Lessons From The Courthouse

I contend that if the trial of Jesus had taken place in our day Jesus would never been found guilty.  Moments after word comes out that Jesus has been arrested, all the news organizations would descend upon the High Priest’s house.  They would want to be briefed, they would request to film the trial “live”.  Every question would be scrutinized, every motive questioned, every point debated.

I don’t think Jesus would have been convicted because the news media would have exposed all the back-room dealings.  The lying witnesses, the illegal meetings and the Kangaroo-court atmosphere would have been exposed.  I think (I hope) the people would have been in an uproar. There would have been no way for the Sanhedrin to render a guilty verdict.

This week and next we are going to look at the trial of Jesus.  As we do, I hope to show you the sequence of events that took place and the significance of those events . . . but I also hope to draw some valuable lessons from these events as well.


(Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; John 18)

The Trial before Annas

John is the only Gospel to record the fact that the first stop after Jesus’ arrest in the garden was to the home of the former High Priest, Annas.  It is a curious fact.  Why would they stop at his home first? The most likely reason is that the Jews viewed the job of the High Priest to be for life. They still considered Annas the High Priest.  Even though Caiaphas was his son-in-law it was probably still true that Annas still held the power.

Understand, that this is all taking place under the cloak of darkness . . . it’s the middle of the night.  It was probably around 11:00 p.m. when Jesus was arrested in the garden.  It’s going into the morning by now.

Annas questions Jesus.  If Annas was sitting as some sort of Judge then his questioning of Jesus is absolutely forbidden.  If you were on trial, would you feel you were getting a “fair shake” if the Judge was all the Prosecuting attorney?  I suspect that Annas would tell us that this was an informal discussion (even though Jesus had been brought their “bound”) and therefore not bound by rules of official courtroom procedure.

We are told that Annas questions Jesus about His disciples and his teaching.  Jesus testifies that His teachings and beliefs are public knowledge. The implication here is that Annas already knows what Jesus believes.  There was no secret society, no secret teachings.  The teaching of Jesus was very public.  The same should be true for us.  There are no secret handshakes, no meetings cloaked in secrecy.  What God has revealed to us is to be broadcast in the light, not whispered about in the darkness.  We must be wary of organizations that ARE secretive in their teachings.

The response of Jesus results in abuse from his captors.  I think this came because of the obvious implication that although Jesus’ words were public the trial was illegal and being conducted in secret. But the abuse was not acceptable practice it was against the law.  It’s the equivalent of  “police brutality”.

Before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin

In Matthew 26:59 we read, The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. Do you understand what this means?  There was no sense of “innocent until proven guilty”.

William Barclay writes,

The Sanhedrin was the supreme court of the Jews.  It was composed of Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees and elders of the people; it numbered seventy-one members; and it was presided over the High Priest.  For a trial such as this a quorum was twenty-three.  It had certain regulations.  All criminal cases must be tried during the daytime and must be completed during the daytime.  Criminal cases could not be transacted during the Passover season at all.  Only if the verdict was Not Guilty could a case be finished on the day it was begun; otherwise a night must elapse before the pronouncement of the verdict, so that feelings of mercy might have time to arise.  Further, no decision of the Sanhedrin was valid unless it met in its own meeting place, the Hall of Hewn Stone in the Temple precincts.  All evidence had to be guaranteed by two witnesses separately examined and having no contact with each other.  And false witness was punishable by death. . . . Still further, in any trial the process began by the laying before the court of all the evidence for the innocence of the accused, before the evidence for his guilt was adduced.” (Barclay p. 354 Gospel of Matthew Vol. 2)

The whole procedure is illegal.  They have difficulty finding witnesses that can even agree with each other much less come up with any real charge.  Why?  Because there was no real charge. In the day of Jesus being a witness in the courtroom was treated with the utmost seriousness.  It was treated so seriously that if you were found to be lying in a legal proceeding the penalty that would have been given to the accused was to be applied to you!  In other words, when you lied at a trial for a capital offense, you were to be killed! Why were these witnesses not executed for their lies?  It’s simple, they were “put up” to the job by the judges themselves!  This is a travesty of justice.

The Charges Against the Accused

It appears that there were two primary charges against Jesus:

First, He said He would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days (Matthew 26:61).  Two witnesses are found to agree on this one charge.  It is weak, but it is something.  They are quoting what Jesus actually said . . . .almost.  Jesus did not say that HE was going to destroy the temple.  What He said was,

Jn. 2:19-21 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body.

These witnesses deliberately mis-represent what Jesus said simply because it serves their purpose to do so.  They have made Jesus out to be a “potential mad bomber”.

There is one good thing about this charge however.  Many contemporary “scholars” contend that all the references to Jesus talking about the “three days” before He came back to life are late additions to the Bible.  In other words, they don’t believe Jesus ever said such things.  They are words the disciples put in His mouth after the fact to make Him appear Divine.  The testimony of these witnesses show that Jesus HAD said such things.  These witnesses were obviously twisting something He ACTUALLY had said.

