September 3, 2017
A miscarriage of justice is defined as “a failure of a court or judicial system to attain the ends of justice, especially one that results in the conviction of an innocent person.” Or, I would add, lack of conviction of a guilty person. It seems to be the basis for much of the racial, social and political unrest we have in our country right now. Take the case of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. The story goes, George Zimmerman saw a hooded black youth walking through his gated neighborhood. As part of the local neighborhood watch, an armed Zimmerman chased Martin down, a scuffle ensued and Martin was fatally shot in the chest. At the trial, Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder. Was justice served? I know you likely have feelings about that, one way or the other.
It’s hard to believe that event took place five and a half years ago. But the case captured the national attention of both media and the public. In fact, the Black Lives Matter movement was founded after the not-guilty verdict was announced.
Take the case of Officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown. Three years ago, in Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Wilson stopped Michael Brown as a suspect in a convenience store robbery. Again, a scuffle ensued, and Michael Brown was shot and killed. Subsequently, Darren Wilson was cleared in the shooting, adding further fuel to the Black Lives Matter movement and charges of police brutality. You may remember the slogan, Hands Up, Don’t Shoot, observed by many professional athletes. Was justice served?
I could go on to talk about Eric Gardner in Staten Island who died after being put in a choke hold while being detained. Or we could talk about Freddie Gray in Baltimore, who was arrested for possession of a switchblade, but then died in route to the police station. Or we could talk about Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Philando Castille or Tamir Rice. In all of these cases, the question could be posed, was justice served? And I suppose in this room, we could have some rousing debate as you argued one side or the other. And some of you are irritated I haven’t taken a side – quite intentionally, by the way.
You see, I would suggest your view is somewhat skewed by the bias you bring to the table. The police are always right, or, the police are always gunning for the Black community. The Black community is always wrong, or, the Black community is always racially and unjustly discriminated against. Is it possible your position is impacted by your bias?
I think we could all agree these events, and others, have further divided an already divided country. What could be said about the alt-right, white supremacy, Nazism, Civil War statues, the alt-left, Antifa, BLM, etc. Is justice being served, or has it been lost in pursuit of racial, political and even moral ideologies? And in what way has peace been advanced through all this unrest? I’m sure we could have discussion about that as well.
I will say this. As followers of Jesus, with the Gospel and His kingdom our ultimate pursuit, we have the good news this world, this country desperately needs to hear. Jesus and His gospel alone can bring answers, hope and the peace and justice for which we long. And know this: Jesus brought peace through what was undoubtedly the most egregious miscarriage of justice ever.
In our study of the Gospel of Mark, we are in the last day (not days, day) of Jesus’ life. We’ve looked at the Last Supper which took place on Thursday evening. Judas the betrayer left to gather the mob. Jesus gave the Farewell Discourse. They left the upper room and made their way to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus and His disciples spent some time there – Jesus praying, the disciples sleeping. It’s well past midnight, meaning early Friday – Good Friday. Judas led a large crowd to the garden, comprised of Roman soldiers, temple police, chief priests and scribes to arrest Jesus. All against an innocent man – a miscarriage of justice. All the disciples left Him and fled – the shepherd struck, the sheep scattered. Which brings us to our text where we read of the grossest miscarriage of justice ever perpetrated in the history of humankind. Mark 14:53-65.
The definition of a miscarriage of justice is “a failure of a court or judicial system to attain the ends of justice, especially one that results in the conviction of an innocent person.” Who more innocent than Jesus? But the irony of this entire unjust affair is that it was all according to the eternal plan of God. It was all carried out by the obedient Son of God who could have stopped the proceedings at any moment. But His unjust death brought justification for unjust people – a declaration of righteousness for those who believe. Peter says, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God.”
The fact is, Jesus had done nothing wrong – He’d healed the sick, raised the dead, fed the hungry, driven out demons, and taught with divine authority, but there were no charges that could be brought against Him. Any charges, any proceedings would have to be illegal – a gross miscarriage of justice – to find Him guilty. It would have to be underhanded – which is exactly what happened. You see, not only were there no legal charges to be leveled, He had never done anything even remotely wrong. The Scripture declares Him innocent:
I Peter 2:20-23 says, “…when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly…” We have a God who will justly make all things right – but it comes at the cost of the unjust death of His own Son.
