Description / Transcription
Our sermon text comes from Mark’s Gospel. A few hours after the Lord’s Supper, the washing of the feet, the betrayal and arrest, and we come to Jesus standing trial before the council, we read in Mark 14, beginning at verse 53:
“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.”
“And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.”
We can all see there is a trial in this passage, this sham of a trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin. What you may not have realized before is that in a profound and I think intentional way, we are meant to see in these verses not one but two trials.
Look at verse 66: “And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came to him.”
That’s a way of saying “meanwhile.” We just had this scene with Jesus standing trial above and at the same time while there is a trial of Jesus above, facing the council; there is a trial of Peter below in the courtyard.
The story of Maundy Thursday evening into Good Friday morning is the tale of two trials, and I want us to look briefly at these two trials and then finish with two questions.
The first trial is Jesus before the council. We can tell from the very beginning that this trial will be a travesty of justice. You have an ad hoc gathering of the Sanhedrin all coming together at night to reach a predetermined conclusion, if you go back to verse 1 of chapter 14, we read “the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him.” You see, they had already decided that He was guilty. No one wants to face a trial, let alone a trial when the jurors have already decided that you’re guilty and deserving of death, and so they have.
They came together; they had already determined that he was guilty. Verse 55: “The chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put Him to death.” They’re sending out notice, “Anyone have testimony against this Jesus?” They’ve already determined what they want to do to Him.
We read in chapter 15, verse 1, their aim is to hand Him over to the Romans because, of course, the Jews don’t have the authority to execute capital punishment, but the Romans do, and so if we can get Him on charges, hand Him over the Romans, we’ll have him as good as dead.
Key to this section and this trial is the testimony of witnesses. Seven times in ten verses, verses 55 through 64, in those ten verses, seven times we have the word “witness” or “testimony” or “testify.” That’s key. And the specific charge, look at verse 58, leveled against Him, “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy the temple made with hands and in three days I will build another not made with hands.'”
Now in one sense that’s a false witness and a false charge, but if you know your Bible, you know that Jesus did basically say that. We can go back and see it in Mark chapter 13 or in John’s Gospel, He said, “I will destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” But of course He wasn’t talking about the literal temple, He was talking about the temple of His body, or perhaps the whole system of Jewish religion bound up in the temple that then would find its new meaning and focus upon Jesus. But that’s not what they take it to mean, and that’s not what these false witnesses mean.
It’s important, incidentally, for us to realize you, we can slander people even when we repeat the very things they said, but when we give a meaning to it that they didn’t mean, let alone when we know that’s not what they mean, even if that’s exactly what they said, it’s still slander. It’s dishonest. So, yes, Jesus said this, but they’re bringing it to bear in a false way.
In verse 60, the high priest stands up and asks Jesus, “What do you have to say for yourself?” If you’ve ever studied Mark’s Gospel, you know that one of the distinctive features is that Jesus doesn’t want people to know quite yet who He is. Sometimes it’s called the messianic secret, because Jesus will not fully declare who He is and when others have an idea, He often tells them to be quiet.
In chapter 1:34, He would not permit the demons to speak. In chapter 3:12, He ordered the unclean spirits not to make Him known. In chapter 4 He brings back to life a little girl and then He strictly charges the crowd that no one should know. In chapter 7:36 He heals a deaf man and charges them to tell no one. And we read in chapter 4 why He speaks in parables. We think of parables as Jesus was such a master storyteller and had these great illustrations, but Jesus actually said the reason He spoke in parables is so that they wouldn’t get it, and that’s why later He has to pull the disciples aside and they say, “we don’t understand what’s going on,” and He explains it to them. Jesus is keeping His identity a secret.
Now this is not the blueprint for us. We live on the other side of the cross. But because they were so prone to misunderstand what sort of Christ He was, He’s always saying, “Don’t say anything.”
And more than that, we have had this building sense of tension in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus has not yet said anything. Now, it’s been clear if you read Mark’s Gospel who He is. It begins in verse 1, the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. At His baptism, the Father said, “This is My beloved Son.” Already in chapter 1. The demons know that He’s Son of the Most High. And when He forgives sins, the crowds say, “Who is this that He even forgives sins?” They never saw a man like this, who walks on water, who heals the sick, who feeds 5000, who calms the storm, who casts out a legion of demons.
