“Stubborn, blind and treacherous”

16 April 2000

Text: Mark 14:53—15:47


So, we need to fill in the last week of Jesus’ life with some narrative detail.  It’s Wednesday, April 3rd or Nissan 14, AD 30.  The events of this day began on what we would designate as Tuesday evening.  The Jews reckoned days from sunset to sunset.  Therefore Nissan 14 starts after sundown on Tuesday.  We left Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane where He has just been betrayed by Judas, arrested and led away for trial.  Our destination is the torch lit courtyard of the palace of the high priest named Joseph Caiaphas.  We know from extra-biblical sources that he followed Simon, the son of Camithus into this office when Valerius Gratus deposed Simon, then Governor of Judea.  These specifics about terms of office help us establish accurate dates for the events before us.  The whole council is present with a few noteworthy exceptions.  It is a terrifying picture.  Here is the high priest who represents the only Mediator between God and men.  And those who sat with him represent the whole Church of God on earth at that moment in time.  And yet all of them are joined in common conspiracy to murder Jesus, our only and best Hope of salvation.  You would think that here of all places truth and justice, mercy and reason might prevail.  Surely they would look into the cause.  Surely injustice would have a hard time finding a footing here, right?  Wrong.  They seek false witnesses in order to obtain their wicked end: the resolution to have Jesus executed by the Roman government.  And by this their treacherous cruelty, and their blinded obstinacy is revealed for all to see!  And this is the source of this week’s sermon title.  Whereas last week we examined the astounding stupidity and the helplessness of mankind faced by temptation without wisdom, guidance and strengthening by God, this week we are looking at our all too common tendency to be stubborn, blind and treacherous.


Sometimes the human race acts in a manner hardly distinguishable from that of a spoiled brat: we want to do what we want to do when we want to do it and no one is going to tell us anything different.  That wretched defiance far exceeds responsible self-governance; it is the very heart of rebellion and pride.


The Jewish leadership present in Caiaphas’ courtyard is not presenting its finest hour.  This is the way with wickedness.  When wicked leaders find themselves in positions of power and authority, they often throw off the pretense of decency and honor and openly indulge in arrogant injustice.  {They set themselves above the law and abuse whomever they wish.  Woe be unto anyone who dares to oppose them, to criticize them, or to challenge them in any way.  They will ruthlessly crush those who stand in their way even committing perjury and lawlessness.  The dynamics, which unfolded in Caiaphas’ courtyard, are familiar stuff—they appeared as recently as the impeachment hearings of President Clinton.}


There is no attempt to verify the truthfulness of Jesus’ claim to be the Christ on the basis of the signs and miracles that He had performed.  Who needs to be confused with the facts when your mind is made up?  Caiaphas doesn’t care that Jesus’ claim might be accurate.  He stubbornly refuses to follow the evidence where it leads.  He allows his own pride and ambition to blind him to the truth.  We learn a lot from the words of these accusations.  When Caiaphas asks, “Are you the Christ, the Son of God/or the Blessed One?”  He informs us that it was in the common parlance, common Jewish usage to identify these two titles: the Messiah/Christ and Son of God.  So when Jesus says He is the Son of God, He is also claiming to be Messiah and vice versa.  Matthew records that Jesus replies, “Thou hast said it.”  So, by turning the tables and highlighting the unintended truth of their own words, Christ reproves the malice of the priests.  Along these same lines, Luke adds, “If I tell you, you will not believe.”  And by so doing he brings the obstinacy of these leaders into plain view.  Then, as if torching a pile of dry spruce brush, Jesus adds insult to injury by using the divine name I am by way of asserting that He is indeed the Christ.  Though He was exposed to their contempt in this circumstance, and nearly annihilated by their abuse, and in spite of being clothe must humbly, He announces that in due season He will return robed in royal majesty that they might tremble before Him as Judge who, through stubborn unbelief, they now refuse to receive as Lord and Savior.  What Jesus suggests here is that in the place of the present scenario, one wherein He is being treated as unrighteous and with a lack of truthfulness (the false witnesses and their lies), the day is coming when all this will be reversed—they will face Him as Judge and He will judge them in righteousness and truth. Jesus uses the metaphor of “the right hand of power” to signify that He is actually the deputy of God and He is that agency through which God will execute judgment upon the sins of the wicked. 


Then, in a great and supposedly sincere show of religious zeal, the high priest rends his garments having refused to make any inquiry into the matter at hand, of the truthfulness of the charges.  This treacherous hypocrite took on a character that did not belong to him but, on the positive side, he did demonstrate the kind of seriousness with which we ought to consider the spiritual matters before us.  Then Jesus is notoriously abused; He is hit and spat upon . . . held in derision and mocked.  Now the servants were certainly emboldened by the behavior of their superiors to show even greater insolence to Christ.  But God’s use of this should take our breath away.  The face of Christ dishonored by all this spitting and hitting was, through all that abuse, restoring to us the image which had been disfigured, and almost effaced by the progress of sin in our race.


