Trials, Part II
Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, the day we will celebrate a very spectacular entry of Jesus into the Jewish capital city of Jerusalem.
Jesus had entered the city a few times before Palm Sunday, but the entry we will celebrate next Sunday happened in the midst of thousands and thousands of people, almost all of them recognizing Him and shouting to Him and treating Him as a great leader.
What a spectacular day the first Palm Sunday was. However, as we know, the excitement the people expressed on Palm Sunday did not last, which will be evident in what we will talk about today as we think about three trials Jesus endured shortly before He was crucified.
Altogether, there were six times Jesus was put on trial in the hours leading up to being crucified.
The first three, which we discussed last Sunday, were before religious leaders - Annas, a former Jewish high priest, Caiaphas, the current high priest, and the council or the Supreme Court of the Jewish nation.
At those trials, it was determined by the leaders of the Jews that Jesus deserved death. However, the Jews were not allowed to carry out a death penalty. That could be done only through the authority of Roman officials. So it was that after the third trial, Jesus was taken to Pilate, the Roman governor of the area in and around Jerusalem.
Pilate did have the authority to give a death sentence. That is why the Jewish leaders took Jesus to him, that happening early on the day Jesus was crucified.
All three trials we will discuss today - trials 4, 5, and 6 - are recorded in Luke 23. A few things will be drawn from accounts of the trials in other Gospels, but Luke 23 will be the main passage.
We will start with verse 1 of Luke 23, where it is recorded that following the trial before the Supreme Court, Jesus was taken to Pilate for the fourth of the trials.
By the way, Pilate was a very unpopular governor. There were times during his reign that he did things that at least made it seem he did not like the Jewish people. He had often been cruel toward those over whom he ruled. He was also known for having wild mood swings, which made him even more dangerous.
Usually Jewish leaders did what they could to avoid having any dealings with Pilate, but so great was their hatred of Jesus, they took Him to Pilate.
Because he was a governor representing Rome, Pilate was required by law to do four things in any trial brought to him.
The first was to determine what the charges were against the accused. To meet that requirement, Pilate asked the Jewish leaders who had brought Jesus what their accusations were.
In two of the first three trials - the trials before various Jewish leaders - Jesus had claimed to be God and the Christ. We know He is both, but the Jewish leaders considered His claims to be blasphemy, which is why they wanted Him put to death.
However, blasphemy was a religious crime, not a civil crime. The Jewish leaders had to do something to get Pilate’s attention. To somehow convince the Roman governor Jesus was a criminal against Roman law.
What they did had two parts.
The first part, according to John’s Gospel, was to state that obviously Jesus was an evildoer. Otherwise they would not have bothered Pilate.
The second part, according to Luke 23, was the accusation that Jesus had been discovered to have been perverting our nation. “Our” nation. That is interesting wording because Jews hated the Roman domination they were experiencing. As already stated, they usually did all they could to avoid Pilate because he represented Roman authority. But suddenly it was “our” nation, like they cared about the Roman Empire.
What was the perversion? They accused Jesus of forbidding paying tribute to Caesar, which He had never done. The charge was false. And they accused Him of calling Himself a king, which He had done, but not a worldly king.
Those were the charges the Jewish leaders took to Pilate against Jesus, which met the first requirement under Roman law.
The second requirement of Pilate was interrogation. Fr that, Pilate turned to Jesus and asked Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”
The third requirement was a chance for defense. Because of that, Jesus was allowed to respond to Pilate’s question. He answered, “You have said so.” In other words, yes, Jesus was the king of the Jews.
However, according to the Gospel of John, He explained, not a king “like you and the Jews think of a king.” Not a king of this world. Jesus added that if He was a worldly king, He would, even then, have servants fighting for Him. No. Jesus once again claimed to be a spiritual king.
Pilate was not impressed by the charges. In John it is recorded he knew the anger toward Jesus was simple jealousy.
Pilate did not take the charges against Roman law seriously, so he said, in fulfillment of the fourth requirement Pilate had, which was to pronounce a verdict, “I find no crime in this man.” No civil crime. No crime against Roman law. “It seems to be a religious matter, so,” he told the Jewish leaders, “deal with it yourselves."
Pilate had no further interest in the matter, but after his verdict, the Jewish leaders said two more things.
They continued their accusations, adding that Jesus was stirring up people with His teachings throughout the Jewish homeland, all the way from Galilee in the north to Jerusalem, in the heart of Judea. That was meant to convince Pilate Jesus was determined to start a rebellion, which Pilate could not allow to happen.
The Jewish leaders also said, according to John’s Gospel, that they would like to handle the case themselves, but could not do so because they could not put a man to death. That meant Pilate was dealing with a capital case. A case where the accused can be put to death if found guilty.
