Wednesday, March 29, 2017

“Follow Me”...The Unwavering Truth of God

When I was a young child, I found several ways to get in trouble. Now, I wasn’t always looking to get in trouble, but it happened. Of course, when I realized I would likely be in trouble, I did what seemed natural – I lied. My dad was not unreasonable in most things, but he did not tolerate me lying at all. I can remember lying when I made a mess of the basement with some tar (it was an accident, but my friend was with me and wasn’t supposed to be), and when I went a different route home from school to play in an abandoned house for awhile (I never figured out how he found out), and a few other times that lying seemed to be the best approach to relieve myself of punishment in the situation. But, in most every situation, when he found out the truth, I was not set free, I was punished. And after a few lashes with the belt, I swore I would never lie again…until, of course, I need to do so to avoid punishment.

My story is not uncommon. The incidents will change, but the principle is the same. When pressure mounts, we give in. Maybe the giving in is through lying like I did as a young boy. Maybe it is setting aside our principles and values to some other standard because of the situation around us. Or maybe, we are prejudiced in some way and give in to bending truths to suit our needs.

The story before us today is one where several people changed the rules to fit their needs, falsified their testimony in an attempt to convict an innocent man, mocked truth because they did not understand, or blatantly lied in order to avoid likely punishment. Only one man stood true to who He was – and that man, was Jesus. Why did He do so? Because Jesus truly knew God and understood what faith truly is!

When we left off last week, Jesus had been arrested, His followers had deserted Him. We pick up the story this week with Jesus being led to the house of the high priest. Mark does not name this person, but in other accounts, we have the names of Annas and Caiaphas. Annas had been high priest for years, and Caiaphas (his son-in-law) was the new one. But, once a high priest, always a high priest, so it is thought that Jesus would have been taken to Annas first, out of respect for the office, and then Jesus was sent to Caiaphas where a more formal, though rigged, trial began.

In Jesus day defendants had the right not to incriminate themselves. (See Rick’s post about Due Process and the Fifth Amendment here.) As we will see, Jesus remained silent for much of this trial. Only when the question of His full identity was presented did Jesus respond. As we turn to the outline, each point relates to a person or persons and their witness to the truth!

Forgoing the Truth (v. 55-65)

It is well documented that the Jewish trial of Jesus was not authentic considering the customs of the day. What is up for debate is just how much was changed from the time of Jesus until the Mishnah (the written rules of the rabbis) was completed around 200 AD. Some of the guidelines were certainly in place, but we currently do not know when all of them were originally in effect. If they were by the time of Jesus, then certainly, we have a great problem. But what if they were not? Then the problem becomes lessened.

What we do know is that common sense tells us some issues seem out of place. This trial is taking place early in the morning – perhaps at 2 or 3 am. This time is certainly an attempt to be inconspicuous. Jewish custom does tell us that a trial could not happen at the time of a feast or Sabbath, so perhaps they are trying to rush this process through. Again, almost certainly they were, but the problem is that a capital offense had to be tried over two days, and obviously, if this is taking place on in the wee hours of Friday morning, it is impossible to see another day added. Thus, the possibility of a Thursday trial enters, and some have provided evidence for this, but most who do then show that the crucifixion takes place on Thursday which does not solve the timing issues of the trial.

It has also been suggested that the scene before us is not a trial, but an interrogation. This idea could solve many issues, except for the outside witnesses and the fact that a vote of condemnation was given at the end (Mark 14.64).

Regardless of how many of the Jewish customs were in place by this time, of this much we can be certain – rules were bent to facilitate Jesus trial. Such trials were normally held at a place called the Chamber of Hewn Stone, not the home of the high priest. While I am sure a quorum was present (23 people), at the time of night, it is unlikely that the full Sanhedrin were there (71), which skews the word “all” who condemned Jesus (v 64). For instance, it is unlikely that Nicodemus (and possibly Joseph of Arimethea) would have condemned Jesus. So, what we see is that when those in power have a plan (to put Jesus to death, v. 55), they will forgo certain truths (i.e. bend the rules) for their benefit – making sure someone is guilty until proven innocent.

Falsifying the Truth (56-60)

The second group was those who falsified the truth. We have heard of records being falsified, which simply means false information has been planted in place of the truth. For these witnesses, the records that were changed were verbal records. They twisted Jesus words. For instance, in Mark 13.2, Jesus said the temple would be destroyed, but Jesus did not say that He would be the one to do it which was the claim being made (v. 58).

The problem for the Council was that several were apparently willing to speak against Jesus, but none of their stories matched. Deuteronomy 19.15-21 says the testimony of two or more witnesses must be in agreement. However, notice what verses 17-19 says – if someone comes and bears false witness, then the judge shall be diligent to find the truth, and if the false witness is proven false, they must bear the intended punishment. In the case of the trial before Jesus, the false witnesses should have all been crucified, not Jesus.

In fact, what is most fascinating to me about this truth is to review the Ten Commandments. Many of us quote the 9th Commandment as “You shall not lie.” But that is not what the commandment says. While lying is condemned throughout the Bible, the actual command given to Moses is more specific. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Ex. 20.16). Again, that means “do not lie” in general, but in specific, do not lie to or about your neighbor – which is precisely what these witnesses are doing against Jesus. They are breaking one of the very commandments of the Mosaic Covenant – the covenant the religious rulers have vowed to protect. Moreover, these religious leaders are not only allowing it, they are encouraging it – if only, two witnesses would agree on their lie! Again, in trying to be true to God and stop this man Jesus, they are endorsing evil and breaking the covenant they are to uphold.

It is during these testimonies that Jesus is asked by the high priest if he wishes to rebut? Verse 60 says, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” Jesus remained quiet. And why not? After all, everything that was being said was false. Why should He speak up?

