[Due to technical difficulties, there is no podcast audio of this sermon. Sorry.]
We’re in the last days of our Passion Week series, the days from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, and it’s been a harrowing week. On Palm Sunday Jesus rode into Jerusalem fulfilling many prophecies and declaring Himself to be the King and Saviour of Israel – but not in the way that people expected.
Summary of The Week So Far
Jesus had been breaking messianic stereotypes for His whole ministry. His teaching was unlike anyone else, and so was His power. Though He could gather crowds of thousands, he shied away from becoming any kind of spectacle. He healed Romans and became friends with tax-collectors, prostitutes, and Samaritans. Even on Palm Sunday, the day of His “Triumphal Entry” as He entered the city followed by a throng of people shouting “Save us! Be our Saviour! Hosanna in the Highest!” instead of being pleased, He was weeping over their foolishness and rebelliousness. On this day, at the height of His popularity, He rode into town weeping, looked around at the Temple, and then left.
On Monday, Jesus shows His displeasure with Israel by cursing a fig tree that looked healthy but bore no fruit, and then proceeded to drive merchants and money changers from the Court of the Gentiles in the Temple. When He came back on Tuesday, He was met on the Temple steps by some of the most powerful, influential men in the city, who wanted Him to answer for what He had been doing and saying. They wanted to trap Him in His words so they could have Him arrested as a blasphemer or a traitor – but none of it worked. He finished Tuesday teaching about the destruction of the Temple that would come in less than 30 years, and then expanding that teaching to talk about the end of the world.
This all had a strong effect on one particular member of His inner circle, Judas, who, on Wednesday, had decided he had had enough. He was sick of hearing about how they would lose everything, be hated by all, and go through many trials on account of being in a relationship with Jesus. He decided to cash out. He went back to the Temple to find some of the guys from the Sanhedrin and the military guards that reported to them, and promised to betray Jesus if they would give Him a pile of money.
On Thursday, Judas found his chance. Jesus and the disciples spent the day working out the details for the special dinner feast that would happen in the evening. As they sat down to eat, Jesus got up and washed their feet, and told them that one of them would betray him.
This confused the disciples, but solidified in Judas’ heart what he needed to do. Jesus offered Judas friendship and a place at His table, but Judas rejected Him, Satan entered in, and Jesus dismissed him saying, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” (John 13:27)
When Judas left, Jesus began a long time of teaching and preparation for what would happen after He was arrested and crucified. According to Jewish accounting of days, which start in the evening, Thursday had turned into Friday by the time that Jesus stood up to leave.
We left off last with Jesus just entering the Garden of Gethsemane, an olive grove on the Mount of Olives. Eleven of the disciples had entered the garden with Him, and three, Peter, James and John, were invited to come in a little further to be with Jesus while He prayed. He said to these three,
“‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.[ And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.” (Mark 14:34-35)
As He prayed, the pain, sorrow and agony of the day – and all that would be coming – pressed fully into Him. A spiritual battle ensued, His sweat coming in drops of blood. “What he must do is so awful that, if He could, He would avoid it. But He will not give in to His very human instinct for self-protection. He has not come to satisfy Himself.” (Crucify: Pg 250) He released His pain and gave His will over to His Father praying:
“Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36)
He stood up resolved to do what was necessary to obey His Father’s will and take the punishment… to have God’s wrath against sin poured out upon Himself… for the salvation of everyone who would believe in Him.
As Jesus prayed, the disciples struggled to stay awake succumbing to sleep over and over because they were exhausted from sorrow (Luke 22:45).
Jesus is Arrested
Jesus kept coming back from prayer and waking them, trying to get his best friends to support Him and pray for themselves, but they were physically and emotionally exhausted from the week and from all they had been hearing from Jesus that evening. Mark 14:41-50 tells us what happens next:
“And he came the third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.’ And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.”
You’ll remember the phrase “chief priests and the scribes and the elders” from what happened on Tuesday (Mark 11:27). This was the same group, the Sanhedrin, that had met him on the steps of the Temple. Since they couldn’t trick Him into condemning himself, and they were afraid of the large crowd following Him during the day, they had come in the night to arrest Jesus after everyone had already gone to bed.
Accompanying the Sanhedrin was Judas, and some Temple guards and a band of Roman soldiers. John says they “went there with lanterns and torches and weapons.” (John 18:3) This was no small group – we’re talking about potentially up to a hundred people – all descending upon Jesus in the middle of the night while He was praying in a garden, so they could illegally arrest Him. This wouldn’t be the first illegal thing they would do that day. Let’s keep reading in verse 44:
“Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.’ And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, ‘Rabbi!’ And he kissed him. And they laid hands on him and seized him. But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. And Jesus said to them, ‘Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.’ And they all left him and fled.”
