Theology 101

Why Creation Sings “Joy to the World” at Easter, Too

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One of my favorite hymns is “Joy to the World.” We usually sing it around Christmas, but for years I have thought of it as an Easter hymn.

The first verse calls for us to have joy because the Lord has come, and calls for heaven and nature to sing. Nature is singing in anticipation of the redemption spoken of in Romans 8:19–21, when the effects of the Fall are removed.

The Significance of Thorns throughout Scripture

In the beginning, God made everything without blemish. He made humanity and put them in the garden, but Adam sinned. The result of this was human death and a sinful nature that has been passed down to all humanity.

Another result of human sin, though, was that the ground itself was cursed on behalf of humankind (Gen. 3:17-19). Creation was disordered in order to remind humans there is something wrong in the world and that a savior is needed. Storms, weeds, viruses and other harmful elements in nature remind us of our weakness and our need for redemption.

When God cursed the ground, he told Adam it would bring forth thorns (Gen. 3:18). Thorns were a sign of the curse. In fact, throughout Scripture, thorns are represented negatively.

  • If Israel did not fulfill God’s command in taking the Promised Land, the remaining people would be thorns in their sides (Num. 33:55).
  • Samuel writes that “worthless men are all like thorns that are thrown away” (2 Sam. 23:6). Lazy people are like a hedge of thorns that block progress (Prov. 15:19).
  • Thorns are repeatedly described as a sign of judgment (e.g., Is. 7:23–25).
  • Jesus uses thorns as an example of something that chokes out the gospel (Matt. 13:22).

The third verse of “Joy to the World” is a triumphant depiction of the New Earth:

No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground.

This is because when final redemption comes, the signs of the Fall will be swept away. This is depicted by Isaiah as the Holy One of Israel burning away thorns and briars on the day of judgment against the Assyrian king (Is. 10:17), and again in a clearly future judgment by the author of Hebrews where unproductive hearers of the Word will be burnt up like “thorns and thistles” (Heb. 6:8).

The Significance of Christ’s Crown of Thorns

Thorns appear again in the biblical narrative at a key point. Despite the different details that are presented in the gospel accounts, three of the four Gospels tell us that Christ was given a crown of thorns before he was crucified (Matt. 27:29; Mk. 15:17; Jn. 19:2–5).

Only Luke leaves the crown of thorns out of the story, and this is largely because his account of the crucifixion is much shorter than the other three Gospels.

There is significance in the material chosen for Christ’s crown.

  • The crown of thorns is not merely a sign of mocking of Christ as he was beaten, judged, and crucified. The thorns are a symbol of the future hope when “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).
  • This hope is made possible by Christ’s substitutionary atonement for human sin. When Christ was cursed on our behalf he took the judgment of God in our place. Christ’s crown presents a sign of the work that was taking place on the cross.
  • Just as thorns infested the ground as a result of Adam’s sin, so Christ’s crown of thorns indicates Christ’s work to lift the physical signs of the curse.
  • Christ’s work in redeeming all creation gives meaning to our lives now beyond just the “spiritual” things that we do. All of creation will be redeemed and restored.

As we live and work, we should continue to push back against the signs of the curse seeking to demonstrate, in part, what the future redeemed creation will look like when, as the songwriter expressed it,

He rules the world with truth and grace/And makes the nations prove/The glories of His righteousness/And wonders of his love. 

Editor’s Note: The IFWE blog will take the day off tomorrow, Good Friday. We pray you have a blessed Easter. Today’s post was previously published on Apr. 6, 2015. 

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