Thursday, March 24, 2016

Jesus On Trial

Jesus On Trial

Yesterday we saw Judas come with armed soldiers and servants of the high priests and Pharisees to arrest Jesus. The disciples fled the scene but evidently both John and Peter return to see what's going to happen. We will pick up first with what John says about this night.

"Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest's courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in." (John 18:15-16) Whenever John speaks of "the other disciple" or "the disciple Jesus loved", he is speaking about himself. Jesus loved all the disciples equally of course but John never got tired of thinking about how the Lord loved him. Every one of us can call ourselves "the disciple Jesus loves". Isn't that wonderful?

Luke tells us this about the arrest of Jesus, "Then seizing Him, they led Him away and took Him to the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance." (Luke 22:54) Peter, unlike John, doesn't have an inside track for getting into the house and so he lags behind, sort of blending into the crowd. I like the way the KJV puts it, that Peter follows "afar off'. That's a precarious place to be in our walk with Christ, to be following Him "afar off".

When John gets Peter in the door, Peter decides to sit by the fire because it's a cold night. "And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, 'This man was with Him.' But he denied it. 'Woman, I don't know him,' he said." (Luke 22:55-57) This is the first denial. Peter, drawn by the fire and its warmth, has gotten closer to those gathered there and by the light of the fire this woman sees his face. She thinks she recognizes him as one of the disciples.

"A little later someone else saw him and said, 'You also are one of them.' 'Man, I am not!' Peter replied." (Luke 22:58) John tells us that one of the people who accuses Peter of being a disciple is a relative of Malchus, the man whose ear Peter cut off in the garden. We can imagine the fiery dart of fear that strikes Peter's heart, thinking he is about to be accused of the assault. He denies Jesus a second time. (John 18:26)

"About an hour later another asserted, 'Certainly this fellow was with Him, for he is a Galilean.' Peter replied, 'Man, I don't know what you're talking about!'" (Luke 22:59-60) This is the third denial. Matthew tells us that Peter even cursed while denying the Lord. (Matthew 26:74)

"Just as he was speaking, a rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: 'Before the rooster crows today, you will disown Me three times.' And he went outside and wept bitterly." (Luke 22:60b-62) I have often wondered about the look on the Lord's face when He turns to Peter. I don't believe it was a look of condemnation. Jesus has always known Peter would deny Him but loved Peter anyway. I also don't think it was a look that said, "I told you so". Our Lord being who He is, I feel certain the look was full of compassion and love, but I also think Jesus wanted to burn this moment into Peter's memory for his own good. Peter had to learn not to trust in himself before he could fully trust in Jesus. The Lord couldn't use him until he lost the brash confidence in himself, the impulsive nature, the boastful pride. When Peter stands up to preach at Pentecost we see a completely different man than the one in today's passage. On that day, his confidence is in Christ and his strength is in the Lord.

Jesus is being illegally detained while the chief priests and Pharisees try to construct false charges against Him. It was against their law to arrest a person at night and to reach a verdict within the same 24 hours. They are doing wicked deeds in the dark while people sleep, so the news of it can't get out and cause a protest among the people who love and respect Jesus. They want Him brought before the authorities before anyone can put a stop to it.

Matthew tells us, "The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put Him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward and declared, 'This fellow said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.'" (Matthew 26:59-61) The law of Moses said that no one could be convicted without at least two witnesses that have the same testimony. It took the religious leaders a while to find two men who would say the same thing, and yet the thing they accuse Jesus of really isn't a death penalty offense. When Jesus said the temple would raise in three days He was speaking of His death and resurrection. (John 2:19) But let's say, just for an example, that a man really said he would tear down the temple and rebuild it in three days. While it could be considered a threat against the property, that's not an offense worthy of death, and the thought of a man rebuilding it in three days sounds delusional. This is the kind of statement the authorities would dismiss as the talk of a man with mental issues but it's not the kind of statement that would induce Rome to send a person to the cross.

While this false trial is going on, the soldiers of the household of the high priest are allowed to beat Jesus. Jesus has not been convicted of anything and no sentence has been passed but they beat Him anyway. "The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating Him. They blindfolded Him and demanded, 'Prophesy! Who hit you?'And they said many other insulting things to Him." (Luke 22:63-65) This entire night was a complete travesty of justice. The prophet Isaiah spoke of this terrible night about 700 years before Jesus was born, "By oppression and judgment He was taken away." (Isaiah 53:8a)

This mess goes on all night. "At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and the teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. 'If You are the Messiah,' they said, 'tell us." (Luke 22:66-67a) Their false witnesses haven't concocted sufficient charges to bring Jesus before Pontius Pilate so they try again to make Jesus claim to be a Messiah or king. Then they can present Him to Pilate as a threat to Rome, as someone who intends to lead a rebellion. They are desperately trying to come up with a charge that Pilate will take seriously and they must do it quickly. The religious leaders want Jesus transferred to the custody of Rome so that by the time people get wind of what has happened, they can claim it's out of their hands.

