Trials, Part I
We are in the middle part of this year’s season of Lent. The season that ends with Holy Week, which culminates in the celebration of Easter. All this time of year we concentrate on preparing to more deeply appreciate the wonder of Jesus’ crucifixion and subsequent resurrection.
As we know, there is much Jesus suffered before His crucifixion. It is some of that suffering that will be at the center of today’s message and the one next week. Suffering that came because of a number of trials to which Jesus was subjected. A total of six trials over several hours.
I should point out that today’s message and the one next Sunday are not happy ones, but it is important to consider the trials of Jesus. That will be our purpose today, as we consider the first three trials, and next week, when we will consider the last three trials leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion.
Before that, let me share some of the rules that Jewish law had concerning trials. As will be pointed out, the rules that will be presented were violated in the treatment of Jesus, which displays the hatred the Jewish leaders had for Him, but here are some of what Jewish law dictated concerning trials.
First, if a man was arrested for a capital crime - a capital crime is one for which a person can be put to death, which was the purpose of Jesus’ being arrested and put on trial - the arrest could not happen at night. Such an arrest had to happen in broad daylight.
Remember? Jesus was arrested at night. That in itself violated Jewish law.
Second, if a man was arrested for a capital crime, no one cooperating in the arrest could in any way be connected to the one accused. No arrest for a capital crime could be made based on information given by a follower or a colleague of the accused.
Remember. The one who had developed the plot to arrest Jesus - the one who identified Jesus to the arresters - was Judas Iscariot, who was one of Jesus’ disciples. That violated Jewish law.
Third, it was against Jewish law to hold a trial at night. The law stated trials must be held in daytime. It seems Jewish law recognized people are not the most alert and do not think the best during the night. So it was that trials of any kind had to be during daytime.
As will be pointed out, the first two of the trials Jesus faced were held at night. That, too, violated Jewish law.
Fourth, according to Jewish law, the members of the court, after hearing the testimony of witnesses in a capital crime, could not immediately make a decision. They were to go home and remain alone and separate from one another for at least one day, giving them time to think about what they had heard.
As will be pointed out, the mandatory waiting time was not observed in the trials of Jesus.
Fifth, there was, according to Jewish law, only one method acceptable for the court to make its decision. It was never, “All in favor say aye, all opposed say nay.” Votes were required to be one at a time, starting with the youngest voter so he, and other young, less experienced ones, would not be intimidated or influenced by those with more experience or power.
As we will see, neither was that method followed, which means yet again, Jewish law was violated.
Over and over again, the Jewish leaders violated their own laws. Laws they knew, some of which they themselves had developed. Again, that displays the hatred the leaders had for Jesus.
Trial #1 is recorded in John 18, beginning with verse 12.
In the first part of John 18, Jesus was arrested. Remember that happened at night. Many times earlier, the religious leaders of the Jews had wanted to arrest Jesus, but they were afraid to do so because He was so popular with common people. The leaders were concerned the people might rise to His defense.
One way to overcome the possibility of an uprising for Jesus was to arrest Him at night. That is what happened.
During the arrest, Jesus was seized. That means He was grabbed. Man-handled, as it were.
He was bound, which means His hands were tied behind His back.
He was then led - more likely, He was pushed and shoved - to Annas.
The fact Jesus was taken to Annas is interesting since Annas, at that time, had no legal authority. Annas had been high priest, but he was not the high priest at that time. Instead, his son-in-law was the high priest at that time.
Why was Jesus taken to Annas? There are two possibilities.
One is that Annas was, in essence, still the power behind the office of high priest.
The other is that Annas had a grudge against Jesus.
Remember what had happened a week earlier when Jesus had entered Jerusalem on what we know as Palm Sunday. Remember Jesus had cleansed the Jewish Temple of men engaged in two businesses? They were the businesses of changing money needed to pay the Temple tax and of selling animals needed for sacrifices.
Jesus cleansed the Temple of those two businesses, first because they were being conducted inside the Temple, which interfered with prayer, second because those conducting the businesses were cheating people.
Jesus had every right to cleanse the Temple, but guess who owned those businesses. Annas
Annas had been angry for a long time concerning Jesus. He had been very angry for the week after following Jesus had cleansed the Temple. It was because of Annas’ influence as past High Priest and because of his anger that Jesus was taken first to him. It was before Annas the first trial was held.
