This sermon is number 55 in a series of 57
Studies in Mark - Part 55: Countdown To Calvary Pt7
"Trial And Denial"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2011 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Now we're turning in our Bibles this morning to Mark 14 again, and we're looking this morning at the trial and Peter's denial of the Lord Jesus. Let me just say that, if you haven't been with us these last weeks, we've been really following 'The Final Countdown to Calvary', the last week in the life of our Lord Jesus. Probably it started for Him on Saturday, where Mary of Bethany anointed Him, His head and His feet, for burial - broke that alabaster box of spikenard ointment - although we came to that later on in the gospel record, but that's how the week started. Then the next day, Sunday, He entered Jerusalem as the King of the Jews, Palm Sunday we know it as, the Triumphal Entry. Then, Monday we saw He cursed a fig tree and cleansed the Temple, that was a picture of Israel and how they had lost their effectiveness as the chosen people of God. Then on Tuesday we saw Him questioned in the Temple precincts by the Sanhedrin, the ruling religious council of the Jews. Then on Wednesday, what some believe to be a silent day, I think on Wednesday He gave the Olivet Discourse about His second coming and the signs of when that will be. Then Thursday evening, we saw last Sunday morning, He celebrated the Passover and instituted the Lord's Supper. Then later on that evening He entered Gethsemane, we saw that last Sunday evening, and was in great agony as He anticipated drinking the cup of Calvary. Then, of course, from Gethsemane He was betrayed by Judas to the soldiers, and that is most likely the early hours of Friday morning.
We're still in the early hours of Friday morning for our reading here today, verse 53 of chapter 14 of Mark: "And they led Jesus away to the high priest; and with him were assembled all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes. But Peter followed Him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he sat with the servants and warmed himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and all the council sought testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. For many bore false witness against Him, but their testimonies did not agree. Then some rose up and bore false witness against Him, saying, 'We heard Him say, 'I will destroy this temple made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands''. But not even then did their testimony agree. And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, saying, 'Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?'. But He kept silent and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked Him, saying to Him, 'Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?'. Jesus said, 'I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven'. Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, 'What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?'. And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death. Then some began to spit on Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him, and to say to Him, 'Prophesy!' And the officers struck Him with the palms of their hands. Now as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came. And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, 'You also were with Jesus of Nazareth'. But he denied it, saying, 'I neither know nor understand what you are saying'. And he went out on the porch, and a rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him again, and began to say to those who stood by, 'This is one of them'. But he denied it again. And a little later those who stood by said to Peter again, 'Surely you are one of them; for you are a Galilean, and your speech shows it'. Then he began to curse and swear, 'I do not know this Man of whom you speak!'. A second time the rooster crowed. Then Peter called to mind the word that Jesus had said to him, 'Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times'. And when he thought about it, he wept".
"Immediately, in the morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council; and they bound Jesus, led Him away, and delivered Him to Pilate. Then Pilate asked Him, 'Are You the King of the Jews?'. He answered and said to him, 'It is as you say'. And the chief priests accused Him of many things, but He answered nothing. Then Pilate asked Him again, saying, 'Do You answer nothing? See how many things they testify against You!'. But Jesus still answered nothing, so that Pilate marveled. Now at the feast he was accustomed to releasing one prisoner to them, whomever they requested. And there was one named Barabbas, who was chained with his fellow rebels; they had committed murder in the rebellion. Then the multitude, crying aloud, began to ask him to do just as he had always done for them. But Pilate answered them, saying, 'Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?'. For he knew that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd, so that he should rather release Barabbas to them. Pilate answered and said to them again, 'What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?'. So they cried out again, 'Crucify Him!'. Then Pilate said to them, 'Why, what evil has He done?'. But they cried out all the more, 'Crucify Him!'. So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas to them; and he delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified. Then the soldiers led Him away into the hall called Praetorium, and they called together the whole garrison. And they clothed Him with purple; and they twisted a crown of thorns, put it on His head, and began to salute Him, 'Hail, King of the Jews!'. Then they struck Him on the head with a reed and spat on Him; and bowing the knee, they worshiped Him. And when they had mocked Him, they took the purple off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him out to crucify Him".
