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The Darkest Night

Eric Durso
The Gospel of Mark  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Anger is a dangerous sin because it’s one of the easiest sins to justify. When we are sinned against, we feel justified responding sinfully. Isn’t it so easy to feel good about your anger, when your anger is brought about by someone else’s sin?
Sinful anger is contagious. We are sinned against, and then we respond sinfully to being sinned against. Aren’t you most tempted to lose your temple when someone loses their temper on you?
Last week, on Easter Sunday, we were studying the passage in Mark where Jesus is betrayed by Judas, arrested by the religious leaders, and abandoned by his disciples.
Now, we’re going to continue studying this dark night. Mark 14. The betrayal has taken place, Judas identified Jesus with a kiss so that the guards could arrest him. They seized him and took him away in the middle of the night. The disciples all abandoned him. And now, one of the strangest ironies in the Bible takes place. In our text we will see Jesus face a shame trial, in a kangaroo court, with lying witnesses, all done in an illegal fashion.
The religious elites, who prided themselves on being fastidious keepers of the law, begin the proceedings in the most unlawful ways. Representatives of the law, they are lawless. This whole event is a mockery of justice. The irony is that these religious leaders were the creators and meticulous enforcers of the law, and they abandoned the law in order to kill Jesus. None of what they’re doing is legal, none of what they’re doing is legitimate, none of what they’re doing comports with the proper jurisprudence of the day. In our text, Jesus will see the grossest violation of justice and the radical nature of the corruption of the religious leaders. And what’s most incredible is how he will face it.
How do you do when you suffer injustice? Wrongdoing? As we study Jesus’ response, my prayer is that we would not only love and appreciate him more, but that we would seek to imitate him and follow his example.
Mark 14:53-65.
John 18:13 includes the detail that they do a quick stop at the house of a man called Annas, who is probably the mastermind of this thing, but it’s so brief that Mark doesn’t include it. Annas questions him briefly and sends him to his son-in-law Caiaphas, which was probably another short walk. This is where we pick up in Mark 14:53 And they led him to the high priest.” This is Caiaphas’s house. Caiaphas would have lived in a palatial estate. It’s not in a courtroom. Ordinarily, the Sanhedrin convened in the market halls during the day, but here they’re doing it in his house, in the dead of night. It’s clear they’re not interested in doing it right, they’re interested in getting a sentence of death and pushing it through before morning.
Remember, they’ve been wanting to avoid the rioting of the people who are there for passover week. They need to have the decision to kill Jesus ratified before sunup. The powers of evil and darkness are working full-tilt until morning.
So they gather in Caiaphas’ house. We know it’s large because it says “all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together.” This is a group called the Sanhedrin, which was a group of 71 Jewish leaders who were supposed to function like the supreme court. They assemble in the middle of the night. At this point, it’s between midnight and 3am.
Verse 54 gives us a little glimpse of what Peter’s doing. He fled at the arrest, but seems to have gotten a hold of himself for the moment, and he’s following Jesus at a distance, and he follows all the way into Caiaphas’ massive courtyard, where the guards - yes, the same ones who just arrested Jesus - are standing and waiting. They didn’t want to arrest Peter. They let him just stay there and get warm on the cool night. Mark mentions this to prepare us for what's about to happen to him in the following section - his denial of Christ.
And so here we encounter our first point: he chose arrest, not escape.
Take a look back at verse 53. “And they led Jesus.” This is one of the rare times Jesus is being acted upon. Most of the gospel, Jesus is teaching, Jesus is acting, Jesus is healing, Jesus is speaking, Jesus is instructing. And here, Jesus is being acted upon. He is being led away, unjustly, to a room full of ferocious wolves who claim to be doing God’s work.
He had the power to calm a raging storm. He had the power to make something out of nothing. He had the power to raise the dead. He could have escaped. But now, he allows these people to lead him away. The words remind us of Isaiah’s prophecy about Jesus: that he was like “a lamb that is led to the slaughter.”
