The Trial of Jesus

Title: The Trial of Jesus

Text: Matthew 26:57-67, Isaiah 53:10

Time: March 21st, 2010

Because it’s only a few weeks before Easter, I’d like to interrupt our sermon series on the Book of Genesis and cover some three topics related to the final days of the life of Jesus: first, the trial of Jesus; second, the death of Jesus; third, the resurrection of Jesus. We’ll take some time away from the Book of Genesis and give our minds a rest in thinking about the Creation account and all the related issues we’ve been dealing with since the first of the New Year. It’s a good time to take a break from that because it’s been a pretty intellectual series so far, maybe a little too intellectual for regular sermons. But I’ve wanted to not only cover the biblical material, but also equip you for interacting in the world of modern science and scholarship. We live in a world that mostly rejects the biblical message of Creation, so it’s important that we grapple with the issues of faith and science in order to not only understand our own faith better but also in order to communicate our faith to the outside world. Some people have the idea that there is no connection between faith and reason, or between the Bible and science, but if “all truth is God’s truth,’ then we should expect that when we read the Bible correctly and when we observe and understand nature correctly, the two should line up. They do, but it’s not always possible to see how they do in our present fallen, limited condition. We’ll return to Genesis after Easter. But for now, I’d like to jump into the sequence of events leading up to and including the resurrection of the Lord Jesus in the weeks ahead. Today, I’ll focus on what happened during the trial of Christ before the Jewish leaders – and why they happened. It’s important for us to understand what and why things happened the way they did in the life of the Lord Jesus because this is our faith, this is what is most important to us – or should be most important to us. In our modern, secular world it’s easy to think that money and material possessions are most important. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that work and play and eating and sleeping and recreation and entertainment are most important. Many people live out their lives, maybe even most people, thinking that these earthly, worldly things are most important. But they fail to stop and realize that these things in and of themselves don’t give live meaning. Only higher spiritual things, things over and above our typical mundane activities can give these very activities meaning and purpose. The Bible gives meaning and purpose to our lives because it explains important spiritual events that cast light on everything else. The death, burial and resurrection sequence of Jesus – taken together — is such a spiritual event. The more we learn and reflect on its meaning, the more meaning and purpose our lives have. So let’s look at these events, today, the trial of Jesus. I’ll mention three things today about the trial.

First, Judas was instrumental in handing Jesus over for trial by the Jews. Matthew 26:57, 59-60, “Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. . . . The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.” Judas, the disciple of Jesus, was the one who led the guards to find Jesus and arrest him in order to bring him before the Jewish court. Now the first question is, “Why did Judas betray his own Master?” There are many motives that people have placed on Judas for betraying Jesus. One might have been money; there is biblical support for this view. Another might have been bitter disappointment because Jesus didn’t turn out to be the kind of Messiah Judas and most Jews were expecting; the kind that would lead the nation  to overthrow the Romans and establish Israel as an independent nation again. Judas became despondent and as a result got back at Jesus for letting him down by turning him in. That’s one theory. Of course, there is the biblical reference to “Satan entering into Judas” and thus possessing him. That would account for Judas turning Jesus over to the Jews – as the famous comedian Flip Wilson used to say, “The devil made him do it” This is partially true, but not the complete picture. In reality, the devil can never fully make anyone do anything; he can only encourage what someone assents to do on their own. The devil can empower someone or embolden someone, maybe even provide impulse for someone, but the devil can’t “make” someone do something against their own will. The person, any person, must first permit the devil or demon to enter and control them; then, and only then, does the devil or demon have power to control. So we can’t blame it all on the devil, although there is no question he was involved. Another theory of why Judas betrayed Jesus is that he wanted to bring together both the Lord and the Jewish leadership with the hopes that they then might be able to reach an understanding and unite in a common mission. In other words, Judas might have seen himself as someone who brings people together, gets both parties talking as a kind of mediator or go-between. A number of years ago, the Reverend Jessie Jackson liked to style himself as a peacemaker diplomat. Whenever there was a world crisis or hostage situation he would try to negotiate an agreement. He did succeed a few times, although most people thought it was more about gaining fame for Jessie than helping the particular situation. But maybe Judas was trying to play the role of diplomat. “If only the Jewish leaders could talk and listen privately to Jesus, then maybe they’d back his mission,” Judas might have thought. So he took matters into his own hands, went behind the Lord’s back and forced an encounter between the two sides. When things didn’t work out as planned, Judas was heartbroken. “When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood,’” Matthew 27:3-4. The meeting that Judas had so carefully planned didn’t go as planned. Let’s see what happens.

