The Truth on Trial
Passage: John 18:1– 19:42
Jesus is the King we all need to reconnect us with the God we've all rejected.
[This was a unique service where we broke up two whole chapters of Scripture (John 18-19) into six different readings. Because of this, the sermon was given in four different parts. There is a brief silence between each part on the audio recording.]
Garden: Judas (John 18:1-11)
This week we are continuing our series called Final Words for Following Jesus. Jesus has been preparing his disciples for his death. He wants them to understand that while it looks like defeat, it is actually victory.
On our calendars, today begins what we call Holy Week. Today is Palm Sunday remembering when Jesus entered Jerusalem along with a bunch of his followers to celebrate the feast of Passover together. Passover was a week-long festival celebrating how God had saved his people thousands of years ago by rescuing them from slavery in Egypt. As Jesus entered Jerusalem, he was hailed as the King the Jews. Many people thought he was the King, the Messiah or Christ, whom God had promised and for whom they had waited centuries. They thought Jesus would lead them in a new exodus, rescuing them from foreign oppression once again. On their way to Jerusalem, people had picked palm branches and as Jesus approached the city they laid them on the ground like a royal red carpet entrance. That’s why it’s called Palm Sunday.
Throughout his week in Jerusalem, Jesus continued to teach people about the coming kingdom. He called out the hypocrisy and corruption of worship at the temple and had several confrontations with the religious leaders. Thursday is when the Passover festival started. Everything we have covered up to this point has happened on that Thursday night. The festival starts with a meal of lamb on Thursday because on the night of Passover thousands of years ago, the Israelites were commanded to slaughter a lamb and smear its blood on their doorposts to protect them from death.
By that Thursday evening, Jesus knew his hour had come. He knew that Satan, the ruler of this world, had the pieces in place for Jesus to be arrested and executed. In John 18, only a few hours have passed since Jesus washed his disciples’ feet in John 13 and ate the Passover meal with them.
In John 18, they’ve moved from the city of Jerusalem to a garden near the city. Jesus often went to this garden with his disciples so when Judas Iscariot wanted to lead a group of religious officers and a band of soldiers to arrest Jesus, he knew just where to find him. A storm had been brewing all week and now the clouds finally let loose. During the Passover meal, Judas left to betray Jesus. And as Jesus prayed in that garden with his other eleven disciples, Judas approached.
Jesus asks whom they seek and they say, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus responds with two words in the original language, “I am” - “Ego eimi” in Greek. When God told Moses to lead his people out of slavery, he asked, “Who should I say sent me?” God said, “Tell them ‘I AM’ sent you.” Jesus takes upon his lips these two words and those who know the Old Testament take a step back. Jesus asks again whom they seek and they arrest him.
Jesus has warned his disciples that this moment would come and Peter said he would follow Jesus anywhere, even to death. Peter perhaps thinks this is the moment when they need to stand with Jesus. So he draws his sword and attacks. But Jesus puts an end to it and says: “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” In other words, “Shall I not go to my death to fulfill God’s plan?” Jesus knows why he has been sent: it’s to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He has come to die the death we all deserve so we can be reconnected with God.
As we go through this passage and consider its meaning for us with four messages, this big idea is woven throughout it: Jesus is the King we all need to reconnect us with the God we’ve all rejected. Jesus is the King we all need to reconnect us with the God we’ve all rejected.
The most dangerous thing for us to do is to believe we aren’t like any of these people. The most dangerous thing for us to do is to think, “Oh, I would never do that. If I were there, I would have acted completely different. I would have been faithful. I would have believed in Jesus. How sad that all of these people just didn’t get it.” This takes us in a “I’m better than them” direction. But every one who has trusted in Jesus was once part of the world that opposes, resists, and denies God.
These scenes offer us a diagnosis. They offer us a diagnosis of where our hearts naturally go without Jesus. A diagnosis tells us the problem for which Jesus is the cure. But we have to be willing to be diagnosed. Think of how ridiculous it would sound to walk into your doctor’s office and say to them, “While I was sitting in the waiting room, I saw a lot of people who really need a doctor. Those people looked really sick and horrible. But I know nothing is wrong with me so I don’t need you to check me.”
We need to let Scripture and the Spirit look us over. We need to allow God to examine our hearts to see if there is a problem. In this scene in the garden, we see Judas betray Jesus. He spent three years at Jesus’ side: hearing his teaching, seeing his miracles, watching him stand up for the weak and needy, offering good news to all. Judas stands in the garden to betray Jesus with clean feet because just hours before this moment, Jesus showed his love for Judas by washing the grime and dirt from Judas’ feet.
