Crown of Thorns Miracle
By Brad Ferguson
“Who despises the day of small things?” (Zechariah 4:10a, KJV).
“Two thousand years ago a remarkable man walked this earth who revolutionized human nature. He was called the Prince of Peace. He taught men truth that set them free. And He preached a gospel of love. Yet He told us not to seek after peace, freedom, or love. He said, ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.’ He promised that if we did so, we should then attain the only lasting peace, freedom, and love.”
The place was our town’s civic coliseum. The occasion was the 1972 graduation ceremony of one of our city’s high schools. I was a sophomore college student sitting in the audience in order to watch my new girlfriend, who had graduated early and was attending college with me, walk across the stage and accept her diploma with the rest of her class. The words quoted above signaled the end of the address by the valedictorian of Tascosa High School. The graduation ceremony was full of pomp, excitement, and poignancy for the students and their parents. It was tedious for those like me, who had few emotional ties to the 750 kids graduating from the high school which was the chief rival of my alma mater. And yet, the valedictorian had arrested my attention, partly with her listing of the Vietnam War era social and political troubles we were all living through. But primarily it was her unexpected offering that Jesus was the answer to those problems which gripped me.
I had been raised in church, but was really just a nominal Christian. And maybe that was why such a public and thinly disguised proclamation of the Savior grabbed me so strongly that I never forgot it.
“They laid Him in a grave and told us He was dead.
But He rose again to prove that He had crushed the serpent’s head.
He has given life to us through the power of His death
And in His resurrection won the final victory.
Sing alleluia to the worthy Lamb
Who was slain and died for us, but rose again to reign.”
Click here to hear a 1979 recording of the song.
It was 1979. By now I was a genuine, spirit-filled Christian. Jeremiah’s Commission, a Christian band at Trinity Fellowship, the small church I was a part of in Amarillo, Texas, had just performed “Easter Praise,” a song I had recently written. A few weeks earlier a very tough, brawling drug dealer was on his way to prison. He had been led to the Lord by members of the church. This man requested that another song I had written be played at the last service he would attend before being transported to his new concrete and steel room. A deputy sheriff led James into the church and later took him away to jail. The song James wanted to hear one last time was a ballad that he felt reflected his lost, rough life. Unknown to anyone, it also started the birthing of a relationship that had gestated for years and which “Easter Praise,” a few weeks later, would give breath to.
Shortly after Jeremiah’s Commission finished “Easter Praise” and the congregation was dismissed, a good friend caught me in the church parking lot. She wanted to introduce me to a lovely young visitor to the church named Debbie. This engaging newcomer had heard the song James had requested a few weeks earlier, but after “Easter Praise,” she found my friend and asked, “Who is this Brad Ferguson who wrote these songs I keep hearing?”
“Oh, Brad?” my friend replied as if I were family, “I’ll introduce you.”
Debbie confessed to me later that when she saw me, I was wearing the ugliest sweater she had ever seen, but that at our introduction something inside her leaped with joy or recognition.
Debbie and I began spending time together, mainly talking. We are both introverts (she more than I), but we can be very talkative when it comes to discussing ideas. She had her Master’s degree in English literature, and one evening as I was asking about her thesis on C. S. Lewis, she mentioned something from the address she made at her high school graduation. She had been valedictorian. I hadn’t known that before and found it very interesting. I told her I’d like to hear her speech, if she had it handy. She found a copy of it on one of several neatly organized book shelves and began reading it to me. The further she read, the more I began to realize that this was the valedictory address I had heard and been impressed with seven years earlier at my then girlfriend’s graduation. Debbie and I were both caught off guard. This prior connection seemed like a “coincidence” of astounding proportions. Although our relationship was still new, and we weren’t certain what implications to place upon our encounter seven years earlier, we believed it was significant.
When Debbie and I met, I was not only between relationships, but also between jobs. I soon took another “between job” as a study hall aide at the high school I had graduated from ten years earlier. It wasn’t the kind of job anyone makes a career of, but bringing order to a previously disorderly place brought “thank-you’s” from more than one serious student. Although I was unaware of it, God was also bringing order into my life. In my pre-Christian days, I had a short-lived job making jewelry, and I soon learned that the school had a jewelry-making class. I got to know the football coach who taught the class, and he told me that if I had any jewelry I needed to cast, he would cast it for me while casting projects for students. Christmas was just around the corner, and I set about making a pendant for Debbie.
