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The Majesty of Christ during a Travesty of Justice
The trials of Christ, from the gospel of Mark 14:53 to 59–part 1
Our legal system today–it’s cause for humor and fear, why? Because Kathleen of Texas was awarded $80,000 by a jury after breaking her ankle tripping over a toddler who was running inside a furniture store. The store owners were understandably surprised by the verdict, considering that the running toddler was her own son.
Carl, 19, of California won $74,000 plus medical expenses when his neighbor ran over his hand with a Honda Accord. Carl apparently didn’t notice there was someone at the wheel of the car while he was trying to steal his neighbor’s hubcaps.
Terrence, of Pennsylvania, was leaving a house he had just burglarized by way of the garage. Unfortunately for Terrence, the automatic garage door opener malfunctioned and he could not get the garage door to open. Worse, he couldn’t re-enter the house because the door connecting the garage to the house locked when Terrence pulled it shut. Forced to sit for eight days and live off a case of Pepsi and a large bag of dry dog food, he sued the homeowner’s insurance company, claiming undue mental anguish. Amazingly, the jury said the insurance company must pay Dickson $500,000 for his anguish—a half-million dollars to the burglar.
Jerry, of Arkansas, was awarded $14,500 plus medical expenses after being bitten on the rear by his next door neighbor’s beagle, even though the beagle was in its owner’s fenced yard. Jerry did not get as much as he asked for, because the jury believed the beagle might have been provoked at the time of the butt bite, because Jerry had climbed over the fence into the yard and repeatedly shot the dog with a pellet gun.
Amber, of Pennsylvania was paid $113,500 when a jury ordered a Philadelphia restaurant to pay her that amount after she slipped on a spilled soft drink and broke her tailbone. The reason the soft drink was on the floor? Amber herself had thrown it at her boyfriend 30 seconds earlier during an argument.
Mrs. Grazinski, of Oklahoma, purchased a new 32-foot Winnebago motorhome. On her first trip home from an Oklahoma U football game, having driven onto the freeway, she set the cruise control at 70 mph and calmly left the driver’s seat to go to the back of the Winnebago to make herself a sandwich. Not surprisingly, the motorhome left the freeway, crashed and overturned. Also not surprisingly, Mrs. Grazinski sued Winnebago for not putting in the owner’s manual that she couldn’t actually leave the driver’s seat while the cruise control was set. The Oklahoma jury awarded her $1,750,000, plus a new motorhome. Winnebago actually changed their manuals as a result of this suit, just in case Mrs. Grazinski has any relatives who might also buy a motorhome.
And my friends, justice being corrupted is nothing new. The trial of Jesus is so wrong, so illegal, so trumped up, so unjust, such a travesty of justice it makes the worst of our legal system seem totally fair.
Open your Bibles to Mark 14:53 to 59, take your outline and let me help you understand what is actually going on. Jesus has just been arrested in the Garden. Now look at verse 53. “They led Jesus away to the high priest; and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes gathered together. 54 Peter had followed Him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the officers and warming himself at the fire. 55 Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, and they were not finding any. 56 For many were giving false testimony against Him, but their testimony was not consistent. 57 Some stood up and began to give false testimony against Him, saying, 58 ‘We heard Him say, “I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.” ‘ 59 Not even in this respect was their testimony consistent.”
What’s happening now in the life of Christ is six illegal trials in approximately six hours–obviously the actual time each occurred is approximate, but the order is certain in Scripture. Jesus has a big religious trial, then a big secular trial, both of them include three phases each, so six total. Mark includes about three of the six phases, but he makes it clear what happens to Christ is a travesty of justice.
