When Jesus was being questioned before Pilate he responded to the four different questions they asked, but when they began to level accusations against him he “made no response, not even to a single charge” (Matt. 27:14). He answered questions about whether or not he was the king of the Jews but not respond to empty allegations. What does this suggest as to what we should do when we find ourselves being questioned about our faith?
It is important to note that when he answered their valid questions, he did so in a polite and effective way. When asked if he were the king of the Jews he responded, “The words are yours” (Mark 15:2). When Pilate thought he had caught him implying kingship, he said, ”You are the one calling me a king” (John 18:37). But when valid questioning gave way to false accusations Jesus simply did not answer. It is commonly known that an effective gambit in “discussion” (read “arguing”) is to put the other person on the defensive. Suddenly your explanation of why you did or said something turns into a defense against things you didn’t do or say. It seems to work every time and Jesus understood the evil intention of his accusers. He did not respond to a single one of their phony claims against him.
The lesson for us in this story is not to be tricked into defending ourselves when accused falsely about some aspect of our faith. An example might be the claim that we think we are going to heaven because we are such good people. A wrong response would be to list all the many good things we have done in life, as if the number of our good deeds had placed us on the fast track to heaven. Not only would we have been tricked into supporting a false doctrine but we would have wasted time and energy in doing what worked against us. Silence is the answer to that sort of question. At the same time, when given the chance to explain our faith to a nonbeliever we should answer with wisdom and grace. That is what Jesus did. It is a helpful idea to think of him when facing the moral and religious questions of life. What would Jesus do? is still the best question to pose to our self in all those critical moments.
Note: Should you like to read my translation of the gospel of Mark, The Story of Jesus, by Peter, go to: https://www.biblicaltraining.org/introduction/story-of-jesus-peter
It was Peter who supplied Mark with the information for his gospel, so I had Peter do the narration. If you would like a free copy you can download the book as a pdf as well.
Annas had failed in his attempt to successfully question Jesus, so the guards took the accused to the house of Caiaphas the high priest. Peter followed along at some distance but when he arrived he joined the guards around the fire. At one point, a maid of the high priest asked Peter if he were not one of the Jesus group. Peter denied it, and when he was asked for the third time, he swore by God that he did not know the man. Just then as Jesus was being taken through the courtyard, a rooster crowed. Jesus turned and looked Peter “straight in the eye.” Suddenly Peter remembered the words of Jesus that before the cock would crow that very night he would have denied him three times. To have his master look so directly into his eyes, and realizing that he was fully aware of what Peter had done, was simply too much for the Galilean fisherman. He went out and “wept bitterly” (Luke 22:60-61).
What I would like to know is what happened in that moment. What was Jesus “saying” by his direct look into Peter’s eyes? What passed through Peter’s mind just then? What we do know is that Peter broke into tears. The sudden awareness of having denied the One who so recently he had declared to be the very Son of God was more than he could handle. For Peter it was an encounter with reality. He, a believer, had betrayed the One in whom he claimed to bellieve. How could that be? How corrupt is the human heart?
I think several things happened when Jesus looked Peter “straight in the eye.” One is that he wanted his disciple to realize that he knew about his failure to remain true under trial. The failure was not something that could be swept under the rug as though it never happened. Sin needs to be clearly labeled as sin. You have to get it out to get over it. However, it was not a look of condemnation. It had never been a policy of Jesus’ to use shame as a way to achieve his goal. Peter was guilty, that was true, but Jesus wanted him to know that he was not abandoned. The bonds of genuine friendship are not so easily broken. Jesus wanted Peter to understand that while his denial was wrong restoration was his for the asking.
How does this event inform us as we consider our desire to reflect Christ in our life? The two things that stand out to me are first, the willingness not to retaliate, and the desire to restore broken relationships. The two are inseparably joined: Satisfy self (retaliate) and you can’t achieve the other (restoration). Should we not let the other know by our look that their offence against us, although wrong, cannot break the relationship
The temple guards had put Jesus under arrest and taken him to the house of the high priest. When questioned about his teaching, he reminded Annas that his teaching had always been done in the open, so why was he being questioned; they already knew what he taught. At that, a guard slapped Jesus in the face, asking how he dared speak like that to the high priest. Very calmly Jesus asked for evidence that his teaching was not true, and added, “If not, why did you strike me?” (John 18:23). Jesus was then taken to Caiaphas where the high priest and all his cohorts kept trying to trap him into saying something they could use to condemn him. To all their accusations Jesus simply “said nothing” (Matt. 26:73). He did not defend himself.
