Luke 22:63-71 “The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. They blindfolded him and demanded, ‘Prophesy! Who hit you?’ And they said many other insulting things to him. At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. ‘If you are the Christ,’ they said, ‘tell us.’ Jesus answered, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.’ They all asked, ‘Are you then the Son of God?’ He replied, ‘You are right in saying I am.’ Then they said, ‘Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.’”
During the night after his arrest, Jesus had no friends or supporters with him. Peter was out in the courtyard giving his best impression that he had nothing to do with Christ. The servants of the Chief Priests were going through Jerusalem summoning the members of the Sanhedrin to a special court meeting to try Jesus of Nazareth for blasphemy at daybreak that Friday morning.
1. JESUS ABUSED BY THE SOLDIERS.
Meanwhile Jesus was being softened up by the men guarding him. They mocked him for being a carpenter’s son who claimed to be God’s Son. Then they beat him, that is, they hit him in the face and in the solar plexus and in the kidneys and in the groin, utterly mercilessly, and as he crumpled with the pain they didn’t stop but intensified their tortures. They blindfolded him, and then as they continued to hit him they asked him to prophesy who it was that had hit him with this blow and that blow. “Prophesy! Who hit you?” Then angered by his silence they increased their filthy insults in many ways. As a lamb before its shearers is dumb so Jesus did not open his mouth. He did not call down fire from heaven to fall on them or for a legion of angels to destroy them and deliver him, because he loved you and had made up his mind that he was going to save you. He endured all of that so that you may be delivered from all condemnation.
No one had ever done the works that Jesus had done, but he was now in the grip of the most violent and immoral of men. Remember that he was the one who had fed 5,000 ravenous men with five loaves and two fishes until their hunger is satisfied, but these men beat him up. He raised three people from the dead, but these men still punched him. He had wiped out disease in many a village in Galilee, but these men mocked him. He had power over the winds and waves, but these soldiers scorned him, and no one was there to protect him or encourage him. When he preached people said, “Never man spake like this man,” but now he would not open his mouth to save himself. His life has been one of purity and integrity. Here is a man who never told a lie. His relationship with women was blameless; mothers put their children in his arms for him to bless. He lived a life of loving submission to his parents, assisting them and loving them as the oldest son should. He was the most loyal and wise of friends. The crowds flocked to hear him and went away subdued and changed, but now he is in the hands of ruffians and psychopaths who would hammer nails through the hands and feet of young men without blinking an eyelid. So deeply does our Lord love us that he endures all of this and despises its shame. If there was ever a man whom you’d think would never to be arrested and charged with any crime, a man whom we’d say would “never get his name in the papers,” it would be gentle Jesus meek and mild, yet here he is being beaten up and tortured by evil squaddies! That was the last night that our Lord spent on earth during his state of humiliation.
2. JESUS BEFORE THE COUNCIL OF THE ELDERS OF THE PEOPLE.
When day breaks our Lord is sent for to be tried by the Sanhedrin, the council of the elders of the people. He was not being tried by a mob, by a revolutionary court of young people. It was not witch-doctors and cannibals who were going to pass judgment on him. Behind this court lay a tradition of righteousness superior to anything the world had ever seen. Behind this court lay the prophets God had sent, the covenants, the Holy Scriptures, the sacrifices and offerings. Behind it lay the ten commandments, written with the finger of God on tablets of stone. Behind it lay all the examples of case law and the grieved-over prophets whom Jehovah had sent, whom their fathers had murdered. Here were a gathering of the top lawyers of Israel, skillful in debate, analytical and discerning. All of these traditions lay behind this court which now put Jesus on trial. They were not a bunch of back street amateurs, or vigilantes, with a self-appointed judge and jury. This was the highest court in the history of mankind.
