History is sprinkled with the intriguing stories indictments, acquittals, and verdicts. But the trial of Jesus Christ stands head and shoulders above all the others. It's the only trial where God is judged by man . . . and man finds Him guilty!
A Tribute To The Lamb
"GUILTY . . . BY REASON OF DEITY!"
(John 18:1-24; Matthew 26:57-68)
For centuries children have been singing nursery rhymes that, over the course of time have lost their original context - contexts of horror and suffering. I shared some time ago about the rhyme, London Bridge is falling down. . .and it's originating context. I recently came across another rhyme that originated from the streets of London England. "Ring around the roses, a pocket full of posies, A-tishoo! A-tishoo! We all fall down! The rhyme arose around 1665 during the epidemic referred to as the "Black Death". Each phrase of the rhyme refered to the symptoms that revealed the clutches of the plague.
ring-o'roses - the small, red rashlike areas that developed on people infected with the plague.
"pocket full of posies" - a reference to the ancient belief that evil smells were really the poisonous breath of demons who afflicted people with the disease. It was the thought that sweet-smelling herbs and flowers would drive the demons away, and so the infected peoplewould fill their rooms and their pockets with flowers.
"A-tishoo! A-tishoo!" - a reference to the sneezing that was a symptom of the plague
"We all fall down" - a reference to falling down in death. . .the black death."
Today, a well known, innocent rhyme. Centuries ago? A gloomy chant that sang of unparalled horror.
In our study of the Gospel by John, we are approaching a chapter in the final days of our Lord that no longer recognized for their horror - the trials of Jesus are typically skipped over on our rush to Mount Calvary.
And yet, as I thought about it, I've never studied the subject of Christ's trials - in any detail. . .and frankly, I've never heard a sermon on them ...I'm not saying that becuase I can't wait to hear what I have to say - but as an observation that preachers and Christians in general are prone to avoid the unfamiliar in our often shallow approach to Scripture.
We are therefore going to study these mock trials over the next two Sundays, and I want you to know that they were written, in detail, not to be overlooked, but to reveal the wonder of what it meant for Jesus to be rejected, condemned. . .to know what it means to "go to the cross as a lamb for slaughter, yet He opened not his mouth." (Isa. 53:7) By the way, Isaiah didn't mean that Jesus didn't say a word in court, becuase He said some rather powerful things, as we'll learn - but he meant that Jesus offered no argument for innocence! He didn't seek to vindicate His rights. . .and you will not believe how His legal rights were swept under the rug; instead, He was literally unstoppable in His desire to become become your substitute and mine . . . to become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
So this morning I want us to walk into the estate of Annas and through the torch lit courtyard of Caiaphas, the High Priest and watch with sheer amazement at what happened.
Let's pick up this tribute to theLamb with John 18:12 So the Roman cohort and the commander, and he officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him. 13. and led Him to Annas first, for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year.
Now imagine with me for a moment the interesting imagery of this scene. As I explained in our last discussion, the Lord would go across the Kidron brook to enter the garden - and now he is led away bound, captive - back across the Kidron brook - a brook whose waters were already stained red with the blood from the lambs that were being sacrificed during this annual festival. It was almost time for his blood...
Furthermore, Gethsemane was at the foot of the Mount of Olives and on the east side of Jerusalem. So the Lord would be taken through the sheepgate into the city; it was that very city gate through which all animals destined for sacrifice in the temple were obligated to enter . . . imagine - they are bringing, bound, the Lamb of God who would be the final sacrifice.
Now you may have noticed that instead of taking Jesus to the current high Priest, they first go to the wealthy estate of Annas. Evidently, Annas had ordered that he get the first crack at this Galilean.
It isn't hard to understand why! Let me explain why!
Annas was the most powerful Jew in Jerusalem. He had served as the High Priest some twenty years earlier, yet still had control of virtually everything religious in Jerusalem.
Annas controlled the Temple system, the selling of sacrificial animals, the money changing that charged exhorbitant rates of exchange.
In Christ's day, you couldn't even get into the temple to worship God without paying priests what amounted to nothing less than illegal fees - and Annas had set it all up. . .and his family controlled it all.
in fact Jewish historians commonly referred to the temple as the Bazaar of Annas - he had become enormously wealthy off the peasants of Judea.
Then. . .Jesus pulled the mask off! It was Jesus who publicly called the Bazaar of Annas a den of theives - it was. It was Jesus who overturned the tables and threw the money changers out of the court of the Gentiles. What Jesus was doing was exposing and condemning the corruption of religion in His nation's day. . .and religions corrupt leader was Annas.