This is critical for us to hear. Many times people will say a lot of stuff about you or me. Much of it is unfounded and even garbage. You know what? It hurts. But if it isn’t true, why do we worry about it? We worry about it because it hurts our reputation, and more deeply our ego. But if people are out to get you and twisting your words, if you do speak up, it will often make things worse. I am not suggesting we should not speak up for truth. And I am not suggesting we avoid any conflict. But Jesus said, when in the midst of wolves we are to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10.16). Sometimes, that means remaining quiet and just slipping away remembering that the truth will always come out at the end. And in this trial, it did.

Confessing the Truth (61-62)

Next we move to the truth. Amidst all of the lies and rule-bending, the high priest finally asks the question that needs to be asked. Again, up to this point, Jesus had no reason to defend himself. No charge had been truthful – yet! But now Jesus is asked point blank, “Are you the Christ? Are you the Son of the Blessed One?”

The high priest uses the term Blessed One to avoid blasphemy. A devout Jew would not say the name of God. To do so was the only true sense of blasphemy. What is interesting is that Jesus’ response includes “right hand of Power” which was known to mean God, but by not saying God’s name, He did not commit blasphemy either. What He did say was that He was God’s Son by alluding to 2 Sam 7 and Psalm 110 in His response. In doing so, what Jesus says is that: “I may stand before you now to be judged, but one day I will be your Judge when you stand before me.”

Jesus response is considered blasphemous by the high priest, even if Jesus didn’t technically cross the line of saying God’s name. The high priest tore his clothes, asked for a verdict, and a sentence was given – as indicated by the guards receiving Jesus. What we cannot overlook in this moment is the boldness of Jesus in the midst of this trial. Again, he is all alone. He is certainly tired. And He has put up with the nonsense of false testimonies for some matter of time. Yet He never loses composure, and when the moment to proclaim the truth arises, Jesus is a faithful witness. As I continue to remind us, three times Jesus told the disciples what would happen after they arrived in Jerusalem. He was not unaware of His fate. But despite the torture He would face, Jesus confessed the truth because of His faith in God – to whose will He had yielded.

The dungeon below Caiaphas house where Jesus was likely
held and beaten after the trial before the Sanhedrin.

Straps on the wall to hold prisoners in place.

Denying the Truth (66-72)

Meanwhile, a second trial was taking place simultaneously. We are given a hint of this in verse 54 where we are told that Peter is following – though at a distance. Let’s be honest. Peter had some guts to be anywhere near Jesus at this point. But we are not called to follow Jesus at a distance. We are to be near to Jesus as Jesus wishes to be near to us.

For Peter, the physical distance was not far. But Peter was outside while Jesus was inside. And on a cold Spring night in Jerusalem, Peter sought to keep warm by a fire, but the light exposed him. (That is a sermon for another time.) One of the servants of the high priest sees Peter and questions him. His answer starts off simple enough. My paraphrase is, “I do know what you are talking about. What do you mean?”

So as not to compromise himself, Peter steps away from the fire and now moves further from Jesus – both physically and in spirit. She confronts him again, and this time does so by involving others. Peter again denies it, but the choice of verb is important. Our text says, Peter denied it. But the verb tense in the Greek is known as imperfect. That means the action is incomplete which implies a continuation of something. So, it is not that Peter denied Jesus again. It is that he kept denying Him, saying something like, “I don’t know Him. Just leave me alone. I said I don’t know Him. I really don’t know Him.” And on and on. This makes perfect sense when we read verse 70 where they charge Peter with being a Galilean. His continued speech had betrayed his accent. And his only chance to get out of the situation was to call down curses upon himself. This does not mean profanity. Rather, Peter would have been saying something like, “If I am lying then may God strike me dead” or something like that.

Statue of Peter at the location where he denied Jesus.

The walkway on which Jesus walked after the trial. He
was likely on this path when He looked at Peter as
the rooster crowed the second time (Luke 22.60-61).

Peter’s inability to keep quiet compromised his effort to remain anonymous. On the other hand, Jesus did not answer the false claims made about Him which allowed the truth to be revealed.

The trial of Jesus consisted of the crowd speaking falsely, but the accused speaking the truth. Peter’s trial had the crowd speaking truth, while he, as the accused, spoke lies and called down curses upon himself.

As we move to the conclusion, let us consider how similar trials have occurred in our time period. Specifically, I want to consider this from the perspective of the masses, instead of the individual.


During World War 2, over 100,000 Japanese people (approximately 60% of whom were American citizens) were put into internment camps. Laws were suspended because of a person’s ancestry, heritage, and physical location. I add location because most of the interned lived in the western part of the US – which is obviously closer to Japan. We see this as an atrocity today because these men, women, and children had no part of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but in that day, the fear was real, and thus laws were suspended or overlooked so as to deny rights to a group of people based upon their nationality.

A decade later it was political beliefs and McCarthyism. Now, another sixty years have passed and the issue is religion. Any terrorist attack is presumed to be a religious (usually Muslim) extremist. Americans are once again ready to suspend the rights of our citizens because of the acts of a few.

This is no different than what the Sanhedrin did in forgoing the truth and bending the laws to be able to arrest one man.

Many will provide false testimony against a neighbor due to the hoopla surrounding a particular issue.

Many will deny the truth to protect themselves even if it means hurting another.

But those who follow Jesus must endure to the end, stand up for the truth, and realize that God will vindicate those who remain faithful to Him.

As I mentioned earlier, those who falsely testified should have been put to death according to Deuteronomy 19. But the reality is that you and I deserve the death Jesus died. We should have been crucified – not Jesus. But thanks to the mercy of God, we have been spared, if we will believe.

