April 1, 2012 David Balzer

Matthew 26:57-27:26: Guilt and innocence

I only stopped for a moment. Just long enough for E and D to get out of the car. But as I drove away I saw the council officers with their digital camera taking my photo.

I’d dropped the kids off at Blacktown station. The problem was there was nowhere to park. So I’d double parked. Just for a moment. But that was no excuse.

When I saw the council officers, my stomach dropped. And I expected the worst. Sure enough, a couple of days later I got a fine in the mail.

I was GUILTY. I didn’t LIKE it. But it was TRUE.

I wanted someone to blame. The officers were SNEAKY. They were hiding where I couldn’t see them. And they were LAZY. They hadn’t even given me the ticket. They’d just sent it in the mail. Surely THAT was wrong.

And then I wondered if there was A LOOPHOLE I could use. To wriggle out of it. Perhaps I wasn’t GUILTY AFTER ALL. Perhaps they’d booked me for the wrong offence. Made a mistake writing down the road regulation. So I even checked it online. No – no mistake there!

But surely I didn’t deserve it. It must be an INJUSTICE! Wasn’t I doing a nice thing? Dropping my kids off at the station? And I wasn’t as bad as SOME PEOPLE.

No! I may not have liked it, but I WASN’T INNOCENT. I was GUILTY. And I deserved what I got.

Guilt and innocence. None of us likes to be found guilty. Even when we DESERVE it. Much less when we’re actually INNOCENT.

Guilt and innocence. That’s the theme today. The innocence of Jesus. And the guilt of everyone else.

26:57-68: Accusations and testimony

First up, accusations and testimony. V57. Jesus has been arrested. He’s brought to Caiaphas the high Priest. The one who’s supposed to dispense JUSTICE. But there’s little of that on show tonight.

V59. Even though they were LOOKING for false witnesses. And even though plenty came forward to give EVIDENCE. They couldn’t FIND any. Probably, that means they couldn’t find any who AGREED with each other. That’s the problem with lying. You’re bound to get caught out.

Finally (v61) two were found who testified they’d heard Jesus declare that he was going to destroy the temple in three days and then rebuild it.

Like MOST good lies, it contained just enough of the truth to be BELIEVABLE. John 2 records that Jesus HAD said SOMETHING like that. When he was in the temple, the Jews asked him what miraculous sign he was going to do to show his authority. And Jesus had replied, “If YOU destroy this temple, then I will raise it again in three days.”

Then John adds the explanation that Jesus was talking about HIS OWN BODY as the temple. The place where people met God. And he was talking about his DEATH. And his resurrection three days later.

But the Jewish leaders weren’t going to let the truth get in the way of a good story. They demanded that Jesus defend himself. But he stayed silent.

Finally, they ask him the direct question (v63). “Tell us if you’re the Christ.”

And then Jesus TESTIFIES. And he testifies TRULY. V64.

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.”

In the SHORT term, you might knock me down. But give it a few days. And I’ll get right back up again. And return even bigger than before.

It’s a claim to being God’s Messiah. His right hand man. But much more than simply an EARTHLY king. It’s a HEAVENLY king who reigns over the EVERYTHING.

And, for the leaders, it’s BLASPHEMY. It’s Jesus counting himself equal with God. The high priest asks for a show of hands. Everyone agrees. He deserves death.

And they spit on him, punch him and ridicule him. And Jesus just TAKES it all. Even though he’s INNOCENT.

26:69-75: Accusations and testimony – again

Scene 2, v69. Accusations and testimony AGAIN. This time OUTSIDE the High Priest’s house. That’s where Peter’s waiting. A servant girl questions him, “You were with Jesus, weren’t you!” Peter denies it.

He skulks off to ANOTHER corner of the courtyard. But the questions follow him. ANOTHER girl finds him, “You were with Jesus of Nazareth!” A SECOND accusation, and then a second testimony from Peter, “ I swear I don’t know him.”

A little while later (v73). Accusation number THREE. Quickly followed by further testimony. “I don’t know the man!”

The rooster crows, Peter remembers, and he weeps bitterly. He’s denied his Lord.

Two scenes of ACCUSATION and TESTIMONY. The FIRST, involving Jesus, sees him testifying TRUTHFULLY. And being sentenced to DEATH. The SECOND, involving Peter, sees accusations of a much less deadly intent. They hardly seem anything more than general questions.

But Peter caves in, lies to protect his skin, or his reputation. And he survives for many more years. It hardly seems FAIR.