Two, the trial before the Jewish leaders wasn’t fair, it was rigged from the start. Matthew 26:60-64, “Finally two came forward and declared, ‘This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’ Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, ‘Are you not going to answer? What is the testimony that these men are bringing against you?’ But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ ‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied. ‘But I say to all of you; In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’” Instead of a fact finding session, instead of a dialogue and discussion, the Jewish leaders conducted an Inquisition. We don’t know exactly what Judas thought might have happened, but if he thought that Jesus might have possibly gotten a fair hearing, he was gravely mistaken. There is no indication that the Jews were going to conduct a fair and balanced hearing at any point. From the very beginning, when they arrested Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, there was every indication that there would be trouble. Today, when the police pick someone up for questioning there is at least the hope that things might go well. Maybe they just want to question an individual by asking a series of questions at the police station. This happens all the time in law enforcement. If you are called in for questioning by the police it doesn’t necessarily mean you are in trouble or you are going to jail or you will be charged with a crime. Maybe Judas naively felt something like this, a questioning, might take place with Jesus before the Jews. But the Jews had no such plan in sight. All indications point that they knew exactly what they wanted to do and what the outcome and verdict would be long before Jesus arrived. It was just a matter of coming to the right conclusion in the right way. So they rounded up a number of witnesses to testify against Jesus, but even these testimonies didn’t harmonize. But eventually they heard some testimony that was interpreted as Jesus speaking against the holy Temple of Jerusalem. Finally the high priest asked Jesus outright if he was the Son of God, to which he affirmed he was. That was all the Jewish leaders needed to convict him to death. But again, the verdict had already been determined beforehand. The trial was just a formality. Why were they so against Jesus? For one, he criticized many of the things they did as leaders of the Jews. But that was only one reason why they so hated him. Probably the main reason they sentenced Jesus to death was because he didn’t fit their understanding of the Messiah, yet he was claiming to be the Messiah of Israel. To their way of thinking, therefore, he was a false Messiah, a false prophet. If he were merely claiming to be a teacher they might have let it go, but his claim to be the Messiah made them test his claims against their understanding of Messiah; the two didn’t match. They wanted a Messiah who would defeat the Romans, free the nation, and set up another kingdom like David. Jesus had no such plans. Instead, he talked about forgiveness of sins and eternal life. They would either need to change their understanding or charge Jesus with being a false prophet and blasphemy; they did the later.

Third, yet ultimately, it had to be as it was, to fulfill the plans of God. Matthew 26:65-67, “Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?’ ‘He is worthy of death,’ they answered. Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Other slapped him and said, ‘Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?’” Judas may have thought he could bring both parties together to find common ground, but that was not to be, because the Jews never had any intention of really listening to Jesus or trying to understand his mission. They had already made up their minds and they were just looking for an opportunity to put him away. They found that opportunity at the trial. However, we now know in looking back with hindsight that it really had to be the way it turned out. For example, what would have happened if the little plan of Judas the diplomat had worked? Jesus comes in for questioning by the Jewish authorities, he is interrogated, he answers their questions, there is dialogue, there is discussion – and in the end they find agreement! Jesus walks out and is free to continue teaching and preaching in Israel. The officials agree to let him alone without hassle or harassment just as long as he doesn’t directly criticize or attack the Jewish leadership. Everything works out find; everyone is happy ever after, right? Wrong! It was necessary for Jesus to be found guilty, be sentenced to death and die on the cross as an atoning sacrifice for sin. Judas’ plan wouldn’t have worked, couldn’t have worked, because it wasn’t the will of the Father in heaven. Isaiah 53:10 says of the Messiah’s death, “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.” In that short prophecy within a longer prophecy – the whole of Isaiah 53 – we learn that it is God the Father’s will for the Son to die as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. We also learn that he will rise again – “He will see his offspring and prolong his days,” but that’s a little more cryptic a prophecy; and another sermon for another day. The point being, it was God’s will for Christ to be condemned and put to death. Salvation depended on it. So in a sense, it’s a good thing that Judas’ little plan didn’t work and that the Jews weren’t in a conciliatory mood on the night of the trial. We could look at many more circumstances to show that things simply had to work out the way they actually worked out. It was all necessary for Christ to pay the penalty for our sins. Aren’t you glad things did work out the way they did? Even though it was bad, actually awful that such an innocent person had to be treated so badly, aren’t you glad Christ was willing to suffer and go through with it? We must believe that a sovereign God is watching over everything to work “all things together for good” – as Romans 8:28 says. When you are going through “the valley of the shadow of death” or some similar painful experience in life, remember that God is still in control. He’s working a bad situation into an ultimately good situation. That’s the power of God’s providence. Don’t ever think that anything is beyond the providence of God; it isn’t. If you need a faith perspective during hard times, this is it. If God could work all the pain and suffering Christ went through together for good, don’t you think he can work out all the pain in your life for good? Keep your trust in him and don’t despair. Trust God to bring it all around for good.


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