“Only One Righteous”
May 3, 2009
As you see the righteousness of Jesus in the hands of sinful men, count yourself among the sinners.
I. Betrayed (Mark 14:42-49)
II. Deserted (Mark 14:50-52)
III. Falsely Accused (Mark 14:53-59)
IV. Condemned (Mark 14:60-65)
V. Denied (Mark 14:66-72)
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” This oft-repeated truth is foundational to our Gospel presentations, our Awana training. Yet I wonder if we really believe it? Maybe it takes a passage like Mark 14 to convince us everyone sins - or almost everyone. Mark 14 also shows us one man who never sinned. And it’s the contrast between Jesus and everybody else that makes it clear everyone else is sinful.
So I have recognize that I’m not that different than the sinners of Mark 14: there are some who desert, some who deny, some who betray, some who falsely accuse, some who condemn. These sins aren’t foreign; not just ancient sins of misguided Jews. We see these sins every day in relationships; we’re capable of them or variants every day. Mark 14 teaches that as you see the righteousness of Jesus in the hands of sinful men, count yourself among the sinners. Count yourself among the sinners.
I. Betrayed (Mark 14:42-49)
We begin in the garden where Jesus wrestled in prayer to accept God’s will, his passion - and where the disciples failed to so. Mark 14:42-49 “Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!" 43Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders. 44Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: "The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard."
45Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, "Rabbi!" and kissed him. 46The men seized Jesus and arrested him. 47Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 48"Am I leading a rebellion," said Jesus, "that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? 49Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled."
Last week Murry did a great job calling us to ‘Go to the Garden’, as Jesus did. He resisted the temptation to disobey God’s plan. He accepted the suffering of sin-bearing. Now he’s ready to do God’s will. Possibly seeing the torches of the mob winding across the Kidron valley, he says “Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!" It’s Judas, who knew where to go, and when. He’s leading the armed temple guards, and others, maybe with a Roman squad for reinforcement.Judas identifies Jesus, betrays Jesus with a kiss, the traditional mark of respect for a Jewish teacher. He identifies Jesus, betrays Jesus with the honored Jewish title “Rabbi.”
There is an intimacy here that is a pre-requisite for betrayal. Michael Card sings “Why did it have to be a friend who chose to betray the Lord? Why did he use a kiss to show them? That's not what a kiss is for. Only a friend can betray a friend: a stranger has nothing to gain. Only a friend comes close enough to ever cause so much pain.”
When we think about how we betray in relationships, it is exactly at the point of intimacy that we hurt people. When a man gets involved in pornography, hardly anybody in the world cares, but his wife, who has shared her most intimate self, knows he has betrayed and demeaned their relationship. When a wife commits adultery, she has betrayed the one to whom the most intimate of life’s gifts is given. Jesus says that’s true even if the adultery is only in your thought life. For too many of us this intimate betrayal is reality. We need to count ourselves among the sinners.
So Jesus is arrested. Mark doesn’t tell us that it is Peter who draws the sword and strikes off the ear of the high priest’s servant, nor does he mention the healing of that wound. But he does record the words of Jesus “Am I leading a rebellion that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?” The implied answer is no: there has been nothing in Jesus’ plan, behavior or manner that should have inspired that fear on the part of the officials. Jesus was being treated as a traitor.
“But,” Jesus says, “the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Jesus has just committed himself to God’s will, and he sees all the events of that dark night as carrying out God’s plan revealed in Scripture. He’s already referred to Psalm 41:9 “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” He may also be thinking of Isaiah 53;12 “he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors.” The Scriptures are being fulfilled in this betrayal.
II. Deserted (Mark 14:50-52)
But Judas was not the only sinner here. Verses 50 to 52: Then everyone deserted him and fled. 51A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, 52he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.
Here is the fulfillment of another verse Jesus already mentioned, Zechariah 13:7: “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” All the disciples fled. They would not risk arrest, would not associate with Jesus or stand up for him. They fled out of fear, out of disappointment; they abandoned the one they had promised to follow.
Only Mark’s Gospel includes the scene in which a young man dressed in linen, a fabric worn by the wealthy, tried to follow Jesus, but fled when the guards seized him, leaving behind his garment. The young man was probably John Mark himself. His family lived in Jerusalem; it was at their home the disciples gathered to pray during Peter’s imprisonment. And if this young man is Mark, it assures us that his Gospel, at least this section, is eye-witness testimony, probably combined with other reports from people like Peter. It is also testimony to the fact that he includes himself among these deserters who fled. He counts himself on the side of those who sinned.
In the same way, we should count ourselves as those who desert. One relational area in which we do this is fleeing people in difficulties; not being brave enough or trusting God enough to hang with somebody when they struggle. Whole churches do this.
