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April 9, 2017

Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. (Matthew 26:57)

Please open your Bible at Matthew 26. We are looking today at the trial of Jesus.

At first sight this might seem remote from us. We know that Jesus died for us and that he rose for us. But it is not immediately obvious what the trial of Jesus has to do with us today.

But all that Jesus did was for us. He was born for us and he fulfilled the law for us. That means every hour of every day of his life was for us. And when he was put on trial, it was for us as well.

I want to make one observation and then to focus on three things that we learn from this story. “Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered” (Mat. 26:57).

Notice, the people who judged and condemned Jesus were the High Priest, the scribes and the elders. Bishop Ryle makes this important comment: “It was not so much the Jewish people… who pushed forward this wicked deed, as Caiaphas and his companions, the chief priests.” [1] There is no basis whatsoever for anti-Semitism in the Easter story – none.

In fact, the Gospels make clear that large numbers of Jewish people were drawn to Jesus. That’s the whole point of Palm Sunday! Just four days before the account we have here, the streets were lined with large crowds singing the praise of Jesus.

In the days that followed, an elite group of religious leaders who wanted to kill Jesus planned their strategy, Matthew tells us they “plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, ‘Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people’” (Mat. 26:4, 5). The elite knew that large numbers of people loved him.

“The people won’t let us touch him!” That is why the arrest was at night. Later in the story, when a much smaller crowd gathers in the early hours of the morning outside the home of Pontius Pilate, Matthew records that “The chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus” (Mat. 27:20).

I want to say to all of our Jewish friends today, Jesus is your Messiah. He said this himself: He was sent first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mat. 15:24). His gospel is for the nations of the world but it is “to the Jew first” (Rom. 1:16). So there is every reason for any Jewish person to take a fresh look at Jesus Christ and to claim him as your own.

Now I want to focus in on three themes today – the trial, the accusation, and the outcome.

The Trial

When Jesus was tried before the law of God, he stood in our place

Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered (Matthew 26:57).

I have been helped by the work of James Philip, a Scottish minister now with the Lord, who asked a very simple question, “Why was there a trial?” [2] Why not an assassination?

The chief priests arrived in the garden with a posse, armed with swords and clubs (26:47). When they made the arrest, our Lord’s disciples all forsook him and fled. Why did the arresting party not execute Jesus right away in the Garden of Gethsemane?

Especially since public opinion was not on the side of the priests, and the garden was deserted, if Jesus had been executed there, the people would have wakened up to the strange mystery of the disappearance of Jesus. So why go through the process of a trial?

If death comes by assassination then, the one who kills is guilty before the law, and the one who is killed is innocent. The chief priests don’t want to be in that position. But if death is the result of a judicial process, the one who is killed is guilty before the law, and the ones who kill are innocent. That’s what the priests want: Christ condemned as the guilty law breaker, while they stand as the righteous upholders of the law.

Beyond the desire of the priests, the bigger story here is the overarching purpose of God. When Jesus was placed on trial, he came under the condemnation of the law of God. This gets to the heart of why Jesus came into the world. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).

Christ was born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law. So legal process matters here. For sure, what happened in the trial of Jesus was not justice. It was the greatest miscarriage of justice in the history of the world. But it was a legal process. This is why, when the court was convened, they brought out witnesses. “Now the chief priests and whole Council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward” (Mat. 26:59-60).

So they brought in the witnesses one by one, and they each gave their testimony. Mark tells us that the problem with the witnesses was that they contradicted each other: “Many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree” (Mark 14:56).

In the end two witnesses came forward, misquoting some words of Jesus that are recorded in John 2:19. When Jesus was asked what sign he would show them to prove that he was the Messiah, he said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). John tells us, “He was speaking about the temple of his body” (2:21).

So what Jesus was saying was: “You will destroy the temple of my body [speaking of his crucifixion] and I will raise it up in three days [speaking of his resurrection].” But the false witnesses twist this and accuse Jesus of saying that he would destroy the city’s most prestigious building, one that had taken 46 years to build: “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days’” (Mat. 26:61).

