Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Questioning Jesus (John 18:12-14, 19-24)


Law professor Douglas Linder of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School has created a fascinating website chronicling around 75 famous trials in history. [1] Not surprisingly, one of them is the trial of Jesus Christ. In his treatment of the trial of Jesus, Linders makes a number of claims to which we would rightly take exception, yet we can all agree with this statement: “no other trial in human history has so significantly affected the course of human events.”[2] No other trial has affected the quality of life and eternal destiny of any significant number of human beings, and yet the trial of Jesus has this immense and eternal bearing on us all. 

Because the Jews were under Roman authority in the First Century, there were two systems of justice in place. In order to secure a death sentence, Jesus would have to be sent before the Roman authority, Pontius Pilate. But He could not come before Pilate without the case being passed up from the Sanhedrin, which was chaired by the current high priest, Caiaphas. John presents us with information not found in the other Gospels which indicates that before Caiaphas heard the case, an informal inquiry was conducted before Annas, presumably to gather information and coerce Jesus into indicting Himself. Annas is an interesting fellow. In verse 19, John calls him the “high priest.” He had held that office for a decade, but around 15 years before Jesus’ arrest, he was deposed by Pilate’s predecessor Valerius Gratus. He had been succeeded briefly by his son Eleazar, and his son-in-law Caiaphas had been the high priest for about a dozen years at this point. Several of his other sons would go on to hold the office after Caiaphas. Even though he did not currently hold the office of high priest, however, it seems that Annas still possessed significant influence. After all, according to Mosaic Law, the high priest was ordained for life, and most Jews in that day would not have accepted a Roman decision to remove him from office. In the eyes of many, maybe even most, Annas was still the real high priest. For this reason, it is not surprising that he would be the first to interrogate Jesus.[3]

There is also another reason that this should not surprise us. Annas had a personal axe to grind with Jesus. When Jesus overturned the tables in the temple and chased out the moneychangers, he was hitting Annas where it hurt – right in the pocketbook. The shops and stands in the temple that charged exorbitant fees for the exchange of currency and the sale of sacrificial animals were known as “The Bazaars of Annas.” He was the chief profit-maker of all of these transactions, and Jesus had just interfered with his cash flow. Therefore, Annas would have had some measure of personal delight in confronting Jesus and being a part of this effort to end His life.[4]

Though the account we have read here represents the first phase of Jesus’ trial, it was by no means the last. From Annas, Jesus would go on to Caiaphas, and from Caiphas to Pilate, then to Herod Antipas, and back to Pilate for the final sentencing. But, one could say that the trial of Jesus did not even end there. In a sense, it continues on today. Who He is, what He has said, and what He has done, continue to be the subjects of debate, and these things must become matters of personal decision for every human being. As one team of scholars has written,

Many … today still reject His claims and consider Him a threat to the religious and political establishment, as did the religious and governmental leaders of Israel and Rome. But Jesus is under fire in a different way now. Today some declare that Jesus never said most of what is recorded of Him in the Bible. Some pronounce further that Jesus never did most of what the Bible records He did. They claim that Jesus of Nazareth was a far different figure than church history and the creeds have believed Him to be. … To many today, the Jesus of Nazareth we find in the pages of the Bible is a fictitious creation of the early church, and He must be exposed for who He truly is if He is to have any value for people who face the twenty-first century.[5]

Jesus is still on trial, if you will, in the minds and hearts of many. Some are like a modern-day Annas or Caiaphas, having already set themselves up as judge, jury, and executioner with a predetermined verdict. Others are honestly and openly seeking answers. But the questions they are asking are not altogether different from those that were asked of Jesus when He stood trial 2,000 years ago. And the answers He gives are unchanged as well.

I. People are asking questions about Jesus.

After any big sporting event, there’s always a guy with a microphone ready to throw it in the face of a player or a coach. They always ask the same questions, and they usually get the same answers. “What happened out there today? What went wrong? How do you feel after that game?” Stuff like that. And the answers are always equally mindless: “We played our best. It is what it is. We feel good about our performance. We’ve got some things to improve.” It gets old after a few hundred times. Well, for 2,000 years, people have been asking the same questions of Jesus over and over again.

In verse 19, we read that the high priest questioned Jesus about His disciples and about His teaching. The specific questions are not recorded, just the broad categories. Perhaps he wanted to know which one of the disciples hacked off Malchus’ ear. Maybe he was asking where they had all wandered off to since they fled when Jesus was arrested. Whatever else may have been asked, we have good reason to assume that Annas wanted to know just how many disciples Jesus had, and what they were up to. The charge that the Jews were going after for Jesus was blasphemy, punishable by death under Jewish law. But, the Romans would not allow the Jews to execute someone for blasphemy, and they had to give final approval on capital cases anyway. So, the Jewish authorities knew that the best way to secure an execution for Jesus was to portray Him before Pilate as a revolutionary. If they could get some dirt on the covert maneuvers of Jesus’ band of renegades, they could persuade Pilate to convict and kill. 