Here are a few examples. One woman writes “All last year I suffered terribly with TMJ problems, oral staph infection, and acid reflux. Depression hit me. I cried every day and asked God to heal the inside of my mouth. But my heart broke when my church abandoned me, when they didn't understand what I was going through”
Again: “My father deserted us. When my mom remarried I threw myself into church and thought I had become a strong Christian woman. But after I graduated I lost all interest in church - I felt my church abandoned its college age kids and was full of hypocrisy. I left church for 7 years and tried just about every sin I could.”
Again: “I've gone to church my whole life, but when I got divorced in 1999, it was like my church abandoned me. Now it's taken me a while to trust again in a church.” We’ve been called the only army in the world that shoots its wounded. The question we need to ask is ‘have I deserted, have I abandoned those around me who need a loving hand, just because they are difficult people or dealing with difficult things?’ Many of us, sadly, will have to count ourselves among the sinners.
III. Falsely Accused (Mark 14:53-59)
Next, Jesus was falsely accused. Verses 53 to 59 They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law came together. 54Peter 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. 55The 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. 56Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. 57Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: 58"We heard him say, 'I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.'" 59Yet even then their testimony did not agree.
Jesus’ first trial is before the Sanhedrin: chief priests, elders, and teachers of the law. Scholars debate the legality of their behavior: some say that they couldn’t legally meet in a private residence, or at night or during a feast. But the real illegality is their pre-judging of his fate:
Verse 55: “The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death.”
Mark inserts verse 54 to let us know that while Jesus was being falsely accused and tried, Peter was being tested. He had enough courage to follow the arresting party into the courtyard, but there, as Mark has foreshadowed, his courage will fail.
The first sinners we see are those who falsely accuse him. There were several, and the fact that they would show up to an ad hoc night-time trial implies the Sanhedrin had summoned them, and had coaxed their testimony. Even so, “their statements did not agree.” Jewish law required that a man be condemned on the testimony of at least two witnesses, and Jewish case history for that law says that any contradictions invalidated the testimony. This Sanhedrin, willing to condemn Jesus unjustly, was not willing to ignore that legal requirement: that’s how people deceive themselves.
So these folks say things that are not true, or don’t agree with each other, or both. As Kent Hughes says “Even though they had the best witnesses money could buy, who lied without a twinge of conscience, the testimonies were not in harmony.” Even the accusations with a kernel of truth didn’t agree. Some reported that they heard him say 'I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.'" But that’s not what he’d said. As recorded in John 2, he actually said not ‘I will destroy’ but ‘destroy this temple, and I will raise it in three days.’
So, driven by malice, or greed or fear a number of people sinned by falsely accusing Jesus. Of course we never do that to each other. Do we? I’m afraid maybe we do. It’s so much easier to accuse someone of negligence or malice or ill-will or hard-heartedness or unfairness than it is to take responsibility for our own behavior.
We see this in families, we see this in churches. Someone is always coming to me, maybe to you, to share how somebody else has wronged them. And maybe they have, but often the ill-will is on the side of the accuser, or he has misunderstood the other person. As we’ve learned over and over through the years, especially from the Peacemakers materials, we need to examine ourselves. Its so easy to fool ourselves into thinking we’re victims when we’re really the ones who’ve been negligent or lazy or ungracious. We need to look for ourselves in the sinners column.
IV. Condemned (Mark 14:60-65)
In verses 60 to 65 Christ is righteous, but the sinners condemn: Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, "Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony these men are bringing against you?" 61But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" 62"I am," said Jesus. "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."
63The high priest tore his clothes. "Why do we need any more witnesses?" he asked. 64"You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" They all condemned him as worthy of death. 65Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, "Prophesy!" And the guards took him and beat him.
The high priest, seeing that the testimony against Jesus was fatally flawed, hopes to get a self-condemnation from Jesus’ own mouth. But Jesus remains silent; he refuses to dignify the false accusations by responding. “He was oppressed and afflicted,” said Isaiah, “yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”
Peter says that this righteousness is an example for us: “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22"He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." 23When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” This is Christ’s righteousness in the hands of sinful men.
But though Jesus would not answer their personal attacks, he would not deny his mission or his relationship to God. When the high priest says “Are you the Christ, the of the Blessed One?" Jesus says “I am.” Many think that in this answer Jesus made a claim to deity. That may be true of the phrase in other settings, but here there was literally no other way to answer. He was the Christ, was the Son of God. It was the question that makes it a claim to deity, not the two words of his response.
Jesus adds “you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Jesus uses two well known prophecies to affirm his identity and authority. Psalm 110:1 says “The Lord says to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." This verse is used extensively in the New Testament to affirm Jesus’ diety and coming judgment.