With this arrives the moment in which Peter denies Christ.  A servant girl approaches him and says, “You too were with Jesus the Nazarene.”  Peter’s fall is a mirror to our own weakness and in his repentance, a striking example of divine grace and mercy is disclosed to us.  Peter places himself in harm’s way by being too public in following Jesus—although he had been warned that he would fall.  We must never presume upon our virtue to extend ourselves within the reach of temptation.  Rather, knowing our weakness, we should exercise prudence and not be rash.  Such a little thing, a maiden’s voice and her words of recognition terrify Peter.  We might say it was the mere show of battle, a hint of persecution and Peter caves.  Let us take care that we do not cease to fear God, lest we fall prey to the fear of man as is all too common. Peter’s imminence among the disciples makes his fall all the more devastating.  So those in leadership, who are elevated to a place of service in the church should take notice.  They ought to avoid silly risks and to prepare themselves always to make a plain and candid profession of Christ to all because that is what Christ is entitled to.  The second questioning according to John, and not as in Mark, a mere repetition of that maid’s accusation, comes from a group of men who have picked up this theme from that observant maid.  And then, a third time, this time by a relative of the servant of the high priest whose ear Peter has severed who says, “Didn’t I see you with Him in the Garden.”  Peter adds to his oath of denial, cursing—though he does so out of fear and weakness and not malice.  Then the cock begins to crow and Peter remembers the prophecy of the Lord related to his denials.  Mark how Peter proceeds from bad to worse and take care lest we, like him, should proceed from committing ordinary offenses to committing the basest of sins.  How often we excuse ourselves, saying, “Well, everyone is entitled to their feelings, aren’t they?”  When we know very well that harboring sinful feelings is wrong in itself.  The last thing we really need is confirmation in our bitterness, resentment, anger and pain.  We know that it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks, so we must carefully guard our heart.  Peter reminds us how unsteady we are whenever pressed by Satan.  But, praise God, Christ limited Satan to three denials; Satan is ever bridled, lest he overwhelm us with innumerable temptations!  We may not realize this at the time but it is always true nevertheless.


Unanimously condemned by the Sanhedrin, the high priest and his council resolve to bring Jesus before the governor.  It is an unseasonable hour, but they are frantic to get this business done before anyone questions the process—as certain absent members of the council were likely to do.  I suppose that Pilate, under the circumstances might be allowed a measure of grumpy impatience with these agitated Jews going on about blasphemy and threats of sedition.  He was not a great respecter of religion and may even have been philosophically brain dead. (Hence, his dismissive question, “What is truth?”)  However it came about, it appears that Pilate was on this day admirably suited to the task of rendering a judgment of condemnation on Jesus.  He was a political animal.  His instinct was to please man—if possible both Caesar and the bloodthirsty crowd whooped up by the Jewish leader in opposition to Jesus.  It is reported in the other gospels that Judas, observing all this realizes the consequences of his betrayal are that Jesus has been unjustly condemned.  His actions give him such ill ease that he repents.  He does not however reform—the horror and disgust that grew upon him, instead of driving him towards God, took him in the opposite direction.  He despaired and subsequently took his own life.  Sin had progressed so far in Judas that he lacked a love and desire for righteousness—his moral sense had been cauterized by habitual transgression, by avarice.  Had he been truly converted, he would have turned toward God and received forgiveness and restoration.  As it is his vanity, and fury led him away and his only consolation was death, the very wages of sin.


Judas’ attempt to return the blood money was spurned.  Suddenly the priests show pangs of conscience.  Calvin raises an interesting point: if they felt it was acceptable to take thirty pieces of silver out of the Temple treasury to purchase Jesus’ betrayal (“blood money”) it is inconsistent to have qualms about putting that same money back into the treasury.  There is no way that their compunction about outward appearances in any way absolves them from the treachery that resided in their hearts.  It was their wickedness of heart, their wretchedness as fallen and rebellious men that truly needed to be dealt with!  So, great hypocrisy marks their decision to purchase a burying ground for strangers who might die in Jerusalem; it was mere whitewashing, a little PR, a thin veneer over their spiritual depravity.