The second category of questioning from Annas involved Jesus’ teachings. Just what, exactly, had He been filling their heads with over these three years? Was there some secret meaning to His teaching, or some dangerous heresy in it? Annas’ questions were obviously an attempt to get Jesus to say something here and now that he could distort into some twisted meaning to implicate Jesus as a blasphemer and a seditionist.

Interestingly, the questions people are asking Jesus as He stands trial today are not that much different than those asked by Annas. They tend to fall, at least, into the same categories. Of all the things that they could ask of Him, they tend to focus on His disciples and His teachings. When it comes to His disciples, the questions tend to sound like this: “What about that famous Christian who committed that great sin that we read about in the paper? What about that politician who is in a scandal that claims to be a Christian? What about those crazy people who are doing all those crazy things in the name of Jesus? What about that group of weirdos who teach this or practice that?” It is understandable to an extent. Many of us have decided that we will no longer shop in a certain store or eat in a certain restaurant again because one employee of that place gave us bad service. That’s the way some people view Jesus. Because of the poor representation given Him by one or a few of His professed followers, they have written Jesus Himself off. On the other hand, it is a bit of an unfair judgment, isn’t it? While we all should represent Jesus better than we often do, our failures are not His. It is not Jesus who sinned, or who was embroiled in scandal, or who wronged anyone. He never called anyone to follow His followers. His call was always and only, “Follow Me.” Not everyone who claims to follow Jesus really does, and even among those who do, human beings are always going to fail and disappoint one another. But Jesus never fails and has never disappointed anyone. To focus the questions on His disciples and so-called followers is to avoid the eternally important issue. On the last day, you will not have to answer for what a Christian (whether a true or false one) did to you. You will have to answer for what you have done with Jesus. Many have tried to avoid Him by erecting smoke screens of defense about His followers. As we field those kinds of questions, we need to direct the conversation to where it needs to be focused – on the person of Jesus Christ.

People are also still asking about His teachings. Did He really say this or that? Why did He never speak about this or that? Why did He say so much about this or that? These are good, legitimate questions that every follower of Christ needs to be prepared to answer. In order to do that, we must immerse ourselves in the Scriptures so that we know and understand what He said and didn’t say, and what He meant when He said what He said. For example, it is commonly said today that Jesus never spoke against homosexuality, and the question is asked, “If homosexuality is such a big deal, why did Jesus never speak on the subject?” Sadly, too many Christians accept that question at face value and are left speechless and unable to answer. The fact is that Jesus said several things that are directly relevant to the issue of homosexuality. First, He said that the entire Bible is true and trustworthy. For instance, in Matthew 5, He said,

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

He also said that the Holy Spirit would guide His apostles to complete the written revelation of God in the writings of the New Testament. He said to them that the Holy Spirit would teach them all things (Jn 14:26), and guide them into all the truth (16:13). This means that Jesus has endorsed all that has been written in the Old and New Testaments. So, when the critics say that only Paul and Moses spoke about homosexuality, we must point out to them that Jesus has ratified all that stands written in the Word of God – even the words that He Himself did not speak.

But we also need to point out that Jesus did not remain silent on the specific issue of homosexuality. When asked about marriage and divorce, Jesus said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Mt 19:5-6). Jesus could not have been clearer that God’s design for intimate human relationships was intended solely for a man and a woman.

My point here is not to leave our text in order to discuss other issues, but to demonstrate that people today are still asking the same kinds of questions about Jesus that Annas asked 2,000 years ago. They are asking about His disciples and His teachings. And it is incumbent upon us as His followers to give an answer to them. First Peter 3:15 says that we must always be “ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” We do that by pointing people beyond the followers of Jesus to the person of Jesus, and clarifying for them exactly what He said, what He didn’t say, and what He meant and didn’t mean. This brings us to the next matter in our text.  
II. Jesus is answering the questions people are asking.

In addition to this being my tenth anniversary as your pastor, this year has also marked the twentieth anniversary of my ministry. On October 1, 1995, my home church “licensed” me to the Gospel ministry. Over the last two decades, I have received a lot of advice that has helped me along. I have forgotten who said it, but I will never forget the words spoken to me early on in my ministry. Someone said, “Don’t spend your life answering questions no one is asking.” It is easy to do that – to become experts in things that do not matter! Though Jesus didn’t answer directly every question that was ever asked of Him, He did answer the ones that matter the most. He did that here, and the answers He gave are still relevant to the world today.

