The Show Trial of Jesus Christ (Matthew 26:57-27:2)
False accusation and Faithfulness
57 And those who had laid hold of Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled. 58 But Peter followed Him at a distance to the high priest’s courtyard. And he went in and sat with the servants to see the end.
59 Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, 60 but found none. Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none. But at last two false witnesses came forward 61 and said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.’ ”
62 And the high priest arose and said to Him, “Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?” 63 But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!”
64 Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
65 Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, “He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy! 66 What do you think?”
They answered and said, “He is deserving of death.”
67 Then they spat in His face and beat Him; and others struck Him with the palms of their hands, 68 saying, “Prophesy to us, Christ! Who is the one who struck You?”
69 Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came to him, saying, “You also were with Jesus of Galilee.”
70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are saying.”
71 And when he had gone out to the gateway, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, “This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
72 But again he denied with an oath, “I do not know the Man!”
73 And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, “Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you.”
74 Then he began to curse and swear, saying, “I do not know the Man!”
Immediately a rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” So he went out and wept bitterly.
27:1 When morning came, all the chief priests and elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death. 2 And when they had bound Him, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor.
In the last calendar year, we saw not one but two trials of the century, that captured the attention of the entire nation. The trials themselves are a drama. How will this play out? What will be the outcome? Guilty or not guilty? What sentence is the accused facing? It is easy to become consumed by this drama, often because you can see yourself in the accused’s shoes. What if that were me standing there? What if I were accused falsely of a crime I did not commit? It would be a terrifying experience. And Jesus experienced this on our behalf. Jesus was accused of a crime He did not commit.
After He is captured by the temple guard at Gethsemane, Jesus was taken to Caiaphas the high priest’s palace. There Jesus principle enemies, the scribes and elders had gathered together. In the background, Peter snuck in to see what was going on. He sat outside the palace, with the high priest’s servants in the courtyard.
Matthew then tells us that the chief priests had sought out false testimony against Jesus, but could not find it. Many people came forward to lie about Jesus, but they couldn’t get anything they said to stick to Him. Until two came forward, two being the minimum necessary to establish a thing as fact under the Law of Moses, and said that Jesus had said “I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.”
Now, John’s Gospel has this statement being said by Jesus and it’s meaning (He’s talking about the temple of His body not the physical building), but here it is only presented to us in this context. The high priest tried to get Jesus to respond to that statement but He would not. The irony of the statement, of course, is that Jesus, Israel’s God in the flesh, had destroyed the temple once before due to Israel’s idolatry and blasphemy. Yahweh is a temple destroying God. He is happy to destroy His house if it has become leprous. He is more than willing to leave not one stone upon another if His people have rejected Him.
To a certain degree, it seems, Caiaphas knows this. So He puts Jesus under oath and asks Him plainly. “Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus replies “It is as you said.” He affirms it. And then Jesus goes on to explain to them what that means. You all will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.
He’s doing two things there: 1. He is identifying Himself with Daniel’s prophecy of the Son of Man riding the clouds, and 2. He is prophesying to them their own destruction. They are going to see Him return in judgment upon them and on that place. And, of course, many of these same men trying Him did see that forty years later.
Upon hearing this, the high priest did something he specifically is commanded to never do in the law: tear his clothes. Never under any circumstances, including grieving over his own family, is he to tear his robes, yet here, what does he do? He violates God’s law because he believes he has triumphed over God. He believes he has heard Jesus utter blasphemy.
The rest of the chief priests and elders condemn Him to death. And they start to beat Him and spit on Him and mock Him. Saying “who was it who hit you? Prophesy to us Christ.” Unknowingly, these men are fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering servant. Jesus goes to be beaten, spit upon, and mocked, and he opens not His mouth.
Peter’s Denial and Delivery to Pilate (v. 69-27:2)
Peter sat in the courtyard and watched this entire scene unfold. But a servant girl spotted him and outed him: you are one of the men with Jesus. He denied this accusation, just as Jesus had prophesied.
He gets up and starts to leave, and makes it to the gateway when another girl accused him of being with Jesus. And again he denied it, just as Jesus had prophesied. This time he even made a false oath.