Let us pray please. Now I said it last week and I'll say it again: all I'm going to do for you this morning and this evening is exposit the Scripture, and present to you what it says, and Jesus. Very elementary, but I believe that as I do that, verse by verse, you will encounter the living Christ. I want you now to be ready for that. I want you to be prepared to see Jesus in all of His ignominy and agony. So come now to the Lord and offer yourself, offer your heart to Him and ask Him to truly, by the eyes of your spirit, to reveal Himself to you.
Father, I feel so small and so inadequate now coming to this portion of Scripture. It is just insurmountable in its grandeur, and in the depth of its meaning it is unfathomable. Yet we know that we ourselves cannot embellish what is before us, but we know that the Holy Spirit can take of these great truths and make them live, and make them applicable to our lives, and do a work of eternal value and virtue in our souls through this truth. So that's what I'm asking Lord, I'm not going to say anything new, I'm not going to bring, I don't think, any great revelations to this so often spoken story - and yet I believe that something new, something lasting will take place this morning for just having gazed upon Christ as Your Suffering Servant. Lord Jesus, we would see You. Reveal Yourself to us now in all Your dying love, we pray, Amen.
I did say to you at the beginning of the studies that, in order to get the full grasp of everything that went on during this last week of the life of the Lord, we need to take all of the Gospels together. We haven't had time to do that, we've been dipping in a little bit to the other Gospels, but when we put them all together concerning the trials of the Lord Jesus you find that there are really six trials, or maybe better to say six stages to His trials. There were three stages to His trials before the Jewish religious authorities, and then there were three stages of His trials before the Roman imperial authorities.
Let's just follow them through for your benefit. The first trial that He had really opened a preliminary hearing before Annas, who is described in John 18 as the High Priest, and yet it's a little bit confusing because then Caiaphas is later described as the High Priest. There was only one High Priest, and yet it appears that Annas was the former High Priest - he was Caiaphas' father-in-law - but just as a retired general can still be called 'General', or the President of the United States is still called 'the President', Annas still retained this title of 'High Priest'. So it appears that Jesus was there first before Annas, and then He moved to a full council to hear witnesses against Him. We do read this in our reading, verses 53 to 65: He stands before Caiaphas now, and these witnesses are brought as a testimony against Him. Then he moves from Caiaphas' hearing to an early morning session that we read of in chapter 15 and verse 1, where this ruling body of the Jews take a final vote of condemnation upon the Lord Jesus. Essentially this is His trial before the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jews.
Now it is from there that the Lord Jesus is then sent for His first hearing before Pontius Pilate, and we read of that in verses 1 to 5 of chapter 15, and in John 18 as well. Having had that first hearing before Pilate, Pilate then sent Him on to Herod - Herod Antipas. In Luke 23 you can read about that, and He stands before this tetrarch of the Empire, and this half-Jew who even the Jews despised. Then Herod, after mocking Him, sends Him back to Pilate, and we read about that in verses 6 through to 15, and He has His final hearing before Pilate - and from there Pilate consented to the cry of the crowd, and crucifies the Lord of glory. So you see six stages, three stages before the Jewish ruling religious body, and three stages before the Roman authority, the imperial power.
Now Mark breaks in at the scene where Annas, the former High Priest, has sent Jesus to Caiaphas, his son-in-law, the current High Priest. In verse 53, we read that He is before the Pharisees, the Scribes, and the elders of the people - that is the Sanhedrin: 'They led Jesus away to the high priest; and with him were assembled all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes', and they are there to condemn Him. Now let me say categorically to you right away: this was absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, an illegal trial. Now let me give you the reasons why this was an illegal trial: simply because the Jews disregarded their own rules under which they operated. There are at least five reasons why this was illegal: one, they weren't supposed to meet together as the Sanhedrin at night time, and here they were met at night; two, they were not to meet during any of the Jewish feasts, and you will remember that this was at the time of Passover; three, they were not permitted to bribe false witnesses to commit perjury, and we can see clearly from this record that that's exactly what they did do; four, a death verdict was not to be carried out until one night had elapsed from the judgement, and we can clearly see that one night had not elapsed since they had judged that Jesus was guilty of death; and five, unless they met in the hall of the hewn stone in the Temple area, it was said that all their verdicts, though they were the Sanhedrin, were not binding because they had not met in that place.
