The most widely read about trial of all time was held in the middle
of the night, with conflicting testimony and no legal counsel.
It ended with a 'free for all' attack on the condemned.


Those who laid hold of Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas the
high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.
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
testimony against Jesus to put Him to death. Even
though many
false witnesses came forward, they found
none. But at last two
false witnesses said, "This fellow said,
'I am able to destroy the
temple of God and build it in
three days.'"

The high priest arose and said to Jesus, "Do You answer
What is it these men testify against You?" But Jesus
kept silent.
The high priest 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. 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.
have heard His blasphemy!  What do you think?" They
"He is deserving of death."

Then they spat in His face and beat Him; others struck Him
the palms of their hands, saying, "Prophesy to us,
Christ!  Who
is the one who struck You?"

                                                     Matthew 26:57-68 NKJV, condensed

                                        Judging Jesus

Jesus was hauled in before the religious authorities. The flow
of events indicates it is the midnight hours. We might wonder
why this case was so urgent that it had to be done immediately
and couldn't wait until morning. The soldiers' job is done for now,
but if the prosecutors find Jesus guilty, they would be needed
again. So they waited. Trials didn't take long.

Peter has followed at a safe distance and walked right into
the courtyard with the others. He loitered around a fire in the
courtyard from which he could watch the proceedings with the
servants. Other translations call them guards, attendants or
soldiers. Probably some couriers, too. Whatever their titles, Peter
hid himself among the 'hurry up and wait' people who needed
to bide their time and be ready if their services were required.

The primary action is taking place in the courtroom and is full
of ironies. Of all the people in the world who should recognize
the presence of God, wouldn't you think it would be the religious
leadership! Not so. Far from it! The accusers sat behind some
bench or other barrier, dressed in their official apparel, looking
smart and influential. They were scribes, scholars, and old men
who joined the chief priest in determining whether Jesus should
live or die. This is the same band of connivers that conspired
with Judas, paying him thirty pieces of silver to see that Jesus
was arrested and bound. They think they have a done deal.

Jesus is where they want him now; away from the crowds with
whom he was so popular. The judges need justification to make
his execution legal, so they solicit witnesses to testify that Jesus
made blasphemous statements. But they can't get two
witnesses to report the same thing. Their stories don't agree.
The narrative calls it false testimony. Favorable would also be
a correct adjective. It all depends on which side of the bench
one stands. Truth is a matter of convenience and is easily
corrupted, especially when the judge is also the jury.

Finally two witnesses agreed on a charge that was worthy of
this trial--Jesus said he possessed the power to destroy God's
temple and then rebuild it in three days! Just the thought of
Jesus destroying their beautiful temple is ludicrous and sounds
like a threat. Everyone knows he couldn't tear it down and he
absolutely couldn't rebuild it again in three days. These are
the words of a lunatic. Jesus, how do you answer this charge?
Silence. He couldn't possibly explain to this crowd that his
body was the temple and Easter would come in three days.

Silence is hard to take and rings with contempt. So the chief
priest put Jesus under oath to make sure he told the truth;
isn't that an interesting twist! Because the more Jesus told the
truth, the more they lashed out against him. Then the ultimate
question, Are you the Messiah, the Christ, the son of God?

Jesus responded it was as they said, and added something
else they all should know. Some day the tables will turn. You
will see me sitting at the right hand of real Power and we'll be
coming for you!

He had clearly made them uncomfortable. It was enough.
They needed no further witness. Everyone had heard it and
they all agreed this was blasphemy. Individually, there may
have been some nagging doubts. But together they were
strong and proclaimed a sentence of death.

Then they did something most undignified and unprofessional.
Someone spit at Jesus, right in the face. Others blindfolded
and slapped him. They made a game of it, knocking him about
and teasing him mercilessly. It seems these men of the cloth
were as capable of violence and cruelty as a convicted criminal.
We call them the religious leaders, but what was religious, and
where were they leading, in all of this!

The objective of this trial was the death of Jesus. Minds closed
around the charge that Jesus was a troublemaker and a threat
to the security of their nation. The trial was not about learning
the truth; the important thing was holding on to their positions
of power. They heard what they wanted to hear and believed
what they wanted to believe. Truth was sacrificed so that
their own lives could remain as is.


Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further
study or reflection.


Icebreaker:  If you were going to be critical about
                      something Jesus said, what would it be?


For many people in the crowds that had surrounded Jesus, his
healing miracles served as a sign that he was sent by God. How else
could he do such good? On the other hand, opponents of Jesus
claimed the devil was his father, not God! He did not abide by their
timeworn traditions and his teaching didn't sound like what they
were accustomed to hearing.
             How different is that kind of reasoning from what we do today
                        when we attempt to judge another person's authenticity?


Jesus claimed to be doing the works of God. The religious leadership
thought they were doing the work of God also.
            Give some additional examples of conflicts wherein opposing
                        forces both claimed to have God on their side.
How does it happen that two separate groups, both claiming God's
blessing, get caught up in controversy and fight it out with each other?
            Name some issues that cause strife within your congregation?
            When have you been on the losing side of one of these battles?


Reading the Gospels up to this point, nothing is said about Jesus
having enemies, except for the religious leadership. Now at the end
of his life we learn there were many people who would just as soon
see him dead.
            Who do you think the "false" witnesses were and why would
                    they testify in court against Jesus?


Jesus was charged for what he said rather than what he had done.
            When are words as dangerous or as powerful as deeds?


Think about Peter out on the periphery watching the proceedings.
            What do you imagine was going through his mind?  
            How would he have felt when Jesus was physically attacked?
            Which does more harm or is more painful--verbal or physical abuse?


Why did Jesus remain silent instead of trying to say something to
win over his accusers, or at least to explain himself?
            When have you opted for silence?
            Did you ever regret keeping quiet when you should have spoken?


Sometimes the Gospel comes to us in unexpected forms, places
or people.
            What can you do to make sure you don't miss it and that
            your heart is open to the presence of God in whatever
            form God assumes?

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