More than that, they put Jesus Christ under oath. Matthew records the very words of the chief priest in chapter 26 and verse 63, as he says to Jesus, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Caiaphas has to do this because he has got nowhere with the procession of witnesses brought into the court; they have contradicted themselves and left the witness-stand in confusion, and there is no one else left to summon. Jesus himself has refused to speak and so Caiaphas cannot find some word of the Saviour to turn back on Christ. Uncertainty prevails. So Caiaphas will use his official authority as high priest and demand that Jesus take an oath.
This was a great humiliation. Think of your child coming home and telling you what happened that day in school, what her teacher had said, and you said to her, “Stop! Don’t go any further before you put your hand on the Bible and swear to me that you are telling the truth . . .!” What is that action saying? “I’ve got a little liar here and I don’t believe a word she says.” Or if your sweetheart, whom you have been going out with for a long time, tells you that he loves you, and wants to become your husband, and he proposes to you then would you say to him, “Now stop and get the Bible down. I want you to say those words to me with your hand on the Bible”? If you should do that, what distrust and suspicion that would indicate you had in your sweetheart. Caiaphas was humiliating Christ by asking him to swear an oath before he answered this question. Caiaphas was saying, “I don’t believe that throughout your life you and your Father have been one. I don’t believe that you are the Messiah of truth sent by the God of light into the world. I adjure thee solemnly now to tell the truth!” The demand that Jesus take an oath before he speaks shows Caiaphas rejects him. Who is Caiaphas? He is his accuser and also his judge. There is no way that Christ is going to leave the dock justified. He is bound to be condemned by the chief priest of Israel and the highest religious court of the land. What a burden for Jesus to bear, far heavier than being spat upon and punched and whipped by the soldiers. He is being told, “We do not believe that you have lived your life in the solemn atmosphere of the presence of God.”
3. CHRIST ANSWERS THE OPENING QUESTION.
Isn’t it a glorious thing that Christ took the oath! He ended his silence and addressed Caiaphas and the court. He said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer” (vv.67&68). He did not preach the text from the Sermon on the Mount to them about taking oaths. He did not haughtily say, “I’m not in the habit of telling lies. I always speak the truth. I will not take an oath.” He acknowledges that even this corrupt court of law as any court of law has the right before God to require witnesses to take an oath, and that Christians simply and seriously take an oath as a personal act of worship. We have nothing to hide. Jesus is acknowledging that to Israel belong the covenants and revelations of God. He complied with their request. He speaks as one standing under oath by the living God! He makes a good confession. “I speak as one who knows he has to answer to God for what he says.” He stands before God’s omniscience, his omnipotence, his omnipresence and holiness. Now he can address all the seventy elders who are the leaders of the chosen people and on oath he will answer the judge’s question.
So Jesus swore by God. He swore by himself. He is God and man in one person. This is what his incarnation declares. The God who swears by God is speaking from the dock. The God whose yea is yea and whose nay is nay speaks! Like heaven is exalted above the earth, and the being of God transcends the being of this world, so the words of God are greater than all of the words of man. God can only swear by God. “I am that I am,” he says. What more can he say than that? Take your shoes from off your feet for the place on which you stand is holy ground. God is what he is. That is his terrible name. He came to be the light of the world. He came to reveal the living God to us. He is the Lord and he speaks now under the most solemn oath. There is no perjury here.
You see what Jesus is being asked under oath? “‘If you are the Christ’ they said, ‘tell us’” (v.67). It is the most important question a person can ever ask. The feminists question Jesus about choosing twelve men to be his apostles, and sending out seventy men as preachers. Those whose hope is in politics question Jesus about saying that his kingdom was not of this world. Modernists question Jesus about his claim that God’s word is truth, and that Scripture cannot be broken. The evolutionists question Jesus about his saying that in the beginning God created man, making them male and female. But there is a far more fundamental question that those questions; “Is Jesus the Christ?” that is, the Anointed One, the Messiah? In other words, has the one true and living God, the maker of the universe, sent Jesus into the world, and come upon him by his Spirit, anointing him to bring the Creator’s words to us his creatures? There is no more important question than that.