Finally in chapter 8 Peter will confess that He’s the Messiah. Bartimaeus will call Him the Son of David. He rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday sure looking the Messiah. A woman anoints Him with expensive oil as if He’s worth every bit of her worship. So everything is building now to this point, and it seems that everyone has some idea of who Jesus might be, and yet He has not said it.
And so when the high priest presses Him in verse 60, again He remains silent. Isaiah 53:7: “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth. He was like a lamb led to the slaughter and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.”
So he asks him again: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And now, after seemingly everyone has some sense of who He might be, and He has ordered everyone to keep His identity a secret, now when He is finally asked point blank, He will answer: “I am.” Or the other gospels say, “You have said so.”
In other words, “I am indeed the One your fathers have been waiting for for centuries. I’m the One to bring God’s kingdom. I’m the One that was promised to Abraham and to Moses, to David, to the prophets. I’m the One who was promised to Eve in the garden. I’m the divine Son of God. Yes, I am He.”
And you notice that’s not all that He says, “I am.” But in verse 62, He goes on to quote from Psalm 110, sitting at His right hand of power, and then He references Daniel 7, the Son of Man coming with the clouds. These are messianic passages that speak to His divine identity, and surely they understand what He’s saying, because in verse 64 they immediately charge Him with blasphemy. They understand He’s claiming for Himself not only these messianic promises, but claiming for Himself divine authority and identity, “I’m the One that Psalm 110 predicted, I’m the One who appeared to the Ancient of Days in Daniel chapter 7, I will sit at the privileged place of power.”
And they say, “Well, that’s enough. We got what we need here, boys, that’s a wrap.” And on His way out, they treat Him shamefully. They spit on Him, cover His face, mock Him with jeers, push Him into the soldiers who receive Him with blows. All because He made a true confession in the face of false witnesses.
So this is the first trial. But there’s a second trial. As Jesus is being tried in the presence of the Sanhedrin, down below in the courtyard Peter will face a different sort of trial. There he is, warming himself, it could get cold, maybe even colder than it is today, warming himself in the dead of night, and just as in the first trial, the key element are the witnesses, so here we have the presence of witnesses. There are three of them who will testify to Peter.
First, he encounters a servant girl. She says, “You were with the Nazarene, Jesus. I know it.” Peter shoots back a double denial, “I don’t what you’re talking about. I don’t even understand what you mean.” So she goes on her way. And she asks and talks to some of the bystanders, maybe people in town for the festival, people a part of the apparatus of the temple precincts, and he overhears again, “This man is one of them.” And he denies it a second time.
A little while later the bystanders then speak to Peter directly and they say, “I’m sure you’re one of the followers of this Jesus. I can tell you’re a Galilean.” In Matthew’s Gospel, we have the additional information, “Your accent gives you away.” Whatever it was like. Let’s see, Galilee was north of Judea, so it was a Boston accent, or a New York or New Jersey, or something. But they could tell, “You’re not from around these parts, are you, down here in Judea? You’re a Galilean and you were with Jesus. You’re one of the Galilean disciples. Isn’t it? You were, you know Him?”
Peter invokes a curse. Maybe he said, like we so often read in the Old Testament, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if I’m one of those Galileans.”
And not only does he invoke a curse, verse 17, he begins to swear, not meaning swear words, but probably “I swear by the throne of heaven that I do not know the man of whom you speak.” Notice he cannot even bring himself to say the name Jesus. “I don’t, who was it? Who did you say again? I don’t even know who this man is. I’ve forgotten who you’re even talking about. I have no idea what you mean.”
The scene ends in disappointment and disgrace, you see verse 72: “The rooster crowed a second time and Peter remembered that Jesus had said, ‘Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.”
Luke’s account says, “He went out and wept bitterly.”
We have here a tale of two trials, and we are meant to see the comparison between these two trials. Jesus is attacked by false witnesses and He makes a true confession. Peter is approached by true witnesses, and he makes a false confession. Jesus is confronted by the most powerful people in Jerusalem, the chief priests, the scribes, the elders, the council, the Sanhedrin, and He makes a bold stand. Peter, down below, is confronted by some of the least powerful people in Jerusalem, a servant girl, passersby, and he acts a coward.
For Jesus, in His trial, everything happened just as He predicted it. He had been saying for months, if not years, that the Son of Man would die and He would be raised again on the third day. He said already that Judas would betray Him. Everything is happening just as Jesus predicted it.
But for Peter, everything is happening just the opposite of his prediction: “I will never deny You.” How wrong he was.
Jesus ends up looking defeated through no fault of His own. Peter ends up looking defeated through nobody’s fault but his own.
