Blog Archives

See No Evil…

 

1/20/14

“And Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’ After this he went out again to the Jews and said to them, ‘I find no grounds for a charge in him.’”

(John 18:38)

 

“Pilate then summoned the chief priests and the leaders and the people, saying to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people, but behold, I have examined him before you and I found no guilt in this man with respect to your charges against him. And neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Behold, nothing deserving of death has been done by him. Thus I will punish and release him.’”

(Luke 23:13-16)

 

There is some overlap here, but Luke is really just providing us with a little more detail on the content of the conversation being had between Pilate and the Jewish authorities. Frankly, Pilate wants nothing to do with this Jesus. The offer to release is an interesting one that we will reflect on further when we approach the tradition of releasing a prisoner at Passover, but one can speculate what was going through Pilate’s mind. Here is an angry mob desiring Jesus’ death, if he releases this man to the mob, what else would he expect apart from the mob’s angry murder of the man? Essentially, he must know that Jesus’ blood will be spilled, the question will be, by whose hands and Pilate wants nothing of it — and neither did Herod, which is (on a human level) why they are passing Jesus back and forth like a hot potato. Of course, in hindsight, we recognize that each player in this account is culpable and the passing back and forth is divinely designed to ensure that all the wicked had a part in this man’s death.

And when speaking of “all the wicked,” that finger needs to be pointed at us as well. It is because of sin that Jesus was sent to die — and it is because of our sin that we need that sacrificial death of our Lord. That means we too are part of that guilty group that would condemn Jesus. We stand guilty with the crowd of shouting, “Crucify!” if only by our actions.

How often, too, we stand with Pilate in wanting to turn a blind eye toward sin and unrighteousness. It is easy to fall into that trap. Somehow we get it in our heads that if we don’t see it, touch it, taste it, smell it, or hear about it (like those five monkeys) we won’t be guilty of it. But what if we know about it? Washing our hands of the act, as Pilate did, does not excuse our guilt. God regularly calls his people to seek to work justice in this world, especially for the poor and outcast — and Jesus qualifies on both levels at this point! So, the sin of omission is just as damning as the sin of commission.

Loved ones, examine your lives and reflect on how God calls you to take a stand in this world. It might not be in a murder trial, but God might be calling you to take a stand against injustice in your local community and not remain silent even if remaining silent is the popular thing to do. Ultimately it is God’s design that our sins would be wiped clean by this work of Christ and the cross to come, but we must understand that we all stand guilty of Jesus’ death because of our sins. Let us live in a way that reflects that knowledge and does not follow the pattern of Pilate and Herod.

Marvelling at Christ

“Then Pilate said to him, ‘Don’t you hear all of the things of which they are accusing you?’ Yet, he gave no answer to him, not even to one word, to the point that the Governor was quite amazed.”

(Matthew 27:13-14)

“And Pilate again asked him, saying, ‘Will you not answer? Look how many charges are against you!’ But Jesus gave no further reply to the point that Pilate was amazed.”

(Mark 15:4-5)

Here we see at least some depth to Pilate’s character. He knows that he has been cornered by the Jewish authorities, but at the same time he has no intention of being their puppet. He wants some sort of defense from Jesus so that he has something with which to work. We will see this move by Pilate several times in this trial and it should not be confused with care for Jesus, but simply seen as a way for Pilate to get this man’s blood off of his conscience and to keep the Jewish officials from running roughshod over him.

Yet, Pilate is amazed at Jesus’ silence. It is interesting to ponder the source of Pilate’s amazement. Often it is understood as Pilate just being astonished or confused that here is a man being accused of something that will possibly put him to death and he won’t answer the charges. Yet, the amazement can be understood in other ways as well. The term qauma/zw (thaumazo) is broad enough that it could refer to Pilate’s own frustration with the situation itself — essentially a sense of amazement that he has been dragged into this mess. At the same time, qauma/zw (thaumazo) is most commonly used to describe people’s reactions in the midst of God’s divine work, so the amazement could also be interpreted as a shudder at whose presence he happens to be in, though this is less likely given Pilate’s treatment of Jesus before him.

Yet, it raises the question for us as to how we respond to God himself. Are we amazed (in the divine sense) at the work of Jesus in our own midst? Do we enter into prayer and worship with reverence and when we do enter into prayer and worship, do we actually expect to find God there? Do we pray in confidence that we are speaking to a God who hears our prayers or do we just drop words into space out of habit? Loved ones, my prayer for you is that this idea of qauma/zw (thaumazo) would capture your spirit and your life as you approach God — not just in the big things, but also in the mundane things of life.

I stand amazed in the presence

Of Jesus the Nazarene,

And wonder how He could love me,

A sinner, condemned, unclean.

O how marvelous! O how wonderful!

