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TLH 219, LSB 532 “The Head that Once was Crowned with Thorns”


Thomas Kelly’s hymn reflects how Jesus exchanged
His crown of thorns for a crown of glory.

If you are one who thinks this world already has enough lawyers, then you should smile whenever the Lord turns one of them into a preacher. We all know about Martin Luther, who initially studied law only to leave it in pursuit of the priesthood, but there was also Thomas Kelly (1769-1855), an Irishman who did the same thing. Educated at Trinity College in Dublin, he left his fancy law degree behind when, troubled by his sins, he found peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. His new joy in the Gospel led him to join the clergy of the Church of Ireland at age twenty-three.
Kelly’s Gospel-centered preaching, however, did not sit well with his superiors, especially the Archbishop of Dublin. So he left the established church and continued his preaching in small independent chapels around Ireland. Over the next fifty years he wrote an astonishing 765 Christian hymns. His powerful Ascension hymn “The Head that Once was Crowned with Thorns” has been published in over 450 hymnals.
Jesus’ ascension was His coronation as King over all for all time. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians that God “raised him [Christ] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age, but also in the one to come.”
(1:20-21 NIV84) Kelly’s hymn reflects how Jesus exchanged His crown of thorns for a crown of glory: The Head that once was crowned with thorns / Is crowned with glory now; / A royal diadem adorns / The mighty Victor’s brow.
Surely Jesus has earned this kingship by His innocent life, His bitter suffering and death, and His triumphant resurrection! The highest place that heav’n affords / Is His, is His by right, / The King of kings and Lord of lords, / And heav’n’s eternal Light.
It makes us glad to gaze on our triumphant King because our own triumphs seem so few and far between. We sigh with Job, “Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.” (14:1 NIV84) We can sympathize with Solomon who said, “What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief . . . this too is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 2:22-23 NIV84). Yet we see Christ, glorious in the heavens, who bids us come and join Him in that glory. He is our Joy! The Joy of all who dwell above, / The Joy of all below / To whom He manifests His love / And grants His name to know . . . They suffer with their Lord below / They reign with Him above, / Their profit and their joy to know / The mystery of His love.
Jesus turned His cross into our hope and glory. He turned an instrument used to punish people’s sin into an instrument used to pay for people’s sin. He changed a symbol of death and despair into a symbol of salvation. His ascension into heaven says, “Yes!” to this and “Amen!” to us, His children by faith. To them the cross, with all its shame, / With all its grace, is giv’n; / Their name an everlasting name, / Their joy the joy of heav’n . . . The cross He bore is life and health, / Though shame and death to Him: / His people’s hope, His people’s wealth, / Their everlasting theme.
David Schaller is pastor of Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sister Lakes, Michigan. He also prepares the “Bread of Life” devotions for the Lutheran Spokesman.