We are meant to see that these two trials of Jesus before the Sanhedrin and Peter in the courtyard, are reverse images of each other. One as the true witness amidst the false teachers and slanderers, and one bearing false witness amidst those who would ask him true questions. We’re meant to see these events side by side and think of the implications of these two trials.
So we finish with two questions. Question number one, “What kind of witness will you be? Will I be?”
Chapter 14 in Mark’s Gospel, the big theme is abandonment. One by one, groups by groups, people are leaving Jesus. Judas leaves Jesus, they, the disciples cannot pray with Him at Gethsemane, everyone scatters when we come to His arrest and betrayal. Have you ever wondered why we have this strange statement in verses 51 and 52 about a young man who followed Him with nothing but a linen cloth? They seized him, he left the linen cloth and ran away naked. That’s strange. This is likely Mark, the author of the Gospel, is this young man and the reason that we have record of him running away naked through the woods, that’s a strange bit in the Gospel story, is because it shows the utter and complete abandonment of Jesus, even this young man would rather streak through the woods naked than be caught anywhere near Jesus.
You have Peter. He’s following at a distance, verse 54. So you think perhaps Peter will be different. Ah, yes, Peter, bold, impetuous Peter, he got out of the boat, he sank but he got out of the boat, he confessed that He was the Christ, he was the first disciple called, at least he’s sneaking around, following at a distance. Maybe he will be brave. After all, he said, in verse 31, “If I must die with You, I will not deny You.” But he, too, abandons Jesus at the first question from a lowly servant girl.
What will your testimony be? We must ask ourselves that question here in relative comfort of this place and these pews. What will your testimony be if following Christ means suffering, pressure, someday persecution? Will you deny Him in your classroom? Deny Him at your academic conference? Deny Him with the way you do your business? Deny Him to your non-Christian friends? Will you go out of your way to find ways to make your commitment to Christ less pronounced, less noticeable, more invisible? Are you willing to be canceled? To be thought not just weird or strange or even ignorant, but positively despicable? For following Jesus and His ways and His Word.
Many of us will cave for a lot less than Peter did. One commentator says Peter’s example is a warning to disciples then and now that faithful witness to Jesus is most important and most easily betrayed in simple and ordinary actions and words. Not so much when you would be paraded in front of everyone and you have a moment to think about here’s my courageous stand and someday I’ll be in the Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.
But it just happens like that. Just like it did for Peter, a servant girl, “You know Jesus.” “Um, who?” Someone else comes, “You’re a Galilean.” “I, I don’t know what you mean.” Just like that.
No doubt you’ve seen roosters on weathervanes before, but you may not have realized that roosters began on churches. You will find some old churches that will have a rooster on top. The reason they ended up on weathervanes is because weathervanes ended up on churches because the churches were the highest points in the city and that’s where you want to get the wind and be able to see the direction. But the roosters began on the church. Sometimes you’ll find people today who will still see it and not knowing the biblical story behind it will laugh, “Isn’t that funny? There’s a rooster on a church.”
But it goes back to this story with Peter. And the heart of the symbolism is a reminder to be on the church that you will be a faithful witness to Christ in the world, always confess Christ, that’s the reminder of the rooster on the rooftop. Be true to Christ, be true to the faith. That’s why some old Christian writers took the rooster as a sign for the conscience; not a cricket, a rooster.
Will we confess Christ and hold fast to His Word when it means being misunderstood or slandered or ridiculed or worse, and even the worst coming from professing Christians sometimes? What kind of witness will you be?
And then the second question: “What other witness do you see?”
That is, don’t just look at Peter, look at Christ. You see Peter and you see his treachery, but look at Jesus and see the treachery against him, and then you compare them side by side, and you realize Mark, by the Holy Spirit, puts these two trials here to say, “Can’t you see? This trial for Jesus that He passed, though He was condemned, is here because Peter and a whole lot of disciples like him, did not pass their trial. This trial is for that trial.”
We can so often be faithless; He is always faithful. We weep; He dries our tears. We lie; He is the truth. He died so that we can live.
Because, of course, there’s another symbol that goes on top of churches, which is much more widespread than roosters, and that’s a cross. A rooster on a steeple, I think, is pretty cool, but only if you realize that there is a cross for every cock that crows. There’s a Savior to forgive us for our treachery.
Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee. ‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee; I crucified thee. For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation, thy mortal sorrow, and they life’s oblation; thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion, for my salvation.