Friday, March 25, 2016

Making a Messiah, Good Friday

It had been a full week, it had started with the crowds on the streets of Jerusalem and now here they were, just the thirteen of them in a private room celebrating the Passover. 

And only two people in that room knew where the night would lead.

Jesus, because he was. . . Jesus.  And Judas because he had put the wheels into motion, the day before, when he had agreed to betray his friend for thirty pieces of silver. 

And Jesus knew that he had been betrayed, and yet in this amazing display of grace he still invites Judas to celebrate with them.

And that is the invitation that continues to be extended by Jesus, even knowing all that we will do, and all the ways that we will betray his love and name he still says, come. 

Communion Celebration

Last week we celebrated Palm Sunday and we looked at the dark side of the celebration and how it was after Jesus had entered into Jerusalem riding on a donkey while the crowds praised him and waved palm branches that the religious authorities felt that they had no option but to take matters into their own hands.  It was at the point that they decided, that Jesus must die.

And that decision has led us to this point only five days later.

It was a perfect set up, it had to be this way.  During the day Jesus was surrounded by crowds of sympathetic people who had come to hear him preach.  People whose lives had been impacted by Jesus.  Perhaps they had been healed by him, or maybe because of his teaching on forgiveness they had seen a relationship restored, or perhaps they had been part of the multitude he had fed by the shores of Galilee.  Regardless of the how and why, those who gathered around him during the day would pose a considerable problem for the authorities, and so they came for him under the cover of night.  

But even then they were taking no chances.  And so to arrest the man who had spoken so much of love, forgiveness and grace a crowd was sent.  Three of the gospels simply identify them as a crowd of men armed with swords and clubs, however John gets more specific and tells us in John 18:2-3  Judas, the betrayer, knew this place, because Jesus had often gone there with his disciples.  The leading priests and Pharisees had given Judas a contingent of Roman soldiers and Temple guards to accompany him. Now with blazing torches, lanterns, and weapons, they arrived at the olive grove.

I don’t know if they expected Christ to fight or run, but either way they came prepared, what they didn’t prepare for was for him to simply surrender.  And Jesus asked them in Luke 22:52-53  Then Jesus spoke to the leading priests, the captains of the Temple guard, and the elders who had come for him. “Am I some dangerous revolutionary,” he asked, “that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me?  Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there every day. But this is your moment, the time when the power of darkness reigns.”

And in that one statement Jesus was letting them know that he knew.

You see even though the night arrest made for good strategy and good theatre it was the beginning of the flawed prosecution of Jesus. And Jesus knew what they knew and that was if they couldn’t prove a case against him then they would fabricate a case against him.

And it started with the reality that The Arrest Was Flawed Historical we are told that there were two problems with the arrest, the first was that it was performed at night.  There were all kinds of guidelines and regulations in place for the Jewish judicial process and one was that neither arrests or trials were to conducted at night. 

Two thousand years ago in Israel justice was under the authority of the Sanhedrin, they were the supreme religious authority at the time, and functioned kind of like a supreme court.   And there would have been no discussion about the separation of religion and state then.  While Israel may have been under Roman rule they still considered themselves a Theocracy. 

In Canada we enjoy a Democracy and that word can be traced back to two Greek words:  “Demos” meaning “People” and “Kratia”  meaning “Power”.  2000 years ago Israel was a Theocracy.  “Kratia” still meant “Power” but “Theos” meant “God”.  And so in manners of religious and civil law you had a religious court, the Sanhedrin, comprised of members of the Pharisees, Sadducees and the Priest Hood.  The Grand Sanhedrin had 71 members and was only convened for matters of national security and then you had a cabinet of 23 that was probably the group that conspired against Christ.

And they functioned, just like courts everywhere, under restrains.  And one those constrains was that justice would be performed in the daylight hours.   And there was a symbolism wrapped up in that, justice was all about being transparent and was about light being shone into the darkness and that justice should be able to bear up to the scrutiny that would come on it in the light of day.

