We sadly read about it all the time. A person convicted of a crime is set free after years in prison because of new or DNA evidence. These were Innocent people sentenced for crimes they did not commit. We call this a miscarriage of justice.
Such miscarriages fill history books. 19 people were convicted and hung as witches in 1692 in the town of Salem. Thousands of American citizens of Japanese descent were put into confinement camps during World War II. Many had their careers ruined because they were called Communists by Senator McCarthy. Jewish people were executed simply because of their race by the Nazis. There have sadly been other ethnic exterminations in Africa and the Middle East and political prisoners in China and other lands. In our own country we have seen the horrible injustice of slavery and the brutal effects of racism. All are examples of the miscarriage of justice.
This morning we study surely the greatest miscarriages of justice. God’s own Son who had come to save us, was brutalized and then executed by the very people He came to save. To get a handle on the flow of this morning’s text let me divide it by four words: Abuse, Injustice, Testimony, and Condemnation.
63 The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. 64 They blindfolded him and demanded, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” 65 And they said many other insulting things to him.
Many people know the pain of abuse. They may have been physically abused, sexually abused or beaten down verbally. Today there is cyber-bullying. You can be victim of a rumor that is spread to hundreds through Facebook. You can have a humiliating video viewed by thousands through You-Tube. The depth of cruelty among supposedly civilized people is staggering. . . but it is not new.
In our text we see that Jesus suffered abuse at the hands of his captors in the wee hours of the morning. We know human nature. We tend to be mean. We may mock a person’s stature, their mannerisms, or their family background. We even stoop to mocking disabilities. The men who had arrested Jesus zeroed in on His prophetic claims ridiculed Him for being a religious crackpot. The abuse was physical and verbal.
Consider the restraint shown by our Lord. We know that Jesus could have called ten thousand angels to strike his abusers dead or have them stricken with disease. I have to think that temptation to do so was strong. However, Jesus looked past the personal pain, and submitted to the abuse.
Aren’t you grateful that Jesus was willing to endure such abuse for you? I have to confess that I find myself asking: Since Jesus was willing to endure all this for me, what am I willing to endure for Him? Most of the time I choose peace, ease, and comfort over standing with Him even though others may ridicule me. I pray for strength to love Him as He loved me.
66 At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. 67 “If you are the Christ,” (or Messiah) they said, “tell us.”
It is easy to miss the “kangaroo court” nature of the trial of Jesus. Before this daybreak meeting with the elders Jesus already had two preliminary hearings (with Annas and Caiaphas).
According to the Talmud (the Jewish “by-laws” if you will), capital offenses could not be heard at night, a trial needed to be held in a public place. The accused had to be represented by an advocate. There needed to be at least two witnesses who would testify against the accused. And the sentence could not be carried out the same day of the trial!
Even though the Talmud did not come into existence until after the time of Christ, it is reasonable to believe that the Talmud was an accurate record of the tradition and beliefs that had been handed down to them. In other words the leaders’ own principles of justice were violated in the trial of Jesus.
The trial was held in the home of the Chief Priest. This made it almost impossible for common people to join in the discussion. Matthew tells us,
59 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. 60 But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.
Finally two came forward 61 and declared, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’ ” [Matthew 26:59-61]
There is no “fair trial” here! They are trying to railroad Jesus! Mark tells us,
Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. (Mark 14:56) Talk about “reasonable doubt!” The witnesses were obviously coached and they did not agree with each other! Judges would throw such cases out of court today!
The meeting with the full council (the Sanhedrin) took place at “daybreak”. Most likely this was to fulfill the letter of the law (that a trial could not be held at night). Day started officially at 6:00 a.m. and I have no doubt that this is when the trial began. It is likely that members of the Council who supported Jesus were not informed of the meeting.
Let’s put this in contemporary terms. Let’s say you are arrested in the middle of the night. You are taken by the police to the home of the Judge who sets a trial time for 6:00 a.m. Witnesses are hastily gathered and by 6:30 the judge has convicted you and sentenced you to death. At noon you are strapped to the electric chair. Would this be due process? Would anyone see this as justice?
