13 Nov Mark 36: The trial for our lives
53 And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. 54 And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire. 55 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. 56 For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. 57 And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” 59 Yet even about this their testimony did not agree. 60 And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 61 But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63 And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? 64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. 65 And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows.
Earlier this year, we had what is probably the most watched and popular trial in the last century. The trial lasted for six weeks, and it was so fascinating to the point that they made a documentary movie out of it. Do you know what trial I am talking about? The Depp-Heard trial. In case you do not know anything about it, Johnny Depp sued his ex-wife, Amber Heard. He sued her for defamation over an opinion article she wrote for the Washington Post, alleging she was a domestic abuse victim, though it did not mention him by name. Amber Heard counter-sued. For the sake of peace and unity in the church, I won’t ask who’s on whose side. I’m afraid we might have a church split at the end of the day if I do that. I’m not a law person but I love watching law dramas. And I know enough that for a trial to be fair, the jury and the judge must remain impartial throughout the process. We can’t have a fair trial if the judge and the jury have already pre-determined whether the person on trial is guilty or innocent. They must decide purely on the evidence presented. Imagine going to a trial where everyone in the room has already decided that you are guilty no matter what. That’s not a trial; that’s a witch-hunt.
Today, we are not talking about the Depp-Heard trial. We are talking about the most infamous trial in human history for its injustice. We are talking about the trial of Jesus by the Sanhedrin. It is unthinkable that Jesus Christ, the Creator and King of the universe, should be subjected to a trial by mere men. But in the good providence of God, it happened. Jesus is on trial for his life. There is nothing more dramatic than to be on trial for your life. And Jesus has no public attorney to defend his case. He is defending himself. He is accused of many false charges. He is then called to testify on the witness stand. And he gives the most shocking testimony about himself. And his testimony changes everything, including our lives. If we get what Jesus says about himself in this trial and why he does it, it has the power to set us free from our trials.
Let’s get into the passage. I have three points for my sermon: The trial; The judge; The verdict. And then I will give four ways this trial changes our lives.
Mark 14:53-59 – 53 And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. 54 And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire. 55 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. 56 For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. 57 And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” 59 Yet even about this their testimony did not agree.
At this time, they just captured Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, and they brought Jesus to the house of Caiaphas, the high priest of Israel. All the members of the Sanhedrin come together in Caiaphas’s courtyard. And Mark tells us that Peter is following Jesus at a distance. Now, I want to pause here for a bit. We are not going to talk in-depth about Peter this week. That’s next week’s sermon. But isn’t interesting that Peter follows Jesus at a distance? Why do you think he does that? Here is what I think. I think Peter is conflicted. He is conflicted between his commitment to Jesus and his safety. On one hand, he just promised Jesus a few hours earlier that he would never abandon Jesus. Every other disciple might abandon Jesus but not him. He gave Jesus his word. But on the other hand, his life is at risk if he associates himself with Jesus. So, Peter follows Jesus just enough. Close enough to still be around Jesus and not close enough to have it affects his life. He forsakes costly discipleship for safe observation. Which asks us a very pointy question. Are we following Jesus at a distance? Do people around us know that we are Christians? I am convinced many of us are like Peter. We stick close enough to still be called Christians, but not close enough to make our lives uncomfortable. And that’s not going to work. And we will see why later. But let’s go back to Jesus’ trial for now.
So, Jesus is brought before the Sanhedrin for his trial. And this trial is extremely problematic. Because, unlike a fair trial, they have already pre-decided that Jesus is guilty before the trial even begins. The law of a trial is innocent until proven guilty. But in this trial, Jesus is guilty until proven innocent. And they won’t let Jesus be found innocent no matter what. They have come too far to let it happen. So, the purpose of this trial is not to find out whether Jesus is guilty or not, but to make sure that they have sufficient charges to prove Jesus guilty. Because the Sanhedrin does not have the authority to kill Jesus. The right to charge capital punishment belongs to the Roman Government. So, what they try to do is to find charges to prove Jesus guilty of breaking both Jewish law and Roman law. This is a trial filled with injustices.
Let me share with you the four injustices of Jesus’ trial that I ripped off from J.D. Greear. First, the timing is unjust. Jesus’ trial takes place sometime around midnight. Jewish law said that trials could only occur during the day so that trials could be public and open to scrutiny. Furthermore, trials are not allowed to take place on days of Feast because people are travelling and distracted. But Jesus’ trial occurs in the middle of the Passover. This is illegal. It would be like Jesus being arrested late at night on Christmas eve, and his trial is being held privately at 2 AM later that night. We would know that something illegal and bad is happening. Second, the trial process is unjust. The Sanhedrin is supposed to be impartial judges who look at the evidence fairly. But in Jesus’ case, it is the Sanhedrin that makes charges. They are both the judge and the prosecutor. Imagine you are on trial where the judge comes off the bench, leads the prosecution, and then comes back to sit in his chair. There is no way the judge can be impartial.