First Around 2 AM Christ is arraigned before Annas, who is like a godfather, the previous High Priest described in John 18:13 to 23
Second Around 3 AM Christ is tried before Caiaphas, the current High Priest, and many of the Sanhedrin, described in John 18:24 and today’s passage in Mark
Third Around 5:00 AM Christ is tried again before the entire Sanhedrin, found in Mark 15:1 and Luke 22:66 to 71
Fourth Around 5:30 to 6:30 AM, Christ experiences the first phase of His secular trial as He is interrogated by Pilate, in Matthew 27:1 to 2 and 11-14; Luke 23:1 to 7; and John 18:28 to 38
Fifth Around 7:00 AM, since Christ is from Galilee He was sent before Herod and is mocked in Luke 23:8 to 12
Sixth Around 8:00 AM Christ is finally brought before a bloodthirsty mob and Pilate one last time, which is recorded in all the gospels
What’s happening here is a violation of every law that the Jewish nation put into place since they received the Law. Let me help you understand the Jewish legal system at the time of Christ. From the very beginning, God expected His people to imitate His character. That meant the laws that governed God’s people should be just, fair and righteous, and not corrupt, partial or distorted.
That’s why Deuteronomy 16:18 to 20 said this, “You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in all your towns which the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. 19 You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. 20 Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you.”
As the Jewish nation developed, the rabbis sought to reflect this early instruction in how they developed the laws of the land. They sought to have a just society–to develop a system of courts, judges, prosecutors and defenders who would be able to maintain a fair and just system. By the time of Christ, we know quite a bit about their legal system. It was very unique, and unlike the first century world, it was fair. In Israel, there was no rough and rowdy frontier which was lawless. Synagogues were scattered throughout the entire land of Israel, and they were to function as centers of justice.
If a town had 120 men, they could have a local Sanhedrin court composed of 23 men–23 were chosen so there was always an odd number in a vote to avoid a stalemate. The men who were chosen were considered elders. They acted as judges, and one of them was appointed as a ruler–the head judge.
In towns with less than 120 people, they would still be required to choose either three, five or seven men who would act as judges. These councils or courts were responsible to govern each town, and made all the decisions about legal matters.
The supreme court of the nation was the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, made up of seventy plus one–the one being the High Priest, again an odd number to prevent a stalemate. It was made up of around 24 Chief Priests, 24 elders, 24 scribes and Pharisees–always adjusting their number to make seventy plus the High Priest.
From the beginning, God made sure He let them know His heart on justice and fairness. All legal trials had to be public–there must be a prosecution and a defense. No accusation could be made without two or three witnesses, and false witnessing (what we call perjury) was a super serious crime.
Listen to Deuteronomy 19:16 to 21, “If a malicious witness rises up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing, 17 then both the men who have the dispute shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who will be in office in those days. 18 The judges shall investigate thoroughly, and if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, 19 then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you. 20 The rest will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such an evil thing among you. 21 Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”
Do you understand what that just said? Wow–if it’s determined you are a false witness in a murder trial, then according to the Law of Moses, that false witness is to receive the sentence that would be given to a murderer, the death penalty. It was that serious, because God wanted to stop all corruption of justice, all false witnesses, and all bribes. Trials in Israel were always open to public scrutiny, and the defendant had the right to bring forth evidence and witnesses in his own behalf, no matter how damning the evidence and testimony against him might be.
An additional deterrent against corruption was the requirement that accusing witnesses in a capital case were required (get this) to actually initiate the execution. If stoning, the witnesses were the ones who threw the first stones, which in a very real way made them stand behind their testimony by their action, as well as their words.
In addition to this, rabbinical law required that a sentence of death could not be carried out until 24 hours later, or even three days after it was rendered. And during the intervening days, the members of the court were to fast. That provision had the effect of preventing a trial during a feast, when fasting was prohibited. The delay of execution also provided additional time for evidence or testimony to be discovered in the defendant’s behalf.
Simon Greenleaf, a famous professor of law at Harvard University a long time ago, wrote a book called, The Testimony of the Evangelists. In that book, there’s a section written by lawyer Joseph Salvador, helping us understand proper Sanhedrin trial procedure.