He chose arrest, not escape. He understood his arrest as a part of the reason he came. As he was being arrested, he said in verse 49, “But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” He had come to lay his life down, to suffer and die. He was sent by God to lay down his life to die for the sins of his people. He did not swerve from the purpose of his coming.
Be reminded, church: The one we follow is a one who chose to suffer rather than disobedience to his calling. Have you settled it in your mind, that it is better to suffer than to sin?
Let’s continue. Verse 55Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none.” Here they are in the high priest’s private estate, a quorum of the sanhedrin has gathered. And they want to kill Jesus.
This is the opposite of how trials ought to go, right? You don’t start with the death sentence, and then work backwards toward the crime. But that’s what they’re doing. They’ve already decided that they want him dead. But they want it to look somewhat legitimate; now they need charges.
Now, let me just give you some context here. The Jewish people had developed their law code from the law of Moses. The Torah, the books of Law, were the basis for law and justice in Israel. And based on that, they had a thoroughly developed justice system. When someone was accused as a criminal, there were protections for the accused. They were allowed a public trial during daylight hours. They were allowed adequate opportunity to make a defense. Before a person could be declared guilty, there had to be at least two witnesses, and the witnesses had to agree. This is what Numbers and Deuteronomy both taught.
And for the most part, this was the practice. There were rules in place that if the witnesses even disagreed on small details at all, the charges could not stand. If the witnesses agreed, the Sanhedrin would vote on the penalty. The junior members of the Sanhedrin would vote first so they wouldn’t be influenced by the senior members. It was done in order, with decorum.
All of that is thrown into the wood-chipper to get rid of Jesus. None of this is legal. None of this is just. This is the biggest miscarriage of justice the world has ever seen.
They needed a crime. More than that, they needed a capital offense. And the reason is because - remember - the Jews were under Roman rule, and Rome actually held the power of the sword. The religious leaders were given a lot of freedom to exercise their religious authority over the Jewish people, but Rome did not allow them the authority to execute. That had to go through Rome. So before sunup, they need to concoct a capital crime that they can bring to the Roman lead - Pilate - so he can initiate the execution.
Look at the words. The council was “seeking testimony against Jesus.” Here they are in the middle of the night trying to get witnesses together against Jesus. And you better believe they were offering some money for those up for it. That’s how they got Judas. The temple treasury was loaded. They had all the funds they needed - remember the poor widow giving all she had? This is the kind of stuff the corrupt religious leaders were using the money for.
But what happens? It says “but they found none.” Verse 56, The witnesses they’re getting don’t have matching stories and so they can’t be used.
Verse 57 indicates that finally there’s a testimony that might work: “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.’ ”
Now where’d they get that from? The closest thing Jesus said to anything like this is found at the very beginning of his ministry, recorded in John 2:19Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” But he didn’t say “he” would destroy it. He said that if you destroy it, I will raise it up. And it later came to be understood that Jesus was not talking about the actual temple, but he was talking about his own body. The temple would not be the place where people come to worship God, it would be through him. He is the new meeting place.
But they take what he said, they twist it, they concoct a lie, they’re going to try to say that he was an insurrectionist planning to destroy the temple. Verse 59 says that even these witnesses couldn’t agree on the details.
It’s probable that they’re hoping to get Jesus to speak up, to defend himself. How would you feel if liars are slandering you in public, telling lies about you, assaulting your reputation? Our immediate impulse is to rise and defend ourselves. That’s what they wanted Jesus to do, to get riled up, to lose self-control, to say something that was self-incriminating.
But he doesn’t dignify these liars by acknowledging them. And it’s infuriating the Caiaphas, the high priest. Look at verse 60And 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.”
When you are slandered, aren’t you tempted to retaliate? Are you quick to return the favor?
Consider the self-control of Jesus. How does he do it? I like how Peter put it, years later when he wrote his first epistle: 1 Peter 2:23When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten,” How? “but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”
Our 2nd point: Jesus chose Trust, not defensiveness. He entrusted himself to God. Christian, do you see that this is a pattern for you when you face injustice? When you’re treated unfairly? Did you know that you can entrust yourself to God? That you can allow God to be the judge?
