The Trial Behind the Trial
Topic: The Passion Passage: Mark 15:1–15:20
I enjoy reading historical books, and one of the things I am often amazed at is how the trajectory of history often dangles on a thread, where the slightest change or the smallest deviation one way or another would affect history as we know it.
That came home to me yet again while reading Bill O’Reilly’s book, Killing Kennedy. If just one or two small things had just happened slightly differently, Kennedy might have lived a long life and very probably would have lived to serve a second term.
• If Kennedy had listened to the many advisors who urged him not to do a motorcade in Texas because the environment there was so hostile towards Kennedy.
• If the rain that was falling in the morning hadn’t cleared up just in time for them to take the bulletproof top off Kennedy’s convertible before beginning the motorcade
• If the event organizers hadn’t mapped out a route that included two successive sharp turns – a right and then an immediate left - where the car had to slow down significantly – a moment in the route that the secret service immediately recognized as vulnerable to assassination attempts
• And if they had not published that route nearly a week in advance
• If Lee Harvey Oswald’s wife Marina had simply taken him back the night before instead of getting angry at him for coming by on Thursday instead of the normal Friday visitation. Oswald desperately felt his life was adrift and his plan for getting his life together was no more complicated than either get back with his family or kill the president.
• If any of the several people who saw a man standing n the window on the 6th floor of the Book Depository with a rifle in his hands had reported it to the authorities instead of assuming it was a secret service agent.
• If Kennedy had not been wearing a tight back brace because of his bad back which kept him rigid when normally the first bullet that hit him from behind would have knocked him forward, causing the second, fatal bullet to pass harmlessly over his head instead of piercing his skull.
So many “if only’s”, so many small moments that, had they had unfolded slightly differently, would have changed American history as we know it. If you read much in history, you find many such moments where monumental events hang on the threads of insignificant events aligning just perfectly and it feels oddly as if it was “supposed” to happen the way it did – as if it “had” to happen the way it did. The Bible tells us that history isn’t just a series of unfortunate events that unfold randomly and without any purpose, but that God has sovereign control over the all the events of history – and that, while He never sins, is not capable of sinning, and does not make men do the evil that they do, nevertheless He controls and guides all things, even bad things, to serve His good and loving purposes. The great 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon put it this way:
God has one boundless purpose that embraces all the things that He permits and ordains. Without denying free choice, we believe that God foresees the curious twisting of human will, and that He overrules all for His own purpose.
Nowhere in all of history is that sovereign hand more evident or more powerfully guiding the unfolding events than in the Passion accounts. Luke frequently uses the Greek word “dei” which means “must” or “it is necessary” to convey that what happens in the Passion week “must happen”, that it was necessary (dei) that Jesus was betrayed, that he was rejected by the Sanhedrin, and now as we come to Jesus’ trial before Pilate, what happens must happen. It is necessary that it happens just the way it happens, and it is being unstoppably and inevitably guided to a single purpose and that purpose is God’s good and loving plan of redeeming lost sinners. So as we read about Jesus’ trial, it doesn’t take a lot of insight to get the feeling that there is more going on than meets the eye: we get the sense that Pilate isn’t the one in control, that the crowds who are pressuring Pilate to crucify Jesus aren’t really the ones in control, that Jesus isn’t really a helpless prisoner, and that at his trial, he’s not really the one who is on trial. This morning I want us to consider this “more than meets the eye” factor and see what’s happening behind what’s happening.
Title: The Trial behind the Trial
With this understanding that there’s more going on than meets the eye, I have three points this morning and I’ll explain what they mean as we go:
1. The Hand behind the hand
2. The King behind the king
3. The Trial behind the trial
1. The Hand behind the hand
Chapter 15 opens by telling us that the chief priests, elders and scribes made the decision to condemn Jesus and delivered him over to Pilate. The word “delivered over” is the Greek word paradidomi (par-ad-id-o-mee) and it means to be “handed over”. Jesus is handed over and handed over again and again until he ends up on the cross – the word is used 10 times in chapters 14 and 15.
