THE GREATEST INJUSTICE
Today is Good Friday or, as some people say, Black Friday. It is the one day of the year when there is no good news. There is only death, destruction and suffering. But that seems so strange to a people who, by faith, live with hope on a daily basis. But today, all hope has turned to despair. Why is that? It’s because what we remember today is the greatest injustice of all time. The death of Jesus was a travesty of justice not only because he was totally innocent of all charges made against him. It also was carried out by people who willfully ignored all of the laws and regulations that God had given to them to ensure that something like this would not happen.
I want, this morning to go over some of the reason why Jesus’ trial was a huge miscarriage of justice. There are many but I will only highlight seven of them. But before we look at those, let’s remember why the Jewish leaders wanted to eliminate Jesus.
It was clear that Jesus had become a huge inconvenience to the Jewish leaders including the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. From the moment he entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey on Palm Sunday, Jesus had challenged their practices and their leadership. The very first thing he did after his triumphal entry was to go into the temple and chase out the merchants and money changers who were there to make money for the Jewish leaders (Matthew 21:12-17).
Then he called the Pharisees hypocrites for trying to trap him with trick questions including asking if the people were obligated to pay taxes to Caesar (Matthew 22:15-22). They didn’t like that.
Then, in Matthew 23, he called the Pharisees and the teachers of the law hypocrites at least five more times for not practicing what they preached. He followed that up by calling them a brood of vipers for killing the prophets whom God had sent to lead the people back to faithfulness (Matthew 23:33).
So needless to say, Jesus was no a popular figure with the ruling class. And so they hatched a plot to get rid of him because if there is one thing that people in power don’t like, it’s being called out for who they are.
Most of us know what happened. On Thursday, Jesus shared the final meal with his disciples. At that meal, he broke bread and shared a cup and made them symbolic of his upcoming sacrifice. This is where we get communion.
Then after supper, while he was in the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples, the Romans came to arrest him at the request of the Jewish leaders. We also know that Judas Iscariot was part of this for it is he who betrayed Jesus for thirty silver coins.
Eventually, Jesus was tried by the Jewish leaders in a Council called the Sanhedrin and taken before Pilate, who by the way could find any fault with him. But just to keep the people happy, he allowed Jesus to die anyway. And so, Jesus carried his cross up to Mount Calvary where he was nailed to that cross and died.
That’s the story. Now why was Jesus’ trial and execution such a travesty of justice? That is where we now turn.
1. Those who had Jesus arrested were the same ones who bribed Judas.
In Matthew 26:14-15 (NIV) it says, “Then one of the Twelve – the one called Judas Iscariot – went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?’ So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.”
What this indicates is that the chief priests had already concluded that Jesus was guilty of something – at this point they may not have known exactly what – but they were willing to throw a bunch of accusations his way to see what might stick.
The chief priests had already made up their minds. They wanted Jesus dead and they were willing to do whatever they had to to make it happen. What this means is that there is no way that Jesus could get a fair trial because the people who were bribing the witnesses were also the judge and jury. So right from the word go the Council was conducting a kangaroo court. There is no way justice was going to be served.
2. Jesus was examined at night in secret.
The second problem is that Jesus’ trial took place at night and in secret. This is completely contrary to Jewish law. The Bible doesn’t say so but there are other Jewish documents from this time period that prescribe how trials were to be conducted. The expressed purpose of these documents was to ensure that a fair trial took place.
One of these documents is called the Mishna. Regarding the accusations against Jesus the Mishna says this: “Let a capital offense be tried during the day, but suspend at night.” A capital offense, of course, is one that is punishable by death which is what the chief priests were hoping to achieve.
You might ask why it was so important for the trial to take place during the day. The reason was because a capital offense is a very serious matter and had to examined thoroughly and, symbolically, by the light of day to ensure that all aspects and all evidence were considered carefully and while people were still awake enough to give it their full attention. Trying to conduct a trial in the dead of the night completely contradicted this guidance. But the chief priests were not the least bit concerned about giving Jesus a fair trial. The more secret it was and the less any potential supporters were able to interfere the better.
What also has to be noted is that not all of the Counci members were against Jesus. One of them named Joseph of Arimathea, who according to Mark 15:43 was himself a member of the Council, was also disciple of Jesus. That’s good because it means that not all of the Coucil members were corrupt. This Joseph is the same one who provided the tomb in which Jesus’ body was laid when it was taken down from the cross. But note that Jospeh was not at the Council during the trial probably because no one told him about it because they clearly did not want him present to defend Jesus.
3. The trial concluded in one day.
The third issue is that the trial was concluded in one day. Here is what the Mishna says about that: “A criminal case resulting in the acquittal of the accused may terminate the same day on which the trial began. But if a sentence of death is to be pronounced, it cannot be concluded before the following day.”
What that means is that if someone is accused of a capital offense where the penalty is death and that person is found not guilty, then the trial can be concluded in one day. If the person is innocent than everyone can go home. But if the person is found guilty of a capital offense, the trial must carry over to the next day. The reason for this is twofold. The first one is that it gives the Council a chance to sleep on it and really consider their decision. The second reason is to allow any additional witnesses to step forward who may be able to speak in favour of the accused. Again, every opportunity is provided to find the accused innocent. They wanted to avoid executing an innocent man.
In Jesus case, the Council had no intention of allowing any other witnesses to come forward and it had no desire to reconsider its verdict. They, therefore, wanted to end things quickly in order to ensure the desired outcome.