But belief can be tough for some. We think we believe, but like Peter, our faith is not strong, and may not even be real. Remember, it was Peter who first confessed Jesus as the Messiah (Mark 8.29). And it was Peter who walked on water (Matthew 14.29). Yet, Peter’s proximity to Jesus did not become true faith in Jesus until after the resurrection and was made possible, in part, by Peter coming to grips with who he really was – a sinner incapable of doing anything for himself (Mark 14.72).

Do you know you are saved? Why? Because of something you have done or because of who Jesus is? If your answer is of your doing, then like Peter, you need to come to grips that you are not worthy. It is Jesus who is worthy He proved it by dying for you, for me, and for all who have, who are, or who will live.

JOURNEY: That is why our JOURNEY letter is once again: JJesus.

I considered the letter being Y for You. But you and I fail too often and this message is about the truth of God and His message. That truth was embodied in Jesus and He provided the template for us to follow. That’s why I had to use the J.

OPPORTUNITY Confess the truth of God because of your faith in Him.

REMEMBRANCE Jesus said He would deny those in heaven who deny Him on earth. (Matthew 10.33)

NEXT STEP(S): Lead:  Leading involves telling. With whom will you share the truth of Jesus?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

“Getting Evidence Against Jesus,” A Closer Look by Rick Sons

Due Process
Due Process is a fundamental principle of fairness in all legal matters, both civil and criminal and mostly in the courts. All legal procedures set by statute and court practice, including notice of rights, must be followed for each individual so that no prejudicial or unequal treatment will result. The universal guarantee of due process is in the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which provides “No person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

As seen in John 18:19-23, Jesus demanded that the high priest provide witnesses against him, proving that he had in some way violated the law. This was never done. Jesus said, “I spake openly to the world; I even taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort, and in secret have I said nothing. Why asketh thou me? Ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I have said.” – John 18:20-21

Jesus exercised his right to face his accusers (Isaiah 50:8), and his protection of God (Isaiah 54:17), thus becoming an example for all those accused of lawbreaking, or “sin” (1 John 3:4).

The Fifth Amendment
The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution provides some of the most important fundamental rights that an individual has in legal matters. It states: 

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

The principle that a man is not obliged to furnish the state with ammunition against him is basic to this conception. The state has no right to compel the individual to surrender or impair his right of self-defense. A man may be punished, even put to death by the state; but he should not be made to prostrate himself.

Let’s be honest. When someone exercises his Fifth Amendment right not to testify against himself, aren’t you inclined to think he is guilty? We ask ourselves, “Why would someone who is innocent be unwilling to tell the truth?”

How are questions asked?
Interrogations are conducted by law enforcement officials in an effort to seek confessions and develop details about crimes. Confession is a good goal for interrogations, however “Some officers are like used car salesman. But instead of selling a junky car to someone, we have to sell the idea that confessing is the best thing to do.”

An interrogation is essentially an interview. But unlike traditional interviews, interrogations are often perceived as much more hostile, antagonistic, and perhaps to some degree, even frightening. They begin much like traditional interviews. The basic goal is to obtain and secure information and they do this by having the interviewer ask questions and use purposeful conversation.

Interviewers avoid asking questions that are answered by a “yes” or “no”. They try to get the witness to open up. (However, at the end of the interview yes or no questions can be useful to pin down a specific position or fact).

Example: “Sir, please answer only yes or no, ‘Do you still lie and cheat?’”  The answer here can get you the results you want but the answer can be considered leading. If yes then you have your confession if no then your suspect has given you more ammunition for the possibility they are guilty.

Questioning Jesus
The nature of the questions asked by Annas is revealing: “The high priest therefore questioned Jesus about His disciples and about His teaching” (John 18:19). It was obvious, even to Pilate, that the real issue behind the trial of Jesus was that of jealousy. The Jewish religious leaders were jealous of Jesus’ prestige, popularity, and power (Matthew 27:18). The religious leaders became greatly distressed by the tremendous influence of Jesus.

Jesus carefully avoided any reference to His disciples, probably in order to protect them. There was no need to question Jesus concerning His teaching. He had spoken publicly, for all to hear and judge His words. Jesus reminded Annas, that he had no right to ask Him anything until the evidence of witnesses had been taken and found to agree.

It was because His interrogation was illegal that Jesus responded to Annas, “Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; behold these know what I said” (John 18:21).  In Jewish justice, as in our own system, no one can be compelled to testify against himself. Annas was seeking to compel Jesus to testify against Himself. Jesus rightly refused to respond to this kind of questioning.

Again I ask, when someone refuses to answer questions and testify for himself, aren’t you inclined to think they are guilty?

Modern Trials
In modern law when there is a trail, twelve people are chosen to hear all the evidence and decide if the case was proven. These twelve people must agree unanimously that the suspect is guilty or innocent. If even one is not in agreement, then the case is thrown out. The trial and any conviction would now be legal and justified, provided the evidence was sufficient to substantiate the charges and the records do not prove the contrary.

Trial of Jesus
In John 11 we see what kind of trial Jesus had. John wants us to know that Caiaphas, before whom our Lord would stand trial, is a judge who had already made up his mind about Jesus. Caiaphas, by whom Jesus would be condemned to die, was a man who had already determined that Jesus must die. This was not going to be a just trial. That much was clear already. John tells us the only thing about Caiaphas that really matters – that his mind was already made up.

In order to get what they wanted, the religious leaders had to come up with a bigger charge.

Roman authorities were not involved in every criminal proceeding throughout the vast empire. The Roman government would only intervene in criminal affairs for matters of treason, civil disobedience, incitement to revolution, and attacks against Caesar. Otherwise, local administration was conducted by local officials and the regular courts of the conquered nations.

