19th Day of Lent
Beloved. Today’s Passion reading takes us, besides other places, to Jesus before the Jewish council, the Sanhedrin. This council of the religious leaders was looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they could put Him to death. Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none. Jesus remained silent throughout, Finally the High Priest said to Jesus [Mt 26.63]: I place You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God! Jesus said to him, “It is as you have said. But I tell you, soon you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” There it is! Jesus claims His divinity and the High Priest knew exactly what Jesus was claiming. Jesus was claiming to be the Son of God—and notice here: the Jews didn’t deny there were personages within the Godhead; Caiaphas didn’t say that there wasn’t a Son of God, that there was, if you will only a Father. So what the Jews here were denying is that Jesus is that Son of God. Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? See, you have just heard the blasphemy! What do you think? Here is a marvelously crystal clear example of that great divide, that great dilemma people face even down to our very day, even down to you and me: who is Jesus? Caiaphas and the council was faced with that dilemma—either Jesus was a lunatic and liar or He is who He said He is: the Son of God. Again, the same thing applies to us and all people—either He is the Son of God and His claims are true or He is a deceitful liar. There is no middle ground. Jesus is either true God—God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, or He isn’t! If He is who He says He is—the Son of God and the Savior of the world—then we are to confess our sin and believe in Him as our one and only Savior from sin.
Sadly many people today reject the claim of Jesus: It is as you have said, that is, that He is the Christ/ Savior, the Son of God. They want a nice Jesus, a teacher of morality or religious philosopher. We have the clear word and testimony of the Holy Scriptures proclaimed by the prophets and apostles. This word is proclaimed down to our very age. What Caiaphas asked that day actually rings true: Why do we need any more witnesses? By His life and works, by the testimony of the Father at Jesus’ baptism and Transfiguration, by His resurrection and ascension, by His holy word of the prophets and apostles, why do we need any more witnesses? Jesus is actually who He says He is! But in truth, as Christians, we desire more witnesses—that is, we want to keep studying and hearing Scripture to learn more about Jesus and to be strengthened in our faith. What joy we have as we grow in our faith and learn more and more about Jesus.
It is no secret that in our day, Jesus and His claims as to who He is are rejected, and sadly rejected by most. As we examine our text we will see the same reasons for rejecting Jesus back then still hold true today—hypocrisy and false judgment.
The Jewish council, the Sanhedrin, didn’t even try some pathetic attempt to prove that Jesus is not God. It didn’t want any more testimony/ witnesses because they had already made up their minds and determined what they would do with Jesus. That’s where our text begins: Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and it was early morning. But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover. The Praetorium was the governor’s official residence. They brought Jesus there to confirm and carry out of their verdict. It must have been an impressive sight before Pilate’s door that morning as St. Luke records [23.1]: Then the whole multitude of them arose and led [Jesus] to Pilate. So you had probably most of the roughly 70 member Sanhedrin along with the temple guards. So the impression given to Pilate was that this must have been some seriously dangerous criminal. And Romans, who prided themselves on their law, held trial in the open from sun up to sun set.
But notice how scrupulous these religious leaders of the Jews are: But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover. There was a law/ tradition among the Jews that going into the house of a Gentile/ non-Jew would somehow defile them so that in this case, they couldn’t eat the Passover. This was nowhere in the Law God had given to Moses and recorded in the OT. It was, though, a later addition to the Law, one that was humanly devised by the teachers but it was greatly ingrained on the people.
But you see how ironic this is—these great religious leaders with their certainly thorough knowledge of God’s Law saw no problem with condemning an innocent Jesus to death —remember what St. Matthew writes by the Holy Spirit [26.59]: Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death—and now they wanted the Romans to confirm and carry out their verdict. So in other words, they saw no problem with breaking the Fifth Commandment against murder and the 8th Commandment against lying and false witness—commandments that God not only wrote on the human heart but also wrote in stone at Mt. Sinai—but they were very scrupulous to maintain some insignificant humanly devised law: But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled.
This is the sin of hypocrisy. Jesus had earlier condemned the religious leaders for this sin, calling them [Mt. 23.24]: Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel. Yes, they looked all holy outwardly to the people by obeying all this minutia of humanly made up law, it was a good front; but inwardly they were brazenly disobeying the God-given law and carrying it outwardly in their lives but making their disobedience look all holy and righteous as they were doing so. They were obsessing over trivial things—the humanly devised law—but ignoring what was truly vital—the divine Law of God. By this they rejected Jesus.