We may look at Judas and say, “How could you?” We think that if we had spent three years with Jesus and saw and heard everything Jesus did that we would never betray Jesus. On one level, we will never be in the position to do this evil act of betraying Jesus like this. And yet, what is betrayal? “To betray” someone is to be disloyal to them. Often, it means you have aligned yourself with their enemy and are working against them. That’s what Judas does. He is disloyal to Jesus and aligns himself with Satan: the ruler of this world.
If you have trusted in Jesus, you were once a betrayer. We were made to love God and live for his purposes. But each of us betrayed him. We aligned ourselves with the ruler of this world, Satan, the ancient serpent and we lived for his purposes. We were disloyal to the one who created us.
But Jesus died for those who have betrayed God. He paid the penalty of our betrayal and treason. You have been rescued by the one that you betrayed. Jesus died the death of one who betrayed God even though he was nothing but loyal to God. Jesus shows his alignment with God’s will when he asks Peter, “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” Jesus submits to God’s plan and God’s will no matter the cost.
Even after we have been rescued by Jesus, we still have moments where we align ourselves with the world rather than with Jesus. We can find ourselves living counter to God’s purposes and plan by rejecting his authority over us. Take some time to reflect on this question: How are you working against God’s will for your life or other people’s lives? God wants you to love someone, but you are actually neglecting them or hurting them. God wants you to be generous with people, but you are being stingy.
The good news is this: Jesus is the King we all need to reconnect us with the God we’ve all betrayed. Jesus died for betrayers. Let’s sing about how great our God is.
High Priest: Peter (John 18:12-27)
From the garden of olive trees, Jesus is first led to Annas who was formerly the high priest. Even though he is no longer the high priest, he still consulted because he holds a lot of influence. Jesus is brought to Annas’ house to be questioned about his disciples and his teaching. The goal is to bring charges against Jesus. Jesus’ reply is that he has spoken openly both in the local synagogues and in the Jerusalem temple. Nothing’s been done in secret.
At this, one of the officers of the high priest struck Jesus, saying “Is that how you answer the high priest?” But Jesus holds his ground: “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” This is a rigged trial. They aren’t looking to determine whether Jesus is guilty or innocent. They have already judged him guilty. That’s why they arrested him at night and in secret. That’s why they are holding these proceedings in the middle of the night. That’s why they strike him when he doesn’t answer how they want him to. After this, they sent him to Caiaphas, the one actually serving as high priest. Annas can’t make an official judgment. The current high priest must. He is the chairman of the Sanhedrin, the council of religious leaders over Israel.
All the while Jesus is being questioned, Peter is also being questioned. But Peter does not hold up as well. John, Jesus’ disciple who wrote this gospel, was known by the high priest so he is able to gain entrance to the courtyard outside of Annas’ house. Peter doesn’t have that access but John gets him in. As Peter enters, the servant girl keeping watch over the door asks Peter, “Aren’t you one of his disciples?” She knows John is a disciple and now she wants to know if Peter is. He says, “I am not.”
In the courtyard of Annas’ house, the servants and officers of the high priest made a charcoal fire where they were warming themselves. Peter stands among them and warms himself as well. Eventually, a few of them get a good look at Peter’s face in the light. These servants and officers were in the garden when Jesus was arrested and have seen Jesus with his group of disciples all week and they recognize Peter. So they ask, “Aren’t you also one of his disciples” Peter again says, “I am not.” Then another servant, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off in the garden, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Peter again denied it. And then the rooster crowed.
Peter had three opportunities to identify with Jesus. Three opportunities to say, “Yes, I am one of his disciples.” At this point, Peter probably doesn’t even know what is going to happen to Jesus. All he knows is that Jesus has been arrested and is being questioned by the high priest. He doesn’t know what the outcome will be. But he does know that if he connects himself to Jesus, he might be connected to whatever happens to Jesus. And perhaps those words spoken earlier by Jesus that evening are still ringing in his ears: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you...If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you...the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.”
Jesus spoke of laying down his life. Jesus spoke of being betrayed. Jesus spoke of being hated. Jesus spoke of being persecuted. There had certainly been some conflict with the religious leaders but for the most part, following Jesus has been pretty exciting for PEter. It was easy to follow someone that the crowds flocked to in order to hear his teaching and receive his healing. It was easy to follow someone riding into Jerusalem with a royal welcome. It was easy to say, “Yes, I am one of his disciples” with confidence and a sense of satisfaction that you are part of the inner circle.
But now things have gotten ugly. The hate of the world is revealed. The world’s rejection of and rebellion against God is fully brought to the light. The world is run by the ultimate betrayer: Satan. And all who follow him are against God. When the world hates the one you call King, will you still say: “Yes, he is my King. I love him. I follow him. I am aligned with him.” Are we willing to say we love Jesus even if it means the world hates us? Are we willing to accept the same treatment from the world that Jesus received?
