaged the assembly, entering into the houses one after another, and dragging off both men and women delivered them up to prison?”, Acts 8: 3. In all of this, was he not seeking to crush the seeds of Christianity, and to exterminate all that was for God, all that the Lord Jesus had secured?. Another scripture says he persecuted believers “even to cities out of our own land” (Acts 26: 11); hot pursuit it would be called nowadays. Saul of Tarsus did all this in his determination to catch believers whose simple act was to have received Jesus into their hearts and were “of the way”, that is, loyal in their testimony to their Lord and Saviour, Acts 9: 2. So you might ask if he was really worthy of a crown of righteousness?. Ah, but the same Saul of Tarsus could say, “for me to live is Christ”, Phil 1: 21. The Lord Jesus intervened as he journeyed to Damascus and took over his heart, his affections and his life. He gave himself wholeheartedly and with total commitment to serve his Lord and Master. Christ had taken possession of him. What suffering, pain and hardship that entailed for him - riots, afflictions, necessities, prisons, stoning, even shipwreck, but he endured it all in fidelity to His Saviour, as he proclaimed the glorious truths, which God, in His grace, had given him. What an example, but also a challenge, to us all!

So Paul is assessed as worthy of his crown according to the divine standard. Thus the references in the Bible to the shekel of the sanctuary are interesting, and a subject worthy of consideration. What questions it raises. It is referred to in the Pentateuch but not thereafter. Who had custody of it? What purpose did it serve? Why is it called the shekel of the sanctuary, and not, for instance, the shekel of the testimony, or the shekel of the tabernacle? By the reference to the sanctuary, divine holiness is clearly involved, and thus it sets a divine standard. It comes into various situations. Blessedly, we come to appreciate that we are all redeemed on the same, sure, basis. Jesus paid the price of our redemption with His precious blood - by the half shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary, Exod 30: 13. All the gold for the work of the sanctuary was measured according to the shekel of the sanctuary, indicating how God’s great thoughts are given effect according to His own standards, chap 38: 24. Affectingly, too, it is part of the instruction in relation to the trespass offering, showing how our responsibilities to maintain what is right must be in accord with divine requirements, Lev 5: 15. The princes, also, had an appreciation of what was due to God as the offering each brought on his day for the dedication of the altar, was according to the shekel of the sanctuary, Num 7: 13. So it enters into every aspect of our sojourn here. It is the divine standard by which things are to be measured and evaluated, be it in the assembly or in our personal lives.

There is a helpful reference in Deborah’s song. It exhorts those that walk by the way to consider -

The voice of those who divide the spoil in the midst of the places of

drawing water;

There they rehearse the righteous acts of Jehovah …

Then the people of Jehovah went down to the gates.             Judg 5: 11.

How often we judge things by human standards: woe betide us if we do. When God acts, He does so righteously. So here the emphasis is on “the righteous acts of Jehovah”. How extensive they are. How wonderfully God has operated through every dispensation and, supremely, in the giving of His Son. How wonderfully He has wrought in our own dispensation and in the way the testimony has come down to us in the recovery of the truth in the last two hundred years or so. All of this reflects “the righteous acts of Jehovah” and is to be valued and cherished. I recommend our younger brethren to read the book, ’The Recovery and Maintenance of the Truth’. It shows how precious truths were contended for and cherished, and the rights of God asserted. Thus it says, “rehearse” them; that is, there is benefit in going over things again and again so that truths and scriptures are embedded in our souls and we become familiar with them,

In Proverbs, wisdom says, “I walk in the path of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of judgment”, Prov 8: 20. The path of righteousness in that particular scripture is singular, meaning that there is only one such path, whereas it adds, “in the midst of the paths of judgment”. That is to say, one might explore the particular issue at hand in traversing “the paths of judgment”. But while there is discrimination in judgment, the paths of judgment flow into the path of righteousness, and there is only one. So in the darkening days foreshadowed in the second epistle to Timothy, Paul speaks about “cutting in a straight line the word of truth”, chap 2: 15. He is asserting that righteousness is to be followed.

Thus Paul says, “For I am already being poured out, and the time of my release is come”, chap 4: 6. That life was being poured out, and such was the intimacy of his relationship with the Lord Jesus, whom he had served so faithfully, that he had the assurance that what was being reserved for him was the crown of righteousness. And that, too, will be the portion of all those that love His appearing.

We come then to Smyrna, where the crown of life is promised. The name Smyrna means ‘myrrh’, which in turn means bitter and therefore suggests suffering for the will of God, see C A Coates vol 30 p119. Although there was decline in the church generally, there was apparently nothing to rebuke in the saints in Smyrna; yet the Lord uses tribulation to preserve them. But in His grace He assures them that there was a resource to meet the tribulation. So He says, “Be thou faithful unto death” but assures them that He is “the first and the last, who became dead and lived”. Though some might need to become martyrs, He affirms to them that He Himself had been into death and triumphed. What encouragement that would be for these saints in Smyrna, as facing death imminently perhaps, that they had an indissoluble link with a Man who had conquered death. How gracious the Lord Jesus is. He says to them, “I know … thy poverty; but thou art actually rich”. Not Laodicean wealth, not Laodicean riches acquired in whatever way; Laodicea arrogantly says, “I am grown rich, and have need of nothing” (Rev 3: 17), but the Lord Jesus assures these suffering saints in Smyrna that they are rich in a spiritual sense. Why? Because the surpassing riches of His grace were towards them, the wealth of heaven was theirs, and so they were fortified with the resources to meet whatever might come upon them. Persecution and imprisonment they might have to endure but the Lord, in His compassion, limits it to ten days. It says, “that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days”. How fine to understand that God can contain oppression in such a way. No doubt this refers to the ten great persecutions which beset Christians in the early days of the church. But God restricts it to “ten days” in His grace. He hastens to assure these dear saints in Smyrna - as He would us - that He would provide the resources to meet whatever afflicted them. What an encouragement that is for His own in difficult days. We can approach the throne of grace to “find grace for seasonable help”, Heb 4: 16. Whatever the circumstances that may occur in our lives either personally or in the assembly, we can “find grace for seasonable help”.