But here they are with their torches seeking him out after dark. The arrest of Jesus happened somewhere between 1 and 2 o’clock in the morning.  And that was wrong.

The other issue is he was arrested on the information of Judas and under the law of the day someone who was a criminal associate could not provide the evidence needed for an arrest in a capital case, because of the conflict of interest.  They would be as guilty as the accused.

And yet the story here revolves around the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, one of his closest associates.  And when the crowd came to arrest him, Judas steps forward embrace Christ and kisses him.  And that was done to ensure that in the darkness of the night, lit only with flickering torches that no mistake would be made, that the right man would be arrested.  Because the one thing that those who conspired to end Jesus’ ministry agreed on was “Jesus must die.”


But it wasn’t only the arrest that was flawed, The Trials Were Flawed.  And notice that I said trails, not trial. 

What happened after the arrest of Jesus would have been considered a travesty by today’s legal standards. From his arrest, to his interrogation, to his conviction to his sentence things were done differently than we would do them today.

And that is to be expected, we often watch as historical figures are judged by today’s standards, and very seldom do they fare well.  And so we can’t expect that a trial held in an occupied country 2000 years ago should be held to the same standards as the same trial would be today in Canada.  But we would expect that it would be held to the standards of that day and time.

In 1948 British Judge Frank Powell wrote a book called “The Trial of Jesus Christ”  and it looks at the trial of Jesus in light of the historical standards of the day, that is the way that a capital case was supposed to be tried under Jewish law.  And what he discovered was that there was nothing fair about the trial of Jesus and very little was done properly in the trial of Christ.

Around the same time American Lawyer David Breed wrote “The Trial of Christ” and found a number of errors that under Jewish and Roman Law would have been considered serious breaches.  Today they would be considered reversible errors, and would be the basis of a new trial.  And not just one or two, Breed identifies 17 different issues that contravened the trial laws of that time.  

From his first appearance in front of Annas we see that nobody is really interested in justice, they are interesting in ridding themselves of Jesus.  John 18:13  First they took him to Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest at that time.

Annas had no legal standing in the Jewish community.  He had been the High Priest but now he was retired and he was the father in law of the man who was now High Priest, Caiaphas.  So why would Jesus have first been taken into the home of this man?

I would suspect it goes back to an event that happened earlier in the week, when Jesus cleansed the temple courts. You might recall how Jesus had come into the courts and saw the money changers and vendors who were taking advantage of the pilgrims who had come for the Passover celebration. 

The story is told in Mark 11:15-17  When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace.  He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”

Well here is an interesting tidbit from history, the man who was in charge of what happened in the temple courts, the man who profited from the extortion, was none other than Annas.  The temple courtyards were even referred to by the Jews of the day as “The Bazaars of Annas.”  Hmmmm. 

And so Annas demanded the names of Jesus’ followers and what he had been teaching them.  When Jesus didn’t give the answers that Annas was looking for, he was beaten.  And in turn Jesus responds by saying John 18:23  Jesus replied, “If I said anything wrong, you must prove it. But if I’m speaking the truth, why are you beating me?”

And so it was at that point that Annas had Jesus bound like a criminal and sent to his Son-in-law, Caiaphas.  You remember Caiaphas. 

We read about him last week, in the Gospel of John in reference to Jesus, Caiaphas told his colleagues  John 11:50  “You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.”

And two days later we read this account Matthew 26:3-4  At that same time the leading priests and elders were meeting at the residence of Caiaphas, the high priest,  plotting how to capture Jesus secretly and kill him.  So the next person that who is involved in Jesus’ trial has already stated publically his intention to have Jesus killed.  I’m thinking that Caiaphas might have had a little bit of a problem being unbiased.

