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Matthew

Trials

Matthew 26:57 - 27:26

Lesson audio

The trials of Christ make for an interesting study across the four Gospels. But it is also possible to see three trials: those of Peter, Judas and Christ.

The trial of Peter

Mat 26:57-75 NASB Those who had seized Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were gathered together. (58) But Peter was following Him at a distance as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and entered in, and sat down with the officers to see the outcome. (59) Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death. (60) They did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward. But later on two came forward, (61) and said, "This man stated, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.'" (62) The high priest stood up and said to Him, "Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?" (63) But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, "I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God." (64) Jesus *said to him, "You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN." (65) Then the high priest tore his robes and said, "He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy; (66) what do you think?" They answered, "He deserves death!" (67) Then they spat in His face and beat Him with their fists; and others slapped Him, (68) and said, "Prophesy to us, You Christ; who is the one who hit You?" (69) Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, "You too were with Jesus the Galilean." (70) But he denied it before them all, saying, "I do not know what you are talking about." (71) When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and *said to those who were there, "This man was with Jesus of Nazareth." (72) And again he denied it with an oath, "I do not know the man." (73) A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, "Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk gives you away." (74) Then he began to curse and swear, "I do not know the man!" And immediately a rooster crowed. (75) And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, "Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly.

Progression

Without thinking, most of us would say that sin comes upon us suddenly. But when challenged, we usually will admit that sin started small and continued to progress for us. Such a progression is seen in Peter:

  • He begins by denying Christ in a casual conversation. It is something low key; just to avoid any misunderstandings, you know.
  • When challenged again, however, he makes his denial stronger. He takes an oath in God’s name, saying that he does not know the Man.
  • Finally, when pressed, he resorts to the parade of obscenities approach. Thus does one sinner convince others of just how serious he is.[1]

Sin seems to go from bad to worse. Here we have the classic example of this; it should be a warning to all of us that even the best of us are not immune from sin.

Why?

Peter, having so recently announced his loyalty to the death (as did the rest of the disciples), would be viewed today as being mentally defective. There is, in fact, nothing wrong with Peter’s brain. It’s just that we don’t like to answer the question, “Why?”, because it hits so close to home for us. So let’s take a look at the answers:

  • Fear. Most of us are afraid of public speaking, which is related to our fear of being an outcast. We like to be with birds of a feather. It might seem this is of little account to Peter; his accuser has low social status. He’s just reaffirmed his loyalty. He’s afraid to be on his own, alone. So are most of us.
  • Lack of preparation. Most of us manage to keep from panicking until we are actually in the dentist’s chair – when it’s too late. The dentist probably wishes you came prepared to suffer. Peter was not prepared to stand up for his Lord.
  • Disconnection – specifically, disconnection from Christ. Peter is impetuous and bold when Christ is around. He spent three years showing that. Now Christ is not around; what then? Some of us omit prayer, and are surprised at our own actions.

Peter later will ask to be crucified upside down – as not being worthy of the same death as his Lord. This night is the root of his opinion of his own unworthiness. It’s a lesson for us all.

“Wept bitterly”

The subject of repentance is never a popular one, as we wish to have no reason to study it. But we can see some of its features in Peter:

  • Godly sorrow – a genuine regret for one’s actions[2] - is the root emotion of repentance. Sorrow for getting caught is not.
  • Christ encourages us to separate the sin from the sinner – which certainly applies to ourselves, as well. He would have us be merciful to us – and then extend the same treatment to others.
  • The path of repentance is not a wandering one; it leads straight back to Christ.

Trial of Judas

Mat 27:1-10 NASB Now when morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus to put Him to death; (2) and they bound Him, and led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate the governor. (3) Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, (4) saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." But they said, "What is that to us? See to that yourself!" (5) And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself. (6) The chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, "It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood." (7) And they conferred together and with the money bought the Potter's Field as a burial place for strangers. (8) For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. (9) Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: "AND THEY TOOK THE THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER, THE PRICE OF THE ONE WHOSE PRICE HAD BEEN SET by the sons of Israel; (10) AND THEY GAVE THEM FOR THE POTTER'S FIELD, AS THE LORD DIRECTED ME."

The test of the sinner – repentance

There is no question about it: Judas felt sorry about Jesus being condemned. Real sorry. Exceedingly sorry. But the emotion itself is not the same thing as repentance.

  • Sorrow – in this instance, bordering on horror – is a natural reaction to the sin involved. Judas has suddenly realized just what he has done. He thus draws a conclusion about what kind of man he is. This, we shall see, is his undoing.
  • Repentance has a path, leading back to God. Judas does not follow that path. Instead, he creates his own path of repentance.
  • This, of course, means that there is some virtue left in the man: he has the capacity to be horrified at what he has done. But he repents only after the sin is complete; the devil’s own way of repentance.
  • Instead of taking God’s path of repentance he creates his own. He renounces his actions – and then commits suicide. Man’s way of repentance usually makes things worse.
The “wages of a harlot”

The Pharisees have had plenty of time over the years to detail a law making the use of such money for the Temple to be sinful. They don’t seem to have done so; the closest we have is this:

Deu 23:17-18 NASB "None of the daughters of Israel shall be a cult prostitute, nor shall any of the sons of Israel be a cult prostitute. (18) "You shall not bring the hire of a harlot or the wages of a dog into the house of the LORD your God for any votive offering, for both of these are an abomination to the LORD your God.