It begins with Judas, who betrayed – paradidotos, handed over – Jesus to the chief priests and scribes. And they hand Jesus over to Pontius Pilate and, after he examines Jesus, we are told in verse 15 that he hands Jesus over to be crucified.
I remember reading the account of a man who had been suspected of committing a murder for decades but all that time they were unable to connect him to the scene of the crime, until years later technological advances were able to identify a fingerprint of his found at the scene of the crime which was enough to place him there and with the other evidence for a jury to convict that man of murder.
Who really handed Jesus over to be crucified? Whose fingerprints are on the crucifixion of Jesus? Certainly Judas’ fingerprints – he betrayed Jesus into the hands of the religious leaders. And the chief priests and scribes – their prints are all over the scene as they rejected Jesus and handed him over to Pontius Pilate. Pontius Pilate tried to wash his hands of responsibility for handing Jesus over to be crucified, but the water couldn’t wash his fingerprints off the scene of the crime. All guilty. But there are another set of fingerprints and these are the prints of the Hand behind the hand: the hand of God. Ultimately it was God the Father who handed His Son over to be crucified.
Romans 8:32 says this of the Father’s love, “He who did not spare His own Son but gave (paradoken – a form of paradidomi) him up for us all…”
Luke confirms this in Acts 2:23: “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”
Ultimately Jesus was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God! God the Father delivered Jesus up to be crucified out of love for a broken world. But not just the fingerprints of the Father. The fingerprints of the Son are found at the crucifixion scene too. Why was Jesus so silent throughout his trial before Pilate? Jesus could always decimate an accusation or challenge with a few words. Why didn’t he defend himself? When the chief priests accused him of many things, Jesus didn’t answer or defend himself. Pilate was amazed at Jesus’ dignified silence – why didn’t this man defend himself so he wouldn’t have to die?
The apostle Paul gives us the answer when he writes, “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave (paradontos) himself for me.” Jesus handed himself over to death because he loved me and you.
The Hand behind the hand that delivered Jesus over to be crucified was the hand of God and He did it out of His great love for this broken, sinful world. Any who come to Christ and trust in him can and will be saved and we can trust His hand to deliver us safely to His kingdom. We can trust His hand to save us.
And we can trust His Hand with all the affairs and events of our lives. Do you ever regret that things didn’t work out differently in your life? Ever look at your history and wish something had happened that didn’t, or hadn’t happened that did? Maybe as you get older you wonder how you got where you are – and wish some things had unfolded differently.
I do sometimes. Sometimes I look back and wish my parents hadn’t divorced when I was 6 years old. That I wasn’t brought up in a single parent home. That I had had brothers and sisters growing up. And there are other things I regret, things I would change. But…can we tinker with history and think we’ll get the results we want? How can I know what events and even heartaches were the instruments God used to draw me to Him? Better to trust God with our lives and our families and our history. That doesn’t (shouldn’t) lead us to passivity in how we live today, but it helps us to rest instead of regret what we can’t change, and helps us to trust deeply that God our Father is working all things, our history, out for good. Jesus trusted his Father, he entrusted himself into his Father’s hands, and we can and should too.
2. The King behind the king
In chapter 14 the high priest and chief priest are all bent out of shape because Jesus claimed to be the Messiah and placed himself at the center of the prophesy in Daniel 7 about the Son of Man coming on the clouds in power. As they tore their robes in mock indignation they screamed out “blasphemy!”
But now, as they hand Jesus over to Pilate, they know that if the charges they bring to Pilate are that Jesus blasphemed and claimed to be the Messiah, that Pilate would dismiss the case in an instant. Pilate had no desire to get tangled up in their religious differences, he’d tell them to work it out on their own.
