2020-1-19 The Trials

The Trials
Mark 14:53-72
January 19, 2020

Prayer for Illumination:

O Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you. Make your word alive to us and in through the work of the Holy Spirit. Cause us to see the beauty of the cross and glorify you all the more. Through Christ our Lord, amen.

 And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. 54 And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire. 55 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. 56 For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. 57 And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’ ” 59 Yet even about this their testimony did not agree. 60 And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 61 But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63 And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? 64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. 65 And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows.

66 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.[1]

This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.

The Sondergerichte were special courts used by the Nazis before and during World War II. Originally, they were set up in the 19th century to quickly resolve major local disturbances. Once the disturbance had been resolved, the Sondergericht was disbanded. The Nazis re-appropriated them for their own use. They used them to imprison their opponents. They started using the Sondergerichte in 1933 after the Reichstag Fire. They used them to pin the fire on the Communists when in reality the Nazis started the fire. But they continued using them until the Third Reich fell in 1945.

The way these Sondergerichte would work is that someone would be accused of a crime. When they were accused, there was no presumption of innocence. The accused was guilty until proven innocent. And the job of the court was to prove that they were guilty. Defendants weren’t allowed to meet with their attorney before the trial. When the trial began, the judge was not impartial. He was not there to make sure that justice was served. In these Sondergerichte, he was the prosecutor tasked with ensuring that the defendant was found guilty. The trial was all a show. The result was predetermined.

Jesus has been arrested by the Sanhedrin. He is about to be tried before the high priest, the elders, and the scribes. But this trial is just for show. They have already determined the outcome. They are just looking for a charge. They have been seeking to arrest since Mark 3. They have already determined that Jesus is guilty and deserving of death. Guilty of what, they’re not entirely sure but they have determined he is guilty.

The Trial of Jesus

And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. 54 And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire.

Peter had followed Jesus to Caiaphas’ house. But he followed at a distance, wanting to follow Jesus but without enduring his sufferings. He wanted to follow Jesus but at a safe distance. There is no safe distance to follow Jesus. If you follow Jesus, you will endure the same things he endured. You will be hated and despised for being a disciple of Jesus just as he was hated and despised. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Matt. 10:24-25).

While Peter stands outside, Jesus is being tried. This trial, it’s rigged. They have already determined his guilt. Mark writes, “Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death”. In Mark “seeking” always has a negative connotation. Mark 8:11, 12 says, “The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” The Pharisees don’t believe the message that Jesus is proclaiming. So they ask for a sign. “’Seeking’ connotes an attempt to determine and control rather than to submit and follow.”[2] Here, the Sanhedrin is seeking to determine and control Jesus by killing him rather than submit and follow him as Messiah.

Seeking to put Jesus to death, they lie about things Jesus has said. But their lies don’t agree with one another. If you think it’s hard for people telling the truth to agree, it’s even harder for people lying to agree. It’s virtually impossible for people making up lies to agree. So their lies don’t add up. They contradict each other. And the law required that two witnesses were needed for there to be a formal charge. But no two witnesses are telling the same lies.

When the Sanhedrin realizes that their lies are contradicting each other, they change tactics. They decide to twist some of Jesus’ words and teaching. They say that they heard him say he would destroy the temple and build another one. Mark doesn’t record that in his gospel. John does. In John 2:18-21, it says, “So the Jews said to him, ‘What sign do you show us for doing these things?’ 19 Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ 20 The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body.”

They are taking his words and his teaching and twisting it. They are trying to make what he is saying sound seditious. They are trying to make it sound like Jesus is plotting and planning a terrorist attack. The ironic thing is that they believed that when the Messiah came he would replace Herod’s temple with a greater more glorious temple.[3] They are willing to make being the Messiah a crime.

And yet in all of this, Jesus doesn’t respond. He stands quietly as the elders and scribes slander him and his teaching. It was customary for those being interrogated to answer. The Sanhedrin was used to getting answers from those they questioned. They might have even considered Jesus’ silence as contempt. Imagine today, someone being summoned to court and answer questions under oath. If they don’t answer those questions, the judge will hold them in contempt of court until they answer those questions. The Sanhedrin is almost certainly livid that Jesus won’t respond.

