24 Hours That Changed the World: Condemned by the Righteous
Mark 14:53, 55, 61-68, 70-72
Rev. Sandy Johnson
March 8, 2015
We continue this morning, experiencing in detail, the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life. We began two weeks ago with the Last Supper and will end Easter Morning with the resurrection. We remember that Jesus and his disciples ate their last meal together, left the comfort of the upper room and traipsed across the valley to the Garden of Gethsemane. We know that the men were sleepy and unable to offer much comfort to Jesus as he embraced the agony of what he knew was to come.
Then suddenly the peaceful Garden was disrupted as Judas arrived with a crowd of sword wielding men, representatives of the chief priests, scribes and the elders of the church. Judas had given them a sign, he told the men he would kiss the one they were after. Once identified the soldiers were to take him away. So Judas approached Jesus, greeted him saying, “Rabbi” and kissed him. It was then that “they laid hands on him and arrested him.”
A kiss. Really Judas? A Kiss? A kiss is an “expression of affection, love, or reverence.” How can a kiss be twisted to mean betrayal? That’s just messed up. Then Jesus confronts them, asking them why they were sneaking around in the dark, as if he was a criminal; he had been out in the open all week long, preaching and teaching at the temple. But they waited instead until nightfall when they could act without inciting a riot; they waited to avoid opposition from the believers who were following Christ. Once Jesus was taken into custody the disciples who had been with him fled and left him alone to face the authorities, alone, deserted and betrayed.
The authorities “pushed and pulled Jesus down the hill of Zion, making their way through the lower City of David, which had been built over a thousand years earlier.” Although the other disciples had fled, Peter and John followed at a distance, hiding in the shadows, terrified and afraid.
The Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council of 71 elders called an emergency meeting at the home of the High Priest, Caiaphas. The members were “considered to be among the wisest and most pious men of the time. The very idea of the council had come from Numbers 11:16, where God commanded Moses to gather seventy leaders who would join him in governing the people on God’s behalf. In Jesus’ time, the seventy-one men ruled over the religious affairs of the people just as the Romans ruled over their political affairs. The Sanhedrin had control of the temple and the religious courts. They were men who devoted themselves to God, and their high priest was the leading religious figure of his time.” They usually met during the day in the Temple courts and were not supposed to meet during religious festivals such as the Passover. This meeting was uncalled for and against their own regulations, but they met anyway, pointing “to both the unorthodoxy of the proceeding at hand and the urgency and secrecy they felt necessary when dealing with Jesus.”
The home of the High Priest was a palatial estate and today it is on the site of a church called Saint Peter Gallicantu – which is Latin for “Cock crow.” “Below the ground is a prison cell, a cold stone pit fashioned from a cistern; and it is taught that this is where Jesus was held – lowered through a hole in the ceiling – first as the Sanhedrin debated his fate and again as he awaited transport to Pontius Pilate after sunrise.” It was here I imagine Jesus prayed the Psalms we heard read earlier.
I think though that “we need to step back from this scene for a moment to recognize its full import and appreciate its tragic irony. Christians believe that in Jesus, God walked in human flesh on this earth. He was in that sense like an emperor who so desires to know his subjects that he dons ordinary clothes and lives among them, with no one recognizing or understanding him. The God of the universe chose to walk in human flesh as an itinerant preacher, teacher, carpenter, healer – a pauper. He came as one of us. He healed the sick, forgave sinners, showed compassion to the lost, and taught people what God was really like. We must not miss the irony here: It was not the “sinners” who arrested God when he walked among us. Those who took him into custody and tried him were the most pious and religious people on the face of the earth. The God they claimed to serve walked among them in flesh, and they could not see him. They were so blinded by their love of power and their fear of losing it that they missed him. The people you would most expect to recognize and hail Jesus instead arrested him in darkness and brought him to trial. They put God on trial for blasphemy. Jesus’ testimony that he was in fact the Messiah outraged them; and they found him guilty, convicting God of a crime worthy of the death penalty – blasphemy against himself!”
I think we have to ask ourselves, how could this have happen? How could the most pious men in the world, those who dedicated their entire lives to God have missed the obvious? Why did they condemn an innocent man to death? These men, scripture says “began to spit on him,” they blindfolded him, hit him and taunted him and then the guards took him out and beat him. “Even if they thought he was a false messiah, why would pious men, pillars of the community, spit on him? Why would they blindfold, mock and strike him?
The answer is fear. “These men saw Jesus as a threat to their way of life, their positions of authority, their status among the Jews. They had seen the crowds flocking to him and had heard them say, “What is this? A new teaching – with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (Mark 1:27). Jesus threatened their very social order.”