They grab Jesus and are about to tie his hands when Peter decides to bring out His sword and fight this group of soldiers and policemen single-handedly. He’s prepared to show Jesus that he would never deny Him. He hacks off a servants ear, and Jesus tells him to put His sword away – it wouldn’t help and Jesus assures them that He is doing what He must do because it is the Father’s will (Matthew 26:50-56). Jesus heals the servants ear, but after that outburst, the solders aren’t taking any chances and decide to arrest everyone.
Mark 14:51-52 says, “And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.” We don’t know who this is – some think it was Mark, others that it was John, but it shows how scared the followers of Jesus were, and that as He had predicted, His disciples, terrified of what might happen, “scattered, each to his own home” and left Him alone. (John 16:32)
Judas has earned his ill-begotten wages and disappears into the dark.
Jesus’ Before Annas
The Sanhedrin’s plan has only just begun, and there is much work to do if they are going to be able to get rid of Jesus once and for all. “For [their] plan to work, it is imperative that they get into town before the city and the pilgrims camping on the nearby hills begin to awaken…. Everything hinges on the Sanhedrin officially condemning Jesus before the city is alerted and rumors of the arrest begin to circulate. Word must not get out before the cynical play they are orchestrating reaches its dramatic climax.”(Crucify: Pg 256-257)
According to the Gospel of John, Jesus was first led to the home of the former High Priest, Annas’. To get an idea of what’s going on here, picture Jesus being walked into the courtyard of the compound owned by Vito Corleone in The Godfather movies.
Annas is Vito, the Godfather, an elderly, extremely wealthy, well connected, member of one of the three major families in the city. This Godfather once held the extremely important position of High Priest, but after a time had relinquished it to his son-in-law, Caiaphas – played by Al Pacino. They still paid the Godfather respect by calling him “High Priest”, even though his son held the official position.
Peter is brave enough to try to follow him, but can’t possibly get past this mob-boss’s detachment of goons, and decides to sit in the courtyard. The Godfather gets first crack at trying to break Jesus, but Jesus shows Him very little respect.
“So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people…. The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered him, ‘I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.’ When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?’ Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.” (John 18:12-14; 19-24)
Peter’s situation overtakes his courage and he realizes where he is… sitting around with the cronies and servants of one of the most dangerous men in the world – and when people start to pick him out as a follower of Jesus, he caves and denies that He even knows the man who is being questioned inside. Before the end of the night Jesus’ prediction will have come true, the rooster will have crowed, and Peter will run away weeping bitter tears.
Jesus Before Caiaphas
Jesus’ next trial is before. Caiaphas is going to try a different tactic than his father-in-law. He know he needs this to be an official arrest so He can get Jesus killed by the state. Romans wouldn’t let them execute prisoners, so Caiaphas needed to get him tried before a real court and then sent to a Roman court, before Jesus could face capital punishment. So his plan was to stage a mock trial.
“And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, ‘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.’’ Yet even about this their testimony did not agree.
And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, ‘Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?’ But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’ And the high priest tore his garments and said, ‘What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?’ And they all condemned him as deserving death. And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, ‘Prophesy!’ And the guards received him with blows.” (Mark 14:53-65)
By now it was early Friday morning, likely before daybreak, and Jesus was brought – already bloody and bruised – before the Sanhedrin so they could make him stand trial. The law required that the entire Sanhedrin was to be present for an official verdict to be entered and a sentence to be imposed, so they have to wait until everyone gets there. But they’ve decided to “dispense with the legal niceties of meeting in their official quarters, and they ignore the prohibition against holding proceedings on feast days. Some rules must be bent when matters of national interest are at stake.”(Crucify: Pg 261)
They try desperately to get enough witnesses to bring testimonies so they could trump up charges to have Jesus declared guilty of something deserving death. False-witness after false-witness stood up, but they contradict each other and makea real mess of the trial. Even during their own staged trial they couldn’t find a way to condemn Jesus. Until Caiaphas tried His final tactic of asking Jesus, point-blank, “Are you the Christ?”
“I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
And Jesus does answer. He uses the divine name, “I AM”… which was the name God had given Moses for Himself. He says that they are looking at the One whom the Messianic Psalm 110 was talking about — The Lord and Ruler of All and Priest forever, the One that will shatter kings on the day of His wrath – who will fulfil the prophecy given in Daniel 3:13-14, “…behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”
The High Priest knew exactly what Jesus was saying. He tears his tunic from his chin to his waist, a violent, dramatic action showing public indignation and grief, and called for the immediate charge of blasphemy against Jesus – a capital offence worthy of death. The verdict is unanimous, and they have their judgment.
