Jesus Before the Sanhedrin
Matthew 26.57 - 75
Before the Sanhedrin
What would make a difference?
Is there something to know about Jesus, that would make a difference to how you face the COVID-19 Pandemic?
That is, is it possible that there’s something about who Jesus is, that would change how you think,
How you live,
How you respond, to the challenge facing the UK and the world today?
Now, you might not think that Jesus has anything to do with coronavirus particularly, and the passage we’ve just heard read doesn’t mention it at all,
But these verses in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life, confront us with the question, “Who is Jesus?”,
Is he something special?
The claims that he’s made about himself all through his life, are they true?
And does who he is, mean he has anything to offer us, can he do anything for us, in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.
In this section Jesus is on trial, particularly for claims that he’s made about himself.
A friend of mine who’s a lawyer was once given some advice;,
In a trial, if the law is on your side, argue the law.
And if the facts are on your side, argue the facts.
And if neither the law nor the facts are on your side, just raise your voice and bang on the table!
Well here Jesus has both the law and the fact on his side in this trial before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council.
But neither of those are used in determining the outcome, are they?
Some will stop at nothing in order to silence Jesus (v 57 – 63)
Of course, to call this a “trial”, is really to stretch the use of the word to its most generous!
These religious leaders will stop at nothing in their attempt to be rid of Jesus.
Verse 59, 59 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. 60 But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.
They’ve already reached their verdict in their minds, haven’t they?
This is not about finding out the truth about who Jesus is, whether he is who he claimed to be.
To condemn Jesus, they have no regard for honesty or justice themselves.
These are the lengths that some people will go to, in order to be rid of Jesus.
And sometimes I think we fall into this trap ourselves.
We accuse Jesus of things that perhaps, I’m guilty of myself!
“Why doesn’t Jesus do something about the problem of suffering and sickness in the world?”, I ask, from the comfort of my middle-class life, with expensive holidays, and hobbies, that could relieve suffering and sickness for literally thousands of people.”
See, what we find Jesus to be, is shaped by our attitude to him.
He doesn’t change. When people reject Jesus, it’s not because of the evidence.
But notice just how above reproach Jesus is!
They call many false witnesses, but they couldn’t find any false evidence!
As these false witnesses takes the stand, and rattle off their lies and accusations, the whole assembly recognises, “oh yeah, that bit couldn’t possibly be true,
And that accusation there, neither we nor anyone else is going to believe that”,
Such has been Jesus life and conduct, that everybody knows the lies made up about him here are just that, lies!
Jesus is the temple which will rise again
Finally though, 2 men front up, and, verse 61, they declared, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’ ”
Now, we haven’t moved on from false evidence to real evidence, have we? This is still false.
Jesus hadn’t said that at all.
What he had said, and we know because it’s recorded for us in John chapter 2 verse 19;, Jesus had said to the Jewish Authorities, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
It’s quite a distinction, isn’t it?
It’s a bit like me saying, “If you die of COVID-19, I’ll send a sympathy card to your family.”,
But if someone were to misquote me and say, ‘Clayton threatened, “I will make you die of COVID-19, and I’ll send a sympathy card to your family”’,
Clearly that’s very different!
In John 2, John the Apostle, who was there, he was an ear-witness to these words from Jesus, he tells us exactly what Jesus meant;, saying, John 2:21, the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said.
Jesus was saying “I am the temple.”
Now, to equate yourself with a building, does seem a little odd to us!
If I said, “I am the Gherkin”, “I am the Shard.” You’d think I’ve gone slightly crazy.
What does that even mean?
But think of a building where the purpose and the function are what comes to mind first.
If I said “I am the hospital”, you’d still wonder “Why is Clayton saying that?” But you’d immediately have a sense of what I’m claiming;,
“I am the place where people come to get healthy.”
Or if I said “I am the Palace of Westminster”, because we associate those buildings with their purpose and function, all of a sudden we understand the claim, even if you don’t agree that I am what I’m claiming about myself!
So if Jesus’ claim to be the temple is being used against him here, what is he claiming about himself?
In the temple you met God
I guess most obviously, the temple was the place where God’s presence dwelled in a unique and symbolic way, and so the temple was the place where you could go to meet God.
Back when King Solomon first built the temple, in his dedication prayer 1 Kings 8, he prayed to God, May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’, so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place.
And as that prayer of dedication goes on, we see that the temple was also a place for all the peoples of earth to come and encounter God.