So why is Jesus staying silent? Surely his answers will vindicate him. The reason that Jesus is staying silent is to fulfill prophecy. Isaiah 53 is one of the great servant songs; they’re songs about the Messiah. In Isaiah 53:7, Isaiah says that even though “he was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”

Jesus is silent because he is fulfilling the prophecy that Isaiah gave some 700 years earlier. He is being oppressed and afflicted by the leaders of Jerusalem. They are accusing him of treason and sedition. Yet he does not open his mouth.

And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 61 But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

The high priest comes down from his bench and begins to act as prosecutor. He’s frustrated that Jesus hasn’t answered. When Jesus doesn’t respond to his first question, he asks a second question. He asks if Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. He is fully prepared to make the proclamation that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ a crime.

Here for the first time in his trial, Jesus speaks. He says, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” He publicly acknowledges that he is the Christ. Until now, he has only said this to the disciples in private. He now publicly professes his identity to the Sanhedrin.

But more than that, Jesus says something extraordinary. He says that they will see him seated at the right hand of God the Father and coming with the clouds of heaven. Jesus is quoting Psalm 110 and Daniel 7. Psalm 110 is a messianic psalm. It’s a psalm extolling the power and position of the Christ. He is one who is greater than David. He is one who rules. He is the one who intercedes on behalf of God’s people.

He is also the one Daniel saw in his vision. In Daniel 7, Daniel sees four different beasts come out of the water. These beasts are four different, dangerous kingdoms. It is truly a terrifying vision. These nations are cruel and dangerous.

But then the prophet sees God in all of his glory and splendor. And next to him, Daniel sees in the clouds “one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed”. Daniel sees the Messiah receiving a kingdom from God, a kingdom that will never last.

Jesus is saying that those passages are about him. This is the same Jesus who is currently bound and about to be beaten. This is the same Jesus who by evening will be crucified and killed. This is the same Jesus whose disciples have all but abandoned him.

How will this be? In Jesus’ first coming, he came to be the lamb that takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). The way he does that is by being betrayed, by being handed over to the chief priests and the Gentile authorities, by being crucified, and dying in the place of all who believe. Jesus’ first coming was all about his sacrificial death on the cross in the place of those who believe.

His second coming is all about him coming in power and might. When he comes again, he will descend from the sky above. And when he comes, he will usher in the new creation where he will rule. On that day, he will come as the conquering king and will pronounce judgment. He will judge according to the book of life. Those names found in the book of life are those who believe in him as lord and savior. They will be given glorified bodies and enter into the Messianic Kingdom. Those whose names are not found in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15).

Why does this matter? What effect does this have on our daily lives? This matters because Jesus is king. Jesus is the eternal king who has been, is, and will continue to govern all aspects of creation. There is not a single square inch of creation that Jesus does not cry “Mine!” and exert his kingly authority. Currently, we don’t fully recognize his kingly authority. Our first parents Adam and Eve sinned by taking the fruit they were forbidden to. And in doing so, they introduced rebellion into God’s creation.  Each and every one of us is born in that state of sin and rebellion. Those of who believe, God has given them eyes to see their rebellion and hearts that recognize it is as sin. He has renewed their hearts and minds to do so. But those who don’t are still in rebellion against God.

When Christ returns, he will come as the victorious king who will usher in his kingdom that will have no end. In that kingdom, he will rule and his reign will not be disputed. In that kingdom, all will be right.

Jesus’ trial ends with the Sanhedrin beating him. Jesus has withstood his trial and as was killed. He didn’t give into temptation and sin; he didn’t take the easy way out. He withstood his trial was crucified for it.

The Trial of Simon Peter

And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

Peter is in his own trial while Jesus is being tried. And Peter’s trial teaches us three things. First, it teaches us how far even great saints might fall. Peter was the leader of the disciples. He was the first to recognize Jesus as the Christ. And when he made that profession, Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:17, 18). The church is built on the profession that Jesus is the Christ. And Peter was the first to make that profession.

