The Greatest Trail in History (Mark 15:1-15)

Every day in Towns and cities the length and breadth of the UK trials are held both large and small. Most of these go unnoticed but once in a while the media will pick up on a case and it will be called something like the trial of the decade or even the century. If you live in America, the O J Simpson trial  a few years back definitely met that criteria. However, I want to talk about a trial that took place 2000 years ago, one that I sincerely believe was the most important trial in the history of the human race. This trial stands head and shoulders above all others in terms of significance and although it happen 2 millennia ago it is as relevant today as it was the day it happened. This is the last of the six trials and it is the most significant and it takes place before someone called Pontius Pilate.

The opening verse picks up the narrative the next morning when both the whole teachers and the elders in fact the whole council of Sanhedrin”, are meeting together. We are told they tie Jesus up and take Him and hand Him over to Pilate. They had to do that, because if you recall they had already decided to have him killed, and they didn’t have the power or authority to carry out that sentence. Therefore, they hand Jesus over to Pontius Pilot because being the Roman Governor, he was the only one who had the power to issue the order to put Christ to death. The problem is the Sanhedrin had found him guilty of something that although under their law made Him worthy of capital punishment. However, it did not meet the criteria under Roman law to warrant execution. In the Jewish trial the charge had been blasphemy, but what could they say to the Romans authorities that would enable them to execute him.

The hand him over telling Pilate he was claiming to be a “King of the Jews”. This would have been significant to the Romans because if they thought that someone was trying to usurp the authority of Rome and claim to be a king that was very serious indeed and even worthy of execution. So, Pilate asks Jesus, “are you the King of the Jews”. Jesus response is a very straightforward, “You have said so”. John’s Gospel gives us much more detail (John 18:36-37) but  because of this interaction with Jesus Pilot he reaches a conclusion spoken later in the chapter when he says, “I find no fault in him. It seems that Pilate concluded that Jesus was not a dangerous revolutionary and therefore was no threat to Rome. Having failed on their first accusation of something serious enough to warrant execution the chief priests come up with other false accusations. Luke Gospel tells us the detail; (Luke 23: 2-5)

Now as well as being a false king Jesus now stands accused of corrupting the system and telling the people not to pay their taxes and raising insurrection. The Sanhedrin make another accusation,  So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.” But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed. Jesus simply doesn’t answer their charges. He may have chosen to remain silent because he wanted to allow the false accusers to make their claims and thereby reveal their true motivations. However, his main reason for remaining silent was so he could fulfil the will of God both in prophecy (Isa 53) and by doing so fulfil his plan for the redemption of the whole human race. He accepts all that will come to pass as from the will of God. This tells me sometimes being patient is just waiting on Gods time to fulfil his promises no matter how difficult or unjust the circumstances.

Then the plot thickens because we are told  Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. This extra twist in the story adds a deep significance to the narrative that is often overlooked. The festival referred to here is the Passover, when a prisoner chosen by the people would be released. Barabbas, a man actually convicted of being and insurrectionist, a guilty prisoner will be set free. Someone whom we would today describe as the leader of a terrorist group. So, Pilate qualifies this by double checking with the crowd again in verse nine. Pilate recognized that this whole situation was being driven and motivated by the chief priests out of envy and self-interest. Pilot gives them another final opportunity to offer something a little less that the death penalty, but the crown respond again by saying. 13 “Crucify him!” they shouted. 14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”  The crowed are baying at this point, they are no longer interested in thinking about what he might or might not have done, they are just crying “crucify him” every chance they get. Other Gospel writers tell us that at this point Pilate actually washed his hands of this whole grubby affair an again said, “I find no fault in him”. Finally, 15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

 Jesus is innocent, and Barabbas is guilty of murder and insurrection, but the crowd manipulated by the religious leaders want the lawbreaker set free and the law keeper crucified, and Jesus took Barabbas’ place. Barabbas deserved to die under the law, but Jesus being crucified in his place meant the guilty one could walk free. Ring any bells for you? What was true of Barabbas is true of all of us, as well. When we look at the cross, what we should say is that should have been me. We are all lawbreakers, for everyone of us have not lived up to God’s standards.  The difference is sometimes we think we are getting away with it because we haven’t been caught yet, but does anyone know you the way God knows you.

As a practical joke sir Arthur Conan Doyle (The writer of Sherlock Holmes) is said to have send a telegram to 12 of his closest and most influential friends. The telegram had just 4 words on it – Flee – all is revealed. Within 24 hours 6 of those 12 friends had left the country. The plain truth is, God knows everything, and by the way fleeing the country won’t solve the problem. However, although we are guilty like Barabbas, also just like in Barabbas’s case, Jesus took our place.