Once again we see the serenity with which Jesus responded to his accusers. To Annas he provided a simple answer; to Caiaphas and the clerics who had gathered (unlawfully, since it was night) he remained silent. He did not defend himself. In Jesus’ reaction to all of this we see two remarkable characteristics: composure under stress and the willingness not to defend oneself. Both of these run counter to human nature. In times of distress it is especially difficult to maintain the emotional balance that keeps us from doing or saying the wrong thing. When accused, especially if the accusation is false, we rush to our own defense. It is what we do because of who we are. We are made that way. But apparently Jesus had no desire to prove himself before others, especially the ruling class, which at that time was the religious leadership. I have a feeling that in most cases one’s reputation is enhanced by saying nothing. At least it deprives others of the pleasure of displaying their superiority by countering what you said.
It seems to me that both of these qualities are extremely important in the life of the believer. They display a high level of spiritual maturity. It may not be our lot to face false arrest with the potential of death but we do face difficult situations with significant consequences. Certainly a steady hand and a careful tongue will serve not only our own personal interests but the reputation of God as one in whom we may trust. If God is in charge – and we believe he is – then there is nothing in our life in which he is not in some way involved. A personal set back, say . . . sickness or financial loss, need not disturb our trust in him as the One who is always there to help. He didn’t cause it but he can and will, if we let Him, use it for our ultimate benefit.
So, may God grant to each of us the serenity of genuine faith. May our days be spent with a calmness that overcomes our inborn desire to defend ourselves.
The armed guards arrived in Gethsemane, Judas delivered the traitor’s kiss, and Jesus freely answered that he was the one they were looking for. This was too much for Peter so he drew his sword and slashed off the right ear of the servant of the high priest. “Put your sword back where it belongs, ”Jesus instructed. Then he touched and the wound and the ear was restored. Calmly he asked the guards why they hadn’t come for him during the day when he was preaching daily in the temple – and the disciples fled in terror.
What strikes me is the incredible composure of the man who just a few hours before was in deep anguish as he committed himself to the Father’s will of death on a cross. The disciples fled for their life, one of them stark naked, having lost his robe in the struggle. What is there here that can help us live in a way that will reflect Christ, especially in terms of the aftermath of a difficult emotional ordeal? In this series on learning from what Jesus did (as over against what he taught) we have taken the position that Jesus lived his incarnate life as one of us, as a fully human person. This means that he did not draw on his divinity to perform miracles but relied solely on the power of the Holy Spirit. In Gethsemane he had just made his ultimate commitment to the Father’s plan. Now he is calm and handles the immediate concerns as though they were normal affairs. How did he manage that?
It seems that the secret of his composure was the completeness of his commitment. Had he come from the garden with any uncertainty it would not have been possible. So we learn from him the importance of a complete acceptance of God’s will for our life no matter what. Our decision is made; we will carry out exactly what God wants, no exceptions. This provides a wonderful sereneness that allows us to do in a calm and confident manner whatever is the next thing. For Jesus it was going through the incredibly dark experience of Calvary; for us, the next difficult trial.
The account of Jesus and his crucial prayer in Gethsemane is for me the most deeply moving episode in the life of Christ. It was there, after pleading with the Father to take away the cup of suffering, that he yielded to his destiny as the Sacrificial Lamb, saying, “May it be your will that is done, not mine” (Mark 14:36 and parallels). This final commitment followed a time of “deep distress” that rolled over him like a great wave, and “fervent prayer” that caused his sweat to fall to the ground like heavy drops of blood. To exacerbate the incredibly difficult situation he found that upon returning to where his disciples were stationed, he found them sleeping. This happened three times. Against this background we see Jesus admonishing them rather gently while supplying as an excuse for their failure to stay awake, “Man’s spirit is willing, but human nature is weak.” After the last return he added, in what appears to be a rather normal tone, “Rouse yourselves! Let’s be going. Look, here comes my betrayer” (Matt, 26:46).
What captures my attention in the story is that after such a crucial time of testing (no one will ever fathom the depths of Jesus’ commitment to bear our sins) Jesus displays an emotional composure that is calm and remarkably balanced. Subsequent events relate how he discussed with those who came to arrest him their reason for picking that particular place and moment, how he healed the servant’s ear that had been slashed by Peter’s impulsive sword, and how he turned himself over to the authorities as his disciples fled. He was in complete control. Having made that final acceptance of the Father’s will seemed to grant him complete composure for the events that were soon to happen.
