The King on Trial – Mark 14:53-65
When Walter White, a 50-year-old docile, mild-mannered chemistry teacher is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, he turns to cook crystal meth to support his family. This is the premise of the hit TV show Breaking Bad (I have been waiting a long time to use this as an illustration). Walter White goes down this horrible path of destruction and turns from a nice schoolteacher who wears unflattering patterned shirts with an awkward moustache to a shaved-headed, goatee-sporting degenerate thug prince of crystal meth, even changing his name to Heisenberg.
Though Walt is continually dabbling around moral gray areas like all of us, the consequences of his choices are crystal clear. In an interview with the New York Times, the show’s creator, Vince Gilligan, says, “If there’s a larger lesson to ‘Breaking Bad,’ it’s that actions have consequences…it seems to me that it represents a human desire for wrongdoers to be punished…I feel some sort of need for biblical atonement, or justice, or something…I want to believe there’s a heaven. But I can’t not believe there’s a hell.’”
Gilligan is not a believer to my knowledge, but his thoughts are truly biblical. We all feel it when we see injustice. From the smallest grudges to human trafficking to everything else in between, we know that all sin must be paid for.
It is easy to sit in the moralist chair and declares, “Good people will get good stuff. Bad people will get bad stuff.” Karma is out to get you. The problem, however, is who is truly good? Our problem is that though we may correctly want wrongdoers to be punished, how can that be done when we are all wrongdoers? When the Bible says, “There is NONE righteous, no not one” (Rom. 3:10). We are all Walter Whites, not good people who become bad, but all badly broken people, naturally “bent” on evil, with one bad decision away from destroying our lives. How can we be redeemed when the law declares us broken and bad? How can God end evil without ending us because we are walking balls of evil?
Today we will see that it is through the Gospel. The title of the message is, “The King on Trial.” I don’t even know we can call this a “trial,” really. It is more of a witch-hunt. It is an awful miscarriage of justice, but through it God accomplishes the ultimate plan of redemption.
Through the Gospel, God reverses karma with the Gospel of grace, as bad people get the best stuff and the only good person in the world gets the worst. The Judge becomes the judged. To the degree we really believe this, we will live radically changed lives, not only because we found forgiveness and grace, but we will also become people with the greatest and biggest hearts in this badly broken world, used by God to be His hands and feet. Let’s explore that today. We’ll go over the passages and then glean the lessons for us.
Let’s set the scene. Jesus is betrayed by Judas who has Him arrested. The disciples have all fled. It is Thursday night close to midnight. The arresting mob brings Jesus to the high priest, who is actually Caiaphas (Matt. 26:3). Actually before this there was a preliminary hearing with Annas, who was Caiaphas’ father-in-law (John 18:12ff) and former high priest. Annas was known for using the temple to make lots of money. The Romans actually had him step down as a high priest, but the high priests keep their title for life, like the Presidents in our country, so he continued to serve.
Both apparently resided in the same place. Outside Peter is warming himself by the fire. The whole council here is called the Sanhedrin, made up of 71 people. Typically they would meet in the temple and you only needed 23 members to make this meeting valid. Here they are having what seems to be a secret night meeting in the high priest’s house to condemn Jesus.
Notice in v.55: they “were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death.” The verdict is already decided in their heads before the charge was! In capital cases, you needed unanimous evidence of at least two witnesses (Deut. 17:6). If their respective depositions differed one from the other even in trivial details, they were inadmissible as evidence.
They can’t find evidence against him because (notice “for” in v.56) people came forward make false claims and they couldn’t agree. As one commentator noted, “It is harder to agree on a consistent lie than to tell the simple truth.” Isn’t it odd that they have these people ready to come forward in the middle of the night? Jewish law also said if you provide false testimony against someone and that is proven to be false, you get the same punishment as the offender (Deut. 19:15-21). So normal Jews would not come forward and lie unless they were given “a little something” to make the claim. All kinds of shadiness going on here!
This is all happening quickly and so those hired to lie did not have time to get their stories together so their testimony did not agree. So they needed to be thrown out as inadmissible and executed right? Nothing is mentioned about that. Granted the Sanhedrin did not have the power to execute anyone, they should have at least disciplined them for lying. Instead, the case just continues. Finally someone gets up and says to make an accusation about Jesus being a terrorist. “WE heard that…” The “We” is emphatic here, to make it clear there is more than one witness to confirm this. Phillip Yancey says, “Imagine the reaction today if an Arab ran through the streets of New York City shouting, ‘The World Trade Center will blow up, and I can rebuild it in three days.’”