On the day of the trial, according to Salvador, the court officers would require all evidence against the accused person to be read in the full hearing of open court. Each witness against him would be required to affirm his testimony was true to the best of his knowledge, and was based on his own direct experience and not on hearsay or presumption. Witnesses also had to identify the precise month, day, hour, and location of the event about which they testified.
The council itself could not initiate charges against a person, but could only consider charges brought before it by an outside party. A woman was not allowed to testify, because she was thought to lack the courage to throw the first stone if the accused were sentenced to death. Children could not testify because of their immaturity, nor could a slave, a person of bad character, or a person who was considered mentally incompetent. Plus they were to maintain a presumption of innocence, and great latitude was given to the accused in presenting his defense.
If the accused was found innocent, he was freed immediately. But if he was found guilty, the sentence was not pronounced until two days later, while the council of elders fasted. On the morning of the third day the council was reconvened, and each judge in turn was asked if he had changed his decision. If a guilty verdict was reaffirmed, an officer with a flag remained near the council, while another officer, often mounted on horseback, escorted the prisoner to the place of execution.
A herald went before the slow moving procession, declaring in a loud voice, “This man (stating his name) is led to punishment for such a crime. The witnesses who have sworn against him are such and such persons. If anyone has evidence to give in his favor, let him come forth quickly.” If at any time before the sentence was carried out, additional information pertaining to innocence came to light, including the prisoner’s recollection of something he’d forgotten, one officer would signal the other, and the prisoner would be brought back to the council for reconsideration of the verdict.
Before the place of execution was reached, the condemned person was urged to confess his crime, if he had not already done so, and was given a stupefying drink to dull his senses to make his death less painful. The governing principle in capital cases was this phrase, “The Sanhedrin is to save, not destroy, life.”
In addition, the chief of the council was required to remind prospective witnesses of the preciousness of human life, and to admonish them to be certain their testimony was both true and complete. To make certain everyone was alert, no criminal trial could be begun or continue into the night.
Now is it obvious to you, when properly administered, that the Jewish system of justice was not only eminently fair, but merciful? It is also just as obvious that the system did not operate either fairly or mercifully in Jesus’ trial, because the Sanhedrin violated virtually every principle of its own system of jurisprudence. Jesus was illegally tried without first having been charged with a crime. He was tried in the middle of the night (1 to 3 AM). He was tried in private. No defense was permitted Him, and the witnesses against Him had been bribed to falsify their testimony.
It is the most unjust trial that ever occurred in human history. It had to be–Jesus was not only not a criminal, He was sinless. The Lord’s trial is a mockery, a legal farce, a kangaroo court. They want to kill Christ, so they violate every rule they’ve set up to maintain justice. They pursue false testimony, pressure the Roman authority Pontius Pilate to obtain a death penalty. They try Christ at night, they sentence Him and condemn Him within six hours, and take no time to reconsider their verdict.
All of which helps us now understand our passage today. Jesus has been arrested and bound in the Garden of Gethsemane by a large group of the Sanhedrin, the Temple police, and Roman soldiers.
#1 An illegal and manipulated ARRAIGNMENT
You realize what’s happening in Christ’s trial, right? The verdict was in before the procedure began. The decision was already made as to what they were going to do with Christ–it was all about killing Christ. The entire procedure was an external formality–a fake show. In reality the entire time they try Christ, they were merely looking for some reasons to explain why He must be killed.
Verse 53 says, “They led Jesus away to the high priest; and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes gathered together.” Mark is describing the Sanhedrin here. They’ve come together in the middle of the night because Judas told them this was the betrayal moment. Many have been to the Garden–now they have Christ under arrest. But now that they have Christ, they have a problem–they have to come up with some legit reason to execute Him.
Now don’t let me confuse you, but help you understand. This meeting recorded here in Mark is not the first phase of Christ’s religious trial. Before Christ stood before the Sanhedrin here in the house of Caiaphas, turn to John 18. He first stood before Annas–stay in John 18 for a moment, which describes the first phase of the Lord’s six trials, to stand before Annas, the previous High Priest, the power and the evil behind all these events.