First, let’s look at how Jesus answered the questions about His disciples. Do you see it in the text? No, you do not, because He didn’t answer that question. Rather than discussing His disciples, Jesus kept the focus where it belonged: on Himself. Eight times in His response we find the words “I” and “Me.” In the Garden when they came for His arrest, He asked the militia twice whom they were seeking, and both times they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” After the second time, He said, “If you seek Me, let these go their way” (v8). He is the One with whom the world has to deal. It is not that He doesn’t care about His disciples. He cares about a very precious few things more than His people. Rather, it is that He cares too much for the souls of those who are asking questions to let them be distracted by their trifling curiosities about the whereabouts and goings-on of His followers. Do you want to ask Him about the sins, the secrets, or the schemes of His followers? That seems to be what Annas wanted to know about. But Jesus did not satisfy Him with an answer, and He will not entertain that question of the world today. He will simply point to His cross where He died for the sins that His followers have committed, and declare that the only hope for the world is found in that same cross. Every person has enough sins of their own to be concerned about, so there is no need to obsess about the failings of others. He will not engage the dialogue. He will simply say that the sins of these have been covered in His blood. What about yours?

When it comes to the questions about His teachings, He has much more to say. And these answers are still valid today. Annas undoubtedly wanted to get down to the bottom of some of some of the things that Jesus had said publicly, and wanted to see if there were any “secret teachings” that He’d been giving to His followers. Jesus’ response to Him is direct and to the point. He says, “I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret.” He didn’t mean that He never spoke to His disciples when they were alone. He just meant that what He said to them in private was no different than what He spoke in public. As Carson says, “His private discourses further unpacked what He said in public, or extrapolated His message a little farther according to His perception of His followers’ willingness or capacity to understand and obey.”[6] But what He said privately never contradicted what He had said publicly.

A few decades ago, when the Southern Baptist seminaries were overrun with theological liberalism, most Southern Baptist church members were unaware of the problem. Professors would spout heretical ideologies in the classrooms, infecting a rising generation of church leaders with all sorts of strange doctrines. But when they went to preach in Southern Baptist churches, they would couch their words carefully, being sure to not say anything that would sound off-base to the Bible-believing members of those churches whose contributions paid their salaries. It came to be known as “doublespeak.”

Jesus was saying to Annas that He was no “doublespeaker.” He did not espouse one set of doctrines in the private classroom with His disciples and another before the public audience of the temple and synagogue. He says, “If you want to know what I taught, ask those who heard Me.” And there were thousands of them!

There are two important components of Jesus’ response to the questions about His teaching. First is the transparency of His message. He says that the words are out there for one to hear and weigh for himself or herself. When people ask questions about the teachings of Jesus, many of them have never read one word of the Gospels. Others have read the Words of Jesus through distorted lenses. Our response to them is the same as Jesus’ response to Annas. The message is there. Read it! Read it without bias, read it with an open mind and open heart, read it with an eye for the weighty implications that it bears on every human soul. There isn’t a “Volume 2” to the Word of God that only the privileged initiates are given. Our beliefs about Jesus are rooted in the words that He said and the words that are said about Him in the Bible. This book is not written in hieroglyphics. It’s been translated into every major language in the world. It’s readily available. Read it. Don’t read into it, just read IT, and given open-minded consideration to what Jesus has said.

Second, Jesus’ response deals with the abundance of witnesses. He says essentially here, “There are thousands of people who heard what I said; go ask them.” Witnesses were very important in that legal system. Jesus is saying here, “If you need two or three witnesses to implicate Me of some crime, they aren’t hard to find.” And friends, the same is true today. We can point to two kinds of witnesses to the teachings of Jesus. First are the eye-witnesses. Matthew and John were eyewitnesses. Peter was an eye-witness, and Mark has recorded his accounts. Luke was not an eyewitness, but he says in the opening verses of his gospel that he has interacted with eyewitnesses and investigated everything carefully. So the Gospel records provide us with eyewitness testimony to what Jesus said and what Jesus did. If you have a question about Jesus, you can ask the eyewitnesses by reading the Gospel accounts. But we also have a second kind of witness: the experiential witness. Who are they? Many of them are in this room. Multitudes have lived over the last 2,000 years. These are people who had profoundly personal encounters with Jesus Christ and He changed their lives. He didn’t just “improve” or “affect” their lives; He radically transformed them into new people. Ask them about Jesus. They aren’t hard to find. If you are here today and you have questions about Jesus, don’t leave here without asking someone else – ideally several others – “what has Jesus done for you, and how have His words impacted your life?”

The point here is that Jesus is still answering questions that people are asking, and He is answering them in the same way. He is pointing them to Himself, not the failures and follies of His followers. He points them to the cross where He died for sin, not the sins for which He died. He points them to His word, which is transparent and readily available. And He points them to the witnesses who testify of who He is, what He has said, and what He has done. But once Jesus has answered the questions, a response has to be made. And that brings us to the final issue.

