March 11, 2018 – Fourth Sunday of Lent
Jesus Is Silent for You and Speaks for You
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text is from the Gospel reading. 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.” Here ends our text.
Whenever there’s a court trial, the burden of proof always falls on the prosecution. The prosecutor must bring forth testimony from two or more witnesses proving the defendant’s guilt. If the witnesses contradict one another, the defense attorney can quickly prove that one of them is mistaken or lying. The defendant doesn’t even need to take the stand. He can plead the Fifth Amendment and choose not to incriminate himself. His silence is not an admission of guilt. Rather, the prosecutor must prove the defendant’s guilt without his testimony. Also, if the prosecution doesn’t follow established courtroom rules, then the defense attorney may make his objection to the judge who is bound to sustain his objection or even declare a mistrial. The defendant is always brought to trial because of his supposed wrongdoing – something that he did. No one is ever put on trial because of who they are or who they claim to be. To try someone for simply being African American or German or Hispanic or for being Moslem or Lutheran or Jewish or for being an architect or plumber or banker would be discrimination.
Now someone might claim to be Santa Claus, like in the movie Miracle on 34th Street. That person couldn’t be charged with a serious crime, but only with lunacy. As in the movie, though, the prosecutor would still have to prove that the person wasn’t Santa or that he had no credentials in order to declare him a lunatic.
All these things, however, were ignored in Jesus’ trial before the Jewish Council, the Sanhedrin, and in his trial before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. In Jesus’ trial before the Jewish Council, the prosecution was seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. Many false witnesses testified against him, but their testimony didn’t agree. They contradicted one another. There were two, who by collusion, told a similar story. They heard Jesus 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 didn’t agree. Of course, Jesus was talking about God’s destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 A.D. by the Romans. He wasn’t making a terrorist bomb threat. And the Temple he would build would be that of his resurrected body. The high priest, who is serving as judge over this kangaroo court, is frustrated with the obviously false witnesses, so he tries to get Jesus to incriminate himself. He asks Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But Jesus remained silent and made no answer. He didn’t have to answer. He could plead the Fifth. These bunglers hadn’t proved any wrongdoing against him but only showed themselves to be fools.
The high priest then decided to take a different slant. As the judge, he charged Jesus under oath to answer, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” This time Jesus had to answer. He confessed, “I Am.” Though Jesus had often refused to answer this question publicly before his time had come, he now answers emphatically, “I Am.” He uses the code words for the name of Yahweh which God spoke to Moses at the burning bush. Jesus confirmed to the court, “I am the Christ, the Son of God.” But he does even more than that. Jesus adds these words, “You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Jesus summarizes the Prophet Daniel’s vision of the Christ, the Son of Man. “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.” With these words of warning, Jesus reminds the high priest, his judge, that one day he will come with the clouds as king of the universe to judge him. This is more than the high priest can bear. He tears his robes in indignation and sputters, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And the whole council condemned him as deserving death. Jesus is condemned to death, not because of what he’s done, but because of who he is and claims to be. The prosecution makes no attempt to prove that he’s not the Messiah and Son of God. They don’t even look at Jesus’ obvious credentials. It’s interesting that Jesus is never charged with healing on the Sabbath day – a charge that was made repeatedly throughout Jesus’ ministry. His miraculous signs of giving sight to the blind, hearing to the death, and restoration to the lame show that he is God. But his credentials were never considered. The prosecution proves no wrongdoing, nor do they disprove Christ’s claim; nevertheless, Jesus is condemned.
Throughout this trial, the Sanhedrin breaks many of its own rules. Jesus is arrested without a charge. The trial is held at night when it was required to be held in the daytime. For capital cases, two court meetings held at least a day apart were mandatory. After the first trial, Jesus was roughed up as the they spit upon him, struck him, and ordered him to prophesy of his tormentor. Even the guards received him with blows. The second trial came early that morning of the same day after a brief consultation of the Council without hearing the defendant. All these infractions should have caused a mistrial. But Jesus accepts the injustice and never says a word.
Jesus does get another trial, though, because the Jews aren’t allowed to put anyone to death. They led him to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, but they had to change the charges. If the Jews charged Jesus with claiming to be the Messiah and the Son of their God, this would have meant as much to Pilate as if they’d said, “We want you to put this man to death for claiming to be Santa Claus.” So they changed the charges to that of treason against the state, saying that Christ claimed to be their king – a king in place of Caesar. So Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus has made no such claim so he answers, “You have said so.” The chief priests continue to bring ludicrous accusations against Jesus. So in almost the exact words of the high priest, Pilate in frustration 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. Finally, Pilate said to them, “What shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” And they cried out, “Crucify him.” Not only serving as Jesus’ judge but also as his defense attorney, 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 and not be accused of opposing Caesar, had Jesus scourged and delivered him to be crucified. Again, Jesus is condemned, not for any wrongdoing, but for who he is and claims to be.
Throughout both trials, Jesus never speaks a word in his defense. He really doesn’t have to a word since the prosecution never did provide proof of guilt. But Jesus is doing more than pleading the Fifth. He’s fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah. “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.” Jesus held his tongue and did not open his mouth before his accusers just as the Scriptures prophesied. But he did this for a reason. Jesus remained silent for you.
That same prophecy of Isaiah says of us, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way.” There will come a day when Jesus will return in the clouds to judge not only the high priest and the Jewish Council but the whole world. We’ll all stand before the judgment seat of Christ who will be our judge. Think of all the true witnesses who could come forth to accuse us of wrongdoing. Not just neighbors and coworkers, but our intimate family and friends. Even the angels could come forward and give testimony of what we said and did in private. The books that record all our sins will be opened, and we’ll be judged according to what we’ve done. Our mouths would be silenced, not because we pleaded the Fifth, but because we couldn’t refute the testimony against us. We’d be condemned for our iniquities.
But Jesus is not only our judge; he’s also our defense attorney. We have one who speaks to God the Father in our defense, Jesus Christ, the righteous one. Our Epistle reading says, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” Jesus remained silent for us. The Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. He suffered and died for our wrongs. He’s now risen and ascended to the right hand of God the Father where he now speaks for us. Jesus defends us against the accusations of any human tribunal, any of the angels, even Satan himself. Jesus makes his argument not based upon anything we’ve done but upon what he’s done for us. He states emphatically, “This is my beloved child for whom I’ve suffered and died. I’ve paid the penalty for their sin and the price for their life with my own blood.” For Jesus’ sake God declares us “not guilty” because of who we are and claim to be. We are God’s elect, his chosen ones, who’s names were written in the book of life before the foundation of the world. And we claim to be Christians when we confess our faith in Jesus Christ. Our sin renders us silent, but our Savior looses our tongues and opens our mouths to speak of his salvation. Our Lord was silent for you in his trial, suffering, and death. But Jesus now speaks for you in his resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God the Father. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.