Jesus’ opponents accused Him of blasphemy, but since they did not want to execute Him themselves, they created charges of treason against Him. This way, the trial would be brought before Pontius Pilate and, in their minds, he and the Romans would be responsible for Jesus’ death.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

“Follow Me”...and Never Be Alone

It is important to know the difference between being alone and being lonely. Being lonely can lead to loneliness which causes people to try all kinds of remedies that usually deal with being around a group of people. But someone can be amidst fifty people and be lonely. One the other hand, being alone is only possible if we are not with others. Just like some people try to escape loneliness by going to certain places or being with certain people, someone seeking to be alone could provide a list of places where finding some solitude is possible. One such place many people consider is a garden. For many individuals, a garden is a nice place to relax and recoup from the daily life. This is true for many even when they are “working” in a garden. But not all gardens are relaxing. And one, in particular, is the scene of a time when our Lord was very alone!


Inside the Church of All Nations at Gethsemane

Inside the Church of All Nations at Gethsemane


Jesus and His followers traveled to the Mount of Olives (Mark 14.26). It is night. It is dark except for some torches that would be shining behind them from the tops of the wall surrounding Jerusalem behind them. Certainly, they would have had a torch or two with them, but no lights as we know it. No streetlights, no lighted pathways, no sidewalks to guide their path. They arrive in Gethsemane – a combination of two words which combine to form “oil press” (specifically for olive oil). We call this spot a garden, but it is not a garden as we think of it, where we grow plants. Rather, the idea is more along the lines of kindergarten. Obviously, kindergarten is not a garden where we raise kids, and yet it is. It is a place of recreation where kids can play and grow. Gethsemane was, perhaps, something like that – an area for recreating among the trees and the olive presses. But on this night, it was anything but relaxing. Rather, it was a place where the spirit of our Lord would be pressed and squeezed much like the olives were during the days.

Following God’s Will Means Going a Little Farther (Mark 14.32-42)

When they arrive, Jesus tells most of the disciples to wait while He goes to pray. This night is definitely different, but this would have seemed normal. As I discussed last week, Jesus has just altered 1500 years of tradition through His choice of words during the meal. But Jesus also said He would be betrayed by one, and then abandoned by all. But now some normalcy sets in. Imagine how many times over 3+ years Jesus must have said to His disciples – “Sit here for a bit, so I can go pray.” This was so typical that it is really one of the only things they ask Jesus to really teach them. The disciples never ask Jesus to teach them to preach, for instance, but Luke 11.1 shows they asked to how to pray.

Leaving most of the disciples at this point, Jesus takes His closest three a little farther. All of the remaining disciples had an important role in continuing the work of Jesus after His death and resurrection, but Jesus chose three to do a little more. Some may think that Jesus is playing favorites, but the reality is that leadership is lonely and most are unwilling to go a little farther. Peter, James, and John were by no means perfect, but these three were with Jesus when He was transfigured on the mountain (9.2-8) and when He raised Jairus’ daughter (5.37-43), and now they would be nearer in the most challenging moment of His life – to date.

The three disciples Jesus chose were able to go a little farther than the others, and thus they got some insights that the others did not. But they were not ready for prime-time. Notice, Jesus goes farther yet (35). Jesus asks these three to keep watch, while He goes to pour out His soul before God. Before I get to Jesus portion, let me jump to verse 37. Jesus returns and these three are sleeping. He calls out to Simon (notice He doesn’t use Peter – the rock) in a stern rebuke. But then the same thing happens again. And then a third time. We know Peter denied Jesus three times while He was on trial, but here Peter, James, and John all fall flat three times in their calling to be near to Jesus in this difficult hour. Again, to follow the will of God means going a little farther and although these three thought they were ready, they were not (see Mark 10.37; 14.29).

Jesus on the other hand does go farther because His intent is ultimately not His own; rather, it is to yield to the Father. While Jesus is with His friends, we are told He is greatly distressed and troubled. Let me broaden these terms – awestruck and horrified. Jesus has been predicting exactly what would happen to Him since the Great Confession in Mark 8. Three times (Mark 8.31; 9.31; 10.33-34) Jesus has provided an account of what was to come. The sequence is about to begin and the situation has Jesus in awe of what is to happen. He is horrified of what awaits Him. The humanity of Jesus is on full display in this verse (Mark 14.33). Verse 35 says He falls to the ground. Most Jews prayed with the arms extended and lifted toward heaven. Only in times of intense supplication might a Jew fall to the ground. And Jesus, is indeed making a request of the Father – that the cup be removed and that the hour would pass.

I mentioned last week that the cup represents the wrath of God. So does the hour (or the time of the end). And Jesus comes with this request as the Son pleading with the Father. Much has been said over the years about Jesus term of the word Abba. Abba is an Aramaic word for “daddy” which was commonly used of a young child toward a father; however, no Jew would dare call God “Abba” because it would suggest a lack of reverence. But Jesus uses the term because He is the Son. And, by using it – and please don’t miss this – it shows that God, as Father does care about what happens in the world. He is not the kind of God, as some suggest, that created the world and just sits back and watches time go by. No, Abba, means God is present, and He cares. He cares for those who do not go very far, but He is certainly watching those who are will to go a little bit farther, and then farther still to follow Him.

And that is where we are in the story. Jesus comes with His request. But He knows the request is about what He wants, not what God desires. In fact, Jesus request is not ultimately what He wants, which should be a big encouragement for us. Jesus desire in the moment must give way to His ultimate desire. Jesus knew why He came. Mark 10.45 is a perfect indication of why He came. He knew that. He wanted that. But now, He wants another way, if it is at all possible. Yet Jesus must remember that the greater purpose is not His comfort in the coming hours, but His redemption of a people that will last for eternity. So, His prayer is to submit to the greater purpose at the expense of His present desire.

