Monday, April 11, 2011

With Christ on Trial (Mark 15:1-15)

Audio (Recording glitch in the beginning, portions of intro omitted from .mp3 file)

Several weeks ago we began a series of messages which we are calling With Christ Through Easter. We’ve been examining scene-by-scene the critical episodes in Christ’s final earthly hours before the Cross. We have been with Christ at the table; with Christ in the garden; with Christ at the scene of the arrest; and today we are with Christ on trial. Now, often in the literature concerning this episode in the life of Christ, we find the process of His trial referred to as a “kangaroo court.” Now, that evokes a humorous image in the mind: a courtroom filled with kangaroos, and they are hopping back and forth from the witness stand and the judge’s bench. But that is not what a kangaroo court is obviously. Nor is a kangaroo court one that bounces from venue to venue, though that is certainly what happened in the trial of Jesus. Rather, the phrase describes a trial in which the outcome is essentially determined before it ever begins, and the whole thing moves along, going through the motions of judicial process in a manipulative way, but in actuality compromising the principles of justice. How it came to be called a “kangaroo court” is actually something of a historical mystery, but in such cases, the entire process is nothing but a sham and a mockery of justice. And that is certainly what we have with the trial of Jesus. This trial began in the middle of the night and was all but finished before sunrise; the charges were fabricated; the witnesses were coerced or bribed; and rather than being innocent until proven guilty, Jesus was considered guilty and not even given a chance to prove Himself innocent. Yet, the Father’s perfect sovereign plan to redeem humanity from sin and reconcile the world to Himself in Jesus was advancing in spite of this perversion of justice.

Today, we are focusing on the final phase of the trial, and we are admittedly jumping over (no pun intended) five other phases which preceded this one. Following Jesus’ arrest in the garden, He was taken in the middle of the night to the home of Annas, who is described in John 18 as the father-in-law of the high priest, Caiaphas. Annas had been the high priest twenty years earlier, from AD 7 – AD 14, and had controlled the office of high priest ever since. He was followed in the office of high priest by five of his sons, and the office was presently held by his son-in-law, Caiphas. Therefore, he is often referred to as the high priest, even long after his tenure had officially ended because everyone knew that he held the power. Annas and his family had amassed significant wealth through their influence over the religious system of Israel. You know how Jesus chased out the money changers and the animal vendors from the temple, not once but twice. In doing this, Jesus made Himself the enemy of Annas and his family because those temple merchants were their source of prosperity. Every time someone exchanged their Roman coins for Jewish ones at the temple, an exorbitant fee was charged, and a sizeable commission was paid by the money changer directly to the high priest and his family. They were also in control of animal inspection for the sacrifices. They determined which ones were fit and unfit as offerings at the temple. So, they had installed merchants at the temple selling “precertified” animals from which they could collect commissions as well. Jesus had said that the temple had been transformed from a house of prayer for all nations into a den of robbers, and Annas was the head boss of the largest organized crime ring in Israel at that time. And Jesus had called him on the carpet about it, and Annas and his entire family hated Jesus for it and wanted Him dead. When Jesus appeared before Annas in John 18, he tried to get Jesus to confess to something that could be twisted into a capital crime charge, but Jesus didn’t fall for it. He refused to answer the questions that Annas asked about His disciples and His teaching, so Annas sent him over to the home of his son-in-law, the present high priest Caiaphas. The journey wasn’t far; they probably lived next door to each other and shared a common courtyard.

By the time Caiaphas came into the picture the courtyard had become more crowded. Mark tells us in 15:55 that the chief priests and the Council had been trying to recruit witnesses to testify against Jesus, and many were willing to give false testimonies, which was itself a capital crime, but none of them could agree. Finally Caiaphas put Jesus under oath and said, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” In saying “Blessed One,” he was feigning piety by substituting titles for God. “Are you the Christ, the Son of God?” And Jesus answered, “I am.” He used the divine name of God, the Great I Am, to affirm the question and to assert His own deity. And He proclaimed to Caiaphas that He was the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies that had been written concerning Him in Psalm 110 and Daniel 7. Now they had their charge. Jesus was guilty of blasphemy. Of course, He is only blaspheming if His claim to be the divine Son of God and the Messiah is not true. It is true, but they have no interest in truth. They only want to be rid of Jesus forever.