And while it was far from Peter’s finest hour. The fact that it made it into Scripture AT ALL is striking. Plenty of cynics and academics think these stories were made up by the early disciples. But if they’d INVENTED these events, they’d only put the GOOD stuff in. The stuff that portrayed them in a good light. All the NEGATIVE publicity would never have made it in. Negative publicity like Peter’s disowning of Jesus.

But EVERY ONE OF THE GOSPELS record THIS EVENT. A. Because it HAPPENED. And B. Because there’s a lesson to learn, and an example to follow.

You see, this event is only HALF the story. It’s NOT the end. Peter DOES repent. And then Jesus is resurrected, and the Holy Spirit comes. And those two events CHANGE EVERYTHING.

In the book of Acts, Peter becomes a courageous witness to the resurrection of Jesus. He preaches in front of thousands, and is imprisoned and threatened and flogged. By the same Sanhedrin he’s so scared of NOW. And he STANDS UP to them.

And it’s that WHOLE story that’s encouraged thousands, perhaps MILLIONS of Christian down through the ages to stand up for Jesus in the face of THEIR persecution. “If Peter can do it, then so can I –even though I’m tempted to deny Jesus.”

It’s a story that’s given them the courage and the example to obey Jesus’ command in Lk 9.23.

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? 26 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

The question is not whether you’ve ever been ashamed of Jesus. Because we’ve ALL done it. We’ve ALL either DENIED him, or perhaps (more likely), simply kept quiet and said nothing when we’ve had the chance to stand up for him.

The REAL question is whether we follow Peter’s example. To the END of the story. Whether, after being ashamed of him, we turn back, repent, and resolve afresh to follow Jesus WHEREVER it takes us.

Will you do THAT today?

27:1-10: Punishment for the guilty

The difference, I think, is all about the attitude you have toward your failing. Let’s think about JUDAS, by way of comparison.

Look at the NEXT section. PETER compared to JUDAS. Two of Jesus’ disciples make a mistake – they SIN, they FAIL. Peter DENIES Jesus, Judas BETRAYS him. Both are GUILTY. Both are SORRY.

One is restored, the other is damned. What’s the DIFFERENCE?

Is it in the SEVERITY of the sin? Are there some sins that can NEVER be forgiven? No! God’s forgiveness can cover ANY sin genuinely repented of.

The difference is in their ATTITUDE to their sin. It’s the difference between REMORSE and REPENTANCE. Judas was filled with REMORSE (v3 of ch 27). “I’ve betrayed INNOCENT BLOOD.” While Peter REPENTED.

Remorse is HUMAN-centred. Ultimately, it’s SELFISH. It’s self-pity. While REPENTANCE recognises the offence is against GOD. Remorse doesn’t GO anywhere. It looks INWARD. While REPENTANCE turns back towards GOD. Repentance recognises that the hurt is GOD’S.

Look at how their respective sorrow SHOWED itself. Judas felt sorry for HIMSELF. He gave back the money, trying to make HIMSELF feel better. And, with nowhere else to turn (v5), he goes and HANGS HIMSELF.

Peter, on the other hand, ISN’T consumed with self-pity and remorse. His is genuine repentance. How do we know? Because he turns back to Jesus. He remains LOYAL.

He’s not mentioned in Matthew again BY NAME. But he’s there with the REST of the disciples after the resurrection. Peter’s there when Jesus gives them the great commission.

And in LUKE he’s waiting expectantly early Sunday morning. He hears from the women that Jesus has been raised. The tomb’s EMPTY. And while the REST of the disciples think it’s NONSENSE, there’s no stopping Peter. He RUNS to the tomb. First there! He can’t WAIT!

That’s not remorse! That’s REPENTANCE.

And that same response should be OURS when we fail Jesus. Not to feel sorry for ourselves. Not REMORSE.

But to run to Jesus in REPENTANCE. And then proclaim him as the one who cleanses guilty consciences.

But for Judas, the news is NOT so good. He comes to the temple looking for CLEANSING. But they can’t help. None of their business.

And while it’s a damning portrait of Judas, it’s no better for THE TEMPLE, AND THOSE IN CHARGE OF IT. The temple was the place to go when you wanted cleansing from sin. But instead, they wanted nothing to do with him.

“I’ve SINNED,” Judas says, “Betrayed innocent blood. “What is that to us?” they respond. It SHOULD be their business, but they want NONE of it.

Which just shows that Jesus’ condemnation of the temple is JUST.

And yet its leaders fail to see their guilt. Forget murder, and rigged trials. Forget envy and pride. Forget failing to institute sacrifice for the cleansing of sin. All they can see is their grubby hands if they pick up Judas’ blood money. “It’s against the law,” they say. They can’t see any of their guilt in all the OTHER filth they’ve dirtied their hands with.

