Posted on January 14, 2015
#88: A Time To Be Silent
In the moral chaos of the 1960s, the Byrds released a song that became an international hit—a bit surprising because it was based on scripture. Have you heard it?
To everything—turn, turn, turn,
There is a season—turn, turn, turn,
And a time to every purpose under heaven.
Pete Seeger used Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 as the foundation, with its back-and-forth rhythmic lyric:
A time to be born, a time to die,
A time to plant, a time to reap,
a time to kill, a time to heal,
a time to laugh, a time to weep.
Seeger omitted only one biblical phrase from his song: “a time to be silent, a time to speak.”
Oh, how much we’d gain in righteousness if we learned the art of that phrase! Throughout this study, we’ve seen Jesus speaking and teaching in many different circumstances. Today, we’ll see Him keep silent. What can we learn?
Welcome to Knowing Jesus, our study of Jesus’ life through the gospel of Mark. We set out many months ago to learn all we could from Him. He was the perfect Son of God, a flawless model of human life lived the way God would do it. Jesus fully pleased His Father in every way; if we want to do the same we need to be right on His heels, imitating Him as closely as we can.
Ready? Get your Bible and read Mark 15:1-20. This account is one of relatively few found in all four gospels, with each gospel including unique details. We’ll be drawing from these other accounts too, so take a look at Matthew 27:1-31, Luke 23:1-25, and John 18:28–19:16. If your Bible is a red-letter edition (showing all the words of Christ in red), note how few red words are found in these passages.
For much of the night after His arrest, Jesus had been pounded with accusations at the hands of the Jewish leaders while His disciples cowered in the darkness. By Jewish law, verdicts had to be delivered during the day. So as dawn broke, the leaders called together a hasty assembly that included the Sanhedrin, the teachers of the law, the elders, and the chief priests. They agreed (any dissenters were apparently ignored) to take Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor over Judea.
Pilate was no fan of the Jewish leaders. But his mentor had recently been executed in Rome and Pilate couldn’t afford for unhappy reports to reach Caesar, jeopardizing his own position. When the chief priests dragged Jesus before Pilate’s judgment seat early Friday morning, they caught the governor in an unusually cooperative state.
The chief priests had no real authority except what the Roman government sanctioned. Matthew Henry wrote, “They could only show their teeth, they could not bite.” They could try people on religious matters, but weren’t allowed to levy a death sentence. So they needed to bring charges against Jesus that Pilate would deem worthy of execution. Mark 15:3 records, “The chief priests accused Him of many things.” Luke lists three themes to their accusations:
• Jesus had stirred up rebellion among the Jews (troublesome to Pilate whose job was to keep peace)
• He had opposed payment of taxes to Caesar (an obvious offense against the emperor)
• and He was claiming to be “Christ”—a king (treason against Caesar)
Mark says Pilate recognized “it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him” (15:10). He saw right through their complaints. Then during the proceedings, Pilate was handed a message from his wife. She’d had an unsettling dream about Jesus, so cautioned her husband, “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man.”
Perhaps based on her warning, when Pilate heard Jesus described as the Son of God he became very afraid (Jn. 19:7-8). He began prodding Jesus, giving Him opportunity to defend himself. Most prisoners facing death were eager to clear their name, but Jesus said nothing. Pilate was at first amazed by His silence, then frustrated—saying, “Are You refusing to speak to me? Don’t you realize I have power either to free You or to crucify You?”
At that Jesus spoke, setting the governor straight. “You would have no power over Me if it were not given to you from above.”
Firmly convinced of Jesus’ innocence, Pilate tried to stop the chief priests. “I find no basis for a charge against this man,” he announced. When they refused to let the matter drop, Pilate sent Jesus to Herod who was in Jerusalem at the time. Herod heard the case, then returned it to Pilate. Pilate tried to free Jesus through a Passover custom of releasing one prisoner of the people’s choice; the priests had already headed this off, persuading the people to ask for a murderous rebel named Barabbas. When Pilate saw that there was no other way to satisfy the people and their leaders, he reluctantly issued orders for Jesus to be flogged and crucified.
Throughout the entire hearing before Pilate, the Bible records very few words spoken by Jesus. Matthew, Mark and Luke each quote only two Greek words. John includes an additional eighty-one, nearly all of which were in defense of God’s kingdom and authority.
My guess is, if any of us had been in Jesus’ position we would have been chattering like magpies—discrediting our enemies, detailing our side of the story, decrying the illegal treatment we’d been subjected to, demanding our rights. In the process, we’d have probably failed the holiness test quite a few times. No wonder Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” And Ecclesiastes 5 warns, “Do not be quick with your mouth…. let your words be few…. Many words mark the speech of a fool…. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin.”
In tense moments, especially when we’ve been put on the defensive, we need to pray before uttering a single word. When we do speak, our words should be few and carefully chosen, never angry or malicious. So much damage is done if we let our tongues fly when the heat is on.
One powerful lesson we can learn from Jesus is when to be still. We’ve seen many examples of Jesus’ ability to outthink His critics; He was more than capable—but Pilate was most amazed and impacted when Jesus made no reply.
Sometimes the wisest, most obedient thing we can do is close our mouths and let God take control. This week, ask God to help you learn the time to speak and the time to be silent.
© Diane McLoud 2015