We continue our Lenten Journey through Mark 14 and 15 starting with Mark 14:53. Preached in the North Peace March 7, 2021.
53 They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, the elders and the teachers of the law came together. 54 Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire.
I find that the trials of Jesus’s last night and morning are conflated for me. Between the four gospels there are six different trials referenced in less than a day. Taking things more slowly has allowed me to pay more careful attention to them, to see their detail, to see more of what terrible moments they were and how God used them to show his glory
The first thing you may want to know is that the Sanhedrin had a building they were supposed to gather in to execute justice, it was called the Chamber of Hewn Stone. It was a large public area where the proceedings of justice could be seen by the people and protested by the people. We know that is another Chamber of Hewn Stone where justice and mercy will in truth be fulfilled. The second thing you may want to know was that trials were supposed to start early. Usually they started in the morning, sometimes in the early afternoon. But you could not start a meeting of the Sanhedrin even in the late afternoon for fear that time-pressures might cause them to cheat justice and the executing of justice is not something to be rushed. The light of the world shone forth in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. Jesus is being tried in a rushed way, secretly, under cover of darkness, illegally in the home of one who has duty from God to oversee the execution of justice.
55 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. 56 Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree.
The work of the Sanhedrin was to look for truth, not to look for damning evidence. But here they abdicate their duty and look for evidence against Jesus. It was a series matter in ancient Israel’s jurisprudence that testimonies agree. They took seriously God’s commandment “You shall not bear false witness” to bear false witness either for or against the accused was to put yourself in jeopardy. If it could be proven that a witness lied they would suffer the same fate of the accused if they were guilty. To bear false witness in a capital case like this was to make yourself worthy of death. Many testified against Jesus but their statements did not agree.
The line “The chief priests” is a bit of tongue and cheek itself. How many chief priests were there supposed to be? Just one, until his death when those guilty of manslaughter could go home. But the power plays between Rome and the family of a man named Annas meant that there were at this time five living former chief priests, Annas himself and his four sons, and Caiaphas who was now chief priest was Annas’s son in law. It was their system of profiteering on the piety and guilt of Israel that Jesus had upset in overturning the tables in the temple.
57 Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.’” 59 Yet even then their testimony did not agree.
When Jesus came and overturned the tables in the temple he was asked by the crowd: by what authority do you do this? Jesus answered their question saying “destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days”(John 2:13-19). You see how this was remembered falsely, they heard or remembered this as Jesus saying that he would destroy the temple and replace it with a new one. I had never before thought about this as a command of God, that here Jesus was commanding his own execution, but he does instruct those who challenge his authority to purify his own worship to destroy him. He also answers the question of “by what authority” by pointing to his death and resurrection, his body is the temple that will be raised again in three days after its destruction.
60 Then the high priest stood up before them and asked 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. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 “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.” 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. 65 Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, “Prophesy!” And the guards took him and beat him.
What an exchange. In Ancient Israel’s jurisprudence an idea that has carried to our own time had been developed, that one’s testimony against oneself was not sufficient for condemnation. Even if it had been claiming to be the Messiah even if you were a false one would not have met the standards of blasphemy. But it is for this that Jesus is found guilty in this trial. RC Sproul notes a rule of the Sanhedrin was that if the vote was unanimous that it ought to be declared a mistrial. They forsake all of their traditions of justice to bring about Jesus’s death.
Jesus the King of the Universe, the Word that spoke the world into being, came among them, confessed directly to them who he was. These were those who were supposed to be waiting for the coming of a king. These were those who were supposed to be leading a people in living distinctly from the gentiles around them who needed God to preserve them and deliver them from the way of the world. These were the religious people, the clerical leadership, whose authority was in this God’s name, he came to them in their plight, but he was inconvenient to the survival methods they had developed. They were afraid. They were jealous. And so they bet him and mocked him who had formed them in the womb. Jesus submitted to their abuse.
66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. 67 When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said. 68 But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entryway. 69 When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.” 70 Again he denied it. After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 He began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” 72 Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
With the other disciples scattered, Peter you will remember from the beginning of this passage, followed at a distance. It can be tempting to follow Jesus at a distance, to give ourselves room, to not be so easily identified and hated with him. Following at a distance is a great way to be swept away from him. Let us cling to him my friends. Peter finds himself in the courtyard of Caiaphas warming himself by the fire and a servant girl accuses him of being with Jesus of Nazareth. Peter responds by saying “no clue what you could possibly be talking about girl” which is absurd because like a hundred people are awake in that place in the middle of the night because of Jesus of Nazareth but Peter goes for the ignorance defense. The girl then talks to others there, convinced in her thought and tells them that Peter is a follower of Jesus. Peter says no. But when those who heard her looking at him are convinced Peter loses it. He starts saying course and ugly language, he makes a solemn oath before God, saying something if I am lying may the Lord of hosts strike me down where I stand. Peter is caught up in a rabid frenzy of denial thinking that this might save him from the destruction of his body, from the hatred of those near him. And in this frenzy a sound pierces him, the night of the trial is over, the cock crows, dawn is here. With the coming of the light, with the cock crow piercing his tantrum, the words of Jesus pierce Peter and he remembers. When Peter said he would follow Jesus to his death that he would not abandon him Jesus told him that very night before the cock crows you will deny me three times. And Peter falls down to his knees and weeps. He had no power in himself to cling to Jesus, his spirit was willing but his flesh was weak, he could not be faithful. Thank God we have a faithful God who keeps his promises even where we cannot. On this rock, on this man in intense rejection of Jesus, on this man who swears and feigns ignorance, on this man crying on his knees Jesus will build his church. On his lips he will place the sermon of Pentecost, to him he will gather thousands in Jerusalem, thousands of other weak ones like us.
May God give us the strength to be faithful to him in the hour of trial, may we rest all that we are on his faithfulness. Amen.