Then He says, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give to thee the crown of life”. How bright is heaven’s answer to a suffering church. What a reward for fidelity to the Lord Jesus in His absence! To all this, He adds: “He that overcomes shall in no wise be injured of the second death”, Rev 2: 11: What an anchor for the soul. They might have to die as martyrs as Stephen did, or face daunting trials, yet death was for them but the gateway to an eternity with the Saviour they loved. It is stimulating to retrace the history of the church. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, which I commend to the young brethren, is a chastening and humbling study. In it you read of simple believers in the Lord Jesus tortured, placed on the rack, burned at the stake, drowned, beheaded, yet despite these awful atrocities clinging unflinchingly to their faith. They had that blessed assurance of a link with the Man in the glory who would see them through every situation.

In Peter’s epistle, there is another crown, “the unfading crown of glory”, conferred by the Chief Shepherd. Who can that be but “the Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep”, Heb 13: 20? He is also the Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for the sheep, John 10: 11. He laid down His life that you and I might be ushered into the flock of God. Dear young person, value your place in the flock of God, come to appreciate more deeply the care that the Chief Shepherd of the sheep has invested in you. It says of David that “he fed them according to the integrity of his heart, and led them by the skilfulness of his hands”, Ps 78: 72. Ponder these hands of the Lord Jesus that, in grace in His pathway here, had touched the leper, now engaged in care for His flock. He is guiding us by the skilfulness of His hands, nudging us along, pulling us out of difficulty, preventing us from falling into trouble; How gentle His touch. Psalm 23 says:

Jehovah is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, v 1-2.

That has touched my heart recently. Sometimes, speaking practically, it is very difficult to find solace and to find peace in your heart with so much going on around us of every kind, be it personally or relating to the assembly. But “He maketh me to lie down”: He causes us to enjoy the peace, which He alone can give. He encourages us to enter His presence, to enjoy some fresh touch of His love, and feed on the green pastures, which can build up our constitutions, to set us forward in the way, strengthened, encouraged and assured. So it says where we read, and this is a word to the elders, “not as lording it over your possessions, but being models for the flock. And when the chief shepherd is manifested ye shall receive the unfading crown of glory”. He is the Chief Shepherd, which clearly suggests that there are others. If there ever was a need for shepherding it is now. What is the reward of shepherding? - The unfading crown of glory. Paul said of Timothy he had “no one like-minded who will care with genuine feeling how ye get on”, Phil 2: 20. Timothy would have learned the need for care from Paul; he learned from his spiritual father how shepherding was to be conducted. The reward was: “Ye shall receive the unfading crown of glory”. Heaven’s distinctions never fade; they never grow dim. The charms of this world, how they fade, how they lose their lustre, but the crown of glory is unfading. Scripture also refers to an incorruptible crown (1 Cor 9: 25); it cannot be tarnished or demeaned.

Finally in Revelation, if these crowns we have spoken about are for the future, there is a crown which exists at present: “hold fast what thou hast, that no one take thy crown”. It is not exactly that you might lose it, but the challenge is that no one should take it. Someone would seek to prise your fingers from it. Mr Stoney says that if you want to dislodge a man from a ladder, you would strike his hands, JBS vol 2 p210. It is what you have your hands on that the enemy attacks. What the Lord is saying here to these Philadelphians is, ‘Do not lose your grip on your crown’. What is the crown? I suppose it is our appreciation of the love of Christ and all He has introduced us into. Philadelphians would be those who live in the true grace and blessing of Christ, in ardent affection for Him, and who long to be with Him. So He says, “I know thy works”, Rev 3: 8. Not exactly what they say but what they do in fidelity to Him and to uphold what is precious to Him. Thou “hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name”, Rev 3: 8. They were true to that precious Name, the Name of Jesus, and had not denied it. We have the opportunity to confess it, to pledge our fealty and our loyalty to it. Then He says, “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience”, v 3: 10. How affecting that is. It suggests a two-way thing, Christ longing to have His own with Him but finding an answering desire in their affections to be with Him,

The word of Thy patience we’re keeping,

Thy radiancy draws us apart -      (Hymn 131).

It is He who says, “I come quickly.” The coming of Jesus will shortly take place: it is the hope of the church that Jesus will come and take her to be with Himself. Then every care, every sorrow, will be forever over. We shall live eternally with Him, “thus we shall be always with the Lord”, 1 Thess 4: 17. What a prospect! May we be attracted to this glorious Person, and then, when we get to heaven, it will not be so much a question of crowns for us which will engage us, but rather the attraction of the Person Himself. The elders in Revelation 4: 10 cast their crowns before the throne in full-hearted appreciation of the One who secured all for them. What will we do but simply bow in His presence, acknowledge His greatness and His glory, and pay tribute to the One who died and shed His precious blood to give us a place in such a glorious system?

May our hearts be attracted to Him! May He be freshly crowned in our affections, for His Name’s sake.



11th March 2017