The following sermon was prepared by Ps Lucas Stoltz. Click here: Mark 14:53-65, to download or stream the audio sermon, or click here: Mark 14:53-65, for the video version. Alternatively, you can read the notes below, or follow along as you watch or listen.

Mark 14:53-65, Christian Witness; The Trial pt1

I want us to start this morning, not with an analogy or story, or even in Mark. Let’s go back to the beginning. Not Genesis, that’s too far. But let’s go to Deuteronomy 16:18-20.Through the history of Israel, there was an effort to take this instruction seriously. Through the years, the Jews developed a very cultured system of justice. Jesus even makes reference to this two days before His arrest, saying; “The scribes and Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses. Therefore, all that they tell you, do and observe.” In other words, when they speak what Moses wrote, observe it because what Moses wrote came from God.

So by the time we come to the life of our Lord, the law was applied in every locality. There were synagogues virtually in every place and every town, and the synagogue essentially was the centre of justice. If a town had 120 men, they would have a local court called a Sanhedrin. That court would be composed of 23 men, so there was always an odd vote to avoid a draw.The 23 men who made up a court were designated as elders. They sat as judges on that court. Now, these councils or courts were responsible for governing every community. In Jerusalem, was the supreme court, the Great Sanhedrin. Which was 71, instead of 23. It was broken down this way: There were chief priests, elders, and scribes and Pharisees, and the high priest.

And this is how law operated. Once there was a law, there were no exceptions. All trials had to be public and all trials had to provide both a prosecution and a defence, and no accusation could be accepted against anyone without two or three witnesses.

If a man accuses someone falsely of a crime, whatever the penalty is for that crime, the false witness would pay the price. Now when the penalty of death was given, it had to be a period of 24 hours intervening before the execution took place. One full day was required to insure all the witnesses had borne testimony of the accused.

In addition, no criminal could be tried at night. In fact, no criminal could be tried in the afternoon. Trials were never allowed on a Sabbath, never allowed on a feast day, such as a Passover, and never allowed on the day before a feast day.Now the Jewish trial of Jesus violated all those laws. The Gentile trial was equally unjust. It was a secular trial, but it was a mockery of injustice. Yet, before the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven after His resurrection, He told His disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

“Witnesses” is the calling of the Christian. We are to tell the truth about the Lord Jesus Christ, who is “the true and faithful witness” (Revelation 3:14). So let us learn from our Saviour’s trial, what to expect within Christian witness.

1. Witnessing Within Hostility:

  • Text – v53-59
  • Explanation – Now starting in verse 53, the text introduces us to a hostile congregation who “led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together.
  • It was late at night, or the early hours in the morning. Having been betrayed by Judas, abandoned by His disciples, and manhandled by the temple guard, Jesus had been brought to the courtyard of Caiaphas’ home. For context, the Gospel accounts tell us they first went to the house of Annas, the former high priest and Caiaphas’s father-in-law.
  • And in the distance, Peter has followed and is an area below warming himself by a fire. I have to mention this, as Christian witness in the face of hostile people, calls for courageous action, which we will develop later. We’re not sure of his motive for being there, but he built up the courage to follow.
  • And the fact that he was by a fire indicates he was willing to be seen, for the flames would have illuminated his face. He meant well, but all that sleeping in Gethsemane did little to prepare him to stand firm.
  • Illustration – Maybe you can relate to Peter. Your courage rises and falls as you want to faithfully witness and yet you find yourself undecided. But last week we saw that you can be prepared for the hostility. Again, we’ll come back to this. But for now, let’s look at the form of hostility Jesus would face.
  • Friends, if anyone seeks to destroy your testimony, your Christian witness, they will, like the chief priests and the whole council, find a way to make a case against you. Especially when you are above reproach. In fact, we read that it says, for many bore false witness against Him, but their testimony did not agree.
  • More so, Mark records that 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.’” Which was a true statement by the way, and still; they couldn’t even agree on this.
  • So technical by now, the trial should have been thrown out. They witness accounts don’t line up. The gathered witnesses all had different stories and “their testimony did not agree.”
  • Application – But they needed ammo to press for Jesus to be guilty. So they try to build the case around Jesus’ words, “I destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.
  • They want it to look as if Jesus had come to overthrow the worship of the one true God. You must understand, in the ancient world, to destroy a religious temple was an ultimate act of blasphemy. The Jews viewed the temple as the dwelling place of God. Therefore, to speak of its destruction while at the same time claiming that you would personally rebuild it was equivalent to blasphemy.
  • Conclusion – Further, it would also be seen by the Romans as an act of treason—which they would not tolerate. The Jewish leaders were looking for grounds to call for the death penalty. This surely fit the bill. But the issue is, they couldn’t even agree on the accusation.
  • So their supposed open-and-shut case was not so open and shut! But having such murderous intent, they pursued another course of action. Friends, the various forms of hostility against your Christian witness will come having one goal, to destroy you.
  • Work colleagues may seek to ruin your integrity. Family who don’t believe the same as you, will turn your faith into a bad thing. Complete strangers might attack, calling you a bigot and intolerable. Someone who does not care for others except your own warp view of God.
  • Bridge – And sadly, this could lead to you being unemployed, hated by your family, isolated and with no support or care. Friends, it can be a lonely road when you choose to glorify God by up holding your Christian witness, but you cannot shy away from the privilege that is also a responsibility.