Daniel 7:13, as we’ve often seen, says “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14He was given authority, glory and sovereign power.” So the Son of Man, Jesus’ characteristic name for himself, is the one given world-wide eternal dominion. Jesus is claiming to be the Son of Man who will come to judge and rule his enemies.
Hearing this, the high priest, verse 63, labels Jesus’ claim as blasphemy. He expressed this symbolically by tearing his clothes. The Old Testament term blasphemy was understood in Jesus’ day to mean anything that dishonored God by diminishing his majesty or depriving him of rights to which he is entitled. Since the Sanhedrin would not believe Jesus’ truthful claim, it appeared to them he was falsely claiming equality to God while denying God his right to designate the true Messiah.
The Mosiac penalty for this was death by stoning. Under the Romans the Sanhedrin didn’t have the power to carry out that sentence, but they unanimously agreed to condemn him before Pilate. Then they expressed their condemnation through the ultimate personal insults of spitting on him and striking him.
In doing so they fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 50:6 “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.”
And so Jesus, though condemned by sinful men, continued to commit himself to the one who judges justly. He showed himself to be the only righteous one in the room. And we need to count ourselves among the sinners. Do we condemn unjustly? Do we pass judgment on people without giving them the benefit of the doubt? Specifically do we allow ourselves to live in bitterness and anger and even hatred because we have not done the hard work of peace-making and reconciliation.
Jesus says “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” We’re called to radical and on-going reconciliation to our brothers and sisters in Christ: for the sake of community, for the sake of witness to the world.
And Jesus teaches us to approach this peace-making by self-examination: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Too easily do we condemn and dismiss. Too infrequently do we reconcile.
V. Denied (Mark 14:66-72)
Finally, we have the sad sin of denial. Mark 14:66-72 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. 67When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. "You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus," she said. 68But he denied it. "I don't know or understand what you're talking about," he said, and went out into the entryway.
69When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, "This fellow is one of them." 70Again he denied it. After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, "Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean." 71He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, "I don't know this man you're talking about." 72Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times." And he broke down and wept.
As the trial takes place, Peter sits at the fire in the high priest’s courtyard. One of the servant girls, possibly a relative or friend of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, comes by and recognizes him: “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” Peter’s denial is expressed in formal language “I don’t understand what you’re talking about.” His courage failed him; He feared for his own safety; he sought to find approval and security from the people around him, rather than from the Lord.
But when the girl spotted him again in the entryway, she pointed him out to others: “This fellow is one of them.” Peter denied it, but the bystanders sensing his discomfort, refused to leave him alone. They noticed his distinctive Galilean accent and concluded that he was a follower of the heretic Galilean, Jesus of Nazareth. This time Peter denies the charge vehemently, with curses, with an oath: “I swear to you I don't know this man you're talking about.”
This emphatic denial was punctuated by the second crowing of the cock. The first time didn’t need to be mentioned, though some manuscripts include it, because the roosters of Jerusalem have a well documented habit of crowing three times between midnight and morning. Each crowing lasts three to five minutes, after which they are quiet for about an hour.
When the rooster crowed, Peter remembered Jesus’ warning and prediction, and in shame he broke down and wept. Peter realized too late what we’ve been seeing in this text, that there is no one, no matter how self-confident, how strong or how intending to be faithful, who is not the sinner. Only one, only Jesus has ever lived without sin.
So do we ever disown Jesus? Do we ever deny him? We do so in the work place and in our classes and in our neighborhoods and in our relationships when we fail to give Jesus credit for what he has done in our lives. When we fail to confidently defend his truth against the lies of the world. Maybe most especially, we deny Jesus when we try to live, as Peter did, in our strength instead of in utter dependence on Jesus.
If we fail to see and take responsibility for our sins, we deny the Lord who suffered for their payment. If we try to defeat sin by mere willpower instead of by forgiveness and grace, we deny his suffering. If we try to explain away the circumstances of our lives and the consequences God may be bringing, we deny his sovereign loving discipline. If we respond in anger and bitterness to correction, we deny the Lord.
So what we’ve seen is that throughout this text Jesus is the only one righteous. Those around him defect and flee, deny and curse, betray, falsely accuse and condemn. And we need to count ourselves among the sinners. We were not there that horrible night, so we haven’t sinned in the exact ways these people did. But if we examine our own relationships, and our own responses to relationships, we’ll find that we take credit where God deserves it; that we run away from those who are struggling; that we falsely accuse to keep from taking responsibility for our own mistakes and negligence; that by our sin we betray our most intimate relationships; and that we condemn and pass judgment on people rather than seeking reconciliation.
We are the sinners. Paul teaches that all of us lived this way at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.
But God . . . .