I think I’ve mentioned our church is offering the Kerygma Bible study course. It’s 30 weeks total, and we have about 8 or 10 sessions left. After our study on the crucifixion, I’ve decided I want to do a series on the events of Holy Week. If I were normal, I would start with the entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. But when I’m writing a series or novel, I don’t write linearly. I jump from one chapter to another in an order that only makes sense to me. And my sense says to start with the Thursday night trial, so here goes:
Have you heard Jesus was black? Three reasons we know that:
- He loved Gospel music
- He called all his closest friends Brother
- He couldn’t get a fair trial.
Seriously, though, this trial was rigged from the start. They started the trial around midnight. They did not let him have an advocate. They didn’t give him a chance to call in his own witnesses. And in spite of that, Jesus almost beat the system.
After he was arrested he was brought before the high priest and the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, consisting of 71 chief priests, scribes, and elders. The Torah says no one can be sentenced to death on the basis of one witness (Deut 19:15).
So they brought in several witnesses. Now Jesus had been teaching in the Temple all week. People who had heard him as he toured Galilee would have been there for the Passover festival. The Gospels all provide examples of things he had said that could be construed as blasphemous. All they need is two people to agree on one thing he said. But they couldn’t.
For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree (Mar 14:56 NRS).
This shows how savvy Jesus was: Innocent as a dove but wise as a snake. He kept moving from town to town, no fixed place to lay his head, to stay one step ahead of the authorities. He stayed in Capernaum, which was next to the border of Galilee and had bases across the border, so he could easily get away from Herod if he had to. And why did all of the witnesses get it wrong? Because he spoke in parables but only explained what he meant to his friends.
I’m surprised I haven’t heard more people comment on what a brilliant strategy this was. How do you get your message out when you know the powers that be want to silence you? Speak in code and only entrust the key to that code to those you trust.
So for a while, it looked like he might walk. They want to convict him, but they don’t have the evidence. Their own witnesses can’t agree. The high priest got so frustrated he said, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” (Mar 14:60 NRS).
Why should he answer? He knows your case is falling apart.
Then the high priest asked him directly, “Are you the Messiah,
the Son of the Blessed One?” (Mar 14:61 NRS).
At this point, Jesus had the case won. He said, “Messiah? Son of the Blessed One? Come on! I’m just a carpenter from Nazareth. These crowds have been following me. They get a little crazy. I can’t control everything they say. I mean, you saw here. Everyone’s saying something different, things that I never said. Tell you what. Just let me go. I’ll run off to Egypt, and you can say anything you want about me. Tell them I was just another phony Messiah like everyone’s seen before. They’ll believe that, and I won’t be here to refute it. You’ll never see or hear from me again. That’s really what you want, right?”
Oh wait, that’s what I would have said. What he said was…
“I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven'” (Mar 14:62 NRS).
Jesus, what are you doing??? They would never have been able to pin anything on you if you hadn’t confessed! I thought you knew that because you were exercising your right to remain silent! Earlier, he told Peter if he wanted, he could call on his Father, and He would send 10,000 angels to rescue him. Forget the angels.
All he had to do was not confess, and they would have had to let him go. A lawyer’s worst nightmare of a client. Even after I got him off, he just couldn’t keep his mouth shut.
What happened next is really remarkable. The high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death (Mar 14:63-64 NRS).
Why did the high priest tear his clothes? In Biblical times, this was a sign of great emotional distress, especially associated with grieving for the dead. And the high priest was forbidden from tearing his clothes! He was actually forbidden from showing any signs of mourning, even for his immediate family (Lev 21:10; also 10:1-7). And yet he broke the law he claimed to be upholding.
It may seem like a small thing, tearing his clothes. But was it any smaller than what Jesus had done? The high priest and the Sanhedrin plotted to kill him for healing on the Sabbath, for making a snack on the Sabbath, for eating without washing his hands, for eating with tax collectors and sinners, and perhaps most of all, for calling the whole crew out on their hypocrisy (Mat 23): Tithing even their herbs and ignoring justice, mercy, and faith (Mat 23:23; Luk 11:42). So concerned about purity they strain a gnat but swallow a camel (Mat 23:24).
I used to be a fundamentalist. There are many reasons I am not now, but one of the biggies is the hypocrisy. Fundamentalism focuses in on one or a few rules, watches everyone with a critical eye and points fingers at people who don’t follow their laws. But it misses the big picture.
The high priest tore his clothes while condemning Jesus for breaking the Law. The Sanhedrin beat him and trumped up charges to get him executed, breaking the sixth and ninth commandments. Evangelicals rant and rave about gay marriage, yet surveys have shown a majority of them favor torture. They also tend to vote for candidates who say “Greed is good” when the Bible says greed is the root of all evil (1Tim 6:10).
To all of this, I hear Jesus saying, [I]f you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless (Mat 12:7 NRS).
Condemn the guiltless they did. I just hope we can learn from their mistakes.
Grace and peace to you.