From Caiaphas’s house, the trial moved to the meeting place of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of 71 priests, scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. There, the question was asked again, according to Luke 22: “If you are the Christ, tell us.” Jesus said, “If I tell you, you will not believe,” and again He pointed to the Messianic prophecy of Psalm 110:1. So they asked again, “Are You the Son of God?” and again Jesus answered, “Yes, I am.” Once again, He stated His claim to be God in the flesh. Since blasphemy was a capital offense according to the Old Testament Law, Jesus could be sentenced to death. But the Romans had prohibited the Jewish authorities from executing criminals, so in order to put Jesus to death, they had to convince the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, to go along with it.

Pilate was appointed in AD 26 by the Emperor Tiberius as the fifth governor or “prefect” in Judea. He held that post until AD 37, the longest tenure of the 14 Roman governors in Judea. It was a notoriously difficult place to represent Roman authority. He had failed many times, and he knew that there were many, both in Jerusalem and in Rome, who wanted him removed from office. Though he was not overly corrupt compared to many political figures of his day were, he was described by the ancient historians Philo and Josephus as a cruel and stubborn man. He was a politician in the truest sense of the word, having to stand for the powers of Rome while keeping the peace among the Jews. And for that reason, Pilate really didn’t want to have to make the hard decision about what to do with Jesus.

Mark does not record a detail that Luke provides, namely that at one point Pilate tried to pass Jesus off to Herod Antipas, the same ruthless ruler who had executed John the Baptist. Now Luke tells us that Herod had actually wanted to meet Jesus to see if He would do some miracles for him. But Jesus refused to amuse Herod, so Herod just bounced Jesus right back over to Pilate. No matter how he tries to escape it, Pilate is going to have to make this judgment on Jesus. And while Jesus refused to amuse Herod, He did not fail to amaze Pilate. Mark 15:5 tells us that Pilate was amazed. What was it that he found so amazing about Jesus? It was His quiet confidence. He refuses to mount a defense, to protest the charges, or to answer any questions except the ones that ask directly if He is who He claimed to be. We see here the fulfillment of Isaiah 53:7, a prophecy spoken about the Messiah some 700 years before Jesus was born, which says, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.” How can it be so? How could He not speak up and bring this thing to a halt? How can He endure the lies and the ridicule and the verbal harassment? We learn why as we examine the details of this text.

I. The Silence of Jesus Reflects the Son’s Confidence in the Father (v1-5)

The Roman Empire was not one that believed in a separation of religion and politics; the two were inseparable. The Emperor was hailed as a god, and his worship was demanded across the empire. But the Jews were exempted from emperor worship, and therefore, the government tended to stay out of their religious squabbles. He knew that the Jewish leaders were bringing a petty case before him, as v10 indicates: “He was aware that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy.” But a person claiming to be the Messiah and the Son of God would certainly demand their attention. By this time in Israel’s history the Jewish concept of Messiah was closely related to the idea of a perfect and powerful King who would overthrow all oppression and liberate the Jewish people. In this sense, Christ’s claim to be Messiah could be interpreted by Rome as an act of high treason. His claim to be the Son of God presented Him as a rival to the Emperor. So Pilate asks Jesus, “Are You the King of the Jews?” He was hoping to hear a confession from Jesus that would put the matter to rest one way or another. If Jesus said, “No,” then Pilate could dismiss the case altogether. If He said, “Yes,” then Pilate could just kill Him and be done with it.

But notice that Jesus did not give Pilate a “yes or no” answer. This is hard for us to see in our English Bibles, for the translators have tried to help us by adding a few words into his answer. In the NASB, this can be seen by the italicized words in verse 2. When we see words in italics in our Bibles, it is a clue to the reader that the translator has added these words, feeling them to be necessary to our understanding of the passage. Sometimes, unintentionally, those italics actually subtly blur the meaning of the text, as they do here. When I find words in italics, I read them, and then I go back and read the text leaving out the italicized words. Usually, the passage makes just as much sense, and is more faithful to the original without them. The NIV adds the word “Yes,” but not in italics. There is no equivalent to that word in the Greek text. The KJV, in spite of its antiquated English, is perhaps most accurate here, in rendering Jesus’ response, “Thou sayest it.” In John 18:34-37 we find more details about the conversation. There, when asked if He is the King of the Jews, we read that Jesus said, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” And when the question is pressed further, Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” In saying that, Jesus clearly claims that He is a King. When Pilate said to Him, “So you are a king?,” Jesus said, “You say … that I am a king.” In other words, Jesus is putting the ball back into Pilate’s court for him to decide who Jesus is.  That is the sense of the response we find in Mark 15:2. We may understand His words as, “You say so yourself.” It is as if He says to Pilate, “What do you really think?” It is a way of saying, “Yes I am a king,” while at the same time saying, “No, not in the way you imagine.” His kingdom is not of this world. John’s Gospel indicates that Pilate must have been been convinced by Jesus’ answer that He posed no threat to Roman authority, for John says that after this interchange, Pilate faced the people and said, “I find no guilt in Him.”