His adversaries had to create a kangaroo court by which they trumped up charges against Him to see Him eliminated. In doing so, by this trial, Jesus serves as an example, Peter says, for us to follow. Let me give you the outline:
- The Introduction of the Cast (53-54)
- The Illegal Trial of Jesus (55-64)
- The Illegal Treatment of Jesus (65)
All those stories at the beginning – just, unjust? I don’t know. But Jesus knows what it is to suffer unjustly. As I said, we’re going to look at a kangaroo court, defined as “an unfair trial in which the rights of the accused and precepts of justice are ignored and the outcome is usually known beforehand.” If there was ever a kangaroo court, this was it. Notice – they weren’t trying to determine His guilt – they had already found Him guilty, they just needed to prove it. This wasn’t innocent until proven guilty, this was guilty until we can prove Him guilty. There were actually two trials, one Jewish and the other Roman, and there were three parts to each trial.
- First was the Jewish Trial
- Before Annas (the former High Priest) (John 18:12-24)
- Before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:53-65)
- Before the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:1)
- Then there was the Roman Trial
- Before Pilate (Mark 15:2-5)
- Before Herod (Luke 23:8-12)
- Before Pilate (Mark 15:6-15)
None of the gospels has the complete record – we piece them all together, which can be done easily enough. The Jewish trial will convict Him of blasphemy, the Roman trial of insurrection, leading to His death. Today, we’re going to look at the first two parts of the Jewish trial – before Annas and Caiaphas. But let’s meet the cast of characters.
The Jewish trial actually began with Annas. John says it this way in John 18:12-13, “So the Roman cohort and the commander and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him, and led Him to Annas first; for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year.”
So, who’ Annas? He had been high priest about 20 years before this, from 7 to 15 AD. According to the Old Testament, a high priest was supposed to serve until death, but Annas had been deposed by the Romans. In fact, over a hundred year period, until the end of the Jewish nation in 70 AD, there were no less than 28 high priests. The position had become one gained not by heredity, but by political influence and bribery.
Annas had been a very powerful high priest. He directed the money making schemes of the money changers and those selling sacrifices in the temple. The whole system was corrupt, and Annas had become quite wealthy – the whole circus had become known as the Bazaar of Annas. Some suggest he was removed by the Romans because he was so powerful. But, he still held the title of high priest, which explains why the Gospels speak of two high priests. Caiaphas, the current high priest, was actually his son-in-law. Let’s meet him.
Caiaphas was high priest from 18 to 36 AD. With his collaboration with the Romans, he was able to hold on to the office till he died. Caiaphas was a Sadducee, the priestly aristocracy. He was neither spiritual nor moral – he cared only for the opportunities of wealth and power. And Jesus was a threat to his position. Jesus had cleansed the temple twice, interfering with Caiaphas money-making schemes. To allow Him to go unchecked may upset the political stability Caiaphas had with Rome. Bottom line: Caiaphas was more concerned about wealth and political power than truth. Frankly, he didn’t care if Jesus was the Messiah or even the Son of God – he just wanted to maintain his position – and Jesus was a big problem. The last people we meet is the Council itself – the Sanhedrin. Now, the basis of judicial law in Israel was found in Deuteronomy 16:18-20:
18 “You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in all your towns which the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.
19 “You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous.
20 “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you.
In Jerusalem, there was the Great Sanhedrin or Council. It was comprised of 70 men – elders, chief priests and scribes. A few were Pharisees, most were Sadducees – non-religious, non-spiritual, priestly aristocracy. The high priest was the president of the council, bringing the total to 71 men – supposedly, men who had proven themselves as the most godly and wise throughout the land.
