Passion History Part III: The Palace of the Hight Priest
Meanwhile, the chief priests and the whole council were seeking evidence that might make the case for a death sentence, but they could not find any. Many bore false witness against him, but their statements did not agree. Two stepped forward and said, “We heard him say, ‘I shall destroy this temple made with hands and after three days I shall build another, not made with hands.’” But even on this point their evidence did not agree.
Then the high priest stood up, moved to the center, and put this question to Jesus, “Do you have no answer? What is this evidence they have given against you?” But he was silent and gave no answer.
Again the high priest put a question to him and said, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?”
Jesus said, “I am. You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God’s power and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
The high priest tore his garments and said, “Do we still need any witnesses? You have heard this blasphemy. What is your opinion?” They all agreed that he was deserving of death.
Then some of them began to spit on him; they blindfolded him, struck him, and said to him, “Prophesy to us, O Christ, who is it that struck you?” The guards beat him as they took him away.
Jesus, for Your Salvation, Does Not Avenge Himself
Betrayed by a friend. Denied three times by a once loyal disciple. Put on false trial. A trial of false witnesses - and spitters and mockers and abusers - and then finally condemned only for the truth that He is the Christ, the Son of God. Falsely tried, falsely condemned, yet Jesus did not retaliate or avenge Himself.
How is it with you? The smallest offense - someone cutting us off in traffic, someone getting away with nasty words - has us fantasizing about how we’ll get them back, how we’ll retaliate someday when we get the chance. We dream of how we’ll best them with our words. Retaliation, vengeance, settling the score.
And there are very serious situations - real harm, false accusations against you, serious and hurtful betrayal, abuse by words or fists, or wrong done by a boss, an employer, a government, or by a neighbor, a friend, or harm done to your kids, and many other serious abuses – the temptation to retaliate becomes real. Vengeance might become something you’re actually considering. The daydreams of retaliation can keep coming back years down the road.
Yet, Scripture commands, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” [Romans 12:19; Deuteronomy 32:35]
Is it possible to restrain oneself? Is it cowardly to refrain from ‘making things right’ on your own? In Christ’s passion, we find courage to refrain from vengeance, we find the extinguishing of vengeful thoughts, through faith in God’s promises and in light of Christ’s work of redemption. God has made things right, and in a better way than we ever could.
Jesus does not retaliate or avenge himself. He does not even defend himself against false words. He does not argue. Last week, He forbade Peter from taking up the sword to defend Him. Jesus spoke no hateful words to Judas, His betrayer. And Jesus does not hate Peter for tonight’s three-time denial.
And, though Jesus is on trial falsely in tonight’s Passion History, and though He is condemned only for the truth, and though tonight and last week He could have called for many legions of angels, or could have called for fire from heaven, He does not take vengeance against His abusers and false witnesses.
This is not out of cowardice. And it’s not out of self-righteous pacifism or proud altruism. Instead, Jesus refrains from retaliation and vengeance by trust in His heavenly Father, trust that God would and can deliver Him and vindicate Him. And Jesus refrains from vengeance in love – love which moves Him to lay down His life for those who are doing Him wrong.
In His patient suffering, Jesus fulfills the command to love one’s enemies [Matthew 5:43-44]. Jesus does so in faith, trusting that His Father will deliver Him at the right time and that justice - God’s divine justice, not human anger or revenge - will be accomplished in the end.
God is faithful. God delivers Jesus on the third day. Suffering is ended. And Jesus is vindicated - He is shown to His false accusers to be the righteous Son of God by His glorious resurrection from the dead – and will be seen by them on His throne at God’s right hand.
What did Jesus accomplish by suffering false accusations, a false trial, being wrongly condemned, and yet refraining from vengeance? Jesus accomplished your salvation. This false trial is for His atoning death on the cross – so that the Innocent One dies for the guilty.
Jesus, in suffering false accusations and abuse in the High Priest’s palace that night, is set on course to die even for those very accusers and abusers. He is set to accomplish their salvation too and, on the cross, includes them in His prayer, “Father, forgive them”.
In Jesus, God’s better justice is accomplished. Jesus dies vicariously for other men’s sins – God’s justice is levied against abuse, slander, false accusations, gossip, and against all sin in the crucified body of Jesus – so that one Man dies for the many and sin is forgiven.
God’s justice is better than our anger. God’s justice has made things right in such a way that the sinner is forgiven and restored. In Jesus, God’s death sentence against sin has worked for the new life of many – because, in God’s justice and love, the Innocent has willingly died for the guilty. This is God’s better way.
Is this fair? We have no room to condemn. It is in fact our own sins also that have put Jesus to death, so that my sins too have become blows against Him. Yet He suffered this that He might forgive even me.
So, we now forgive as we have been forgiven. Instead of anger, we pray Christ’s death to be salvation for those who have wronged us. We pray they too would be given the gift of repentance and faith in Christ. We “repay no one evil for evil”; We “bless and do not curse.” [Romans 12:17,14]
Jesus suffered to accomplish salvation. If you are suffering an abuser or accuser or a hurtful friend and can flee, can be rid of them, you likely should do that – God loves you and doesn’t want people hurting you – yet do not avenge yourself and do not hate. Instead, trust God to make it right in His way, in His time, and pray for the salvation of those who have done you harm. Their sin too has met its end in the dying body of Jesus on the cross.
For those abusers and slanderers who will not repent of the wrongs they do to God’s children, their wrongs will not be allowed to linger in the air forever. God will repay. God will vindicate His children who have been wronged. He will show you to be a daughter or son of God in glory, in the presence of all. Those who have done wrong without repentance will receive, in the presence of all, their due terror and eternal death.
But this repayment is only for God to levy – “For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” [James 1:20]. God alone is just – leave it to the wrath of God… ‘I will repay’, says the Lord.
In the Upper Room when He knew His betrayer’s heart, in the Garden of Gethsemane when He was surrounded and arrested like a thief and a robber, and tonight in the Palace of the High Priest under a false trial with false witnesses, Jesus, for the salvation of wrongdoers, suffers all wrongs and does not retaliate or avenge Himself.
Let us likewise suffer with our Savior, love as He has loved us, and leave all wrongs to the better justice of God. Amen.