Scripture Reference: Matthew 26:57-68, Luke 22:66-23:25, John 18:13-23
Jesus, On Trial For UsDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | March 29, 2009
Selected highlights from this sermon
Jesus didn’t receive justice when He was put on trial. Even Pilate said that he found no guilt in Jesus—three times—and yet he ordered the crucifixion. Jesus went through the injustice of His trial for us—the just for the unjust.
Today I’m speaking on the topic, “Jesus on Trial for Us.” As you may know, this is part of a series of messages simply entitled “For Us” - Jesus, in Agony for Us Jesus, Betrayed for Us, and Jesus on Trial for Us.
Just yesterday I spoke to a friend of mine, and he has been going through a very difficult time of litigation. He believes that his company was unfair to him, that they broke a promise, that he has money coming to him that is not coming to him, at least until now. He’s a man who is struggling with debts and struggling with all kinds of things as the result of being wronged.
Let me ask you something. What happens when we are wronged? What happens when people lie on the witness stand? What happens when a member of a family chisels out someone else ’s today’s topic, because you remember Jesus was tried unjustly as we shall see in just a few moments, and it’s not just that I hope to expound on the six trials of Jesus and the injustice that he endured. But rather I want to answer another question and that is, what do we learn from the way in which Jesus reacted to injustice? What do we learn for ourselves and how does injustice fit into the bigger picture of God’s purposes? So if you’ve ever been treated unjustly this message is for you, and if you have sometimes treated someone else unjustly, this message is for you as well hopefully to bring you to repentance, because all of us hurt one another don’t we?
The amazing thing is that Jesus went through this series of trials in about 12 hours. The Upper Room discourse had been finished and Jesus goes into the garden, and in the last sermon we stressed the way Judas betrayed him, and then he is led off to a series of trials, and he is crucified the next day.
I’m going to ask you to turn to a passage of Scripture in a few moments but first of all I want us to simply walk through these trials, and point out what they were like. In many instances I shall simply read the Bible and you yourself will pick up on how unjustly Jesus was tried by the courts of his day.
The first trial was actually before Annas, and I’m reading from the book of John. The Bible says, “So the band of soldiers and their captain and officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him, and first they led him to Annas, for he was father-in-law to Caiaphas, who was high priest that year.” Actually both are spoken of here in the text as being high priests, but Annas was the older man, and Caiaphas was his son-in-law. So Jesus is dragged off to him, and the high priest, Annas, then questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. “Jesus answered him, ‘I have always spoken openly to the world. I’ve always taught in the synagogue and in the temple where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them. They know what I’ve said.’ When he said these things one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If what I’ve said was wrong bear witness about the wrong, but if what I’ve said is right, why are you hitting me?’”
Now what about that for a trial? It takes place at night. The Jewish trials were not to take place at night, and the three Jewish trials that we’re going to talk about took place at that time. They were supposed to be tried in daylight. You have Jesus here. The judge is acting as a prosecutor. There’s violence against the accused. The man standing next to Jesus slaps him, and there are no witnesses. There is no one to contradict what Jesus has just said. In other words Jesus was saying, “I’m teaching openly. Why don’t you bring witnesses and hear through their mouths what I said.” Well after that the Bible says that Annas took him and gave him to the Sanhedrin, which then was under the control of his son-in-law, Caiaphas.
So with that in mind I turn to another text. This one happens to be in the book of Matthew ’ll notice in verse 57 we read, “They seized Jesus. They led him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. Now the chief priest (verse 59) and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though some false witnesses did come forward. At last two came forward and said, ‘This man said, “I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three
days.”’” That’s very interesting because Jesus did say something like that. He did say, “Destroy this temple and I’ll raise it up in three days,” but he was talking about the temple of his body, and they related it to the great Herodian temple that had been built, and so they take something that is true and they give it a half turn. They twist it in such a way that it can be used against Jesus, but this was false testimony. “And the high priest stood up and said, ‘Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?’ Jesus remained silent and the high priest said to him, ‘I adjure you, by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ The accused was not to be put under witness for himself under oath, but Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so, but I tell you that from now on you will see the son of man seated at the right hand of power coming in the clouds of heaven.’”