So you can see that in their eagerness to do away with Jesus, they broke their own laws. Now you remember this is the crowd that was continually looking at Jesus and scrutinising Him through His life and ministry for broken laws, for breaking their tradition - and yet now, in their venom and vitriol to put Him to death, they break practically all the laws of the book. It was an illegal trial, and yet they are trying to create a semblance of legality. In verse 55 we see that: 'the chief priests and all the council sought testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none'. Now Deuteronomy 17 and verse 6 reads: 'Whoever is deserving of death shall be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses; he shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness'. So it was necessary to get at least two witnesses to pronounce Jesus guilty and condemn Him to death - but we see in verse 55 that they couldn't even get two - remarkable! So, in a frantic rush to devise fabricated and trumped up charges against Jesus, they assembled together false witnesses, people who were willing to lie, but even that didn't work out because the liars' testimonies would not agree! We see in verse 56: 'For many bore false witness against Him, but their testimonies did not agree'.
Then in verses 57 through to 59 we hear some of these testimonies: 'Some rose up and bore false witness against Him, saying, 'We heard Him say, 'I will destroy this temple made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands''' - and they misquote Him. What Jesus actually said in John 2 and verse 19 was: 'Destroy this temple', speaking of His body, 'and in three days I will raise it up', He did not say 'Destroy this temple made with hands', as these liars accused Him of in verse 58. But we, in our day and age, don't really grasp the import of this accusation against Jesus. To put it in contemporary terms: they were accusing Him of terrorism - that's right! They were accusing Him of an attempt, or at least an intent, to destroy the Temple which meant so much to them as Jews. Throughout the Greco-Roman world, the destruction or desecration of places of worship was regarded as a capital offence worthy of death. So you can see how they're trying to get evidence that would condemn Jesus to death.
This is remarkable, look at verse 60 please and 61: 'The high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, saying, 'Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?'. But He kept silent and answered nothing'. Throughout all this false accusation, as they are firing lies at Him left right and centre, as they are misquoting Him, He says nothing in fulfilment of Isaiah 53:7: 'He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth'. How would you fare if a crowd was around you firing lies, blatant lies? Think for a moment: sometimes the mud sticks with us, doesn't it? Sometimes people have reason to accuse us - but imagine the evidence that the Lord Jesus could have cited in His own defence against these false accusations! My mind went immediately to what He told His disciples to tell John the Baptist when he was locked up in prison and he was starting to doubt whether or not Jesus was He who was promised to come, and what was the explanation Jesus gave to His identity? He said: 'Tell John: the blind see, the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me'. He could have said that, but He said nothing. He didn't open His mouth.
That's a lesson to us, it's a lesson to us of how we react when we are accused, when we are lied about, when we are tempted to run to our own defence. We're all the same. Turn with me quickly, and I'll not have an awful lot of application practically speaking this morning, but to 1 Peter please - because there is a great application that Peter gives of this very incident. First Peter chapter 2 and verse 21: 'For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps' - how? ''Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth'; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously'. How do you cope when people lie about you? When people accuse you to your face of things that are blatant untruths? Here's how Jesus coped: He committed everything - we say 'take it on the chin', He didn't take it on the chin and absorb it - He committed all those wrongs that were done to Him to His Heavenly Father who judges righteously. He knew what the Scripture teaches: 'Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay' - that's the only way to cope when you're accused of false accusations, when you're lied about, it's the only way to cope. I, like the rest of you, am the best at running to my own defence when I hear a lie that has been told about me - but I remember years ago reading a little pamphlet by A.W. Tozer, I think it was called 'Five Steps to Spiritual Power', and it was really about how to maintain being filled with the Holy Spirit. One of those steps was: 'Never defend yourself'. It's worth thinking about, particularly in the light of our blessed Lord here.