This past week, in our Community Groups, we discussed the idea of sacrifice. We all have something that we are unwilling to give up. Our lessons have been building toward this idea of sacrfice as we have been exploring what makes a great Christian. Being a great Christian requires time, endurance, and realigning our life to God’s wholly and completely. It doesn’t mean that we have to leave everything behind and move to some far off place – but it might. It doesn’t mean that we have to give a bunch of money to some cause – but it might. It doesn’t mean that we have to abandon everything dear to us – but it might.

The truth is that many Christians desire to follow Christ, but only until the need to sacrifice becomes too great. The three disciples mentioned here (and Andrew) gave up their fishing business, Levi gave up collecting taxes. Every disciples gave up something, but now more was expected – and they had all said, “Count me in” (see verse 31, paraphased). Jesus stands ready, and moves purposefully to face all that awaits as the rest will now fall away. His betrayer has arrived, and now the God who came to provide mercy for our sins is in the hands of sinners who will show no mercy.

Following God’s Will Means Getting Left Behind (Mark 14.43-52)

Judas approaches and betrays Jesus with a kiss. This kiss is more than just a peck. The Greek word suggests an intimate kiss. For a disciple to kiss a rabbi was not uncommon. In fact, apart from a familial type of kiss, the rabbinic kiss was well understood in that culture. But to use the kiss as a means of betrayal was unthinkable – just like it was for a betrayer to dine at the same table as Jesus (v. 18). Judas has brought a group of people with him to seize Jesus. The Gospel writer (Mark) is not as descriptive in some areas and certainly does not provide the same details about the arresting party. For instance, Mark makes no mention of Roman soldiers, though other accounts certainly suggest many (100s?) Roman soldiers were there.

Jesus is not phased by the moment. The guard has come as a reminder of who is in control, but Jesus continues to prove that He is the One in charge. A bystander (John tells us it was Peter) strikes the head of a man with a sword and cuts off his ear. We have to consider that was not Peter’s intent. But anything worse would have led to a complete slaughter of the well-intentioned men. But again, Jesus is in charge. He heals the man’s ear (Luke 22.51) and then speaks to the guard in a tone of disbelief.

As Jesus speaks, in Mark 14.48-49, He makes three important points.
  • You arrest me as a robber or a common thief. I AM the Son of God. (Keep in mind that Jesus was crucified between common thieves.)
  • You could have arrested me at any time over these past several days in the temple. You didn’t because you were concerned what others might think if they saw this happen. So you do it at night so that you think you can get away with it.
  • These are not your plans. These are the plans of my Father and Scripture is being fulfilled.
At this moment, everyone associated with Jesus flees, including a young man as indicated in verse 51-52 (a statement that may be Mark’s autobiographical entry). This is just as Jesus said in Mark 14.27. They have all now fallen away. They pledged their loyalty to Jesus in Mark 14.31. The stayed to fight as the guards seized Jesus (v. 47). But when Jesus said that it was time for Scripture to be fulfilled and didn’t put up a fight, they left realizing that Jesus wasn’t conforming to their desire.

Why didn’t Jesus ask them to fight? The simple answer is they would have been slaughtered. But the real answer is found in His prayer – it was not the Father’s will. The disciples were truly willing to die as evidenced by one striking one of the guards with a sword. But Jesus was not concerned about winning a battle in the moment, His concern was providing victory for eternity.

Jesus said as much in Mark 8. Just after He mentioned His death the first time, Jesus taught the disciples the principle that one must die to truly save His life. In the moment they fled, the disciples thought they were sparing their lives. But later, after the resurrection, they would be willing to lose it because of what they had witnessed in Jesus. It is not that they, nor we, are to run into danger, but if we truly believe what God has done, not sacrifice should seem too great.

Following God’s Will Means Never Being Alone

Our sacrifice will not be too great because Jesus will always be near. Jesus said in Mark 14.27 that the striking of the shepherd would cause the sheep to scatter. The sheep were now to be without their leader. But the Leader would not stay away. After the resurrection, the Shepherd gathered His sheep once again, sent them on mission, and continues to do the same with people who are willing to do His will today.

Jesus had to die, but He did not stay dead. Therefore, He is with us now – or, at least, can be if we are willing. Matthew 28.20 says He is with us always as we are doing His work. Hebrews 13.5 says He will not leave us nor forsake us, unlike other aspects of our life in which we place our trust.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that we have a high priest who knows what temptation is. He knows what being human means. And that means He knows what it is like to be alone. Jesus decided to follow the will of God farther than most and it left Him alone in prayer to the Father. He decided to follow the will of God in not resisting arrest and it left Him alone because He friends deserted Him. And because He knows what it is like to be alone, Jesus makes a promise that we do not have to be alone, if we give ourselves to Him.


Jesus was betrayed and abandoned by man, but He still had the Father. And it was to the Father that He prayed and presented His request. In fact, the time in Gethsemane relates well to the Lord’s Prayer, especially when you consider they had just come from a meal having received their daily bread.
  • Our Father (Abba, Father)
  • Hallowed be Your Name (All things are possible for You (the Holy One))
  • Your Will Be Done (Not what I will, but what you will)
  • For Yours is the Kingdom (Praying for God’s will because of the Kingdom)
  • Lead us not, deliver us from evil (Pray that you do not enter temptation (to disciples))

But Jesus knew as He was praying something we should always keep in mind. The God we pray to can answer any request that we have, but He may not be willing. And He certainly is not obligated to answer in the way we think it should be answered.

Last week, we saw Jesus as the model for faithfulness. This week, we see Jesus setting the example of prayer. And from here forth, we see Jesus perfectly demonstrate sacrifice and obedience because He has a greater goal than the people before Him can see.