In the temple forgiveness was offered
The temple was also the place where forgiveness was offered.
All of us on our own are far from God, we want nothing to do with him, that’s sin,
But in the temple, you could offer a sacrifice.
Through the shedding of blood, through the sacrifice that pointed forward to the one great sacrifice God was going to provide, sin could be atoned for, and forgiveness was offered.
In the temple God exercised judgment
And the temple was also the place from which God exercised judgment and established justice.
Now, this is the bit we like, isn’t it?
We want justice.
Again, in Solomon’s prayer of dedication, 31 “When a man wrongs his neighbor, and he comes, before your altar in this temple, 32, Judge between your servants, condemning the guilty and, Declare the innocent not guilty.
Because of what happened in the temple, you could be sure that justice would be done;, that God cared about evil being punished.
That’s obviously really brief, but for Jesus to claim to be the temple, is to claim that those various functions of the temple now happen in him.
It’s why this accusation gets traction when nothing else would stick.
See verse 62? 62 Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” 63 But Jesus remained silent.
His claim is being deliberately misquoted,
But Jesus stands by the claim, because he wants people to realise, who he is; He is now how we encounter God,
Jesus is where we find forgiveness,
Where all people, no matter who they are can know God,
And where God’s justice is seen and established.
Because of Jesus, we don’t need a building.
And wow, isn’t that great news right now!
See, if you want to know what God is like,
If you want an encounter with God, come to Jesus.
The heart of the matter: Is Jesus the Messiah? (63 – 68)
And so the question of who Jesus is, moves to the very front and centre of this so-called trial.
And so the high priest asks Jesus, in the light of all this discussion about temple building, are you the Messiah?
See there from the second half of verse 63;, The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God:, Tell us, if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”
And Jesus replies; 64 “You have said so,”, “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
It’s a “yes”, as can be seen by the high priest’s response, but it’s a round about way of saying yes, isn’t it?
And Jesus might take the long way round his answer because he doesn’t like the oath that the high priest is demanding. He’s already told his followers, “don’t swear oaths that make it seem like some of your words are more truthful than others.”
But the bigger issue is that Jesus is the Messiah, but that doesn’t mean what the high priest thinks.
That line from the Princess Bride film, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means” applies here!
And so Jesus gives this slightly long-winded answer to acknowledge the truth of what the high priest has said, but also to correct his understanding.
We see in the gospel accounts the Jewish expectation that the Messiah would be a military leader, someone who would get rid of the occupying Romans, and make Israel great again!
But Jesus sees much more serious problems than the presence of the Roman army on the streets of Jerusalem.
Jesus sees separation from God,
People trapped in sin,
People living in God’s world with no regard for God, and he understands that as God’s chosen king, his role is to bridge that separation, and to rescue lost people and bring them to God.
So his response to Caiphas here, is to say, “Yes, I’m the Messiah, but let me just sketch out for you what that means,
The Messiah isn’t a military ruler who can build a wall and get rid of the Romans,
The Messiah is the one who can bring you to God.
To give you the access to God that you can’t gain yourself,
To bridge the great divide.”
Yes, I’m the Messiah, and this Messiah, well From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
This is not some military officer, this is one who is exalted to God’s right hand,
In fact so close is this picture, sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One, that it’s a claim to divinity.
No one gets that close to God unless they are God.
See, God’s always had social distancing!
You can’t just walk into God’s presence, “hey God, shove over. I want to sit next to you.” I mean even just saying that sounds appalling.
I think we often tend to think of God as just a slightly better version of ourselves;,
Like me, but less selfish, and he doesn’t lose his temper quite so quickly.”
But not only is God utterly distinct from us;, he is creator, we are creatures. He is as different to us as you are, distinct from a stick figure you sketch on a page.
God is also holy and pure, and we are sinful.
No one gets to sit at the right hand of the Mighty One.
That is to be equivalent with God.
In Psalm 100, Israel’s King David had described God offering this place of honour to someone who David calls “my Lord.”
In the Psalm, this Lord is someone who rules over the nations,
Who’s given authority by God,
His reign is eternal,
And he dispenses God’s justice over all the earth.
Clearly not just your average human!
And then the second part of Jesus’ response, that he, the Son of Man, as he calls himself, would be seen coming on the clouds of heaven, this picks up language from Daniel chapter 7, of one like a Son of Man, that is a human, who was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him.
Again, no mere human, especially with the added detail of worship;,
Worship is reserved for God alone.