But you might think there's a bit of a contradiction here in verse 61, the second half, it says: 'Again the high priest asked Him, saying to Him, 'Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?' - and then Jesus answered. Now, we have to bring in Matthew's Gospel here, because we know from his gospel, chapter 26 verse 33, that it was at this point that the High Priest, Caiaphas, put Jesus under oath. Just where it says there in verse 61, 'Again the high priest' - I have it circled in my Bible, and a little annotation saying, 'Here he puts Jesus under oath'. Now what that simply meant was: Jesus had no choice but to reply to the High Priest, or else He would have been breaking the Old Testament law. You see in Leviticus 5 and verse 1 we read there, and this is a paraphrase, 'If any of the people are called to testify', that simply means to testify under oath, 'about something they have witnessed, but they refuse to testify, they will be held responsible and be subject to punishment'. In other words, they will be sinning if they know about a matter, they are put under oath in a trial, and they don't answer. Jesus knew this, He could not sin, He could not break God's law, and so He answers. Caiaphas had to draw Him out under oath, which indicates that he didn't have enough evidence to convict Him - in fact, there wasn't any at all!
But he asks Jesus, if you look at verse 61, he asks Him: 'Are You the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed?'. Now, if you have any doubt about the identity of Jesus Christ - and I don't know if there's any doubters here or unbelievers - you need to hear it from His own mouth. Some people tell me: 'Oh, you can read all the Gospels and Jesus never claims to be God, or He never claims to be equal with God or the Son of God' - well, you look very carefully at what Jesus says. It clears it all up. Jesus said: 'I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven' - and that was a blatant claim to come with the power of God, and the High Priest understood, even if we don't understand, what He was meaning. The High Priest understood, and he knew that Jesus was claiming to be a manifestation of God, and that when He returned He would return as God to judge the world.
But actually what the Lord Jesus was saying, in a roundabout term, to Caiaphas was: 'Today you are standing in judgement of Me, but you're going to see the day when I will come to judge you'. I wonder does that apply to anyone here today? An unbeliever or a doubter, and you're judging Christ, you're judging this book, you're judging the authenticity of the gospel record, and its message, and its effectiveness in people's lives. Well, I want to say to you: hear the word of God, there is a day coming when this One whom you are judging is going to judge you! Caiaphas understood it, and in fact it wasn't Jesus under trial at all here, it was the nation of Israel under trial - what they would do with Jesus, who is called Christ. Caiaphas was under trial, Annas was under trial - but when He comes again, Jesus was saying, His identity will not be veiled, it would be clear to everyone who He was. He was claiming to be God in the flesh there and then, and He's saying: 'And you're going to know it for sure when I come back again to judge the world'.
Now this was blasphemy to the Jews, for a man to claim to be God and equal with God. So we see in verse 63: 'The high priest', at these words, 'tore his clothes and said, 'What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy!'', verse 64, '''What do you think?' And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death'. Now it's interesting, because if you were to read Leviticus chapter 10 and verse 6, you would see that for the High Priest to rend his garments made himself liable to death! In the heat of the moment, condemning Christ to death, the High Priest was condemning himself to death. We see that the entire Sanhedrin agreed and condemned Him to death. Now we don't think Nicodemus was here, he was probably a member of the Sanhedrin, nor Joseph of Arimathea - we'll see him later tonight - they probably weren't of the number at this time, because they were predisposed towards Jesus.
Then verse 65, and this is a remarkable verse: 'Some began', these religious men, 'to spit on Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him, and to say to Him, 'Prophesy!'. And the officers struck Him with the palms of their hands'. Can I say to you: this is what the world does to God when given an opportunity. I don't for one minute believe that it would be any different today. Even religious people do this, even people who were waiting on Christ - that's what the Jews were doing, they were waiting on Christ - the true Christ, they beat, blindfolded, mocked, and spat upon. You might be a person that calls yourself 'Christian', but you're not prepared to face the true Christ - not the Christ of established Christendom, not the Christ of the cults, not the Christ of legalism, but the Christ of the word of God, the living Christ. You've got to face Him, or you're no different than these people! C.H. Spurgeon said: 'Be astonished, O heavens, and be horribly afraid. His face is the light of the universe, His person is the glory of heaven, and they 'began to spit on Him'. Alas, my God, that man should be so base!'. If anyone ever doubted the depravity of the human soul, all they need to do is read verse 65.
