The Body of Christ in His Passion: Face Slapped in Mockery
Midweek Lent 5
The Body of Christ in His Passion: Face Slapped in Mockery
Text: John 18:19-24
There was nothing legal, right, or moral about this at all. Nothing. After Jesus had been betrayed by Judas and arrested by a mob of likely several hundred men, he was led off to the high priest Annas. First of all, it was illegal for the Jews to hold a trial at night. Second of all, it was illegal to put a man on trial the same day that he was arrested. This was doubly wrong to begin with.
Next, the high priest mentioned here wasn’t actually the high priest. This pre-trial of sorts was taking place in the court of a man named Annas. Annas had been the Jewish high priest but the Romans had deposed him around 15 A.D., about 15 years earlier. The high priest at the time was actually Caiphas, the son-in-law of Annas.
This entire chunk of six verses tonight then presents one big charade. It was a doubly illegal trial. It was a pre-trial held before a man who was not the actual, authoritative high priest. And the purpose was to probe for possible guilt with Jesus and buy time while Caiaphas was quickly assembling the Jewish council for the real trial (which would still be illegal).
John begins by telling us this about the faux pre-trial with Annas: “Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.” We could imagine that Annas was foolishly hoping to trip up Jesus and catch him with some slip up. “Who are these disciples? Where did they come from? Why are they following you? What are you telling them? What are you telling them to do? What exactly are you teaching?” Maybe he could catch Jesus on something that would incriminate him and make this trial easier and faster.
But Jesus had nothing to hide. Verse 20: “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.”
In America we might say Jesus was pleading the 5th, but he was certainly telling the truth. He didn’t hold secret meetings or conventions. There was no conspiracy afoot. Jesus taught openly and publicly. He taught in the countryside. He taught in the towns and villages. He even taught at the synagogues and at the temple in Jerusalem. Thousands upon thousands of people heard him teach. And what he taught was only truth. Why not ask any of those people what Jesus said and taught? They all would say the same thing.
This was a statement meant to cause Annas and company to stop and think. What were they doing here? Why were they doing this? Had Jesus ever done or said anything wrong? If they actually had hard evidence against Jesus, why weren’t they using it? And if they didn’t have hard evidence against Jesus, why were they conducting an illegal trial?
Jesus’ words didn’t cause them to stop, but his words certainly did prick their conscience. They didn’t like this, and one of the officials took action. “When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby struck him in the face. ‘Is this the way you answer the high priest?’ he demanded.” This strike to the face is quite striking itself. Jesus’ words should have struck their hearts and made them repent. But instead they hardened their hearts and struck Jesus in the face.
Rather than retaliate, Jesus had more words that should have caused them to stop and think. “If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” Jesus only spoke the truth. This was a trial. Did they not want Jesus to speak the truth? Did they not want Jesus to have witnesses testifying to his behavior and character? Did they not want to know if Jesus was really guilty or innocent?
No, they didn’t. Their hearts were hardened against Jesus and against the truth. That meant Jesus was guilty to them and they wouldn’t even consider anything otherwise. So seeing that he didn’t make any progress, Annas was done with Jesus and his phony pre-trial. “Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.”
God save us from ever having such hard hearts! For surely Satan will try. He’s good at being bad. These were God’s own chosen people, the Israelites. Their long-promised and long-awaited Messiah was standing right in front of them, truthfully and clearly speaking about who he is and what he came to do. Yet Satan still was able to convince them to close their ears and refuse to listen to God and his Word.
He will try the same thing with you. Jesus will tell you plain as day who he is and what he teaches. The truth is very clear. Jesus says very clearly, “I am the way and truth and the life.” Couldn’t be any more clear. Yet Satan chisels away at our hearts, trying to convince us that there are other ways, that there is different truth, that there is a better life to offer. He wants me to buy into believing that I’m the center of the universe, not Jesus. Whatever I think is the right way to live, that’s the way. Whatever I think is truth, that must be true (that’s called postmodernism today). Whatever I think is a good and happy life, that must be my goal.
Love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength? Love my neighbor as myself? Deny myself and take up my cross to follow Jesus? Set reason and logic and science aside to let Scripture speak for itself? That can’t be right! That can’t be true!
There are many moments of weakness where I buy the lies. Jesus speaks truthfully and clearly on the pages of Scripture—just as truthfully and clearly as he did on trial. But in sinful weakness my stubborn heart simply refuses to see or hear the truth.
But here’s where we are different than the Jews at this phony pre-trial with Annas. We have faith. So when the words of Jesus strike at our hearts and arouse guilt, as they are doing now, unlike those Jews we fall to our knees in repentance. We see our guilt. We confess our guilt. We beg for mercy. And Jesus does not disappoint. He delivers with his patient love.
The most striking thing about these verses this evening is actually not the blow to Jesus’ face. It’s that Jesus was willing to remain silent, take the punishment, and go on to die for those very hardened sinners. Speaking about these sinners, the other Jews, the Romans, and even about you, Jesus said from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Then he went on to not only ask for our forgiveness but to actually accomplish it by dying for our sin. Yes, the most striking part of this short moment of the passion is the most striking part of the entire story. Jesus willingly suffered and died for sinners.
See the Savior again this evening. See The Body of Christ in His Passion with Face Slapped in Mockery. See the bold rebellion and unrepentant hearts. But see the Savior speaking the truth clearly and plainly. Listen to him. Believe him. Repent, and give thanks for his great love and forgiveness.