Destruction of a worship place was a capital offense in the ancient world (Josephus The Antiquities of the Jews 10. 6. 2). But even this was not agreed on, according to v.59. Jesus did make a strange statement in John 2:19 about the temple three years ago. He said, “Destroy this temple,” meaning His body, “and in three days I’ll raise it up.” He never said that He would destroy THE temple and miraculously raise up another one. Again, they can’t get their stories straight. This trial should have ended right here!
But Caiaphas gets up, irritated and frustrated at this point. He resorts to intimidation. He tries to probe Jesus to incriminate himself. This is not a trial. It’s a conspiracy. They need a good story to sell to the Romans, so the Romans will execute Him. Jesus is silent. Isaiah 53:7 says, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth. Like a lamb led to slaughter, like a sheep that is silent, so He did not open His mouth.”One commentator writes, “In majestic silence, Jesus refused to dignify the self-refuting testimony by any explanation of His own.”
Caiphas is done playing games and gets to the heart of the matter. At this point, I can picture Caiphas looking at Jesus in the eye and pointing a finger at Him (from the film Jesus of Nazareth) asking him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” The Christ recalls His claim to be the promised Messiah, while the Son of the Blessed points to His claim to deity. Matthew actually says the high priest called Jesus to answer this by an oath. This is like putting your hand on a Bible in court saying you will share the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. You better tell the truth Jesus! See the irony here. They demand truth from Jesus while they are perpetrating lies against Him.
This is the first real legitimate question and so Jesus answers it. He says, “I AM.” That alone should bring a collective gasp over the entire crowd. He uses the name of God “I am.” He says He is co-equal to Yahweh.I am the Messiah and the Son of Man. Claiming to be the Messiah is not enough to be accused for blasphemy (insanity maybe), but saying you are the Son of Man is sealing your death. He combines Daniel 7:13 and Ps. 110:1 to say, “Not only am I the Messiah. I am a whole lot bigger than you think. “I am not only God, I am the one who sits at His right hand and reigns and rules, and will come one day in the future back to this world to judge and to reign and to receive the dominion and the Kingdom promised to Me.”
He’s saying, “You guys think you’re the judges, but I’m the Judge. I am the Judge. So take heed to yourselves, because regardless of what you do to me here, regardless of what happens,” says Jesus, “I will be back.”
Smoke starts to fume out of Caiaphas’ ears and nose. He starts turning green (it’s in the Greek) like the Incredible Hulk and tore his garments (probably his inner garments, since his outer robes were really nice and perhaps he wasn’t even wearing them on this night.). This is an expression of extreme outrage and horror. Jews would rip their shirts when they were going through grief. The High Priest would only do this if there was blasphemy (Lev. 21). Give him an Oscar though. This is the answer he wanted and he knew Jesus was going to say. There is no real surprise here.
Since Jesus has incriminated Himself, they vote unanimously to condemn their Messiah to death. One commentator describes this scene: “[They] began to spit on him, the grossest of personal insults (Numbers 12:14; Deuteronomy 25:9). One of them threw a cloak over Jesus’ head, and they repeatedly beat him with their knuckles. Then they challenged him to prophesy who it was that did it in malignant mockery…Unwittingly they were fulfilling a real Messianic prophecy: “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6). Then in imitation of their religious leaders, the guards took Jesus and continued the beating. It was the earth’s longest night, but as Peter would later say, “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” (1 Peter 2:23).”
What are some lessons for us here?
I. Jesus the Judge demands a response
Notice the explosive reaction to Jesus’ claim to deity. They cannot stand it. They go crazy. There is no way to read the Gospels and come out saying, “I think people just saw Jesus as a nice moral teacher. He’s just a prophet.” You can’t put Jesus up on the shelf with other gods. He is on a different shelf altogether. These are outrageous claims.
He confronts us with His identity. He refuses to be your spare tire that you take out when you’re in trouble. He’s not a vitamin supplement, a booster to get you over the hump. He’s not just here to make you a little better, to round you out. He comes to you and says, “My relationship with you, your relationship with me is all that matters. It must be the number one priority of your life. Everything else is negotiable. Nothing can come before that. Everything else comes second. Everything else gets ditched for that.”
