12:00 – Condemned by the Righteous (March 24, 2019)
Matthew 26: 57 – 63a
12:00 – Condemned by the Righteous
We’re continuing our series on the 24 hours that changed the world; the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life. We left off last time in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus had just been in prayer that God would remove the cup from him, and now he has returned to his disciples and they were asleep. And we pick it up now when Jesus’ betrayer arrives. Judas arrives with a crowd, with a mob really, and he identifies Jesus by walking up to him and kissing him.
The actual arrest happens at night, roughly 2 to 3 o’clock in the morning. They arrest Jesus at night because they’re afraid that there might still be crowds who are loyal to Jesus, or want to be loyal to Jesus, and would at least follow him if he had asked for them to rise up and free him. He wouldn’t have asked, but it does show that they still don’t quite understand him and what he stood for. In fear of causing a riot, they arrest him quietly…at night…at two in the morning.
As it happens, the disciples at least are still around him, and one of the disciples pulls a sword and begins to attack the mob. They believe this is the time that Jesus is going to take up arms. But Jesus stops the disciple and tells him to put away his sword. In one of the Gospels, we see the disciple chop off the ear of one of the servants of the high priest who was standing there arresting Jesus. And Jesus, while being arrested, while being taken away to ultimately be killed, stops to heal him. That’s who Jesus is. That’s what we are called to be as followers of him; the kind of person who would stop to heal one of the people taking him to be killed.
One of the things that’s going to be a theme today is not to be a hypocrite; you need to ensure the actions you are doing agree with what you say you value. And here, Jesus is showing them everything he has taught; putting into action what he taught as he healed this man who was coming to kill him.
Jesus tells his disciples to stand down. He tells them that they cannot fight, that he won’t allow them to fight, and without that option they decide to flee. Jesus is left alone with his captors. The only disciple still at his side being Judas, who had just betrayed him with a kiss. In that situation, Jesus is led away.
Jesus is taken to the high priest’s house. The Sanhedrin is called together to be in trial of Jesus at that very moment. In Matthew and Mark, we are told that the trial takes place at night. In Luke it’s in the morning, but I think I really believe Matthew in Mark that it did happen that night. They call forth the entire council, they wake them up and bring the Sanhedrin in at that moment to ensure that the trial can happen. They seek to convict Jesus of something serious before those who might come to his aid get out of shock or even wake up.
The traditional course of action would be to wait; and actually not just wait till morning. The council does not usually meet during the festivals, and this is the biggest of the festivals and the second largest holiday in the year. Normal course of action would be to wait until morning on probably Monday. There’s nothing normal that happens; nothing orthodox to happen now. We wake up. We have the trial at night. By this point the high priests are not acting rational. They’re recklessly pursuing something they had wanted to do for two years because it’s finally in their grasp; they finally have Jesus in custody; and they will pursue his death, whatever need to be done.
The Scriptures tell us that the religious leaders were searching for false witnesses to testify against Jesus. In some of the other Gospels they get angry because no two witnesses can agree, but here in Matthew they’re said to be actively searching for false witness. At least they’re willing to accept people’s false witness, they just need to get two false witnesses to agree.
What they ultimately want to do is to charge Jesus with blasphemy. What they want to do is to convict him of a crime against God. And in order to do it, they’re going to ask people to break one of the 10 Commandments. Eventually Jesus almost seems to takes pity on them and just give them what they need when they could not find two people to agree. And at this point, they will mock him, and they will spit on him. Hatred can lead us to do things that we would never believe ourselves capable of doing at any other time. Hatred can lead us to doing things that maybe in a few years, even a few months afterwards, we would look back upon in shame. The religious leaders were being hypocritical. They had a set statement of belief, and that statement included following the 10 commandments; that statement included justly upholding the law. And they’re throwing all that aside to get one man who had been a thorn in their side for years.
So why did that happen? How did it happen? How did it get to this point, that dignified, elite high priests are fumbling for false testimony to put a man to death, and start spitting upon him. This would be like the President and the leading people from Congress mocking and then spitting on a reporter from MSNBC. It just shouldn’t happen. And yet just that kind of thing happens nowadays. Maybe not the president and leadership from Congress, but certainly high dignified people do undignified things that are antithetical to their stated values. And how did how did they get there? More importantly, how do we prevent it from happening to us?
A few versus earlier, as Jesus was first entering the city, Jesus arrived over the Mount of Olives. There’s a spot on the Mount of Olives where you’re walking along the path, and you turn and can see Jerusalem. You see the wide, panoramic view of this beautiful city. It’s a gorgeous, moving sight, even if you don’t know what happened. But were told that when Jesus gets to that point that he turns the corner, and he can see all of Jerusalem, and there he weeps over the city. He predicts that the city will be destroyed and the people would be dragged away into exile; and he says it is “because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”
Now, it would be easy to read that as a punishment narrative. In other words, “I came to you and you didn’t recognize me, you rejected me; therefore I will reject you and you shall be destroyed in punishment.” But I don’t view it that way. I don’t think that’s the point Jesus is making. Rather, I think he’s looking at the kinds of people who would reject him; specifically what it says about that the religious leaders, the leadership of Jerusalem not only that they would reject him, but the reasons they reject him.
We see in this trial a lot of those reasons on display. We see that they are not interested in listening to him; they are interested in telling him. We see that they have developed an outright hatred for the man who stands before them. And if you remember back a little further in the the Gospels, you can remember some of the times that the Gospels tell us that the Pharisees got angry; where it even says the words “and from that moment on they were looking for an opportunity to kill him.” It was when he began teaching; when he began saying things like “love your enemy,” “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” “be humble before God,” “show mercy like the Good Samaritan.” It was teaching like that causes them to get angry at him. It was actions; like eating with sinners and tax collectors and outcasts that the leadership had cast out. It was actions like including a tax collector in his disciples, like even picking disciples that weren’t trained by the Jerusalem elite. All of those things they saw as a challenge to them, as an attack on them, and for that they were going after him.