Now you notice in verse 19; The high priest therefore questioned Jesus; now skip to verse 24;
Annas therefore sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
No! We don't have two high priests. The discrepancy can be explained by simply understanding that once you served as a high priest, you were referred to as a high priest for life. Similar to the way we refer to living, former presidents as "Mr. President".
Frankly, O.T. law required that a high priest serve for an entire lifetime. However, by the time of Christ, the Romans had begun appointing the priest every so often as a way to control who served in Israel's highest position. In fact, by the time of Christ, the very fact that you served as a high priest meant that your soul had been purchased by the Roman government.
Although Annas had been replaced, he had enough influence in Rome to ensure that the next ones appointed were his own sons - five of them, one after another, and now his son-in-law Caiphas.
So . . . Annas wanted at this carpenter/teacher . . . this man who had caused him, no doubt many sleepless nights; probably a case of high blood pressure and, I'm sure, had become to him, a nightmare that he longed to get rid of.
There can be nothing more cruel than organized, corrupt religion!!!!!
Notice how Jesus stands with dignity and control in front of the most powerful and corrupt man in Israel - Look back again at verse 19. The high priest therefore questioned Jesus about his disciples, and about His teaching. 20. Jesus answered him, "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.
In other words, Annas, what you are doing right now is illegal - you are holding a midnight inquisition apart from due process - let me put it into my words; Jesus looked Annas square in the face and said, in effect, "Just who do you think you are? You have no business taking Hebrew law into your own hands - you, Annas are dead wrong."
Everybody tuned in now! Can you imagine the men in that room who knew they were corrupt - who knew Annas was a dirty old embezzler who had probably treated everyone around him with contempt. Everyone in that room had probably been bribed, and threatened and jerked around by this rich, pompous old hypocrite - now they see a calloused, plainly dressed carpenter with control, dignity, and courage, putting Annas in his place?! Nobody did that to Annas.
I want you to understand that Annas was pope and president all rolled into one - he owned the nation . . . you did not cross this old man and survive!
Don't you just love it when somebody has the guts at work or school to look that foul talking, intimidating, ruthless teacher, co-worker or boss in the eyes and says, "I don't care who you are and what you can do to me - you are out of line - and furthermore, I don't appreciate it!" Doesn't happen very often does it?!
Annas probably recoiled, maybe gasped with surprise - look; 22. And when He had said this, one of the officers standing by gave Jesus a blow, saying, "Is that the way
You answer the high priest?"
Here's some loyal officer, knowing the High Priest has just been royally embarassed turning and literally punching Jesus in the face.
Now notice 23. Jesus answered him, "If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?"
When you think about it, this was really unbelievable. . .a gentleman in our church is a judge, I called him up and after an extrordinary game of phone tage, we finally linked up Fiday evening. I asked him - what would happen if a accused criminal talked back to you and the bailiff turned and savagely punched him in the face? His answer was basically, in my courtroom, if that happened, the bailiff would be held in contempt - he'd have a trial all for himself in the near future.
But that didn't happen here!
24. Annas therefore sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest!"
In other words, Jesus has proven to be too much for old Annas. His words have pierced through the facade of hypocricy and greed; Annas will try to erase this embarassing scene - he will get rid of Jesus. So Jesus, bound, perhaps with a bloody nose, is taken in the middle of the night to a man equally corrupt, for another illegal trial.
As I've read and studied the lawlesslesness of this whole episode, I feel a lot like a kid named Michael. He was in his sunday school class in Rochester, NY. Pastor Evans retold how his sunday school teacher reported that she was teaching through this passage of scripture. She noticed that she had Michael's undivided attention throughout the whole story. When she finished, she asked, "Does anyone have any questions?" Michael shot up his hand. "I just want to know one thing" he said, "Where in the blue blazes were the State Police when all this was going on?!?!
Truth is, the state police were in on it too. It was literally, Jesus against the whole world - or better yet, Jesus for the whole world.
There have been several trials through history have captivated the minds of the world.
The trial of Socrates before the senate of Athens where he was condemned for perverting the morals of the youth and refusing to recognize the gods of Greece. Refusing any defense, Socrates simply accepted the verdict and one month after the trial was forced to drink hemlock, bringing about execution by suicide. After his death, the Greek world recognized their error and condemned to death the three men who had brought accusation.
In our own culture, the trials of Watergate captured the American mind. The break-in at the Democratic campaing headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. in 1972, the cover-up, the hearings, the ultimate resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974. The nation almost stopped its regular work schedule to follow the televised hearings. In the evenings, the Public Broadcasting Service reran portions of the day's hearings for the nightimes television audience and as a result experience the greatest response to any programming in its history. Over 1.2 million in new memberships and contributions. The Ervin Committee itself recieved an average of 5,000 letters a day and by the time it was over, it had sifted through more than a million responses.