At this point, the accusations become more intense. From Mark 14, we may infer that they charged Him with plotting to destroy the temple. In Luke 23, we learn that they were also accusing Him of misleading the nation, forbidding Jewish people from paying taxes to Caesar (a bold-faced lie), and stirring up trouble all over the land by His teaching. When Pilate again turns to Jesus to find out what He has to say for Himself in light of these charges, Mark tells us in 15:5, “Jesus made no further answer.” In fact, at least in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus speaks no more to any human being. Upon the cross, He will speak to His Father God, but He has nothing more to say to man. His last words to man are somewhat akin to His question in Mk 8:29, “Who do you say that I am?” From that point on, He is silent. And His silence is a silence of confidence.

Jesus understands that Pilate has authority in this trial, but He also knows that Pilate’s authority is limited. All of us have some measure of authority in life, and all of us are under authority. The people are under the authority of the Council, and the Council is under the authority of Pilate. To some measure, as we see here in the passage, Pilate’s authority can even be swayed by the people leaving us to wonder who is really in charge here. The answer to that question is simple. Ultimately, God’s authority supersedes all other authorities. Paul says in Romans 13:1, “there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” God is the ultimate authority in all matters, giving authority to whomever He chooses and holding them accountable for the exercise of that authority. And so while we may assume that Jesus’ life and death are in the hands of the Council, or in the hands of the people, or in the hands of Pilate, Jesus knows full well that ultimately His life and death are in the hands of His Father God. In John 19, we find that Pilate confronts Jesus about His silence saying, “You do not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify you?” But Jesus said to him, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been give you from above.”

Because Jesus knew the Father was in full control, He could place His confidence in Him. No decision made by Pilate, the Council or the crowd could undermine the authority of God over the situation. Therefore Jesus did not need to defend Himself with words or actions. He could entrust Himself to His Father, and let God’s sovereign authority be His only defense. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty means that God is in ultimate control of all things, even when we cannot understand His purposes or ways. Those who have come to Christ by faith have been adopted into God’s family, and He has become the Father to all who believe. When we know Him as our Father, then we can know that we are loved by One whom we can trust even in the most difficult circumstances. Nothing that comes our way takes Him by surprise, and nothing is outside of His control. That’s a comfortable pillow for us to lay our heads on. When it seems the world is out to get us, when it seems like nothing is going right, when circumstances are frustrating and disturbing, and even when we seem to be staring death directly in the teeth, we need not panic or lose faith. Like the only begotten Son, the adopted sons and daughters of God can face these matters in the quiet confidence that comes from absolute trust in God’s ultimate authority. Though He may allow us to go through some dark and difficult days, and though He never promises comfort, luxury or even survival in this world, He has promised to never leave us nor forsake us. Though the saying has become cliché, it bears repeating: We may not know what the future holds, but we know Who holds the future, and our trust is in Him. As we faithfully endure the difficulties of life in this fallen world with all its hardships, those around us will see the quiet confidence we place in our Father, and like Pilate, they will be amazed. The silence of Jesus teaches us that. We see in His silence the Son’s confidence in the Father.  

II. The Substitution of Jesus Demonstrates the Father’s Plan for the Son (vv6-15)

Let there be no mistake about it – Jesus was innocent of every charge brought against Him and entirely undeserving of a death sentence. Even Pilate recognized this. Though Pilate’s confidence in Jesus’ innocence is more clearly stated in the other Gospels, even in Mark we can see him nearly pleading with the people to let Jesus off. Criminally, Jesus had done no wrong. Even more than this, we can say on the authority of God’s word that He had done no wrong morally. In His divine nature, He could not sin. The Bible says of the Lord Jesus that He knew no sin, and that He was tempted in all ways as we are, yet without sin. The scriptures say that the wages of sin is death. Having committed no sin, Jesus was entirely undeserving of death.