Those two things got Pilate’s attention.
His attention was grabbed by the news this was a capital case. That made it very important.
His attention was grabbed because of the mention of Galilee, which expanded the responsibility to the one directly above Pilate in Roman authority, that being Herod, who was responsible, not only for the area in and around Jerusalem, but all the Jewish homeland.
Herod had quite a history himself. A history that included the beheading of John the Baptist.
A quick review of that is that much earlier, John the Baptist had criticized Herod for an immoral act. What had happened was that Herod had convinced his brother’s wife, Herodias, to leave her husband and marry him. Herodias did not take kindly to John’s criticism, which caused her to demand John the Baptist’s head when Herod promised to give her whatever she asked for.
Herod was even more cruel than Pilate. He had accomplished some good things for the Jews, but much more often, he treated the Jews badly. Like Pilate, he was known for wild mood swings.
In fact, Herod was so unpopular, even with his own soldiers, that at a retreat he had built at Masada, his residence was at one end, protected by walls to try to keep enemies at bay. He knew he was not safe in the presence of others.
When Pilate heard the Jews had brought a capital case to him, he was convinced to pursue it. When he heard Jesus was from Galilee and therefore also under the jurisdiction of Herod, who just happened to be in Jerusalem that very day, Pilate sent Jesus to him.
That trial - the fifth one faced by Jesus in the hours leading up to His crucifixion - is told about in verses 8 through 11 of Luke 23.
It is recorded Herod was very glad to have the opportunity to meet Jesus. Herod had heard a lot about Jesus, including His ability to do miracles. Herod hoped Jesus would do a miracle for him.
This fifth trial was a one-sided event because Jesus refused to say anything.
Herod asked many questions. At first, the questions were no doubt requests that Jesus do a miracle, but when Jesus did not do a miracle, Herod’s anger began to build. His anger was fanned into a greater and greater flame because many Jewish leaders, who were also at that trial, kept accusing Jesus, doing so strongly. The accusations were most likely repeats of their claims Jesus was a threat to the Roman Empire. They made those accusations, hoping to upset Herod.
Through it all, Jesus gave no answers. That further inflamed Herod’s mood. He and his soldiers eventually began treating Jesus with contempt and mockery, including putting a royal robe on Him.
Remember Jesus had been physically mistreated during the first three trials, two of them happening during the previous night. That means Jesus was bloodied and bruised. He was famished and tired. He certainly did not look like a king, which was Herod’s point. The royal robe was part of the mockery inflicted on Jesus before He was sent back to Pilate.
I wonder what Pilate thought when He saw Jesus being brought back to him.
Remember he had found no crime in Jesus. Remember he knew the issue was simple jealousy on the part of the Jewish leaders. And there is something else. According to Matthew’s Gospel, sometime during all that was happening, Pilate’s wife sent a message to him. The message was that he should not pursue the case against Jesus. She had had a dream in which a warning had been received to not take action against Jesus.
By sending Jesus to Herod, Pilate must have felt relieved, thinking he had dodged a bullet, but now Jesus was being brought back to him. Now He was wearing a robe. The robe was clearly a mockery, but here was Jesus again, which drew Pilate back into the situation.
Pilate was not happy about what was happening. However, instead of doing what he had been warned to do, which was to have nothing more to do with Jesus, Pilate began the sixth and final trial, this one recorded beginning with verse 13.
Pilate called the Jewish leaders to return to him. This time he also invited as many common Jewish people as possible to join them.
In front of that gathering, Pilate repeated the case and his verdict - that Jesus had been accused of perverting the Roman nation, that Jesus had been questioned, that Jesus had been determined to be innocent, both by Pilate and by Herod, that Jesus had done nothing deserving of death.
That should have been it, but Pilate took one more step, announcing he would chastise Jesus. That refers to scourging. To being whipped. That made no sense. If Jesus was innocent, why would He receive any punishment? But that is what Pilate announced. He added that after the scourging, he would release Jesus.
Immediately, all the others at that trial - the leaders and the common people of the Jews, the common people, I think, being incited into a frenzy by the leaders - started an uproar, demanding Jesus be taken away, the implication being that Jesus be put to death.
Pilate repeated his decision to release Jesus, but the people shouted all the louder.
Pilate then asked the crowd what Jesus had done. He certainly did not see a crime worthy of death, but the people became even more frenzied.
Then this happened.
Earlier Pilate had reminded the people of the custom that he, during the season all this was happening, release a prisoner. He had offered to release Jesus, knowing it was simple jealousy that had caused the Jewish leaders to be angry with Jesus. Pilate thought those leaders would come to their senses.