"Jesus answered, 'If I tell you, you will not believe Me, and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God." (Luke 22:67b-69) Jesus knows it's pointless to debate with them. They haven't believed Him up to this point and they are unlikely to listen now. Jesus again refers to Himself as "Son of Man" and the religious leaders know this is a claim to be God's Son. Jesus is quoting from the 7th chapter of Daniel, from the vision Daniel had of the coming Messiah and King.

We see that these men clearly understand what Jesus means, "They asked, 'Are You then the Son of God?' He replied, 'You say that I am.'" (Luke 22:70) There are those who attempt to claim Jesus never said He was God and this is one of the verses they use to try and make their point. But a number of Greek Bible scholars claim this verse would be better translated as, "It is as you say." When the men ask Jesus if He is the Son of God, Jesus is agreeing with that statement. We know it based on what Luke tells us next.

"Then they said, 'Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from His own lips.'" (Luke 22:71) Matthew gives us more details, "Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, 'He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?'" (Matthew 26:65-66a) The high priest tears his own robes dramatically at the words of Jesus, knowing Jesus has claimed to be God.

This is how those gathered together answer, "'He is worthy of death,' they answered." (Matthew 26:66b) Jesus Christ was sentenced to death by the Sanhedrin for the charge of blasphemy, for claiming to be God. This was punishable by their own law if Jesus had actually been guilty. But since Jesus truly is the Son of God, His statement was the truth. This is not the charge the Sanhedrin will bring against Jesus before Pilate because they know Pilate cares nothing about infractions of the Mosaic law. What does Pilate care if Jesus claims to be God or if Jesus claims He can build a temple in three days? It's going to sound like a bunch of nonsense to him, like the raving of a delusional but harmless man. When Jesus is brought before Pilate, the religious leaders will bring false charges against Him, not charges that He claimed to be God.

But God is going to have the last word. The true problem the Sanhedrin have with Jesus is that He claims to be equal with God and He has done the miracles to back up His words. Jesus is found worthy of death for claiming to be God and therefore God doesn't allow any false charges to be nailed to the cross above His Son's head. When the Lord Jesus Christ hangs on the cross, the charge written above Him is, "King Of The Jews".

The Sanhedrin have passed a death sentence on Jesus but they have a huge problem: the Jews no longer have the authority to carry out a death sentence. They are under Roman rule and only a Roman judge can sign a death warrant. Had the Jews still been able to pass a death sentence, the method would have been by stoning. But under Rome the method of execution was crucifixion just as the Scriptures predicted, "But He was pierced for our transgressions." (Isaiah 53:5a) And also, "They will look on Me, the One they have pierced." (Zechariah 12:10a) Jesus was rejected and delivered up by His own people, the Jews, but His execution was carried out by Gentiles. This is because Jesus was dying for every person of every nation...past, present, and future.

Pontius Pilate has come down from his residence in Caesarea to be present for the Jewish feast of Passover. Thousands of extra citizens pour into Jerusalem at this time and Rome is in the habit of having extra officials and soldiers in the city during the great feasts. It's also the habit of the Jews to bring capital cases to the Roman officials during the feasts, so there is nothing unusual about them bringing a prisoner to Pilate and asking him to pass judgment.

As morning breaks we are told, "Then the whole assembly rose and led Him off to Pilate." (Luke 23:1) John gives us more details by saying, "Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate came out to them and asked, 'What charges are you bringing against this Man?'" (John 18:28-29) The leaders usher Jesus from the home of the high priest to the palace but in their hypocrisy they don't enter the palace. Entering a Gentile residence would make them ceremonially unclean. The religious leaders want to be able to participate in all seven days of the feast and therefore won't step foot into Pilate's residence. Pilate must come out to hear their case.

Luke goes on to say, "We have found this Man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king." (Luke 23:2) Earlier in the book of Luke the Pharisees and chief priests sent spies to try to get Jesus to speak against the paying of taxes to Caesar and Jesus said, "Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's." Jesus upheld the paying of taxes and told the people to do as they were commanded by the law of Rome. The only truth in their charges is that Jesus has claimed to be Messiah, which by association naturally means He is king of Israel as well. Again we find that the argument that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah won't hold water. Jesus claimed to be the Messiah in a number of ways. The chief priests and Pharisees clearly understood it and they testify to it right here.

