Listen: Simon Manchester’s sermon on the trial of Jesus.
(Prayer) – Father, we thank you that you are wonderfully at work in your world, even through the weakness of your servants and we pray that now, together as we consider your word, you would show your grace and power, and that you would help us to benefit from the things that we read and consider. And that you would cause this word to illumine and help us as we seek to trust and obey Jesus Christ. We ask it in His name, Amen.
So we are returning to Mark’s gospel, final two chapters. And you won’t remember this, but last time we looked at the arrest of Jesus and then we saw the religious trial of Jesus where He declared himself to be the Messiah with no apology. Today, we come to the political trial before Pontius Pilate. And this is a pathetic, insulting, demeaning piece of courtroom drama. Before that takes place, of course, there’s the famous failure of Peter denying Jesus three times before the rooster crows. I saw in a piece of news recently that a British actor had contacted the actress, Joan Collins, and told her that he would visit her as he was in the area. And she left a message on the answering machine to say, “How lovely that would be.” And then she failed to hang up and went on to say, “I hope he doesn’t visit. He’s such a demanding person. I’m too tired to see him. Seeing him is the last thing I want.” Which just reminds you not only to hang up when you’re recording something, but also the great danger of having your private words brought out in public. Be thankful. Those of you who have read the bulletin letter will notice that I, from my stupidity, have tried to remember some of the staff who have come and gone. And I’ve forgotten the best of the people who’ve come, people like Kenny Lloyd, and Jonathan Youssef, and Carl Adamson, just disappeared from my brain. And there it is in black and white for you all to see how forgetful I am. So, just be thankful that a lot of what we say privately doesn’t get reported publicly because what Peter and Pilate said has been recorded for 2,000 years for all the world to see. And why does the Bible tell us about these terrible failures of these two men? Is it so that we will feel superior? Well, we’re gonna think about that this morning.
Two Men Who Fail
Mark 14:15. These two men, Peter and Pilate, that they both fail miserably. Jesus stands like a colossus and is magnificent. The danger, of course is, we’ll read these two incidents and we’ll think they’re just interesting, but I want to remind you that Mark’s gospel is the gospel. When you open up the pages of Mark’s gospel, he is preaching to us. He wants to inform us, but he also wants to search us. And the favorite subject of Mark, of course, is Jesus, His identity and His mission. And I personally think that these two men, these two failures, Peter and Pilate, are like sick patients in a hospital reminding us that the world needs the doctor who is Jesus. One of these two men, Peter who is a believer, but he also fails. We see therefore how important the mercy of Jesus is. One of the two men, Pilate is a non-believer, he fails. We see how important is the power of Jesus. And I suspect that Peter is kind of a picture of the church, frail, feeble, failing, and needing to know where salvation is to be found. And Pilate is a picture of the state, needing to know where real authority is to be found.
One of things we have to keep asking ourselves as we read the gospels is not just what does this say to me, to me, to me, to me – but what does this tell me about Jesus. So let’s think about these two men briefly this morning. The first is the church and the merciful savior, Chapter 14:66. Look at Chapter 14:66 and you’ll see that Peter has followed Jesus. He said he would be courageous and he is beginning to follow Jesus. He is the most passionate of the disciples, but even the keenness Christian may fall. And the Bible wants us to know this. He is perhaps the most famous of the apostles and we see that he is not part of the solution, he’s part of the problem. And God’s people, of course, from beginning to end, as we are reminded again and again, are just a long line of moral failures. And I am a moral failure and you were a moral failure. And that’s why we are so grateful for Jesus.
Forgiving the Imperfect
You would think the world would get this very simple message, wouldn’t you? That goes like this, “I fail, Jesus saves.” But somehow the world just doesn’t hear this and doesn’t even think we’re saying this. And so, the world continues to hear something like this, “Do your best.” And we’re not quite sure where Jesus fits in. Maybe he’s an inspiration to us, but Jesus is not an inspiration to us to be perfect. That would be terribly depressing. Jesus is single-handedly forgiving the imperfect.
Now, what Peter does here in Chapter 14 of Mark is very terrible. He abandons his master in order to spare himself. If I know you as well as I think I know you, I don’t think you will read this if you’re a Christian and say, “I’m better than Peter.” I don’t think this is a picture of Peter that we are meant to look down on. I think this is a kind of a mirror where we will say to ourselves, “If we’ve got our head screwed on, I could do just that myself.” So can the great apostle fall? The answer is he can. Can you fall? Yes, you can. Can I fall? Yes, I can. I want you to notice how small the trigger that brings Peter down is. He’s not now in front of a Jewish council. He’s not in front of a Roman council. He is being challenged by a girl, perhaps a little girl, a servant girl. But she speaks in such a way that to be a Christian is to be on the wrong side. You know that kind of conversation where somebody just gives their opinion and of course, if you’re not with them, you’re against them. And you don’t want to be against them. And so, you’re not quite sure what to do.