Guilt and innocence.

27:11-26: Punishment for the innocent, and freedom for the guilty

Back to Jesus in the next section.

More comparisons. Judas receives punishment for the GUILTY.

Next, Jesus receives punishment for the INNOCENT.

While Barabbas receives FREEDOM for the guilty.

V11. Jesus has now made it to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. The only one who could deliver a death sentence. He’s not interested in religious differences of opinion. It’s TREASON that concerns HIM. V11. “Are you the King of the Jews?” he asks.

Jesus replies that he IS, but refuses to answer any more questions.

Pilate knows there’s nothing to the charges. V18 he can see that the leaders are just ENVIOUS of Jesus. Wanting to get RID of him.

ONE option is to release him as the annual Passover prisoner political point-scoring get-out-of-jail-free-card. So he offers the crowd a choice, freedom for Jesus, or the notorious prisoner, Barabbas.

But the vote’s rigged. The priests and elders persuade the crowd to vote for Barabbas.

What makes Pilate even MORE nervous about the whole trial is a note he gets from his wife (v19). “Don’t have anything to do with him. He’s INNOCENT. I’ve had NIGHTMARES about this.”

An innocent man, surrounded by guilty people. Yet, it’s the guilty ones deciding his fate.

Pilate tries one last time. “Who shall I release?” The crowd parrot back, “Barabbas!”

“But what CRIME has he committed?” In other words, “Why? He’s INNOCENT!”

“Because WE SAID SO!” respond the crowd.

And though he KNOWS better, he’s STILL too weak to stand against the crowd. So he washes his hands of the matter. V24.

“I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

He cares more for political expediency than he does for justice. He COULD have just released Jesus ANYWAY. DESPITE the crowds jeers. But when he can’t convince the crowd, he releases Barabbas instead. Despite his hand-washing performance, he’s no less guilty of Jesus’ blood than the crowd who WELCOME the guilty verdict.

And, in a way, the crowd speak more truth than they know. “Let his blood be ON US and ON OUR children” they scream. They meant “Let the GUILT of his death be on us.”

But there’s a much richer meaning of blood being ON something. Hebrews talks about how blood is necessary to cleanse things. To set them apart as holy. Heb 9:13-14

13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled ON those who are ceremonially unclean SANCTIFY them so that they are OUTWARDLY clean.

But that’s just CEREMONIALLY CLEAN. Jesus’ blood sprinkled on someone achieves A MUCH GREATER CLEAN. And that’s what the crowd are CALLING FOR, even if they don’t understand the WORDS they use. “Let his blood be on us and our children.”

Hebrews goes on: (Sacrifices makes someone OUTWARDLY clean)

14 How much more, then, will the blood of CHRIST, who through the eternal Spirit offered HIMSELF unblemished to God, cleanse our CONSCIENCES from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

A cleansed CONSCIENCE. That’s what guilty people need more than ANYTHING. Blood that removes GUILT, and brings INNOCENCE. It’s what Jesus has DONE. And it’s what he OFFERS US.

A cleansed conscience. It’s true for ANYONE who trusts Jesus’ sacrifice in their place.

His blood can cleanse YOU from sin. His death counted as full punishment for YOUR sin. Your GUILT. So YOU can be declared forgiven. Found INNOCENT.

And then there’s Barabbas. ANOTHER guilty one. A NOTORIOUS prisoner. EVERYONE knew HE was guilty. Yet, in the end, he’s the guilty one who WALKS FREE. And the INNOCENT ONE who takes his place.

And that’s the great exchange that takes place. Not just in HEROD’s court. But in the HEAVENLY courtroom. On the cross, the innocent PUNISHED so that the GUILTY might be freed.

So, in a sense, each one of US can be like Barabbas. A guilty sinner freed. Because an innocent man is slaughtered. Your guilt is HIS. His righteousness is YOURS. 2 Cor 5:21 describes that great exchange in THIS way.

21 God made him who had no sin (that’s Jesus) to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

What an injustice! It’s NOT fair! But that’s GRACE. Grace ISN’T fair. Surrounded by guilty people, Jesus, the only true innocent one, suffers the punishment of the guilty. So the guilty can go FREE.

Are you LIVING the freedom of the innocent? Of a cleansed conscience? Is there JOY and LIGHT? Is there thankfulness and gratitude? Is there confidence and assurance? Is there obedient and humble service?

Or is there darkness and guilt? Is there self-pity and remorse? Is there failure and betrayal?

Jesus doesn’t want us to LIVE like that. It’s why he came.

Innocence through Christ isn’t an academic fact to be LEARNED. It’s a wonderful experience to be cherished and LIVED.

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