False and True Justice

Sermon preached on Luke 22:63-23:25 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 01/01/2023 in Petaluma, CA.

Sermon Manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.

We pick up the story in Luke’s gospel following Jesus’s arrest. Today’s passage records Luke’s records of the trials that Jesus suffered before he is finally crucified. I would note that this is only an excerpt of the various trials that Jesus went through. You have to study all four gospels in parallel for this night and day to get the full picture of all he went through in terms of trials. As we study Luke’s account, one aspect that really stands out is all the injustice that was leveled against Jesus here. As Jesus had said earlier in this chapter, that he was going to be treated like a criminal, even though he was not a criminal. Indeed, we see that both before Jewish and Gentile courts he suffered so many injustices here. Yet, he suffered these things as our savior, as part of how he was saving us from our sins. God is a fully just God, and our God in his wisdom satisfied all justice even through making use of all these evil injustices leveled against Jesus our Lord.

Our passage can be broken up between chapter 22 and chapter 23. Up through chapter 22, it is the Jewish religious leaders who have overseen Jesus’ arrest and have been putting him through various Jewish trials, one of which we learn about starting in verse 66. Then in chapter 22, we see the Jewish religious leaders bring Jesus over to the Roman courts where the Gentile judges Pilate and Herod become his judge. As we consider all the injustices that Jesus faced here, we’ll look first at those experienced under the Jewish leadership and then secondly at those experienced under the Roman leadership.

So then, let us begin then by looking at the Jewish injustices that Jesus faced here. Let’s start with verses 63-65. There we find that Jesus is being mocked and beaten by those who were holding him. It also says they blasphemed him, in order words, they were verbally reviling him. Remember the setting here. The Jewish religious leaders had come and arrested Jesus in the middle of the night. We learn from John’s gospel that the Jews brought him first to Annas, the former high priest, to have him question Jesus. Then they brought him to Caiaphas the high priest who also put him on an initial trial. All this is happening in the middle of the night in a rather secretive fashion. It is there at the high priest’s house that they are holding him. In the morning, they would really put him on trial before the Jewish high court of the Sanhedrin.

So then, under their watch at the high priest’s house, while they hold him in the middle of the night, this happens to Jesus, that he is mocked and beaten and verbally attacked. Realize how this is an injustice in a couple ways. First, as we see here, they are clearly still in the middle of the due process, as his formal assembly before the Jewish high court of the Sanhedrin doesn’t happen until daybreak starting in verse 66. To be punishing someone when he his case is still being tried, is clearly an injustice. Second, Jesus is innocent of the charges against him, and even if they falsely declare him to be guilty, that doesn’t change the fact that he is actually innocent. So, for an innocent man to be beaten like this is another clear injustice.

So then starting in verse 66 we see them when day comes they take Jesus before the official Jewish high court of the Sanhedrin. One injustice that stands out here is that they really don’t have any case to make against him, so that ultimately they have to make their case based solely on his own words. Mark’s account especially brings this out in Mark 14:55-59. There we find that they were seeking out a bunch of witnesses that they could bring against Jesus, but ultimately all they got was false witnesses and even then their testimony didn’t even agree. For example, they got some people to claim he threatened to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, but that was an incorrect and bad misquote of something Jesus had said. So, in our passage we see them resort in verse 67 to question Jesus. Largely, the records of Jesus’ trial show him choosing to remain silent as they brought all their malicious false witnesses and false accusations against him. And so here they try to get him to confess to being the Christ. Interestingly, Jesus does speak here to that question in verse 67. But he basically tells them, that it didn’t make sense to answer them because they were already hardened against him and there is nothing he could say or case he could make that would convince them otherwise. In other words, they had already made up their mind that he was guilty and there was no defense he could give that would convince them otherwise. Surely, this is another injustice; we normally say justice needs to say “innocent until proven guilty,” but they were operating in reverse. And so stepping back then, we see there is an injustice here in that they had obviously arrested him and treated him so badly already when they didn’t even have any credible case to even make against him. When they say in verse 71, “What further testimony do we need, we have heard it with our own lips,” I hear, “Well, we’ve had trouble finding any legitimate witnesses against him, but we don’t need to waste any more time trying to do that; we’ll just use his words against him and declare him guilty.”

So then, there is yet another injustice. They hear him finally acknowledge in verse 70 that he is the Son of God. To clarify, he doesn’t say much in response to their question, but they believe it to be a sufficient affirmation to their question. They ask him if he’s the Son of God, and he basically says “You’ve said it.” But granting them that, realize that they are then declaring him guilty of blasphemy, but the injustice is that they fail to even ask an important question. Yes, Jesus has claimed himself to be the Christ and the Son of God. But the claim in and of itself doesn’t make himself guilty of blasphemy. It would only be blasphemy if Jesus wasn’t the Christ and the Son of God. Then it would be blasphemy. But if he was the Christ and the Son of God, then there is no blasphemy. But you see, they never address that question, but that is the question. And the answer to that question is that Jesus really, truly, was, and is, the Son of God and the Christ. So, it was an injustice to find him guilty of blasphemy.