The question posed to Jesus by the Jewish leaders was, “If you are the Christ (or Messiah) then tell us.” Eugene Peterson paraphrases Jesus answer,
He answered, “If I said yes, you wouldn’t believe me. If I asked what you meant by your question, you wouldn’t answer me. So here’s what I have to say: From here on the Son of Man takes his place at God’s right hand, the place of power.”
70They all said, “So you admit your claim to be the Son of God?”
“You’re the ones who keep saying it,” he said. [LK 22:67-70 MESSAGE]
Jesus knew what was going on. The question was not a genuine question of one looking for the truth. If these men had been open to the truth, I have no doubt Jesus would have taken great care to instruct them. They were looking for ammunition, not truth. Notice that Jesus did not back away from the truth. Jesus answered the question, “From here on the Son of Man takes his place at God’s right hand, in the place of power.”
That seems like an odd answer to us but the Jewish leaders knew Jesus was referring to two passages, Psalm 110:1 “The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” And Daniel 7:13-14,
13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
We tend to think that when Jesus called himself the “Son of Man” he was merely identifying with humanity. However, in the book of Daniel this term is used to describe one who is definitely superior to human beings. He was given “Authority, glory and sovereign power and everyone worshiped him. This Son of Man was God himself! Jesus was making a bold claim to be God!
Some might say we are reading this into the passage. Notice that Jesus calls himself the Son of Man but the rulers ask. “So you are the Son of God then?” They understood the reference clearly. This is something that was clearly understood by the leaders.
One more thing, the answer given by Jesus to their question, “So you are the Son of God then?” is very significant. Jesus literally answered: “You say that I Am.” It is easy for us to miss the significance of what Jesus said. When Moses asked God for His name, God said to tell the people “I Am” has sent you. Jesus used those same words to answer the question about His divinity. The Pharisees did not believe this was an accident. They had been around Jesus many times. They knew He chose His words carefully and they knew this was no exception.
At a time when most of us would have said whatever we needed to say in order to get out of trouble, Jesus remembered that the cross and even the Resurrection was not the end of the story. Jesus continued to reach out until He could reach out no longer.
Jesus came to reveal His love and did not even receive simple justice in return. Yet, Jesus continued faithful. He remained firm in the confidence that the worst of men could not ultimately defeat the love of God.
71 Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.”
The Jews had the evidence they needed. They recognized that Jesus had essentially claimed to be God. In their minds, this was blasphemy and was punishable by death. The problem of course is that claiming to be God is only blasphemy when you aren’t actually God!
You see, the leaders were not concerned with who Jesus really is; they just wanted to get rid of Him. In order to get the Romans to “sign-off” on the execution they added a second charge, sedition (of which there was no evidence). So, they convicted him of blasphemy and asked Pilate to condemn and execute Him on the charge of sedition or treason.
There are too many people like this. They are not interested in meeting Christ. They do not want to hear what He says. Even when they turn to the Scriptures they look for things they can use to dismiss Christ rather than actually listening to what He said. These people quote favorite passages that they believe make Christianity look foolish. They are not interested in fairly and faithfully examining the evidence. They are only concerned with protecting their own way of life.
But it is not only others, is it? Sometimes we do the same. Instead of listening to God’s Word we look for Bible verses that will justify our lifestyle; Instead of giving ourselves to others we look for service opportunities that will enhance our status; Instead of being bending our will to His plan for our lives, we look for a discipleship that will help us to maintain the status quo and help us get where we want to be.
It is important that we not merely look at the details of this account. We must also seek to learn from the account. Let me give you three lessons.
First, any view of Jesus that sees Him as less than God in human form, is a misunderstanding of the message of the Christian faith. The thing the Kangaroo Court got right is that Jesus did indeed claim that He was the unique Son of God.
This has always been the “sticking point” for people. Even atheist Jean-Paul Sartre, declared “had Christianity been true, it would be the only religion to follow”. Sarte understood that the message of Christianity is that God became man to reach out to sinful mankind. It is a staggering story. Jesus made bold claims. He is indeed the only way to new life with God.
