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