And my song shall ever be:

O how marvelous! O how wonderful!

Is my Savior’s love for me!

— Charles Gabriel

Assumptions and Accusations

“But when the charges were made against him by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer.”

(Matthew 27:12)

 

“And the chief priests brought many charges against him.”

(Mark 15:3)

 

We have already seen Jesus’ using silence when he is confronted with these false charges. Note that the word here is kathgore/w (kategoreo), which is normally used in a legal context. These charges being lifted against Jesus are not meant as broad accusations, but they are given in a legal context — in this case, to try and have Jesus charged with a capitol offense. Much of Jesus’ silence, then should be seen as an appeal to Jewish law that no one may be put to death on the evidence of a single witness, but that two or three credible witnesses must be present to corroborate the accusations (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6-7; 19:5). And we have already seen that these false witnesses cannot seem to get their stories right. Jesus need not dignify their charges with a reply because there is no legal charge being brought.

As we see this, though, may we remember to look carefully at how we raise objections to those in our midst. How often, on the basis of one “gossipy” witness, we develop an opinion of someone else’s character — an impression that is often very difficult to undo. How often, on the basis of speculation, we jump to conclusions about who did this or that. How often, on the basis of a label, whether political, denominational, or otherwise, we make wrong assumptions about others. How often we are just as guilty of false accusations as these chief priests and officials are — and how often, when those first impressions are proven wrong, we fail to humble ourselves and apologize. May we seek to make amends with those who have remained silent at our false accusations.

Who Struck You!

* Note: to those of you who have been following this blog, my apologies for this past hiatus. I have been finishing up a text on Reformed Theology that I began over the summer, so put this to the side to finish that… Thanks for your patience.

 

“Then they spat upon his person and they beat him. Some slapped him saying, ‘Prophesy to us, O Christ, which one of us struck you?’”

(Matthew 26:67-68)

 

“And some began to spit on him and they covered his face and they struck him while saying to him, ‘Prophesy!’ And the assistants took charge of him having been beaten.”

(Mark 14:65)

 

There are times, when reading passages, where I cannot help but be overwhelmed by a sense of evil that permeates the actions that the text is recording. There is no other way to put it and any word short of evil, wickedness, diabolic, or foul just cannot seem to come close to describing these events. Jesus brought peace and truth; he was received with blows and spit — he came to his own and his own received him not (John 1:11). How could anyone act in such a way toward any human being is beyond me, let alone this human who is also God. To what end does this accomplish or achieve apart from demonstrating the wickedness of human hearts? Yet, that is exactly the purpose. Jesus endured the wickedness of wickedness for us even before he met judgment upon the cross — he is the Passover Lamb and the Scapegoat of Atonement (Leviticus 16:21-22) for his people — for me — and for all who are trusting in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Yet, let us take things a step further. Are we not guilty in the same way as these servants of satan who are tormenting Jesus? By our disobedience and intentional sin, do we not spit at Christ and mock his name? When we call ourselves Christian yet behave in a way that is consistent with a child of the devil, are we not just as guilty of hatred as those in the High Priest’s hall? I suggest that we are — and in fact, are doubly guilty because we know the truth as to who Jesus is. We may not have covered the face of our Lord and struck him with our two hands, but by the sins of our two hands are we not guilty of slapping our Lord. And, when we act sinfully thinking that God is not aware, are we not guilty of saying, “Who struck you?”

Loved ones, take these words to heart and ask yourself, does the way I live honor the one who endured this for me? If not, repent and turn from your wickedness, pursuing the righteousness of God.

Blasphemy!

“Then the High Priest rent his garments, saying, ‘Blasphemy! What witnesses yet do we have to have? Behold, you have now heard blasphemy! What do you rule?’ And they replied, ‘He is liable to death.’”

(Matthew 26:65-66)

 

“Then the High Priest rent his tunic, saying, ‘What witnesses yet do we have to have? You have heard blasphemy! What do you see?’ Then all of them condemned him as one liable to death.”

(Mark 14:63-64)

 

“Then he said, ‘What witnesses yet do we have to have? We have heard it from his own mouth!’”

(Luke 22:71)

 

A point, perhaps, in clarification. Some of our English translations render the High Priest as saying that they had heard “His blasphemy,” but that is not entirely accurate. Jesus has spoken no blasphemy and the text never inserts the personal pronoun within the sentence of Caiaphas. To make such an insertion implies that Caiaphas might have actually been confused about what Jesus was saying, thinking that Jesus had made a blasphemous statement. Yet, a better picture is of the High Priest manipulating the events of this trial like a puppeteer would put on a play and is seeking to use verbal force and innuendo to achieve the ends he has sought to achieve. He is a bully and those leaders amongst the priests who are with him understand that the only way to keep their positions and “move up in the organization” is to placate this forceful individual.

