The crowd that arrested Jesus in the garden now takes Him to the high priest, the head of the religious supreme court, together with the scribes and the elders of the people. Religion will judge Jesus and render its verdict. Don’t think for a moment that this is a fair hearing, or that this panel of clergy and theologians is interested in finding truth. They have already arranged for the false witnesses. They were looking for a reason to put Him to death. Many false witnesses came forward, but since their testimony conflicted, it could not be used. The truth was established by two or three witnesses. Finally they found two who could agree, twisting Jesus’ words about the temple being destroyed. You can always find someone to twist Jesus’ teaching against Him.
Jesus stands silent and gives no defense. “Like a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth,” the prophet Isaiah said of the Suffering Servant. He is silent against the lies hurled against him. He doesn’t seek legal counsel, He doesn’t assert is rights to a fair hearing. He doesn’t call witnesses to speak in His defense. There are no high priced attorneys arguing his case, no “dream team” to represent Him. His silence is the silence of God against the accusation of humanity and its religions. God is on trial here, and God shuts His mouth. In the silence, our blasphemies, our false theologies, our accusations against God are absorbed in the acoustical deadness of the Son of God. He opens not His mouth.
Finally, in exasperation the high priest asks the question: Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One? “I AM,” Jesus says, invoking the holy Name of Yahweh. He is the I AM in the flesh, who once appeared in a burning bush to Moses. He alludes to the Son of Man in the prophet Daniel, that mysterious figure who is given all authority from the Ancient of Days. He is the One Daniel had seen, coming with the clouds of heaven. Soon, they too would see Him.
Hearing this, the high priest tore his robes, something the Torah forbids him to do. The high priest must never tear his clothing, or let his hair be unkempt Leviticus said. But their hatred for Jesus exceeds their zeal to keep the Law. They have the blasphemy they are seeking, or so they suppose. The verdict from Religion is “He deserves to die.” They spit in His face and mock Him as a false prophet. And the Son of Man, Son of God, Messiah, falls silent once again. Religion has its way with Him.
How can it be that people so zealous for the Word, those who knew the Torah by heart, and ordered their lives around keeping its commandments, could be turned in utter hatred against the Word in the Flesh? How can people read their leather covered Bibles cover to cover and yet miss the whole point, that God was in Jesus reconciling the world to Himself? The Bible can’t save you. The chief priests, scribes and elders are prima face evidence of that fact. They knew their Bibles backward and forward, yet they missed the point. A book wasn’t nailed to the cross for the forgiveness of your sins. A Person was, the second Person of the undivided Holy Trinity, the creative and redemptive Word made Flesh whose name is Jesus. He alone can save you, and He has in His death. The Bible bears infallible witness to this, making us wise to our salvation in Jesus.
How can it be that religious people hate Jesus so much? They were worshipers. They were clergy and theologians – the chief priests and elders and scribes. How can they charge the Son of God with blasphemy? Or then again, do we even need to ask? We live in a world at war, or at the brink of war. And when the political rhetoric and diatribe are stripped away, it really is all about Religion. It’s about how my holy book is holier than your holy book, and my religion is better than your religion, and my god is bigger than your god. Whoever said that wars are the result of religion isn’t far from the truth. When you take Jesus out of the Word of God, all you have is “religion,” our attempts to deal with God on our own terms. That’s why Christianity is the oddball among the religions, and why, strictly speaking, it’s the end of religion. That’s why Judaism and Islam hate Christianity (and they do when you come down to the Jesus-essence of Christianity). No religion in the world can accept this fact: That God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself and does not count men’s sins against them. That is blasphemy to religion. It is also the Gospel, the good news of Jesus.
Luther learned this in the Reformation. Preach the Gospel and Religion will call you a heretic and a blasphemer. We will experience it in our own day. Opposition to the Gospel comes first from the world of Religion, from the “insiders.” Those who are closest to the Truth are the first to deny it. Remember, antichrist is very religious. Don’t expect religious institutions to do cartwheels over the good news of free forgiveness in the death of Jesus. It’s bad for religion.
Jesus didn’t give the world yet another religion. It already had more than enough of those. He gave the world a death and a resurrection. Remember that the next time you are called a heretic and a blasphemer by the religious of our day. The One you worship and proclaim as Christ and Lord is the Word who created all things and who redeemed all things by His blood. One day, your faith and witness will be vindicated, when the world sees Jesus for who He is, the great I AM, the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven. Until then, you can only believe.
In the Name of Jesus,