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So look at what she says in Chapter 14:67. She says, “You were with that Nazarene.” And then if you look down to verse 69 she says, “This fellow, Peter, is one of them.” And then if you look down to verse 70, she say…or some of them say, “He’s one of them.” And immediately, the easiest thing for Peter to do is to hide, or be quiet, or deny, which he does because we know that from kindergarten right through to old age, to be in the in-crowd is extremely important to us and to be included is very precious. And it takes quite a lot of courage to stand against or outside the flood that is coming at you. Here in the west of course, the danger is likely to be verbal or emotional. And even then, we find it difficult, don’t we? That somebody would be disappointed in us for our faith or be negative towards us, or say something which is mildly hurtful. But of course, if you grow up in certain parts of the world and, you know, remember the testimony of Sam Dhamma some weeks ago in the invitation week, he talked about being in a lecture room in Baghdad and soldiers coming in with rifles, and asking people to put their hand up if they were not Muslim. And Sam’s arm went up. And that of course is a much more challenging, potentially dangerous situation. Now, Peter falls very quickly because the servant girl seems to challenge him.
Notice how embarrassing his denial is. He says in verse 68, “I don’t know. I don’t even get what you’re saying.” And then look at verse 71, he actually calls down, curses on himself. He says, effectively, “May God curse me.” The word is “anathema.” “If I know this, Jesus Christ.” What a thing to say? And this is Peter, remember, after Jesus has called him and after Peter has walked with him for three years, and seen the miracles, and heard the teaching. And this is Peter who professed to know that Jesus is the Messiah. And this is Peter who saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead and calm the storm. And this is Peter who said that he would stick with Jesus whatever happened. And this is Peter who is loved by Jesus more than he’s ever been loved. And he suddenly turns around and says, “I know nothing about him.” And I think this is proof positive that the secret of Christianity is not that we are firm and strong, but that Jesus Christ is firm and strong. And Peter, you see, is going to fail the simplest test. And I am capable of failing the simplest test, and you are too. And at the same time Jesus is going to stand strong in the toughest encounter.
I’m not saying therefore that we can all just lie back and relax. I heard a man say last week the Christian life is not a travelator like those moving horizontal escalators at the airport. There is a place for wisdom, and faithfulness, and discipline. But we rest in the end on the faithfulness of Christ. And I wonder whether the Lord has taught you how weak you are. I wonder whether the Lord has taught you that every day you walk into a battlefield. I wonder if the Lord has told you to get up in the morning and say to Him in some small way, “Lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil because I’m capable of falling very quickly, very easily, very badly. And you’re the only one who can really help me.” It’s a good thing to say at the beginning of the day. And then look at the sad outcome of Peter. Not only is he tricked very easily, not only is it embarrassing what he says, but look at the outcome in verse 72. The rooster suddenly crowed and as one writer that says, “Nobody probably took any notice of the rooster crowing.” But for Peter, it was an absolute reminder to him that Jesus had said, “By the time the rooster crows twice, three times, you will say that you don’t know me.” And he broke down or he fell down, and began to weep. And I suspect this was the real repentance which marks him out as being different from Judas who betrayed Jesus and then probably never turned back for forgiveness. But Peter is marked by this great repentance, this remorse.
Now, again, why are being told this? Well, because the road of sin is not a happy road for long. It can be deceptively happy for a short time, but in the end, it will not be happy. And if you’re a believer, you’ll come to grief. And if your road has been quite successful and lofty, then the fall that comes is a very difficult and sad fall. So why does every gospel writer tell us about Peter’s failure? Why do they tell us that the keenest disciple denied the greatest person the world has ever seen, with the strongest possible language and the saddest outcome? And I think the answer is, it’s to show that Jesus is the key to Christianity. The work of salvation is not only necessary. That’s why Jesus will go through with the crucifixion, but He’s gonna have to do it alone because the disciples and the church will not contribute to it. It’s not Peter you see helping the cause like he said he would. It’s not Peter working his sword around as if he’s going to save the day. Peter is the cause. He’s the problem, and I’m the problem, and you’re the problem.