III. There are only two responses one can make to Jesus.

Every married couple has had this discussion at some point. “What do you want to do for dinner tonight?” “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” “Oh, it doesn’t matter. Whatever you want to do.” And on and on it goes until someone gets hungry enough to make a decision. There are nearly unlimited options available, and ultimately it does not really matter what decision is made, but both parties are just trying to avoid having the make the decision. And some people foolishly approach matters of religion and spirituality with the same sort of nonchalance. “What do you want to believe? Oh, I don’t know, what do you want to believe? It doesn’t matter anyway.” Friends, it matters tremendously! There is nothing else in the universe that matters as much as this! To be wrong on this is to be destructively and eternally wrong in such a way that it will not matter at all what else you were right about in life! A decision has to be made, and there are only two possible decisions we can make in response to Jesus and His answers to our questions.

The first is the one we see in the text. I would call it irrational rejection. Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying all rejection is irrational. I might think that, but I’m not saying that. I think some rejection is premature, some of it is uninformed, but a lot of it is irrational. Look at verse 22. After Jesus had spoken in response to Annas’ questions, some guy, who is so insignificant that his name doesn’t even get mentioned, comes up and smacked Jesus across His face. The Bible says that he “struck Jesus,” but the Greek word that is used here typically meant “an open-handed slap on the face.” He said, “Is that the way You answer the high priest?” There is not a moment’s consideration of the content of His answer. Their minds are already made up, and rather than taking issue with the truth or falsehood of Jesus’ words, this guy resorts to physical violence, over what? His tone of voice? Jesus had not said anything disrespectful or inappropriate. The irrationality of this was not lost on Jesus. He said, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong.” In other words, “Tell Me the words that I said that prompted such a response.” He says, “But if [I have spoken] rightly, why do you strike Me?” In other words, if there was nothing objectionable in My response, then your reaction is uncalled for.”

This irrational rejection went further. Seeing that Jesus was not going to give Annas what he wanted, verse 24 says that sent Him to Caiaphas. He could’ve let Him go at that point, but he sent Him to Caiaphas, the current holder of the office of high priest. Annas held the power and influence. Caiaphas held the office and the title. Why did Annas send him to his son-in-law? For a fair trial? No way. Caiaphas had already declared his intent. In John 11, Caiaphas had said to the Sanhedrin, “it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” And the Bible says there that “from that day on they planned together to kill Him.” Caiaphas’ mind was already made up. He knew that Jesus couldn’t be executed without Pilate’s verdict, and he had already determined to send Jesus up the ladder to Pilate and up the cross to die. Verse 14 reminds us that Caiaphas had said that, lest we forget that his rejection of Jesus was irrational.

Today, people still reject Jesus irrationally. He doesn’t give them what they want. He doesn’t say what they want to hear. He calls them to repent of their sin and die to themselves and to leave all behind to follow Him. There is nothing the world wants to do less than that. So sometimes violently, often vehemently, and more often irrationally, people decide to reject Jesus.

But there is another option – only one other option. Rather than deciding to reject Jesus, you can decide to follow Him. You can turn to Him as Lord and Savior and recognize that it was for your sins that He died, so that you can be forgiven and reconciled to God. He bore your penalty in His death as your substitute so that you can have everlasting life with Him instead of everlasting torment away from Him. Caiaphas had spoken, ironically, far better than he knew. It really is expedient for this man to die so that you will not perish. The Bible says that God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son – He gave Him to die! – that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.

The account of Jesus’ trials is filled with ironies. The greatest of them is this: here we find unbelieving people setting themselves up as judges over Jesus. And that irony is still be played out. Every day, Jesus goes to trial somewhere in the world, and in those trials, unbelieving people whose minds are already made up about Him set themselves up as His judge. But the Bible says that God has “fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Ac 17:31). That Man is the Lord Jesus Christ, whom the Bible says that God has appointed as Judge of the living and the dead (Ac 10:42). On that day, the tables will be turned. He will not be on trial, but every man will stand trial for himself. And Christ will be the judge. He will ask the questions and you will give an answer. And the only question that will matter on that day is “What have you done with Jesus?” Until that day comes, you have the opportunity to ask of Him whatever you wish, and hear from Him the answers that He and His witnesses have spoken about who He is, what He said, and what He did, and ultimately decide if you will reject Him or follow Him by repentance and faith as your Lord and Savior.

[1] Douglas O. Linder, “Famous Trials.” Online at http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/ftrials.htm. Accessed September 3, 2015.
[2]  Linder, “The Trial of Jesus: An Account.” Online at http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/ jesus/jesusaccount.html. Accessed September 3, 2015. 
[3] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Pillar New Testament Commentaries; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 580-581.
[4] Robert Mounce, “John” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (rev. ed.; Vol. 10; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 614.
[5] Michael J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland, Jesus Under Fire (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 1.
[6] Carson, 584.