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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:Jesus descends further into suffering
Text:Mark 14:53-65 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's Suffering

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

NOTE:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 98
Psalm 38:1-3, 7, 8
Psalm 69:1,4,5
Hymn 70
Hymn 28:7

Reading:  Psalm 110
Text:  Mark 14:53-65
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ Jesus,

For many of us, To Kill a Mockingbird was required reading somewhere in high school English.  Harper Lee’s novel about life in a small southern town is hard to forget.  One of the key characters in the story is a man named Tom Robinson.  Tom Robinson was the black man falsely accused of raping a white woman.   The father of the narrator was Atticus Finch.  He was the white lawyer defending Tom Robinson.  At the trial, Atticus provides an excellent defense for Tom.  He exposes the inconsistencies in the witnesses and the evidence.  Everything points to a conspiracy against Tom.  A fair minded court would obviously judge him innocent.  But this is no fair minded court.  This is a court made up of a jury of white townspeople filled with prejudice towards blacks.  Tom must be guilty just by virtue of the fact that he is black.  When the trial comes to an end and the jury brings a verdict, it is what it must be.  Tom was found guilty and received the death penalty.  But it’s clear that the trial was anything but fair.  While fictional, it represents what happened to many blacks in the American south before the civil rights movement of the 1960s.  They had no reasonable expectation to ever get a fair trial if they were to end up in court.

Miscarriages of justice have occurred throughout literature and history, but none has the weight and significance of what happens in our text this morning.  None of them compare to the mistreatment that Jesus receives before his human judges.  This is because what our Saviour goes through is part of his suffering.  What he experiences is not merely human unfairness, but the turning of God against him.  These men are supposed to be servants of God, administering his justice, but instead they are servants of God pouring out his wrath on the innocent through their injustice.  So as I preach to you God’s Word this morning we’ll see how Jesus descends further into suffering with his “trial” before the Sanhedrin.

We’ll consider:

1.      The unjust judges

2.      The unreliable witnesses

3.      The unfair conclusion

4.      The undeserved beat down

After being arrested, Jesus was taken away in the dead of night to the high priest.  Mark doesn’t tell us his name, but from elsewhere in the Bible we know that this was Caiaphas.  Caiaphas was a Sadducee.  He was known as a shrewd schemer.  He knew how to manipulate others, especially the Romans.  Later on, he would become a fervent persecutor of Christians.  But now he has Jesus at his house.  Along with him are all the chief priests, the elders, and the teachers of the law.  It was time to put an end to the Jesus problem. 

Jesus had long been a threat to them.  Already back in Mark 2, he had eaten with sinners and tax collectors and offended the Jewish leaders.  In Mark 3, they had decided that he was possessed by Satan.  Already back then, early in Jesus’ ministry, they were plotting and searching for a way to kill Jesus.  With his teaching, and especially with the way he exposed their hypocrisy and failures to follow God’s Word, he was a threat to them.  Jesus is always a threat to the wicked and ungodly.  Something had to be done about him.  And now, in our passage, something was about to be done.  He had to be put to death, but it had to happen in a way that at least had the appearance of justice. 

That’s why they’d gathered at the high priest’s house.  In verse 54, Mark inserts Peter into the story.  This prepares us for what will happen in the next passage.  Peter remembered his emphatic insistence that he would never turn his back on Jesus.  So he followed from a distance and even made his way into the courtyard of the priest’s house.  It was dark and the middle of the night, so a fire was burning and people were gathered around to keep warm.  Peter joined them, while Jesus was elsewhere inside the house being examined by the Sanhedrin. 

The Sanhedrin was a body of Jewish religious leaders.  It was made up of priests and scribes and elders, Pharisees and Sadducees.  Though the land was ruled by the Romans, the Jews were still given some authority in certain areas.  In religious matters, for instance, the Sanhedrin could make judgments.  One thing they could not do, however, was carry out the death penalty.  They might decide that someone is worthy of death, but then they would have to bring the case before the Romans and the Romans would make a final judgment and they would carry it out.