Now that’s remarkable. What Jesus is really saying is, “You know, you’re trying me now and you’re bringing all these witnesses, but the day is going to come when I’m going to return and you’re going to be accountable to me. That day is coming.”
“Then the high priest tore his robes and said, ‘He’s uttered blasphemy. What further need do we have? You’ve heard the blasphemy. What is your judgment?’ and everybody answered, ‘He deserves death.’ Then they spit in his face and struck him and some slapped him saying, ‘Prophesy to us, you the Christ. Who is it that struck you?’”
Did Jesus get justice in this trial? I don’t think so. They were seeking false testimony, seeking reason against him, twisting what he had to say, slapping him and mocking him, and there’s no evidence that the whole Sanhedrin even voted on whether he was guilty.
Well, there’s a third trial, and that is before the Sanhedrin again, and this now is in Luke 22, and that’s the passage you can turn to in your Bibles. The rest of the trials are in this particular chapter and the chapter that follows.
All right, the whole council now gathers together. This is verse 66. “When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, ‘If you are the Christ, tell us.’ But he said to them, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer. (Jesus is saying here, “Look, because you’re prejudiced, it really doesn’t matter what I say, and furthermore, if I began to ask you questions that would lead you to the truth as to who I am, you wouldn’t answer anyway.”) But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.’ (Again, Jesus is reminding them for a second time that he will be returning and at that time he will be their judge, and what does the text say?” So they all said, ‘Are you the Son of God, then?’ And he said to them, ‘You say that I am.’ Then they said, ‘What further testimony do we need? We have heard it from his own lips.’” And again Jesus is reviled, and his testimony is taken and twisted and there is no impartial hearing of all of the evidence against him.
Now keep in mind that these were three Jewish trials. All of them were conducted very rapidly. All of them were conducted some without witnesses and some with false witnesses, all of them involving Jesus Christ being humiliated and beaten and slapped, but now they have to turn him over to the Romans to get him put to death, so now we come to the Roman trials. And just like the Jewish trials have three phases, in the very same way the Roman trials also have three phases, and now we have to ask the question, “Will Jesus finally get justice with the Roman authorities?”
So, Luke 23 now, “Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, ‘We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar.’” (That’s very interesting. Did Jesus ever say that you should not give tribute to Caesar? The answer is no. In fact he said the opposite. When they brought him a coin and said, “Should we give tribute to Caesar?” Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God,” but when you want to have a man condemned, facts do not matter. Rationality does not matter. A fair trial does not matter. What you need to do is to get people to say whatever they want to say to get this man where you want him to be.
“Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’” You’ll notice now the charge is not blasphemy, and the reason for that is because elsewhere what Pilate said was, “If he is guilty about blasphemy, you judge him according to your law,” because the Romans were not interested in whether or not a man blasphemed, so that’s why the charge is now treason. They are saying, “He’s undercutting Caesar he’s undercutting our law. He claims he’s going to be king and that might mean that he’s going to supplant Caesar in ruling from somewhere, perhaps even in Rome,” and so when asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?” he answered and said, ‘You’ve said so.’ Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, ‘I find no guilt in this man.’” Three times Pilate is going to say this. He just can’t find guilt, but you’ll notice it says in verse 5, “They were urgent, saying, ‘He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.’”
What they were saying is, “It doesn’t matter whether or not you are finding him guilty. We know that he is, and even if he isn’t guilty of the things that we want him to be guilty of, our hatred is going to rule the day.”
So the first phase is before Pilate. The second phase is before Herod. Verse 6 says, “When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at the time. (This is Herod Antipas.) When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign (some miracle) done by him. (“Oh Jesus, I’ve heard that you do miracles. Now that you are in my presence do something,” as if Jesus would do that for that purpose.) So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.”