Third, the use of witnesses is unjust. According to Jewish law, all the witnesses must agree on their testimony, or the case will be thrown out. And if the witnesses are found to be lying, they would be severely punished. In Jesus’ trial, the Sanhedrin keeps looking for witnesses and they can’t find any. And the few they find keep contradicting each other. The best they can come up with is accusing Jesus of wanting to destroy the temple in Jerusalem, which is a capital crime. But Jesus never said that. Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple, but he never called for the temple to be destroyed. And Jesus did say, “I will destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” But he wasn’t talking about the literal temple. He was talking about the temple of his body. The false witnesses quote Jesus out of context. And even then, their testimonies do not agree. If you ever get a bunch of people to tell the same lie, you know this. It’s really hard to lie in harmony. It is very hard to accuse the perfect Son of God of wrongdoing. Fourth, the sentencing is unjust. Jewish law requires them to wait for three days before making the final sentence of capital punishment. And they are supposed to fast and pray in those three days to make sure they make the right decision, and to give time for any new evidence to come out or any new witness to come forward. But the Sanhedrin makes the death sentence almost immediately.
Can you see how unfair this trial is? The case should have been dismissed. There is nothing about this trial that is legal and just. Nearly every detail of Jesus’ trial violates Jewish laws and God’s commandments. Jesus is already guilty before their eyes, and they use all evidence to press against him. Now, we can look at them and say, “Oh my goodness. What a bunch of evil people. They put Jesus on unfair trial. How terrible. I would never do that.” But let me suggest to you that we all do this. Do you know what sin is? Sin is putting ourselves in the place of God. Sin is substituting ourselves for God. When we say, “It is my life. I get to decide how I’m going to live. I will decide what is right or wrong for me,” do you know what we are doing? We are sitting on the judgement seat, and we are putting God on trial. When we say, “I don’t like what’s happening in the world. I don’t like what’s happening in my life. It is not fair. I deserve better,” and we get so angry because of it, we have put ourselves in the position of the judge, and we put God in the stand. Do you see the irony in this? God is the one who should be in the judgement seat. We are the ones who should be on trial. But we are reversing the role all the time. This is what sin is. Sin makes us irrational. And rather than looking at the evidence clearly, sin makes us use all the evidence to justify our position. Sin makes us look at God and say, “You are guilty. And I will do everything I can to prove that you are guilty so that I can feel good about my life.” We need someone to blame for what’s happening in our lives. This is what we do. Instead of trusting God with our lives, sin makes us blame God for our lives. When we do that, we are putting God on trial.
Sinclair Ferguson has a wonderful illustration. Imagine a father who takes his little boy to a toy store around Christmas time. He walks through the store with his little boy. The father says, “Do you see that toy? Would you like that?” The little boy goes, “Yes, Daddy. I like that.” Then they go a little farther. “Do you see that? Do you see all those toys there?” “Yes, Daddy.” “Would you like some of those?” “Oh yes, Daddy.” They go through every part of the toy store doing that. And when they get to the end of the store, the father turns to his son and says, “Let me tell you why I brought you here. I’ve brought you here to let you know you are not going to get any of this. I am not going to give you anything. Do you see all those toys? You will have none of it. Now, let’s go home.” What comes to our mind when we hear about this father? “What a jerk.” Right? But this is what we believe in the heart of our hearts about God because of sin. If we do not realize it, we do not know ourselves. Deep inside our hearts, we do not believe that God has our best interest at heart. We believe that God is never going to give us what we want the most in life. And we put him on trial because of it. But look at what happens next. It is shocking.