Here is Jesus Christ, a man who did not claim to be another prophet but one who had a special relationship with God, to have been with God in the beginning and been sent into the world by God. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. “I and my Father are one . . . If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. You see how important this question is – is Jesus of Nazareth the one anointed by God, the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One or not? What more crucial issue lies before everyone in the world today? Have you thought about it? Have you pondered the claims of Christ? Have you even looked at his life? Have you examined what he said and did? What manner of man is this?
Who is this virgin born man? Who is this pure and holy and sinless person? Who is this preacher of the Sermon on the Mount, the one who told the Parable of the Prodigal Son? Who is this one who healed every single sick person brought to him? Who is this one who, when men were nailing him to a cross, prayed for them, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”? Who is this man who called God his own Father and said he was returning to his Father, but added, “Let not your heart be troubled. Ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go I will come again and take you unto myself that where I am there you will be also” (Jn.14:1-3). Who could speak such extraordinary words as those? Neither Shakespeare nor Tennyson nor Dickens ever said words like that. Isn’t he the Christ? Isn’t he the Son of the Blessed One? If not him then who is? Hasn’t the God who in different ways and at various times spoke to the men of the Old Testament by his servants the prophets now spoken to men finally by his Son, Jesus Christ? Does he not have all the graciousness and love of God? Does he not have all the power of God? Does he not have all the perfections of God? So, I am saying that this question which Caiaphas asked is the number one question which all the world has to ask: “If you are the Christ, tell us.”
The Lord begins his reply with these words, “If I tell you, you wont believe me, and if I asked you, you wouldn’t answer.” In other words for three years he had lived this unique life and had spoken openly and answered their questions. He has claimed pre-existence – “Before Abraham was I am.” He has claimed that only through him may men go to God. He has claimed that if they have seen him they have seen the Father. He has endorsed the truthfulness of his claims by the most extraordinary miracles so many that the books of the world could hardly contain them, thousands and thousands of them, but Caiaphas has refused to believe that Jesus has been sent by God, and so our Lord says, “If I tell you that I am the Christ I have no reason to believe that you will fall down and adore me as the promised one.” Jesus adds that if he asked them, “Why do you want to know?” then they would refuse to answer him. They are not going to begin a discussion about his Messiahship at this trial. They would never give him an honest, truthful answer. They simply wanted to dispatch him swiftly and kill him. There are people we will never persuade to become Christians. They will be silent and stubborn before us. They refuse to think about who Jesus is. They have dismissed it all – “It’s religion,” they say. We still have a duty to them to convict them and humble them. “You will not answer me even if I ask you about the life and works of the Lord Jesus Christ. You refuse to speak or even think about it, and that is your condemnation.”
But then Jesus answers them with an utterly extraordinary claim. What was Jesus’ answer given under oath to this high court? “But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God” (v.69). He spoke plainly, lucidly and emphatically. He swore with a precious oath. He swore by God in the teeth of their mockery of him that the man who stands in the dock, manacled and absolutely alone is the Son of Man prophesied by Daniel. He is one with God in his authority, the mighty God’s right hand man. He presents himself to the Sanhedrin who are his judges as their Judge. How terrible and mighty does he present himself.
What is the accepted attitude of the world to Jesus Christ today? Men will agree that he was a humble teacher and healer, but his followers exalted him and made a god of him. They will say that all he wanted to be was a rabbi and great physician, a good man and nothing more, but even they have to acknowledge that in the New Testament that is not at all what we see. The Scriptures present us with a man who says when he teaches, “But I say unto you . . .” He is not content to speak in the name of God, but magisterially in his own name and on his own authority, “Verily, verily, I say unto you.” He legislates on the independent basis of his own status and with his own insights. He tells us on that basis that he is the Lord of the Sabbath, that he has authority to forgive sins. He pronounces on oaths, divorce and scripture itself. He does so constantly and simply in his own name. He sets that great “I” over against all the assertions of the scribes and Pharisees. He will correct tradition simply on the basis of his own authority.
More than that, Jesus was absolutely confident that every single life that was built on himself would never collapse. What a claim! He was unshakingly confident in the relevance of his teaching to every human being. He told a parable of a builder who laid the foundation of a house on a rock, and when a fierce storm came crashing on that house it did not fall. That foundation, said Jesus, was his own teaching, and every life erected on his words would endure all the storms that came crashing against it, of heartbreak, and death, and philosophical speculation, and fierce persecution, and scientific pretension. No matter how the waves beat on the house, if it were standing on Christ it would continue to stand. There is nothing plain and simple about a man who has an attitude like that.
More than that there were the claims he made throughout his life, that he would judge all mankind and assign to everyone his or her eternal destiny. How had they been related to him? That was the ultimate issue. Were they ashamed of him and his words? Did he love them or would he say to them, “I never knew you”? He claimed to go right back before Abraham to the very beginning. He claimed to be absolute God. When Thomas fell before him and said, “My Lord and my God,” there was no look of horror on Jesus’ face, and no protestation that such talk was blasphemous.
That is the background for our Lord’s reply under oath to the question of the council of the elders of the people, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” Jesus says, “From now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.” They were thinking that they would soon be seeing him hanging dying from the cross. Jesus said that they would see him as the King of heaven and earth, the Lord of the universe, seated at the right hand of the mighty God. They thought they were sitting in judgment on him, but he would be sitting at the right hand of God in judgment of them.
4. CHRIST ANSWERS THE FINAL QUESTION.
Then there was the final exchange in this brief interrogation. They all shouted at him, “Are you then the Son of God? He replied, ‘You are right in saying I am’” (v.70). Now it doesn’t matter where you probe the New Testament, in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, or if you go to the letters of the apostles, the only Christ you’ll find is a divine Christ. The Jesus we find is one who makes the most astonishing and awe-inspiring claims, that all the world is going to see him one day with their own eyes, that he is now seated in the midst of the throne of God, right at the heart of the Sovereignty above, that he is coming again with the clouds of heaven. We are confronted today with this tremendous challenge from the dock of this hurriedly arranged court in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago of our Lord Jesus’ assertion of his deity. The child in the manger, the infant of Mary, in all his frailty and humanness and ordinariness, looking indistinguishable from any other day old baby, was in fact the Lord of all. And in many ways today the challenge of God’s gospel is the challenge of the self-consciousness of Jesus, the challenge of the Lord’s claim to be the Son of God, to be the one who made the universe, the one who upholds it, the one who will judge it and consummate it. That is the Lord’s claim. It is the claim that he made you, that he is your Lord, that he is your God.
I am not confronting you today with some emotional challenge. I am not appealing to your will to make a decision. I am presenting to you basically an intellectual challenge. The issue before you is the truthfulness of the words of Jesus. One day a man stood in the dock on trial for his life before the greatest court in the world and he was asked point blank under oath whether he was the Christ and the Son of God, and he said, “You are right in saying I am,” and that one day they would see this for themselves in their loathing and despair, him seated at the right hand of the mighty God. I don’t know how you feel. Intrigued? Perplexed? Hostile? Maybe with John Wesley you feel that your heart being strangely warmed, but my challenge has nothing to do with the way you feel. It is a challenge of this most indisputable fact that here is a man who claims he is the Son of Man and the Son of God reigning in heaven and is coming again to this world, and I am saying to you that you must bow the knee to him – not if that hard heart of yours can work up some feelings, you must bow the knee to him if what he says is true. Now that is quite independent of what you feel. You may feel that he is God. You may feel no goose-pimples. You may feel your heart is not burning within you, but the question is this, is the reply Jesus gave to the chief priest true? If it is true it is a truth of the most momentous consequences. If what he says is true then if you reject him that is an eternal rejection, an eternal mind set locking Christ out of your life, utterly unaffected by your death. Then you cannot be with him where he is, but if what he says is true and you accept him then he becomes your Saviour.