So what we have now is the majestic Son of God standing as a malefactor in chains before the judgment seat of profane man.  What a shocking exhibition!  What a dismaying disparity and paradox.  We need to recover a sense of the offense of the cross.  What an unspeakable matter—”folly to the Greeks and an offense to the Jews.”  The Greeks with their philosophical God struggle with the earthiness of this Redeemer.  They ascribe to the view that it’s what you know that saves you.  Jesus boldly contradicts this, asserting that it is whom you know that matters—namely, Himself.  And as for the Jews, Jesus’ presentation of the Messiah was totally contrary to their political and social expectations.  They wanted pomp, grandeur and royalty and a monarch to deliver them in this world from subservience to Rome unto dominance of the nations around them as in the days of old.  But here is what is going on: Jesus is standing as a criminal, accused and condemned, before mortal man so that we may stand boldly before God free from accusation and condemnation. We are acquitted before the heavenly tribunal because He was pronounced guilty on earth.  May we never be ashamed of glorying in His chains He wore for us, and the chains we may wear because we are His people in times of persecution!


The Jews accused Jesus of forbidding people to pay tribute to Rome, claiming that he was the Christ, a King.  This, if it were true, would be pure sedition.  Of course, Jesus never said such a thing.  What He said was “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render to God what is God’s.”  That is a very different thing.  As to the second portion of the accusation, the part that Pilate is very concerned about, Jesus plainly states that He is not an earthly King and so a rival to Caesar: “My Kingdom is not of the world, but you rightly say that I am a King.”  But what is especially startling about Jesus behavior at His trial has long been considered His patient silence.  The truth is that Jesus had no desire to be acquitted.  When He spoke it is to insure that the record be straight about who He indeed was, the Redeemer promised from of old.  Jesus was so submitted to God that He was submissive even to the circumstances in which He found Himself.  Pilate marvels that Jesus allows His innocence to be impugned.


Pilate then sends Jesus to Herod (Luke 23:8—12).  As a result of this gesture, these two wicked men, intoxicated by their position and power, become great friends.  Herod wanted a sign, some miracle.  What he got was silence and that is when he and his whole retinue displayed their worldliness and utter contempt for the things of God.  Hatred of true religion tends to produce harmony among the wicked who see religion as their adversary—as a hindrance to their liberty.  Once again, current events demonstrate the eternal relevance of God’s word.  Religion in general and Christianity in specific are singled out in the media as public enemy #1.


Now just when you think it can’t get any worse, that the final humiliation has been performed, we arrive at the release of Barabbas.  It was not enough for the cruel leadership in their obstinate unbelief to deliver an innocent man to death.  No, from an astounding hatred for purity, innocence and truth, they release a robber and notorious murderer.  Pilate may have tried to prevail upon the Jews by selecting the most depraved specimen of wicked manhood he could find to shame them into releasing someone they knew was innocent.  But they were hardened into shamelessness.  However, lest we give in to finger pointing, we should recall that this condition, this shamelessness is the key characteristic of all sinners—ourselves included when we practice habitual sin!  But it was God that allowed His Beloved to be placed below the basest villain so that we might be reminded of our own spiritual desperation.  Again, He was reckoned lower than a murderer so that we might be elevated above the angles in heaven.  This is, if I might put it so, the logic of the cross.  He bore this abuse for our sakes, to reverse our position.  Pilate repeatedly acquitted Jesus of the charges brought against him to insure that all know that this Jesus bore a punishment He did not deserve.  But the obstinate unbelief of the chief priests and elders who were sold out to the craft and schemes of the high priest and cohorts caused them to stir up the multitude until Pilate, fearful of a riot and civil unrest, caved in.  He decided to placate their rage with the innocent blood of Jesus.  In so doing they disgraced the whole nation, discredited themselves as the church of God, and sold themselves under bondage to this world order.  Politics murdered redemption.  Pilate caves.  He has Jesus scourged as if He were guilty of a common crime.  It reeks as a cowardly act.  Not even this outrage to justice would appease those who would settle for nothing less than crucifixion.


Now the Gentile soldiers take over.  They cruelly abuse Jesus but without religious cause, simply for the sport of it.  We, however, see that these blows were borne by Him for us.  It is courageous to be one with Christ when such shame and cruel abuse are the lot of our Christian brothers and sisters in China, in the Sudan.  There are many saviors of the world who delight in crushing Christians and they applaud the work done by each other in this regard.  It demonstrates their supposed superiority.  Jesus is so harmed by this point that a Cyrenian is commandeered to carry the cross for Jesus.  Some women follow weeping. Jesus reproves them when, by looking beyond His desperate circumstances, He warns them to weep for themselves in view of the dreadful judgment of God that hangs even now over them.  His unjust execution initiates the beginnings of evils to Jerusalem which, forfeiting her spiritual inheritance, settles for the pottage of being an ordinary nation, a nation without call, or calling.  The nation Israel was to be God’s peculiar people, a light to the nations, but she prefers to be just like them indistinguishable from all other secular, and/or pagan states.  Only expiation for the sins of the whole world could and did warrant this abusive treatment and even death!  Numerous and great calamities came to Israel as history records.  The death of Christ has not gone unpunished and the Jews who may have been described as half-rotten at the time of Christ’s crucifixion came into a ripeness of iniquity, cruelty and social depravity that even turned the stomach of the Roman general who oversaw the destruction of the city in 70 AD.  Jesus comment about the green wood versus the dry is to be understood in this manner: no perversion of justice goes unpunished by God.  No amount of unjust oppression of the saints can deflect divine redress.