"So Pilate asked Jesus, 'Are You the king of the Jews?' 'You have said so,' Jesus replied." (Luke 23:3) This cans also be translated as, "It is as you say." The religious leaders are accusing Jesus of treason, for to declare there is any king but Caesar is an act of treason.

I can just picture Pilate standing on the front steps of the palace, viewing Jesus in the early morning light, seeing how swelled and beaten His face is and observing that His clothes are the clothes of a poor man . He doesn't look very kingly. Pilate senses something is afoot here and that it has to do with Jewish customs or the jealousy of the religious leaders. He wants nothing to do with it. "Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, 'I find no basis for a charge against this Man.' But they insisted, 'He stirs up the people all over Judea by His teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.'" (Luke 23:4-5) They try to make it sound like Jesus has traveled through the whole country trying to stir up a rebellion and gain a huge following. They don't come right out and claim Jesus is inciting a rebellion because they can't prove it, but they hope Pilate will pick up on the insinuation.

"On hearing this, Pilate asked if the Man was a Galilean. When he learned that Jesus was under Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time." (Luke 23:6-7) Pilate thinks he has successfully gotten rid of a sticky problem. Herod too is in Jerusalem because of Passover, for unlike Pilate, Herod understands the laws and customs of the Jews and tries not to offend them. Herod's father had converted to Judaism and this is why Herod the Great was chosen by Rome to be a ruler in Jerusalem. The Romans felt the Herod family was the best choice to keep the peace in Jerusalem because of their intimate understanding of the Jewish religion.

"When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see Him. From what he had heard about Him, he hoped to see Him perform a sign of some sort." (Luke 23:8) Herod is thrilled to have Jesus right there in his own palace. Herod is a man who keeps his ear to the ground, so to speak, and is very aware of all important things going on in Judea. He has heard of the miracles done by Jesus and is eager to see Him perform one. "He plied Him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer." (Luke 23:9) Jesus refuses to perform for Herod's amusement. Herod himself is not a Jew and does not believe Jesus' claims to be the Messiah, but he does want to see a miracle. He wants to see it in the way a man might want to see a magic show. Jesus is done performing miracles until He rises from the dead.

The religious leaders begin yelling and arguing and presenting various lies just as they did before Pilate. "The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing Him. Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked Him. Dressing Him in an elegant robe, they sent Him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became friends---before this they had been enemies." (Luke 23:10-12) Herod is angry because he's not used to anyone disobeying him. While finding no basis of the charges against Jesus, Herod still allows his soldiers to mock Jesus because his pride is hurt that Jesus refused him in front of his soldiers. Then he dismisses Jesus and His accusers and sends them back to Pilate's residence.

Don't you bet Pilate's heart sank when someone came inside the palace to tell him that Jesus and the chief priests and teachers of the law were back? I can just picture the look on his face and can almost hear the heavy sigh. He thought sure the matter would be settled by Herod. Now Pilate has to go back outside to face the crowd and try once again to reason with them. "Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, 'You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined Him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against Him. Neither has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; as you can see, He has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish Him and release Him.'" (Luke 23:13-16) Pilate points out that the charges they brought against Jesus have no substance and there is no proof or credible witnesses to back up the charges. Plus, Pilate questioned Jesus right in front of them and they know nothing has been done in secret. Jesus has had no opportunity to bribe Pilate in private. Everything has been done by the law, out in the open, and they should be able to see that there is no reason for a judgment of death. Pilate also points out that Herod has seconded his ruling that Jesus has done nothing punishable by death.

Just why exactly Pilate intends to punish Jesus, I can't say for certain. It doesn't seem right to punish an innocent man. But it could be that Pilate is not nearly as familiar with the fame of Jesus as Herod. This is not Pilate's hometown and he only comes to Jerusalem when absolutely necessary. He can't know for certain whether or not Jesus has ever spoken against Rome or has urged the people to rise up. So Pilate may just intend to have Him whipped in order to appease the people and make them go away.

According to John's gospel, the accusers of Jesus protest Pilate's judgment. A whipping isn't going to satisfy them. They will never be satisfied until they see Jesus on the cross. "'If He were not a criminal,' they replied, 'we would not have handed Him over to you.' Pilate said, 'Take Him yourselves and judge Him by your own law.' 'But we have no right to execute anyone,' they objected." (John 18:30-31) Since the whole matter seems to be in regard to their laws and customs and a vague charge of blasphemy which Pilate doesn't appear to understand or care about, he offers to give Jesus back into their charge to judge Him according to whatever rule they think He broke. But since the Jews can't pass a death sentence, they can't achieve their wish without a Roman ruler to authorize it.