JOURNEY:  That is why our JOURNEY letter for the week is:  JJesus.

“…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12.2

OPPORTUNITY:  Go a little farther, even if it means getting left behind.

REMEMBRANCE:  Jesus gave up His will to the Father, and we should do the same.

NEXT STEP(S):  Live: Do one thing for God this week that you normally would not do.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

“The Arrest of Jesus”, A Closer Look by Rick Sons

Many times when people are questioned by the police they don’t feel that they are free to walk away from the officer. However, until you’ve been formally detained (as in a traffic stop) or arrested, the officer can’t stop you from simply walking away. Once the officer prevents you from walking away, an arrest has taken place. Whether or not the arrest is legal depends in large part on whether he or she had “probable cause.”

What is Probable Cause?

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution authorizes police to make an arrest as long as they have probable cause. The Fourth Amendment states:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Probable cause prevents the sort of police states that exist in other countries where officials can simply round up people they don’t like as “undesirables” or “threats” without any justification.

Probable Cause vs. Reasonable Suspicion

  • Probable cause is established through factual evidence and not just suspicions or hunches.
  • Probable cause can be established through observation alone (sight, smell, sound, etc.) and includes observations that create suspicion based on a familiar pattern of criminal activity, such as when an officer sees a car circling around an area repeatedly or when someone is flashing their headlights.
  • Probable cause can be based on information derived from witnesses, victims, and informants.
  • Probable cause can be based on police expertise, such as recognition of gang signs, detection of tools appropriate for committing certain crimes, or knowledge of movements and gestures that indicate criminal activity.
  • Probable cause can be based on circumstantial evidence that only indirectly indicates that a crime has occurred, such as a broken window.

The Arrest, of Jesus Christ Compared to the Modern Law

It is stated in the New Testament book of Matthew that the angel Gabriel was sent to inform Mary of Nazareth, a maiden espoused to Joseph, that she was to become the mother of the Messiah. He should be named Jesus, which means Savior. Savior is what is meant as the One sent by God to save His people from their sins. With this title, Herod was so troubled that he had all male children two years of age and younger killed. He was afraid that Jesus would overthrow his dynasty. Jesus was seen as a threat again when He taught God’s Word.

The Case Against Jesus

Jesus had been telling His disciples what was going to happen for many days prior to his arrest. In Matthew 16:21 the Bible states, “From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many thing of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.” Matthew 26 speaks of the conspiracy against Jesus and how He was betrayed by Judas Iscariot.

The Arrest

The moment of the arrest came swiftly. Judas, with approximately 200 Roman soldiers and 200 temple police, broke into the stillness of Gethsemane to arrest Jesus. Judas mocked Jesus saying, “Hail, Master, greetings Rabbi” and then kissed Him to identify to the soldiers who He was. Mayhem broke out as they seized Jesus and arrested Him.  Meanwhile, one of the disciples (believed to be Peter) grabbed his short sword and lashed out, cutting off the ear of one of the high priest’s servants. It is believed that Peter had intended to split the servant’s head open but attempting to avoid the blow, the servant moved as his ear was cut off and the sword hit the armor of the servant.

Jesus asked in Matthew 26:55, “In that same hour said Jesus to the multitudes, Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me.” If this was such a crime in that time, then wouldn’t they have arrested Jesus when He was committing the unlawful acts?  Good question, Jesus was asking what the probable cause for the arrest was.

What was the charge? Blasphemy

The Bible claims that Jesus was first arrested by Jewish leaders after protesting the excess he observed on display in the Jewish temple during Jerusalem’s Passover. Matthew, Mark, and Luke report that he was first tried before a Jewish Sanhedrin court in Judea. They agree he was charged with blasphemy, convicted, and turned over to local Roman prefect Pontius Pilate for a subsequent Roman trial. 

Possible Charge of Sedition

One possibility is that officials believed Jesus was a Jewish nationalist who was linked to a violent political uprising against the Roman occupation led by the nationalist Zealot movement. The sign placed on his cross, which read “King of the Jews,” may support this interpretation.

In Modern Law the charge is decided by the Prosecuting Attorney, not by the arresting officer.

The arrest of Jesus: probable cause or just suspicion?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

“Follow Me”...into a New Covenant With God

We all have habits. Some are good, some not so good. For instance, maybe you have the habit of attending church. Hopefully going to church is more than just a habit, but nonetheless, we can have far worse habits. Some habits are not so good. Perhaps they cause stress, lead to health issues, waste inordinate amounts of time, etc. But the point is that we know what habits are, and we all have them.

But beyond the specific idea of habits, we all probably do several things not necessarily because of habit, but because it is the way we learned to do some task. For instance, it is said that the width of our modern railroad tracks dates back to the chariots pulled by Roman horses. While the exact nature of this claim is in doubt, the width is very similar (4 ft, 8 ½ inches), and it is possible that the ancient width does have a bearing on the current tracks.

The story goes something like this. The American rails were originally developed by former Europeans, largely British. Using the same materials they had used in Europe made sense, so the standard carried over. Why were the European rails 4 ft, 8.5 inches? Because the pre-rail trams used that width? Why did the trams use that width? Because that was the width of wagon wheels which measured as such to match the ruts in the roads? Why were the ruts that wide because that was the width of the wheels of a Roman war chariot? And, finally, why was the Roman chariots wheels placed that far apart? Because 4 ft, 8.5 inches was the width a chariot needed to be to accommodate the size of two war horses! (Again, some refute the exactness of this, but the essence is likely true.)