The last injustice of sorts by the Jewish leadership here that we can point to is when they bring him before Pilate. The evil there is that they change the charge. They know that a religious charge of blasphemy is not going to carry any weight before a Roman judge. But the Roman government didn’t allow the Jewish council to put anyone to death on their own authority. The law of Moses said religious blasphemy was a capital crime, but they have to change the charge when they bring it to Pilate. Look at verse 2 to see the accusations they make to Pilate of Jesus. One of them is that Jesus was forbidding people to pay taxes to Caesar, which is a bold and blatant lie, because Jesus taught exactly the opposite, Luke 20:25. So that is an injustice because they are a false and malicious witness at that point. And then they take Jesus’ affirmation as the Christ and put it in terms of treason, since Jesus as the Christ would be a king. Now, that is true in itself, but it is rather disingenuous of them, one, because Jesus taught his kingdom was not of this world and never spoke of overthrowing Rome, and two, because the Jews themselves hated Caesar as King and didn’t want him as king. But this all just contributes to the injustice of them now being here as malicious witnesses against Jesus.

So then, let us now turn and consider the injustice we see on the part of the Gentile courts here. We might note to start that there is historical evidence of tensions between this Roman procurator Pontus Pilate and the Jews along with tension between Pilate and Rome. So, it has been argued convincingly that Pilate here would have felt pressured to appease the Jews here, based on some of the political tensions. To the degree that such is true, that is also a concern for justice. Judges need to judge cases on their merits and issue punishments that are fitting, and not let external factors sway their decisions.

So then, we see that Jesus comes before Pilate twice here and in between is put on trial in front of Herod. Pilate’s jurisdiction included Judea, whereas Herod’s included Galilee. When Pilate learns that Jesus was a Galilean and that Herod happened to be in Jerusalem at the time, he tries to pass the buck to Herod. He sends Jesus to Herod. And yet by that point, Pilate had already come to conclusion of Jesus’ innocence. It couldn’t ultimately serve justice if Pilate allowed a man he knew to be innocent to continue to be incarcerated.

So then, we see the injustice at Herod’s trial. He doesn’t seem concerned about justice, but about making Jesus “perform” for him. Herod had heard of Jesus’ miracles and was trying to get Jesus to do some sign for him. When Jesus won’t comply, he and his soldiers mock him and send him back. Again, justice would have been to release Jesus, not mock him and send him back to Pilate.

So then, we see that Pilate repeatedly declared that Jesus was innocent. Pilate tried several approaches to get the religious leaders to be satisfied with something less than putting Jesus to death. Even though Pilate says he is innocent, he proposes to them that he can scourge Jesus and then release him, verse 16. And we know from other gospel accounts that the reason Barabbas is referenced in verse 18 is that Pilate also suggested that Jesus could be released following a tradition where a prisoner was released in light of the Jewish Passover holiday, and Pilate suggested Jesus and yet they push back and request this evil Barabbas instead. So, they aren’t satisfied with any of these options presented by Pilate. Sadly then, Pilate ultimately submits to the will of the Jewish leaders and agrees to have Jesus crucified. Again, see the great injustice in this. Pilate knows Jesus doesn’t deserve this, but he gives in to the anger of the Jewish accusers. So, Pilate consents to the injustice of executing an innocent man.

Interestingly, despite this, Pilate here in many ways acts more justly than the Jewish ruling council. Think of the irony and shame in that. Conventional thinking would be that Jews would make more godly judgments than Gentiles, but that is not the case here. Also, conventional wisdom is often to say that it is better to have a council of judges than a single authoritarian judge. Yet here the one pagan judge has a far better sense of justice than this council of supposed godly judges. But in fact, they weren’t godly judges, and therein lies the problem. Indeed, Jesus suffered all these many injustices against them.

In our third point, I’d like now turn to consider the most substantive statement of Jesus recorded in this passage. I refer you to verse 69, where Jesus says, “But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” Realize what that is by Jesus. That is prophecy. Realize the irony there. Moments before his guards had blindfolded him and beat him and told him to prophesy by telling them who was hitting him. He wouldn’t play their game, but then here he does prophesy. He speaks of how he would be sitting at the right hand of God.

The proper interpretation of this is surely that Jesus is prophesying what would soon happen after they put him to death. He would first rise from the dead, and show himself alive, but ultimately ascend up into heaven and be seated at the risen Lord Jesus at the right hand of God. So, this word by Jesus is to speak of his soon exaltation as the Messiah to the throne over all. These words draw from Old Testament messianic prophecy to further make this point. Psalm 110:1, a Messianic psalm, records God telling the Messiah to sit at his right hand until he makes his enemies his footstool. And Daniel 7:13-14 uses the Son of Man language to describe how God has give the Messiah a universal and everlasting kingdom, one where the Messiah will be king over all and forever.