Now, as this abuse of the Son of God takes place, Peter is hiding in the courtyard below. Verse 66: 'Below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came'. Now, let me remind you that if he had listened to the Lord's warning in verse 27, that the Shepherd would be struck and the sheep would be scattered, he would be far away by now and he would not be denying the Lord Jesus three times. You remember what I shared with you, I think it was last Sunday morning: you need to make sure you don't, like Peter, overestimate yourself - he overestimated himself many, many times - because you'll set yourself up for a fall if you do that. Secondly you've also got to make sure you don't underestimate His knowledge of you: the Lord knew the weakness of the disciples, He knew that all of them, bar John, needed to disappear, and so He advised them to do that.
Now let me remind you that Mark was written for Roman Christians who were about to endure some of the fiercest persecution that the church has ever known then in the Roman Empire. What Mark through the Holy Spirit, and Peter, we believe, feeding Mark his information, what they are warning these Roman Christians to do is: be faithful to the Lord, but do not be foolish or foolhardy! Don't overestimate yourself, and don't underestimate God's knowledge of you. It's a worthy message, and Peter knew it well. Look at his denial, verse 67, warming himself, this little girl, or this young woman 'looked at him and said, 'You also were with Jesus of Nazareth'. But he denied it, saying, 'I neither know nor understand what you are saying''. He's warming himself by the world's fire, and more than that: some people believe that in verse 65, the word for 'officers' there, and the word for 'servants' in verse 54, in the courtyard that Peter is warming himself beside the fire in, that's the same ancient Greek word - and because that same word is used of both groups, many believe that Peter was sitting at the fire with the same characters that struck the Lord Jesus, spat upon Him, blindfolded Him, and mocked Him. In other words, he was associating with Christ-beaters! How have the mighty fallen.
In verse 68 this statement he speaks to the little girl: 'I neither know nor understand what you are saying', the commentator William Lane says that that denial used the form that was common in rabbinical law for a formal legal denial. This would be commonly said in cases: 'I neither know nor understand what you are saying' - it was a formal, legal denial of Christ: 'I don't know this Man at all'. Then, he doesn't leave it there, we read that he begins to curse and swear and protest: 'I don't know this Man!'. The cock crows the second time, fulfilling the Lord's prophecy way back in verse 30. You remember what He said: 'Assuredly, I say to you', Peter, 'that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times'. In an instant, in an instant at the cock crowing, Peter realised what had happened and he broke down - and we read that he wept. Verse 72: 'A second time the rooster crowed. Then Peter called to mind the word that Jesus had said to him, 'Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times'. And when he thought about it, he wept' - but we learn from Matthew and Luke that he wept bitterly.
This is an occurrence that all four gospel writers record: Peter wept bitterly. Mark says: 'When he remembered the word of the Lord', but do you know what Luke tells us? It wasn't just the memory of Jesus' word, we read in Luke 22:61 that as Peter was at the fire, and as he has just finished denying the Lord with oaths and curses, that Jesus is brought out and He passes by Peter, and He looks toward Peter - and it stabs him to his very soul! Then he went out and he wept bitterly! Can you imagine what that look of Christ must have been like?
