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: J – Jesus.
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?