Mark 14:60-62 – 60 And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 61 But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
While all these false accusations are made against Jesus, Jesus remains silent. So, Caiaphas, the high priest, decides to take the matter into his own hand. Caiaphas asks Jesus a very profound question. And his question shows that he is a very shrewd man. His question is nothing short of genius. And the wording of his question is very precise. He asks, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” There are two things that Caiaphas asks in this question. First, “Are you the Christ?” He is asking if Jesus is the Messiah the Jews have been waiting for. If Jesus says yes, Caiaphas has something he can use against Jesus to the Roman government. He can accuse Jesus of rebellion against Rome since the Jews believe that the Messiah is a political figure who will set them free from Roman oppression. But that’s not the only thing Caiaphas asks. He also asks, “Are you the Son of the Blessed?” The Blessed is one of the many ways the Jews refer to God. They revere God’s name so much that they do not want to call God by name. So, Caiaphas is asking Jesus if he is the Son of God. And if Jesus says yes, Caiaphas can charge Jesus with blasphemy. And the punishment for blasphemy according to Jewish law is death. In other words, if Jesus says yes to Caiaphas’ question, then Jesus is guilty of breaking both Roman law and Jewish law.
At this time, every member of the Sanhedrin waits to hear Jesus’ answer. And we know that in our studies of the book of Mark so far, Jesus doesn’t want people to know who he is. Whenever people started to guess who he is, he said, “Don’t tell anyone about me. Keep it to yourself for now.” Jesus wanted to keep his identity a secret. And all this time, the religious leaders had been questioning Jesus’ identity. “Who is this man that he said he can forgive sin? By what authority does he teach? What gives him the right to challenge our power?” So, everything up to now is building to this point. Everyone has some idea of who Jesus might be, and yet Jesus has not said it. But now, everything changes. Jesus finally answers the question once and for all. There is no need to hide his identity anymore. Caiaphas asks, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?” And Jesus replies in Mark 14:62 – And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Boom. Jesus drops the bomb. The secret is finally disclosed. Jesus says, “I am the Messiah you have been waiting for, for centuries. I am the one who comes to bring God’s kingdom. I am the One that was promised to Abraham, Moses, David, and all the prophets. I am the Son of God. Yes, I am he.”
But that’s not all that Jesus says. After saying, “I am,” Jesus adds the fuel to the fire. Jesus then makes reference to the Son of Man in the book of Daniel and says that he is the Son of Man. Daniel 7:13-14 – “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” The Son of Man in Daniel 7 comes from the throne of God to earth to judge the world. In other words, Jesus is reversing the role. Jesus is saying, “I am the Son of Man who has been appointed by God to judge the entire world. I am the true Judge. Do you think you are judging me? Take heed. Because regardless of what happens today, one day I will be back, and I will judge you.”
Do you know what it means to us? It means that we cannot be half-committed Christians. We cannot follow Jesus at a distance. We cannot be like Peter who follows Jesus close enough to still be considered Christians but not close enough to have our lives affected. Jesus does not leave that option to us. But that’s how we are most of the time. We don’t want to be committed. We want to keep our options open. We want to see if things work out well for us first. But that’s not possible. The only option we have is all in or all out. Jesus says, “I am God. I am the Judge of the universe. I have all power on heaven and earth.” Now, if a person says that, our only option is either we take him for what he says, or we dismiss him altogether. He is either God or a lunatic. We must make our choice. We either love him or hate him. Everyone who encounters Jesus in the book of Mark either fall on their knees and worships him or is scared of him and tries to get rid of him. But nobody ever says, “Oh yeah, Jesus is nice. I like him. He is very wise. But I disagree with him on a few things.” It’s not possible.
Let me make it more personal for us. The one thing we can’t do with any integrity is to say, “Nice sermon, Yos. I like what you say about Jesus. Yes, I believe in Jesus Christ,” and go home and have our Monday to Saturday unaffected by it. If we believe in Jesus, everything in our lives must revolve around him. Jesus must be our priority. He must have the right to control our lives. He gets to decide what is right and wrong. He has the authority to demand anything out of us. I’ve heard it explained this way. In every heart, there is a throne and a cross. If we are on the throne, Jesus must be on the cross. If Jesus is on the throne, we must be on the cross. So, the question is, who is sitting on the throne of our hearts? Is it Jesus? Or is it us? And by the way, this passage is directed not so much to rule breakers out there. It is directed primarily to the religious leaders, the rule-keepers, the people in the church. Jesus is addressing the people who consider themselves religious and yet refuse to surrender control to him. He says, “Make a choice. Either you make your life revolve around me, or you have nothing to do with me.”
Mark 14:63-65 – 63 And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? 64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. 65 And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows.
Caiaphas understands Jesus’ answer clearly. He knows there are only two possible responses to Jesus’ answer. And he chooses to have nothing to do with Jesus. He rips his high priestly garments apart, which is a sign of the greatest possible outrage. And he accuses Jesus of blasphemy for claiming to be God’s Son. And everyone goes berserk. They begin to spit on Jesus and beat him in the middle of the trial. It is no longer a trial. Everything goes out of control. But Jesus is not remotely surprised by it. He has said earlier in Mark 10 that they would mock him, spit on him, flog him, and kill him. He’s been saying about his death and resurrection for months. Even when everything goes berserk, Jesus is still in control.