Let there be no mistake about another matter – Barabbas was a guilty man. We know nothing about Barabbas outside of what Scripture tells us, but what Scripture tells us is enough. He was “imprisoned with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the insurrection.” We have no information about this incident apart from what is said here, but it is enough to demonstrate that Barabbas was a rebellious murderer. Both of these crimes were understandably punishable by death. Even in our own nation with all of its modern civility, treason and murder are punishable by death. There is a subtle irony in this man Barabbas. His name means “son of the father.” Compare this to Jesus, who is the true Son of the Father. So in these verses we have Barabbas, a guilty son of the father, and Jesus, an innocent Son of the Father.

We are told that the people pressed Pilate to uphold a custom of releasing a prisoner at Passover. Pilate asked in v9, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” But the priests had incited the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas instead. This should not come as a surprise. After all, Barabbas was more the kind of person they were looking for than Jesus. At least he was willing to overthrow Rome. What is surprising is that Pilate would agree to it. He’s already deemed Jesus to be no threat to Rome, but Barabbas has already been convicted of an attempted coup! As for Jesus, the bloodthirsty cry of the near-rioutous mob cries out, “Crucify Him!” Even though Pilate initially protests, he ultimately concedes, “wishing to satisfy the crowd.” What is going on here? Why would Pilate grant such a radical request? Why would the people make such an inexplicable demand? The underlying reason is that God was demonstrating through these events His ultimate purpose in sending His Son into the world. As Peter declared in his Pentecost sermon: “This Man, delivered over to you by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to across by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” Though men are having their way with Jesus, their way is still under God’s predetermined plan. And in the substitution of Jesus for Barabbas, we have a perfect demonstration of that plan.

You see, there isn’t a person in this room who is any better than Barabbas. The Bible says that all of us have sinned. We are sinners by nature and by choice, born in a state of rebellion and inclined to disobey God from the womb. Just as Barabbas is guilty of treason against Rome’s authority, the rest of us are guilty of treason against God’s authority. And the Bible also tells us in James 2:10, “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” That means that in God’s eyes there are no degrees to sin. What is the most awful sin you can imagine? Who is the most vile sinner you can envision? Before you answer, you should know that according to God’s word, your sin is no better and you are no better. I must hate no one else’s sin more than I hate my own. That doesn’t mean I hate theirs less. It means I need to hate mine more.

Sin is sin. Jesus explained this in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” He also said, “You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell” (Matt 5:21-22). We may think, “Well, I’ve done some bad things, you know, but I never killed anybody before.” Don’t be so sure. Jesus would have us to examine our lives and ask, “Have I ever been angry with another person? Have I ever hurled insults at another? Have I ever condemned another person?” These, He says, are of equal severity in God’s eyes with murder. Welcome to Murderers Anonymous. My name is Russ, and I am a serial killer.

The Gospel of Jesus is Good News. You say, “Doesn’t sound like good news, you said we’re all rebellious murderers.” Ah, but there is good news for rebellious murderers. Jesus came to be your substitute, your sacrifice. Death is for sinners! The Bible says that: Romans 6:23 – The wages of sin is death. Jesus didn’t deserve death, because He had not sinned. We deserve death because we have sinned. And not just death, but wrath, condemnation, judgment and hell. But Jesus has become our substitute. He took Barabbas’ place in death, and He has taken our place in death, that we may go free. Our sins are placed upon Him and He receives our penalty for us, that we may be pardoned and liberated, set free from sin and death and hell. He receives the scourging and the cross that we deserve for our sins. We receive the covering of His perfect righteousness, and abundant life now, and eternal life forever, if we turn from our sins and accept Him as Lord and Savior. Paul said it this way in Romans 5:8 – “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” In 2 Corinthians 5:21, he says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

This is grace. This is love. This is mercy shown to us by God in Christ. And so the question of Pilate becomes the question of us all: “What shall I do with Jesus?” And the answer is that we should turn from our sins and trust Him who died to save us. The day will come for every person when we stand, not before an earthly authority such as Pilate, but before the ultimate authority of God. And in that day, if the question were to be asked, “Why should you enter heaven?” what would we say? Would we say, “Well, I’m a pretty good fellow. Never killed anyone, never done any really bad stuff?” God forbid that we should boast in such a way before Him. On that day, if that question were asked, the only response the could possibly be uttered is to say, “I don’t deserve heaven. I deserve death and hell because of my sins. But I believe that Jesus took my penalty, paid my death, and served my sentence for me. I trust in Him alone to SAVE me. He alone is my righteousness.” We say with Paul the words of 1 Timothy 1:15, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” The only thing we can boast of is the Cross of Jesus on which He died to save rebellious murderers like Barabbas, and me, and you. He is the true King. Make Him King in your life today, if you never have before.

No comments: