Mark 14:53-59 “They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law came together. 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. 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. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: ‘We heard him say, “I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.”‘ Yet even then their testimony did not agree.”
The trial of the Lord Jesus Christ before the priests, elders and teachers of the law is the most underestimated part of the sufferings of our Saviour. When he later stands before the Roman governor Pilate, or King Herod, or even when he becomes the plaything of brutal soldiers we are more familiar with those events, the dialogue and the actions, but we are more uncertain about Jesus’ first appearance before Annas (in a kind of pre-trial hearing), and then before Caiaphas his son-in-law in the Jewish court of the Sanhedrin. I think that these events are a little out of focus for most Christians.
It is essential in understanding our Lord’s trial to see that it is another aspect of the divine anathema that Christ is entering for our redemption. In other words, the trial of Jesus Christ is a part of his being made a curse. He is being condemned by God when he is made to stand in the dock, and the ultimate reason is that there might be no condemnation for us. We’ve already noticed that his journey into these sufferings has gone up a gear. They intensified when he entered Gethsemane and prayed in agony accepting the cup his Father gave him. Then, being arrested and handcuffed, his pain increased; when the disciples all ran off and abandoned him his suffering plumbed new depths. Now even more suffering comes crashing into his life as he stands on trial. This trial is spread out in different places before different men; he appears before five or six individuals and groups; his trial is before both the state and the church, and all the time the anathema which our Saviour experiences is more bitter.
We are all familiar with show trials. They have been one of the most prominent features of the 20th century. There was Nuremberg when German Nazi leaders were tried and condemned. They were seen by the victorious allies as the federal heads of National Socialism. There were the trials in Russia of anyone suspected of not supporting Stalin and the party line; one such trial was brilliantly captured in Arthur Koestler’s novel Darkness at Noon. Local government officials, professors, economists, newspaper editors, army officers, poets and composers were all brought to trial, denounced and either executed or sent to the Gulag for years. There were the thousands of trials in China at the time of the cultural revolution when farmers, teachers, village blacksmiths, civil servants, doctors and businessmen were intimidated, harangued, and shamed for their alleged sympathies to anti-Communist subversion. There was no possibility of a not-guilty verdict in any of those trials. The memorable Wild Swans by Jung Chang tells us that story. There has been the lengthy trial of the entertainer Michael Jackson in California in the past months. The rigours of the trial itself seem to have almost killed the accused man, though he was always convinced of his own innocence and was eventually found Not Guilty. To bear in mind the humiliation of a show trial is a key to understanding the scene before us. Jesus Christ is being psychologically humiliated before being physically humiliated, and all this by the will of his Father. This is what was in the cup Jesus drank. Let us examine the anathema of Christ’s trial.
1. THE PEOPLE IN LEADERSHIP WERE MERE CREATURES PUTTING THEIR CREATOR ON TRIAL.
Imagine maggots setting up a court and summoning an elephant to make his appear in the dock and telling him that he must answer to them! Multiply by infinity. Here, in the scene of our text, we have specks of dust passing judgment on the immense, eternal Lord of the cosmos, the one without whom was not anything made that was made. Mere mortals, sustained moment by moment by the living God, the one in whom they live and move and have their being, are putting God in the dock, and they are passing judgment on him – “what do we think of him? What shall we do with him? Shall he live or not?” Sinners are evaluating the Holy, Holy, Holy Lord. They are searching for evidence with which to condemn the Ancient of Days. Golgotha and all that surround it is the abyss of man’s quest for self-justification. You hear it on the lips of sinners from time to time; “I’ll tell God what I think of him when I see him. How could God do a thing like that to me and my family? How could anyone believe in a God of love when these terrible things happen?” Calvary is the logical consequence of that vain mentality.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain.
God is his own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.” (William Cowper)
C.S.Lewis said, “The ancient man approached God as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. Man is quite a kindly judge: if God should have some reasonable defence for being the god who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal, but the important thing is that man is on the bench, and God is in the dock.” So it was when God the Son walked this earth. Men thought they had the ability and right to stand in judgment on him. Nothing changes.
2. THE PEOPLE IN LEADERSHIP HAD ALREADY DECIDED ON THE VERDICT.
This was a hearing looking for a charge. These men were looking for a case for Jesus to answer. They didn’t want justice, they were looking for a way of getting a guilty verdict. It is fascinating how Mark repeats this throughout the gospel. He has this refrain, “they were looking for a way.” Just like today men were searching for the final solution to the Jesus problem. Mark 11:18, “The chief priests and the teachers of the law . . . began looking for a way to kill him.” Mark 12:12, “They looked for a way to arrest him.” Mark 14:1 “The chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him.” Mark14:55 “The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death.” I read the testimony of a student recently who had begun to read the Bible looking for a way to prove from Scripture that God didn’t exist. What she found was the exact reverse. For a time she had been feeling the pressures of a society that looks for a way of getting Jesus Christ out of its life once and for all.
Why do people want as little to do with Christ as possible? Because Jesus intrudes into our lives; he asks for change and we don’t want to change. We love our sins too much, and he demands submission, repentance and faith in himself. Consider what happened when he began his public ministry. The Lord gathered twelve men to himself and began a new movement in Galilee that finally came to Jerusalem. In this movement he called on everyone to repent and be baptized. He invited people to come to him promising them that he was able to give them rest – no one else could do that but him. He claimed that no one was able to go to the Father except through him. Its audacity blew people’s minds. He said that he had the authority to forgive the sins that men and women have committed against God and other people. He told the Jews the parable of the landowner who sends his servants to collect his rent but the tenants beat up and murder his servants one by one. Finally the landowner sends his only son, and they kill him too. The religious leaders in Israel knew that he was talking about them, and about himself being the Son. Jesus claimed that God and he were one. He denounced the religious leaders as a nest of vipers and whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones. How keen they were on washing the outside of the pot, he said, but inside they were filthy men. He challenged their whole religion of ceremonial washings, and walking just a certain distance on a Sabbath and no more. For them religion consisted of a thousand regulations. So Jesus cleansed the temple in Jerusalem, turned over the tables of the money-changers, driving out everyone with a whip. He rode into Jerusalem to the shouts of “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord.” It was Messianic recognition and he did nothing to silence the crowds. Those were the reasons why the Jewish leadership hated him with a passion and wanted him dead.
You understand that you can’t sustain your neutrality about Jesus Christ. You can’t go on saying that the jury’s out, and that you haven’t made up your mind. This man claims to be your God; your Judge; you will receive your eternal destiny from his lips; he tells you that he can welcome you to heaven or he may banish you to hell; your eternity hangs on your relationship with himself. You cannot go on through life sitting on the fence because of the claims he makes about you and himself. You are his creature; he is your Lord; he is prepared to become your Saviour, but you have to turn to him. He keeps hassling you for a response. He refuses to back off or give you peace. He won’t let you alone. C.S. Lewis once said in a talk on the BBC on the claims of Christ, that “One claim tended to slip past us unnoticed because we have heard it so often that we no longer see what it amounts to, I mean the claim to forgive sins; any sins. Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offences against himself. You tread on my toe and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offences. This makes sense only if He really were the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history.
“Yet (and this is the strange, significant thing) even His enemies, when they read the Gospels, don’t usually get the impression of silliness and conceit. Still less do unprejudiced readers. Christ says that He is ‘humble and meek’ and we believe Him; not noticing that, if He were merely a man, humility and meekness are the very last characteristics we could attribute to some of His sayings.
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (C.S.Lewis, Mere Christianity, Collins, Fount Paperback, 1952, pp. 51&52).
All the sinners of Abersytwyth want to keep Jesus on trial, permanently standing in the dock. As far as they are concerned the jury is always out on Jesus. They want to claim that they still haven’t made up their minds about him. They don’t have that right. He won’t fit into any dock you design. You are the one who is in the dock and he is passing judgment on your life. That’s the reality. You cannot claim you admire Christ and leave it at that so that you can get on with far more important things than Christ – shopping, and holidays, and home improvement, and watching TV. But the Lord Christ says he’s your God and he is prepared to become your Saviour, but for that you must turn from your sin and entrust yourself entirely to him as the only-begotten Son of God. He demands your allegiance and whole-hearted love and obedience. He has never asked sinners for their respect and he never will. An elephant doesn’t need to say to a maggot, “Show me some respect.” All an elephant needs is to be an elephant. Hell is full of people who admired Jesus but kept him out of their lives.
3. THE COURT PROCEDURES OF THE PEOPLE IN LEADERSHIP WERE ALL DEEPLY FLAWED.
We are aware of how careful the police have to be in bringing a case against someone. They have to follow all the proper procedures to the letter. How many lawyers have grown rich in representing accused men by getting them off on some technicality? They have committed serious crimes, but their lawyers have pleaded some infringement of the law such as a policeman failing to write a document in duplicate, and thereby claiming that it is impossible for there to be a fair trial. Criminals are walking free. If there’d been a lawyer representing Jesus Christ there would have been many serious violations of Jewish law which he could have pleaded to get our Lord released. Let me tell you some of them.
Firstly, capital trials (i.e. a trial that contained the death penalty) had to be held during the day; this trial was being held around midnight. Secondly, a capital trial couldn’t be held on the eve of one of the great feasts in Jerusalem. There was a charged atmosphere in the city at times like that, not suitable at all for the deliberate processes of law and order, but this trial was on the eve of a feast. There should have been no executions on the Passover, but the Passover lambs were being sacrificed all over the city while Jesus was taken and crucified. Thirdly, the trial should have been held in the law court, that is a building called the Chamber of Hewn Stone, but Jesus’ trial was held in the home of the chief priests, one of the most imposing houses in Jerusalem with a large courtyard; it was a private dwelling, not a court of law. You understand the importance of a building where there is some neutrality and concern for truth and righteousness? You realise the danger of having a trial in the atmosphere of a home where the occupants judged the man being tried as their enemy, don’t you? It was from an upper room in this private dwelling that our Lord was taken downstairs and flogged against one of the pillars of the villa. Fourthly, a trial in a capital case must begin, said Jewish law, by hearing the case for the defence, but there were no lawyers and no case for the defence in Jesus’ trial. Fifthly, if false witnesses spoke and told lies in a trial in which a man might be condemned to death then, according to the Deuteronomic prohibition, their own lives would be forfeited. Here, we are told, “Many testified falsely against him . . . their statements did not agree” (v.56), and yet they walked away without a rebuke. Sixthly, if an accused man was found guilty and sentenced to death there had to be a second sitting of the court the next day after men had slept on their verdict to think again, and confirm it, or reconsider. Seventhly, Rabbinical law forbade forcing someone to incriminate themselves, and yet this is exactly what the chief priest attempted to do with our Lord when he put him under an oath.
Why was it important to do everything by the book? Because the Sanhedrin could only function with the permission of Rome, and the imperial power had taken from them the right to capital punishment without the Governor’s consent. The high priest had to establish the guilt of the prisoner without contradiction or controversy, and convey the results of their verdict to Pilate because the Roman governor was the one who carried out the execution. So our Saviour was made to undergo such miscarriages of justice.
4. THE PEOPLE IN LEADERSHIP WERE COMPROMISED MEN.
The Sanhedrin was the supreme court in the land presided over by the chief priest. What you want in such a court are men of wisdom and integrity; what you get are Annas and Caiaphas. It is in John’s gospel that we are told where specifically the handcuffed Jesus was brought from the Garden of Gethsemane. This is what we read, “They bound him and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year” (Jn. 18:13). This is the only appearance of Annas in Jesus’ trial.
Annas was an old patrician, an aristocrat, one of the ruling families in the country. He had actually been appointed to the office of high priest by a Roman governor more than 25 years earlier in the year 6, and he had served for nine years. Then another Roman procurator had come along and he had dismissed Annas and put a man called Ishmael in his place, and then two others in rapid succession, Eleazar and Simeon. Each one of them was chief priest for scarcely a year – you understand that the right to appoint Israel’s chief priests was entirely at the whim of Rome. Then in the year 18 Annas’ son-in-law Caiaphas became the chief priest, and he is still in power here. He was to remain in office for eighteen years. They were a formidable partnership old respected Annas and the present chief priest Caiaphas. For almost thirty years one or the other was the chief priest in Israel. That is why you have this plural noun ‘chief priests’ mentioned in the gospels. There was actually only one in power at any time, and here it is Caiaphas. Annas bore his old title merely out of respect, and the two men worked together in everything. They ran Israel and they ran the Sanhedrin.
Annas had no legal right to demand a hearing with Jesus. When our Lord was brought to him it was entirely unofficial. It was a kind of preliminary hearing. Why was Jesus taken to see Annas? Perhaps Annas was staying with his daughter in the house at that time. Maybe Annas had the equivalent of a grandfather flat in the villa. Whatever the reason the captain of the Roman soldiers gave permission for the prisoner to be taken into the presence of someone who had no official rank in the nation. This fact again is part of the suffering of Christ.He has become a curiosity and an exhibit stared at by men.
However, the religious leaders of Israel would all have been in favour of Jesus appearing before Annas first of all. The 71 members of the Sanhedrin were still being summoned from their homes to this specially convened trial. Annas was a man of vast experience and power in the land. He knew as no one else how to manipulate the system, the bureaucracy of Israel and Rome also and to play off the one against the other for his own advantage. Our Saviour was caught up in this rotten system. The old man’s advice would make his son-in-law’s decisions easier to accept. It would certainly help in persuading the members of the Sanhedrin to pass the death sentence on Jesus if Caiaphas could tell them that the much respected Annas thought no other verdict would be possible. “Execute the blasphemer.”
So Annas had the first shot at Christ. He would have been delighted to have got Jesus of Nazareth finally in handcuffs before him. He had heard all the reports of the wild things Jesus had been saying to the people; there was Christ’s evident disdain for the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus had been stirring up the people against Annas and Caiaphas; thousands were hanging onto his words. Now this ‘pretender’ was standing bound in front of him and the boot was on the other foot. Who sat on a throne now? Where was real authority? The young upstart was meeting the old leader of the establishment in Israel. Annas had been chief priest and so had five of his sons. Didn’t the carpenter’s boy know that this man was the head of number one dynasty in the land? Every disdainful reference Jesus had made against the leaders of the people Annas had taken personally, but the chickens were coming home to roost. Now, he believed, God was vindicating Annas. God was giving him grace and honour.
This is the suffering of Christ, that God should put him under the judgment of such a man. That his trial should even begin with an ‘informal’ meeting like this was an insult. “Bring him to see me,” said Annas, and they did. That there should be such decadence in the priesthood of Israel was shocking. The party of the Sadducees was centred on the temple; it was the priests’ union and it was heavily influenced by Greek thinking. They were the modernists in Israel who did not believe in the resurrection of the body, and their leadership was this power-hungry family of Annas. What had happened to the tribe of Levi? Why weren’t the descendants of Aaron wearing the mitre and the purple robe of High Priest of Israel? Hadn’t God spelled that out in Scripture with spectacular clarity? It was gone, like so much else of biblical religion. The whole priesthood was riddled with corruption and held in contempt by the populace. It was no surprise in the parable of the good Samaritan when Jesus said that a priest saw a wounded man and walked by on the other side. “Typical,” thought his hearers. Chief priests were in fact regularly assassinated by rival Jews. The office of chief priest had been hijacked by one family and they wouldn’t let go of it without bloodshed. It wouldn’t be long before a mob was to murder Caiaphas’ son when he took over the office from him. There had been 28 chief priests in the previous century.
Do you see the picture of the trial of Jesus emerging here? God the Son was being judged by the leaders of a decadent and corrupt system. God has placed Christ under such judges. The office of chief priest had been so diminished that the man who held it was forbidden permission to keep the clothing of the chief priest – the vestments and mitre – in his home. At the end of every festival occasion they had to be taken back to the Roman governor who kept them under lock and key. He was a Roman puppet.
So here are two priests meeting one another, the old and the young, the free and the bound, the false and the true, Annas the priest according to the flesh, and Jesus the priest according to the Spirit. The true Spirit of priesthood in Christ would weep over Jerusalem and its temple and the corruption that had destroyed the nation. It was now seeking to murder its Messiah. If Jesus’ hands had not been bound they would have stretched out over Annas. He would cover him with his own garment of righteousness. What a contrast is in this room in the very first hearing, the true Priest of God, of the order of Melchizedek, is led captive into the presence of one who exacts tithes by the permission of Rome – vain, power-hungry Annas.
5. THE MEN IN LEADERSHIP WERE SADISTIC WITH CHRIST FROM THE START.
What happened at the pre-trial hearing of Jesus before old Annas? “Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. ‘I have spoken openly to the world,’ Jesus replied. ‘I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.’ When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby struck him in the face. ‘Is this the way you answer the high priest?’ he demanded. ‘If I said something wrong,’ Jesus replied, ‘testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?'” (Jn. 18:19-23.
This is the first case of physical violence against our Lord and it was done by one of the religious officials in Israel. Notice that the first question Jesus was asked was about his disciples, who they were, how many of them and so on. Were his men some subversive force threatening insurrection in the nation? Jesus, always protecting his disciples, ignored that question completely, but he responded to the second question about the nature of his teaching. “I have spoken openly in the world . . . I always taught in synagogues or at the temple where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret.” In other words, what he said in private was of a piece with what he said in public. There was not one face for public consumption and then another revolutionary message for some secret group of initiates. The heart of what he said was in the public arena for all the people of the land to hear and act upon.
Of course there had been many secret talks that Annas, and his family, and his cronies had had about disposing of Jesus of Nazareth. That was the cutting edge of Jesus’ words. The men in leadership were hiding from everyone their schemes to murder Christ. Jesus had been transparent, and then he challenged Annas, “Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.” Christ is asking for witnesses to be called for. These were the words which outraged the official so that he hit Christ across the face – remember that Jesus’ hands were tied together and he had no way of defending himself. “Don’t get uppity with us boy!” was the attitude of this official. “This is the high priest you are speaking to.” The Saviour responded immediately; “‘If I said something wrong . . . testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?'” Christ doesn’t back down. If his words to Annas had been illegal or inappropriate then appropriate contempt of court charges should be brought against him – “testify as to what is wrong.” If not . . . if Christ spoke the truth, then why the assault? Our Lord is justice incarnate and he will preach justice whether it is concerning a woman threatened with being stoned for adultery or concerning himself. Christ always bore witness to righteousness, and after that brief exchange the interrogation with Annas comes to an end. The violence against Christ is an ominous foretaste of what is to come.
6. THE MEN IN LEADERSHIP WERE ATTEMPTING TO FRAME JESUS.
So the still manacled Jesus was moved on to the Sanhedrin and what was the scene that met him there? “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. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: ‘We heard him say, “I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.”‘ Yet even then their testimony did not agree.” (vv. 56-59). This is a considerably compressed scene. There were 71 members of the Sanhedrin, and they had been roused late at night, Caiaphas’ servants knocking on their doors and summoning them to a trial, many of them after celebrating the Passover with their families. These men had had to make their way through the cold streets of Jerusalem simply to try a troublemaker. What was this rush all about? They weren’t a happy gathering of men, and they sat there resentfully soon to be joined by the soldiers bringing in the Lord Jesus.
Caiaphas and his friends had bribed witnesses to speak against the Lord, and when the first men appeared in the witness box these members of the Sanhedrin, still annoyed, were anxious to show Caiaphas that they were no pushovers. They began to ask questions, to interrogate these men in the witness stand, and very quickly inconsistencies came to light and soon the testifiers were vacating the witness stand in some embarrassment. The most important accusation made against Jesus was that he was alleged to have said he would destroy the temple and in three days be would build it again, and yet even this story cracked when some of the Sanhedrin asked a few questions. So there were some remnants of justice, and there were one or two of the men who secretly admired Jesus Christ. This was the beginning of the trial of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.
7. WHY CHRIST HAD TO ENDURE ALL OF THIS.
There stood Jesus enduring all of this, his wrists tied, his face stinging from the punch, the hatred of Caiaphas towards him very plain, hearing this parade of lies about himself. Remember that all this, down to the minutest details, is what God his Father had prescribed for him. Peter at Pentecost said that Jesus was delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. So here you have, as Paul said, God not sparing his own Son (Roms. 8:32). Remember that Jesus of Nazareth was ever God’s only begotten Son before the world was; the Son in whom he delighted, in whom he was well-pleased, and yet God did not spare him. He was in his divine nature co-equal and co-eternal with his Father, possessing inherently every perfection of Deity; yet still God did not spare him, the one “brought up with him,” “daily his delight”; yet God did not spare him from such a humiliating trial.
History records the case of a family during a famine in Germany, where the parents and the four children were brought to the verge of starvation. The parents, very reluctantly and painfully, discussed selling one of their children into servitude so that they could buy some food for the rest. They considered the oldest child but they said, “O no, we can’t part with him, he is our firstborn. No, we can’t send away this one.” Then the considered the second and he had such a striking likeness to his father; they said, “No, we can’t part with him; we cannot sell this one. We must keep him.” The third, a girl, a delightful child, was the image of her mother, and when they considered her they said, “No, we can’t part with her. She is our only girl; we must keep her.” Then came the youngest and they said, “No, he is our Benjamin, we can’t part with him.” So they decided they couldn’t spare one of their dear children; they would all die together. Then in a wonderful way provision was made for them so that none of them was lost. We would all spare our children pain and shame. We would take the suffering in their place any day, but God did not spare his only begotten Son.
Think of it, this great, infinite, glorious God, the eternal Father, notwithstanding the delight he ever possessed in his Son, the love he bore toward Christ and the mutual love that was ever between them, yet God did not spare Jesus. He did not spare Christ from confronting the hatred of Annas and Caiaphas, and the liars, and the soldiers, and Pilate, and Herod “He delivered him up for us all.” And we can see this theme through the whole of Christ’s life on earth. He was not spared anything that was necessary for the complete redemption of the church. No, God did not spare him! He did not spare him in the circumstances of his birth, his life of obscurity in Nazareth for thirty long years. The Father did not spare him from the attacks of Satan or the accusation of being Beelzebub. His life was not made easy; it was not attended with all the comforts his status commanded. God did not spare him the agony of Gethsemane, the load, the intolerable load of imputed sin; he did not spare him the awful conflict there between the powers of sin, death and hell, so that Joseph Hart describing it, said, Jesus had “strength enough, and none to spare.” God did not spare him from strong cryings and tears. We may shed a tear occasionally for Jesus but he shed drops of blood for us – that is, if we really belong to him, if we are the purchase of his blood.
But our concern today has been to show you how in every way his trial was a sham and a mockery and a blot on human history. Yet God who sits on a great white throne of absolute justice did not spare his Son an evil mock trial in the house of Caiaphas. What unbroken fortitude possessed our Saviour throughout these hours. He never retaliated. “Therefore have I set my face like a flint,” it is said in prophecy; “For the Lord God will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded.”
Some of you are asking, what is the point of all this? I will tell you, if God out of love for maggots like us, did not spare his own Son but delivered him up to the humiliation of the trial before Annas, Caiaphas, Pilate and Herod, then, “Shall he not with Christ also freely give us all things?” In other words, would he bring his Son to condemnation before unworthy sinners and then deny repentant sinners pardon through Christ? No, no! Would God give the greater and then deny the lesser? No! If there were this wretched anathema for Christ there will be for us no condemnation.
What conditions are to be fulfilled that divine justification might be ours? There is no condition in one sense because pardon is given to men freely by God – and yet there must be some preparation for it. What is that? It is conviction of our guilt, of our sin; there must be that. A need, a longing, a hungering, a thirsting, a panting for this living bread and this living water. “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money, and without price.” Part with your rags for this, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Will he withhold any blessings of his grace from us if God has been prepared to give his own Son to such humbling as these show trials before state and church, Jew and Roman? God forbid.
What is our text telling us? The Holy One stood accused of being a criminal. Men lied against him. Judges conspired to condemn him. One of his friends had been bribed to betray him. Court officials hit him, and God did not spare him from all of that in order that we might be pardoned for our real sins, that we might enjoy a free and full forgiveness of all our transgressions.
There may be some of you here are almost persuaded saying, “This indeed may be so. If only I could receive that, if I could get that blessing, I know it would be well with me. I then should have all I need, but how can I change when I am just condemned by my sins.” If you feel like that, go with them to the humble Christ. Is he not meek and lowly of heart to have suffered all he did for us? Go as a convicted man. Stand in the dock before him. Go with your burden, your guilt, your bondage, your chains, your darkness. Through his own condmenation he is faithful and just to forgive us all our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness – as long as we stand before him with bowed heads and say, “Guilty as charged.” This free forgiveness if given to all who repent, for,
“In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.”
The burden can be removed, your conscience purged and your spirit set free, so that you can say with Paul here, “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” Sweet liberty this! When this liberty flows in, it flows freely – absolutely so. “When they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both.” And it is free to sensible sinners, to repenting backsliders. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” But this mercy will never make sin cheap. It does not lead to licentiousness, but sanctifies the soul to Christ; and when you get this you will love him and hate yourself and hate your sins. But here it is: “Shall he not with him also freely give us” this blessing? Do not despair of this. If your sins lie as a burden upon your spirit, confess them before him.
Is there anything else? Yes, for with Christ he will give a perfect righteousness, such a righteousness as to present a poor sinner, in himself defiled, “without spot”, making it possible even for the Lord to say, “Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.” And this righteousness is given. What is it? It is Christ’s submission to the civil law. He stood before this bunch of sinners, before the Roman Governor, and before the Jewish King, and before the Chief Priests and the Sanhedrin of Israel. He fulfilled all that their laws demanded even though those who administered them were corrupt and cruel men. He did this on behalf of everyone who believes in him. Christ has become “the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes.” The law cannot pass the cross and strike a sinner whose faith is centred in the blood and righteousness of the Redeemer; the law finds its end there; it is satisfied.
“Hell is vanquished, heaven appeased:
God is satisfied and pleased.”
Here is this justification, this righteousness, this perfect robe, against which all our goodness is but a lighted taper compared to the sun in its full shining in the heavens. O what a righteousness is this! “Shall he not – shall he not” give us this? Yes, for he is “the Lord our righteousness.” O then, may we have grace to lay hold of this and to feed upon this. May he nourish our souls. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”
3 July 2005 GEOFF THOMAS