We’ve been discussing the last few hours of Jesus’ life in this series. The last few weeks, we examined the emotional toll the Last Supper and the Garden of Gethsemane must have had on our Savior. As He endured those scenes, He faced His doubters head-on and didn’t run from the difficulty of the moments. We’ve got to appreciate the strength it took to endure and carry-on.
Today, it’s time to discuss the actual trials Christ faced from the Jews and the Romans. Before we begin, I want to remind you a trial is inherently any situation that tests a person’s endurance. While these trials were supposed to be lawful, they were anything but. They were mockeries of justice. As Christ stood there before the Jewish council and eventually Pontius Pilate, He stood before some of the most crooked and corrupt judges of all time.
At the Jewish trial, Jesus faced liars, violence from His captors, and Peter’s denial. I truly believe these moments are some of the most painful He endured. Let’s first see the accounts in three different gospel accounts:
Matthew 26:57-75 And those who had laid hold of Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled. 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. Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death but found none. Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none. But at last two false witnesses came forward and said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.’” And the high priest arose and said to Him, “Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?” 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!” 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.” 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! What do you think?” They answered and said, “He is deserving of death.” Then they spat in His face and beat Him; and others struck Him with the palms of their hands, saying, “Prophecy to us, Christ! Who is the one who struck You?” Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came to him, saying, “You also were with Jesus of Galilee.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are saying.” 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.” But again he denied with an oath, “I do not know the Man!” 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.” Then he began to curse and swear, saying, “I do not know the Man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. 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.
Luke 22:54-71 Having arrested Him, they led Him and brought Him into the high priest’s house. But Peter followed at a distance. Now when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. And a certain servant girl, seeing him as he sat by the fire, looked intently at him and said, “This man was also with Him.” But he denied Him, saying, “Woman, I do not know Him.” And after a little while, another saw him and said, “You also are of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” Then after about an hour had passed, another confidently affirmed, saying, “Surely this fellow also was with Him, for he is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are saying!” Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” So Peter went out and wept bitterly. Now the men who held Jesus mocked Him and beat Him. And having blindfolded Him, they struck Him on the face and asked Him, saying, “Prophesy! Who is the one who struck You?” And many other things they blasphemously spoke against Him. As soon as it was day, the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, came together and led Him into their council, saying, “If You are the Christ, tell us.” But He said to them, “If I tell you, you will by no means believe. And if I also ask you, you will by no means answer Me or let Me go. Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God.” Then they all said, “Are You then the Son of God?” So He said to them, “You rightly say that I am.” And they said, “What further testimony do we need? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth.”
John 18:12-27 Then the detachment of troops and the captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound Him. And they led Him away to Annas first, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas who was high priest that year. Now it was Caiaphas who advised the Jews that it was expedient that one man should die for the people. And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest and went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest. But Peter stood at the door outside. Then the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to her who kept the door and brought Peter in. Then the servant girl who kept the door said to Peter, “You are not also one of this Man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the servants and officers who had made a fire of coals stood there, for it was cold, and they warmed themselves. And Peter stood with them and warmed himself. The high priest then asked Jesus about His disciples and His doctrine. Jesus answered him, “I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret, I have said nothing. Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me what I said to them. Indeed they know what I said.” And when He had said these things, one of the officers who stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, “Do You answer the high priest like that?” Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?”Then Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. Now Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. Therefore they said to him, “You are not also one of His disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not!” One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of him whose ear Peter cut off, said, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” Peter then denied again, and immediately a rooster crowed.
The lies and the eventual violence that accompanied the questioning is truly problematic. There wasn’t a single solitary moment of righteous judgment during this trial. Jesus was hung out to dry. He had no opportunity to defend Himself, let alone have anyone stand on His behalf. The accusations from those blasphemers are especially egregious. The fact that it took them so long to find two to agree should give us some context into the situation They couldn’t agree, let alone get their accusations on the same page. Surely, the casual observer would see this as a great farce, let alone a misappropriation of judgment.
The violence that accompanied Jesus’ reasonable question in John 18 is the typical treatment of a court official that already made his mind up. The account of violence in Luke 22 is just cruel, even borderline sociopathic. Truly, Jesus faced a group of men who were all guilty of not caring. They didn’t care about Jesus. They didn’t care about justice. They didn’t care about God’s Word. They didn’t care what it took to prove Him guilty.
Peter’s denial is a whole other matter in-and-of-itself. This time Luke’s Gospel does the best job describing the impact of the scene. Notice below how it depicts the moment.
Luke 22:54-62 Having arrested Him, they led Him and brought Him into the high priest’s house. But Peter followed at a distance. Now when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. And a certain servant girl, seeing him as he sat by the fire, looked intently at him and said, “This man was also with Him.” But he denied Him, saying, “Woman, I do not know Him.” And after a little while, another saw him and said, “You also are of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” Then after about an hour had passed, another confidently affirmed, saying, “Surely this fellow also was with Him, for he is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are saying!” Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” So Peter went out and wept bitterly.
I can’t shake the thought that Peter stared Jesus right in the eye and saw the disappointment of his Savior face to face. Peter didn’t deny Jesus in a hidden place under his breath, he denied Jesus three times just a few short feet away from Him. It would not surprise me if that moment haunted Peter the rest of His life. To see how disappointed Jesus was with his behavior must have been heartbreaking and truly the reason Peter went out and wept bitterly.
This lesson isn’t about Peter though, it’s about Christ’s suffering. What must it have been like to turn and see the man who said “I’ll go to jail or death with you,” (see Luke 22:33) so openly deny even knowing You just a few hours later? It must have hurt to turn and say without a single word, “I told you so.” It must have been devastating to watch him leave and never return. If someone without Christ’s knowledge experienced that type of betrayal, they may have given up then and there. Thankfully, Jesus kept on facing the scrutiny of the Jews and eventually Pilate.
We could spend a ton of time talking about how Pilate treated Jesus, but in the end, I believe only one exchange merits our time today. We know he wanted to let Jesus go. We know his wife warned him to essentially “have nothing to do with Jesus,” and we know he ordered the brutal scourging that ultimately wounded Jesus immensely only after the Jews kept on and on.
Fully recognizing those moments and their inherent deficiency, the real weakness of Pilate is found in this exchange.
Matthew 27:22-24 Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!” Then the governor said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they cried out all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!” When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.”
What a weak, ineffective pushover. Pilate wasn’t a leader, he was a mere placeholder filling a spot in the absence of true leadership. He knew Jesus was innocent, even a just person, yet he would do (or better yet), could do nothing to stop the Jewish riot.
Knowing all Jesus faced in His trials makes me think of Matthew 7:2 which says, “with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” On the day of His death, Jesus faced several judges, each of them was more corrupt, weak, and foolish than the other. They were bigoted, short-sighted, and ultimately unlawful. He was pronounced guilty by a sham court.
May we never forget all He faced.
All Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.