Again Mark tells us that even in this, the two witnesses were not able to agree (Mark 14:59). The High Priest could see that this was getting nowhere, and he lost his patience, so he, the judge, assumed the role of the prosecutor: “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Mat. 26:63).

What a moment this was! The High Priest placed Jesus under oath: “I abjure you by the living God!” Not that this made any difference to Jesus, who only ever spoke the truth. The High Priest asked Jesus the greatest question: “Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God. Tell us if you are God with us. Tell us if you are the one on whom the hopes of the world depend.”

Jesus answered: “You have said so” (26:64). “You said it!” There is no ambiguity in Jesus answer. He used the same words back in verse 25 at the Last Supper. Matthew records that when Jesus told the disciples that one of them would betray him, they all began to say, “Is it I?” When Judas said, “Is it I?” Jesus said, “You have said so” (Mat. 26:25). “You said it.”

You have exactly the same thing here. The High Priest says, “Tell us! Are you the Christ? Are you the Son of God?” And Jesus responds, “You said it!” And then he spoke these remarkable words: “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mat. 26:64).

I am struck by the words “from now on…” Jesus stands before men bound, and under their judgment. He says, “This will never happen again. Never again will I be in your court. From now on you will be in my court, Caiaphas. You will see the Son of Man seated,” that is, on the seat of judgment. “Caiaphas, the tables will be turned. I will be sitting in the seat of judgment and I will be making a judgment about you.”

Here is where it affects us all. The Bible says, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10). Here we are in church considering Jesus’ claims. We are making our decisions about him day by day. Will be obey him? Will we trust him? Will we follow him?

Remember, while you are making your decision about Jesus, the day will come when Jesus will make his decision about you! You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.

The Accusation

When Jesus was accused, he stood in our place

Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy” (Matthew 26:65).

Our Lord Jesus endured two different trials, and in them he faced two different accusations. In his first trial here before the High Priest, he was being judged by the law of God. In his second trial before Pilate, he was being judged by the laws of the state.

Remember, Israel was under Roman rule, so the Jews lived under Roman law. Caesar Augustus sent out a decree that all the world should be registered (Luke 2:1). Rome had the power of raising taxes and executing criminals, and Roman soldiers were garrisoned in Jerusalem and around the country to maintain law and order.

But the Romans, as an accommodation, allowed the Jews to continue to operate their “religious laws.” The importance of this trial before the High Priest was to uphold the law of God. While the law of God and the law of the state overlap, they are not the same and there is an important distinction. The law of God says, “You shall not murder.” The law of the state says the same. The law of God says, “You shall not steal.” The law of the state says the same.

But the law of God also says, “You shall not covet.” The law of the state has no parallel to that, nor could it ever have, because coveting is a matter of the heart. How could the state ever judge it? Only God can judge the state of the heart. The law of God says, “You shall have no other gods before me.” The state has no parallel to that, nor would we want it to. We cherish religious freedom. We are not a theocracy. We do not believe that religion can or should be imposed by law.

When Jesus was tried under the law of God, he was accused of blasphemy. “The high priest tore his robes and said, ‘He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need?’” (Mat. 26:65). That is why they condemned him before the law of God. What is blasphemy? Blasphemy is putting yourself in the place of God.

We see this very clearly in the story of Jesus healing the paralyzed man. He was carried on a mattress by his friends, and lowered through the roof of a house in Capernaum. Jesus said to the man: “Your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5).

Then Mark tells us: “Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” (Mark 2:6-7). You see what they are thinking, Only God forgives sins! This man says that he forgives sins. He is putting himself in the place of God. Therefore, he is blaspheming.

If blasphemy is putting yourself in the place of God, then our Lord Jesus Christ could never, by definition, be guilty of blasphemy – for the simple reason that he is God! He is God in the flesh. He is God with us. But this is what he was accused of.

After this trial, they sent Jesus to Pilate. But Pilate had no interest in a religious charge of blasphemy so he asked: “What crime has he committed?” (Mat. 27:23 NIV). “I’m not interested in offenses against your religious laws. I want to know if a crime has been committed here, and if so, what it is!”