The second charge, was much more serious.  He was charged with claiming to be God!

Listen to the account from Matthew,

The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”  “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:63,64)

Jesus is summoned to answer on oath by the living God.  In other words, He is asked to “tell the truth, and nothing but the truth….so help you God.”  We may take these words lightly . . . Jesus didn’t.  Calling God to be your witness was a serious thing.  Caiaphas asks directly “Are you THE Christ THE Son of God?”  The question was direct . . . “Do you think you are God?”

Jesus faced a dilemma.  If He answered the question “No” then the trial would be over.  The case would fall apart.  If He answered “Yes” then He was signing His own death warrant.  Jesus not only says “Yes”, He quotes Daniel 7:13 as referring to Him!.  This was a well-known passage that told of the ultimate triumph and kingship of God’s chosen One.

As the official meeting of the Sanhedrin takes place in the early morning hours (to obey the letter of the law) the charge is “blasphemy.”


We see the Danger of a Closed Mind

These people had made up their mind BEFORE they ever heard the evidence.  They were not interested in justice…they wanted a conviction any way they could get it.  When Caiaphas asked Jesus if he was the Messiah . . . when he asked Him to “swear to God”, he did not leave open the possibility that Christ was indeed telling the truth.  His mind was made up before the question was ever asked.  These men were not interested in truth . . .they were interested in reinforcing their own prejudice.

A closed mind leads to grave error. In this case it led to the crucifixion of the Son of God. A closed mind always leads to faulty thinking and often leads to much more serious problems.  Now here’s the big question: Are you ever guilty of being close minded?  Have you:

  • Declared someone “guilty” before all the facts were in?
  • Written someone or their opinion/insight off before you heard them out simply because they disagreed with you?
  • Concluded someone was “no good” before you even knew them?
  • Have you ever judged someone purely on the basis of hearsay?

So How can we guard against a closed mind?  How can we guard against becoming like these “religious leaders”?

  • We need to work to develop a hunger for truth.  We need an attitude and openness that values truth even if it contradicts what we previously believed.  We must take the time to check facts and to weigh them carefully.
  • We must learn to Listen – really listen.  This is especially true when we are dealing with viewpoints we do not agree with.  How do you know if you have listened well?  If you can accurately and convincingly argue another’s viewpoint . . . you have listened well.  You don’t have to agree but you should take time to understand.  The consequences are significant.

We see the Christian Approach to Opposition

Jesus gives us a wonderful illustration here of how to face opposition.  He doesn’t face his accusers aggressively.  He does not fight back.  He doesn’t call the ACLU.  He doesn’t threaten to sue. He tells the truth without malice or anger.  There are no personal attacks, no shouting matches.  There are no “power plays” here . . . just a tender heart.

In Philippians 2:5-11 we read,

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,  but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

If anyone had a right to complain it was Jesus.  He is the Creator of the Universe.  He could have destroyed His accusers with a Word . . . but He didn’t.  He voluntarily gave up His rights.  In Ephesians 5:21 we are told, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  God’s surprising formula for success is humility and service.

Bill Hybels wrote,

It’s not that God has a problem with seeing His children in places of honor and glory.  In truth, He longs to exalt them.  What concerns Him is upward mobility as defined by the world: to promote ourselves, to advance our own cause, to push our own agenda at the expense of others.  The end goal is to arrive at the top of the heap with enough money, power, and material possessions to feed one’s main objective: self-indulgence.  That’s why God has a problem with the world’s approach to greatness.  He knows that self-indulgence, by its very nature, always leads to self-destruction.  ..(DESCENDING INTO GREATNESS p.20)

Jesus shows us what it means to have a servant heart.

We see a Fitting picture of Enduring Love

Jesus did not have to endure this indignity . . . . but did.  He could have claimed His rightful place as Lord of the Universe . . .but He didn’t.  Why? Because He knew it was the only way for salvation to be made available to those who believe.  His sacrifice was necessary for our salvation.

Every parent knows what it is like to sacrifice for their children.  They will forego something they personally would like so their children can have what they need.  They will go into debt so their children can go to school.  They will work extra hours to provide for their family.  We know what it is like to sacrifice out of love . . . but we have never seen love like this.

Jesus gave His life not for those who loved Him . . . . but for those who accused Him.  He died for the very people who wanted Him dead!  THIS is love.

You see, in the passage we can see all kinds of things

  • justice perverted
  • the stubbornness of sin illustrated
  • the foolishness of contemporary “open-mindedness” exposed
  • a humble heart revealed . . . .

But more than all of these things what we should see is the hand of God reaching out . . . to you and to me.  And the real issue before us is really quite simple: will you take the hand offered or will you turn away.  And that decision is yours, and yours alone to make.  When all is said and done . . You either stand with the Savior or stand with his accusers. . .there is no middle ground.

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