So the Sanhedrin was meeting there in the high priest’s house in the middle of the night.  It was sometime before 3:00 AM.  We know that because the roosters typically start crowing at about that time at that time of year in Jerusalem.  The rooster hasn’t crowed yet – that happens in the next passage with Peter’s denials of Jesus.  Now some have made a lot out of these facts.  The trial was held in an odd place.  Normally the Sanhedrin had a hall near the temple where they met.  Now they’re at the house of the high priest instead.  The Sanhedrin wasn’t supposed to meet in the dead of night, certainly not to discuss a case in which someone could get the death penalty.  However, these things are based on later rules for the Sanhedrin and they’re based on the assumption that these rules were already in place during the days of Jesus.  Perhaps they were, but perhaps they weren’t.  We don’t know.

What we do know is where Mark places the emphasis.  Through the Holy Spirit, the gospel writer tells us in verse 55 that they were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death.  That’s the key here.  They had already made up their minds.  Jesus had to be put to death.  Now they just needed to find the evidence to support the conclusion.  These were not fair-minded judges.  These were not open-minded people weighing the arguments for and against.  These were the enemies of Jesus searching for a legal basis to justify taking their hatred to the next level – to death.          

Loved ones, we need to see this as part of Jesus’ suffering for us.  Here are ruling authorities.  They are supposed to love justice and uphold righteousness.  But because they are filled with hatred for Jesus, they subvert justice and throw righteousness out the window.  Romans 13 says that ruling authorities are God’s servants or ministers.  These authorities have been established by God.  Says Paul, “He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”  Yet here is one who has done no wrong.  Here he is before God’s servant being railroaded to the death penalty.  Through this, God is again piling on his wrath against our sin on Jesus.  Though innocent, he is being condemned to death that we might not face the eternal death penalty.  Brothers and sisters, we need to see what Jesus is doing for us here and let that lead us to greater praise for him, and deeper love for him.  Jesus, your Saviour, took your penalty, he is bearing the consequences of your sin here.  He did this in your place.  He faced unjust judges so that we would never be condemned by the just Judge.

Those unjust judges tried to find the evidence to support their conclusion, but they were struggling.  They were flailing about.  There were lots of false witnesses who were willing to come forward.  But it was as plain as day that these were false witnesses; all their testimony was inconsistent.  Even these scoundrels couldn’t hide the fact that it would be unjust to condemn Jesus on this basis.  They needed more.

There was a glimmer of hope with some witnesses who gave testimony about what they heard Jesus say some time ago.  There was that time when he cleansed the temple, you see.  He saw all the commerce taking place in the temple courts and then he made a whip out of cords and chased everyone out.  He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  Yes, Jesus was angry that day.  When he was challenged, these witnesses said that he said something shocking.  “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.’”

So what about it?  It sounds about right, doesn’t it?  These witnesses are referring to what happened in John 2.  John records there what Jesus really said that day, the first time that he cleared out the temple.  What he said was, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”  The false witnesses claim that he said, “I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.”  Jesus was not even speaking about the physical temple.  He was speaking about his body.  He said nothing about man-made temples and temples not made by men.  He said nothing about him destroying the temple.  According to Scripture, Jesus was referring to the Jews putting him to death and then raising himself from the dead.  But they don’t get this, and in fact, they don’t even get the story straight.  The witnesses can’t even agree on what it was exactly that Jesus said.  Once again, there is no consistency.  The witnesses are unreliable. 

The false and unreliable witnesses are also part of his suffering.  He has no one coming to his defense.  He is being attacked by lies.  People are making up stories about him and even when the stories come closer to the truth, they still get his words all wrong.  Jesus stands in this courtroom facing this all alone.  One lone disciple lingers outside in the courtyard, but there’s no one inside with him as he faces these wolves.  The Jewish judicial system is stacked against him.  The witnesses are desperately searching for a way to come up with a story that will hold water. 