And of course, blasphemy had to be the charge that Caiaphas was seeking because it was the only charge within the context of being ruled by Rome, that they could legitimately seek the death penalty (in fact, it had to be a blasphemous act in or around the temple). Yet, there is no blasphemy on Jesus’ lips. Even in human terms, to speak of himself being a “son of God” is not that unusual for God’s people (Genesis 6:2; Deuteronomy 32:8; Matthew 5:9; Luke 20:36; Galatians 3:26). Similarly, there had been many who identified themselves as messiah’s of a sort, and again, this usually did not get the priests into such a frenzy. It is the fact that Jesus’ actions confirmed exactly what the prophets predicted of the Messiah and his miracles confirmed his divinity that got them upset — furthermore, Jesus did not simply claim to be a Son of God, but he claimed to be God himself — which, again was confirmed by prophesy and miracles — which would mean that the priests would have to submit to his authority, thus losing their own. That was something that the High Priest could not consider.

Isn’t it sad how often we get caught up in our own pride, our own status, and our own agenda — even for the church. Isn’t it sad how often we fail to notice God working through the humble in our midst when we wish to achieve a certain end or recognition. And isn’t it sad that we so often fail to notice God’s authority in our lives when we feel that we might achieve our ends. Oh, dear friends, what shall we do other than repent? For we are God’s, God is not ours. We are the clay in his hands — he does not serve us that we might achieve our ends. May we walk with humility and grace as we live our lives in this world and not seek our own ends, but seek Christ’s ends for us.

Time, Time, and What We Do with Our Time

“And, when the day came, the Elders of the people gathered with the Chief Priests and the Scribes and they led him to their Sanhedrin.”

(Luke 22:66)

 

“And they led Jesus away to the High Priest and all of the Chief Priests, the Elders, and the Scribes.”

(Mark 14:53)

 

The scriptures record that after Jesus’ interview with Annas he was sent to Caiaphas, but we don’t know a lot about the initial confrontation with the official High Priest of the people. Instead, the focus shifts to Peter in the courtyard and his denials. What we do know is that these events took place very late at night and towards the morning, thus, as Jesus is brought to Caiaphas, Caiaphas then takes Jesus before the Sanhedron — the formal legal body of the Jewish people centered in Jerusalem. Here, the “formal” trial will begin.

There is some degree of concern as to Luke’s reference of the day coming while Mark and Matthew do not mention the morning rising until later in the narrative. One might be tempted to resolve this dilemma by pointing to the difference in how the Jewish culture and the Roman culture marked time — the Jewish people marking a new day as starting at sundown (reflecting the creation account that there was “evening and morning…”) and the Roman people typically marking the start of a new day at midnight.

Yet, this approach raises more questions than it answers for two reasons. The first is that the Romans, being a world power, accommodated themselves to the territories in which they ruled, so there was a great deal of flexibility between the official Roman timetable when it came to festivals or political events and the common recording of time marked by people under the Roman Empire. The second reason, and a more significant one, is that Mark records Jesus’ death as taking place during “the ninth hour” (Mark 15:33). As Jesus is typically understood to have been on the cross from 12:00-3:00 PM, that means that Mark was beginning his day at 6:00 AM.

A simpler way to harmonize this is to see Matthew and Mark’s later, but more specific reference to “morning” as just that, the morning of the new day as the sun has risen and the hours of daytime are beginning to be counted (likely around 6:00 AM, or the “first hour”). Thus here, in Luke’s account, what we find is that the day is beginning to be near — arguably the first lightening of the darkness has begun and the new day is anticipated. And foreseeing the new day, Caiaphas takes Jesus to the Sanhedron for a pre-arranged trial to end Jesus’ ministry permanently.

Perhaps what is most important, though, is the presence of the whole council of Jewish leadership that will now be present. Indeed, this was required for major offenses to be tried, but it also makes all of them culpable in the execution of our Lord. How sad it is when those who have committed themselves to a study of God’s word are so blind as to miss seeing the one to whom the Word points. And, what is also important to remember is that these men stand as representatives not only of the Jewish people of their time, but of we Gentiles as well. It is because of all of our Sin that Jesus had to face these hostile men and die a sinner’s death. We were the one’s rightly condemned in this trial, but Jesus took that condemnation upon himself.

Loved ones, pursue Christ and do so with all your heart. Do not miss Christ in the scriptures as these scholarly men did and do not miss him in the person in the Gospel accounts. All of our hope rests in Jesus and in his completed work — not in anything we might do or achieve. He is worthy not only of our praise, but also of our sacrifice and service — may we all live our lives accordingly.