“Betrayal” is to align yourself with someone’s enemies and work against them. “Denial” is to refuse to make your alignment with Jesus public. We deny Jesus when we want the world’s love more than Jesus’. We deny Jesus when we see the world and the ruler of this world as bigger than Jesus. They loom large and Jesus seems small so we shrink back, we hide our love of Jesus, we keep our allegiance to Jesus private. We keep our Jesus-beliefs and our Jesus-values that don’t align with the world’s beliefs and values to ourselves. We don’t want people to ridicule us. We don’t want people to dislike us. We don’t want to be fired. We don’t want to offend We don’t want to lose friendships. We don’t want to be annoying. We don’t want to be rejected. We don’t want to be called old-fashioned, bigoted, narrow, hateful, or exclusive. We want the world to love us, not hate us.
Take some time to reflect on this question: Who are you hiding your beliefs and values from in order to have their love and acceptance?
The good news is this: Jesus is the King we all need to reconnect us with the God we’ve all denied. Jesus died for deniers.
Pilate (John 18:28-19:16)
From the residence of Caiaphas, Jesus is escorted to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor for the region. He was staying in Jerusalem to oversee Passover. Jewish people from all over journeyed to Jerusalem for this week long celebration and that could be a recipe for things to get out of control. Pilate is in town to make sure all stays in order.
Some people claim that the way Pilate is portrayed here is historically inaccurate. They say that Pilate’s behavior is out of sync with what we hear of him in other historical documents therefore this proves the Bible can’t be trusted. That claim shows a surface level understanding of Pilate and of human nature. Pilate actually acts in sync with his character and history here.
Pilate was quite stubborn and brutal in his dealings with the Jews and had a weak moral character which made them not like him. But Pilate was a man under authority. He answered to the Emperor and the Jews under his governance had already sent complaints to Emperor Tiberias about Pilate. We see all of these aspects of Pilate at play here: Pilate tries to keep them happy so he doesn’t get in trouble with the Emperor even as he takes subtle jabs at them.
Pilate would have already known something of their plans because Roman soldiers helped arrest Jesus but Pilate makes them state their case. He won’t simply be a pawn in their plans. When they assure him that Jesus has done wrong, he says, “Judge him by your own law.” He knows they need him for something so by telling them to use their own law he makes them admit that there is something they aren’t permitted to do. It reminds them of his authority of them. They state: It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.
So Pilate then goes into his headquarters to talk with Jesus and starts with this question: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus asks him, “Is this your confession that I am King of the Jews or someone else’s?” This is the charge that the chief priests have brought to Pilate. Pilate is a Roman governor. He doesn’t care about their religious squabbling. But he does care about someone claiming to be the King of the Jews. Those are words of treason against the Emperor and what starts riots and rebellions. Pilate answers, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?”
Jesus’ answer pulls back the curtain on what is happening in this whole situation. Look at verse 36:
36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:36-37)
Jesus is a King but his kingdom is not of this world or from this world. It’s not like any kingdom Pilate is thinking of. It’s a heavenly kingdom. It’s a godly kingdom. And that means it works differently than the world’s kingdoms. It doesn’t expand by violence or war or brutality or fear. It runs on love. And Jesus is the King about to show the love of that kingdom.
Jesus states his purpose: “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world - to bear witness to the truth.” That’s why our big idea is this: Jesus is the King we all need to reconnect us with the God we’ve all rejected. God so loved the world that he sent his Son Jesus so that whoever trusts in him will be reconnected with God and not perish. Jesus testifies to the truth that he is the Truth about God in the flesh, he is the Life who bestows eternal life, and he is the Way to God.
Jesus bears witness to the truth simply by being who he is. He is like a flashlight walking into a dark room. Simply by being there, you see that it is light and around it is darkness. But like a flashlight walking into a dark room, Jesus bears witness to the truth about himself and at the same time exposes what is hidden in the darkness. This is how Jesus gives a diagnosis to the world. The world is a mess. The religious leaders are a mess. Judas is a mess. Peter is a mess. Pilate is a mess. Our lives are a mess. And simply by showing up, Jesus shines a light on that mess. He brings to light what is hidden in their hearts and in our hearts.
What is Pilate’s response? Will he be of the truth and listen to Jesus’s voice? Pilate tries to stay neutral. “What is truth?” he says. The Truth is standing right in front of him but he doesn’t recognize it. It’s like he is saying, “You have your truth. I have my truth. The Jews out there have their truth. The Emperor has his truth. What is truth?” Pilate tries not to take a side, but there is no neutral when it comes to Jesus. Jesus calls people out of the world. You are either in the world or in Jesus’ kingdom.