It is ironic that the greatest atrocity committed by humanity, ever, the killing of the Son of God, at the same time brought about the greatest blessing ever to humankind. When Pilate asked him, are you King of the Jews, he answered, “it is as you say”. When the chief Priest accused him of all kinds of things, He remained silent. Jesus knew there was a time to speak and a time to remain silent.

May I suggest we should do the same. May I also suggest we in fact usually do the exact opposite of what we should. We speak when we should be quiet, and we don’t speak up when we should. We are silent when we should witness to Christ, and we speak out when we should not.

I Cor 15, that great chapter on Love, it says love does not express itself rudely. Sometime even in defending our position we focus to much on being right and not enough on helping the other person find truth Love does not give us the right to prove we are right if it damages someone else search for God.  Silent service of others is I believe the most powerful expression of the love of God in Christ. In the final analysis knowing when to speak and when to keep silent is actually all about love. It’s the hallmark of mature love. James in the third chapter of his letter tells us if we can control our tongue and know when to speak and when not to speak, we are then able to control our whole body and our whole personality. The next time you face false accusations the response of your lips will may well be the evidence of how Christ-like you really are. The voice of a spiritually mature person speaks the loudest by being silent when all around them the gossip rages and tongue waggle.

Amen

Learning the lessons of Failure (Mark 14: 66-72)

We all know people who have failed at one thing or another, failed in their job, failed in their business, failed in their marriage. Unfortunately, these same things happen to all sort of people, Christians and non-Christians alike. Spiritual failure is the most serious type of failure because a failure in your Christian life means an ever-widening distance between yourself and God and even a possible slipping into to sin. Even people who have know the Lord a long time still sometimes fail, and even Christian leaders fall and sometimes fall big time in the glare of publicity. I hope your response to that it’s not to sit back with a smug attitude and say, tut, tut, I would never do that or even have a judgemental attitude.

This passage talks about out one of the classic cases of failure in the bible and hopefully we can learn something from this particular example of failure. The passage is a straightforwardly recording for us of the events that took place around Peters three denials of the Lord. The very fact that he is there means we must give Peter some credit because we found out a few verses back that “all forsook Him and fled”. Therefore, before we you’re too hard on Peter please recognise that he had at least come back and was hanging around the edge of the events unfolding and just by being there he is potentially putting himself in harm’s way.

The servant girl in verse 66 refers to Jesus as ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ probably reflected a judgemental tone, because Nazareth was seen as a little backwater town that didn’t get much respect. Peter responds by saying, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’ve never heard of Him”.. This is Peter’s first failure, in fact this is a climax of a series of failures Peter has in the last week of Jesus’ life. At the beginning of the chapter when Jesus first predicted this happening Peter vehemently denied it. He literally said, “I would die first before I would do such a thing”. He even dared to compare himself to the other disciples and say that they might fail, but he wouldn’t. In the context of Peters whole life yes this was a moment of failure but please note his failures did not mean he did not have a future as a believer. There is a huge difference between failing and being a failure and that is a lesson worth learning here

The servant girls speaks again, the first time she spoke directly to Peter, but the second time she spoke to the group and says to them, ‘Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.’ His accent also gave him away. Contemporary historians from that period tell us that the Galilean s had a very strong rural accent, so much so that they were forbidden from saying the benediction in the synagogue. We can see that one failure often leads to another. One lie never stands alone, because you often have to back it up, or cover your tracks with another deception. The most fascinating thing about this story I think is that Peter was so convinced that he wouldn’t do this, “I’ll die first” he had said. However, we all are capable of falling away from the Lord or getting into serious moral entanglements. Peter demonstrates for us very clearly that determination is not the key thing. Maybe you have done something in the past and are determined to not do it again and you think because you are determined, that is going to help you not do that again. Nobody was more determined that Peter, but the issue is not determination, the issue is dependency. The Apostles Paul and what he said in his second letter to the Corinthian church, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (Cor 12:10b). It’s your dependence on the Lord that will make and keep your strong, not your determination. That’s why the Lord through the Holy Spirit in the very same chapter told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you”.