Obviously, you and I will never have an experience like that, but it is true that once our faith has turned into conviction a great calmness will cover our days as well. Instead of worried adjustments for every minor issue of daily life we will be able to accept whatever the day holds with a serenity not unlike what we see in the Gethsemane encounter. If God is in control of our life, what happens will be part of that plan and his plans for each of us are the best of all possibilities. There is no need to be anxious because we are no longer responsible for what happens, only for how we react to them. Living like that reflects the way Jesus lived.
After the Farewell Discourse (John 14-17) the group in the upper room sang the Passover hymn and Jesus went out “as was his custom” to the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:39). The phrase in the Greek text refers to “a usual or customary manner of behavior, a habit” (BDAG). That it is included, calls attention to the fact that on this occasion Jesus did what he always did, that is, he moved from the center of attention to a place where he could gather his thoughts and open his heart in prayer. His disciples followed him, but Peter’s strident defense of his live-or-die commitment to Jesus was certainly out of place as they walked to Gethsemane.
What I want to stress is that times for serious reflection were a customary part of Jesus’ life. He went to the Mount of Olives because it was customary (not necessarily the place but the purpose for going). We know that customs are helpful or not depending on what the custom is. On this occasion Jesus left the upper room to meet with his Father. It was what he did on a regular basis. For us to reflect Christ in our lives we should have that same customary practice. Ideally that custom should simply reflect what we do, but what if it isn't our practice?
It seems clear that if our lives don’t have the custom of regular times alone with the Father the next best thing would be to develop the habit. So how do we go about that? The most important ingredient in developing the habit is a genuine desire to become all that God desires for us. It requires a lot of “want to.” Lackadaisical commitment leaves us at ground zero. There will be no habitual practice apart from an ardent desire to make it a reality. The upside of this is that as the custom develops it becomes easier to maintain. Soon a day will seem strange if that encounter has not happened. We recognize the importance of relationships on a human basis. I’m not sure whether or not “absence makes the heart grow fonder” but I do know that life deprived of significant relationships is a miserable way to live. And for the Christian, a life lived where contact with one’s heavenly companion is sporadic is not the joyful experience it was meant to be. The old adage of “being too worldly to enjoy God and too spiritual to enjoy the world” is all too customary in many lives.
My suggestion is to develop – if it’s not already operative – the practice of regular time alone with God. Whether it is on our knees in a quiet place or out for a walk in the park doesn’t matter. What does is that the practice of enjoying the day with our Father is a vital part of every day.
As Jesus was sharing the Passover meal with his disciples he became profoundly disturbed in spirit. He let it be known that one of them would betray him. The disciples were stunned by his words and in their confusion looked around at one another asking, “Lord, It couldn’t be me, could it?” Jesus then said that he would dip a piece of bread in the sauce and give it to one of them. That would be the one who would betray him. Jesus held the bread before Judas and in a tone I suspect was both gentle and firm, told him to go ahead with what he intended to do. I can imagine a long pause before Judas accepted the bread and then, quickly leaving the room, went out into the dark night (Mark 14:18-21) and parallels).
It was certainly with great personal anguish that Jesus watched one of his own disciples turn against him. They had all been so close for three years. Jesus did not berate him or accuse him for the coming act of betrayal. Very quietly, but very directly, he answered Judas’ “Is it I?” with “It is just as you have said.” By his gentle manner, Jesus was making it easier for Judas to change his mind and not follow through with his act of betrayal. When that did not happen, he had no option but to let the truth be known. Jesus had done everything he could to prevent Judas from carrying out a plan devised by Satan.
To display such a remarkable quality of character in the contemporary world is not easy. When faced by someone who intends to harm us the natural response is to take the initiative and harm him first. The way Jesus reacted suggests that it would have been better. We could have waited in quietness as the act began to unfold, praying that God would bring to our assailant’s mind the sinfulness of what he intended to do. Strength of character is not measured by how vociferously we defend our reputation. If we are living in love – and we must be if we are living a Christ-like life – we will relate to those who would ham us exactly as Jesus did that night in the upper room.
But, you say, that’s beyond our ability. And you are right. Scripture has never counseled us to live the spiritual life in our own power. There is an immeasurable difference between the two levels. The good news is that God has supplied us with the power to live as Christ did. The Holy Spirit dwells within and is fully capable of providing the strength to meet every challenge.