Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | March 7, 2010

2010.03.07 “24 Hours That Changed the World: Thursday, After Midnight: Condemned by the Righteous”

Central United Methodist Church

“24 Hours That Changed the World:

Thursday, After Midnight: Condemned by the Righteous”

Pastor David L. Haley

Luke 22: 54 – 71

March 7th, 2010

“Arresting Jesus, they marched him off and took him into the house of the Chief Priest. Peter followed, but at a safe distance. In the middle of the courtyard some people had started a fire and were sitting around it, trying to keep warm. One of the serving maids sitting at the fire noticed him, then took a second look and said, “This man was with him!”

He denied it, “Woman, I don’t even know him.”

            A short time later, someone else noticed him and said, “You’re one of them.”

But Peter denied it: “Man, I am not.”

About an hour later, someone else spoke up, really adamant: “He’s got to have been with him! He’s got ‘Galilean’ written all over him.”

Peter said, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” At that very moment, the last word hardly off his lips, a rooster crowed. Just then, the Master turned and looked at Peter. Peter remembered what the Master had said to him: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” He went out and cried and cried and cried.

The men in charge of Jesus began poking fun at him, slapping him around. They put a blindfold on him and taunted, “Who hit you that time?” They were having a grand time with him.

When it was morning, the religious leaders of the people and the high priests and scholars all got together and brought him before their High Council. They said, “Are you the Messiah?”

He answered, “If I said yes, you wouldn’t believe me. If I asked what you meant by your question, you wouldn’t answer me. So here’s what I have to say: From here on the Son of Man takes his place at God’s right hand, the place of power.”

They all said, “So you admit your claim to be the Son of God?”

“You’re the ones who keep saying it,” he said.

            But they had made up their minds, “Why do we need any more evidence? We’ve all heard him as good as say it himself.” – Luke 22: 54 – 71, The Message


       Today we continue our journey through the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life. Last week we ended in the Garden of Gethsemane, where sometime around midnight, Jesus was betrayed over to the authorities by his disciple Judas. After a brief skirmish, all Jesus’ disciples fled, leaving him, for the first time in his young life, no longer free, but under arrest, led away by his captors alone to face his judgment. 

According to the Gospels, that initial judgment will occur before the Jewish Sanhedrin, a council of seventy-one elders, considered to be the wisest and most devout men of the time. Their leader is the high priest, who at this time was a man named Caiaphas.

At this point, to understand what transpires next, I think it might be most helpful to journey via DVD to the Holy Land with Adam Hamilton, Pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City. 

[DVD – Condemned Before The Righteous]

I think, if there is any common theme to this episode, it is the pervasive feeling of fear, and its resulting outcomes, in Jesus, in the Sanhedrin, and in Peter.

First, the fear in Jesus. Perhaps I’m only judging by what I would have been feeling, but I think I would have been very afraid. 

Remember, it’s the middle of the night, and there are no streetlights in 1st century Jerusalem. The path is dark and steep, and you’re alone, likely bound, and at the mercy of your captors, who’ve already begun to rough you up.

Upon arrival at Caiaphas’ house, you’re ridiculed and beaten more, before being lowered into a dungeon, which as Adam Hamilton described it, was a pit, perhaps in darkness, where you await whatever is to happen next.

It was a thoughtful question Adam Hamilton asked, I thought, as he climbed those stairs to the temple mount, on the very stones Jesus may have walked, and again in Caiaphas’ dungeon, when he asked what Jesus was feeling.  Was it fear, or trust, or a mixture of both?  As he hung there in the darkness, did Psalm 88 come to mind?

Though written centuries earlier, it’s eerie how well it fits, isn’t it?  Just goes to show us how valuable those Psalms are, and how, if they were the prayers of Jesus, shouldn’t they be our prayers as well? 

As we sit here this morning, what is it that we are most afraid of?  Can we allow that fear not to make us bitter, but to make us better, as it turns us to God, as Jesus’ fear did?  Yes, I know it’s easier to propose than to do, but the alternative – as we shall see next – is worse.

Because the second place I think we see fear as a motivating factor, is, I believe, among those Jewish leaders. 

