Jesus on Trial
[Thank you for your prayers. I got back safely and had enough energy to preach the three morning services yesterday. I'm even in the office today!]
When I was a kid I heard a lot of sermons about Jesus on trial. They would go over the injustices down to our Lord and, truth be told, there were a lot of them. Legal experts have crawled over the Misnah for centuries and been shocked at the number of violations that took place during that series of trials. I found books that listed from 12 to 27 different serious violations of Jewish law. That's impressive. Those sermons, however, didn't motivate me to live a better life; they just made me angry at those old Jewish guys and Pilate! I'm not sure how helpful that was.
To me, that was the failing of "The Passion of the Christ." I am glad Gibson made the movie. I think it needed to be made. However, it emphasized the injustice, pain, and gore without emphasizing the love, grace, and hope of the Christian message. I know, I know -- one movie can't do it all. I'm just saying...
I can remember wondering, when I was a kid and listening the Trial sermons, "Why did they think they could get away with this?" It wasn't until I was older and read Matthew 21:33-45. It has to be the most bizarre parable Jesus ever taught. Think about it: a group of tenants ambush and kill those sent to collect the rent. When a larger force is sent out, they kill those men, also. When the Lord of the harvest sends out his son, he assumes no one would dare touch him, but the tenants think -- and here's the weird bit -- that if they kill the son THEY will inherit the land! That's sick. Yet.... when the chief priests and Pharisees heard this, they knew he was speaking of them.
Even though the NIV strips the passage of its power, Luke 20:70,71 shows another important aspect of this matrix. When Jesus is asked if he is the Son of God, he reveals that those questioning him have said, privately, that he was! They KNEW he was the Messiah and they killed him anyway. Why? Refer back to Matthew 21. They were relying on their special relationship with God to get them through this. They were certain that if they rejected Jesus, as they had rejected so many of the prophets, God would -- perhaps after a suitable punishment -- restore them and send them someone else; maybe someone more after their liking.
As sick as this is, it is exactly what we do with Jesus. Jesus is on trial every day in our lives -- and so are we. He told us not to lay up treasures on earth, to give to the poor, to be people of prayer, to be faithful to God in our words and deeds... and we would rather have Caiaphas. Caiaphas' job as high priest was to maintain the temple, keep the worship going, and keep the people in line. That seems to be the goal of most churches today! Jesus' goal was to overhaul people, destroying anything in them that kept them from God. That's scary stuff.
Example: a man sat in my office. I was working with him, trying to get him to take his Christianity more seriously. He responded, angrily, "If I tried to run my business according to the Sermon on the Mount I'd be broke in a month!" I shrugged and said, "So? Go broke." Unfortunately, he -- and most of us -- agreed with Caiaphas in John 18:14 that it was better for Jesus to die than for the whole social framework to die.
So, we keep our power, position, and comfort zones at the cost of Jesus, all the while relying on our special relationship with Jesus to change God the Father into God the Grandfather; sweet, understanding, saying "Aw, shucks, it's okay." The people in Matthew 7:21-23 thought they had a special relationship with God that would let them get by the gates of heaven. And they were wrong.
Jesus is on trial. Every time we choose a phrase to use to speak to our spouse, everytime we write a check, everytime we choose an entertainment, everytime we choose to pass our neighbors by rather than reaching out to them... Jesus is on trial. We cannot let his teaching die in our lives and then expect our special relationship with God to save us. "No one comes to the Father, except through me" he said. I think he meant it. If you doubt that, ask Caiaphas.