Here too Jesus is bearing our punishment.  In ourselves we deserve to have hostile witnesses lined up against us.  Satan is only too eager to play that part.  Think of how he accuses Joshua the High Priest of unworthiness in Zechariah 3.  He wants to do the same with us.  “See that one, he has sinned in this way and that way.  Thoughts, words, and deeds.  Sins of omission, sins of commission.  Sin against God, sin against the neighbour.  He is guilty, guilty, guilty, deserving of eternal death, give him to me.”  Apart from Jesus, this testimony would be true.  But, as we trust in Christ, we can trust that this testimony is false.  It is false testimony when it comes to who we are in Christ, in God’s eyes.  As we rest and trust in Christ, we are righteous in the sight of God and all testimony to the contrary is false testimony.  We have a sure defense in Christ.  Satan’s words about us are lies.  All because Christ bore the curse of God against our sin.  He stood in our place.  The suffering he goes through with these false witnesses in this kangaroo court, he goes through for us and in our stead.  He endures false witnesses so that we could never be credibly accused by any witness before the judgment seat of God.  Loved ones, do you see it?  If you do, let it lead your heart to your Saviour again in affection and adoration.

With these inadequate witnesses, the Sanhedrin needed a different tack.  They would seek to have Jesus incriminate himself.  First the high priest asked about the false witnesses.  He was looking for a way to have Jesus clarify what he really said.  Perhaps Christ would give the rope to hang himself in this way.  But our Saviour kept his mouth shut and didn’t answer a thing.  In doing this, we see the fulfillment of the prophecy about him in Isaiah 53.

But the high priest Caiaphas was persistent.  He decided to ask him directly, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”  What he was asking was, “Are you the Messiah spoken of in the Old Testament?  Are you the Son of God?”  Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah,” it means anointed one.  When the high priest said, “the Blessed One,” he was referring to God.  Because of their fear of blasphemy, the Jews were cautious about speaking the name of God directly.  So they would use this kind of indirect language, “the Blessed One.”  But what it means is clear: “Are you the Son of God?”

In verse 62, Jesus gave his equally clear answer.  “Yes, I am.  I am the Christ.  I am the Son of God.”  He has strongly hinted at this before.  He has had others say this about him.  The gospel of Mark is all about showing this to be true of him.  Mark 1:1 says, “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  Mark’s deepest concern in this book is for people to get Jesus’ identity right.  He wants readers to believe in Jesus as the Son of God.  Now Jesus explicitly affirms that this is who he is.  He is the Son and God is his Father. 

Then he adds some powerful words of warning, “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”  Here he combines what is said about the Messiah in Psalm 110 with what we read in Daniel 7 about the Son of Man.   Right now Jesus is suffering and things only go down from here, down, down, down to the grave.  But the story will not end there.  When it comes to Jesus, there is a cross story, a story of humiliation and suffering.  But there is also a glory story, a story of exaltation.  After his suffering is complete, he will be set on a different trajectory, one that goes up.  And these Jewish religious leaders will see him get set on that trajectory and they will someday also see the Judge coming with the clouds of heaven for righteous judgment.  Jesus is saying that he will come as God in judgment.  The tables will be turned.  Right now in our passage he is being judged at this joke of a trial.  But the day will come when he will judge them as God himself.  There is injustice at this moment, but the day of true justice will come.

And it’s this statement of Jesus that leads the high priest to react the way he does in verse 63.  He tears his clothes – that’s a non-verbal way of saying that he’s really upset.  But this is just show.  In reality, his day has just been made.  He says, “We don’t need any more witnesses!  You’ve all heard the blasphemy.  What do you think?”  In his mind, Jesus has just sufficiently incriminated himself with his words. 

According to Caiaphas, Jesus has spoken blasphemy because he claims to be the Son of God and, more, he claims that he will come as God for judgment.  Human beings cannot claim to be God.  If you say that you are God, you must be blaspheming.  And blasphemy is worthy of death.  There is no need to talk any further.  There is no need for further cross-examination.  There’s just a need for a cross. 

The high priest does not pause to consider Jesus’ claim and the evidence that exists for it.  He doesn’t seek to weigh what the Old Testament said about the Messiah versus the life of Jesus.  In his mind, Jesus must be put to death and that is the end of the matter.  And with Jesus’ claim here, there’s enough evidence to move ahead to the Romans. 

And so we read in verse 64, “They all condemned him as worthy of death.”  The consensus was in and it was unanimous.  The outcome had been inevitable, but now it was stated out loud before Jesus himself.  Jesus heard with his own ears what they had been plotting in secret all along. 