Jesus is led outside the city, cast out as one unworthy of human intercourse.  He is going there to bear the sins of the people.  Jesus is performing the scapegoat function by bearing that burden of sin on His own back: the greater the disgrace He bore on earth, the greater the nobility He exhibited in heaven before the Father and His angels.  He refused refreshment while He first hung on the cross.  He would not receive anesthesia in any form.  He embraced the lingering exhaustion of death on a cross even though the matter was divinely constrained and timed.  He dies naked.  In the Garden of Eden, man and woman became naked as a consequence of their broken fellowship with God, but on the cross Jesus Christ became naked to reverse this condition.  So that He might clothe us in heaven, so that He might restore our relationship to God, He endured this extremity of vulnerability and dishonor.  It is also apt to note that God literally clothed Adam and Even in Genesis 3:21 with sewn animal skins.  In heaven, we shall be clothed again, but with spotless robes of righteousness.  Two robbers were executed with Him, fulfilling the prophecy that ”He was reckoned among transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).  One of the robbers repents, believes and receives the free gift of salvation—an astounding demonstration of the mercy and grace of God! 


From noon until about three or four p.m. darkness covered the land.  The sun was eclipsed in Judea.  The consequence of this is that the Paschal lambs had to be prepared in the dark.  Surely the high priest was consciously aware of what was transpiring as he labored to prepare the Passover, the blood of thousands of slaughtered lambs streaming into the valley beneath the temple mount.  It is reputed that Jesus and the high priest spoke at the same moment, the same significant sentence: “It is finished.”  It was also at this moment that the earth quaked and the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom.  Such supernatural signs must have penetrated his mind, raising questions related to his treachery, reminding him of Jesus.


Now as to the purpose for all this abasement, all this humiliation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Two things: first, the abasement of Christ arises out of our stubborn, blind and treacherous nature.  What we are not only produced these awful cruelties and injustices, it also necessitated them.  Secondly, as awful as we truly are apart from our redemption by faith in Christ Jesus, Jesus’ humiliation is so awful and horrific that it reaches down under the depths of our human depravity and lifts us up.  Jesus did not allow our depravity to deter Him in the least.  Yes, we truly are, the other side of salvation, stubborn, blind and treacherous; but He chooses to love us anyway.  He reaches into our God-forsakenness, raises us up from our muck and mire, and He purposes to cleanse us completely all because of His great, great love of the Father . . . and because what the Father loves is also loved by the Son.


In the world, we send pretty Valentines to express our love for each other.  They are very nice.  But they are inadequate, beloved, totally inadequate to reach us as we need to be reached.  We know that we are not worthy of God’s love, or even of each other’s affection.  We know that even though we pretend otherwise.  Now the passion of our Lord Jesus proclaims His love for us in the unprettiness of whom we see truly ourselves to be.  Many of us, through sin and injury, have lost sight of ourselves as precious to God, as His beloved children.  Most of us have experienced tremendous discouragement.  The hammer blows of satanic accusation, the atmosphere of negativity, rejection and contempt, the realities of evil in the world and in our own hearts are convincingly hopeless, devastating.  Consequently we feel neither bold nor worthy.  Therefore Jesus came, stooped down, met us where we are really at as if to say, “Come up here where I can see you, deal with you.”  His compassion quickens hope in us.  We begin to question doubt and discouragement.  We want to believe, andb  we need to believe that there is more to life than death, more to us than depravity.  Jesus abused, beaten and bleeding . . . Jesus hung on the cross ministered to a robber in that wicked man’s last hour.  Jesus looking out from the cross is looking for you.  He wants you to hear him call to you, “Come to me . . . you who are weak and heavy laden.  I have come to embody the Father’s love for you, and my love.  If you will believe in Me, I will take from you your guilt, shame and pain.  If you will believe in Me, I will not have died for you in vain.  Come to Me and we shall go together into the Father’s house.”  Deep calleth unto deep.  Jesus invites you to come home to the Father and to the Son.  Don’t be obstinate, stubborn and unbelieving anymore . . . open your eyes and see what I have endured for you.  Trust me and all your treacheries will cease both now and even forevermore.