During the week, I caught a few minutes of the SBS documentary called “Christians Like Us.” I don’t know if you saw it, but it involved, I think about 10 people in the same house for certain amount of time with various links to the church. Some very, very loose links to the church indeed. And I noticed that one of the older men of the 10 was telling his terrible experiences of being abused by a priest. And he says that he now believes nothing at all and the group were deeply dismayed. And it was a very grievous terrible story. And his grief needs to be heard and needs to be felt. At the same time, I sat there thinking to myself that is not the whole story of this man’s life. That is, if he says, “I have been injured and therefore, my whole interest in Jesus Christ is finished,” that would be a tragedy. If we were to make a pie graph of our life, a certain section of the pie graph is the hurt that has been done to us and we have all experienced certain hurts. But there is also a large section of the pie graph which is the hurt that has been done by us to Christ. And that’s what we need to acknowledge.
A Merciful Saviour
A Christian may be wounded by life, by people, but a Christian is also somebody who pleads guilty to wounding Christ. And we may feel our hurts very deeply, but we won’t get any mercy at work in our system until like the prodigal son, we go to Christ and we say to him, “I’ve wounded you. I’ve disobeyed you. I’ve turned my back on you. I’ve rebelled.” And then the mercy of Christ comes and it’s the mercy of Christ which begins to heal and bring recovery, and even the ability to forgive people who have wounded us.
So I think Mark 14 is preaching as clearly as possible that Peter is part of the problem. Jesus is the only merciful solution. That’s the first, the church and the merciful savior. Secondly, the state and the unstoppable king. This is Chapter 15 of Mark, verse 1. We come now to the subject of Pilate. Pilate’s crime is not to deny Jesus as you know, but it is to sentence Him to death. So if Peter failed to make a stand, Pilate fails to make a decision. Pontius Pilate if you’re interested was appointed by Tiberius Caesar in 26 AD. He served as the Governor of Judea for 10 years. He had an army of approximately 5,000 soldiers at his disposal. Historians tell us that he was a very ruthless man. The gospel writers tell us that he was a compromiser. There was no archaeological evidence for Pontius Pilate until 1961 when a slab of stone was found in Caesarea with his name and quite a bit more information on it. Peter, which we personally just looked at, he tells us we should be grateful for a merciful savior. Pilate tells us that we should be grateful for a powerful king. Pilate fails to honor Jesus, but he ends up doing exactly what God has planned.
Jesus Before Pilate
So if you look at Chapter 15:1, you see that the religious leaders bring Jesus to Pilate. Why do they bring the person of Jesus to Pilate? Well, because they need Pilate, who’s a Roman, to sentence Jesus to death. They can’t do it themselves. If they had taken Jesus to Pilate for blasphemy, which was their big outrage in Chapter 14:64, Pilate would have said, “Who cares? I don’t care about his blasphemy. I’m not interested in your God.” But they’ve obviously told Pilate that Jesus claimed to be a king. And that’s a threat to Rome and Pilate must do something.
Well, you’ll notice in verse 2 of Chapter 15 that he sees no threat in Jesus at all. Literally, he says, “You, king of the Jews?” As if to look at Jesus who has already been roughed up quite a bit and say, “You, feeble man, king of the Jews, you?” And Jesus reply in verse 2 is brilliant, He says, “You say, you decide. You make your mind up. You work this out.” And that is the question. Is Jesus Christ the king? What sort of a king? The answer in Mark, of course is he’s a very different king from normal kings because normal kings exercise power by subduing their enemies. Jesus is going to exercise power by dying for His enemies. So He’s a very, very different kind of king, but He is a king. And because Pilate has been given the job of acting as the magistrate, he should be seeking the truth. And Jesus deserves a careful decision. I mean, He has made a big impact on the world of Pilate’s day and Pilate ought to be making a careful decision just as Jesus has made a big impact on the world that we are in.
I remember Clive James saying once on a television interview that he wasn’t a believer because he thought that if God was real, he would have made some impact on the world. Jesus has made a massive impact. He deserves a careful decision and Pilate, of course, should be weighing up sides, but he’s just listening to the shouting. He’s got an army to prevent a riot if he wants to, but he’s weak. And Jesus knows that he’s weak and Jesus knows that he’s not strong enough to make a decision. And so, He says nothing. And of course, He prepares to die which is why He has come. Well, you notice that not only does Pilate refuse to make a decision about Jesus’ identity, but he refuses to make a decision about Jesus’ innocence. And it goes like this, if you look at verse 8, you see the crowd come to Pilate to seek the release of a prisoner. Every Passover, there would be the release of a prisoner. And we don’t know whether they’ve come to us for Jesus, but they get stopped in their tracks because the chief priests and the religious leaders push the crowd to push for Barabbas, who’s a criminal.