4. The charges against Jesus were false.
Here’s the fourth problem. The charges against Jesus were false to begin with because they came from the wrong source. According to the legal traditions of the day, the Council itself could not lay any charges because it also acted as the court. And for the court to lay charges that it would itself be hearing is a clear conflict of interest. And yet it was the Council that laid the charges without hearing any witnesses. But the Council wasn’t really interested in going through the proper procedures. It already knew the verdict that it wanted and would stop at nothing to get it.
5. The testimony against Jesus was false.
The fifth problem is that the testimonies given against Jesus were false. According to Jewish law, two or three witnesses had to come forward to provide evidence to support the charges. The chief priests did indeed find witnesses by these witnesses could not agree. As it says in Mark 14:55-56 (NIV) says, “The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree.” So no reliable evidence was found and when evidence was presented the various witnesses did not agree.
The other thing to note about the evidence is that even when two witnesses did agree, they got their facts wrong. In Mark 14:58 (NIV) it says that some people got up and said this, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple, and in three days will build another, not made by man.” Jesus, of course, said nothing of the sort. What he did say is recorded in John 2:19 (NIV) which says, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up again in three days.” That is clearly very different from what the witnesses said and even then we have to consider the context of those words. Jesus was responding to the demand from other Jewish leaders that he provide a miraculous sign to prove that he had authority to do what he said he would do. To which Jesus replied that if they destroyed this temple – that is, his body which like the bodies of all the faithful was a temple of the Holy Spirit – and that body would raise again in three days. Which, of course, we now know he did.
But the Council was not interested in hearing any evidence. All they wanted was a guilty verdict.
6. No defense was offered on Jesus’ behalf.
Here’s the sixth problem. No witnesses were called to testify in Jesus’ defense. At one point in Matthew 26 the high priest himself asked Jesus if he was the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus replied, “Yes, it is as you say.” And immediately the high priest tore his robes and declared that Jesus has spoken blasphemy.
That might seem like an odd response to us but in those days ripping your clothes was done for a purpose. The high priest did this in an attempt to stir up the rest of the Council, to incite fury in them against Jesus and to prejudice their thought process.
The tactic worked. There were no more witnesses called. No defense given. They finally had their charge. It was the charge of blasphemy. A vote was taken immediately and Jesus was found guilty. They also immediately set the sentence by saying that he was worthy of death.
There was no evidence given to convict Jesus. There was no evidence heard in his defense. Simply put, it was mob mentality that condemned Jesus. But that’s exactly what the Council wanted.
7. Pilate found no reason to execute Jesus and yet he allowed it to proceed.
The seventh and final problem that we’ll look at this morning is that the Council then took Jesus to Pilate, the governor to approve their verdict and sentence. Two problems occurred here. First, the reason the chief priests said that they needed Pilate’s approval was because they claimed that they did not have any authority to execute Jesus themselves. Only the Roman authorities had that right.
That may have been true but it didn’t stop the very same Council from stoning Stephen to death in Acts 7. They had killed others before Jesus and they would kill others afterwards. All they were trying to do was wash their hands of Jesus’ blood because they knew that his death could turn the people against them which could threaten their wealth and their power.
The second problem is that at least twice Pilate said that he could find no evidence against Jesus to warrant his death, that he had done nothing wrong. He said this in both John 18:38 and John 19:6, that he could find no basis for any charge against Jesus. But Pilate handed Jesus over to them anyway and told them to do whatever they wanted with him. He was washing his hands of the whole affair and placing Jesus blood back onto the hand of the Council. Note that Pilate did not give them permission to execute Jesus. He merely said that he wanted nothing to do with it. Sadly, Pilate could have stopped all of this but chose to take the easy road out and abdicate any and all responsibility.
But the Council didn’t care. They may not have received Pilates’ blessing but neither did Pilate protest too strongly and that was good enough for them.
Not long afterwards, Jesus carried his cross to the top of Mount Calvary where he was crucified for crimes he did not commit, condemned by an illegal court based on no evidence and abandoned by Pilate, the one man who could easily have saved his life. It was the greatest travesty of justice in the history of humanity.
And the Council thought it had won. And the high priest himself thought he had won. And the Pharisees thought they had won. And the teachers of the law thought they had won. And Pilate thought he had won. But they were wrong.
Do you know who really won? We did. Had they not been successful in their illegal trial, Jesus would never have gone to the cross. His body would not have been broken and his blood would not have been shed. And we would still be lost in our sin. Think about that the next time you feel contempt for those who crucified Jesus. Because of the injustice that they perpetrated, we can be right with God. By his wounds, we have been healed. By his death we have been given new life. Rather than condemning those who murdered Jesus, we should recognize the debt of gratitude that we owe them.
about that. Also remember that the story was not over yet. There was still
another chapter to be written. Come back on Sunday and find out what happens.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come, O God, on this black and bleak morning. It is a morning that changed the world. It is a morning that forever transformed your relationship with us. Jesus, your righteous and innocent Son was nailed to a cross and stripped of his dignity and humanity in order that the lustful and greedy desires of evil men and angels would be fulfilled.
We stare at his broken body as he hangs limp in our minds and we are struck by the injustice of it all. We admit that it makes no sense to us. Our minds are too feeble and our hearts to hard to truly comprehend what you did for us in Jesus. Why anyone would die for the sins of the entire world is too much for us to fathom.
And yet, we forget that it was not only your Son who went to the cross, it was you who died there in agony. It was you who chose to experience life as we do as mortal beings. You did not shirk your responsibilities as we often do. What you began in Bethlehem you finished on Calvary. You gave yourself for us when we could do nothing to save ourselves.
How can we thank you enough? We can’t.
As we reflect
upon the meaning of this day, in the corner of our memories, help us to
remember that the story is not done. Easter is two days away and we will see a
different side of the cross. But for now, we mourn and we remember. Amen.