Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Wednesday in Oculi - The Third Week of Lent


The Passion History – Part 3: The Palace of the High Priest


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

They wanted to put Him to death. But how do you convict an innocent man? Oh, there are ways. It was not a fair trial. They had already determined the verdict: guilty. Likewise, they had already determined the sentence: death. That’s not how a trial is supposed to work. In order to achieve their desired verdict and sentence they were seeking evidence that would make the case for death, but they couldn’t find any. Though a few witnesses came forward, their testimonies did not agree. “We heard him say, ‘I shall destroy this temple made with hands and after three days I shall build another, not made with hands.’” But even on this point their testimony did not agree. Frustrated, the high priest attempted a different tactic. He asked Jesus directly what it was that He was guilty of, hoping to evoke from Him a confession. But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again, the high priest questioned Him, this time dropping all pretense concerning the verdict and sentence he was seeking, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” If Jesus answered yes to this question, they could convict him of blasphemy, the sentence for which was death. Jesus answered, “I am.” He wasn’t lying. It was the God’s honest truth.

Jesus was on trial that night before the Sanhedrin. But that wasn’t the first time He had been put on trial. The first time He was tried by Satan in the wilderness immediately following His baptism by John in the Jordan. He had been fasting for forty days and He was hungry. Then Satan came to Him and tempted Him. Satan tested His faith and put Him on trial. However, then, as now, Jesus was innocent; there was no charge that would stick. Moreover, His defense was the Word of God in which He stood immovable like a mighty fortress. The Word served as defensive armor against the attacks of the devil. Like the false witnesses that night, Satan used lies and deceptions to test Jesus, but Jesus remained firm upon the Word of God. Then He tried to catch Jesus by a serious omission from God’s Word. Still, Jesus remained resolute. Finally, in frustration and rage, like the high priest, Satan dropped all his pretense and offered Jesus all worldly authority if He would bow down and worship him. Jesus dismissed him derisively saying, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”

However, Jesus wasn’t the only one on trial that night. Peter too was on trial. Peter was accused and questioned three times by the high priest’s maidservants and the crowd in his courtyard. In contrast to Jesus, Peter was not innocent but guilty. He was guilty of being with Jesus. Now, you and I know there is no true guilt in being with Jesus. Why then did Peter deny it three times, denying that he even knew Jesus to the point of invoking a curse upon himself? Because Peter was guilty. He feared what men would think of him. He feared what men might do to him. He feared those things more than he feared denying his Lord and master, his teacher, and his friend. Moreover, Jesus had told him beforehand that he would do this. “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” At that time Peter had sworn that he would never deny Jesus, but that he would die for him. However, as the words of denial were still falling off of his lips, Peter heard the cock crow. Jesus turned his head and looked at Peter, and Peter remembered the words that Jesus had said to him earlier that evening.

Judas also was on trial that night. Judas had already betrayed Jesus. He agreed to the blood money offered by the chief priests to hand Jesus over, identifying Him with the sign of a kiss. As with Peter, Jesus had told Judas beforehand that he would do this. It’s difficult to know for certain what motivated Judas to do this – other than Satan. It could have been selfishness and greed. Perhaps he was a zealot and sought to move a Jesus-lead revolution forward. Whatever his motivation, clearly Judas had not envisioned that it would go so far as Jesus being sentenced to death by crucifixion. When he saw that Jesus had been condemned, Judas was sorry. He brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. Before them he confessed, “I have sinned. I have betrayed innocent blood.” Judas threw himself upon their mercy, but they were not a merciful court. But this is what Satan does: He tempts you to sin. Then, when you do, instead of praising you and rewarding you, he relentlessly accuses you and steals from you any hope of relief. Judas couldn’t live with his guilt. He didn’t have to live with his guilt, of course, but Satan had robbed him of any hope of forgiveness. He would rather die than live with the guilt of having betrayed his master, his teacher, and his friend. Therefore, Judas carried out the sentence against himself – death. He went and hanged himself.

But the chief priests, the elders, the crowds, even all humanity, were also on trial that night. We exchanged the truth of God for a lie. The chief priests and the elders had set themselves against Jesus. They had made themselves to be His enemies. It seems evident from the Scriptures that they knew what they were doing. They knew that Jesus fulfilled the Messianic prophecies. They knew that His teaching and miracles fulfilled the Scriptures. They had seen with their own eyes and heard with their own ears, and what they saw and heard threatened them, threatened their power and authority, and it exposed the hypocrisy of their hearts. Though they knew that He was innocent, they had to kill Him. They were guilty – guilty of innocent blood – and they were not sorry. They knew what they were doing. Their hearts were hardened against the Word of God and against the Holy Spirit working through that Word, and their hearts were hardened against the Word made flesh, Jesus, as they convicted Him of blasphemy and sentenced Him to die by crucifixion. What they did, their guilt, was covered by darkness for a time, but it would soon be exposed in the glorious light of Jesus’ resurrection.

We also were on trial that night, in the person of the crowds, who were persuaded by the chief priests and the elders, and Peter and the other disciples who, in various ways, denied Jesus. When asked by others to give our witness, our testimony, our confession of faith in Jesus, too often have we kept silent, dodged the question, or even denied Him. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will strengthen our faith that we should persevere through temptation and make a good witness and confession. But do not be afraid, and do not carry that guilt, but rather flee to Jesus in repentance and confess your sins. His blood was shed for you to make you clean, and forgiveness is yours through faith in Him.

Though innocent, Jesus willingly suffered the false accusations and condemnation of men. Everything He was falsely accused of, we are truly guilty of – We have made ourselves to be god and have blasphemed His holy Name in thought, word, and deed. We deserve the sentence of death, but Jesus has taken our sentence upon Himself and suffered and died in our place. And, because He was truly innocent and righteous, He has destroyed the power of sin and death, and being raised from the dead, has guaranteed our resurrection and life everlasting.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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