        When the council met, what happened is confusing, and the gospels authors themselves differ, perhaps because none of them were there. Plainly, at this point the religious leaders needed to get rid of Jesus, however possible. Failing to find legitimate accusers who could get their story straight, they asked Jesus to convict himself. While exactly how Jesus responded is unclear, what is clear is that in it they heard the charge of blasphemy.  Even then, lacking the power of capital punishment, they had to send him off to the Roman governor Pilate, on a different charge.  The way the Gospels portray it, the whole thing was unjust by any and every standard.

Let me acknowledge, that we have to tread carefully here, because through the centuries, it is a historical fact that the Jewish people have been persecuted and killed from rampant anti-semitism, stoked by charges of being “Christ-killers.” Yes, some Jews in Jesus’ time were complicit, but Jesus was actually executed by the Romans, and at any rate the Gospels are clear: (1) in style, that we are not to see only Judas or Peter or Caiaphas but all of ourselves in the story, and (2) in substance, that in a larger sense it was for the sins of each and every one of us that Jesus died.

The important point for us is, that these were the religious leaders, the best and brightest of the time, our kind of people.  How could this happen? How could they condemn Jesus, a good and innocent man – to a horrible death to torture. Of the seventy-one, was there not one who would stand up and say, “You know, brothers, what we are doing here is not right.”

The reason, why, I believe, is fear.  These men saw Jesus as a threat to their way of life, their positions of authority, their status among the Jews.  Their inherent fear worked on them, ate at them, until fear bred hate, which inevitably leads to tragedy.  This story is not simply about seventy-one righteous people: it is the human condition and about all of us.

How many times in history has this been played out? How many times have we seen professedly religious people act in such a way that it made us wonder if we want to be associated with them?

What about the Jewish pogroms by Christian crusaders on their way to the Holy Land?  What about the Spanish Inquisition?  What about during the Salem Witch trials in 1692, or during the Holocaust, or during Joseph McCarthy’s “Red Scare” in 1952?  What about Jim Crow America, or South Africa, or Abu Ghraib in Iraq?

For fear of paying a price, would no one stand up and say this is wrong?  Or let me put it this way: how many times have we known something was wrong, but were afraid to speak up for fear of being labeled a snitch or a whistleblower, and made to pay a consequent price?  Because the story of Jesus also makes it clear: when we do this – precisely because of the fear it evokes – there will be a price to pay.  Do we have the courage to do it?

But history also makes it clear that there is also a price to pay when we do not stand up for what is right.  Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) stated it most clearly when he wrote about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi’s rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group.

“In Germany, they came first for the Communists,

And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;

And then they came for the trade unionists,

And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;

And then they came for the Jews,

And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;

And then . . . they came for me . . .

And by that time there was no one left to speak up.”

Right now, because of rapid social change and the wrenching economy we are going through, our society is again full of fear. Politicians are playing upon it, even some preachers are playing upon it, and it is more incendiary than fire.  Who will stand up and say, enough!  Beware!  There will be a price to pay!

        The final person in whom we encounter fear in this episode is Jesus disciple, Peter.

First of all, we ought to give credit where credit is due, for Peter at least followed Jesus through the night – at a distance, not too close. He even went as far as the courtyard of Caiaphas’ house, which took no small courage. 

        But fear won the day, when a servant girl challenged him before others: “This man was with him!”  Twice more this happens, getting worse, until overcome by fear, Peter swears in the bluest and most blasphemous of language, “(Fill in the blanks) I never knew him.” Can what happened next be described in more affecting language than that of Eugene Peterson, who renders it:  “He went out and cried and cried and cried.”  It almost makes you want to turn your head.

As Adam Hamilton pointed out, this story, as embarrassing as it is about the next leader of Christ’s Church on earth, is recounted in all four Gospels.  Why would they do that?

        Perhaps because, during those first centuries of the church, when some Christians were put to death for bowing to Christ and not to Caesar, some Christians – for fear of what would happen to them or to their families – renounced their faith and denied Christ. 

        Can you understand the consolation and encouragement they found this story, where Peter says, in effect: “I know what it’s like to deny Jesus, I’ve done it myself. But he forgave me and restored me, and what I am today I am by his grace. If he did that for me, he can do that for you.”

When fear gets the best of us; by turning us to hatred rather than to God, by making us afraid to stand up for what is right, by tempting us, by our words or actions, to deny Christ, what a comfort to know: “If there is hope for Peter, there is hope for us.”  Amen.


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