Over the last several months, the world seems to have stopped to watch the hearings and now the trial of a former football superstar.
But nothing, over the course of the last 2,000 years compares to the trial of Jesus before Caiphas . . . more people have read its transcripts than any other trial in human history. And rightly so, for this trial and verdict represents the hinge of history - and the whole world will be affected.
Matthew gives us the details that John's narrative didn't record - Let's turn there to Matthew 26.
While you're turning, there are several things that you need to understand about Hebrew law in order to appreciate and marvel at what will happen next.
The Jews prided themselves on their legal system; their councils and supreme court - the Sanhedrin.
The Sanhedrin, sometimes referred to as the Senate, or the Council of the elders, was composed of 71 men. 23 priests, 23 scribes, 23 elders; added to this was the current high priest, appointed by the Romans, and the true High Priest, Annas who would serve for life.
It's interesting that in Mark 14 Jesus tells his disciples that He will have to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed..." He was telling them that he knew He would soon stand before the supreme court of Israel and be condemned to die.
And yet, the purpose of the Sanhedrin was not to condemn people to death - even though they were guilty of terrible crimes.
The Rabbinic maxim was well know in capital cases, "The Sanhedrin is to save, not destroy, life."
And yet in the trials of Jesus, it was clear the Sanhedrins intent was not to save, but to destroy Jesus' life. And so through the course of these two proceedings, at least 7 principles/laws relating to due process were intentionally broken in the Sanhedrin's hell-driven desire to crucify Jesus.
Seven things that Jewish law demanded. . .seven laws broken!
Law #1) Trials were not to be held secretly at night, but publicly during the day.
Notice Matthew 26:57. And those who had seized Jesus led Him awy to Caiaphas, thehigh priest, where the scribes and the elders were gathered together. .
Yet here you have the picture of the Sanhedrinists, coming by torchlight in the middle of the night to the house of Joseph Caiaphas. They were illegally gathered together - convened at night to illegally try a man who had still not even been indicted. Why? Becuse their single, compelling desire was to get rid of Him.
Law #2) The accused was not required to speak.
This was already broken by Annas who demanded that Jesus explain his discipleship and His teachings. Yet, whenever questioned, as it related to giving an answer, the Lamb stood there silent You notice in verse 62 - And the high priest stood up and said to Him "Do You make no answer...63a. But Jesus kept silent! It was the silence of innocence; the silence of integrity; the silence of unwavering trust in the Father who had handed Him this cup.
What is your greatest insult? Where lies your deepest injury? Look at this Lamb - He was right - He was being wronged - and it was an infuriating silence to judges who were desperate to end the trial before dawn revealed their depravity - and so the Sanhedrin became the prosecutor - and He berates the accused for not speaking.
How frustrated Joseph Caiaphas was - anyway, where do you get reliable witnesses in the middle of the night?!!!!!
That leads me to Law #3) Two witnesses must come forward and agree exactly on the charges Under normal procedures, the witnesses would present their evidence. . .they were questioned separately to ensure their testimony was correct.
You need to understand that there were never any prosecutors in Hebrew court - the witnesses served as prosecuting attorney and the Sanhedrin served as the defense.
Normally, the Sanhedrin would carefully reminded the witnesses of the preciousness of human life - they were also reminded by the High priest that their testimony must be true - if it was false, the law required them to pay the penalty that the accused was to receive. This certainly took care of perjury.
But notice v. 59. Now the chief preists and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus in order that they might put Him to death."
Did you notice, "they kept trying to obtain false testimony. . ." Can you imagine?! "Hey, were looking for someone to step forward and lie about this man so we can put Him to death."
The comical thing is they couldn't find any two men who could even lie consistently.
Notice verse 60. And they did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward. But later on two came forward and said, "This man stated, "I am able to
destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days. Now here, the Gospel of Mark adds that these two witnesses couldn't even get the story straight; one said that Jesus said He would tear down the temple and rebuild a different one made without hands, and the other one said that Jesus had said that He could tear down the temple and rebuild the same one in three days. So as Mark 14 records, "And not even in this respect was their testimony consistent."
Caiaphas is at his wit's end. . .Caiaphas, whose name means "inquisitor" senses that the trial is slipping from his grasp; even the deceitful Council would find it hard to indict without consistent testimony against the accused.
Law #4) The Sanhedrin was never allowed to initiate charges nor require the accused to testify against himself.
We call it, "pleading the 5th". . .even our courts have special considerations for self-incrimination.
One of the reasons Jesus refused to testify was that He was holding the Sanhedrin to their own law. . .it infuriated Annas and Caiaphas as well.
