God on Trial
Matthew 26:57-67

(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg

Matthew 26:57-67 NIV
Before the Sanhedrin
57 Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. 58 But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome.
59 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. 60 But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.
Finally two came forward 61 and declared, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’”
62 Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” 63 But Jesus remained silent.
The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
64 “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
65 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. 66 What do you think?”
“He is worthy of death,” they answered.
67 Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him 68 and said, “Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?”

C. S. Lewis wrote: “The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man, the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock.” (C. S. Lewis The Four Loves p.244) What a fitting commentary or our times, but also a fitting commentary on this passage that we have read.

Jesus had been faithful to his disciples, the last supper was past, the betrayal in the garden had already happened, the disciples had fallen away. The times were dark and twisted, so twisted that now, instead of humanity being on trial for the fall into sin and the curse they  brought on creation, now God was on trial in Jesus for the good he did. In the first few minutes of this message, I would like to point out a few interesting themes that come from this passage.

First of all, the Chief Priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus. These men were charged with the responsibility to uphold what was right, what was just, what was fair. Their expertise was in discerning truth in complicated circumstances. Their judgements had the weight of law, setting precedent. But now they were seeking false evidence. And in so doing, their dramatic change in purpose demonstrates that they were saying something about themselves. When it came to the truth this man had to bring, they had no room for it in their lives or hearts. Their response to Jesus demonstrated their heart direction, they hated God and so ultimately they hated the truth. And so they put God in Jesus on trial.

Today too, we see in our culture God on trial. Not necessarily the god of Hindus, or the god of Islam, or Buddha, but certainly the God of the Jews and the God of Christians. And as we listen to our culture and our times, we discover that many people are very willing to accept false evidence against him. Many of these fit into a simple category. They preconceive a picture of what God ought to be like, they compare the God of scripture with their own image, and the God of scripture does not measure up.  Let me give a quick illustration:

A common theme in our culture is that God is just a nice guy and when we die, heaven is for all normal people and probably for the not so good people too because God is an understanding God and we all know we are victims of our upbringing, and there is still more we had to learn - kind of a "Touched by an Angel" god. People reject God because God ought to overlook our sins. Most of us simply, like Jesus, give not response to this kind of false statement because we know that if sin is taken out of the equation, the cross of Christ makes no sense, our theory of substitutionary atonement, Christ paying the price for sin in our place, makes no sense. And frankly we would not want a God who overlooks things because the profound logic follows that the incredible injustices that have happened in this world will not be judged and compensated. Where do we draw the line? Will Hitler be gladly received? Our sense of fairness makes us desire a just God, even though our sense of fairness may reflect negatively on ourselves. We recognize in our culture that rejecting God because he is a judge demonstrates our own lack of awareness of sin. Everything is OK. Everything is permissible with the exception of making the statement that there are clear rights and wrongs in our behaviours. There are some false themes that we as Christians can quickly see through. We recognize that people will condemn God to justify themselves. (Job 40:8) Like Christ hardly responded, they hardly deserve a response. Though many false witnesses came to speak against Christ, these false witnesses in the end were self defeating. Christ choose not to respond. Even though the experts at the law were interested in pinning something on Christ, they knew they had to make it stick.

Then two witnesses came forward. Their accusation was that Christ had made a claim against the religion of Israel, the God of Israel and in fact the Roman Empire. This man said “‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’” Jesus had really said this. This temple was their pride and joy. It was the religious focus of all of Israel from all over the world. It was God’s ordained place for sacrifices, in excess it is estimated of 100,000 sacrifices in the Passover feast period. And this temple had been built by king Herod to win the loyalty of the Jewish people. Not only was the accusation true (though misunderstood because Jesus was talking about the temple of his body), it was a powerful religious and political statement.

62 Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer?
What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?”

Its easy to look at how our culture puts God on trial and we see through the misconceptions and lies, how they are in the end self defeating. It is easy not to respond. And because we can see through it, we don’t mind that God doesn’t say anything either.

But what about when the accusations that we hear, or the accusations we feel in our hearts ring true? What about when we experience trouble, or significant loss, and our hearts cry out, “God, sovereign God, good God, why did you let this happen, how could you let this happen?” And as much as we understand that there are forces of evil working in the world, as much as we understand the power of sin to bring the curse, as much as we comprehend that human free will has profound consequences in what we do to each other and the world, in our relation with God, who has intervened in our lives in powerful ways, we wonder how he could let this happen. These questions shake the foundations of our faith.