Do you see all of the psychological lessons that are being learned as we go through this text? Here you have two enemies but when you have someone who is a problem and someone that you want to get rid of, and the crowds are chanting for vengeance, you become friends. You suddenly become friends in your evil deed.
So he’s brought back to Pilate and he is brought there and this actually is the third phase of the Roman trial. It begins with Pilate. Pilate sends him to Herod. Herod sends him back to Pilate. Well, you know this story well, but I want to read it again.
Verse 13, “Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. I will therefore punish and release him.’” He’s saying, “I’ll give you something. I’ll have him whipped and beaten and then surely that will satisfy you.” This is the second time Pilate is saying that Jesus Christ is not guilty. And then it says in verse 18, “But they cried out together, ‘Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas’ [*There was a custom among the Jews that on the Passover time some prisoner could be released and Pilate was saying in effect, “Well, you want Jesus to be a prisoner, let me release Jesus to you,” but the crowds kept saying Barabbas] [*The third time Pilate says to them, “He is not guilty.”] Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, ‘Crucify, crucify him!’ A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.’ But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed.” I have that underlined in my Bible. Their voices prevailed. “So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.” [*And the Jews anxiously said, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.] *not in Luke passage
What was motivating the trials of Jesus? Pilate really understood human nature very well because elsewhere in another account Pilate said this. “He knew that it was for envy that they had delivered him.” In order words, it was because Jesus made these teachers look bad. He’s the one who got all of the crowds, he’s the one who was able to do miracles, he was able to teach with authority and they weren’t able to do that, and here was Jesus who was getting all of the attention, and it gauled the religious leaders of the day and made them angry. And then he was claiming to be God, and he was proving it, and it became too much for them, and they wanted him out of the way no matter how unjust their trials were.
What I’d like to do is to draw some lessons for us, and let us remember that Jesus endured this for us, but also let us ask the question, “How did Jesus react to all of this, and how should we react to injustice?” Let me give you these lessons.
First of all, it’s very obvious that if Jesus didn’t get justice why should we think that we are entitled to it? I read yesterday that someone said, “If you think that the court system is going to be fair to you just because you happen to be a nice person, that’s like believing that a raging bull will not come after you because you are a vegetarian.” The fact is the world is fallen, my friend, and I thank God for the laws of the United States. I thank God for the courts of the United States because oftentimes they do exactly what is right and human beings are frail and sometimes they make wrong decisions, but they make those wrong decisions without knowing that it’s a wrong decision, and we should be grateful. But oftentimes what you find governing decisions is greed and hatred and revenge and rage and bribes. You see, that’s why (and you know this story because it has happened a hundred times) a man in the middle of a divorce may not like his children or really take care of them well, but he will insist on having those children. He will insist on custody so that he can really sock it to his ex-wife whom he hates. All of that becomes a part of the judicial process, and in this fallen world what we find today is that oftentimes it is these things that govern the courts. Now I don’t mean to be pessimistic. We should do all that we can to use the court systems to help people, to intercede for them, to become advocates for them.
In the Holocaust Museum in Washington, I understand it says these words, “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, and above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.” We should be willing to indeed become involved in the lives of others and do whatever we possibly can to help them, but at the same time, we recognize that in our fallen world sometimes perfect justice is impossible. The only point that I’m trying to stress here is that Jesus himself did not receive justice. Therefore we should not think that we are entitled to it. We do the best we can, but at the same time we know that oftentimes it is other forces that are at work. And by the way, we should be grateful for this great country of the United States of America because in other countries, if you’ve ever been there, you know that there is even much less justice than we often receive through our laws and our courts.
