Week Six of 40 Days through Mark’s Good News
Mark 14:53–72—Jesus and Peter on trial
53 Jesus was led to the high priest’s home where the leading priests, other leaders, and teachers of religious law had gathered. 54 Meanwhile, Peter followed far behind and then slipped inside the gates of the high priest’s courtyard. For a while he sat with the guards, warming himself by the fire. 55 Inside, the leading priests and the entire high council were trying to find witnesses who would testify against Jesus, so they could put him to death. But their efforts were in vain. 56 Many false witnesses spoke against him, but they contradicted each other. 57 Finally, some men stood up to testify against him with this lie: 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this Temple made with human hands, and in three days I will build another, made without human hands.’” 59 But even then they didn’t get their stories straight! 60 Then the high priest stood up before the others and asked Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” 61 Jesus made no reply. Then the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the blessed God?” 62 Jesus said, “I am, and you will see me, the Son of Man, sitting at God’s right hand in the place of power and coming back on the clouds of heaven.” 63 Then the high priest tore his clothing to show his horror and said, “Why do we need other witnesses? 64 You have all heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?” And they all condemned him to death. 65 Then some of them began to spit at him, and they blindfolded him and hit his face with their fists. “Who hit you that time, you prophet?” they jeered. And even the guards were hitting him as they led him away. 66 Meanwhile, Peter was below in the courtyard. One of the servant girls who worked for the high priest 67 noticed Peter warming himself at the fire. She looked at him closely and then said, “You were one of those with Jesus, the Nazarene.” 68 Peter denied it. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, and he went out into the entryway. Just then, a rooster crowed 69 The servant girl saw him standing there and began telling the others, “That man is definitely one of them!” 70 Peter denied it again. A little later some other bystanders began saying to Peter, “You must be one of them because you are from Galilee.” 71 Peter said, “I swear by God, I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and cried.
Points of Interest:
- ‘to the high priest’s home’—As you might imagine, criminal trials were not usually held in the middle of the night. They were also not held in the high priest’s home, but in the temple. The high council is indeed the proper authority to judge such a case, but having the trial at night and in the priest’s home clearly shows that they have something to hide.
- ‘many false witnesses’—Falsely testifying is breaking one of the 10 Commandments. They are breaking one of the commandments, by falsely testifying, so that they can break another, by killing a man. Moses says in Deuteronomy 19:16-19 that if a witness is proven false on cross-examination, the witness should be considered guilty of the crime of which he has accused the defendant. These witnesses fall apart even in front of a friendly cross-examination in a kangaroo court, but the council merely moves on to the next false witness.
- ‘Jesus made no reply’—The high priest asks him to answer ‘these charges,’ but no coherent charges have even been made. All he has heard are a series of contradictions and lies. No reply is the most appropriate reply to no charges. Jesus is also fulfilling prophecy here. In one of the most famous prophecies about the Messiah, the prophet Isaiah says, ‘He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth’ (Isaiah 53:7).
- ‘I am, and you will see me, the Son of Man, sitting at God’s right hand in the place of power and coming back on the clouds of heaven’—When Jesus finally had a charge to which he could respond, he doesn’t hesitate to answer. Jesus doesn’t simply answer ‘yes or no.’ He answers, ‘Yes, Yes, resoundingly Yes.’ By saying, ‘I am,’ he is not simply answering their question, he is also making an oblique, but clearly recognizable, claim to divinity: when Moses asks God what his name is, God replies, ‘Tell them that I AM sent you’ (Exodus 3:14). His further words about sitting at the right hand of God and returning on the clouds are references to Messianic prophecies in Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13-14 (Jesus quotes these verses earlier in ch. 12:36—last Wednesday—and ch. 13:26—last Thursday). With these references, he is telling the priest two things:
- He is in fact the Messiah;
- and there will come a time when Jesus will be the judge.
- ‘tore his clothing’—a sign of repentance or mourning, and the usual response to hearing a great blasphemy.
- ‘they all condemned him to death’—They condemn him to death for speaking the truth. The claim itself is enough for them to kill him. They never even bother to assess whether or not it is true.
- ‘Who hit you that time, you prophet?’—They mock his claims to prophesy by asking him to discern who hit him. Ironically, by doing so, they are actually fulfilling one of his prophecies: in chapter 10, he said, ‘When we get to Jerusalem, the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans. 34 They will mock him, spit on him, beat him with their whips, and kill him, but after three days he will rise again.’ They think they are mocking a false prophet, but all they are doing is proving him true.
- ‘I swear by God, I don’t know this man’—While Jesus is on trial in front of the high priest inside, Peter is on trial in front of a serving girl outside. Jesus speaks the truth even though he knows they will kill him for it. Peter lies in order to save his life. In fact, Peter breaks two of the 10 commandments in order to dissociate himself from Jesus: he bears false witness, and he takes the Lord’s name in vain. Earlier this evening, Peter declared, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will not deny you.’ By the end of the night, he has completely reversed it: ‘Even if I have to deny, I will not die with you.’ Jesus had spent the night in preparation for his trial in prayer; Peter fell asleep. Peter had enough guts on his own power to sneak into the courtyard of the high priest, but his courage failed when it came to the real test: he needed the Holy Spirit to give him the right words here.
Taking it Home:
- For you: Peter breaks down and cries, because he recognizes that he is not able to do what he wants to do. It is not that Peter was lying earlier in the evening: he did really want to die with Jesus rather than betray him. But by the end of the night, he has gotten in over his head. When Peter hears the rooster crow, he has a flashing insight into his own utter failure to follow Jesus. Have you ever had a heartbreaking recognition of your failure to follow Jesus? At this moment, Peter probably thinks he has lost Jesus forever. The good news is Jesus’ words, which don’t fade away even when heaven and earth do, last beyond our failures. He has told Peter, ‘I will make you fish for people.’ He has told Peter that he knows Peter will deny him, but he will still be waiting for him. Jesus is not done with Peter yet; he will in the end make Peter into the disciple Peter really wants to be. Jesus is also not done with you, despite your failures. He has words for you, plans for you, and promises for you. Bring your failures before Jesus, and turn back to him even in the midst of them. He will give you the power to follow him and find life.
- For your 6: In many ways, Jesus is still on trial. All sorts of false claims are made about Jesus, and by the power of the evil one these false accusations are still heard and believed despite their contradictions and flaws. People claim that Jesus never claimed to be God (a claim this passage faces head-on). They claim that he was just a good teacher. They claim that he never rose from the dead. Ask the Holy Spirit to give your 6 the insight to see through these false claims.
- For our church: Like Peter, our church has grand aspirations to follow Jesus. Like Peter, we are far too weak to do it ourselves. Ask God to preserve us by his power and in his mercy from complete failure. Pray that we will always have the strength to turn back when we fall away.