If the person who hurt you is a believer, then trust God has already dealt with their sins on the cross. And trust that your heavenly Father will take care of their issues. And if they’re not a believer, then know that they will pay for the sins, and you don’t have to get back at them.
Christian: retaliation is never your responsibility. God said “Vengeance is mine.” It’s not yours. All sins will be paid for. But we are not the ones to bring the payment.
When his reputation was maligned, when his name was dragged through the mud, when he was accused of things he did not do, he entrusted himself to God. Church, you must do that too. When you are misunderstood, entrust yourself to God. When you are accused, entrust yourself to God. When you are maligned, entrust yourself to God.
But I want you to see that he didn’t remain silent the entire time. His trust in the heavenly father also enabled him to speak the truth when the truth was required.
Finally the high priest has had enough. Verse 61 - the end of it - he cuts to the heart of it. He wants to ask the question: “Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Are you the Christ - that is, the Messiah, the long awaited Davidic king. Are you the one who will redeem Israel?
He says “Son of the blessed” - this means the “Son of God,” it was common for Jews to not say the word “God” because they wanted to preserve its holiness, so they would use other words. So he’s essentially asking him straight up: Are you the messiah, the Son of God?
He had never said this publicly. In fact, if you think back on the gospel of Mark, there are many times he did a miracle or healed someone, and the people present realized who he was. And what did Jesus tell them to do? He told them not to tell anyone. He didn’t want false information to spread about who he was. He wanted time to teach, to instruct, to make himself clear.
But now he’s put on the stand. The question is about as direct as it can be. Are you the Christ? Are you the Son of God?
Many say that this section is the climax of the passion narrative of Mark. It’s leading up to this moment. Will Jesus claim to be the Son of God? The Messiah? Will he answer their question with another question like he’s done so often before? Will he remain silent?
He answers “I am.”
There’s more than meets the eye here. Obviously, it is an unequivocal “yes.” He is the Messiah. He is the Son of God. That was his claim. But less obviously, those two words, “I am” in Greek are “Ego ami” - which would have had overtones of the divine name, “Yahweh.” Remember when God revealed himself to Moses and said that his name was “I am that I am”? Well, here, Jesus says, “I am.” It’s the divine name.
We know that the Jews knew this; John records that when Jesus referred to himself as “I am” in John 18:5, the whole guard fell backward in shock.
But to make it even more clear, he continues. “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
Here Jesus combines two Old Testament prophecies, and applies them to himself. First, is Psalm 110, where the Messiah sits at the right hand of God, meaning he is the appointed one who shares in the same power and authority of God himself; and second, Daniel 7:13, where the Son of Man appears in clouds of heaven and glory, dominion, and an everlasting kingdom are given to him.
His answer was an unmistakable claim of divine status. Ego Ami, the divine name. The one who sits at the right hand of God, sharing in his authority - the divine messiah. The one who comes in the clouds and rules forever - the divine king and judge.
He has unflagging certainty about who he is. It is as if he is saying, “You’re making a mockery of justice now, but one day you will see me for who I am, you will see me as I am, and I will return as your king and judge.”
Friends, as glorious as Jesus was on earth - his miracles, his healings, his teachings - it does not compare with the glory he will reveal at his second coming. He will come in glory, he will save his people, and he will judge his enemies.
This reality helps us understand the gospel more correctly. In many places, “Jesus died on the cross for your sins so you should ask him into your heart” is the extent of the gospel. A fraction.
But perhaps a fuller way to explain it is like this: Jesus, the Son of God, is coming to set up his kingdom. All of us have been rebels, ignoring his rule and reign and trying to set up our own kingdoms. And Jesus offers us his terms. It’s as if he says “Admit your rebellion, confess your sin, bend the knee, and become my subjects. Do this, and I will forgive you, I will adopt you, I will transform you, I will save you, and I will lavish upon you the riches of my kingdom.”