The focus of the trial before Pilate revolves around the charge of treason. The chief priests tell Pilate: This man forbids us to give tribute to Caesar and says that he himself is a king (Luke 23:2). That’s why Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you a king?” (John 18:37). When our Lord was crucified, the inscription over his head recorded the charge against him “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Mat. 27:37).

Pontius Pilate is a story for another day. The point here is that this is not the action of the state. This is a trial under the law of God. What we are concerned with here is that Jesus stood trial under the law of God in the house of the High Priest. When he stood trial, he was charged with blasphemy, which means putting yourself in the place of God.

We will all stand trial before the judgment seat of Christ. And when we do, what will be the first accusation against us? “You have put yourself in the place of God. You have made a god of your own desires and that is blasphemy.”

Why would that be the first charge against us? Because God has said, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). That is his first commandment, and there isn’t a single one of us here today who can say we have kept it. We have regarded our own will, our own desires, as having the first place of importance.

When Jesus stood trial under the law of God, the charge that was laid on him was the charge that stands against us. Surely this is the significance of Jesus’ silence in verse 63: “But Jesus remained silent.”

Not only is this a fulfillment of prophecy, “like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Isa. 53:7), it is a representation of Jesus standing in our place. “We know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God” (Rom. 3:19).

We may imagine that we will have plenty to say in the presence of God, but that is because we are so far from him and we have never seen his glory. When Isaiah had a vision of the presence of God, he fell on his face and said, “Woe is me, I am ruined. I am a man of unclean lips.” And he was one of the godliest people of his day!

James Philip says, “He assumed the guilt of the world’s sin, and guilt stops a man’s mouth. He had nothing to say, because there is nothing to say for guilty man before a holy God.”

We will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Picture yourself standing before God, accused of blasphemy. You have put yourself in the place of God. You have made yourself the king of your own life. You’ve made yourself your own God. You’ve placed yourself at the center of the universe, as if you were made for yourself and not for God.

The Outcome

When Jesus was condemned, he stood in our place

“What is your judgment?”

They answered, “He deserves death” (Matthew 26:66).

Here is why we celebrate Easter and why all that Jesus endured is such marvelous good news for us. The holy Son of God stood in the place of sinners under the law of God and endured its condemnation. All that God could ever charge against his people was charged against Jesus. He took our place under the law – “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23) – and bore the penalty of the law for our sins.

In the Old Testament, we read about the Day of Atonement, when a live goat would be led by a rope to the High Priest. When the live goat was brought to the High Priest, he would place his hands on the head of the ‘scapegoat’ and confess the sins of the people. I’m so glad I never had that job!

Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel… And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness…The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself
(Leviticus 16:21, 22).

When Jesus was led to the High Priest, no doubt with a rope that bound his wrists, he became our scapegoat. The charges that were against us were laid on him. And he was condemned under the law for us.

The reason that those who trust in Jesus have peace with God now (and one day will enter heaven) is not because there is nothing that could be charged against us. It is that our sins, which are many, were charged against Jesus. And having been charged against him, our sins can never again be charged against us!

In the light of the cross, the justice of God is our greatest assurance of pardon! If your sin has been charged against Jesus, a just God will never charge that sin against you! This is why John says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus was declared guilty so that you should be declared righteous. Jesus was charged under the law so that all charges against you would be dropped. Jesus, the righteous one, was condemned so that you, a sinner, would be justified. Jesus was silent in the dock under the law of God, so that when the judgment day comes for you, you will not be speechless, but will be able to say,

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow. [3]

© Colin S. Smith

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Please include this statement on every copy distributed:

By Colin S. Smith. © Colin S. Smith. Website: UnlockingtheBible.org

 

[1] J. C. Ryle, Matthew (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels), p. 266, Crossway, 1993.

[2] James Philip wrote a booklet entitled The Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It was self-published, and is not available in the U.S. (to my knowledge).

[3] Elvina M. Hall, from the hymn, “Jesus Paid It All,” 1865.



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