Does it take a lot or a little to get you angry or upset or frustrated? There are many things that may make people angry and upset and frustrated individually, but one of the more common things causes those kinds of emotions for whole groups of people is when we think someone did not get a fair trial in the court system. As we well know, though, many times the same trial and the same decision can cause people to be angry and upset and frustrated about it on both sides of the issue. “How could they find that person guilty? It’s obvious they didn’t do it!” “How could they find that person innocent? It’s obvious they did it.” In other words, it often depends on your own personal perspective about it or your own personal feelings or your own personal opinion about it. So, let’s get personal about the trial we have in our Lesson for this evening when Jesus got taken before the council of the elders of the people, the chief priests and the teachers of the law. Do you think Jesus got a fair trial?
It’s an important personal question, because where you and I will live after we die depends on our answer to it, but the answer to it may not be as easy as you think, because it depends on your perspective or how you look at it. As we continue in our midweek services this evening to reflect on these crucial hours, I pray we can see from God’s perspective that in a very crucial sense it really was a fair trial, even though nothing about it was fair at all. Again, it really was a fair trial, even though nothing about it was fair at all.
So, what does that mean?
The part of the trial that St. Luke records for us was pretty simple, wasn’t it? The interrogators asked one basic question, and Jesus gave one straightforward answer. “They all asked, ‘Are you then the Son of God.’ And Jesus said, ‘Yes, it is as you say.” Since these people did not believe what Jesus said about him being the Son of God, what would those people have said Jesus was guilty of? Blasphemy! And these teachers of the law knew very well that in the Old Testament book of Leviticus, chapter 24, God had told Moses to tell the people that anyone who speaks blasphemy is deserving of death and by the people should be pelted with stones until his life is gone. In fact, later on, when Pontius Pilate tried to get rid of this whole thing from his office by saying, “I find no basis for a charge against him,” these same leaders of the people said, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” They were totally wrong about not believing that Jesus was the Son of God, but in a twisted way it was totally fair according to their law to put someone to death who claimed to be the Son of God. It’s just that the Roman government who was over the land of Israel at that time did not allow them to carry out the death penalty, so the people had to try to convince the Roman governor to have the Roman government do it, and that of course is what happened, since Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.
This may all sound absurd – and hopefully it does sound absurd to us as God’s dearly loved children – but isn’t one of the whole points of our Lenten worship the opportunity to reflect on how often we think things are fair that really are not in any way fair at all? Who has not felt the temptation to think that it would be fair for God to treat me better than how my life is going right now? Who has not felt the temptation to think that it would be fair for God to treat me better in comparison to how that person deserves to be treated? Who has not felt the temptation to think it would be fair for God to let me in live in heaven more than it would be for that person who has lived like a person belonging to the devil his or her whole life long? Even if you have never had those specific thoughts, you and I have had other thoughts about God’s fairness. Are our personal, sin-stained perspectives or opinions about how we think we should be able to react to God’s statements or God’s actions really any different than what those people in that court room thought was fair about Son of Man standing in front of them who said he was the Son of God? Are our reactions to the situations God allows us to be in in our lives really any different from the three-fold reaction of the apostle Peter in the courtyard of the high priest that night, when he said “I don’t know him. I don’t know him. I don’t know him?” Are our ways of treating Jesus by what we say of him or how we act toward others really any different than the way those soldiers treated Jesus when they mocked him and beat him and blindfolded him and hit him and then said, “Prophesy! Who hit you?”
Those kinds of questions haunt us, and they humble us, but they also lead us back to the one standing on trial who said he was the Son of God. In the eyes of those who wanted him to die, they saw this sadly as a fair trial. In the eyes of those who know why Jesus was standing on trial, we thankfully also see this as a fair trial, but we see that and we say that in a totally different way and for completely different reasons – in a way that leads us to bow down before our Savior, feeling our unworthiness to even lift up our eyes to him, but still wanting to speak from our heart to him, “Thank you, Jesus, for loving me so.”
And here’s the point. Why did the Son of God allow himself to stand there on trial? Why did the Son of God allow himself to suffer under the Roman governor? Why did the Son of God allow himself to be hoisted onto a piece of wood by those soldiers? It was because of the horribly unfair thing of allowing himself to be “made sin” for us. The Bible says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us,” with the result that the fair thing in his heavenly Father’s sight was that the sinner must die. And since Jesus as the Son of God allowed himself as the Son of Man to take on himself all our sins against him, the just and fair thing was for the sinner – for Jesus — to die – even though Jesus knew no sin. Through what Jesus did, you and I have been justified. God says we are “not guilty,” even though we are guilty. Yes, it truly is “just as if I died” – just as if you died – when Jesus died to remove from you and me the guilt and the responsibility of our sins. All we can say is, “Lord, I can only live for you for the rest of my life for doing what was so unfair to you by submitting to the fairness of the holy God’s holy justice. Because you allowed yourself to be guilty for me, I am innocent before God, and I want so much to live in the peace and the joy and the humility of that forgiveness all my days.”
Before Jesus answered the question of the court about him being the Son of God, he had said that the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God. They knew what he was saying, and that is why they asked him whether he was the Son of God in the first place. Won’t it be great to be able to see for ourselves what God promises in his Word we will see on the day we join Jesus in heaven at the right hand of the mighty God? We ourselves will see this same Son of Man, who did this suffering and dying on earth, as the one who all along has been watching over all things in our lives on this earth, because the end of his life on earth did not end in a grave, but with a triumphant, victorious return to heaven after he rose from the dead. The human unfairness of that divine, fair trial lets us know with certainty that someday the Lord will take us away forever from the things that we have done to anger and frustrate him – and away forever from the trials that have understandably caused confusion and frustration for us. All will be forever fair for all of us who know by faith that in God’s sight for Jesus’ sake that travesty of justice that night was a fair trial. God help us all to go and show that we are people who are grateful to our Lord that the decision for us is “Not Guilty.” It hardly seems fair, but through Christ it is most certainly true. Amen.