Jesus Christ is not on trial today. Behold, the Christ of the New Testament stands here before men and he answers their questions. I am asking you have you pondered on the challenge of Jesus’ reply? Have you reflected on the possibility that what he says is true, the possibility that Christ is God the Son? I am saying that there is never going to be a more important question to rise up and confront you during your whole life. It will never go away. You have every right in a purely academic respect to examine it and reject it, but you have no right simply to ignore these words of Jesus. That is one thing you cannot do with Christ. That is not something any person who ever met him was ever able to do with him. There were those who followed him, and there were those who cried “Crucify him,” but there was no one who could brush him aside as beneath contempt; his life and teaching and deeds won’t allow you to do that. The Lord Christ said, “Your eyes will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty one and coming on the clouds of heaven.” I am asking you today whether you have pondered that claim, and I am saying if these words of Jesus are true then you must bow the knee; you must submit your intellect, you must fall before him in wonder, love and praise.
I am talking about the fact that one night in Jerusalem in a solemn court of law, Jesus of Nazareth was put on oath and was asked if he really were the Christ the Son of the Blessed One. He humbled himself to stand there, and he replied to them, “I am.” That is objective reality; if there were a court scribe present then he wrote down those words in the court’s records as the basis for the court’s condemnation. Those words are either the words of a holy fool, a provocative blasphemer or they are the words of the living God, and if they are the words of God the Son who has come into the world to seek and save us from ignorance and guilt and condemnation then you must fall at Jesus’ feet. You must fall at his feet because the Christian faith is true. It seems to me that very often men and women seem to be looking for reasons other than that for becoming Christians. To me there is one great reason for being a Christian and that is because it is true, and the moment it is true it has the right to the allegiance of every human being.
I could lower my voice now, and ask you to bow your heads, and then say we are going to pray, but while you are quiet and closing your eyes I could start to manipulate you and talk to you telling you that Jesus can give you comfort, and Jesus can make you feel good, and Jesus can strengthen your marriage, and Jesus can meet your deepest needs, and you won’t be lonely with Jesus. All of that might be true, but before any of that is true it is true that when Christ spoke the winds and waves obeyed him; it is true that the tomb was empty on the third day; that the Son of God arose and that now he is sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One. And I am urging your submission to Christ in the name of the objective reality and veracity of that. Christ claimed to be God, and if that is true it commands, and it deserves and it compels my allegiance.
Some days I feel religious; some days I feel prayerful; some days I feel loving, but there are days when I feel dead and lost. But the case for Jesus Christ does not fluctuate as my emotions fluctuate. The case rests on the objective truth of the statements of Christ endorsed by a life of extraordinary supernatural power and displayed in a walk of integrity and gracious humility in the eyes of the watching world. And it is on that solid rock I want you to stand today.
A Christian is man who makes stupendous claims on behalf of his Saviour. That every movement in the universe owes its energy to the power it receives from one who reigns in heaven. One day he is coming back, but not to a stable rather from a throne and on the clouds of heaven, and on that day he will pull the universe apart, atom by atom, molecule by molecule, and he will put the whole universe together again as a new heaven and a new earth. I believe that you and will stand before him face to face and give an account, and from him receive our destinies. I believe that in him we meet ultimate and absolute and final reality. I believe that he is God, the only God there is; in him is the fulness of God; the whole form of God and the whole glory of God is found in Jesus Christ. That is what a Christian is. He may be more, but he believes nothing less. He believes in the greatness of Jesus Christ, the unique grandeur of the Lord, the incomparable majesty of Jesus of Nazareth.
Who is He in yonder stall
At whose feet the shepherds fall?
‘Tis the Lord O wondrous story!
‘Tis the Lord the King of glory!
At His feet we humbly fall
Crown Him, crown Him Lord of all.
This is the Christ we shall see, not standing in the dock, not wearing a crown of thorns, not manacled and despised, not humiliated and scorned but sitting at the right hand of the Mighty God, coming on the clouds of heaven. The slain one is now the exalted and glorious one whom we worship and adore, and when we see him, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
21 October 2012 GEOFF THOMAS