It might not appear to you to fit the case. The Pharisees were sure it did, however. Perhaps an example might assist:

At this writing, we have recently had the news story of a publisher who attempted to secure and publish a book by O. J. Simpson on “how he would have done it (if he had done it, which of course he didn’t.)” The news had but to reach the public to create a great, moral outcry (even in our times, there are shreds of decency left.) The public, generally holding the man to be a cold-blooded murderer, was outraged that he would now be allowed to profit from his crime. It would be blood money; and that’s just how the Pharisees would have seen these thirty pieces of silver.

Interestingly, in so doing, the Pharisees have convicted themselves. They were the ones who produced the thirty shekels in the first place. It is a terrible hypocrisy which can condemn itself like this – without knowing it.

Why?

Why did Judas throw the money back? Some have argued that he hoped to have the Pharisees change their minds. Others have suggested “buyer’s remorse” – Judas got exactly what he asked for, and has now discovered that it’s not at all what he wants.

The matter is perhaps not so simple. One of Shakespeare’s characters put it much better than I could. Here is Lady Macbeth, after Duncan’s murder, sleepwalking:

Out, damned spot! out, I say!-- One; two; why, then 'tis
time to do't ;--Hell is murky!--Fie, my lord, fie! a soldier,
and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call
our power to account?--Yet who would have thought the old man to
have had so much blood in him? (Macbeth, Act V, Scene 1)

There were none to “call our power to account” for the Pharisees. But who can doubt the effects of the blood of their Victim?

The Trials of Christ

Mat 27:11-26 NASB Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor questioned Him, saying, "Are You the King of the Jews?" And Jesus said to him, "It is as you say." (12) And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He did not answer. (13) Then Pilate *said to Him, "Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?" (14) And He did not answer him with regard to even a single charge, so the governor was quite amazed. (15) Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the people any one prisoner whom they wanted. (16) At that time they were holding a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. (17) So when the people gathered together, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?" (18) For he knew that because of envy they had handed Him over. (19) While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him a message, saying, "Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him." (20) But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to put Jesus to death. (21) But the governor said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release for you?" And they said, "Barabbas." (22) Pilate *said to them, "Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" They all *said, "Crucify Him!" (23) And he said, "Why, what evil has He done?" But they kept shouting all the more, saying, "Crucify Him!" (24) When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this Man's blood; see to that yourselves." (25) And all the people said, "His blood shall be on us and on our children!" (26) Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified.

Before the priests

We may be brief in this. I would have you note the one answer Christ gives – not even answering the challenge of tearing down the Temple and restoring it in three days (clearly referring to the resurrection). His only reply comes to the question of the High Priest: are you the Christ, the Son of God?

There is no other question. It is fitting from the High Priest, for he stands before the permanent high priest, the Christ. Upon the answer to that question rests western civilization. If Christ is who He says He is, then God’s righteousness is an integral part of our civilization. If He is not, we need not the rudder of God to float about in moral uncertainty.

It is the only question; it is the only one the priests need to condemn him. But they need to kill Him openly, for thus only can they kill Him and His reputation.

Before Pilate

Pilate has only one real concern: “Are you the king of the Jews?” The question is a reasonable one; if He says yes, we have a rebel against Rome on our hands. But (as is seen in other accounts) Pilate quickly discovers that Jesus is no threat to the empire.

Pilate is a sharp mind; he knows what’s going on here. The quislings are worried that this man might supplant them in the eyes of the people. He knows envy when he sees it (see verse 18). Being an astute administrator for an empire known for its love of justice, Pilate thinks he can handle the situation.

He’s a merciful man – until it gets risky. The poison pill is offered (Barabbas). But eventually it’s clear this Man must die. But not on Pilate’s account. He washes his hands of the matter, leaving Shakespeare with the indelible metaphor for guilt.

Christ’s conduct

Christ is, by and large, silent through all this. By His silence He achieves much:

  • He fulfills the voices of the prophets concerning the suffering servant Messiah.
  • His silence puts the attention on the men (and the system) condemning Him. It forces those who see it to consider that Roman justice is more on trial than is Jesus.

He confirms the truth, when asked. He is silent in all else; He is the Lamb of God going to the slaughter without a word. McGuffey’s Reader had it right: Socrates died like a philosopher; Jesus Christ like a God.


[1] It is a curious thing, and a topic of interest: why is it that the worst of sinners won’t be convinced until they hear a string of obscenities, even from the honest man?

[2] See 2 Corinthians 7:8-11

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