Have you tried to stay neutral with Jesus? There is a way of engaging Jesus where we keep him outside of us - where we remain the authority over our own lives. When we hear the Bible, we run it through our own filters to see if it agrees with what we think and what we want to do. We take God’s words to us as advice that we weigh and consider. When we hear God’s Word, God’s truth, our response should be, “Yes! I believe it! I trust you! I want to do this!” Instead, we wonder if it’s really true and we hesitate to do what God commands.
Pilate tries to have Jesus released but the Jews refuse. So Pilate has him flogged. There were three different levels of flogging and this was probably the lowest level because Pilate thinks the charges are bogus but he wants to satisfy the chief priests so he doesn’t get in trouble with the Emperor. The soldiers put a crown of thorns on Jesus’ head and a purple robe on him and they mock him. Then Pilate presents him to the crowd declaring he finds no charge against him even as he stands punished by flogging.
But they call for Pilate to crucify Jesus. This was the punishment for rebels against Rome. They would be hung on a cross for all to see as an example and warning of what happens if you get out of line. Pilate repeats has has found no charge against him: Jesus isn’t guilty of being a rebel. But then they say that Jesus has made himself to be the Son of God and this gets Pilate’s attention. In his belief system, there existed men who could be given divine powers and he just had one of them flogged! So he questions Jesus’ origins: where are you from? But Jesus doesn’t answer. Pilate becomes irritated saying, “Don’t you know I have authority to release you or crucify you?” Jesus knows better. He says, “You would have no authority over me unless it had been given from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”
Pilate has sin in this situation. He doesn’t uphold justice but sends an innocent man to his death. He refuses to listen to the truth of Jesus. But Judas who betrayed Jesus and the chief priests who brought him there have the greater sin. And at the same time, Jesus knows none of this is outside of God’s authority. God is not out of control.
Pilate attempts to release him but it’s no use. The chief priests start to get political. “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” Pilate asks, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answer, “We have no king but Caesar.” Finally Pilate delivers Jesus to be crucified as a rebel. And in order to get rid of Jesus, who really is their King, the chief priests have denied God’s kingship over them.
Cross: Religious Leaders (John 19:16-30 and 31-42)
Perhaps the scariest people of all in this whole situation are the religious leaders. Why? In every scene we’ve covered, they are the ones pressuring for Jesus’ death. They are the ones moving it forward. They are completely walking in darkness but the worst part is that they have no idea. Judas knows he’s done wrong. He actually ends up hanging himself. Peter knows he’s done wrong. He weeps over it. Pilate bends to other people instead of doing what is right, but he knows that he condemned an innocent man. But the religious leaders truly believe that an innocent man is guilty.
In the name of God, the religious leaders rejected the Son of God. They rejected the Son of God for the sake of protecting God’s honor. The very God whom they claim to worship and serve came to visit them and he wasn’t welcome. Their life was filled with God stuff. Their life was filled with God talk, God activities, God holidays, God worship services. And yet, when God actually showed up they didn’t even recognize him. Their way of worshiping and serving God has no room for God in it.
They are God’s people but they have become the world that hates him. The chief priests - the people who are supposed to represent God, who are supposed to do God’s work, who should be the first to recognize the Truth - are the ones who pay Judas to betray Jesus, whom Peter is afraid of, and who pressure Pilate. The religious leaders thought they were offering service to God by having Jesus killed but it was the furthest from the truth. The religious leaders thought they were doing what is right by rejecting Jesus and having him killed.
That’s scary because they are the ones who we are most likely to be. We can busy ourselves with religious activity and yet have hearts far from God. We can study the Bible until we are filled with more knowledge than anybody, and yet have hearts far from God.
Here’s the question: “Is God welcome in your life? Is there room in your spiritual life for God? If God asked you to reorient and reorganize your life, would you do it?”
We can make a relationship with God about putting activities on our calendar or doing certain rituals that we think are pleasing. But we cannot fit God into a convenient religious time slot. God is not satisfied with getting an hour from us on Sundays or getting a prayer from us before we eat a meal or before we go to bed. God wants all of us. He wants to move into our lives.
God is bigger than our spiritual rituals. God is bigger than our special holidays.
The religious leaders were honoring God with their heads and their hands but their hearts were far from him. They were religiously close, but relationally far and that is a bad place to be.
We need to be careful that we aren’t squeezing God into boxes and rituals and routines that are so comfortable that we have no real experience of God and if he showed up we would reject him because he is messing up what we have going in.
The other scary reality about the religious leaders is they show that God’s will and plan can either be accomplished because of us or in spite of us. We can be obedient so that God’s will is accomplished because of us as he works through us. Or we can be like the religious leaders. They opposed God. But what actually happens is these chief priests who run the temple sacrifices call for the sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world when they yell, “Crucify him!” These people who deny Jesus is King are the ones who enthrone him on the cross. What looks like defeat of Jesus is actually victory because it’s the accomplishment of God’s plan.