Events in these final locations to which Jesus was taken take place within a twenty-four-hour period. Notice how Mark tells the time, citing the exact hour. This detail about the hour is intended to highlight the drama and the surprising end to which the Gospel brings us.
Mark records two trials, the first is before the Sanhedrin, the highest governing body of Jews under Rome. It consisted of ‘chief priests, the elders, and the scribes,’ and was headed by the ‘high priest,’ all mentioned in our lesson today. The second trial was before the Roman governor, Pilate. There is a similarity between the two trials seen in the order of events, questions asked and Jesus’ response. Each trial ends in Jesus being tortured.
PREPARE TO LISTEN. Be silent and still and then pray: Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes. (Psalm 119:12)
READ: Mark 14:53-65 Station 3: The High Priest’s place. ‘Condemned to death’
53They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. 54Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. 55Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. 56For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. 57Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, 58‘We heard him say, “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.”’ 59But even on this point their testimony did not agree. 60Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, ‘Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?’ 61But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ 62Jesus said, ‘I am; and “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power”, and “coming with the clouds of heaven.”’ 63Then the high priest tore his clothes heaven and said, ‘Why do we still need witnesses? 64You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?’ All of them condemned him as deserving death. 65Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, ‘Prophesy!’ The guards also took him over and beat him.
Mark begins the first trial narrative with a brief note about Peter secretly following Jesus, albeit “at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest.” Peter wanted to keep his vehement claim he’d never desert Jesus. Mark then ignores Peter for the time being, focusing our attention on Jesus’ first trial. Keep Peter in the background as Mark returns to him after the trial. Peter’s actions bookend the trial before the Jewish authorities.
The purpose of the trial, as far as the Sanhedrin were concerned, was to find condemning evidence against Jesus. Their goal was execution not justice, therefore they entertained the many false witnesses with their contradictory testimonies. Notice how Mark, almost monotonously, records the different false witnesses and their testimonies that don’t agree. When challenged to respond to the false accusations, Jesus “was silent and did not answer.” From the highly active Jesus in the first half of Mark, Jesus becomes passive, saying and doing very little. This is exactly as the prophet described Messiah: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). I wonder whether any of his accusers thought of that passage as they tried a passive Jesus. Would it have given them pause?
There is only one question Jesus answered, an answer that will incriminate him and give the Sanhedrin all they needed to indict Jesus of blasphemy. When asked if he was messiah, Jesus replied with uncharacteristic directness and with sacred words, “I am.” Sacred, because this is the name God revealed to Moses (Exodus 3:14). Jews refused to use it, seeing it as a claim to be God. If that wasn’t sufficient to indict him, Jesus added fuel to the fire with his quotes from both Psalm 110:1 (seated at God’s right hand) and Daniel 7:13 (coming with the clouds), applying them to himself. The Sanhedrin had all they needed. Jesus, they concluded, was a blasphemous heretic who deserved to die. They condemned him to death. The trial ended with a brief scene of ‘some,’ presumably his accusers, physically torturing Jesus before sending him to Pilate to make the death sentence official.
The hard thing about Mark’s account of Jesus’ trial is that we can’t blame Jews and thus justify anti-Semitic attitudes. Neither, as we’ll see, can we blame the Romans. Jesus said the words that gave the Jewish Sanhedrin all they needed. So, who’s to blame for Jesus’ crucifixion? Remarkably, Mark doesn’t state it. It’s up to us to discern and own our part in his death.
RESPOND TO JESUS IN PRAYER
Lord Jesus, you willingly submitted to suffering and death so that we might live. I own my role in your death as I also own my role now to live for your glory and honor. Amen
GO AND LIVE IN OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST who died for the sin of the world.