On Christmas day, Debbie was stunned as she held the beautiful pendant I’d fashioned for her in her hands. She had seen a few pictures of my work, but she had only a passing knowledge of the time I’d spent making jewelry. That part of my life, the part before I really came to Christ, seemed far away and insignificant. But it was not insignificant to God. As she gazed at her Christmas present, Debbie suggested that maybe I was supposed to make jewelry for a living. The idea had never really occurred to me. But if I made jewelry now, I wanted to make Christian jewelry. I wanted my faith in Jesus to be reflected in everything I did.
Seeing what I could do, Debbie sat down and excitedly sketched a design on a piece of paper, handed it to me, and asked if I could make a pendant that looked like her drawing. I studied her sketch and replied that I had never made anything like it before, but that I would try. The next day I set my simple wax sculpting tools on my study hall desk and surprisingly quickly, sculpted the master model of our original Crown of Thorns pendant. I know there was something more than my hand at work in the sculpting process. When I first thought I was finished, I had what seemed to me a clever idea—put thirty-nine thorns on the pendant to symbolize the traditional number of lashes Jesus received when he was scourged. I started counting to see how many thorns I needed to add or remove to bring the number to thirty-nine. I counted again because I must have made a mistake. No, I counted again. It already had exactly thirty-nine thorns.
I could hardly wait to get off work and take it to Debbie for her approval. She was very impressed. It was exactly what she had pictured in her mind. She did not notice the number of thorns on the pendant and was amazed when I told her my story about the thorns. We were both convinced that God had guided my hands in the sculpting process.
After the Crown of Thorns pendant was cast and polished, we noticed more unplanned symbolism. The pendant was also a circle that intersected with itself seven times. The circle represents eternity. Seven is the Biblical number for perfection and completion. Thus, our Crown of Thorns pendant symbolizes God’s eternal gift to us, the perfect and complete atonement for our sins that Jesus made through His suffering and the shedding of His blood. Wow. We didn’t plan any of that, but we are convinced that He did.
Something in me had attached itself to Debbie because of her proclamation in a high school graduation ceremony that Jesus was the answer to our troubles. Seven years later (perfection and completion), something in her attached itself to me because of my proclamations of Jesus in song. When brought together at the proper time, a picture placed in her mind, and the movement and skill placed in my hands, brought about a powerful symbol of God’s love for sinners and His victory over sin.
At the end of the semester, I quit the study hall job and started my Christian jewelry business, Samaritan Arts Jewelry. I set up a small workshop in a corner of a room in the house I grew up in. There were many trials in my effort to get established, and it took twenty years for me to begin to understand the difficulties of owning and running a business. Even though I had a degree in psychology, I was in my forties before I figured out that I was an artist by nature. It took me a while to say that openly because I had always thought of artists as kooky. It took me even longer to realize that artists are seldom the most gifted businessmen.
Although many people in our church kept urging Debbie and me to get married, it was seven years after we met before we felt directed—or released—by God to marry. We had the longest wedding ceremony anyone we knew could remember. After our honeymoon Debbie and I set up house together. I continued to struggle financially, and sometimes my attention was divided between my business and pro-life work. Nevertheless, God provided. Sometimes the struggle seemed to be too great, but we would remember the way in which God used us to bring our Crown of Thorns pendant into existence. We would remember the early days when a dying woman sent her son to buy a Crown of Thorns pendant so that she could wear it when she was buried. And the woman who told me that as she lay dying in a hospital bed which doctors said she’d never get out of, a friend gave her one of our Crown of Thorns, and that whenever she felt it she remembered that “by His stripes we were healed,” and how she rose from that bed with a beautiful testimony of healing. And we would remember missionaries who would wear a Crown of Thorns because they served in countries where wearing a cross could get them killed. And the cancer patients who bought the pendant because of the testimony of a worker at the local cancer center who always wears a Crown of Thorns. And we’ll never forget the nonbeliever who bought one on the spot after reading the story about the first one I made because he knew someone who needed something like that.
God brought us together as we heard the other proclaim the gospel. He enabled me to fashion the picture in Debbie’s mind into His Crown. He wove unplanned symbolism into the Crown of Thorns as I sculpted it. And He has chosen to use the Crown of Thorns to again proclaim His Gospel through those who wear it.