I think Caiaphas knew the truth about Jesus, because we read in Matthew 26:59-61  Inside, the leading priests and the entire high council were trying to find witnesses who would lie about Jesus, so they could put him to death.  But even though they found many who agreed to give false witness, they could not use anyone’s testimony. Finally, two men came forward who declared, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the Temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’”

 Understand that under Jewish law a capital trial could only happen during the daytime, they are still under the cover of dark. And criminal cases weren’t permitted to be held during the religious celebrations and the Passover celebrations had started the day before.  The trial had to be held in the meeting place of the Sanhedrin, but they were meeting in the home of Caiaphas.  At least two witnesses had to be examined separately, yet here the witnesses were examined together after being coached to twist the words of Christ. 

And under Jewish law, only a not guilty verdict could be delivered the same day as the trial.  When the verdict was guilty at least one night had to go by before sentencing, so the tribunal would have time to reflect and perhaps consider mercy, and Jesus’ trail was finished in hours.

These were the Sanhedrin’s own rules and in their rush to be rid of Jesus they, were prepared to make a mockery of a legal system that was admired in their day.

The charges that Caiaphas and his cronies finally settled on was the charge of blasphemy.  That Jesus had claimed to be God.

The problem for them was that 300 years earlier they might have had the authority to have Jesus executed, but not under Roman law.

And so we pick up the story in John 18:28  Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas ended in the early hours of the morning. Then he was taken to the headquarters of the Roman governor. His accusers didn’t go inside because it would defile them, and they wouldn’t be allowed to celebrate the Passover.  Well at least they were conscientious about that.

The problem was that blasphemy was a religious charge and Pilate couldn’t have cared less.  And so we read in Luke 23:2  They began to state their case: “This man has been leading our people astray by telling them not to pay their taxes to the Roman government and by claiming he is the Messiah, a king.”

So the charge has changed from blasphemy to treason.  And when Pilate said that he didn’t see any evidence of that they up the ante and tell him Luke 23:5  Then they became insistent. “But he is causing riots by his teaching wherever he goes—all over Judea, from Galilee to Jerusalem!”   Riots?  Seriously?  Riots?   

But it was here that Pilate saw an out, he didn’t want to execute the carpenter but he didn’t want to alienate the religious leaders.  And he responds Luke 23:6-7  “Oh, is he a Galilean?” Pilate asked.  When they said that he was, Pilate sent him to Herod Antipas, because Galilee was under Herod’s jurisdiction, and Herod happened to be in Jerusalem at the time.  The old pass the buck trick.

This was the same Herod who had John the Baptist killed, it was his father who had tried to kill Jesus when he was a new born.  We are told that Herod had heard about Jesus and wanted to meet him and see him perform a miracle.  Comedians often tell how annoying it is when they meet someone and are asked to say something funny, and magicians say that they are often asked to perform a trick for people.  Very seldom does the preacher get to eat in a group without being the person who is asked to say grace. 

And so in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Jesus Christ Super Star” Herod sings
So You are the Christ
You're the great Jesus Christ
Prove to me that You're divine
Change my water into wine

That's all You need do
And I'll know it's all true
C'mon King of the Jews

But we are told that Jesus doesn’t even grace Herod with an answer, and so Herod puts a purple robe on Christ and sends him back to Pilate.  Saying that he just found Jesus annoying.

So what is Pilate to do?  He has the religious leaders and the mob they had incited demanding that Jesus be executed, but he can find no evidence to support a case against Jesus and neither can Herod.   His wife has shown up in the middle of everything, telling him about a dream she had about Jesus and how Pilate should release him.

And Pilate tries, he tells the crowd that as a gesture of good will because it’s the Passover he will release one prisoner.  And he stands Jesus up next to a known murderer named Barabbas and offers the crowd their choice of who should go free, he figured it was a no brainer.  And the mob egged on by the authorities yelled, “Free Barabbas, crucify Jesus.”

Things are getting out of control and so Pilate has Jesus flogged with a steel tipped whip, but even that doesn’t satisfy the bloodlust of the crowd.

 And finally in frustration Pilate turns to the crowd and says:  “I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours!”

“The responsibility is yours, what will you do with this innocent man?” he asked.

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