The point here is not about train tracks or chariots, but rather how seemingly minute details can make a difference for generations and even centuries. Such was the case with the original Passover. God instituted this idea when the Israelites were still slaves in Egypt. The Passover was very much the story of how and why Pharaoh finally gave into Moses plea to “Let my people go.” A very short time later, God would prescribe the Passover to be celebrated annually with a feast. By the time of Jesus, the Passover had been celebrated for well over 1000 years, and perhaps for almost 1500 years. So, for as many as 1500 years, by the time Jesus gathered with His disciples, the story had been told and the rituals had been followed – year by year – as a reminder of their freedom from their bondage to Egypt.

And, with one little word, Jesus changes the long-standing tradition. But it is that change, and it is His reason, why we come together today. And that reason is wedged inside of another Markan sandwich – a sandwich which contrasts the faithfulness of Jesus to the faithlessness of those who follow.

The Preparation For Many (Mark 14.12-16)

Passover was a time of great celebration in Jerusalem. Deutoronomy 16.5-9 says that the Passover was to be celebrated in the place where God would establish His presence. Thus, Jerusalem, and every able-bodies male was supposed to attend. In 66 AD, the year the temple was finally completed, it is reported that 225,000 lambs were slaughtered for sacrifice. Therefore, we must understand the celebration was a bloody one, but one which would have seen somewhere between one and two million people in the city.

To find a place to be together would require advance reservations. And Jesus apparently made such reservations. The disciples are worried about where they will eat, but Jesus is not and sends two disciples into the city (Peter and John according to Luke 22.8).

A couple of oddities are presented here. First, the key is that the two disciples will see a man carrying water. In that day, it was the woman’s job to do so. So, this is a great way for the disciples to know they have found the right man. However, notice the end of verse 13. It does not say they will find the man, it says the man will meet them. Essentially, the man will find Peter and John, and they will know it is the correct man because he will be carrying a jar of water. This may still sound fine, but consider what I just said about the number of people who would have been in Jerusalem (i.e. the streets). I truly believe that Jesus made plans in advance as well as relied on divine wisdom. Certainly, a full message, if not a series, could be preached on that one concept, but for now I simply make the point that we should make preparations, yet look to God for guidance in fulfilling our plans (see Proverbs 16.9; James 4.13-17).

Verse 16, says the two disciples found that matters were just as Jesus described. The idea of the room being furnished means that it had a paved floor, but that is also likely had rugs, and maybe couches. Regardless of the details, the disciples made the necessary preparations. I must expand this principle a bit. The disciples found that what Jesus said was perfectly correct and they did what was necessary. But as we will see in the fourth point, Jesus makes another statement about what will happen, and all of the disciples deny the truth of what Jesus says. We can either choose to believe that all of what Jesus says is truth, or we can choose to believe ourselves. I am not saying that the outcome of believing the choice is easy, but if we claim to trust Jesus, then we must always choose His truth – especially when we don’t like what He asks us to do.

The Prediction For One (Mark 14.17-21)

It is now evening. The matter of which evening is debatable. Differences do appear to exist between John and the other gospel accounts, but Scripture does not contradict itself. Thus, any real (or perceived) differences will always have an explanation, even if we don’t completely understand the differences. While these discussions can help us better understand the processes, the overall principle is already clear.

The principle that needs to be addressed in this set of verses is that Jesus spends far more time focusing on the idea of betrayal than He does on the actual meal – at least, as the gospel writers record it. It is in the context of lounging and eating together that Jesus makes the troubling statement about His betrayal. He does not reveal who it is, though He gives a clue, that apparently was missed by the others because they each ask, “Is it I?”

The most troubling aspect in this moment was the breach of etiquette that Jesus was suggesting. In ancient times, to eat a meal with someone was an act of friendship and devotion. Certainly, business-type lunches would have happened, but here we note they are reclining together. Distant friends may eat near one another, but intimate friends share a meal together. The disciples were sharing a meal together with their Master.

And once again, Jesus predicts that what is about to happen is by design. Within hours, the peace and security that the disciples have known will be turned upside-down as they watch their Lord be taken from them. And, in this moment their question is not, “What can we do?” Rather, their question is, “It’s not me, Jesus. Is it?” Jesus doesn’t answer their question, but He does say that the one responsible would have been better off had He not been born.

It is well-noted that Judas is actively doing the will of God here. Someone was going to betray Jesus. Elsewhere, it says that at this moment, Satan enters Judas. But did Judas have a choice? Remember, last week we saw that it was Judas who went to the religious leaders with intent to betray Jesus. The choices Judas made in the past led to this moment when he would be the agent to fulfill God’s purposes. We all have choices on how to live and whether, or not, to follow God. Those that choose to follow will be a part of God’s solution to the problems in our world. Those who do not follow cause challenges for those who do. But in no way, is God unprepared. He has a plan. And it will be fulfilled – in His time, and in His way.

The Presentation Of One (Mark 14.22-25)

We now turn to what most people consider the focal part of this passage – because of what Jesus does. I must say that I did before really studying this passage this week. Again, Jesus spends a couple of verses redefining a tradition. But the fullness of this passage shows the preceding four verses and four of the five verses to follow talking about betrayal. Thus, verses 22-25, are indeed important, but not because of what Jesus does, but rather Who He is. In the middle of Jesus focus on a lack of remaining faithful, Jesus shows us what true faithfulness is.

But before I unpack that thought, let me briefly share a few thoughts on the meal and what Jesus did do. First, this meal had very traditional aspects. It wasn’t like a Thanksgiving meal where we sit down and someone prays and someone might tell a story or some other family tradition. For the Passover, the exact words and the exact order are important. Any deviation was/is unwelcome.

Therefore, what Jesus said was shocking to His disciples that night. Usually, the family head would hold a piece of bread and say: “This is the bread of our affliction, which our fathers ate in the wilderness.” Jesus alteration – “This is my body” is basically like saying “This is the bread of MY affliction.” When Jesus held up the bread, all was normal. By the time, He had finished the sentence, the disciples would have been stunned!