The first phase of our Lord’s trial is the arraignment. Before Christ was led away to Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, as verse 53 describes, something else happened in John 18:12 and 13. “So the Roman cohort and the commander and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him, 13 and led Him to Annas first; for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year.”
Jesus went to Annas first–why? Because Annas was the evil brain behind the Sanhedrin. Did you know the Temple operations–the sacrificial animal selling, coin exchanging going on during the Passover that Jesus stopped when He cleaned it out–all those corrals and coin exchange tables were called, “the bazaars of Annas”.
Annas was the Godfather–the genuine Mafia boss who oversaw the Temple police, the guys with the clubs who functioned just like his personal enforcers. We don’t know exactly why, but we can guess why the Romans forced Annas out of the High Priest office. He’d been the High Priest for five or six years twenty years earlier, and now he’s around eighty-years-old.
Like our presidents, he keeps the title High Priest for the rest of his life. And in reality, Annas is the power behind the scenes, orchestrating everything. He is filthy rich and hated, but feared too for all the Temple corruption. For twenty-plus years, Annas has passed his High Priest position to his family members, while he still maintains control. The current High Priest, Caiaphas, was actually Annas’s son-in-law.
So the Lord attacked the very heart of Annas’s operation on Tuesday, when He cleaned out the Temple—threatening the Godfather’s power, and costing him thousands. Annas saw Jesus as a serious threat to his financial empire, and to His position and power. So now right before verse 53, Annas’s job is to stall Jesus to give Caiaphas time to gather the Sanhedrin, and to come up with some sort of indictment that might stick.
You’ve got to have a crime if there is going to be an execution. And all the while Jesus is before Annas, the Sanhedrin is gathering at the house of Caiaphas in verse 53. And Peter is in Caiaphas’s courtyard getting ready to deny Christ three times in verse 54. John 18:19, “The high priest [Annas] then questioned Jesus about His disciples, and about His teaching.” This is Annas asking Jesus to incriminate Himself.
Even in our courts, no man can incriminate himself–that’s the Fifth Amendment. No confession without evidence is admissible as an indictment. You can’t come up with an indictment against someone by something they confess to without evidence. Annas is asking Jesus to admit to something so He can be executed.
Verse 20, “Jesus answered him, ‘I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret.’” Nothing hidden–it’s all out there. Verse 21, “’Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; they know what I said.’”
Jesus is essentially saying, “This is illegal.” Annas knows Christ can’t self-incriminate. Where are the witnesses? “I’ve said nothing in secret; I’ve done nothing in secret.” Verse 21, “Why do you question Me? Question those who’ve listened to me–they know what I said.” Annas didn’t like that, so verse 22 to 23, “When He had said this, one of the officers standing nearby struck Jesus, saying, ‘Is that the way You answer the high priest?’ 23 Jesus answered him, ‘If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?’” Annas doesn’t know what to do further, so verse 24, “So Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.”
And now the main trial takes place. This continues the mockery of justice, and the violation of Law. The entire indictment attempt was illegal. They have no crime. They have no witnesses, no testimony is given. It is the middle of the night. It isn’t in a court. There aren’t any duly appointed judges and there are no legal authorities, prosecutors or defenders. The whole thing is a fraud, and is itself criminal.
They want Christ dead, and they’re trying to figure out how to do it without a crime or testimony to anything criminal. But instead of stopping the process, they hurriedly continue to repeatedly violate justice in order to sentence Christ to death before people wake up and start showing up in the morning. So verse 53, the Sanhedrin have been aroused from their sleep and are gathering at Caiaphas’s house to murder Jesus.
While this is happening, Mark reminds us about Peter in verse 54. “Peter had followed Him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the officers and warming himself at the fire.” Peter wants to stay close, but he’s warming up for his upcoming denial. Peter is intensely personal, with great affection for Christ, but also very afraid and confused about what is happening here. He loves Christ, but he’s also prayerless, as he slept through his temptation preparation prayertime with Jesus in the Garden.