Well, you can see in verse 9 that Pilate suggests that they release Jesus. That would be a good way out for him. But in verse 11 as I say, the religious leaders push for Barabbas who’s been part of an insurrection and deserves to be in prison. In verse 12, Pilate says, “I want you to make a decision about Jesus. Please, would you make a decision for me?” It’s pathetic. And the leaders, verse 13 say, “Crucify Him. That’s the decision.” Pilate still desperate. Verse 14, he says, “What His crime?” And they called out again, verse 15, “Crucify Him.” And Pilate falls over and capitulates, and gives in. I forgot to say this at the earlier service but you may be interested to know that according to Matthew, Barabbas’ first name was Jesus and Barabbas means literally, son of Abba, son of the Father. So this remarkable criminal is actually Jesus, son of the Father, the criminal. And he’s going to be set free, so that Jesus, son of the heavenly Father will go to crucifixion.
Jesus Goes in Our Place
I don’t think we could get a better picture of substitution from this event of Barabbas being set free, a reminder to us that the Lord Jesus has gone to the place of punishment for us and the belief that you’re set free. But you notice that Pilate won’t make a decision. As one writer says, the governor was governed. He got the crowd to make the decision and their decision was his decision. Now, this is extremely embarrassing and shameful for a person in a position of magisterial authority. And he goes down in history as we know as the man who washed his hands of Jesus. But the weird thing is that there’s so many people today who know that Pilate went down as the man who washed his hands and wouldn’t make a decision, and they won’t make a decision. That’s the weird world we live in, isn’t it? Pilate could see that there was no crime in Jesus, verse 14. He could see that the opposition was fake and false, verse 10. He could have set Jesus free and that would have been a just thing to do. He had an army to arrange, there was not chaos after the decision. But you see the real man. Pilate is seen in Chapter 15:15, he wanted to please the crowd.
Now, friends, why are we being told that he wanted to… Why are we being told this? I think we are being told this because we’re being reminded that the world, whether it’s an individual unbeliever, or whether it’s a state or a power, cannot be trusted to get Jesus right or to make a proper decision about Jesus. This is the most important thing however that we’re being told. The state cannot block the plans of God. Whatever decision Pilate makes, it simply is part of the overarching sovereign wisdom of God. Whatever decision the state makes, whatever decision the liberal party makes, whatever decision the labor party makes, whatever decision the power in our own country makes, it cannot stop the purposes of God going forward. And so, that’s why we’re told in this final verse 15 that Pilate delivered Jesus and on the day of Pentecost, the next two, Peter got up and he said, “Jesus was delivered by God’s deliberate plan. And you killed him,” said Peter to the crowd, “But God raised him.”
The King of Kings
So Pilate, you see, although he considers himself to be a moderately powerful man is face to face with the king of kings and everything will be done as the king of kings has planned. We don’t often see the queen kneel down, do we? People normally kneel in front of the queen to get knighted. We don’t often see presidents kneel down. We don’t often see prime ministers kneel down. But queens, prime ministers, and presidents do kneel down when they go into church. They may do it for pretense or they may do it for sincerity, but they do kneel down before the king of kings. And of course, everybody will kneel down before the king of kings. Philippians 2 tells us, “There’ll come a day where everybody will kneel down.” And Pilate for all his power, you see, is just carrying out the purposes of God.
So Peter’s failure, I suggest you in Chapter 14 is caused to thank God for his mercy. I hope you might go out today and you might say to yourself, “I was reminded this morning of the failure of Peter which is really part of my own story. And that without the mercy of Jesus Christ, there would be no hope.” And I hope you might also walk out this morning and you might say, “We were reminded of Pilate for all his pseudo power. Actually, having no power at all. And we’re so thankful for the overruling good sovereign power of Jesus Christ.” So do you have problems inside you? Yes, we do. The mercy of Jesus Christ is what we need. Are there problems outside you? Yes, there are. The power of Jesus Christ is sufficient.
Let’s pray. Gracious God, we thank you for this window into ourselves and especially into the greatness of Christ. We pray that you help us today to rejoice in His mercy, sufficient for our failings and to rejoice in His power, sufficient for the needs and the purposes which you have planned. We ask this in Jesus name, Amen.