But notice the irony of this story. The Sanhedrin stands on the law and Jesus stands on trial. While it is the Sanhedrin that breaks the law, and it is Jesus who upholds the law. Jesus stands on trial for upholding the law. And the Sanhedrin breaks the law by putting Jesus on trial. Can you see what is happening? Jesus is the Judge of all the earth. But instead of judging people, he is the one being judged. There is a great reversal here. Jesus should have been in the judgement seat. But he stands on trial. Do you know why? Because this trial is for us. God is demonstrating that Jesus is on trial not because of his sins. Jesus is on trial because of someone else’s sins. It is our trials that Jesus is going through. Think about it. If sin is substituting ourselves for God, do you know what salvation is? Salvation is God substituting himself for us. Listen. Sin is us sitting on the judgement seat. Salvation is God stepping off the judgement seat and standing on trial for the condemnation we deserve. This is what Jesus does in his trial. Jesus says, “I am the Judge who will judge all the earth and get rid of all evil. But I am going to do it not by bringing judgement but bearing judgement. I have come not to judge but to be judged. I have come not to strike you but to receive the stroke you deserve. I, who is innocent, will become guilty for you, so you, who are guilty, may be declared innocent.” Do you see that? We are the ones who deserved to be judged. And instead of coming and destroying us, Jesus has come to bear the judgement for our sins in our place so that we can be free of charges. This is the gospel.
The question is, do we believe it? Do we truly believe the gospel? Because if we truly believe the gospel, there is no way for our lives to remain the same. If we truly believe Jesus is the Judge who was judged for us, it must radically change our lives. Let me share with you four ways this truth changes our lives. First, we will not easily judge other groups of people. Think about it. Jesus is the Judge who has the power over heaven and earth. But Jesus gave up his power and sacrificed his life to forgive his enemies. If we believe that and look at people who don’t believe the way we do and we feel superior to them, then we do not know what we believe. At the very heart of the gospel is a man who gives up his infinite power to forgive people who disagree with him and beat him. If that’s true, what gives us the right to beat people who disagree with us? Think about how we get saved. The Bible tells us that we are not saved by our performance, we are not saved by how well we behave, but because Jesus died in our place. And the fact that we can have faith in Jesus is not because we are smarter than others who don’t.
When we put our faith in Jesus, it is like walking through a door. Before we walk through that door, we fight. We struggle to believe. We do everything we possibly can to walk through that door. And when we finally walk through that door, it feels like we are the ones doing all the work. But when we walk through the door, close the door, turn around, and look back, we see a sign written over the door. It says, “You do not choose me, but I chose you.” It means that all our struggle to believe is actually God persistently pursuing us and not giving up on us. We are not saved because we are better than other people. We are saved by grace alone. And this enables us to look at other people who are not Christians and love them and respect them no matter how they live and what they believe. Get this. If we believe Jesus is judged for us, it should destroy every inclination of self-righteousness. We can stop being judgemental toward other groups of people who are different from us.
Second, we should be able to forgive people who have wronged us. Do you know why we find it hard to forgive people? Do you know why we hold a grudge? Do you know why we love to see something bad happen to people who hurt us? Because we are still sitting in the judgement seat. We think we know what they deserve. But do we? Do we really know what they deserve? Do we really know all their story? Do we really know what they are going through? Do we know the end from the beginning? Of course, we don’t. We don’t know all the facts and we can’t judge fairly. Only God is qualified to sit in the seat we are in. If we continue to sit in God’s seat, if we continue to resent the people who have wronged us, if we continue to play judge, it is only going to destroy us. Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. It is hurting us in so many ways. We must forgive.
But how can we forgive? Think about Jesus. Jesus has the right to hold grudge against you and me. He is the only one who can hold on to unforgiveness and his reason is justified. He has every right to judge us. But he didn’t. We don’t have the right to sit in judgement over others, but Jesus has the right. But he said, “I refuse to sit in judgement. I choose to give up my right. Instead, I bear your judgement.” If Jesus could do that for us, if Jesus could forgive our greater debt toward him, surely we can forgive the smaller debt other people owe us. The judgement seat is not ours; it belongs to Jesus alone. And the debt is either paid fully by Jesus at the cross or one day he will demand the exact payment for every debt when he returns to judge the earth.
