Mark 14:53-61a (NIV): They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law came together. Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire. The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.” Yet even then their testimony did not agree. Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.
It was very frustrating for the Sanhedrin. There were very few offenses that they could hope to pin on Jesus that would result in the death penalty, but that was the only sentence that they were interested in. So instead of beginning with a crime and evidence, and then figuring out what the sentence should be, they started with the sentence, and then tried to find a crime that would lead to it. A complete inversion of justice. That’s how far their hatred of Jesus had taken them.
The easiest death sentence crime to prove (or to trump up) was blasphemy, commonly interpreted as either cursing God, or encouraging the worship of something other than God. But, of course, Jesus had never done anything of the sort. Even though they were able to drum up a number of false witnesses, people who, for a variety of reasons, were willing to swear that they had heard Jesus say something that He never said, the testimony of two or more of them had to agree, as it did in all death sentence cases. But it never did.
The closest that they could get to a testimony of blasphemy was the man who accurately quoted something Jesus had said some time before, without having a clue as to the context or the meaning of it: Jesus had been asked for a sign to prove that He had authority to throw the money changers and merchants out of the temple courts early in His public ministry. At that time He had said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (John 2:18-19 NIV) But even in this semi-accurate testimony of Jesus’ words there were two huge problems. First, even here the testimony of two witnesses did not agree. And second, even if they had agreed, this statement might be written off as the ravings of a lunatic, but it did not in any way rise to the level of blasphemy. Not even close.
They knew that the only way for them to prove blasphemy was if they could somehow get Jesus to make a statement or two in their presence that they could twist in that direction. But their first efforts at this failed miserably. Jesus, challenged to answer the false charges that were being leveled against Him one after another, knew that none of these charges was giving them what they needed to convict Him. So He simply stayed silent. The chief priest tried to pressure Him based on nothing more than the large number of false witnesses that had testified – surely with this many accusers, even if their stories didn’t jibe, Jesus must be doing something wrong. But Jesus refused to play their game. If He tried to defend Himself against these false charges, it would only stoke the fire. Jesus knew how this trial would turn out, but He wasn’t going to step deliberately into their trap and give them a chance to put Him on the defensive. He was in control of the situation, as they would soon see.
Father, Jesus’ wisdom and intelligence shown here is really mind boggling. How many of us would have the patience (Greek makrothumia, meaning “long-suffering”) to listen to person after person making up stories about us, and not rise to the bait and, in the process, by an unfortunate quote, or a slip of the lip, inadvertently give our adversaries enough ammo to sink us. Jesus knew how this would all end, but He wanted it to be clear to everyone that even His worst enemies couldn’t find anything that He was doing that was sinful or wrong. He wanted it to be clear that, when He was crucified, He was dying for no sin of His own. Help us to live lives of such holiness that, like Jesus, no charges can stick, except for the charge of being a follower of Jesus. And help us anytime persecution arises, to entrust ourselves to Your hands, and to answer only as You direct. Amen.