This unfair conclusion also brings him further into suffering.  Jesus was not worthy of death.  This was the author of life.  Peter said to the Jews in Acts 3:15, “You killed the author of life…”  Jesus knew who he was and he knew he did not deserve this conclusion.  But we did.  We are not the authors of life.  The only thing we have authored of ourselves is death and chaos.  We deserve the curse of death, we are truly worthy of death.  In our passage, that curse is laid upon Jesus, so that we might live.  Remember:  the Jews knew that saying he is worthy of death meant death by a cross.  Death by a means which announced God’s curse on him.  Pronouncing these words meant pronouncing Jesus worthy of God’s curse.  That’s how here too his suffering is intensifying. 

Then the physical aspect of his suffering begins to rear its ugly head again.  It happens in the last verse we’re looking at this morning, verse 65.  Spitting at someone is a universal way of showing disdain and total disgust.  These distinguished Jews of the Sanhedrin take our Saviour and spit on him.  This is awful.  But it gets worse.  Then they blindfold him and begin to beat on him with their fists.  They finally get the opportunity to vent their hatred.  They just hate Jesus so much and now they can take it out on him.  They pummel him over and over again, using him as a punching bag. 

But there’s also mockery involved.  In Isaiah 12, the Messiah was described as someone who could perceive without seeing or hearing.  In Jewish tradition, the Messiah would be able to identify people just by smell.  So now they beat our Saviour and mock him by telling him to prophesy.  In other words, tell us who’s hitting you if you’re really the Christ spoken of in the Bible.  Prove it to us.  Their words are filled with venom and ridicule. 

Eventually the Sanhedrin runs out of steam.  They get tired of their beat down and so they turn Jesus over to the guards.  The guards take their turn in beating up Jesus.  They thrash him too, pounding his already bruised body. 

During his three years of teaching, our Saviour often spoke about hell and what it would involve.  It was clear that hell would involve a physical element.  Hell is not only about what happens to souls, it also involves bodies.  In hell, unbelievers experience the just wrath of God in their entire being, body and soul.  Body and soul have offended God with sin, so body and soul will be punished forever.  The material and immaterial aspect will be joined together forever in this hellish agony.  For all who believe in him, Jesus has taken this on himself during his suffering.  It culminated in his suffering and death on the cross – that’s where the physical aspect of hell is most intense for him.  But it’s also here in our passage as he experiences this violent beating.  Brothers and sisters, this is what sinners deserve.  Jesus didn’t deserve to be attacked, but we do, we all do.  The gospel tells us that because he took this, we won’t.  Instead of beatings in an eternal hell, we will be welcomed by our Father with eternal loving arms.  That’s because of Jesus Christ, because of our Saviour.  If you haven’t already, you need to trust in him today to be saved.  Now is the time, tomorrow could be too late.  If you have been trusting in Christ, you need to keep on trusting in him.  Don’t ever stop loving your Saviour and resting in what he has done for you. 

Brothers and sisters, the trial described here was a farce.  Biblical scholars have analyzed it endlessly in all its details.  We could do that too, but it’s not the injustice which should captivate our attention.  It should be our Saviour and his suffering.  Not his suffering considered in a clinical, detached, or intellectual manner.  His suffering for us.  For you.  He bore this injustice he did not deserve, so that we would not have to endure the just judgment we deserve.  Martin Luther once called that the joyous exchange.  We could call it the sweet swap.  Jesus took all our sin on himself, so that we could receive all his righteousness.  That is sweet.  That gives us reason for joy, reason for love, reason to live each day for our Lord and Saviour.  AMEN.


O Lord and Saviour,

Your Word gives us all the more reason to love you.  Your Word leads us again to praise you and thank you.  Thank you for taking our hell on your shoulders.  Thank you for bearing the curse that we deserve, for taking our sentence and our beatings, the wrath that we have earned.  The wages of sin is death.  The wages have been paid to you, so that we can receive the free gift of eternal life.  You were innocently condemned to death that we might be acquitted at the judgment seat.  O Saviour, we adore you and will forever be grateful to you.  O Lord God, please strengthen our faith in this Saviour with your Word and Spirit.  So work in us that we continue to rest and trust in him alone. 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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