But if you remain in your rebellion, refuse my rule, and continue working for your own kingdom, I will judge you, I will reject you, I will condemn you, and I will sentence you to hell.
If you’re not a Christian, Jesus offers you terms of peace this morning. He is the divine king and judge who will return to judge the world. Turn from your old ways and take him as Lord.
If you’re not a Christian, I wonder what you make of Jesus' response. He claimed to be a king. He claimed to be God incarnate. He validated his claims through miracles. Now a lot of weirdos have done that. But then he rose from the dead, and there were hundreds of eyewitnesses. What do you make of that?
Jesus told them the truth about who he was. Look at the high priest’s response: “And the high priest tore his garments” - this was usually an act of mourning or grief. Here it’s a symbol of outrage. This is grandstanding at its finest. “What further witnesses do we need? 64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?”
That’s the response of unbelief. You say, “He’s crazy for making these claims.” And yes, Jesus is crazy to make these claims…unless they’re true! If God actually did enter his own creation to atone for the sins of his people, then he’s telling the truth, and we all should believe him.
The high priest now calls for a decision - which is against ordinary protocol. This is the work of a mob. This is a lynching. “And they all condemned him as deserving death.”
Of course they don’t have the right nor the authority to sentence him to death. But here they are.
That’s our third point, he chose truth, not self-preservation. There are times when speaking the truth about what you believe will have social consequences. Jesus knew that speaking the truth in this instance would lead to his own demise, but he spoke anyway.
When Jesus told the truth about himself, he got a death sentence. And when we tell the truth about Jesus to others, there’s no telling what kind of response we’ll get. To some, it will be the message of life and salvation. To others, it will be a stench. Our responsibility is to, like Jesus, tell the truth about the person and work of Jesus Christ, whatever the cost.
Do you tell the truth about Jesus? Who, this week, did you share the gospel with? The fear of man, and the desire for approval, and the love of comfort - each of these things put a knife in the back of evangelism. Church, let’s pray that we would be like Jesus here - willing to sound like fools as we present the truth about Jesus.
He chose to be arrested instead of escaping, he chose to entrust himself to God, not get defensive, he chose to tell the truth, not preserve himself.
Now we see, he chose suffering, not comfort. 65 And some began to spit on him” How insulting. To spit on someone is to consider them something less than human. It is the height of disregard and dishonor. And here they are in Caiaphas’ house, a bunch of religious men, and they lose their cool and they’re spitting on him.
“and to cover his face and to strike him,” They all descend upon him, they blindfold him so he can’t see what they’re going to do, and they start hitting him. Keep in mind, these aren’t criminals, gangsters, or thugs. They’re religious. But religion never made anyone good.
They’re striking him repeatedly, slapping him, punching him. Jesus is not resisting at all. But that doesn’t stop him. They begin to mock him: “saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows.” They’re making him into a joke. They beat him mercilessly.
Why is he doing this? He is God in the flesh. He made these people. He could’ve escaped, he allowed himself to be arrested. He could’ve defended himself, but he remained silent and entrusted himself to his Father. He could’ve preserved himself, but he spoke the truth about who he was. He could have chosen the path of comfort, but he chose the road of suffering. Why?
Can’t you see? This is actually the whole purpose for which he came. He came to lay down his life and die for sinners.
Why? Because God is by nature merciful. God is by nature compassionate. God is by his very nature self-giving. God will save his people. God is righteously angry with sin, and in justice he must punish it. And God is so rich in love that he will enter his own creation, and take the punishment upon himself, and in so doing satisfy his justice and save sinners.
This Jesus, so courageously enduring this incredible injustice, is God incarnate accomplishing our salvation. He goes to the cross, suffers and dies, to pay the penalty for our sins.
And yet, even as he faces death - he is confident of his resurrection, and his eventually return as king to judge the whole earth. Don’t neglect Jesus Christ. Repent and trust him today.
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