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The Trials

 Luke 22:63 -- 23:25 

Lesson audio

(The reader should note that a more extensive, comparative list of the trials of Jesus may be found here. Luke is rather brief about this, which produces a differing view of the trials.)

The Expectation of Justice

It is a commonplace to most middle class Americans that ours is a system which renders justice. We certainly attach great significance to it; while most of us are not willing to spend several months on a jury trial, we at least expect it of others. Our system is portrayed as being honest, fair and dignified. One out of three isn’t bad, I suppose.

You think not? We have a clear idea of what we expect of our system of justice; only when we get involved in it do we see that it is run by sinners and often works to sinful purpose. The problem, I submit, is our expectation of our justice system. We expect far too much from the sinners who run it. Indeed, it could be argued that given the people in it, reasonable expectations would fearfully vile – and we might just be pleased at how our system exceeds those expectations.

Never expect justice

Kindly remember who and what you are: a Christian, a pilgrim in this world, one who is in the world but not of the world. Justice – either in terms of being fairly treated when accused, or properly rewarded for your achievements – will not truly come until He returns.[1] It is normal for a true Christian to be persecuted. This is, in a sense, not our fault – the world can’t stand to see a real Christian, because in him they see Christ. Most of all they want to eliminate Christ; therefore his followers will be persecuted.[2]

The Christian’s reward

Since you will be persecuted for Christ’s sake, it is reasonable to seek justice – your reward – from Christ. Our Lord knows this; he also knows the pain of persecution (none better!); therefore he will be generous with his reward.[3]

It is difficult to think of this as being a blessing. Like Tevye on riches (“if riches are a curse, smite me!”) we ask, “If persecution is a blessing, give it to someone else.” But it is a blessing. Christ makes it clear; if you are persecuted for his sake, you join the ranks of people like the Old Testament prophets. Do you think he will leave them unrewarded at his return?

By commandment

Christ understands that none of us would like to volunteer to be persecuted. He also knows that we will be so persecuted. Therefore, to strengthen us, he gives us his commands on how we should respond to persecution:

  • Respond with love as much as you can.[4] Love is God’s weapon; pain belongs to this world. Against love, Satan has no defense.
  • Respond in the Spirit.[5] Do not worry about what you will say; just let the Spirit give you words.
  • Respond with endurance.[6] You need only be patient and enduring for this lifetime; you were designed for eternity. A patient faith is the weapon of the conquering Christian.
  • Respond with eloquent silence. When Christ was confronted with the ludicrous accusations of the priests, his silence was more powerful than their babble.

The Trials

Let us see what we can gather by the example of Christ.

Before the Sanhedrin

Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking Him and beating Him, and they blindfolded Him and were asking Him, saying, "Prophesy, who is the one who hit You?" And they were saying many other things against Him, blaspheming. When it was day, the Council of elders of the people assembled, both chief priests and scribes, and they led Him away to their council chamber, saying, "If You are the Christ, tell us." But He said to them, "If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I ask a question, you will not answer. "But from now on THE SON OF MAN WILL BE SEATED AT THE RIGHT HAND of the power OF GOD." And they all said, "Are You the Son of God, then?" And He said to them, "Yes, I am." Then they said, "What further need do we have of testimony? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth."

(Luk 22:63-71 NASB)

Please note three things:

  • Throughout the mockery, blasphemy and physical pain, Christ said nothing. Why? Because it did not suit the purposes of God to reply to this; Christ knew his purpose.
  • He answers only when it suits God’s purposes. For us, this would be only when the Spirit leads us to.
  • He tells the truth – even when it’s fatal. There are things worse than death.

It seems so much like Christ is conducting a suffering while they think they’re conducting an interrogation.

Before Herod

When Pilate heard it, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that He belonged to Herod's jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who himself also was in Jerusalem at that time. Now Herod was very glad when he saw Jesus; for he had wanted to see Him for a long time, because he had been hearing about Him and was hoping to see some sign performed by Him. And he questioned Him at some length; but He answered him nothing. And the chief priests and the scribes were standing there, accusing Him vehemently. And Herod with his soldiers, after treating Him with contempt and mocking Him, dressed Him in a gorgeous robe and sent Him back to Pilate. Now Herod and Pilate became friends with one another that very day; for before they had been enemies with each other.

(Luk 23:6-12 NASB)

Herod so much represents the way of this world. He wants to see a miracle. We might ask what’s wrong with that; it often seems that the Almighty is particularly uncooperative in dispensing miracles at our request. It would certainly make evangelism easier, we think. But the King of Kings is not a tame conjuror to perform parlor tricks at our behest. For the wicked there is still only the sign of Jonah – the resurrection. See how Christ ignores Herod’s desires. Herod thinks himself a king; Christ behaves like one should.

