“But he kept silent and did not answer. Again the high priest questioned him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ ‘I am,’ said Jesus, ‘and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy. What is your decision?’ They all condemned him as deserving death.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
In the world of courtroom dramas, the money moment is when the prosecutor finally gets the defendant to somehow admit his guilt under oath while on the witness stand. These moments are a dime a dozen on television, but perhaps the best such scene ever put on film is the climax of the movie, A Few Good Men, where Jack Nicholson screams at Tom Cruise, “You can’t handle the truth.” Just for your viewing pleasure, here’s a link to the scene (with a language morning). If that one critical moment doesn’t make you want to stand up and cheer for Cruise’s Lt. Kaffee’s incredible victory for justice you may want to check and see if you have a pulse. There’s just something satisfying about seeing someone guilty own that guilt and face the consequences of it. What we see unfolding here in Mark’s Gospel is a scene kind of like that except the charge to which Jesus finally confessed wasn’t a crime at all. It was simply the truth. Let’s talk about the moment Jesus finally admitted to the “crime” that led Him to the cross.
You have to feel at least a little bad for the chief priests. Only a little, mind you, but they had their work cut out for them. They were trying to find some at least remotely reasonable grounds for having Jesus condemned to death. Their mostly illegal trial had been going on all night and they weren’t making any headway at all. As we talked about earlier in the week, they brought one witness after another to testify and none of them could offer consistent, believable stories. As much energy and effort as they had put into seeing this moment brought into reality, you’d have thought they would have worked a little harder to make sure their planted witness could do the job they were likely paid to do.
For their part, the priests really didn’t need much from their witnesses. They just needed one of them to finally say the thing that got Jesus to open his mouth. Whatever it was that came out, they were prepared to pounce on it and twist it into an admission of guilt. They were trying to do what Lt. Kaffee successfully did to Col. Jessup. What finally started the whole slope leading to Col. Jessup’s confession was Lt. Kaffee’s entering two airport flight log books into the official evidential records of the court that he admitted did not show what he needed them to show to make his point. He then announced two additional witnesses who were working at the airport where the flight the log books said a plane didn’t land at the time Lt. Kaffee claimed it did land. It was the fear of getting caught that finally provoked Col. Jessup into opening his mouth and incriminating himself. When asked later what the two witnesses were going to say in their testimony, Lt. Kaffee said they were going to testify that they had not in fact seen any plane land at the airport…just as the log books said.
And yet, as one witness after another made one false charge after another, Jesus just sat there quietly. He steadfastly refused to open His mouth to try and defend Himself. He knew what was true and what wasn’t and that was enough. He wasn’t even going to give these false charges the dignity of a response.
Finally the chief priest stood up and address Jesus Himself. “Don’t you have an answer to what these men are testifying against you?” He was frustrated to the point of fury by now. All of his plans were crumbling into pieces because Jesus wouldn’t speak. All throughout the rest of His life and ministry He wouldn’t shut up. That was the problem. His miracles were problematic, but His words were what so upset the religious elite. He spoke and spoke and spoke and the more He spoke, the more the people listened. Now that they wanted Him to speak, He sat there with His mouthed closed. Finally the priest all but shouted at Jesus in frustration: “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”
And His mouth finally opened.
As Jesus moved to responded, all the sound and commotion in the room ground to a total halt. Everyone waited to hear what He would say. “I am.” And that right there would have been enough to condemn Him. But He went on and said the next part: “And you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” With His response, Jesus actually alluded to Psalm 110 and Daniel 7. Both passages were clear claims of divine origin and authority on His part and the priests knew it. Jesus knew they would know it. And with that, the chief priests had all they needed. Clearly Jesus was not the Messiah. To claim to be so was a blasphemy of the highest order. He needed to be put to death immediately.
Allow me to offer you one observation and a challenge, and I’ll get you on your way to a good weekend. First, the observation. It is a really powerful thing that the only charge Jesus was willing to accept was the only one that was true. Had He kept His mouth shut at this point, there’s at least a chance the whole process would have fallen apart. They could have roughed Him up and threatened Him some more like they would later do to the disciples when they were proclaiming the resurrection all over town, but they would not have had any legal grounds for condemning Him. By admitting to what was the truth, Jesus was the one who signed His own death warrant. The courage to claim the truth in that moment is absolutely stunning. It makes me wonder if I would be as willing to acknowledge what is true in such overtly hostile circumstances as Jesus was facing. It makes me wonder if I would be willing to stand firm in my identity in Christ if I were among the believers in Afghanistan today who know with a sobering certainty that the Taliban militants will put them to death if they refuse to renounce their faith. Just how deeply held is my faith in Jesus? How about yours?
Here’s the challenge: The only thing Jesus was guilty of was being honest to His identity as the Christ. They could not convict Him on any other grounds. Now, you might expect this challenge is going to be to ask whether or not there is enough evidence to convict you on similar grounds. But that’s not where I’m going. Instead, let me change that up just a bit: Are you guilty of anything except being a follower of Jesus? If Jesus had had anything else by which the chief priests could have condemned Him, they would have. But they didn’t. As a result, He was able to powerfully accomplish all that His Father had commanded Him to do. The same thing goes for you and me. If we are guilty of anything other than being a faithful follower of Jesus, we are going to short circuit our ability to accomplish all that God has created, called, and commanded us to do. Sin messes up our ability to serve Jesus well. In fact, in some instances, it can simply negate it. This is true whether the sin is public or private. Private sin may not hurt your reputation and thus imperil your Gospel work that way, but it will keep you from tapping fully into God’s power meaning you’ll really only be accomplishing what you are capable of doing, and between you and me, that’s not very much. If you are a follower of Jesus, stick to the path of righteousness. There’s far too much at stake to do otherwise.