Then Jesus did the same thing with the cup. In this case, Jesus equates the wine to His blood. This is symbolic, but to a Jew, the mere thought was appalling. A good Jew would not eat any blood from any animal. We think nothing of it when we take the Lord’s Supper. We know it is symbolic, but some of you like your meat quite rare! This was detestable to a Jew.

However, the cup is but one of four cups used during the Passover meal. Scripture does not clearly indicate which cup Jesus means in this moment, but the four cups come from Exodus 6.6-7. Biblically, a cup often symbolizes the wrath of God in some way. If we think of Jesus prayer in the Garden (which we will review next week), He asks that the cup could pass from Him.

What are the four cups?
  • I will take (bring) you out
  • I will save (deliver) you
  • I will redeem you
  • I will make you a nation (take you to be my people)

In making the statement about the cup representing Jesus blood, the disciples would have been shocked. But they also would know that Jesus was the one who would bring them out of bondage – that Jesus was the one who would save them. That Jesus was the one through whom they would be redeemed. And that Jesus was the one who would call them to be His people. And what was true for them on that night is true for us today as well.

Finally, one more point about Jesus presenting Himself as the One.
  • At the baptism of Jesus, a voice from heaven declared: This is My Son – 1.11
  • On a mountain top, a few disciples were with Jesus when they heard: This is My Son – 9.7
  • At this Passover meal, the disciples with Jesus heard Him say: This is My Body – 14.22
  • And then, later in the meal: This is My Blood – 14.24

The statements of “This is My…” originated with the Father in heaven. Now, in Jesus final hours, He provides one more piece of evidence that He, indeed, is God, by claiming the “This is My…” phrase for Himself.

Shortly afterward, Jesus and His disciples left the upper room and traveled to the Mount of Olives. On the way, they sang a hymn – which would have been from Psalm 113 through 118, and most likely from 116-118 (the Hallel hymns.) At this moment that the disciples should have felt empowered to do anything, but instead, they heard Jesus begin to talk about betrayal again.

The Prediction Of Many (Mark 14.26-31)

In verses 17-21, Jesus predicted that one would betray Him. Now, in verse 27, the focal word becomes “all” – used by Jesus here, by Peter in verse 29, and then in a general statement about the promise of every remaining disciple in verse 31 (Judas was not with them at this time).

What started as a painful, but simple, understanding for the disciples – that one of them would betray Jesus, had now become a challenge to their very core as individuals, and as a group. If you recall, in Mark 13, the common theme was to endure to the end. That chapter was reviewed over three weeks with a continual focus on Jesus’ call for His disciples to endure, then relating our need to endure as well. Jesus did not waste His words. He knew the disciples needing to be encouraged, because He knew they would soon fall away. Notice the reality of them falling away.
  • Last week, in verses 10-11, we saw the Judas fell away (in part, due to greed).
  • Next week, in verses 37-42, weakness will cause several to fall asleep. In verse 50-52, all the disciples, and a young man (almost certainly Mark), will flee in fear.
  • In two weeks, Peter will be a coward and deny Jesus in verses 66-72.

The all who drank the cup (v. 23) and promise to be faithful (v. 31), are the same individuals who all fell away just a short time later. Yet, Jesus spent His last hours of freedom with them – not condemning them, but rather eating with them – not because they were worthy, but because of His grace. The disciples could not fathom that they were unworthy of Jesus. In their minds, they were hand-picked, and thus were worthy of being with Him, eating with Him, serving beside Him, and even dying with Him (verse 31). But Jesus does not select us based upon our worthiness. It is not our merit that makes Him notice us. It is only by His grace that He would eat with a group of sinners and traitors then. And it is only by His grace that we – as modern-day sinners and traitors of our Lord, can be found worthy to be with Him.

Indeed, as we have seen, each, and every, disciple would abandon Jesus. His last hours would not be in the comfort of friends, but alone and deserted. But He told them beforehand what would happen so they after He returned, and had a time to nourish them, they would be ready to take on the world.

Do you need to know that Jesus still cares for you? Do you need to know that Jesus still loves you? Have you fallen away and wonder if He would still invite you to dine with Him?

The answers are these: He does still care! He does love you! He wants to dine with you! The past is behind – nothing can be changed other than our response to it. God can forgive the past because as Jesus showed in these verses today, He knows the future. Jesus presence with the disciples at this last supper should be all the proof we need that He would eat with us if we will take the time to eat with Him, despite what we have done in the past or will do in the future.

JOURNEY: That is why our JOURNEY letter for the week is: JJesus.

It is Jesus who was and is faithful, not us. Our faithfulness to Him comes because of our trust in Him. God alone is faithful, but He is waiting for each one of us to turn and say, “God, let me be faithful to You.”

OPPORTUNITY: Embrace any necessary change. To be faithful to God, some here need to change the way things are done. Maybe you have been taught something years ago, and you have realized it is wrong, but like the railroad tracks and Roman chariots, you keep doing it because that is what you have always done.  Maybe, it is time to change some traditions, or some beliefs, or some practice. Whatever it is, Jesus shows that not all change is bad. But, as we follow Jesus, our change must be inspired by, and led by, Him.

REMEMBRANCE: Do this, in remembrance of Me. We celebrate the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of the sacrifice He made. As I said a few weeks ago, we can never get to a place on this side of eternity where we no longer need the saving grace of Jesus. Furthermore, we can only enter into eternity with God through His saving grace. Today, we take time to collectively take the bread and then the cup – all in remembering what He did for us on the cross.

NEXT STEP(S): Prepare for the Lord’s Supper by asking yourself: Lord, is it I? What must I confess to be ready for this meal? (Our church partook of the Lord’s Supper this week.)