That’s the cast of characters in the Jewish trial, which brings us to our second point – the illegal trial of Jesus. You see, there are some important principles of Jewish law that were supposed to govern the Jewish justice system, to include trials. While Grecian democracy forms the basis of our government – it is the Old Testament and the Jewish judicial system that governs our laws – it’s the foundation of our legal system. So, many of these principles will sound familiar.
First, many of the regulations were set up to protect the innocent. The governing principle in capital cases, requiring the death penalty, was actually written: “The Sanhedrin is to save, not destroy life.” You were supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. They bent over backwards to make sure people got a fair trial – the intent was to make it almost impossible for an innocent person to be convicted. For example, in a capital case, there had to be two witnesses who agreed on their testimony. One was not enough to convict. Not only that, if you were a false witness against someone and it was discovered, then you got whatever sentence the guy you were trying to frame would get. If you were giving false testimony in a capital offence, then you would get the death penalty.
And by the way, another law said a person could not incriminate himself – he could not testify against himself. Much like someone today can plead the fifth amendment so as not to incriminate themselves – for the Jewish legal system, even if you did confess, there still needed to be witnesses to convict.
There was more. The Mishnah said that capital cases could not be conducted at night. They had to be conducted during the day, under public scrutiny, to prevent shady legal proceedings. And, they had to be conducted in the Temple precincts over at least two days. In other words, you couldn’t convict someone of a capital offense in one day – they wanted you to at least sleep on it and consider all the evidence. In fact, in capital cases, the Sanhedrin was required to fast for those two days – to seek God as to the guilt of the defendant. And if a guilty verdict was found, you couldn’t put him to death that day – you had to wait another day. The whole process, by law, required a minimum of three days.
Once we understand this, not only do we understand Jesus was illegally tried, but we also begin to understand He was not being quite as passive as you may think – He was actually taking the high priests and the Sanhedrin to task for their illegal actions. Look at what happens, starting with Annas. It seems Annas was supposed to find some charge to level against Jesus while Caiaphas was hurriedly gathering the Sanhedrin. That’s important as well – you couldn’t just arrest someone without some charge against them. We read about it in John 18:19-24.
19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about His disciples, and about His teaching.
19 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret.
19 “Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; they know what I said.”
19 When He had said this, one of the officers standing nearby struck Jesus, saying, “Is that the way You answer the high priest?”
23 Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?”
24 So Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
What’s going on? Annas, the former high priest questioned Jesus about His disciples, His teaching. But remember, a man could not testify against and incriminate himself – so, Jesus says – Annas, do your work – I’m not going to do it for you. I’ve spoken openly to the world – I’ve taught in the synagogues, in the temple where all the Jews hang out – why are you questioning Me? I can’t incriminate Myself – go get your own witnesses – everyone knows what I said. And with that, they struck Jesus – which appears to be the first of many times He was physically abused. And how did Jesus answer that? “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?” I’m the one who’s right here – I can’t testify against myself – obey the law – get your witnesses. This whole think is illegal and a mockery.
With that, frustrated Annas sent Jesus to Caiaphas, which we pick up in our text. There is a lot of discussion about the nuances of illegal treatment here – some suggest there were 10-15 laws broken in this trial. Let me just point out the obvious ones:
- First, for them, Jesus was guilty period – they were not looking for innocence, which they could have found, they were looking for guilt, which they could not find – illegal. You can’t arrest someone and then try to come up with some specific charge – let’s just see what we can drum up.
- Second, Jesus was tried at night – illegal.
- Third, Jesus was tried at Caiaphas’ house, not in the Temple precincts – illegal.
- Fourth, Jesus was tried privately, not publicly – illegal.
- Fifth, Jesus was given no defense council – illegal.
- Sixth, Jesus was forced to testify against Himself – In Matthew, Caiaphas put Him under oath – illegal.
- Seventh, Jesus was found guilty and killed the same day instead of two days later – illegal.
- Eighth – and I didn’t tell you this one yet – but the law was very clear – you could not be guilty of blasphemy unless you took the holy name of God – Yahweh – on your lips – Jesus did not. Their conviction of blasphemy was illegal.