Well, how often do we deny the Lord? Come on now: I'll be honest, I've denied Him - perhaps not with my words, but with my actions, with my behaviour; with omission, things that I leave undone; and commission, things that I do that I ought not to do. I believe this look from the Lord Jesus that broke Peter was not a look of condemnation, nor a look of disappointment or disdain, I believe it was a look of love. I believe that, because if you look at John's gospel chapter 13 you see that the Lord tells them what's going to happen before He goes to Gethsemane. You see that He tells Peter that he's going to deny Him, and the next thing that Jesus says to Peter is found in John 14 verse 1 - and He says it to them all, I know - but this is what Peter would have heard after being told he would deny Jesus, he hears these words: 'Let not your heart be troubled'. You look at it, the chapter divisions have been put in by men: 'Let not your heart be troubled'. You remember Jesus told him: 'Simon Peter, Satan has desired to sift you, he wants to have you and sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you'. Oh, that has brought me so much encouragement many times in my life! I know my own weakness, I know my propensity to let the Lord down and deny Him and to disown Him - but to know that even though I might be in the darkest temptation and trial of life, that Jesus is praying for me!
Then he went on to say: 'Peter, when you're converted, when we've sorted this whole matter out, everything will be alright' - this is before he denied Him. Isn't He a wonderful Saviour? If you're here this morning and you have denied Him, you have let Him down, you need to see this look of love. If you could only see Him in His love toward you, even in your backslidden state, even in the sins that you're dabbling with - you're so far away, maybe as far away as Peter, cursing and swearing against Christ! It's hard to imagine a person could be saved, doing that, isn't it? But if you could only see His look of love, I believe it would melt you.
We're so hard on Peter sometimes. Warren Weirsbe says: 'Before we judge Peter too severely, we need to examine our own lives. Think of Peter, how many times have we denied the Lord, and lost opportunities to share the Gospel with others? Do we, like Peter, talk when we should listen? Do we argue when we should obey? Do we sleep when we should pray? Do we fight when we should submit?'. If Israel was on trial, and Annas was on trial, and Caiaphas was on trial, Peter was on trial as well! We're all on trial in relation to Christ, every one of us. Unsaved people are on trial in relation to Christ rejection, but we as believers are on trial in relation to Christ denial. Peter appears to fail, doesn't he? You've got to think good of Peter for giving this information to Mark! He has bad PR, Peter, doesn't he? But he's a humble and meek man, that's the way God made him, and we know that from his epistles. You've got to admire his willingness to let this information go forth as it did - but notice: Peter's failure was not final, and I believe it's set in parallel in the Gospels with Judas and his denial, which was final, but Peter's wasn't.
Now listen this morning: there's a way back! Wherever you've been, whatever you've done - and I don't care what you've done - there is a way back! This Saviour still looks upon you in love. In fact, Peter was brought, after he was forgiven and converted and restored by grace, he was brought to an even greater place - that's marvellous! God's grace is like that: greater than all our sin.
But we've got to move on to this official morning meeting of the Sanhedrin, verse 1 of chapter 15, this was to validate what had been decided on the illegal night of trial - do you understand? This was the rubber stamp on it all, and from there we read: 'They bound Jesus, led Him away, and delivered Him to Pilate' - Pontius Pilate, the governor of Palestine. Now, up until now Jesus had been before religious leaders on the charge of blasphemy, that's clear, isn't it? But now, as He stands before the civil court, He is being tried for the charge of treason. Before the religious Jews the charge was blasphemy, now before the Romans it's treason - and the Jews knew that Pilate wasn't interested in religious matters. He despised the Jews, so he wouldn't be interested in their charge of blasphemy, so they had to feed Pilate with the fear that there was going to be a rebellion, led by this man Jesus, to overthrow the Roman Imperial power - treason!
So that's why, in verse 2, Pilate asked Jesus: 'Are You the King of the Jews?'. He wants to know is He setting himself up as a leader of the Jewish nation in competition to Caesar. Now the Jews took Him to Pilate, I believe, for this very reason: they believed that Pilate would quench and quash any rebellion very severely. They knew that he would take the charge of treason with great seriousness. But also the Jews had lost their authority to impose the death penalty, the Romans had taken it away from them. So if Jesus was going to be put to death, the Romans would have to give the say-so for it. Now the Jews, they thought this was a fait accompli, it was going to happen: 'This man hates insurrection, and we have got Him on the charge of treason!'.