There’s a second lesson and that is injustice on earth is recorded in heaven. It never escapes God’s attention. Never! How did Jesus react to his injustice? There’s a verse that I’ve often shared with you because it’ll help many of you who are bitter ’ve endured, and you have vengeance in your heart and you want to get even. Here’s a lesson from the life of Jesus. First Peter 2:23. Now listen closely as I quote I Peter 2:23. “Who when he was reviled, he did not revile in return when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” Do you know what Jesus was saying during this period of time? Jesus was in effect saying, “I don’t need a fair trial on earth, because all of these things are going to be opened up again in heaven and my faith in my heavenly father is so great that I don’t need to see justice. I am willing to entrust my case to the highest court and I know he will do just by me in his good time.”
Let me ask you a question. Have those who gave Jesus Christ an unfair trial ever been brought to justice? Not yet fully because you see it is only in the day of resurrection when these court cases are going to be reopened and God is going to even the score. God is going to bring justice to the situation and Jesus is saying, “I can wait until then.”
My dear friend, would you today lay down all vengeance? Do you remember when Joseph was there in the land after his brothers had cruelly treated him, and you know the whole story of how they sold him, and then later on they came back into the land of Egypt with Joseph and Jacob came back and he died. After he died the brothers came to Joseph and they said, “Joseph, your father said before he died that you weren’t supposed to even the score. You weren’t supposed to reap vengeance on us.” The brothers were terrified, and the Bible says that Joseph wept at their words. What he said in effect was, “Are you telling me that after all these years you still do not understand that I would never possibly retaliate. I would never seek vengeance,” and then Joseph makes one of the most profound statements that could be used to deliver many of you who are filled with bitterness when he said these words. He said, “Am I in the place of God to heap vengeance upon you?” Do you know what Joseph was saying? In effect he was saying, “If I believed in vengeance and if I wanted to carry out vengeance, I would be saying, ‘God, you just move over because I don’t need you. I’m going to do your work, and I’m going to do it my way, and I’m going to get even in the way in which I think I should get even.’” But Joseph said, “I will not stay in the place of God. In my heart there is no vengeance.”
Jesus here is being mistreated and what he is saying is, “No vengeance. My Father will take care of it.” Are you willing to say today, “I know that my Father will take care of it I don’t need to?” You see God’s judgment is based upon reality. I love this. Just imagine in God’s court somebody saying, “Well, you know, I need an attorney here to put a better spin on this,” or “I will tell you part of the truth,” or “I will take a statement that was made and I’ll just give it a bit of a twist to give it a different meaning.” Can you even imagine that happening? No, with God it’ll be just reality. Your mouth will be closed. My mouth will be closed, and God will be the judge.
So it is based on reality. It is based not on the present but on the future. You know there is an interesting verse in Ecclesiastes. It says, “Because the sentence against evil is not carried out swiftly, people think it is okay to do wrong.” That’s kind of a paraphrase, but there it is in Ecclesiastes. Isn’t that true? You see we look at people today and they are getting by with everything and God isn’t doing a thing, so we think to ourselves that because the sentence is not carried out swiftly that God is overlooking it. No, no, no! A day is coming when every wrong in the universe will be made right.
Supreme Court Justice, Horace Gray, was speaking to a man whom he knew was guilty but had escaped because of a technicality in the law. The justice said, “I know you are guilty and you know it. Remember that one day you will stand before a better and wiser judge and you will be dealt with according to justice, and not according to the law.”
By the way, later on this burglar entered a house in Antwerp, Belgium, and he was unexpectedly interrupted in what he was doing. He ran out the back door, scaled a nine-foot wall and fell into a prison compound. [laughter] God has his ways both on earth and in heaven. So, remember that injustice on earth is recorded in heaven.
Third, remember that today’s injustice is tomorrow’s victory. You see, God, who is so great in his providential government of the world, used injustice to get Jesus crucified. And that’s why the Bible makes that interesting statement in the book of Acts that it was wicked hands that crucified Jesus. It was wicked hands that tried him, but in the end it was the providence of God because God wanted Jesus to die on the Passover, and when the Passover lambs were being slain, at that very moment Jesus was dying, so God was using injustice for his own purposes.