Pilate is troubled, so now he takes Jesus inside to be questioned in private. Pilate knows this is a personal grudge that the religious leaders have against Jesus, according to Matthew 27:18, and he wants a clearer understanding of the conflict. Pilate again asks Jesus if He is the King of the Jews, to which Jesus replies that His kingdom is not of this world. I think along about now something about Jesus and this whole incomprehensible situation is giving Pilate the creeps. I think maybe the hair is starting to stand up on the back of his neck. He desperately wants to be rid of these religious rulers and the prisoner in front of him. There's something about Jesus that tells Pilate He's an innocent man. There's also something wicked in the air and in the accusations of the enemies of Jesus.

A light bulb goes off in Pilate's head and suddenly he thinks he's found a way out. "Now it was the governor's custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, 'Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?'" (Matthew 27:15-17) The gospels tell us that Barabbas had been involved in insurrection and murder. Pilate wrongly assumes the citizens gathered outside would far rather have Jesus released than a convicted murderer. The fame of Jesus has spread far and wide and He is very popular in the region. Just a few days prior He rode into town like the King of Israel with the people laying palm branches and cloaks in His path.

To add to Pilate's distress, Matthew recounts this next event, "While Pilate was sitting on the judge's seat, his wife sent him this message: 'Don't have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of Him.'" (Matthew 27:19) The Romans in those times put a great deal of value on dreams and visions. They believed they were prophetic signs from the gods. Now more than ever Pilate dearly wants to be rid of this prisoner and to be done with Him. "But the whole crowd shouted, 'Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!' (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.) Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, 'Crucify Him! Crucify Him!'" (Luke 23:18-21) I don't understand why the citizens get caught up in the madness of the religious leaders. Were they afraid of them? Afraid of being put out of the synagogue for opposing the priests? Afraid they might be forbidden to take part in the Passover? It could be that, when they see Jesus falsely accused to the death, they think the same fate awaits them if they speak up. Men who are sly enough to trap someone as shrewd as Pontius Pilate are capable of anything. The prophet Isaiah had this to say about the rejection of Jesus before Pilate, "By oppression and judgment He was taken away. Yet who of His generation protested?" (Isaiah 53:8a) Those who enjoyed listening to Jesus teaching in the temple far outnumber His enemies, yet nobody protests.

"For the third time he spoke to them, 'Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in Him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have Him punished and then release Him.'" (Luke 23:22) Pilate again offers what he thinks is a good compromise, even though it's wrong to beat an innocent man. The other gospels include the fact that after Pilate has Jesus whipped by the soldiers, he once again brings Jesus before the people, no doubt hoping they will decide the punishment is sufficient. Pilate hopes that the sight of a broken and beaten man, dripping with blood, will put a halt to this insanity.
John tells us that the religious leaders shouted, "We have a law, and according to that law He must die, because He claimed to be the Son of God." (John 19:7) When Pilate hears this, he's even more afraid than he already was. But there is no way out. God's will is going to prevail. Jesus intends to fulfill what He came to earth to do. "From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, 'If you let this Man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.'" Eventually, after Jesus has been whipped and mocked, after He looks less kingly than anyone on the face of the earth, Pilate tries one more time to show the leaders that Jesus poses no threat. He expects the people to see this and realize they have gotten carried away. "Here is your King,' Pilate said to the Jews." (John 19:14b)

But the leaders shout even louder that they want Jesus crucified. I think when Pilate presents Jesus as a king to the people, he means it sarcastically because he is weary of this process and the wickedness of Jesus' enemies. We see a form of respect here that Pilate seems to have for Jesus, and Pilate knows Jesus is innocent, but he attempts to use a scornful comment to get the leaders to take a good look and conclude that Jesus looks like no king. "Shall I crucify your King?' Pilate asked. 'We have no king but Caesar,' the chief priests answered." (John 19:15b) Pilate has been so skillfully trapped by these men that I think at this point he has been rendered shocked and speechless. The hour of darkness reigns and these enemies are doing the will of their father the devil. But isn't it beautiful to know that the same act which Satan incites is also God's will? God intends to use this miscarriage of justice to save mankind. This evil will be turned to good.

"But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that He be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will." (Luke 23:23-25) Pilate gives up. He's a beaten man, outwitted and outnumbered. Pilate sets free the one who deserves punishment and punishes the One who is holy and righteous.

The Lord Jesus Christ, holy Son of God, the spotless Passover lamb, went to the cross to set us free. We are rebellious like Barabbas. The law of Israel says if a person breaks one law he or she is guilty of the whole law. Yet Jesus died to set us free. We won't find any other love like this love. Jesus is about to finish fulfilling the passage with which He began His ministry, "The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free." (Luke 4:18)

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