Jesus is responding to the High Priest;, “your picture of the Messiah is too small.”
God’s promised king, is not just good for one battle against an occupying army,
As God’s Messiah, I will reign,
And dispense justice,
For all of eternity,
You know how every now and then you hear someone say, “I like to think of Jesus as”, dot dot dot, and then they fill in that blank with something about Jesus that always seems to fit exactly with what they already want for themselves, and have decided they really need.
“I like to think of Jesus as the voice in my head that gives me encouragement when I need it”,
“I like to think of Jesus as someone who looks out for the poor and downtrodden”,
“I like to think of Jesus as a great source of wisdom for the world”,
All of which I found people saying on the internet this week.
But how small are those pictures of Jesus, compared to this picture?!
The danger of coming up with some understanding of who Jesus is on our own, is that we’ll miss 99.999 percent of the reality!
From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
This isn’t just a wise man or a good human teacher, any more than it’s the military leader the Jews were expecting.
Jesus is God’s eternal king,
Ruling over all of creation,
From his rightful place, seated next to his Father in heaven!
If even the high priest’s picture of Jesus, someone who’s going to free our nation, if even that is too small a picture, and Jesus needs to correct it, how much more any small picture of Jesus we might have.
There’s no doubt is there, that the high priest absolutely understands what Jesus is claiming about himself.
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. 66 What do you think?”
“He is worthy of death,” they answered.
The Sanhedrin understand that Jesus is claiming not just to be the Messiah, but to be the everlasting and eternal God, worthy of worship, come in flesh as a human.
My friends who say to me, “Jesus never claimed to be God”, they’ve misunderstood this, haven’t they?
He is worthy of death,
These claims of Jesus here are unmistakable claims of divinity, to the point that they lead directly to his murder on a charge of blasphemy.
Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him 68 and said, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?”
Jesus had various altercations, let’s call them, with the religious leaders;,
Disputes over the Sabbath,
He disagreed with their, rather flippant approach to divorce,
He challenged their thinking on purity, and what made someone clean or unclean,
He taught his disciples to pray in a way that was completely unknown to the religious leaders, and yet none of things generate this response.
They were all part of the general hostility towards Jesus, and certainly his understanding of the Sabbath led to the first murmurings of a plot to kill him,
But what makes those murmurings boil over to physical violence, and a death sentence?
Jesus’ claims about who he is.
See friends, this is the dividing point.
What matters more than anything else, is who Jesus is.
It’s where Matthew started this gospel account, chapter 1 verse 1, This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, and it’s been what drives the story through to the end, when Jesus says to disciples after his resurrection, echoing those words from Daniel 7 again, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
And of course it matters today as much as, any day.
That question we started with;, “Is there something about Jesus that shapes the way I can face COVID-19”?
Well, if Jesus is, now, today, sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One, then he is in control.
A man who knows what it is to live in a human body with all its needs and frailties is sovereign over all the world.
Which means we don’t have to fear,
We don’t have to be anxious,
Jesus is ruling over the universe.
Kind, compassionate, loving Jesus, is in control.
And if Jesus is the Son of Man, given all power and authority, then he is able to effect change in his world;,
We should be praying to Jesus, about our needs, and the needs facing our country and our world.
We know that he longs to act in answer to our prayers, here’s the assurance that he is, in fact, able to.
He has all authority, and sovereign power.
And if Jesus’ reign is an eternal reign, as it’s pictured in Psalm 110, with him sitting at God’s right hand forever,
Then clearly death is not the end. It’s not the end for Jesus, as we look to his crucifixion,
And it’s not the end for us.
While COVID-19 means we’re confronted with death in a, for us, new and unusual way, if Jesus is who he claims to be, there is something beyond death.
Coronavirus is not the end.
Which means we don’t have to be afraid of death,
It’s not unknown. Jesus had gone through it and come out the other side.
And if Jesus is the one, elevated to God’s right hand, to be given worship, as that vision in Daniel 7 promises, then our response to who Jesus is matters.
Matters more than anything else.
Matters more than whether we get sick,
Matters more than if we have a job or lose it,
Matters more even, than if we die.
Since Jesus is equal with God, sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One, then to refuse to acknowledge him as God,
To withhold our worship, is a terrible offence.
Peter denies knowing Jesus (v 69 – 75)
The rejection of Jesus continues though, doesn’t it?
See verse 69, Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.
We’ve had religious leaders want nothing to do with Jesus, Now it’s one of his closest friends.
