“Even a negative example is an example.”
My dad said this from time to time to remind me as a young teenager that we can learn from anything. Even when someone does something really foolish, we can learn. Not all examples are positive, but we can still learn from them.
But it can make us uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s uncomfortable to learn from these negative examples because we’re prone to the same folly.
In John 18, we’ve seen Jesus arrested and taken to Annas’ house (the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the High Priest). Last week, we witnessed Peter’s first denial of Jesus. We continue in John 18:19-24:
It’s important to note that these events took place at night. That’s important because Jesus was being put on trial. Neither Jewish nor Roman law allowed trials during the night. Already, we can see the Jewish leaders have no interest in the truth or being fair.
As the illegitimate trial begins, Jesus is questioned “about his disciples and his teaching” (verse 19). At Jewish trials of this era, the accused was not asked questions. Witnesses were called to speak and testify against the accused and in defense of the accused. These pleasantries and legalities were avoided because they had no interest in discerning the truth. They were only interested in proving their point. And they would do anything to make it.
But Jesus chose to participate in this mockery of God’s justice. In verses 20 and 21, He challenges them, “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”
Do you see what Jesus is doing? He’s challenging Annas to follow the proper protocol for a Jewish trial. There was a High Priest of Israel—in truth if not in reality—and he was willing to deny justice to Jesus, a fellow Jew. Jesus confronts the High Priest, “Why are you questioning me? Ask all those who heard my teaching. They can testify on my behalf.”
This correctly applied legal challenge is met with a physical sign of their inner scorn (in verse 21): “one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” The Architect of the Universe, the starling jewel of heaven, was slapped in the face by some random official for offending the deposed high priest.
The irony: Jesus demonstrated His role as High Priest more effectively in three years than the other Jewish High Priests did in their lifetimes. He demonstrated His superior understanding of the role of High Priest in this room at His own “trial.”
Jesus’ response was short and to the point (verse 23), “If I said something wrong…testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” Instead of backing down, Jesus pressed the point of the illegitimacy of this so-called hearing.
This man owed Jesus an answer, legally speaking, for why He was struck. Legally, Jesus should not have been required to answer at all. Instead, they’ve already taken to hitting Him.
Jesus wasn’t an insurrectionist, and they knew it. Jesus confronted their denial of His legal rights. But that’s been a problem since the prophets wrote in the Old Testament. There wasn’t Biblical justice. There wasn’t Biblical mercy.
Since Annas couldn’t get anywhere with his illegal interrogation and hearing, he turns Jesus over to his son-in-law Caiaphas, the appointed (by Rome) High Priest, to see what Caiphas could do with Jesus.
Despite everything, the true King of Israel was calm, resolute, and in complete control of the situation. Even in His responses, Jesus was demonstrating their sin and inviting repentance.
Their response was spite.
What’s your response when sin is pointed out in your life?
Are we quick to repent and ask forgiveness, or do we make excuses and argue for the nuance and technicalities in favor of our behavior?
Jesus was doing something the Jewish religious leaders couldn’t stand, so they lied, cheated, and manipulated to ensure their security. What do you do when Jesus moves in an unexpected way?
There’s a lot we can learn from this phase of Jesus’ “trial” and most of it is uncomfortable. Mainly, we must examine our hearts. We must determine if we are acting more or less like those who accused Jesus just to protect their pride, power, or tradition.