But now the people started a new chant. They did not want Jesus released. They wanted a man named Barabbas - a violent man involved in rebellions and accused of murder - released. The leaders and the people began to chant they wanted Barabbas released.
They added that Pilate better do that or they would, according to John’s Gospel, report that he was no friend of Caesar, the emperor of Rome. That certainly influenced Pilate, who was already unpopular with Caesar because of past problems in areas he watched over.
With the chanting, which was beginning to get out of control, and the threat of being considered an enemy of Caesar, Pilate’s resolve to release Jesus eroded.
That led to a number of things happening.
Pilate asked the leaders and the crowd what should happen to Jesus. The answer was, “Crucify Him.”
Pilate asked for a bowl with water in it. He took it and washed his hands, doing so in front of Jesus’ accusers. Pilate said, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.”
He then released Barabbas. He turned Jesus over to soldiers to be scourged. Jesus was also mistreated other ways, including have a crown of thorns thrust on His head. After that, Jesus was taken to be crucified.
* * * * *
Over a period of several hours, Jesus endured six trials.
The first three were before Jewish leaders. The last three were before Pilate, Herod, and back to Pilate, who were Roman leaders.
In each of the first three trials, Jewish law was broken, in two of them because they were at night, in two of them because they voted in violation of Jewish law, in all of them because Jesus was forced to testify, in all of them because He was mistreated physically.
In all six trials, Jesus was accused. All the accusations were false, but so great was the hatred of Jesus from the Jewish leaders, lying did not matter.
As mentioned last Sunday, how amazing it is how strong Jesus was. How He, even while being tired and stressed and beaten and demeaned and hungry and falsely accused, withstood it all.
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.
Today’s message has not been a happy one. It is important to think about the trials of Jesus, but it is not a happy sequence of events that happened. To help maintain the somber mood, there will be no closing song today. Instead, a story I found that, on a very minor scale, represents what Jesus did for us on a much grander scale.
The story is said to be true.
A minister in Chicago found himself without a church to pastor, but he wanted some ministry to do
He asked God to make him available to whatever would be God’s will. He then checked the want ads in the paper because he needed some money. What he saw listed was a bus driving job. Taking that as a sign from God, the minister applied for and was hired as a bus driver.
As it turned out, his bus route was in south Chicago, which is a very dangerous part of the city. In fact, the reason he got the job was that no one else would take the route.
On the first day of the minister’s new job, four thugs got on the bus and refused to pay. They sat in the back of the bus. During their ride, they sneered, jeered, and mocked the driver.
The next day, the same thing happened. The third day, it happened again.
After the same thing happened each day for a week, the driver decided he needed to do something. A block after the thugs boarded the bus, he saw a police officer, asked him inside the bus, and requested the officer make the thugs pay.
The policeman demanded and received the current and past fares from the thugs. Unfortunately, the officer then got off the bus. When the door was closed and the driver continued the route, it was not long before the thugs attacked the driver, knocking out two teeth and stealing his money.
When the driver woke up, he sat in confusion and disillusionment, wondering what kind of ministry the Lord had given him. He said to the the Lord, “I told you I was available, and this was the job You opened up?”
At home that night, the driver stared at the ceiling as he nursed his wounds. But then he thought, I am not going to let those thugs get away with what they did. So it was he pursued the case with the police. Soon, all four of the thugs were apprehended, arrested, and taken to court.
The day of the hearing, the judge listened carefully to the evidence and decided the thugs were guilty. Since they did not have any money to buy their way out, they were going to have to spend some time in jail.
Suddenly the minister realized, here is my chance to minister. He said, “Your honor, may I speak for a few moments?”
The judge said, “Yes, you may.” The minister said this. “I would like for you to tally up all of the time these men together would be spending in jail, and I would like to go on their behalf.”
The judge responded, “That is highly irregular. It has never been done before.”
The minister responded, “Oh, yes, it has. About 2,000 years ago.” The minister then, in four minutes, presented to the court the Gospel.
Three of the thugs came to know Jesus on the spot. The fourth one accepted Christ later, after the minister was incarcerated. The result of the minister’s work was that people were saved.
Jesus had all the beauty and wonder and joy of Heaven. The last place He had to come was our world, which, when He came, was a whole lot worse than the south side of Chicago. Yet He came to be with us and teach us.
And even when He was mistreated by many, many thugs, not only during His trials, but before, and even today by some, He did not hold a grudge. He paid the price for our sins.
May we make sure we have responded as did the thugs in Chicago. May we make sure we have accepted - and if not, that we will accept - Jesus and what He has done for us. Amen.