The following is an unedited sermon manuscript; for an explanation of my sermon manuscripts, click here.
*Originally preached May 9th, 2021*
Sermon Audio: Jesus and the Trial (Mark 14:53-72)
How we orient ourselves to the truth will determine how we receive the truth. How you approach the truth will determine how you interpret the truth.
If a husband and wife are in a fight with each other, if the husband loves his wife, he will help his wife orient herself to that truth by demonstrating gentleness, patience, and a willingness to listen to her. But if he simply gets angry and barks “Calm down!” to her, he is going to make it harder for her to see the reality of his love towards her, it will be more difficult for her to experience that love. Why? Because how we orient ourselves to the truth will determine how we receive the truth. How you approach the truth will determine how you interpret the truth.
In our text today, we will see two examples of ways you can orient yourself to the truths of the identity of Jesus Christ, wrongly. One will be confronted with a clear and precise explanation of the truth of Jesus, but will approach it so wrongly that they will dismiss Jesus entirely. Another will be closer, but still fundamentally misunderstand who Jesus is because of a poor orientation to the truth.
53 And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. 54 And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire. 55 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. 56 For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. 57 And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, 58 “We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” 59 Yet even about this their testimony did not agree. 60 And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 61 But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63 And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? 64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. 65 And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows.
66 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. – Mark 14:53-72
The scene opens with the guards hauling Jesus in to the high priest and the gathered Sanhedrin (the chief priests, scribes, and elders) (Mark 14:53). This group of individuals comprises the ruling and governing class over the Temple and thus over much of Jewish life and they have been working for some time now on a way they could capture Jesus. And now they have Him. But they are running into issues:
“Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree.” – Mark 14:55-56
Mark makes it very plain for us in simply stating that they “bore false witness against him.” People are just lying about Jesus, hoping to concoct a story damning enough to get Jesus condemned. But they can’t seem to agree on what exactly it is that Jesus is guilty of, but they are certain that He is guilty!
“And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, “We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” Yet even about this their testimony did not agree.” – Mark 14:57-59
Perhaps these people have overheard Jesus’ prophecy in Mark 13 about the temple being destroyed (see 13:2). But there Jesus does not threaten to destroy the temple Himself, but simply prophesies that God will destroy the temple. Nowhere in Mark’s gospel do we have Jesus making this claim (though a similar claim is made in John 2:19 by Jesus). But still, even about this issue they can’t agree on exactly what was said. What Mark is trying to show us is that this is anything but a fair trial. The men are not impartial, unprejudiced investigators whose only commitment is to where the evidence leads them. The jury has arrived at their conclusion long before anyone began asking any questions.
Frustrated that their efforts are getting nowhere, the high priest gets involved: “And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he remained silent and made no answer,” Mark 14:60-61. Surely, the high priest thinks to himself, this man must have some defense, some justification he will try to make to escape being condemned to death. But Jesus does not open His mouth. Jesus’ silence fulfills what the prophet Isaiah foretold in Isaiah 53:7:
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
Then the chief priest pointedly asks: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Mark 14:61b.
The chief priest ask Jesus if He is the Christ (that is, Messiah), and the Son of the Blessed (which is a way to describe God by means of circumlocution; pious Jews refrained from speaking God’s name out of fear of breaking the third commandment). The “Christ” was the promised Redeemer whom the Old Testament awaited; the son of David who would deliver Israel from its exile and bondage and restore the people. While there doesn’t appear to be a one-for-one overlap with the term “Christ” and “Son of God” the high priest here obviously sees them interconnected in some way—perhaps because the David is promised that his son will be treated like a son to God? (2 Sam 7:14)
Though Jesus has privately admitted to being the Messiah to His disciples (Mark 8:29-30), all throughout Mark’s gospel Jesus has never publicly taught or admitted that He was the Christ. He has also not permitted anyone to address Him as the Son of God. The only times we have heard Jesus’ be identified as the Son of God was from the title of gospel (Mark 1:1), from the Father addressing Jesus as the Son (Mark 1:11; 9:7), and from demons (Mark 1:24-25; 1:34; 3:11-12; 5:7). The only place in the gospel where we have a human acknowledging that Jesus is truly the Son of God is after Jesus is crucified—shockingly, by one of the Roman guards who did the crucifying! (Mark 15:39).
Who recognizes Jesus most accurately in the gospel of Mark? Those afflicted by demons, Gentiles, women, the infirmed, the desperate. It is like Mark is wanting to show his readers that the further away you are from the “inside clique” of religiosity, the quicker you are to recognize who Jesus really is. Why is that? It isn’t as if religion and piety are evil—Jesus Himself was a faithful Jew who observed the Torah, who was very pious and religious. The common denominator around those who reject Jesus isn’t religiosity—Pilate, after all, rejects Jesus—but self-reliance, self-righteousness. Those who want to approach God on their own terms, with a sense of entitlement and competence will always be unable to recognize who Jesus is.
Do you remember the story where Jesus is eating a meal with sinners and tax collectors, and the scribes of the Pharisees ask, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:16-17). Why do those who think they are well not flock to the physician? Because they do not think they need Him.
And in their self-competence and reliance, they fail to recognize who He is. And here, those who are most reliant on themselves have now asked Jesus point blank who He is: “Are you the Christ, the Son of God?”
Jesus responds “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven,” (Mark 14:62). Here Jesus takes several identities from the Old Testament and folds them together in order to reveal one of the fullest and most colored-in descriptions of Jesus’ identity that Jesus offers in the gospels.
First, Jesus takes the identity of the son of David from Psalm 110: “The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool,” (110:1). If you remember, back in Mark 12 when Jesus had been arguing with the temple authorities, He cites this text and asks how them how David’s son could be also be called David’s Lord (Mark 12:35-37). Here, Jesus is demonstrating the answer to that question and identifying Himself as the son of David, the Messiah.
