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 thing. Because 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.
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.
- 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.
- All criminal cases must be tried and completed during the daytime – This again was not the case, they met at night.
- Criminal cases could not be tried during the Passover – The opening verse tells us this trial was conducted during the Passover.
- 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.