Third, we can stop judging ourselves all the time. Here is what I mean. For some of us, we live our daily lives as if we are still on trial. We walk around beating ourselves, saying, “I am not good enough. I am not pretty enough. I am not capable enough. I am not smart enough. I am not … enough.” We are like Eeyore who thinks we are awful, and we are never good enough. But who says so? Do you know what that is? It is us sitting on the judgement seat of our lives. We are both sitting on the judgement seat and standing on trial at the same time. If our performance is okay, we give ourselves a thumbs up. If our performance is bad, we beat ourselves up. But what gives us the right to sit in that chair? The only person who has the right to sit in judgement over us and give us a verdict is Jesus. And he already did. At infinite cost upon himself, he declared us to be holy, righteous, and blameless.
Listen to what Paul writes. These are life-changing verses for me. 1 Corinthians 4:1-4 – This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Did you hear what Paul said? First, Paul says, “I don’t care about what other people think of me. I don’t care if you judge me. I don’t get my verdict and my self-image from you.” But he doesn’t stop there. Second, he says, “I also don’t care about what I think of me. Who cares what I think about myself? It does not matter what I think about myself.” To which we say, “Wait. Hold on. What do you mean Paul? It’s great that you do not care about what other people think of you. But how can you not care what you think about yourself? How do you get your self-value then? How do you know that you are good enough?” And here is Paul’s answer. It is extremely liberating. He says, “It is the Lord who judges me. I have a clear conscience. I have nothing against myself. I know I am innocent. I know I am good enough. Because it is only the Lord who has the right to judge me. I don’t care what you think of me. I don’t care what I think of myself. All I care about is what the Lord thinks of me.” And here is the good news of the gospel. In Jesus Christ, Paul already received his verdict. In Jesus Christ, we already received our verdict. The trial is over. Jesus is already condemned in our place so we can be free. All our past records are erased once and for all and a new permanent record is given to us. Get this. Through the cross, we are given Jesus’ perfect record. All God sees on our report card is A+. It means we can breathe. We are no longer on a trial. The verdict is already in. So, we need to stop acting like we are still on trial all the time. God is no longer angry at us. He loves us. He accepts us. He welcomes us. We need to get over ourselves and stop living in a victim mentality. We are not a victim. We are more than conquerors through Jesus who loves us.
And fourth, we care about injustice. What happened to Jesus in this trial? He experiences injustice. He identifies with the oppressed. He identifies with the powerless. He identifies with people who have been victims of injustice, those who have been crushed by others unfairly. This is what is amazing about Christianity. Christianity is the only faith that says God experienced injustice. Christianity is the only faith that says that God experienced suffering. He not only care about suffering but he experienced suffering. God is not immune from suffering, but he suffers for us, and he suffers with us. Two things it does to us and I’m back to my seat. This gives us enormous resources to face our own sufferings. If we have been betrayed, overlook, abused, or mistreated, Jesus knew exactly what we are going through. He felt what we felt. He experienced what we experienced. And Jesus endured to the end without failing. He went through what we went through times a million. At the cross, Jesus experienced the greatest suffering that we will never experience. Jesus lost the approval of the only One whose approval matter. God the Father turned his face on Jesus because of our wrongdoings. So today, when we put our faith in Jesus, God the Father will never turn his face away from us. He is always with us in our sufferings.
And not only that. Knowing that Jesus suffers injustice for us also gives us enormous resources to care about social justice. If we know Jesus suffered injustice for us, we will care about people who are victims of injustice. We will care about people who are powerless, who are oppressed by society because they don’t have power. We will use what we have to bring justice where there is none. And we do so not in our power. We do so because we have seen Jesus Christ the Judge being judged for us. When the good news of the gospel sinks in, it enables us to stop judging other groups, stop judging people who have wronged us, stop judging ourselves, and start becoming advocates for those who are oppressed and powerless. The question is, do we truly believe the gospel? Do we see the Judge of the universe stand on trial in our place, so we no longer need to stand on trial? Because if we do, it radically changes our lives. Let’s pray.
- What struck you the most from this sermon?
- Do you often find it hard to trust God with your life? Why?
- Read Mark 14:62. What does Jesus say about himself and why do we only have two possible responses?
- Explain how the right understanding of the gospel destroys every inclination of self-righteousness.
- What does the gospel teach about our self-value? How is it different from the world?
- “Christianity is the only faith that says God experienced injustice.” How does this truth inform our attitude toward social justice? Give examples.