Posted on December 24, 2014
#85: Clinging To Truth
Have you been the victim of unfair treatment or, worse, of outright lies? There’s no hurt like it, especially when it comes from within the church, from those you thought of as fellow Christians and friends. How can you rightly respond when you’re the main course at your adversaries’ feast and truth isn’t on the menu?
Today’s study in Knowing Jesus can help us know what to do by watching Jesus in a similar situation.
Open your Bible and read Mark 14:53-65. You can read parallel accounts in Matthew 26:57-68; Luke 22:54a, 63-71; and John 18:12b-14, 19-24.
It was late—at least midnight, and possibly well after—when Judas led a large crowd of soldiers and officials into the dark garden at Gethsemane and greeted Jesus with a kiss of betrayal. Jesus was bound and led away, while His disciples fled into the night. Only Peter followed, but at a distance great enough to not be noticed.
Jesus was taken to the home of the high priest where a sham of a trial began. All three groups represented in the Sanhedrin (the Jews’ ruling body) were present: priests, elders, and teachers of the law. Of the Sanhedrin’s seventy-one members, only twenty-three were needed for a quorum. Though according to Mark 14:53 all of the priests were there, we can be confident that certain members of the elders and teachers, those like Nicodemus who were sympathetic to the cause of Christ (Jn. 7:50-52), were conveniently not invited.
The trial of Jesus broke many Jewish legal rules. The Sanhedrin normally convened at the temple in an assembly hall called the Chamber of Hewn Stone, holding court in a semi-circle with the high priest in the center. But this time, they held “a secret night meeting without advance notice in the high priest’s home (14:54), although they are investigating what they will claim is a capital offense.” (From The Bible Background Commentary, an excellent resource from InterVarsity Press.) In addition, Jewish law forbade trials on Sabbaths or feast days, making Passover week an illegal time for a trial.
A parade of “witnesses” began—witnesses who were strangely available in the middle of the night. The trouble was, they couldn’t put together a cohesive story. Listen to verses 56-59: “Many testified falsely against Him, and their testimonies didn’t match. Some of those standing up falsely witnessed against Him saying, ‘We heard Him saying, “I will overthrow this temple made by men, and after three days I will build another not made by men.” ‘ Their witness was far from identical.” (my translation) According to the law in Deuteronomy 19:15-20, contradictory testimonies should have been rejected and the false witnesses put to death—or at least severely punished.
When their witnesses failed, the high priest took over. He pressured Jesus, “You hear what they’re saying about You. Aren’t You going to answer?” When Jesus remained silent, the high priest pressed further. The Greek term means “kept asking again and again.” A modern attorney would object if a defendant was so badgered. This was yet another illegality: the high priest was not allowed to bait a prisoner to condemn himself by his own words.
But then this trial was never about truth. From before it began, there was an agenda. “The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put Him to death.” (Mk. 14:55a) In this mid-night hour, under multiple illegalities, they seized their chance.
The high priest posed one final question. “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”
“I AM.” Ego eimi. The same phrase had a few hours earlier thrown a cohort of captors to the ground (see John 18:6 and last week’s post. Did the high priest feel the power of the Name?) Jesus continued, “You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Powerful One and coming on heaven’s clouds.”
At this, the high priest resorted to theatrics, dramatically tearing his robes and crying, “Why are any more witnesses needed?” (Indeed! Especially witnesses of the type produced on that night.) He continued, “You’ve heard this blasphemy. What think you?”
Not surprisingly, they all condemned Him to die. Then they began to ridicule Jesus and spit on Him. Blindfolding Him, they slapped and punched Him, mockingly ordering Him to “prophesy” which of them had delivered the most recent blow. Don’t miss the fact that much of this mistreatment came from the religious leaders of the day—the ones who should have been first to recognize and embrace Jesus as Christ. It was unfair, it was untrue, and it was undeserved.
So what can we take away from this event in the life of Jesus? At least two things:
1) We can learn from His response. He didn’t strike back, which would be our first reaction. He didn’t muddy the reputations or names of his accusers. And He didn’t waste breath trying to defend Himself, but counted on those who really knew and loved Him to show themselves loyal. Centuries earlier, the prophet Isaiah had written prophetically, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (Is. 53:7) When He did speak, He spoke truth regardless of the fallout He knew would come.
2) When we face unfair treatment, we can take comfort from the fact that He’s been where we are and knows the hurt and frustration. As our high priest, He’s borne every test we might encounter and handled it sinlessly (Hebrews 4:15).
We have a flawless example in Jesus. When the pressure’s on, look to Him. Learn from Him. Lean on Him. Keep clinging to truth and let God take care of the rest.
© Diane McLoud 2014