In that trial, Annas, questioned Jesus about two things. He asked about His disciples and His teaching.
Concerning His disciples, how many there were, who they were, had they broken Jewish law in some way, where were they now, how could they be found.
Concerning His teaching, Annas wanted Jesus to admit to teaching things contrary to Jewish law.
Jesus answered one of the topics brought up by Annas.
He said nothing about His disciples. Jesus knew He was the target. He did not want the disciples to also be arrested.
Jesus said nothing about His disciples, and actually, neither did He say much about His teaching. His response was, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the Temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing secretly.”
In other words, Annas should already have known what Jesus taught. He would have known had he really cared to know.
Jesus added, “Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me, what I said to them. They know what I said.”
Those around Annas considered Jesus’ answer out of line. Because of that, one of them struck Jesus with his hand, which, by the way, was another illegal aspect of the trial. Brutality was not allowed. But it happened, the one who did the hitting also saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Annas was not the high priest, but that was the question.
Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong. [Prove I am not speaking the truth.] But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike Me?”
Annas got nothing from Jesus, except for maybe feeling good to have seen Jesus struck. But that was the only satisfaction he received before sending Jesus to the one who was the high priest at that time - Annas’ son-in-law Caiaphas. It was before Caiaphas the second trial was held. For that, Mark 14, beginning with verse 53.
Jesus was led - probably pushed and shoved - to Caiaphas. With Caiaphas were all the chief priests, elders, and scribes - all the religious elite - of the Jews. They were assembled together.
Remember this was still night. Jesus had had a busy day the day before. I do not know if He had a normal bedtime, but this was several hours later than that time would have been. The point is that He had to have been weary physically, let alone the emotional fatigue. And Jesus’ hands were still bound behind His back. How increasingly uncomfortable that continued to be.
It was before Caiaphas that the religious elite sought testimony against Jesus to put him to death. It needs to be mentioned the Jews did not have the authority to put someone to death, but they wanted to make the point that He deserved death. So they sought evidence against Jesus. Evidence strong enough to prove a capital crime.
At that second trial there were several who testified against Jesus. However, all the testimony was contradictory. The closest they came to a charge that might stick was that He had been heard to say, “I will destroy this Temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands,” but even with that, various reports of that statement did not match.
The trial did not go well for Caiaphas. Finally, he asked a question of Jesus. “Have You no answer to make?” Incidentally, that was another illegal aspect of the trials Jesus faced. It was against Jewish law to force a defendant to testify. Despite that, Caiaphas asked Jesus, “Have You no answer? What is it that these men testify against You?”
At first, Jesus remained silent. He made no answer. But then Caiaphas said (the first part of this is recorded by Matthew), “I adjure You [to adjure is to formally ask so it was, basically, a formal, legal demand that Jesus answer] by the living God, tell us, are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?”
How did Jesus answer? He answered truthfully. He said, “I am.”
Those two words are very important. First, they mean, “I am who You ask about.” Second, “I am” is how God in the Old Testament identified Himself.
Jesus said, “I am.” That means He claimed to be God.
He added, “And you will see the Son of man [Jesus predicted Caiaphas and all the others assembled would see Him] seated at the right hand of Power [the right hand of God]. That was a claim to be the Christ.
Caiaphas considered that blasphemy, which refers to disrespectful, sacrilegious words. Caiaphas responded to that claim by tearing his robe, which was commonly done by a Jewish leader who heard what he considered to be blasphemy.
Caiaphas then said - I imagine he shouted - “Why do we still need witnesses? Actually, there had been no witnesses to begin with. Remember that while many had spoken, none of what any had said had matched, so there was no real, true, legitimate testimony against Jesus. there was only Jesus’ own statement, which was illegally obtained.
But that did not matter to Caiaphas, who said to the elite, “You have heard His blasphemy. What is your decision?”
As stated earlier, that was illegal because all who were gathered joined together at the same time to condemn Jesus. Remember? The voting during a trial was supposed to be done one-by-one, and the voting had to start with the youngest in the group, not with the high priest himself. Here, all who were assembled - all the religious leaders, all at the same time, in the middle of the night - joined Caiaphas in condemning Jesus, agreeing He deserved death, which was the penalty for blasphemy.
