Jesus is on the way to His death on the cross. He is on trial before the Jewish ruling council of that day, the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin is blinded by bias.
What a sight this is to behold. The Apostle Peter calls Jesus the Author of Life (Acts 3:15). The Apostle Paul calls Jesus the Lord of Glory (1 Cor. 2:8). But here He is on trial before a human court. Just this simple observation can take our breath away. These sinful human beings are sitting in judgment over the One whom they owe for their lives.
It is even more astounding that Jesus is allowing it.
In any event, one issue jumps off the page. Jesus was denied a fair trial. Jesus was denied notice of any claims and crimes asserted against Him and an opportunity to be heard. He was denied the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses, confront His accusers, put on His own evidence. He was denied the opportunity for a fair trial in front of an unbiased trier of fact. He was denied being convicted or exonerated based on the evidence.
Mark says that the Sanhedrin was seeking witnesses against Jesus in order to put Him to death (Mk. 14:55). They had an agenda. They already thought Jesus guilty and worthy of death. They just wanted to find the witnesses who could substantiate their foregone conclusion. Why weren’t they looking for witnesses that could exonerate Jesus, if they were interested in fairness?
The chief priest also contradicted himself. Apparently, it was blasphemous for any human being to claim to be Son of God. That is the crime Jesus allegedly committed. Yet, what did the chief priest ask Jesus?: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (Mk. 14:61). The Blessed here is a reference to God.
Apparently, the chief priest thought the Messiah would be the Son of the Blessed. We can see how this is so by looking at Psalm 2. In Psalm 2 God calls the King of Israel His Son and says today I have begotten you.
There would be nothing wrong, therefore, in principle, for Jesus to claim to be the Son of God. The issue was really a factual one. Was Jesus in fact the Son of God, as far as any human court would be able to determine? In other words, did Jesus in fact do what one would expect the Son of God to do? Did Jesus in fact act in a way that one would expect the Son of God to act? If so, based on the testimony of competent witnesses, He did not commit blasphemy and was not deserving of death, as far as any human court could tell.
Such testimony was available. They could have called the man born blind to whom Jesus gave sight, whom we meet in John 9, or they could have allowed Jesus to call him. They could have called Lazarus (John 11:38-44). He was alive and well just down the road in Bethany (John 12:1-1-2). And Jesus did not raise Lazarus in secret.
They could have called a ruler of the synagogue whose daughter Jesus brought back to life (Mark 5:21-24a, 35-43). His testimony could have gone like this.
“Your Honor, the High Priest. We call Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue in Capernaum.”
Jairus takes the stand.
“Sir, do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”
“Sir, what is your name?”
“Did your daughter really die one day?”
“Did you ask Jesus for help?”
“What did Jesus do?”
“He took her by the hand, spoke to her, and she came back to life.”
“Did you see this with your own eyes?”
“Were there any other witnesses?”
“Well, yes, my wife. And three of Jesus’s disciples were there too, who saw it.”
“Thank you, Jairus. Your Honor. No further questions.”
Now we could get expert opinion in the teaching of the Old Testament as to who has the power over life and death as far as the people of Israel were concerned. Of course, we wouldn’t really need such testimony. The answer is obvious. The Lord has the power over life and death. Who then is walking among us as this man Jesus? Competent evidence could lead us to conclude that it was the Lord, in the flesh.
I went through this exercise to show how it is evident that Jesus was denied a fair trial according to basic standards of fairness and the best ideals of judicial justice.
It seems that the Sanhedrin was blinded by some sort of bias toward Jesus and just wanted to get rid of Him. Maybe He was a threat to their power. Maybe He made them angry because He judged their merciless, legalistic traditions and sabbath regulations. Maybe He made them angry because He took away a huge source of income with respect to the sacrificial animals sold at the temple. Maybe they were afraid that Jesus really would cause the people to revolt against the Roman rulers. Maybe they were jealous of His power and popularity. Maybe they couldn’t stand his mercy and grace toward those they thought didn’t deserve mercy.
Whatever the case, they had to get rid of Him. Of course, maybe they were simply motivated by the bias that it is just too incredible to believe that true God could be among us as a true human being in this man. This bias is strong and pervasive today.
One thing we can learn from the trial of Jesus is that we Christians have an interest in good government and fair legal proceedings. Since Jesus was denied such fairness, we should cherish it. It could be denied to us someday. But it is also good and right in principle.
As we ourselves live in and exercise the powers of the good offices and vocations God has built into the civil realm, let us remember and value fairness and honesty. Let us be on guard against how the devil and the flesh can destroy these good offices and wreak havoc and murder through them by malice and hatred.
But now let us turn to a deeper and more perplexing question. Why should the Jewish ruling council want to get rid of Jesus in the first place? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have God among us as a human being, teaching us the truth, speaking to us directly, doing the wonderful things Jesus did?
Reaching such a conclusion is heartbreaking. People want their very human and sinful rulers to provide the good Jesus brought, even though they are powerless to provide it. When Jesus brought it, they rejected Him. The rulers of this age are ignorant of the wisdom of God hidden in Christ. If they had not been ignorant, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory, says the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 2:8).
This may suggest that humans really couldn’t stand to have God among us for very long. Such a God-man would just be too perfect, and, therefore, too intolerable. He would be too strict for some. He would be too much the friend of tax collectors and sinners for others. And, at some point, He would just fail to give humans what they want. At some point, some way, somehow, He would convict the rulers of sin. And at least some of the rulers, maybe most of them, would not like to be convicted of sin.
When that happens, Jesus must go. When that happens, Jesus’s Word must be silenced. The need for the Sanhedrin to get rid of Jesus becomes understandable. It happens in our day.
The apparent reality of God in the flesh dwelling among us becoming ultimately intolerable also indicates that the kingdom of this world is not the kingdom of God, properly speaking. If it were, the rulers of this age would have received Jesus as their King, but they did not. The fact that the kingdom of this world is not the kingdom of God means that Jesus must die.
The kingdom of God says the Apostle Paul, is a matter of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17). Christ Himself testified to Pontius Pilate, my kingdom is not of this world (John 18:33-36).
So, we have faith in the Gospel and ask Christ to rule our hearts and minds by the Holy Spirit. Through such faith we do what we can to bring honesty and fairness into the civil realm. But through such faith we await with eager expectation the return of Christ. When he returns, He will bring the kingdom of God into wonderful and complete reality. He will do this through resurrection and new creation.
Friends, the unjust trial of Jesus is bad news and grieves us. The good news is this: though the Sanhedrin wanted to put Jesus to death to get rid of Him, the Father intended to redeem us through His death. By His wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5). And the Father rejected the Sanhedrin’s rejection of Jesus and raised Jesus on the third day. Though we are perplexed and have sorrow over the unjust trial and conviction of Jesus, we can rejoice in this: in Jesus’s death and resurrection, God is at work to accomplish our complete redemption. Thanks be to God who is able to do this.