It is not the determination of the human will, it is our dependence on divine grace that keeps us from making mistakes or even falling away. You will notice there has been a progression in the accusations, the stakes get bigger and bigger as more and more people are drawn into the lie. In Luke’s account of the same events there is one extra little phrase (Luke 22: 60b-62) but I believe an important one. It says, “Jesus didn’t say a word, He just looked, and Peter knew”. What a powerful moment that must have been for Peter. I do not see a look of guilty accusation here, I see a look of grace. I also see a look of sadness combined with forgiveness. It seems to me when Jesus looked, he said I am saddened, but I want you to know that although you failed today, it doesn’t mean you are a failure. The text then tells us Peter went out and wept bitterly (KJV). However, because the text tells us he wept, I believe he got it, and because he got it, he also got forgiven and his failures did not define him as a failure. Falling into sin, falling again into sin means you have failed, but it does not mean you are a failure.

Let me sum this  by making a couple of observations. The New Testament was written over  a period of about 40 years, starting with the book of James written about 20 years after Jesus’ death and ending with Revelation sometime between 75 and 95AD around 40-60 years after the death of the Lord. We also have some contemporary writings written alongside the bible texts, one of these is by a man who talks about being related to and knowing Phillips daughter. Therefore, he is very close to writing at the same time the later books of the New Testament are being written. He says that to a great extent the Gospel account of Mark was just Peters preaching material transcribed. He claims Mark witness and listened and wrote down a great deal of what Peter said and much of it is recorded in his gospel account. Three other very early fathers of the Christian faith also held this view, people like Tertullian of Carthage, Clement of Alexandria and Irenaeus. If they are correct, then Mark is recording the fact that Peter through these texts is publicly admitting he failed. Another observation worth taking is the Gospel of Mark was written to Christians living in Rome and at that time the Christians were facing things similar to what Peter faced. They were going through the beginning of what would become a full-blown persecution, which means they would be being challenged to deny the Lord all the time. These writings must have been very helpful and encouraging for them.

The main point here I believe is this, Peter sinned, Peter failed, Peter fell way below the standard the Lord set for him and he failed, he falls away and sins. He didn’t just tell a lie, his lie involved him denying the Lord Jesus Christ 3 times. Jesus’s right hand man, one of His key representatives on earth, denies him, three times. We all can fail and fail big time, but the lesson taught here is, God forgives, God restores, big time. The Lord forgives sinners, the Lord restores sinners, but most importantly the Lord also uses restored sinners. The Lord here restored Peter and used Him to win 3000 souls to Christ less than 2 months after these events. Peter denied the Lord Jesus just 1 day before he was crucified then 50 days later at Pentecost, he uses Him to establish the church through the preaching of the Gospel. Salvation is a free gift, trust in Him and you are forgiven of your sins for life, however, you may still sin. But even if you fall into sin just fall to your spiritual knees and cry out in sorrow and He will restore you, sanctify you, and use you because God is in the forgiving business. I have failed many times in my life, but by the grace of God He does not see me as a failure. Maybe when I do fail with God’s grace, I might still learn something, but God doesn’t abandon me, he just wants to reveal to me how he might have a better plan for my life, better than the one I am currently following. God says to us, I don’t want you to fail but when you do, I will tell you what I told Peter, failing does not mean you are a failure. It just means if you come back to me, I will forgive and restore you.

Let’s Pray.

An Unjust Justice System

Throughout history governments have established judicial systems that seek to see that justice is done in their particular societies. In order to ensure the system works they put rules in place. For example, we have a legal system in the UK that assumes an accused person is presumed innocent unless proven guilty. Overall, I believe our system works very well, but unfortunately even the best of systems don’t always work. Sometime the very system itself lets people down we can all think of examples, but what can be extremely serious is when people working within the system themselves are corrupt. When that happens the justice system itself can become unjust? This is the background to what particularly happened to Jesus Christ when He was put on trial, because not only was His trial unjust but it was also illegal. What I would like us to do is look at that trial and I particularly hope we can learn a spiritual lesson. If you don’t get hold of this then you might experience some real feelings of grief and injustice in your life.

When considering this passage, it is helpful to know about this setting in that the Sanhedrin has a problem, and their problem was huge. Back at the beginning of the chapter we were told, The Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. (Mark 14:1) This shows you how corrupt this trail already was, they had already reached a verdict, but they needed to show some semblance of a trial, so they needed witnesses. According to Jewish law in order for somebody to be condemned for a capital offence there had to be at least two witnesses and those two witnesses had to agree. However, they could not get even two independent witness to testify against Him and even when they called false witnesses, they could not get their statements to agree and that was their problem. They could drag up people who were willing to speak against Him, but they could not get them to agree and say the same thingBecause of this problem they cannot prosecute a case that might involve the death penalty. Although there were false witnesses willing to say He said He would destroy the temple but as verse 58 tells us; “Yet even then their testimony did not agree” (Mark 14:58) How do you convict someone of a capital offence deserving of death if you don’t have witnesses.

