The Fifty-Seventh in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
The Jews have found Jesus guilty of a capitol crime–blasphemy. The sentence for such a crime is death. The high priest, Caiaphas, and those who were present for Jesus’ trial in the high priest’s courtyard, then brought Jesus before the full Sanhedrin where the verdict was ratified. Unwilling to take the next step of executing Jesus by stoning, the Jews deliver Jesus over to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. Jesus’ appearance before Pilate is not only dramatic–a Jewish Messiah being questioned by a pagan Gentile governor–it reveals two remarkable things. The first is that Pilate was not about to let the man standing before him create trouble for Rome–a man who despite his reputation as a miracle worker, now stood before Pilate bound, beaten, and bloodied. Jesus was hardly an impressive figure, a man much smaller than his reputation. The second revelation is that the moment it was clear that Jesus was not interested in leading an insurrection against Rome, many of the people in Israel turned against him, and chanted for the release of a notorious criminal (Barabbas), while demanding that Jesus be put to death. On the previous Sunday, Jesus was a conquering king. On Friday morning, Jesus is a condemned man. Such is the mysterious nature of God’s redemptive purposes.
As we work our way through the Gospel of John, we have come to the Passion Narrative which brings John’s Gospel to a close. The last four chapters of John (18-21) describe Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, his trial before Annas (the high priest) and then Pilate (the Roman governor). Jesus will be crucified by the Romans on the afternoon of the Passover, and then buried before Sundown on Friday. Jesus will remain in the tomb for three days before his bodily resurrection on Sunday (Easter). John has emphasized that throughout this astonishing turn of events, Jesus does all of this in obedience to the Father’s will so as to accomplish the salvation of all those given him by the Father, and for whom he is about to die.
As we saw last time, Judas betrayed Jesus by leaving the Passover meal early and then meeting the with members of the Sanhedrin (probably including the former high priest, Annas, and the current high priest, Annas’ son-in-law, Caiaphas). Judas, no doubt, informed them that after the Passover meal Jesus and his disciples would gather for prayer in Gethsemane, a walled garden on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. Leading an arrest mob which included Roman soldiers, members of the temple guard and certain members of the Sanhedrin, Judas directed them to Jesus’ location. Bent on arresting Jesus and then trying him for capitol crimes (death penalty) the mob approached the garden late at night with lanterns, torches, and weapons. These men were afraid that Jesus would resist them, perhaps to the point of exercising his miraculous powers. But Jesus does not resist them. Jesus is not taken by force, nor is he taken against his will. Jesus must willingly undergo this shame and humiliation so as to be obedient unto death, so as to secure for us our salvation from sin. And so Jesus voluntarily surrenders.
One of the things most difficult about preaching through John’s Passion narrative is that John includes a number details which are not found in the synoptic gospels, while at the same time omitting certain details found in the other three gospels. John’s account of Jesus’ arrest and trial (John was very likely an eyewitness to many of the events unique to his gospel) includes Jesus’ appearance before Annas, before Jesus was turned over to Caiaphas (the current high priest) for trial. Annas was the high priest emeritus and was well respected by the Jews, but had been deposed from office of high priest by the Romans in AD 15. He questions Jesus about his disciples and his teaching, before the trial conducted by Caiaphas in the presence of the Sanhedrin begins in the same location–the courtyard of the high priest.
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