So they bring a charge that Pilate couldn’t ignore. They said that Jesus was preaching sedition against Rome, that he was forbidding the Jews to pay tribute to Caesar. And worst of all, that he claimed to be the king of the Jews. That was sedition against Rome and against Caesar. In John’s gospel they drive that point home by telling Pilate that if he releases this man he is no friend of Caesar because anyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar. To ignore this charge would be political suicide and might cost him his life too.
So he asks Jesus, “are you a king?” Jesus’ answer has always seemed hard to understand: “you have said so.” Some have tried to make this to be an enthusiastic affirmation, kind of like “you said it!” But that doesn’t seem to fit well. But clearly Jesus isn’t denying that he is king either. I think the best explanation is that his answer is ambiguous. It’s unclear. Enough to shed doubt in Pilate’s mind that this is a king-wanna-be who is stirring up sedition. In fact, in John’s gospel Jesus goes on to say, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
Pilate asks “so you are a king?” and Jesus says that it is for this purpose: to declare his kingship, that he came into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Jesus didn’t come to take over the world as king, or to set up his royal throne in Jerusalem – not yet. He came into the world to testify of the truth that he is a king, but like no king this world has ever seen. He is the King of heaven, and he came to invite all people – men and women and boys and girls – to accept him as their King and bow their knee to him. Not under compulsion but willingly and gladly because he is a good King and he rules over a perfect Kingdom.
The soldiers mocked the claim that he was a king. Pilate mocked his claim by nailing above his head on the cross “king of the Jews”. Many look at this man, bloody and beaten and wearing a crown of thorns and a blood soaked robe and nearly collapsing from the torture of a Roman flogging and they also mock. But for the Christian, we bow our knee to his Highness, and yield ourselves to His rule. And we want to submit our lives more and more to his good rulership. Christian, don’t ever forget that your Christian faith, if genuine, leads you to obey Jesus. Not to earn salvation but because you are saved.
Are you running from his rule, right now? Are you disobeying him in some area and you know it? Will you repent and bow your knee to the King of kings and Lord of lords? And if you’re not a Christian, you have a choice: you can ignore him. You can mock him. But I urge you not to. I urge you to look behind the trial and see the King behind the king and give the throne of your life over to him.
3. The trial behind the trial
I mentioned at the beginning of this message that an insightful person will get the sense that this trial isn’t really what it seems to be. That Jesus isn’t really on trial at all. That Pilate’s convoluted verdict of “innocent, but I will condemn him as if he were guilty” isn’t really the final word.
What kind of trial let’s a guilty rebel like Barabbas go free and condemns a man who is clearly innocent of any of the charges brought against him? If this were the last word it would be an outrage, a travesty of justice, an offense to everything in us that wants and longs for justice to be done and righteousness to rule the day.
But the Bible tells us that there is another trial coming. It’s called Judgment Day and no one can escape it. It is a reality that those who live their lives not believing in it will face just as truly as those who believe in it. The Judge is God and the measurement is perfection and the arguments will be pure and piercing Truth. No plea bargains, no cutting deals, no light sentences.
Jesus faced God’s judgment so that we would not have to. He, the Innocent One, allowed himself to be condemned so that, like Barabbas, we guilty ones might go free. He was tried and condemned so that we would never be. That is why he was silent and did not defend himself. He had to die to save us.
God’s hand giving His Son to die because of His great love for us. The King of heaven willingly subjecting himself to be mocked and ridiculed and rejected so that some might see the King behind the king and believe: he is my king, and I bow my life to His lordship. Jesus, tried and condemned so that those who trust in him will never have to be. All of this because of God’s great love for sinners – if we can trust His love to save us, can we not trust Him with every situation, every trial, every heartache that we face in life?
Let’s reach out in faith right now and embrace that love for ourselves and worship Him for all He has done for us.
More in Gospel of Mark
March 31, 2013Shock and Awe at the Empty Tomb
March 31, 2013Shock and Awe at the Empty Tomb
March 24, 2013A Glorious View from the Mt Everest of Our Redemption