Flannery O’Connor has a great little story called “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” There is a killer named “The Misfit.” He’s a wanted fugitive, upset that he’s in jail for something he didn’t do. He finds this family and starts killing them off until only the Grandmother is left. She tries preaching to him and tells him that Jesus will help him if he prays to Him.He replies with this startling statement: “He’s (that is, Jesus) [thrown] everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but [throw] away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness.” And he kills her.
What is O’Connor saying? She’s saying there is no moderation with Jesus. There is no halfway with Jesus and no walking the fence. If He’s the final Judge of all the earth, then we must give up all to follow Him. If not, who’s to say what’s right and what’s wrong? Who can say what is justice or goodness? Go kill somebody and do what you please.
Keller adds, “Either you’ll have to kill him, or you’ll have to crown him. The one thing you can’t do is just say, ‘What an interesting guy.’ Those teachers of the law who began plotting to kill Jesus…may have been dead wrong about him, but their reaction makes perfect sense. Please don’t try to keep Jesus on the periphery of your life. He cannot remain there. Give yourself to him – center your entire life on him – and let his power reproduce his character in you.” Secondly,
II. The Judge being judged knocks us off God’s chair
Jesus, when asked, “Who are you?” could have said a number of different things, but He intentionally chooses to say that He’s the Judge. In this He wants us to see the paradox. This is the Judge of all the earth being judged instead of judging. He should be in the judgment seat and we should be on trial. There is a reversal here.
Last time we talked about how Mark sandwiches Peter’s denial with Jesus’ trial, almost as if to say that there are two trials going on here. Peter is being charged with something, which is true: you are a disciple. Jesus is being charged with something, which isn’t true. He’s not trying to blow up the temple. He’s not a vandal. He’s not a terrorist. But Peter, though he’s being charged with something that’s true, gets off. And Jesus, though he’s been charged with something false, is condemned. It’s more than irony. It’s the Gospel. Jesus has taken Peter’s place and our place. The Judge is being judged for us. The next day, God will treat Jesus as our sins deserve, which is death and hell. He who knew no sin will become sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). This is the great divine exchange, as God now treats us as JESUS deserves, having treated Him as our sins deserve. Sin comes from taking God’s seat in our lives. How do we do that?
a) Deciding what’s best for our lives
It is substituting ourselves for God. Salvation comes when God substituted Himself for us. The fastest way to become like Satan is to try to be God in your life. How do we do that? We think we know what is best for us. Remember Genesis 3? Eat the fruit of the tree and you will be as God. You decide what is right or wrong for you. You be the Judge of your own life.
Stop putting others and created things in God’s chair too. We look to a person, our career, our parents, kids, our looks, our education, etc. to meet our deepest needs. You find someone and you think, “Now my life is complete. I’ll have love and know I’m lovable and my life will count. “ You have just made that person into God. No person can meet that for you. That person needs to be taken out of the chair. He is the One who saw your deepest sins and love for other lovers and having loved you, went to die and was judged for you.
How about worry? That is also putting yourself in the place of God. I know how my life should go and God’s not getting it right. How many of us do not enjoy or celebrate anything because we are afraid something bad is going to happen? When we do that, we believe in some sort of karma. Instead when you say, “I don’t know what’s going to happen and I don’t know what’s best, but God does,” you are getting out of God’s chair and worry becomes more manageable. He was the Judge who was judged for all the times we didn’t trust Him. He faced my ultimate adversity. I can face my smaller ones.
How about keeping a grudge? That is making someone pay for their sin. That’s God’s business. Only God has the right and the knowledge and the power to judge someone. If you see Jesus Christ was judged in your place, it means you should forgive people who have wronged you.Jesus Christ had every right to hold a grudge against you and me, but he didn’t. He had every right to judge us. You and I don’t have the right to sit in judgment on others, but he had the right, and it was gave it up. He went away from it. He refused to sit in judgment and instead bore our judgment. If Jesus Christ could do that for us, surely we can absorb the debt of others. Get out of His chair.
e) Judgmental spirits
How about our judgmental spirit? Making judgments are not wrong. We need to do that to be discerning, but a judgmental attitude that comes out of self-righteousness and false superiority is not believing the Gospel. Self-righteousness is being more aware of and irritated by the sins of others than you are conscious of and grieved by our own.The Gospel says God who had infinite power, gave it up in sacrificial service for others and loves and forgives the people who disagree with him, even as He is being destroyed by them.