I’d like to remind you as we speak of injustices and human courts today, that in a literal kingdom, i.e. one with a king, it is the king who is the supreme judge. He might have people under him who exercise judgment in a lesser role. But in a monarchy, the king is the chief judge and final arbiter. So then, in America we separate the branches of government into separate judicial, legislative, and executive branches, that is not the case in a monarchy. I hope you understand why I’m pointing this out. Jesus is here sitting under the judgment of these human courts with all their injustices. But his response is to warn them prophetically of how the tables will be soon turned.

This is a theme running throughout Luke’s gospel, the idea that the Son of Man would have to first suffer then enter into his subsequent glories. The Old Testament prophecies spoke of both, the sufferings of the coming Messiah and the glories of the coming Messiah. Luke’s gospel reveals how they are realized in Christ Jesus, first coming the sufferings. Then come the subsequent glories. First, he would have to be rejected by his own, numbered as a transgressor, stricken, smitten, afflicted, and ultimately put to death, even then remaining under the power of death until the third day. In all this, he would simultaneously be bearing God’s wrath for sin in the place of the elect, that he would redeem a people unto himself. But after such suffering, then he was come into his glories as the Messiah King. He would be raised from the dead in power, vindicating himself before all. He would ultimately ascend up into heaven and be seated at the right hand of God, which is the place of highest authority for the God-man Jesus. And he will be coming again in the clouds at the end at which time he will conduct a final trial for all humanity. And any then who have not been saved in his name will be condemned to an eternal punishment.

So then, Jesus gives them a warning here. For the moment, those human courts were entrusted with a degree of judicial authority. Sadly, they failed miserably in that trust, both Jewish and Gentile courts. They failed with one injustice after another. They did not follow due process, they did not establish facts with sufficient testimony, they brought false and malicious witnesses, and they ultimately made false verdicts and thus gave out punishments that were not deserved. So many injustices here, and I can’t help but reduce them to this. The religious leaders accused Jesus of many things and didn’t really care if their accusations could be proved or not. They had already made up their minds on both the verdict and the punishment, and so they pushed forward in these sham of trials to engineer an outcome even though it would come at the expense of justice. But Jesus warns them that soon the tables will be turned and he will be judging the world, and that means he will be judging them. And his justice will be fully just. There will be no injustice on his part. But that means they will be held accountable for all their evils, including the injustices that they have done here against him.

Sadly, they did not respond properly to that warning by Jesus. But it is a warning that comes still to us today. Jesus has already entered into his glory. He is already seated at the right hand of power on high. He reigns now from on high, even as he is working to put all his enemies under his feet. He will yet come in the clouds to usher in the final judgment. All need to find mercy in Jesus so that when he comes in his glory we will not face justice for all our sins. But Jesus holds out to us now that if we confess our sins and turn to him for forgiveness, he will freely give it. Repent today and put your hope in Jesus as your Lord and Savior and he will declare on that day that justice has already been served for your sins – that he paid for them all already on the cross.

Saints of God, one practical application that came to me as I studied this passage is that we live in a culture that is increasingly disregarding principles of justice. Our country and many others have traditionally embraced many principles of justice that are rooted in principles of justice you can trace back to the Bible. But increasingly, it seems our culture is turning away from those timeless principles of justice. As one example, think of what we see so common today in the media, and I have in mind both traditional forms of media and also social media. They might show a snippet of a video, and a bunch of people without any investigation and without all of the evidence rush to make judgments and then speak rather boldly of their judgment. But that is not justice to rob people of due process or for someone to act like someone’s judge when they are not. Or another example is that someone might post a credible-sounding story claiming that they were abused or mistreated by some other person or some other organization, and then a bunch of people rush to offer their condolences to the person and make condemnations of the accused. But that is not justice to only hear one side of the story and not the other – a credible-sounding story is not the same as a justly established and proven story.

When we have studied a passage today full of so much injustices against Jesus, the injustices should make you sick. By application, the many injustices happening in our society should make us sick. Let us get back to timeless principles of things like innocent until proven guilty, and establishing truth through multiple witnesses, and being on guard against malicious witness.

To be fair, I think the current spirit in our society is often a reaction to the fact that too often true victims have not received justice. There are limits to what human courts can do because we are not omniscient and don’t always have enough evidence to convict people. Surely too often victims have not gotten justice and evil people have seemed to get away with it. And yet, if we believe what Jesus says here, we know that they won’t ultimately get away with it. Jesus reigns on high and sees all things. And he will ultimately judge the world with righteousness and equity as the Son of God on high.

Let us then not throw away justice because of the reality of too many injustices in this world. Let us rather have such things push us to seek more justice in this life, and ultimately yearn for the future glory at the day of Christ when there will be no more injustices anymore.


Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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