You would think, knowing from secular history the character and personality of Pontius Pilate, that it was a fait accompli - because we're told that he was a cruel, ruthless man, and he was insensitive to the moral feelings of others - but the Jews classically underestimated Pilate. It appears, to me at least, that he shows suspicion towards the Jews. In other words, he realises they are up to something. The reason why I feel that is in verse 3, the chief priests accused Jesus of many things, but He answered nothing. This was after Pilate asked: 'Are You the King of the Jews?', Jesus says 'It is as you say' - and I can almost see a smirk on the face of Pilate as he looks towards the Jews, and thinks 'They're up to something!'. When they see the smirk, they all erupt and start throwing more dirt at the Lord Jesus because they feel: 'Hold on a minute, he's not swallowing this!'. Yet, in the midst of all this accusation, what is Jesus doing again? What is He doing? He's silent.
Verse 4: 'Pilate asked Him again, saying, 'Do You answer nothing? See how many things they testify against You!'. But Jesus still answered nothing, so that Pilate marveled'. Now remember who Jesus is before here, He's before a Governor, a Judge, who is used to men grovelling like little children in tears at his feet, pleading for their lives. Yet here is a Man that even Pilate realises is falsely accused, and He stands with His head high as a Man, but answers not a word. This Man was different, even Pilate could see it. Now, we know from the other Gospels that Pilate, several times, even stated: 'I find no fault in this Man' - but Pilate, as the politician that he was, rather than doing what was right he did what he thought was politically expedient. Can I say to you: beware of politics in the church and outside of the church. I'm not saying Christians can't have an influence in politics, but politics is a thing of compromise - and Christians cannot compromise on their principles, that's why it's difficult, or it ought to be. But even in churches we engage in church politics, and we compromise for the sake of the crowd - beware!
But before he compromised, Pilate tried to pass the buck and he sent Jesus to Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee. But after mocking Jesus, Herod sent Him back to Pilate - and then Pilate came up with another ingenious plan. At this time of year he was in the custom of releasing a prisoner, it was like a political sop to the Jews, particularly at Passover where all the national fervour was intense and they were looking and waiting for the Messiah, he would release a prisoner to them. So he offered to release this man called Barabbas - Barabbas was a murderer and a rebel - or he could release to them Jesus, the Preacher of peace and the worker of miracles. As far as Pilate was concerned, this was a no-brainer. Who would choose a wicked murderer over the Lord Jesus?
But it's at this point that Pilate underestimated the chief priests, look at verse 11 - you see, they had stirred up the crowd: 'so that he should rather release Barabbas to them. Pilate answered and said to them again, 'What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?'. So they cried out again, 'Crucify Him!'. Then Pilate said to them, 'Why, what evil has He done?'. But they cried out all the more, 'Crucify Him!''. It appears to me that the crowd was primed to cry for Jesus' blood. Now think of this for a moment: these Jews, who were bringing Jesus to Pilate with a charge of treason against Caesar hanging over Him, were now asking for the release of a man who actually was guilty of treason against Rome - but they didn't care, for they wanted Him dead at any cost, by any means.
We read in verse 15: 'Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas to them; and he delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified'. He conceded to the crowd, I say it again: beware of compromising to the cry of the crowd. It doesn't matter what the world is doing, it doesn't matter what most of the Christian church is doing, it doesn't matter if it's not what God's telling you to do! But you know, in the midst of all this betrayal and lies and filth, scheming and diabolical planning, there is a beautiful picture of our redemption: the guiltless One, Jesus, delivered to die in order that the guilty one, Barabbas, might go free. In the midst of all of this seeming moral chaos, God is working, God is shining a light of revelation. Even in the choice of a wicked crowd, a wicked governor, to release Barabbas - God is in control! Who knows what Barabbas thought of this in years to come?
It's assumed that in verse 14 Pilate used the conventional term for: 'You shall mount the cross', 'Ibis in crucem', or 'I consign You to the cross', 'Abi in crucem'. Then we read these tragic words, verse 16: 'Then the soldiers led Him away into the hall called Praetorium, and they called together the whole garrison', they brought Jesus into the hall, that's Pilate the governor's residence, his great hall, and they assembled the whole Roman garrison to scourge Him. That scourging was to bring a person almost to the point of death, and then they staged a mock coronation - verse 17: 'They clothed Him with purple', other Gospels say scarlet, and it probably was purple and scarlet, the colours of royalty, 'and they twisted a crown of thorns, put it on His head, and began to salute Him, 'Hail, King of the Jews!'. Then they struck Him on the head with a reed and spat on Him; and bowing the knee, they worshiped Him'.