Mark sets the scene and location of Peter for His coming failure. He’s in the courtyard of Caiaphas’s house, the High Priest, warming himself by the fire, vulnerable and trying to blend in. Jesus is in a large room, Peter is outside in the dark courtyard near a fire with Roman guards, Temple police and servants around. One commentator said that Peter is caught between curiosity and cowardice. The Sanhedrin is inside the house surrounding Christ.
Typically the house would be built four sides around a center courtyard–they’re in the largest room adjacent to the courtyard. The Sanhedrin needs to work fast. This trial’s got to be over before dawn. Peter’s denials took place before the cock crows, which is at 3 AM–which has not happened yet, by Mark’s account. This trial is before Peter’s denial, making it before 3 AM. Again, they’re violating their own Law, trying Christ in the middle of the night, resulting in . . .
#2 An illegal and deceptive TRIAL/TESTIMONY
Look at verse 55, “Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, and they were not finding any.” Do you see it? They’ve already determined the outcome. They have already determined the sentence—death. They just had to find a crime. But in order to find a crime, they had to find a witness to a crime Jesus committed—again, very difficult. Jesus is perfect and sinless. The execution is set–all they’re doing is trying to make it look just.
So here are the religious leaders, so fastidious about the Law, trying to find some liars in the middle of the night. Matthew 26:59 says, “They were bribing them,” the very thing that Deuteronomy 16 forbad. They’re literally knocking on doors in the middle of the night, trying to drum up false witnesses who would lie so that they could kill Jesus on false pretenses. But they’re having a hard time for three reasons. One) it’s the middle of the night, two) they’re acting too quickly, and three) Jesus is perfect. Eventually they found some, but verse 56 says, “For many were giving false testimony against Him, but their testimony was not consistent.”
How did they get many? Simple–they bribed them. “I’m not getting out of bed to lie for you at the trial of a rabbi. Oh, a hundred dollar In N Out card? Wait, I’ll get dressed. Ten pieces of silver to feed my family for a month? I’ll be right there.” They paid them money out of their massive Temple treasury–the same treasury they paid Judas. The same money they paid the Roman soldiers who were guarding the tomb later, to lie about the resurrection–all that cash came from the Temple treasury.
At first they couldn’t find people who could or would lie. Then they couldn’t find any kind of testimony worthy of a death penalty. They did find some false witnesses, but even though they did it for money, they were not consistent. Verses 57 to 59, “Some stood up and began to give false testimony against Him, saying, 58 ‘We heard Him say, “I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.” ‘ 59 Not even in this respect was their testimony consistent.”
Some stood up and gave false testimony against Christ, but verse 59 says their testimony was not consistent. The Greek “consistent” actually means the math didn’t add up–it wasn’t equal, fair, corresponding to truth, or match reality. They had no time to get their story straight. They had no time to plan their stories so that they’d agree.
The witnesses that did show up were bribed. But their stories were garbled. Some of them mangled their stories so badly, verse 58 says they came up with, “‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.’” That is actually a distortion of what our Lord said three years before, recorded in John 2 when He said, “’Destroy this temple [meaning His body], and in three days I’ll raise it up.’”
Jesus never said that He would destroy the Temple, and three days later build another one without using His hands–in other words, that Christ would miraculously raise another Temple. They had that confused–that was garbled. Matthew 26:60 to 61 affirms there were two witnesses who came up with that spin.
He did not say that. He did say to His disciples, however, back in Mark 13, that God would bring judgment on Jerusalem, and this Temple would be destroyed. The late night rushing to form a solid criminal allegation became confusing, garbled, and concocted. The bribed liars couldn’t formulate a solid accusation against Christ.
Yet still bent on killing Jesus, they did not relent. They will not concede–why? This is not a trial. It’s a conspiracy. They’ll not stop until they can come up with a crime that the Romans will buy into, so they can get Roman permission to execute Jesus. There is no law here. No one is seeking witnesses, there is no defense for Christ. They don’t want anyone to defend Christ.