How can we, who are saved by grace (not by looks, education, background, race or anything!) look down on others who don’t believe as we do, are not as smart as we are, or as good-looking or the same theological camp as we are, etc. If we say we believe the Gospel and look at people who don’t believe the way we do and we feel superior to them, then it is evidence that we have not truly believed in the Judge who was judged in our place. What would it mean to love them and respect them no matter what they do, no matter how they live, and also no matter what they believe? If we understand Jesus was judged for us, all sense of self-righteousness and superiority ends. The bigger your gospel: The gentler your heart; the quicker your repentances; the fewer your gripes; the more your thanks.
What do I mean by this? I mean the repeated broken record of always beating yourself up and judging yourself all the time. It is a spirit of self-hate, as a way to pay for our sins. “I didn’t do a good job, I’m so terrible, it’s awful. I’m not doing what I should be doing. I’m not smart. I’m not a good mom. I’m not a good dad. I’m not pretty. I’m not…Look at me.” We call it humility but it is pride. And to this the response, “I know. I’m so proud. It’s so bad.” You’re always on trial against yourself.
The only person who has the right to sit in judgment over you and smack you around is Jesus Christ, and He didn’t do it. At infinite cost to himself, He got out of that chair and took your sins upon himself.  There is a great verse in 1 Cor. 4. Paul says, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” He says a lot there. He says, “I don’t care what you think because who I am, my self-image does not come from your verdict.” Then he says, “I don’t even care what I think. I don’t judge myself either.” What he’s saying is, “My opinion of me depends on the day. I can feel good about myself today, but so what? That doesn’t mean anything. Hitler had a clear conscience. It didn’t work for him.” Paul says, “I only care about what God thinks of me.”
In Jesus Christ, my judgment day is in the past. All of the bad things I deserve are gone, they’re past, and now the verdict is in. The trial is over. The self-recrimination should be over. The trial is over, so stop acting like you’re still on trial all the time. The verdict is in. He loves you. He accepts you. Stop obsessing in your badness and start soaking in His goodness.
III. The Judge’s return makes us agents of justice
We long for judgment and wrongs to be made right. Theologian N.T. Wright says, “The word judgment carries negative overtones for a good many people in our liberal and post-liberal world. We need to remind ourselves that throughout the Bible God’s coming judgment is a good thing, something to be celebrated, longed for, yearned over. It causes people to shout for joy and the trees of the field to clap their hands. In a world of systematic injustice, bullying, violence, arrogance, and oppression, the thought that there might come a day when the wicked are firmly put in their place and the poor and weak are given their due is the best news there can be. Faced with a world in rebellion, a world full of exploitation and wickedness, a good God must be a God of judgment.”
At the same time, Jesus Christ came right into our injustice and suffered. He experienced ultimate injustice. Though one day He will come and make the wrongs right, we can in the mean time, as we see this Judge who was judged for us, look at people who are victims of injustice and powerless and be His hands and feet in this broken world.
In Vince Gilligan’s world and our world, Walter Whites get what’s coming for them. There is no free lunch. There is a day of reckoning and bad people are going to get bad stuff. But the Gospel makes a radical claim.
If you believe the Gospel, God put the ledgers away and settles the accounts. The good news of the gospel is NOT that good people get good stuff. It’s not that life is cyclical and that “what comes around goes around.” Rather, it’s that the bad get the best, the worst inherit the wealth, the criminal gets set free and the slave becomes a son (Rom.5:8). Why? Because the best person in the world got the worst, the richest person broke the bank, the Judge became judged and the Son of God became sin for us. All FOR US. This is good news!
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Grassmick, J. D. (Vol. 2, p. 183).
Lane, W. L. (538–539).
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Keller, T. J. (2013). “The Terrifying Jesus,” sermon preached on December 12, 1999. The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.
Keller, T. J. (2013). Ibid.
Wright, N.T. as quoted in http://awaitingredemption.blogspot.com/2008/05/surprised-by-hope-by-nt-wright-chapter_21.html Retrieved March 27, 2014.
Tchividjian, T. (2012, July 19). You Believe in Karma. Retrieved March 28, 2014, from http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/2012/07/19/the-gospel-is-unfair/print/.