Second, Jesus takes the identity of the Son of Man from Daniel 7. In Daniel 7, we hear this: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed,” (Dan 7:13-14). Jesus folds together the identity of the son of David into this figure, the Son of Man. Fascinatingly, Jesus explains that the Sanhedrin will see Jesus coming on the clouds of heaven—potentially referring to His ascension where Jesus ascends to Heaven to take up His throne over the kingdom, and is taken into a cloud (Acts 1:9).
Lastly, Jesus could be identifying Himself with Yahweh with His response: “I am.” In Exodus, when Moses asked God to tell him His name, God responds: “I am who I am,” (Ex 3:14). Now, Jesus could be simply answering in the affirmative to the high priest’s question: Are you the Messiah, the Son of God? But it doesn’t seem inappropriate for Jesus to be subtly nudging in this direction, as He has done elsewhere in the gospel of Mark (Mark 6:50; cf. John 8:58). This actually makes the most sense of the high priest’s response.
So, Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the coming Son of Man…Yahweh in the flesh. Nowhere else in the gospels—not even to His own disciples—does Jesus provide such a profound and clear description of His identity. But how do they respond?
“And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows,” (Mark 14:63-65).
The chief priests and scribes and elders’ problem was not a lack of knowledge. Jesus simply answered their question, but this only hardened their hearts further and confirmed what they already suspected, that Jesus was an imposter and a sham who needed to be killed. We must remember, it is not like Jesus was a stranger to these people. Jesus had a public ministry of nearly three years where He was complete celebrity. He couldn’t go into towns without being mobbed by crowds. His teaching drew in thousands of people who would sit and listen to Him for hours upon hours. He healed people no one else could heal, He delivered people from bondage that no one else could deliver, and He taught like no one else could teach—He even raised people from the dead! The chief priests, the scribes, and the elders knew all of this—they had access to the same information that everyone else did, information that led so many others to believe that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah. And here they ask Jesus point blank whether or not He is the messiah, and He answers more fully than He has ever answered, and what do they conclude? No, this man isn’t the Messiah, this man deserves death.
Why? Because people who don’t think that they are sick, don’t see a need for a Physician. How you orient yourself to the truth will determine how you receive the truth. Their approach was wrong, so their interpretation was wrong. Like the person playing golf who thinks that the person with the highest score is winning, the chief priests have fundamentally misunderstood what the Messiah was to be, so they have misunderstood Jesus.
Peter, this whole time has been warming himself by the fire in the courtyard of the high priest, trying to observe what will happen. We could assume that there is still some mixture of fear with genuine devotion in the heart of Peter. None of the other disciples attempted to follow Jesus. Peter sincerely loves Jesus, but he is also very afraid. Three times people approach Peter and ask him if he is associated with Jesus, with each time the questioners becoming more confident that Peter is certainly a disciple of Jesus, and each time Peter responds more forcefully that he does not, indeed, know who Jesus is, until…
“And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.” – Mark 14:72
Just a few hours ago Peter was swearing up and down that he would rather die than abandon Jesus. And yet, here he is, doing just that. Now Peter, like the chief priests, isn’t looking at the information totally right. He is far closer than the chief priests, but He still has misunderstood who Jesus is. He still has incorrect perspectives on what the Messiah was, how God works, and what that would mean for his life. And because he has oriented himself wrongly to the truth, he has failed to see the truth rightly. And this produces in him the result of doing what he never imagined he would do: deny Jesus.
Which gives us a sober reminder: we should take God’s warnings about sin very seriously. Peter never thought he would deny Jesus, and yet here he is. Jesus warned him that this would happen, but Peter thought the idea that he would deny Jesus was so ludicrous that he outright contradicted Jesus: You’re wrong Jesus, I won’t deny you! But Jesus knew Peter’s weaknesses better than Peter did. And friend, God knows your weaknesses better than you do. When God’s Word warns us of the danger of sin, the danger of temptation, we should not be quick to dismiss it: I’ll never do that, I don’t need to worry about that sin. Paul warns the Corinthians, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” – 1 Cor 10:12.
John Owen reminded his readers in his great work The Mortification of the Flesh that whenever sin tells you I plan on taking one step, you can be certain that it will always take two. Sin will always take you further than you wanted to go and will always demand more than you want to give. Sin is a cruel taskmaster who is bent on your destruction. Do not toy with it, do not flirt with it. This is why Owen encouraged his readers to respond to the first sight of temptation with the knowledge that it intends to take us always to its final station. That little lust? It wants to take you to an affair and the ruin of your marriage. That little white lie? It wants to so sear your conscience that you burn all trust through your habitual lying. Owen writes, “Rise up with all your strength against it, with no less indignation than if it had fully accomplished what it aims at.”
How do you approach rightly?
What is the common denominator among those who recognize Jesus? Desperation. They are desperate people. Like blind Bartimaeus who screams out louder and louder for Jesus when others try to shut him up: Son of David, Son of David, have mercy on me! They are like the friends of the paralytic who are willing to rip a roof off to lower their friend down to Jesus. They are like the unclean woman who shoves through a crowd just to touch the fringe of Jesus’ robe. Every story where Jesus is rightly identified, believed in, trusted in as He ought to, the individuals are those who have thrown self-reliance to the curb. Three times in the gospel of Mark are we told about parents with sick or dying children who implore Jesus to come heal their child. What kind of desperation would you feel if your child was on the verge of death, with no hope of any kind of medical solution, and you heard that there was someone here who could instantaneously heal your child, what kind of desperation would you feel to get your child to that person?
How do you approach Jesus?