The Darkest Night — Peter’s Denials & Jesus’ Trials Begin

“They led him to Annas first, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was the High Priest in that given year. It was Caiaphas who plotted with the Jews that it would be useful that one man die for the group. And Simon Peter followed Jesus in addition to another disciple. As that disciple was known to the High Priest he was also allowed in with Jesus into the courtyard of the High Priest. But Peter stood outside of the door, therefore the other disciple who was known to the High Priest went out and spoke to the doorkeeper and brought Peter in.”

(John 18:12-16)

 

“And the ones who had seized Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the High Priest, where the Scribes and the Elders gathered.”

(Matthew 26:57)

 

“And Peter, from a distance, followed him as far as the courtyard of the High Priest and he was sitting with the guards and warming himself by the fire.”

(Mark 14:54)

 

“And they arrested him and led him off. They brought him to the house of the High Priest — Peter followed at a distance.”

(Luke 22:54)

 

As dark as this night already was, for Peter and Jesus, it was about to get darker. Jesus is ultimately tried by three groups prior to his execution — once here by the High Priest, twice before Pilate, and once by Herod. And of the groups that tried him, only that trial by the Pagan Roman — a Gentile! — had any semblance of order, and Pilate’s trial wasn’t a good one by any stretch of the imagination. And then there would be Peter’s denial. Grief is not adequate to describe the events of this night, but nothing short of grief can describe the sorrow that would befall the events that took place. According to Jewish custom, trials were to be held during the day and 2-3 credible witnesses were to be present. Darkness and lies reigned in the testimony of this night — even from Peter’s own lips…

As we look at the parallel accounts, though, we learn some interesting tidbits that are important to our understanding of this event. Notice how both Mark and John point out that it was Jesus that Peter was following. Mark does not say, “Peter followed them,” speaking of the mob that arrested Jesus, but he records that Peter followed “him.”  What a significant reminder to us even today that when in the midst of trying times, we should always be following Jesus — though perhaps not at a distance.

We are told that Jesus is taken to the courtyard of the High Priest for this trial and that the High Priest at the time was Caiaphas. John will also introduce Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, a little further into the narrative. There is some debate as to which of these men is the real “High Priest.” At one point, Luke seems to imply that both men were High Priests at the beginning of Jesus’ three-year ministry (Luke 3:2) but then seems to indicate in Acts that it was Annas who was the High Priest (Acts 4:6). At the same time, John seems very clear in this passage that it was Caiaphas who was High Priest (John 18:24). At the same time, this adds another level to the discussion. Did Jesus meet with Annas first and then get sent to Caiaphas as seems to be implied by John 18:12, or was this all one meeting where both men were present?

To know some history about these men is helpful in seeking to put this puzzle together, and thankfully, Annas is well known in Jewish historical writings. Annas was officially appointed High Priest in the year 6AD in what was then the newly established Roman province of Judaea and he was appointed by another figure known to Biblical scholarship: Quirinius the Roman Governor (see Luke 2:2 — note that the census of which Luke speaks took place earlier, when Judea was still part of the Syrian province). During his reign as High Priest, Annas used his position and influence to garner great amounts of wealth for himself and his family and influence in the powers that be — both in terms of the Roman and Jewish authorities. He was aligned with the Sadducees, and though deposed in 15AD, he still held an important seat in the Sanhedron.

While in Ancient Israel, the position of High Priest was considered one for life (see, for example, references to the liberty given to manslayers that came with the death of the High Priest), by Jesus’ day the role had become more or less a political one and not necessarily one held until death, as in Annas’ case. Though deposed, four of Annas’ sons would rise to power as High Priest, as well as Caiaphas, his son-in-law, and one grandson. Thus, while it is clear from the texts before us that Caiaphas was the official High Priest, Annas still holds a great degree of influence and is treated with the respect due to the High Priest. In some circles, we might refer to Annas as “High Priest Emeritus.”

As to the sequence of events, then, it is clear from John’s text that the soldiers escorted Jesus to Annas first and then to Caiaphas, yet from the description it appears that the events being described take place in the same location (not both the house of Annas and then the house of Caiaphas). The answer to this can be presented in a fairly simple way. Annas and Caiaphas both were clearly behind the plot to arrest and try Jesus for insurrection, but Annas would have been the one of the two with the informal connections to see such a large mob rallied and led by a cohort of temple guards. These guards were likely loyal to Annas and thus, to Annas Jesus was brought. Annas, it seems, had an initial (informal) conversation with Jesus to satisfy his own curiosity — perhaps even in the shadows of Caiaphas’ Court — and then when done with Jesus, he sent Jesus along to Caiaphas for the formal “trial.” Note that the text never says it was Annas’ courtyard or house — only that Jesus was led to Annas first. The simple logic of the account then, places these events in Caiaphas’ court with Annas, his father-in-law, helping to manipulate and pull strings.

And such continues the darkest night in history…