Earlier in the chapter, Peter had boldly declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”
Now he can’t even bring himself to admit being with Jesus, to a servant girl.
In the social and power structures of the first century AD, a servant girl wasn’t really a strong and terrifying figure. And yet Peter is too frightened even to admit to her that he had been with Jesus.
He then withdraws out to the gateway, perhaps into the darkness to be a bit more hidden, when the same observation is made;, verse 71 “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
Again, Peter denies knowing Jesus. Only for the question to come a third time;, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.”
I never used to think I had an accent! But moving to London has convinced me I do!
But Peter’s northern accent identifies him as someone from up in Galilee, where much of Jesus’ ministry was focussed.
Once more he denies it. But notice 2 things. One is the increasing force of Peter’s denials;
He denied it,
Then he denied it, with an oath,
Then he began to call down curses,
This isn’t just slip of the tongue,
A momentary loss of clarity.
Peter is committed to being separate from Jesus.
This is a deliberate choice of behaviour.
Let’s not think the same thing could never happen to us.
Let’s not rush to judgement of Peter, without recognising it’s easy for us to shy away from being identified with Jesus.
And certainly the pressure can feel intense, much as it must have for Peter, when someone asks where we think God fits into the Coronavirus situation,
Or in a more normal day, when we’re faced with sensitivity training if we stand with Jesus on some issue of morality and wellbeing,
When others around us actively reject Jesus as he’s presented here, the Messiah, the Son of God and there’s an opportunity to speak the truth about who he is, we know this temptation, don’t we.
I don’t think I can rightly say I’m less likely to stumble than Peter.
But also remember that Matthew has included this simple little episode, immediately after Jesus’ trial.
I think we’re supposed to see the contrast.
Peter can’t tell the truth to a servant girl, or anyone.
Jesus is under arrest,
Before the leading authorities of Judaism,
He’s facing death,
And is the victim of physical violence,
And yet he speaks the truth,
He holds to his purpose,
And doesn’t let anything distract him from that.
So let’s see that contrast, and let’s choose which one of these we want to be like.
And yet, even though this is the last time Peter appears in Matthew’s gospel, it’s not the end of the story for Peter, is it?
I take it that his bitter weeping in verse 75, is a sign of genuine sorrow and repentance.
And as Jesus is raised from the dead and ascends to heaven, Peter is one of those commissioned by Jesus with the good news of forgiveness and hope,
In fact as the story of Jesus’ work continues in the opening chapters of the book of Acts, Peter is the key figure.
Choosing to protect ourselves, Or holding onto status, or reputation, instead of following Jesus whole-heartedly, wherever he leads, need not disqualify us from being useful to him.
This kind of failure, like Peter’s doesn’t mean we can’t be a Christian, or can’t do ministry that builds others up, and brings glory to Jesus.
If we’re grieved by our failures, and we repent, turning away from those choices, we’ll find ourselves welcomed, reassured, trusted, and given the privilege of serving.
This rejection of Jesus was always part of God’s plan
It is a bit of sorry way for this part of Matthew’s gospel account to finish, isn’t it?
The leaders reject and condemn Jesus,
And even those closest to him abandon him.
If you were trying to work out “well, is Jesus worth following? Worth trusting with my life?”,
You might think at this point, it’s not going very well!
Does he offer me anything in the kind of national crisis we’re in at the moment? Perhaps not much!
“He is worthy of death,” they answered.
A total and utter rejection.
But this is not a, misfire in Jesus’ plan.
This is exactly the plan,
This is how God had said things would play out all along!
Just a few chapters earlier, in Matthew 21, Jesus rebukes the chief priests and the Pharisees, much of this exact same group, and he quotes from Psalm 118, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“ ‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
Psalm 118:22 - 24
It’s a tragedy, but it’s not unexpected.
How wonderful to be reminded, that God is in control,
That even when it looks to us, or to the world around us, like God’s plan must surely have fallen apart,
That he’s lost control,
Or that evil and sinister forces, or even just random chance, when it looks like those are driving the events of our lives,
Clearly when things are at their very worst, and they don’t get much worse than God’s son being sentenced to death, on trumped up charges, by the very people he came to save,
If that’s not a sign that God’s out of control, but in fact something God predicted all along and even used sovereignly to achieve his purposes,
Then surely we don’t need to be anxious, when our circumstances suggest that God has lost control.
If God had it under control, back then, when his son was handed over to be executed,
We have every reason to believe that God’s got it under control today.