It's here that Caiphas violates another principle of Hebrew law. He stands and takes the position of judge, jury and prosecuting attorney and does something risky, and unusual. . .it's his last chance before dawn!
Notice v. 63. But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, "I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God."
Caiphas placed Jesus under oath - He set due process aside - So, in affect, Caiaphas is asking Jesus to incriminate himself.
Jesus could have remained silent - it was an illegal requirement.
But it was only now that Jesus spoke. Just as he helped the soldiers arrest Him, He will now help the Sanhedrin condemn Him. Oh this courtroom drama reveals the unstopabble love and purpose of Christ to bear our sins in His own body on the tree. . .
64. Jesus said to him, "You have said it yourself; (said what? look back at verse 63c. tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God - the Messiah, God come in the flesh;Jesus said, "That's who I am!). . .then He adds v. 64. nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven."
This is what they had hoped to hear - Yes he was guilty - by reason of Deity.
Imagine, they asked Him, "Are you the Messiah?" He said "Yes." And His miracles and teachings were undeniable evidences that He was - yet they would still not believe.
Maybe you're here this morning - and you're thinking, "If I had more evidence Jesus was the Messiah, I'd believe" No you wouldn't! "If I could have seen a miracle or two, I wouldn't have any trouble believing." Yes you would - not matter what you've seen or heard, salvation is God's act of grace toward you and you without having seen, touched, or tasted, you respond - "For by grace you have been saved through faith." (Eph. 2:8)
Now I want you to see that what He said to that Supreme court was so powerful. It was actually the combination of three O.T. Messianic prophecies rolled up into one.
v. 64a "Hereafter you shall see..."
Isaiah 52:8 - "when the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes." There won't be any denying it then!
v. 64b. "You shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power"
Psalm 110:1 - "The Lord says to my Lord; Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet."
v. 64c "And coming on the clouds of heaven."
Daniel 7:13. . .Daniel records, "In my vision at night I looked and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven."
Jesus is saying, "You are judging me, but I will judge you one day."
Condemn me now, but if you do not believe in Me one day you will be condemned. The truth of the matter is that Jesus is not on trial here; the Sanhedrin is on trial.
Let me refer quickly to the 5th law A verdict was passed only after a day of fasting.
No one ate anything, no one drank anything on this day after the trial. The Sanhedrin was supposed to be agonizing over the future of a man condemned to die.
Mishnah says, "The Sanhedrin, which so often as once in 7 years condemns a man to death, is a slaughterhouse."
But for this Sanhedrin, the verdict would bring about a celebration.
At last, Jesus will die!
v. 65. Then the high priest tore his robes, saying, "He has blasphemed! What
further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy. 66. What do you think?" They answered and said, "He is deserving of death."
By this theatrical display, Caiaphas is giving the appearance of defending God's honor, but inwardly he couldn't care less for the honor of God!
And so the Court responds with a unanimous call for death!
Law #6) A unanimous vote by the court allowed the accused to go free.
A unanimous vote is our Western procedure; but the oriental custom was that a unanimous vote implied the lack of critical thinking. The Rabbi's taught that if the court voted unanimously in condeming someone to death there was the obvious lack of mercy. So a unanimous vote of the Sanhedrin immediately allowed the prisoner to go free.
But notice instead their reaction, v. 67. Then they spat in his face and beat Him with their fists; and others slapped Him and said "Prophecy to us, You Christ; who is the one who hit You?" Mark adds, "They blindfolded him and beat him with their fists."
There are certain scenes that always turn my stomach - it is the news item or newspaper article about a policeman beating a defensless person. It happens around the globe, it happens in America.
Can you imagine, the Supreme court of the United States, condemning a criminal to die, and then, robes and all, descending upon the accused and spitting in his face; blindfolding him and with bitter anger and hatred punching him with their fists?
The Supreme Court of Israel degenerated into a crude, vicious mob of 71 men - spitting, hitting, cursing, mocking.
Who were the blasphemers that day? Who were the accused? THe Sanhedrin, and the nation they represented? Yes! And everyone who has ever heard the story of Jesus and refused to bow and worhsip Him.
Have you heard this prisoner? Do you understand that this Lamb, innocent and pure, is being tried before Israels high court so that you and I would never have to be tried before the court of heaven? He is condemned to die by earth's justice so that you and I will never be condemened to die by heaven's justice. He faced that anger and hatred and hostility of religious men so that all who believe in Him will never experience the wrath of a righteous God.
This He did for you . . .do you see Him here?! Will you reject Him as they did or will you worship Him.
This lovely, pure, righteous, merciful, unblemished Lamb!