I need to speak to you candidly today and say that injustice does not impede the purposes of God. The God whom we serve is so great, so wonderful and so dependable that you can know that no matter what injustice there is, it will be answered, and it will be answered justly.
Now here’s the good news. Even though we deserve justice, and justice means that you and I would be lost forever, God did something wonderful. God used the injustice of the courts of Jesus’ day to get him crucified, and then God did something that was just, and that is he took and put upon Jesus the sins of all who would believe on him, and Jesus became legally guilty of your sin and mine. Well, you say, “That is unjust.” In fact, there are those who would say that God did something very unjust. To lay on an innocent man sins and crimes that he didn’t commit would be unjust, and that is true except for the fact that Jesus received this voluntarily, and because he received it voluntarily you and I can escape the just penalty of the law because he bore it all because of his grace and his mercy.
The Bible teaches that there are two categories of people. There are those who will entirely accept and endure the just payment for their sins, and they will bear that payment forever and ever, which is just by the way, for reasons I will not go into today. Those are the people who will not see the mercy of God, but there’s another category of people and that is those who trust Jesus Christ as Savior who bore their guilt and who bore their punishment and when we trust Christ like that, we are exempt from eternal judgment even though there may be consequences to what we’ve done here on earth. We are exempt from eternal judgment. Why? It is because the Lord laid upon him the iniquity of us all. Jesus died - the just, the Bible says, for the unjust to bring us to God. At the end of the day, we are so glad that we have a Savior that we sang about today, “Hallelujah, What a Savior,” to save us from the wrath to come.
Now, the judgment seat of Christ is where God is going to adjudicate issues that belong just to Christians. They are headed for heaven, but before they enter heaven God needs to make sure that justice has been appropriately adjudicated, and that will happen at that judgment seat. You know, you have a Christian man who runs off and marries somebody else. He doesn’t make marriage payments or pay child support. It’s all upon the wife and the good will and the involvement of the mother, and he’s a Christian, and she’s a Christian. Do you think when they get to heaven they’re all going to be there and God will say, “Well, let bygones be bygones? You’re both Christians. Both of you can enter into the pearly gates, and by the way, as you enter, please hold hands.” It’s not going to be that way. That’s why the Bible says, “Judge everything before the time because the Lord will come (and he’s speaking to Christians) who will set right the injustices.” Even among Christians there will be an adjudication, and after that adjudication and all charges and countercharges are fully answered, then you have the opportunity of entering into heaven, and then indeed, they’ll want to hold hands, because justice will be done.
From my heart to yours today, throughout all of eternity it says in the book of Revelation we shall sing, “Just and true are thy ways, thou king of saints.” God is just. Justice shall eventually rule, and we can serve God today with joy.
You know, that old story that has been told many, many times fits so well here that I’m going to tell it again. There are different versions of it, buy my version says that a man was speeding and not able to pay his speeding ticket, so he came before the judge and let’s suppose the judge said, “You have to pay a hundred dollars,” but the man didn’t have a hundred dollars, so the story is that the judge left the bench, took off his robe, went and stood there with the defendant, and took out a hundred dollars from his own pocket and laid it on the table. Then the judge put on his robe and went back and took the hundred dollars and said, “Thank you very much. Your debt has been paid.” That’s the Gospel. God demands because we are sinners. God supplies what he demands. Justice is fully served. Jesus absorbed what belongs to us, and we walk free. It’s not only just but it’s dripping with undeserved mercy. Today, my friend, in Jesus you can find that forgiveness, that cleansing, that acceptance because he justly paid our penalty.
Father, we thank you today for your grace, and I want to thank you for your providence. I want to thank you, Lord, that you can even make the wrath of man please you. I thank you that in grace, Lord Jesus, you are able to give us the ability to be able to trust you no matter what. For those who have never believed in Jesus we ask that today they shall turn their hearts towards the Savior who paid a penalty that sinners might believe, and Lord, we thank you that all things are from your hand, and we give you praise in Jesus name. Amen.