The accusation rings true. Our hearts start judging God and we want God’s answer! “God what are you going to say to the testimony that my heart is bringing against you?”

I suspect almost all of us have put God on trial. Why? Simply because sometimes the witness against God rings true. It fits our experience. It matches our emotions and pain. It makes an infinite God fit our finite explanations and problems. But so often, the worst of it all, is that in our hunger for an answer to the witness we cry ought against God, God chooses not to respond.

When the high priest said “Are you not going to answer?
What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?”
 But Jesus remained silent.

As we enter into these darkest of the last hours of Christ, as we experience the dominion of darkness in its cruellest forms, as we go through life’s most alarming trials, we enter, so often the silence of God. God seems far away. Our questions, our accusations get no response. We feel abandoned as our accusations rage against him. We begin to wonder why we were so foolish as to place our confidence in him. The vision of faith grows dim. The certainty of faith cracks and crumbles. Like Job we cry out “Oh, that I had someone to hear me!” (Job 31:35)

Maybe this morning, you are a person who has asked, sincerely, in the dark hours of your life:  "Why is God doing this to me? How could my good God let this evil happen?" Maybe you are a person who has or is putting God on trial. Maybe, like Job in the Old Testament, you have been making your case against God.

But when we make our case against God, ultimately we will be faced with one question: “Is he God at all?” That is the ultimate question. After Jesus did not respond the high priest said to him,

“I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

Isn’t that ultimately what our question is when we put God in the dock, on trial? Is he God, or is he not God? Is he the all powerful one, or is he profoundly week? Is he the all loving one, or is he as unreliable as we are? Questions that start with “How could God...” ultimately end with the question “Is he God at all?”

To that question, Jesus responds. He says 

“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.
“But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One
and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Jesus response is very interesting.  He implies that Caiaphas had already come to the conclusion that he is Christ, the sent son of God.  It is as if Caiaphas had already said it. Jesus is referring to one of Caiaphas’ previous conclusions. But at the same time, his conclusion was malformed. It had assumed that the coming of the Messiah, the coming of the one to Jerusalem on a donkey to the cries of “Hosanna, Hail him who comes in the name of the Lord.” would be a political Messiah who would free Israel from their difficulties, their Roman slavery. His conclusion that Jesus was the Messiah was correct, all his presumptions about the Messiah were wrong. This Messiah would only make things worse because he did not come first of all to set people free from political slavery and trouble, he came to reconcile people with God and in that reconciliation bring forgiveness and peace on earth. And so Jesus pointed Caiaphas to a coming when he would return this time from the clouds sitting in his rightful place of authority at the right hand of God the Father - a claim which only the son of God could make. Caiaphas had his answer.

We to are people, who putting God on trial, have asked the question; “Is he really God?” And God has given us a clear response on God Friday and Easter Sunday morning. Paul tells us “through the Spirit of holiness Jesus was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Romans 1
We have our answer.

In a few minutes, we (with our children ) will have the opportunity to confess in quiet prayer that we too have put God on trial, and today we will do that once again with our confession cards, signing our name and placing our sins at the foot of the cross
Job, in the Old Testament went through this same struggle of putting God on trial - and ultimately his question in suffering was - “Are you really God?” God responded to Job.  God reminded Job that the finite cannot comprehend the infinite, the limited cannot understand the limitless, the time bound cannot grasp the eternal. And when Job recognized he had put God on trial, he responded

2 “I know that you can do all things;
no plan of yours can be thwarted.
3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
5 My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
6 Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”

Music ministry forward
Song “We Fall Down
Prayer of Confession

We are not the only ones with Job who put God on trial. So did the Psalmist as he asked how God could let things go terribly wrong in his life. At times he knew it was his own sin, at other times the questions of doubt raged through his struggling soul. And he would cry out

Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.
2 From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
3 For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.

Isaiah 55 says

6 Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake his way
and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Children’s Song - Awesome God
Blessing - Prayer teams forward

Parting Song “You are My all in All”


(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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