Next, many others came and said to him, “You are surely one of them, your accent is giving you away.” Imagine if Galilee was Georgia or Alabama and this trial was happening in New York City. You might be able to hide where you are from if you were careful, but if you started speaking, especially with emotions running high, your accent would give you away. And that is what happened to Peter. And after this third accusation, Peter began to curse and swear that he did not know Jesus. The third and final denial of Jesus, as Jesus had prophesied. It was at this point, the rooster began to crow to signal the dawn of a new day. And Peter remembered what Jesus had said to him and he left that place and wept. Peter had gone from a man filled with zeal, who would die before letting Jesus be taken, to a cowardly man, denying he even knew Him. All in the space of a single night. Jesus was proven a true prophet by Peter here, and Peter knew it. He was filled with tremendous grief over his own betrayal of Jesus. This is important for us to keep in mind as we see what happens next for Peter in this story.
But morning had come, and the Israel’s high council of elders now, having convicted Jesus had to plot how to put Him to death. The authority to execute criminals did not belong to them. They were under the occupation of the Romans. They had to get permission from Rome. So they had to reach into their bag of tricks to see just how they’d be able to have Jesus killed. So they tied Him up and took Him to Pontius Pilate, the prefect who governed Judea.
Jesus was falsely accused. He was accused of a crime He did not commit. He stood trial, was convicted, and sentenced to death. There is nothing more anguishing than to be falsely accused. Accusation is Satan’s great weapon. In fact, that name “Satan” literally means “accuser.” Satan loves to accuse. He loves to be the prosecutor, trying to lay traps for you to admit guilt for crimes you did not commit. And as bad as it is to stand accused of things you are indeed guilty of, it is incalculably worse to be accuse of things you did not do. When my wife was a small child maybe five-years-old, her sister took a giant, black magic marker and wrote my wife’s name on the wall. When her parents came in and saw this, who do you think got the spanking? My wife did. Only after repeatedly professing her innocence did her parents think “maybe she didn’t do this.” That is a small silly example, but has stuck with my wife her entire life. The feeling of being accused and punished for something you did not do is soul-crushing. You never forget being falsely accused of even the most trivial thing. It is a kind of agony unlike any other. To feel as though the entire world is against you and there is nothing you can do. To be totally helpless and abandoned. To be at the mercy of a system that will grind you into dust.
That is what Jesus experienced on your behalf. Jesus went joyfully to this farce, this show trial. These were all the most important men of Israel, the men who stood as representatives between Israel and her God. Then men who were supposed to know Israel’s God the best. They should have convened this council to honor Him and to prostrate themselves before Him. Instead, what do they do? They condemn Him, beat Him, spit on Him and mock Him.
When unbelievers demand Christians “give evidence” that the Bible is true, the same phenomenon is taking place. God spoke over millennia and He even came in the flesh, and you presume to sit in judgment over God? When they take their moral standards and sit in judgment on God’s word: Oh the Bible allowed slavery? How evil! I could never believe in a God like that. Meanwhile they are happy to have lowly service workers in muzzles cater to their every whim. The Bible commanded the genocide of the Canaanites? That is horrible! Such a God is a monster. Meanwhile they shriek any time someone suggests not murdering one million babies a year. The Bible recognizes that men and women are not interchangeable and that only men can be pastors? Your God is horrible and misogynistic. I could never believe in a God like that. Meanwhile their rejection of reality is responsible for millions of children being raised without a mother and a father, and for the total sexual chaos engulfing our entire society. We love to sit in judgment over God. We love to be like the Sanhedrin. It is not even just unbelievers and mockers. When God’s Word tells us something we like is a sin, we become excellent lawyers. Is that really what it means? Isn’t there some Greek or Hebrew I can parse out?
But God’s Word is true and we have to conform ourselves to it, rather than the other way around. That is what Christ wants for you, His people. He wants you to be a people that when the living and active sword of His word cuts you up, you don’t resist it. You allow Him to do His work and put you back together even better than you were before. That is why He bore the agony of both Gethsemane and the false accusation before the Sanhedrin. He experienced those things for you.
That you, would be able to be faithful in similar circumstances because He can sympathize with you. That is why we worship the way we do. When we are gathered here for worship, we do so as God’s Holy Army. When we respond to Christ’s call with speech, we should do so imagining that we have been condemned to death for faith in Jesus. And that this is our last chance to avoid being burned at the stake. That are faith is just as certain when our lives are threatened as when we are comfortable and cozy. Thinking in this way changes how you respond in the liturgy, how you say the creed, how you say amen. You are a people worshipping a man who would not disobey His Father, even if it meant being falsely accused and condemned to death. He wants you to have this exact same character. He wants you to be a people who will gladly go to your deaths for the truth. A people who triumphantly march to your deaths for the glory of your God. That is what He wants you to be: In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!