Remember, they don’t have the authority to have Jesus crucified, so they had to bring him to the Roman governor, Pilate. This also allowed the Sanhedrin to shift any blame that the crowds might have for Jesus’ murder onto the Romans, who they hated anyway.
Jesus Before Pilate
Another local ruler, another court that can’t find anything to charge him with, another weak leader who does the wrong thing for selfish reasons:
“And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate. And Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ And he answered him, ‘You have said so.’ And the chief priests accused him of many things. And Pilate again asked him, ‘Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.’ But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.
Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, saying, ‘Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And Pilate again said to them, ‘Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?’ And they cried out again, ‘Crucify him.’ And Pilate said to them, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him.’ So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.” (Mark 15:1-15)
Pilate knew he was being manipulated, and saw right through the smokescreen of lies that the Sanhedrin was trying to use against Jesus. He was puzzled that Jesus didn’t defend himself, but he also didn’t want an uprising – he’d been warned in no uncertain terms, by the Emperor himself, to not let that happen again – so he tries to let Jesus off, but the outcry from the Jewish leaders is too much.
He tries to punt the problem over to Herod, sending Jesus to be tried by Him, but Herod is of no help and sends him back. As the Roman guards march Jesus from Pilate’s to Herod’s and back again, the city has woken up and the huge crowds were starting to gather, many likely seeking out Jesus to hear more teaching and see more miracles. Many must have seen Jesus marched through the streets and rumours must have been flying all around. They head to Pilate’s to see the spectacle.
By now the crowds are huge. Upon Jesus’ return Pilate tries to release Him again, but the crowds, egged on by the Sanhedrin, start to cry out and yell even more accusations about Jesus.
Pilate tries something else – his traditional release of a prisoner. Perhaps that will get him out of this. He brings out the baddest guy he can find – Barrabas, a notorious thief, terrorist and murderer. He asks the crowd to choose – and without a pause, they chant “Crucify Him, Crucify Him, Crucify Him! Release Barabbas to us!” (Matthew 27:21-23)
Pilate repeats his finding of Jesus’ innocence and comes up with a last resort: He will have Jesus punished and then released. But this makes the crowd even more violent. The riot that Pilate had been warned to never let happen was forming in front of his eyes, and the only solution would be to condemn this innocent man – to punish and crucify Him in the place of Barrabas.
John 19:1-16 describes the scene:
“Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, ‘See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.’ So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the man!’
When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.’ When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.’
From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, ‘If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.’ So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’ They cried out, ‘Away with him, away with him, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.”
We take time out of each year, during the season of Lent and Easter, to remember all that Jesus did while He ministered on earth – His teaching, His love, His grace, His sacrifice. And we take time during Passion week especially – starting today and ending on Easter Sunday – to remember why He did it.
Reading what we’ve read today, we have to wonder why we would call it, “Good Friday”. None of it was good, was it? Well, we call it Good Friday because Jesus went through all of what we have read today – for us. When He was being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter tried to fight against what was happening and Jesus said to him:
“Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:53-54)
He could have stopped at any time, but He wasn’t there for Himself. He was there out of obedience to His Father and love for us. Every step of the way was His decision. Every blow to His body was taken because He knew that the only way that sinners could be brought back into relationship with God would be for Him to take the punishment for their sin.
All of the people around Him, all those who had come before, and all those who would come after, needed Him to do this. God’s law requires that sin be paid for by the shedding of blood. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22) And Jesus knew that His blood was the payment for the sins of all who had believed and would believe in Him as their Saviour.
The sinless one and judge of mankind was arrested in the middle of the night, dragged into a mockery of a trial where he was falsely accused publically humiliated. The King of Kings was and brought before the foolish and wicked Herod Antipas, who had beheaded his cousin John the Baptist and wanted Jesus to perform tricks for him. The Lord of Lords stood before Pontius Pilate, a prefect who knew Jesus was innocent, whose wife was warned in a dream to let him go, but succumbed to the pressure and bloodlust of the crowd.
Jesus died so that sin could be paid for. He died so His enemies could live. “His own people did not receive Him” (John 1:11), but He loved them anyway. It is Good Friday because that was the day that Jesus fulfilled the Law and made our salvation possible.
I encourage you to take time this week to contemplate all that that means, to join in remembrance of all that happened during this week, and to thank God for the gift of His Son.