It is also the rejection of those things that lead to the revolts by the Jews against Rome that would lead to the destruction of Jerusalem and the devastation of the Jewish people during the upcoming century. It was those revolts that cause Jerusalem to be leveled. It is not a stretch in my mind to suggest that the things that were the very reason they did not recognize Jesus were the very things that would lead to their destruction; thus the because statement from Jesus. And I don’t think it’s a stretch either to suggest that if they had listened to Jesus, if they had an acted of the very things he had taught such as love of enemies and acceptance of the oppressed, that it might have prevented their destruction by the Romans. It may have prevented the revolts entirely, or reduced them in size to that Rome doesn’t view them as much of a threat. But they rejected Jesus, they rejected his teachings. I believe they reaped the consequences.
Of course the hatred grew to the level it was because they were afraid. Mostly, they were afraid of losing their power. And they built a consensus among the public to go along with them by making them afraid: afraid of losing their nation, and playing on the fear they already had of the Roman soldiers. As a wise philosopher once said, “fear leads to anger…anger leads to hate…hate leads to suffering.” And so it was that fear is at the heart of the crowd as it turns on Jesus.
And this is not the only time that it happened. Fear was at the heart of the Salem witch trials. Playing off that fear was at the heart of Hitler’s rise in Germany in the 30s. Fear was at the heart of McCarthyism in the 50s. I would dare say that there are a lot of times I see fear being manipulated and playing a part in comments I see surrounding Muslims and immigrants today. It led to 49 deaths last week. Even if you don’t agree with me about that, you’d be hard-pressed to miss the amount our politicians today play on our fears. Just look at the ads you suffered through at the end of last year. 80% of the ads were negative ads that could be boiled down to “Don’t elect them; our country will fall!” Just wait till 2020. This story is not really a story about 71 Jewish leaders putting one rabbi on trial 2000 years ago. This is the story about the human condition. This is a story about us.
It’s pretty easy to say “it was just the leadership.” But let me tell you, Jesus is not crucified without the crowds. And I really assure you that Peter doesn’t deny without the crowds. Peter was never accused by the religious leadership. Peter is only ever accused by the people outside the house in the courtyard. Peter only experiences fear, Peter only denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed, because the crowd was going along with it.
Every time that atrocities happen in our world it is not just the leadership. Atrocities can only happen because the followers, the crowds, go along with it. And it is often times the crowds that do the dirty work.
So again I ask, as I will quite often in the series I think, how do we avoid it? The religious leaders had a stated value system and they throw it out, and they do things that, when they get their cool head later, they probably will look back on in shame. We know some of them do because two of them within the next 12 hours will go to Pilate and say, “hey can we at least give this man a proper burial?” They’re already beginning to think “maybe we shouldn’t have done that.” So how do we avoid doing that in the first place?
For starters, I go back to the spiritual command to “write the Scriptures upon your heart.” And you are doing that right now. Congratulations. Good job! Every time you open the Scriptures and read the Scriptures, you are writing them on your heart. That’s one of the reasons that I hit on doing that so often; that you go to the Our Daily Bread or to the Upper Room in the back. Because every time you open them up you are writing another Scripture on your heart. Every time you come to worship and you listen to me talk for 15-20 minutes you’re writing a Scripture on your heart.
What that does for you? I believe is it creates a library of Scriptures within your very soul that can be pulled from. I’m a pastor of 5 years, and I do not have an abundance of Scripture verses memorized down to the word. I would fail sword drills. But what I do have is a large number of biblical stories that I can pull out and I can tell. It may not be word for word. I may forget names. I may not even be able tell you exactly what book is in (I can tell you approximately where it is). But I know the story. And I think that’s what this is really about: that you know the stories, and you know the lessons; that you have a large library of them within your soul so that when you get in a situation like this, the Holy Spirit can stop you, and grab a story out of your library and go, “hey, do you remember when Pastor Michael talked about that one parable of Jesus, and it was really boring for 15 minutes; do you remember that lesson? Apply that here.”
When Jesus is preparing for his ministry, he goes out into the desert to fast for 40 days and 40 nights; and that’s what Lent is based off of, at least in part. At the end of that, Jesus is tempted by Satan. And he responds to Satan‘s temptations each and every time with Scripture. He pulled a scripture out of his library, and he stayed strong in the face of temptation because of it. So I believe in this idea of writing Scripture on your heart and your soul as key to avoiding acting like the religious leaders and like the crowd did in the midst of this 24 hours.
Secondly I think you must keep your anger in check. I’ll talk a little bit more on this next week, but if fear leads to anger and anger that leads to hate; anger is the most rational of those three emotions. So if you keep anger in check you can stop the process. Consistently question why you’re doing what you’re doing. Consistently ask if your actions are consistent with your values; which as a Christian your value is to “love of the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love others as you love yourself.” In other words, treat others as you wish to be treated. Everything you do should be consistent with that. It is only when they became hypocritical that the religious leadership had a major problem.
If you’re going to take a proper lesson from this episode, it has to be a warning about what could happen when we stop listening to the voice of Jesus; when we stop listening to the Word of God. This week let us listen. Let us walk patiently this week. Let us listen to what Jesus, the Word, might be saying into our hearts. And then come back next week and write a little more Scripture on your heart. Amen.