They bowed the knee, the normal homage paid to a member of royalty. They crowned Him with a crown of Jerusalem thorns, inches long. They gave Him a sceptre, a reed. Instead of kissing Him as royalty oft would be kissed, they spat on Him. In fact, the translation is better 'they kept spitting on Him'. Little did they know that the One they clothed with purple was the Son of God. The One they crowned with thorns was the Creator of the universe. Spurgeon says of this: 'See, above all, that crown upon His head. It has rubies in it, but the rubies are composed of His own blood, forced from His blessed temples by the cruel thorns. See, they pay Him homage; but the homage is their own filthy spittle which runs down His cheeks'.
I wonder is there anyone here this morning who is on trial concerning what you will do with this Man. The Sanhedrin, Annas, Caiaphas, Pilate, Antipas, the crowd were all trying Him - but every single one of them were under trial concerning what they would do with Jesus, who is called Christ. What will you do, my friend? Will you wait until the day when He will come as Judge and He will try you, or will you be saved today and bow the knee to Him truly, and confess Him as Saviour and Lord? Believer, are you denying Him with your inaction, with your silence? When He stood for you, and opened not His mouth for you - it was for you! - and you won't take your stand for Him?
I want to finish by quoting to you an old hymn. I love the new hymns by the way, I really do, and I love the praise - but some of the old hymns are tremendous. There's one that goes like this, listen carefully:
'Jesus is standing in Pilate's hall,
Friendless, forsaken, betrayed by all;
Hearken! What meaneth the sudden call?
What will you do with Jesus?
Jesus is standing on trial still,
You can be false to Him if you will,
You can be faithful through good or ill:
What will you do with Jesus?
Will you evade Him as Pilate tried?
Or will you choose Him, whate'er betide?
Vainly you struggle from Him to hide:
What will you do with Jesus?
Will you, like Peter, your Lord deny?
Or will you scorn from His foes to fly,
Daring for Jesus to live or die?
What will you do with Jesus?'.
Here's the chorus:
'What will you do with Jesus?
Neutral you cannot be;
Some day your heart will be asking,
'What will He do with me?''.
Let us pray. Now let's take time, we're going to break bread soon. What has God been saying to you? Now come on. If there's one thing I get weary of, it's when we preach and it makes no difference. Now, I know I have to get used to that, because the prophets of old were told: 'Go you and tell them, and even if they don't listen, go and tell them, and I'm preparing you for the fact that they won't even listen' - so I have to try and grapple with that. But it is frustrating to present this crucified, loving, and now living Lord, and great truths like this just mean nothing - it's like water off a duck's back. Like a favourite tune that you know from your youth, you've heard it all before so many times, you can whistle it as well as me - but it doesn't impact your heart. I have stuck very close to Scripture, and I just wanted to bring Jesus to you that it might impact your heart, and for some of you it ain't - and it's tragic to me. How all the more tragic is it to Jesus?
Lord, I just pray - and I'm not setting myself up here, as You know me, as some kind of epitome of devotion and boldness for Christ: I am not. I ask You to forgive me for the times when I've been silent, when I have not taken my stand for Jesus, when I have not gone outside the camp bearing His reproach; where I have opened my mouth to defend myself, even when I was in the wrong. Lord, I pray that all of us here today, believer and unbeliever alike, will not do what Pilate did, will not do what Annas and Caiaphas did, and will not do what Peter did - but Lord that they will bow the knee truthfully, genuinely, and crown You, Lord Jesus, Lord of all. For Your glory we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered in Ards Evangelical Church, Newtownards, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the fifty-fifth recording in his 'Studies In Mark' series, entitled "Trial And Denial" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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