A while back I read a book of sayings and philosophies of Coach John Wooden. Wooden won ten national championships in a 12 year period (7 in a row!) as the basketball coach of UCLA. The book was interesting because Wooden (a Christian) had some keen insights on life, coaching, and basketball. I highlighted many of his words and filed them away.
John Wooden was a fine Christian man. Most people seem to view Jesus the same way I view John Wooden. They see Jesus as a highly quotable wise man, who could teach us how to live a better life. People read His words looking for thoughts to underline and ponder.
It is true that Jesus did say amazing things. He taught with great authority. However, to stop here misses the point! Jesus was much more than a wise man. He claimed to be the Son of Man to whom all power, authority and majesty is given! Before Him “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
Jesus never gave us the option of seeing Him as merely a wise man. He is the Lord of life. Sarte was correct (even though he rejected Christ): if Jesus is who He said He is then He is the only One to whom we should devote our lives….He is the only One worth following. The lukewarm, half-hearted devotion to Jesus that is rampant in our society and often in the church is not true faith. The first question that must be asked is this: Are we following the true Christ, or the Christ of our imagination?
- If we are following Jesus as the true Son of God then we will bend our lives to His will rather than fashioning Him to ours.
- If we see Him as He really is we will look for any opportunity to share Him with others.
- If we follow the true Jesus our faith will no longer be a hobby for us to dabble in when we are so inclined, it will be the foundation on which everything else is built.
Second, this passage gives new meaning to Jesus’ call to suffer as He has suffered. Jesus told us to take up our cross and follow Him. He said if they persecuted Him (and they did) then they will persecute us. The Lord does not call us to a life of ease and comfort. He calls us to a life of faithful and sacrificial service.
If you are like me, the prospect of suffering physically or emotionally for my faith is something I resist. I don’t like the idea of people not liking me, or of risking my job in order to be faithful to Him. I don’t like the idea of trying to connect with people who live in different lands, are from different cultures, or who possess different values. I don’t like the idea of viewing my money as belonging to Him. Yet, Jesus calls us to be willing to do whatever He asks not because He is our “boss” but because we trust His love.
Third, we must never underestimate the depth of man’s corruption and never doubt the love the Lord has for us. It is sobering to think that God came as a man and we, as the human race, tried to kill Him. That murderous spirit is in all of us. We have seen it in the concentration camps, in the various kinds of slavery and bondage people have been subjected to. We see it in our careless disregard for the truth, our negotiated morality, and in our selfish consumption. We see it in our indifference to the things of God and in our tendency to value things more than we value Him.
Mankind will not and cannot save itself. The problem is not the need for more funding, or better educational goals, or broader treaties, more secure borders, or different people in positions of power. The problem is spiritual! We need surgery of the soul. There is only one who can do what needs to be done. His name is Jesus. We must stop complaining and start praying!
There is more. In those times when you feel God could never love you, remember this scene. Jesus was ridiculed, beaten, and treated unjustly and He endured it. It was not because He had no choice or because He was weak.
Jesus took the abuse because He loved us enough to endure whatever was necessary to make the payment for our sin. Jesus died to make it possible for the very men who abused him; these judges who condemned Him, and the crowd who jeered Him; to find forgiveness and new life. He died so that you and I could know a vibrant and life-giving relationship with God.
The movie the Passion was such a stirring film because it graphically portrayed a measure of the suffering of Christ. We were horrified by the graphic violence but strangely, we were also moved to think that God could love us that much.
No matter where you have been in your life or are right now: on the mountain or in the sewer; the abuser or the one abused; the one resisting the message of Jesus or the one desperately wanting to believe in something; God reaches out to you in Jesus. He is the answer you have been looking for. He is the One who can change your life. Embrace Him enthusiastically.
Though He was treated shamefully, Jesus conquered the grave and now reigns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He offers us a forgiveness we do not deserve and could never earn. He suffered injustice so we might know mercy and grace. It is a staggering truth yet men continue to push Him away. Injustice is a horrible thing . . . but so is refusing the grace and mercy secured at so great a price. Discover the real Jesus. . . embrace Him, trust Him, follow Him and let Him set you free!