If you’re not familiar with the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale, The Jew Among Thorns, I recommend clicking here to read the story before proceeding to my commentary.
What happens to the unrepentant sinner? What happens to those who’ve been given God’s Word, but reject the truth, who continue in their wicked ways and set themselves against the Lord? That’s what this story is about.
The good servant, who, like Christ, finds himself at the gallows after three years of faithful service, is placed in contrast with a Jewish rogue who goes to a judge in order to deal with the man he believes has wronged him. Just like our Savior, the good servant is sentenced to death; however, unlike the Lord, in the end he lives while the Jew is hanged as a thief. While Jesus has died for the whole world, some personally deny the gift of His death. These people are like the Jew among the thorns, a thief to be hanged, a rogue without the good servant’s death to save them from their own.
In a narrow sense one can see how this is the story of Jesus (the good servant) and the pharisaical Jews, those rogues who sought to have Pontius Pilate judge the man they accused of breaking God’s Law, when in reality they were the ones who had robbed the Jewish people of their treasure, of God’s Word. In a broader sense this story is of anyone who knows the truth – that he is a sinner – yet denies it, thereby accusing God of wrongdoing (1 John 1:10). Such a person must face the penalty of his sins alone, he chooses to offer a sacrifice to atone for his sin based on his own merit. Such a person quickly finds that the penalty for his sin is death. He could’ve been Isaac, saved from his father’s blade, but instead he’s chosen for himself to be the ram caught in the thorn-bush (Genesis 22:13). Isaac was saved from death, likewise the Christian. Not the unbeliever, not the unrepentant. Who wants to be “a Jew [read unbeliever] with a long goat’s-beard” caught in a thorn-bush? Who wants to be hanged as a thief (on a cross) when Jesus has offered Himself as our substitute. He’s our scapegoat so we don’t have to be a ram, or a goat, long bearded or otherwise.
The unbelieving heart of the Jew is revealed when he rejects what the good servant calls him – rogue – just before he ends up caught in the thorns.
“Go, you rogue” he said to the Jew… “Oh! said the Jew, “leave out the rogue, my master, and I will do it at once…”
In light of John 12:48 it’s a brilliant foreshadowing of the conclusion. “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.”
The unbeliever doesn’t want the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. He wants the historical Jesus locked up, put out of the way, and punished for exposing his sin and mistreating him in his waywardness, right? Is that not what the Jew in our story requests of the judge? “Let the man be thrown in prison!” He doesn’t want Jesus to die – for that would mean salvation! – he wants Jesus punished, because Jesus highlights his sinfulness. After all, Jesus is “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23).
The end of the story presents a stern warning to all unbelievers as the Jew is forced to confess his guilt, forced to confess that he is indeed a rogue, a sinner! In repentant faith the Christian confesses his sins now, he hears the Word of God call him a rogue – a sinner – and he acknowledges the truth; the unbeliever, however, doesn’t receive God’s Word and will confess his sins before the judge on Judgment Day. Either way, “every tongue shall confess to God” (Romans 14:11). To confess our sins today is to have life through the Good Servant, Jesus, who died the death of a thief on a cross that we would be saved. To confess our sins on Judgement Day is to reject Christ’s death and be taken to the gallows and hanged as thieves.
And there, dear reader, is where the story ends.
The next Finding Truth in The Story will be on King Thrushbeard. Click here to read the fairy tale in advance.
I’m reading the fairly tales from the Fall River Press publication, Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales illustrated by Arthur Rackham. Click here to purchase a copy for yourself.
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