Then the High Priest steps up, the one who would be the prosecutor of the case and asks Jesus, ‘Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?’ 61 But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. (Mark 14:60-61) Jesus response or lack of response takes a little explanation. Helpfully Matthews account throws some light on the matter for us. “Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, ‘Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?’ 63 But Jesus remained silent. The high priest then said to him, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’ (Matthew 26:62-63) The High Priest is seen to put Jesus under oath, and that was illegal. Under Jewish law you couldn’t put somebody under oath and ask them to testify against themselves. What the High Priest wants here is for Jesus to incriminate Himself. Jesus could have said they did not have the correct witness testimony against Him He could have said He was not guilty of saying what they said He said, but he remained silent because He was fulfilling prophecy. He was bringing to pass exactly what the Old Testament said would happen concerning the coming of the Messiah in Isaiah.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.

(Isaiah 53:7)

Jesus just said, nothing, then The High Priest asked him; ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ He remains silent when the false charges are bought against Him but when asked (under oath) if He is the Messiah, He says;  ‘I am,’ said Jesus. ‘And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ He then tells them that not only is He the Messiah, the Son of God, but that one day they will see Him sitting on the right hand of God and returning from heaven in great power and glory to set up the kingdom. Just as spoken of in Daniel 7:13. Here is the critical moment of the trial. He is asked the question under oath are you the Messiah and are you the Son of the most high God? And Jesus replies, “I am”. If Jesus had said no to this question, the trial would have been over, and He could probably have walked out a free man and he could have escaped the cross. However, he replied, “I am” and by doing so He signed His own death warrant.

Now comes their verdict. 63 The high priest tore his clothes. ‘Why do we need any more witnesses?’ he asked. 64 ‘You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?’ They all condemned him as worthy of death. They all condemn Him to death and to make it worse listen to what happens next;  65 Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, ‘Prophesy!’ And the guards (Officers of the Religious Court , not military guards) took him and beat him. They spit and hit him, and it is the officers of the court who are doing it, maybe even the High Priest himself

Let me also sum up this passage by saying, yes, the proceeding were illegal, but more so than perhaps you might even imagine.

The religious leaders violated their own laws.

  1. For a Sanhedrin decision to be valid the Sanhedrin had to meet in its own court area – They did not do this, they met at Capias’s house.
  1. All criminal cases must be tried and completed during the daytime – This again was not the case, they met at night.
  1. Criminal cases could not be tried during the Passover – The opening verse tells us this trial was conducted during the Passover.
  1. If the verdict was guilty a night must pass before the announcement of the sentence so that any feelings of mercy might have time to arise – They did not do that either.

These were the rules of the Sanhedrin and in the eagerness to destroy Jesus, they broke all of their own rules and more.

I believe there is an important lesson that we can all learn from this. And that is…. There is no perfect justice in this life, and the life of the saviour is an illustration of that fact. There is no perfect justice in the world financially, politically, socially or even sometimes judicially. Even in our British judicial system, which I do believe is one of the best in the world. Injustices still go on, on a daily basis. The question we should actually ask, is what do we do when that happens? Have you ever been treated unjustly? What are we to do, when we experience or witness injustice? I think it is rather interesting that Peter was in the side-lines whilst all this was going on, so how did he react.

 

Well, we can know how he reacted because he wrote a letter later some years later and he gives us an insight into what he learned that night.

22 ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ 23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 ‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’ (1 Peter 2: 22-24)

Remember Peter personally witness the trail of Christ, who was unjustly committed, tried and executed, but in all of that Jesus did not retaliate. Jesus suffered vicious verbal abuse and painful torture mocked and forced to carry His own cross and crucified to death. Yet through it all he did not get angry insult anyone or threaten to get even. He did not even attempt to verbally convict those who tried Him of their legal errors. Here is the lesson for us. He just committed himself over to the only one that can judge justly. He handed over the judgement of sinners to God whilst at the same time handing over himself to death to die for the sins of mankind that they might have the opportunity to live a forgiven and righteousness life. If we are made righteous in Christ, then we can leave the injustices of this world in the hand of the only one who is able to judge the sinners and the guilty.  Here me and hear me well, injustice is a fact of life, but when we are treated unjustly don’t curse the situation, don’t even curse the accuser if there is one. Just appeal to the highest court of all, the one and only God who is able to judge all things and leave it in hands.

Let’s pray.