They believed that Jesus’ threat was so complete that it would be better to sacrifice one for the benefit of many. It was easier to condemn one man that risk an uprising. Once Caiaphas received the answer from Jesus to his question, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said simply, “I am.” Once this answer was given their fear and insecurities went into high gear. And from fear, hate is inevitable and too often this hate “leads to tragic acts of inhumanity. This part of the story is not simply about seventy-one supposedly pious Jewish men in the first century. This is about the human condition.”
Fear is ingrained in us, it is a tool we are to use to keep us safe. If we are in a dangerous situation, fear motivates us to save ourselves, to preserve ourselves and keep us safe and at times we must run for our lives. “As we look at the Sanhedrin and their treatment of Jesus, I would ask you to consider the ways the story relates to you. Fear performs its poisonous work within all of us. How often are we still motivated by it? In what ways does our fear lead us, individual and as a nation, to do what is wrong – what is at times unthinkable – while justifying our actions as necessary?”
Fear was the driving force in February 1942 when 127,000 United States citizens were “imprisoned during World War II. Their crime? Being of Japanese ancestry. Despite the lack of any concrete evidence Japanese Americans were suspected of remaining loyal to their ancestral land.” Our elected leaders forced our own citizens into what were basically prison camps out of fear, fear that was unfounded and it wasn’t until 1988 that “Congress attempted to apologize for the action by awarding each surviving intern $20,000.” Hardly seems just.
“How has your own fear led you to do things you later regretted? We each must be aware of the power of fear, and we must not forget the lessons of history. All of us, if we let our call to love be overshadowed by our innate fear, are capable of supporting and doing the unthinkable.” I think we have to ask ourselves, had we been on the Sanhedrin that night would we have gone along with the others and condemned Jesus to die? It takes courage to stand up to the prevailing opinion or beliefs and do what we know is right. As Christians we have to remind ourselves “that love conquers in ways that fear and hate and violence simply cannot.” Listen to these words from 1 John 4:16b-20
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the Day of Judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.
I have to believe that there were more than just Joseph of Arimathea who disagreed with the Sanhedrin. Even Joseph didn’t step in to show his support until Jesus was dead when he offered his tomb for Jesus burial. How many others sat, disagreeing but afraid to stand up to the leaders who were speaking so loudly? It is difficult to resist those in leadership, “when the tide is moving, we tend to be afraid to stand up and resist.”
“Martin Niemoeller, a Lutheran pastor in Nazi Germany during World War II, saw the sins being committed against the Jewish people and at first decided not to object. Only later did he begin to speak out against what he had seen. Words attributed to Niemoeller movingly expressed his analysis of the situation: “First they came for the Communist and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me and by that time there was no one left to speak up anymore.”
No one asked that night if what they were doing was really in keeping with their faith. None of those present were brave enough to question the authority of their leaders and point out that the testimony they heard was inconclusive. Their own witnesses couldn’t agree on their testimony and they violated their own Jewish law, ignoring the fact that there was no agreement among witnesses. Without concurring testimony they turned to Jesus, asking the condemning question: “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” “All Jesus had to do was keep silent, and there would have been no grounds for conviction; instead he replied in a manner deemed blasphemous for Jews and traitorous for Romans.” Jesus replied, “I am.” “In this one sentence…Jesus testified that he was the Messiah, God’s elect; and he alluded to a very special relationship between himself and God.”
Caiaphas recognized in those two words that Jesus was claiming his divinity and tore his clothes in response. “The Sanhedrin, learned enough to take in the full scope of Jesus’ statements and claims, rent their clothes at the audacious enormity of it all and said, in effect, “Do we need any more witnesses? This man has blasphemed and is worthy of death.” Jesus stood convicted.
Outside the gates Peter was in the midst of his own crisis of fear. Confronted by a servant girl, not once but twice and then by another bystander, Peter denies knowing Jesus at all and as he hears the cock crowing for a second time he remembered Jesus prediction and broke down weeping. Let us pray:
Gracious God, we operate too often by fear and have lost touch with our need to rely on love to cast fear out. Remind us this morning that your love for us and our love for you and each other is enough, remind us that they will know we are part of your family because of our love. Give us the courage to stand up for what is right and to make the hard decisions to stand up for you in all we do. This I pray in Jesus precious name. Amen.
 This sermon series is adapted from Adam Hamilton’s book, “24 Hours that Changed the World”
 Mark 15.44
 Hamilton, Adam. 24 Hours that Changed the World. Abingdon Press, Nashville. 2009. Page 46.
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 Mark 14:65
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 Mark 14:61
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