Then some began to spit on Jesus. Others covered His face and struck Him, saying to Him, “Prophesy. Tell us who it is hitting You.” All the while, Jesus’ hands were still bound behind His back.
The spitting, the hitting, and mockery - all of that was torture. Torture that happened before Jesus was handed over to guards, who continued to strike many blows.
After the guards mistreated Jesus for a while, He was led - pushed and shoved - to His third trial, this one recorded in Luke 22, beginning with verse 66, this one held shortly after the break of day, this one before the council of the Jewish people - the Sanhedrin - the Supreme Court of the Jews
Remember Jesus had been up all day the day before. He had, at the time of the third trial, been up all night. A night that included being arrested, being tried twice, being physically mistreated. Plus, Jesus had had nothing to eat since the evening before, so He had to have been hungry.
Jesus must have been quite a sight - bloodied, bruised, famished. It might be hoped that those conducting the third trial would show some compassion, but that was not the case. Jesus was their enemy. They had wanted to get rid of Him for quite some time. It appeared He was so beaten He was near the end of His rope. It appeared it would be quick work to put an end to Him.
When day came, Jesus was led to the council of the Jewish people for the third trial. It was the shortest of the first three. It began with a command. “If you are the Christ, tell us.”
That was certainly getting right to the point, but it again violated Jewish law. The part of the law that said a defendant did not have to testify.
The council said, “If you are the Christ, tell us.”
Jesus’ answer? “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer.”
What an interesting response from Jesus.
He had already announced that He is the Christ. He had just done that in the second trial. He had been announcing that in His words and by His actions, including His ability to do miracles, throughout His ministry.
Jesus’ point was that if the members of the council did not already believe who He is, answering in the affirmative at that trial would not suddenly convince them.
The part of His answer about them not answering if He asked them a question meant that if He asked them to refute what He had said and done - if He asked them to prove He was not who He said He is, which is something He had done in the first trial and something He had asked just a couple chapters earlier - they would not at that time do so.
Jesus did not directly answer their question, but He added, “From now on the Son of man [the council members knew Jesus was referring to Himself] shall be seated at the right hand [the place of authority] of the power of God.”
“Are you the Son of God, then?” the council demanded.
Jesus said, “You say that I am.”
There is the wording again. “I am.” Which caused the council to exclaim, “What further testimony do we need?” Again there was no testimony, except that of Jesus Himself, but that was all the council needed.
They shouted, “We have heard it ourselves from His own lips that He claims to be God.” A claim they thought was blasphemy, which was a crime that was punishable by death.
The only problem being that, as mentioned, the Jewish leaders could not carry out a death penalty. That had to be done by the authority of a Roman leader, which would happen with the fourth, fifth, and sixth trials faced by Jesus, which is what we will consider next Sunday - how the Jewish leaders worked to convince the Roman leaders to put Jesus to death and how Jesus reacted in each of those trials.
Trials four, five, and six will be covered next week. For now, what should we think concerning trials one, two, and three? For that, two things.
First, let’s be amazed at the strength of Jesus. Strength displayed in at least a couple ways. How He, even while being tired and stressed and beaten and demeaned, still had the ability to answer His accusers truthfully in the trials He endured, and how He, knowing full well what the end result was going to be, which was being crucified, continued to put up with all the suffering.
At any time, Jesus could have put a stop to what was going on. He could have called down angels from Heaven to rescue Him. He could Himself have struck all His accusers dead. But He did not do any of that. He went through it all, doing so because He knew His death was going to be required to save us from our sins.
Let’s be amazed at the strength of Jesus. His physical, mental, and spiritual strength. Second, may we learn from Him how we are to live.
When we are falsely accused, may we not answer in anger.
When we are reviled - abused or insulted - because we follow the Son of God, may we not revile against our accusers.
When we suffer because of our faith, may we not threaten those who attack us.
None of that is easy, but, throughout this season of Lent and beyond, may we strive for righteousness, which Jesus displayed, even during the trials He faced that led up to His crucifixion.
Today’s closing song is a chorus that reminds us of Jesus’ strength, and the hope He offers that we can live as He wants us to live. It is In the Name of the Lord.
There is strength in the name of the Lord;
There is power in the name of the Lord;
There is hope in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is He who comes
In the name of the Lord.
Let’s remember Jesus’ strength and how He showed us what righteous living in difficult circumstances looks like. Let’s strive to do what Jesus did. Amen.