They are violating the Law of Moses, and disregarding all the laws drawn from Moses they’ve put in place over the years. Their hatred of the truth is so great, they are going to do everything they can to make certain Christ is dead in hours. Their arraignment was illegal. Their trial and testimony was illegal. Next their interrogation and sentencing will also be illegal. But to see that “show trial” moment, you’ll have to come back next week. Let me ask you . . .
ONE Are you ILLEGAL?
It is overwhelming to consider just how many illegalities were committed against Christ in His so-called trials. There was no crime–Christ was arrested without warrant, Christ was arrested at night, there were no legal authorities present, the leaders were biased, the trials didn’t take place in a court, there was judgment before any accusation, there was no official indictment, it was a secret trial, the judges were not supposed to initiate charges, they were only supposed to investigate charges, there was no defense provided or given, He had no defense team, all the Sanhedrin was not present (Joseph of Arimathea was missing), the trial was at night, it was during a feast, and more. They bribed the witnesses, they were false witnesses, they abused the evidence, they’ll later switch charges when they faced Pilate, the trial concluded in about six hours–one day, the verdict was not unanimous, the High Priest intervened in the proceedings, and so much more.
I would have spoken up to defend myself. But in majesty, Christ remained mainly silent, sensing no need to answer their hateful questions since this was all God’s will, and they were not concerned about justice. Christ is sovereign, and it is God’s will that He suffer and die for our sins so His children might be forgiven.
It is easy for us to look down on these religious externalists who are willing to violate Law–but how about you? Are you illegal? Are you out of step with the law–I will not mention speeding, or legally stopping, or using your turn signal? How about–do you take things from work? Do you report accurately or incorrectly on your taxes? Do you tell the truth or lie on contracts or work agreements? Have you ever taken a believer to court in a lawsuit, which the Bible says never to do that in 1 Corinthians 6? Do you obey the police, and honor civil obligations as a citizen like Romans 13 commands all Christians to do?
What is it like to be a true born again believer? David said it best in Psalm 101:2, “I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart.” What you are like when no one is watching is the clearest indicator of the genuineness of your faith, and the maturity of your walk. Every believer’s goal is Colossians 3:17a, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” You and I live for Christ.
TWO Where are you UNFAIR?
These men were cruelly unjust and unfair in every way. There was no mercy, and certainly no fairness. But again, how about you and I? Are you fair? Students, are you fair to your parents, or are you always looking for their faults, ready to point out their weaknesses? Ask yourself, if you treated your friends like you do your parents, would you have any friends? And how would you like living with someone who’s just waiting for you to mess up so they can point out your faults? The actual Greek word for that behavior is uajerk–root word, bigajerk.
Parents, do you favor one kid over another? Did you make your oldest go to bed at 6 PM, but now your 10-year-old at the same age stays out till 3 PM? Husbands, are you listening to and hearing your wife? Wives, are you indifferent to your husband because you’re consumed with the kids, or ministry, or work? At work, do you actually work the hours you’re paid for? And are you working for Christ at work, or for yourself?
Do you say you love Christ, but by the way you treat the Bride, with unfaithful attendance, weak giving, and little service, can you really claim to love Christ first? Christians are to be fair people. The Psalmist even prays, Psalm 43:1, “Deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man.”
THREE Is Christ on TRIAL in your heart?
Christ was on trial then, and He is on trial right now, right here. Christ is on the stand in your heart. Skeptics can be like the Sanhedrin. They’ve already given a verdict before hearing the truth. But someday each one of us will bow before Christ. Some will bow as they are condemned forever in Hell for rejecting Christ as the Lord of their life and the only way to Heaven. Others will bow as they did in this life, as we enter Heaven with Christ. But all will bow before Christ. What is your verdict about Jesus Christ? Let’s pray.