Here, Peter disowns Jesus three times! Three separate times he denies knowing Jesus. He goes even further than denying Jesus. He curses himself and swears that he does not Jesus. Even great saints like Peter might fall.

We spent a lot of time last week looking at this. Even saints who have made professions that Jesus is the Christ and are known by God can fall. We can for a time fall into sin and deny our Lord and Savior.

The second thing these verses teach us is that even small trials can cause us to fall. Peter is in his own trial. He has watched the temple guard arrest Jesus and bring him before the Sanhedrin to be tried. He knows that Jesus is now persona non grata. And those who associate themselves with him will also become persona non grata. So when the three different people recognize Peter as one of Jesus’ disciples, he faces his own trial. And in the midst of his trial, Peter crumbles. In the midst of his trial, Peter falls.

The temptation here is not severe. Peter is not facing life or death as he will later in his life. He is facing a simple recognition of what is true; that he is a disciple of Jesus. And knowing that if he acknowledges the truth that he will be shamed, Peter denies knowing Jesus and he fails his trial.

Temptation does not need to be big to cause us to fall. It can be something as small as someone hostile to Christ noting that we’re a disciple Jesus. Be wary. We can fall when facing even a temptation as small as that and fail our trial as Peter did.

Is there anything we can do to hopefully prevent falling and failing our trials? In Mark 14:38 Jesus says to Peter, James, and John, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation”. He tells them to be aware and to pray. That is the same advice he gives to us as we face our trials.

Be aware of how certain things might cause us to fall into temptation. Know yourself. Know how your mood, your emotional state, and your physical wellbeing can make you more susceptible to give into temptation. A friend of mine is a counselor and he works mostly with addicts. He often counsels them to HAALT; hunger, anger, anxiety, loneliness, and tiredness. He says that if you are feeling two or more of those emotions, you are more likely to give into temptation. If you are feeling hungry and lonely, try to change of those emotions. Be aware of that and work to change one of those emotions.

But more importantly pray. When you are in the midst of a trial, pray. Pray for strength. Pray that God will give you the strength to endure your trials. Pray that he will send the Holy Spirit to enable you to not give into your temptation and sin. Pray that God will remove these sinful desires from your heart. Pray that God will remove that thorn from your flesh. Even small trials can cause us to fall. So be aware and pray.

The third thing that these verses teach us is that failing our trials leads to sorrow. After Peter denied Jesus the third time “the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.”

Peter felt sorrow over failing his trial and giving into temptation and sinning. He felt sorrow for denying Jesus. And so he wept.

In the midst of our temptations and trials, Satan will work to convince us that it’ll feel good to give in. Satan will try to convince us that God is unreasonable in his commands; he will try to convince us that giving into temptation feels good. But if we do, we will feel sorrow for having failed our trial. And Satan will condemn us. The same Satan who convinced us to sin and that it would feel good is the same Satan who will condemn us and add to our shame and sorrow.

That’s what Adam and Eve felt; that’s what Peter felt; that’s what you and I will feel if we give in and fail our trial. If we give into temptation and fail our trial, Satan will then seek to convict us and damn us. There is no one more pro-choice going into an abortion clinic than Satan; there is no one more pro-life coming out of an abortion clinic than Satan. Giving into temptation and failing our trials will not produce joy but sorrow.

My favorite hymn is “Before the Throne of God Above”. It’s an old Scottish hymn. The second stanza says:

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free
For God the Just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
To look on Him and pardon me[4]

If you fail in your trial, look to the cross. If you give into temptation and sin, look to the cross. Know that there Jesus Christ bore your sin. Know that he died in the place of his Church. Know that God is just is satisfied to look on him and pardon you. Jesus’ first coming was to bear the sins of his church by dying in her place. In your trials look to that and you will pass them. Jesus withstood his trial and he was punished. We fail our trials and are given Jesus’ acquittal.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mk 14:53–72). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 67). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.

[3] Lane, William (1974). The Gospel According to Mark (p. 575). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

[4] “Before the Throne of God Above” lyrics