The fact of the matter is, Jesus, the innocent, perfect Son of God was maligned and mistreated from the get-go. It’s the only way they could possibly find a guilty verdict, even if fabricated.
Isn’t it interesting that first, they tried to find witnesses to speak against Him, true or false, and though many came forward, they couldn’t get any two to agree. How frustrating. The only charge mentioned is found in verse 58, “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.” Notice, Mark says even these two witnesses didn’t agree with the other’s testimony. Not only that, what they said wasn’t even right. The event was way back in John chapter 2, three years before this, after Jesus cleansed the temple the first time. They asked Jesus plainly – give us a sign so we’ll know if you’re the Messiah. And so He said, destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.
He didn’t say He would destroy the temple. He said, destroy it, and I’ll raise it. Their response – it took 46 years to build this temple, and you think you can do it in three days? Of course, John tells us, and we know Jesus was talking about the temple of His own body. The fact is, He had not threatened the temple – even when He predicted its destruction in chapter 13, He didn’t say He’d so it. They couldn’t even get this charge right.
And to the accusation, Jesus was silent. You see, His silence, noted in all four gospels, was a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:7, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.” I love what one author wrote, “Jesus stood majestically in silence. It was the silence of innocence, the silence of dignity, the silence of integrity, the silence of infinite trust in His heavenly Father.”
Which infuriated Caiaphas all the more. Look at what he said in verses 60 and 61, “Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?” Finally, he says, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” Caiaphas knew what he was doing. To claim to be the Messiah, the Christ, people did that all the time, and they passed away to oblivion. He wanted to know – are you THE Christ, THE Son of God. You see, there was an understanding that the Messiah would be deity – the Son of God. To get Jesus to admit that would be, in Caiaphas’ mind, blasphemy.
So Jesus answered clearly, “I am [the Messianic secret we’ve seen throughout Mark is over]; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, [a quote of Psalm 110:1] and coming with the clouds of heaven [a quote of Daniel 7:13]. And they knew what Jesus was saying. Yes, I am the Christ, yes, I am the Son of God, but I’m more than that – I’m the coming Judge – and the next time you see Me, the seats will be reversed, and I will be judging you.
And with that, His fate was sealed – they had what they wanted. Sure, He had incriminated Himself – but it didn’t matter – they believed He had committed blasphemy. Stop and think about it: if anyone else in the history of mankind said what Jesus said, it would have been blasphemy. But it wasn’t for Jesus, because it was true. All they had to do was examine the evidence – all the prophecies fulfilled, all the miracles He performed. But this group was not interested in truth. They were only interested in conviction, condemnation, and crucifixion. They were not interested in justice. They were not interesting in saving life, they were fixed on destroying life. And ironically, they made eternal life possible, for millions to come.
Which leads to our third point and our conclusion – the illegal treatment of Jesus. In verse 65, the evil treatment began. It is where the just began suffering unjustly for the unjust. They spat in His face – the most vile, offensive insult to a Jew, and they slapped Him. Mark tells us they blindfolded Him, mocking Him, saying, “Prophesy!” Luke says further, “Prophesy – you Christ, the one who hit you?”
Can I suggest there have been several ironies in this text today. Consider first, the “false witnesses” said Jesus would destroy one temple made by hands, and build another not made with hands. While lying, there was a sense in which what they said was true. The temple would be destroyed, and the temple of His body would be raised in three days. And further, Jesus has been building another temple – the church – ever since – made without hands.
Second, they accused Him of blasphemy – and it was this charge that led to a guilty verdict. But the charge was actually true – He was the Christ, the perfect Son of God – and thereby undeserving of death. And yet His death meant life for millions. And finally, when they blindfolded Him and said prophesy, the missed the fact He had prophesied. Back in chapter 10, He had said, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles. They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again.” He had already prophesied – and it all came to pass, just as He said.
When we look at the facts of this case, this trial, and there can be no confusion. Jesus was the subject of the grossest miscarriage of justice in history. But His death meant our life. And so we actually remember, and in a sense, celebrate this act of injustice – through a memorial Jesus gave us called communion.