We, dear Christian, are in no way immune from this sin of hypocrisy. The thing is that we all want to look good before other people. Especially Christians want to look “holy” before others, especially fellow Church members. Now in this season of Lent is the perfect time for each of us to examine his/her own heart and life for the sin of hypocrisy and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to repent of it and strive to root it out. Our life before the law of God is not merely to do the works of the Law outwardly so we look good before others but that we do the works of the law inwardly, from the love of the Lord and from desire of our heart—whether others see us or not. We dare never be “Sunday Christians”—those who live and look one way for an hour or so a week in church but live completely different the rest of the week. Led and empowered by the Holy Spirit, out of love for the Lord may we strive with all our heart and being to obey God’s holy law. May our love of the Lord and His will be our motivation to live our lives in accord with His holy will. May we never put a holy veneer on a life of sin. Instead, may we repent of our sin and in faith put on Jesus’ holiness and righteousness in repentance.
The true danger of hypocrisy is that it turns us against Jesus. The hypocrite takes great pride in all of his/ her supposed holiness: But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled. They busy themselves in all sorts of self-appointed acts of holiness and think they are so good—at least better than most —that examining their life in the light of God’s holy Law falls to the way side. Why? God must be so pleased with all I’m doing, is the thinking. This is the sin of hypocrisy and its twin, self-righteousness. Again, this is why Lent’s call to drive us back to God’s law to examine heart and life and repentance is so vital. It will keep us from majoring in the minors—straining out the gnat and swallowing the camel—and it will keep us from thinking we are so good, or that our sins are not all that bad, so that we don’t think we need a Savior from sin—Christ Jesus.
This very Jesus who was calling people, including these religious leaders to repentance, was now bound and brought to the one who could deliver the death sentence. But who was Jesus? He was the very One who was bothering their conscience: they weren’t as holy as they thought they were, they weren’t as holy as they made themselves out to be to the people. How was Jesus troubling their conscience? By saying that He is the Savior from sin and He is calling for repentance. The hypocrite can convince others of his holiness; they can convince themselves, but they still have the nagging voice of conscience which is aroused by Jesus’ teaching of repentance and that all people, including themselves, need a Savior from sin—Him, the true God! Not only are they convicted of sin by their own conscience, but here Pilate convicts them of their wickedness. Pilate then went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?” They had no charges/ anything to accuse Jesus of so they try to bluff Pilate: They answered and said to him, “If He were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you.”
When bothered by sin, when your Lenten examination convicts you of your sin, don’t be like the hypocrites and self-righteous of our text and try to get rid of Jesus by trying to reject Him, His teaching and work. Instead, run to Him. He is the true God and the Savior of the world. He is the true God and your Savior from sin. He is your righteousness—where you sinned, He obeyed God’s law perfectly. Where you earned God’s wrath, He suffered and endured it for you on the cross.
Not only by hypocrisy and self-righteousness is Jesus rejected, but also by false judgment. Here in our text Pilate asked the wrong people: Pilate then went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?” They answered and said to him, “If He were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you.” Pilate should have asked the blind that Jesus healed, the deaf He give hearing to, the dead that He raised, etc. That’s a warning for us today. We have to be careful about accepting what the world and society say about Jesus. The world will admit that there was a Jesus of Nazareth, that He was a religious teacher and will say things like He taught morals. The world around us will also say things like all religions are equally valid, that all religions lead to the same God, what is true for you may not be true for me, etc. But if this is all that Jesus is said to be and is, of course He can be easily rejected—he’s just one of a number of religious personages and can be rejected like we would reject a Mohammed or a Joseph Smith. But Jesus’ claim that He is the Son of God and the Savior of the world, that is the great divide between literally heaven and hell. We dare not look at Jesus superficially; we dare not ask the world around us. Instead, let us go to the source: Holy Scripture. There we have the OT prophets foretelling; we see in the NT that Jesus fulfilled every bit of every prophecy. In Scripture we see by His teaching and miracles that Jesus is the true God and the only Savior of the world. We see that by His life, suffering and death He reconciled us sinners to the holy God. We see the confirmation of His message and work, its acceptance by the Father, with His resurrection and ascension. Let us make Lent a time for our renewed reading and studying of Scripture and there see Jesus who He really is—the Son of God and my Savior from sin, death, devil and hell. Knowing Him rightly may we be good witnesses and faithfully and rightly tell others who Jesus is. INJ