Because Christ will not jump through the hoops, Herod turns him over to the soldiers. Christ again endures in silence. He may be mocked but he is not defeated in this war of words.

See, also, how the sin of this action changes Herod’s relationship to Pilate. Any sin gives the devil a handle to grasp you with. Pilate and Herod now share a guilty secret. They know the man is innocent, but both acted “for the public good” – meaning, what the mob wanted. Perhaps it seems strange; courage is a requirement for a successful politician.

Before Pilate

Then the whole body of them got up and brought Him before Pilate. And they began to accuse Him, saying, "We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King." So Pilate asked Him, saying, "Are You the King of the Jews?" And He answered him and said, "It is as you say." Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, "I find no guilt in this man." But they kept on insisting, saying, "He stirs up the people, teaching all over Judea, starting from Galilee even as far as this place." When Pilate heard it, he asked whether the man was a Galilean.

(Luk 23:1-6 NASB)

Pilate summoned the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, "You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, and behold, having examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him. "No, nor has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; and behold, nothing deserving death has been done by Him. "Therefore I will punish Him and release Him." [Now he was obliged to release to them at the feast one prisoner.] But they cried out all together, saying, "Away with this man, and release for us Barabbas!" (He was one who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection made in the city, and for murder.) Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again, but they kept on calling out, saying, "Crucify, crucify Him!" And he said to them the third time, "Why, what evil has this man done? I have found in Him no guilt demanding death; therefore I will punish Him and release Him." But they were insistent, with loud voices asking that He be crucified. And their voices began to prevail. And Pilate pronounced sentence that their demand be granted. And he released the man they were asking for who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, but he delivered Jesus to their will.

(Luk 23:13-25 NASB)

Remember, please, that Pilate was honest and noble at first. That is something you can not count on indefinitely. Christians are sometimes misled into thinking that someone is an honest friend to us when in fact it’s just the way the wind is blowing. For a time they will sail into the wind – but soon will turn about and go the way the wind is blowing.

This often yields illogical results. Why, for example, would Pilate flog him before releasing him? It’s an attempt at compromise in a situation where there is no compromise. The Christian should expect weakness from the judge and harshness from his accusers.

The Christian View of Persecution

Satan only attacks the righteous

We sometimes wonder, “why me?” But remember Job; he was greatly blessed by God and greatly attacked by Satan. If you are a milk water Christian, Satan need do little to turn you from the faith. Look also at Peter – Christ tells us that Satan wanted to “sift him like wheat.” Even this saint had his difficulties, and was ultimately to die for the Cross. Things have not really changed; Satan still seeks whom he may devour.[7]

Persecution is the normal state of the real Christian

When persecution comes, we tend to ask “why me?” We try to work in the world with humility and love, and look what we get. Why would the world want to pick on its most loyal and obedient citizens?

  • First, because the state – or the system, or whatever – claims the supreme obedience of the citizen. Sooner or later there will come a time when obedience to Christ is disobedience to the state.
  • Next, because we are salt and light.[8] Our very presence reminds them of their sins. To justify themselves they mock us.
  • Indeed, it is well said that their pride is offended by our humility.[9]

All of the godly will be persecuted;[10] indeed, our persecutors will be convinced that they are righteous in doing it – a favor to God.[11] It will happen to you; prepare your mind for it by meditating upon the example of Christ.

Blood of martyrs

Tertullian put it this way: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” It sounds grim; perhaps it is. Why, then, should we embrace this role?

  • First, there is the eloquence of our scars. Does it seem evangelism is too difficult for you? Let your wounds speak of your faith; let them be the witness to how Christ is supreme in your life. Your words will be believed because of your wounds.
  • It is our chance to become imitators of God, so that we may “be perfect, as He is perfect,” We have the privilege of overcoming evil with good.
  • It sounds paradoxical, but our Lord clearly meant it: to save your life you must lose it.[12] Life is no place to play it safe and only lose by a little bit. Put everything you are and have into His hands, and trust Him for the outcome.

We might answer: “I’m afraid. The power of the state is great; they will ruin me.” Consider well whom you should fear: the one who controls the police station or the one who controls the universe?[13] Fear God, Dread naught.

[1] Luke 21:12-19

[2] John 15:18-19

[3] Matthew 5:10-12

[4] Matthew 5:43-48

[5] Mark 13:11

[6] Luke 21:12-19

[7] 1 Peter 5:8-10

[8] Matthew 5:13-15

[9] Proverbs 29:27

[10] 2 Timothy 3:12

[11] John 16:1-2

[12] Luke 7:33

[13] Matthew 10:28

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