2. Witness With Confidence:

  • Text – 60-62
  • Explanation – Now the high priest assumed that these false charges would provoke Jesus to respond. Because the testimonies did not agree, so it seems the high priest was taunting Jesus so that He would incriminate Himself.
  • Jesus chose to remain silent which fulfils Isaiah 53:7, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth.” Friends, you don’t need to justify yourself to your enemies. Because many times it is in vain anyway.
  • Your enemies have already made up their mind and so there is little you can do to convince them otherwise. So Jesus doesn’t take the bait. He remained silent. He didn’t need to say a thing. If you are sure about your witness, and if you are truly above reproach, you can remain silent. And usually, you should.
  • Illustration – But Jesus eventually broke His silence. Look at the text, v61. Jesus was being asked, “Are you Messiah?” But also if He was God’s Son. Now to claim to be the son of David (Messiah) was not a capital offence, but claiming to be God’s Son was considered blasphemy and therefore grounds for capital punishment.
  • But remember, the high priest was not looking for the answer. He was looking for a way to get rid the claiming Messiah.
  • And that’s what folks want to do with your Christian witness. They want to get rid of you. For what reason? Like Jesus’ answer, we need to be direct, truthful, and clear. And sadly, it won’t be received with humility, but with hatred.
  • Application – nonetheless, Jesus with confidence said, “‘I am.’” This simple statement was a profound declaration. It was God’s name revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14. If this was not clear enough, the rest of Jesus’ response made it abundantly clear, saying: “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.
  • Jesus knows with confidence that He stands on trial before the Sanhedrin but the Sanhedrin will stand trial before Him when He returns in glory.
  • Now that’s a great comfort. Christ makes this claim not just because it is true, but because its reality must be known. My friends, when you are on trial for you Christian witness, when you are persecuted for your faith, how should you respond? With anger and revenge? No, Romans 12:19 says, “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
  • In the early chapters of Acts, the apostles and the early church were opposed and oppressed by these same chief priests, high priests, scribes, and elders. However, they continued to proclaim their faith in Jesus Christ alone!
  • Conclusion – We must learn from this. Jesus had no doubt about where all of this was heading. In the face of every possible kind of opposition and hostility, Jesus was confident of the outcome. This doesn’t mean that He didn’t feel immense suffering. His persevering prayer demonstrates His confident composure.
  • This applies to our witnessing amid a scoffing world. The world all around us is terribly fearful.
  • Bridge – Brother, sister, we have been given an opportunity to be confident witnesses. We need to confidently testify to the truth of what God has promised, and Jesus’ confident composure demonstrates the truth that God’s people live by faith, not by sight.

3. Witness Regardless the Outcome:

  • Text – 63-65
  • Explanation – This ends our portion with a hateful condemnation. The high priest and the council condemned Jesus of blasphemy, condemning Him to death. Now under Jewish law, the death penalty was carried out by stoning.
  • In the case of blasphemy, the rabbis had determined that, once the blasphemer was put to death, his or her body would be hung on a tree as the ultimate sign of rejection (Deuteronomy 21:23). However, Israel was no longer functioning as a theocracy.
  • Illustration – Therefore, only the Roman government could carry out the death penalty. But the Romans would not care that a Jewish court had found Jesus guilty of blasphemy. But claiming to be God was a different story. To the Romans, Caesar was lord.
  • If Jesus claimed to be Lord, he would be put to death for treason. Having made their verdict, they disrespected Him, covered His face and struck Him. They did all this while mocking him: “Prophesy!” it wasn’t enough to kill Him, they had to attempt to break Him.
  • Application – And that is what will happen to you if you bear your Christian witness. Words relating to witness occur seven times in this passage. There are false witnesses and there is the true witness. Yet, the Lord Jesus demonstrated that He is “the faithful and true witness” (Revelation 3:14).
  • We’ve looked at a study in witnessing under pressure, in how to do it and how not to do it. The challenge is, we are to stand as witnesses to Jesus and to His truth.
  • But the main purpose of this passage is not to demonstrate how we should be witnesses. This passage serves as a witness to the glory of Jesus Christ and therefore points us to His gospel. It points us to the good news of what God has done through the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. And according to this trial, the life He lived was blameless.
  • Conclusion – and in order to find Jesus guilty of death, they needed to bear false witness against Him because He was sinless. We are also to follow Him as our example when it comes to our witness. We are to be true to God’s testimony of His Son (1 Corinthians 2:1–3).
  • We are to be willing to stand for Him and to proclaim truth in the face of opposition: in the workplace; at school; in our community; and in public. And when you are slandered and attacked, let God be your defence.