Nothing grabs my attention like suffering. Pain is hard to ignore. The day before my family started quarantine, I got a call that informed me that my grandma wasn’t doing well. One week later she was gone. Because of Covid it was weeks before I got to hug my dad and tell him how sorry I was that he lost his mom. Right after our family’s loss several other family members started showing symptoms of the virus. Two ended up going to the ER. It was an unpredictable rollercoaster of emotions as they awaited recovery. I share this little snapshot of my story, because I know we are all touched in some way by suffering, sin, and death. Our stories will look different, but in times or trial: when sickness is spreading throughout the world, homebound isolation reveals remaining sin, and many people are facing death alone, we need hope. The good news is pain is not the end of the story. The Bible extends hope by telling us a story. It gives the suffering heart an image to hold onto. It extends a crown. A crown symbolizes a new beginning. A king’s coronation day was filled with the blessing and honor of the regal position. Let’s look at how the image of four crowns can bring encouragement.
The Crown of Life
Every time I get a sad phone call, it feels shocking. But death does not have the final word. God’s word reminds us that we can be steadfast. Listen to some encouragement from James: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). One day we will trade all this death for a crown of life. That is possible because Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6a).
The Crown of Righteousness
Maybe it hasn’t been a death for you. Maybe it’s the loneliness or all the change. Times of isolation and quarantine can and will bring out what is deep in our hearts. Working from home, not seeing friends, homeschooling, or financial trouble can all build pressure. What often comes out of us reveals our desperate need for a righteous Savior. But when we face our sinfulness, Paul gives us a different perspective: “there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). The good news is sin does not get the final word. Even if we’ve lost our tempers. Even if our feelings evidence unbelief. Even if we’ve said unkind words. Sin does not have the final word over our lives if we are in Christ. Jesus stands ready to save us. We can come to our compassionate and merciful God. We can tell him all our sin, and we can turn from it. Jesus makes this possible because he lived every single day of his life perfectly. He won every bit of the righteousness. And we need his righteousness to stand before a holy God. The good news is he has a crown of righteousness stored away for us. And on that day when we stand before the just judge, if we are in Christ, he will award it to us. He’ll take all our sin and give us his righteousness.
The Unfading Crown of Glory
Maybe it’s not a death or a major temptation for you. Maybe your problems come from serving others. When we pour our lives out for others, sometimes we suffer. But whether you are a pastor, a nurse, a mom, a plumber, a teacher, or missionary, Christ has something for us. He has something that lasts. Our labor is not in vain. Even if we face hardship. Even if we get discouraged. Even if suffering threatens us from every angle, God has a crown of glory waiting for us.When we face various trials, find encouragement from Peter’s words: “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4). Suffering does not get the last word. God does. Remember Paul’s example in the midst of suffering. He states, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Let’s trade every bit of our suffering for his glory (Romans 8:18).
The Crown of Thorns
Finally, we must look to Christ. We get to share in Jesus’s blessing because he set aside his crown of honor and came to earth as the God-man. Paul shows us the significance of what Jesus did: “And being found in human form, he [Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Jesus went to the cross so we could know his grace. He wore a crown of thorns for us. He took sin upon himself. He suffered in our place. He died so we might know life. A few verses later, Paul rejoices in the personal result of Christ’s sacrifice: “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:10–11). Paul wants to share in Christ’s sufferings that he might also share in his resurrection. As believers, we still experience the afflictions of the thorns–sorrow, sin, and death–but we know it’s not the final story. We know we will one day receive his unfading crown. Let’s receive him.