Sermon: By What Standard? 「何の基準によってさばかれる」
Text: Matt. 26:55-68
In verses 47-55 we read how Jesus was arrested by “a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and elders.” He was arrested, even though there were no charges against Him. He was brought that same night before the “religious court” of the Jewish people—the Sanhedrin—made up of chief priests, scribes, and elders. And by that court Jesus the Christ, Savior of the world, was convicted! Immediately, without any defense or appeal, Jesus was treated with contempt and physical abuse. Early the next morning He was sent in chains to the Roman governor to be sentenced to execution. But what were His crimes? Why was Jesus condemned? By what standard was He judged and found guilty? Both the arrest and the trial of Jesus were manifestly unjust. We can see unjustice every day in our own lives, too. Behind every act of injustice there lies this simple fact: Man does not follow a righteous “standard.” Even the most respected of human judges does not judge by a righteous standard. Often we judge ourselves by one standard; we judge friends by a different standard; and we judge strangers and enemies by yet another standard. A man judges according to the standard he personally adopts, or else he blindly follows a standard which others have set. But because a certain standard is adopted by a society does not guarantee that it is a righteous standard.
Jesus was judged and unjustly condemned by a court of religious leaders in Israel. Today I want to think about the standard used by those who condemned Jesus. Then I want to consider the standard that Jesus Himself followed. Finally, we will consider the standard we ourselves live by. By what standard are we called to live?
II. The Standard By Which Jesus Christ Was Judged
A. Man’s Power. Jesus was arrested by a crowd of men who carried swords and clubs. Jesus Himself told His disciples they must not use physical force to defend Him. “Those who take up the sword will die by the sword,” He said. But the leaders of the Jewish Sanhedrin court believed in the use of power to enforce their will. They were afraid of the multitudes who surrounded Jesus in the Temple during the day, but they boldly came to Jesus in the dark of night and arrested Him then. It is clear that the Sanhedrin judged men according to the standard of a man’s power. They would attack the weak, but never the strong! There are many people today who follow this same standard for judging others. Power determines their course of action (what they will do). Nations readily follow this standard: rich and powerful nations establish the rules which weak and poor nations must follow! Power determines what is “right.” That was the first standard that the Sanhedrin followed in their judgment of Jesus. When He was surrounded by only a small handful of disciples, they gathered their own strength and attacked Him, while He seemed weak.
B. Man’s Passions. The chief priests and scribes were determined to put Jesus to death. Matthew writes in v. 59, “The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put Him to death.” They had arrested Him with no charges and no evidence of any crimes Jesus had committed, and they were determined to kill Him. But why? The best answer, I think, is that they were filled with anger and hatred toward Jesus. They believed that Jesus was a threat to them. The Jews had once honored and respected them. But now they followed this “Nobody” from Galilee! And Jesus had exposed their pride and their hypocrisy. He had said that Isaiah had prophesied concerning them, saying, “These people honor Me with their lips. But their hearts are far from Me. They worship Me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” (15:8-9) He had called them “blind guides” and said even worse things about them. Of course, what Jesus had said was all true, but that was not the issue. They were angry and their pride was wounded. Now at last, these leaders had Jesus in their power, and they judged him according to their personal feelings. Their passions told them He should die, so He must die! It was not justice that they sought, but revenge. Even the Roman governor saw their true motive. Matthew says in 27:18 that, “Pilate knew that it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.” So the religious leaders of Israel judged and condemned Jesus because they judged Him by their emotions—their anger and their jealousy—rather than by any righteous standard. Their condemnation of Jesus was totally unjust, but how many people make decisions just like the Sanhedrin did! How many are ruled by their passions rather than by truth and a desire for justice!
C. Man’s Prejudice. The religious leaders put on a “show” of a legal trial, but it was not based on evidence or on truth. Their judgment was already decided even before a word had been spoken in the trial. When a judgment is given without any evidence, or is supported only by lies and false testimony, the word for such a judgment in English is “prejudice.” It means “to condemn beforehand” or without evidence. That word certainly describes what the Sanhedrin did. They actively sought false testimony against Jesus. When they failed to find useful lies, the high priest Caiaphas demanded that Jesus Himself give them some statement that they could use against Him. So he asked Jesus, “Are You the Messiah, the Son of God?” And Jesus, under solemn oath replied, “You have said so. But I say to all of you: From now on, you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (v. 64) At that point, the high priest “tore his clothes,” as if he were outraged, but he was secretly delighted that he now had testimony that he could use against Jesus. Jesus did not speak any blasphemy. He said that He was the Messiah, or Christ, the Son of God. But, as Jesus had explained in John 1:34, even the Scriptures had called the leaders in Israel “gods,” in a certain sense. If Jesus had been asked to explain His words, He could have avoided any charge of blasphemy. But the high priest and his fellow priests and elders were not interested in knowing the truth. They only wanted an “appearance of legality,” so that they could condemn Jesus. Jesus had quoted Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13 as prophesies that He would fulfill. So now the high priest cried out, “He has blasphemed! We don’t need any witnesses. You have heard the blasphemy. What is your judgment?” Immediately they all shouted for Jesus’ blood. “He deserves to die!” They all began to spit in Jesus’ face, to beat Him with their fists, slap His face, and mock Him. The result of this trial was violence and chaos and injustice. But the outcome was no surprise, because the court had decided their verdict before any evidence had been heard! From the beginning, this was a judgment based on power, on passions, and on prejudice, not upon any righteous standard of judgment.
III. Jesus’ Standard of Judgment
But the judgment we see exercised by Jesus contrasts sharply with that of Israel’s religious leaders. From the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is introduced as the Son of David—the promised Messiah who will rule over the kingdom of God in this world. The role of the king has many faces, but one of the most important is the establishment of true justice. Christ has come into the world to establish righteousness as the basis of all judgment. The
kingdom of God will bring justice for all people. Remember the prophecy of Isaiah 9:6-7: “For unto us a child will be born; unto us a son will be given. And the government will rest upon his shoulders; and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of his government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore.” Again in Isaiah 1:27, “Zion will be redeemed with justice, and her repentant ones with righteousness.”
But how will the Messiah accomplish this necessary task? Not by brute force! Listen again to the words of Isaiah: (42:1-4) “Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry out or raise His voice, nor make His voice heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not be disheartened or crushed, until He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.” This is the work that Christ came to do in this dismal world where injustice and tyranny often seem to win! He came to establish justice and righteousness, and He will not give up until it is done! But how will He do it?
He will establish God’s standard of righteousness in this world by doing three things: First, He will live by God’s righteous standard Himself. He will live by God’s Word as His only, infallible rule for faith and life. He will fulfill all righteousness by keeping God’s Law perfectly. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). “There is none righteous, not even one” (Psa. 14:1). But that was before Christ entered this world. He is the Righteous One! ). The dream vision of Daniel 7:13-14 is often quoted in connection with the victorious enthronement of Jesus Christ. But the first amazing thing about that prophetic vision is that “One like a Son of Man” is able to come confidently before “the Ancient of Days” without being destroyed! Any other “son of man” would have been instantly destroyed by the “consuming fire” of God’s holiness. But when Christ comes before the eternal throne of God the Father, this “Son of Man” is “presented before Him. And to Him is given dominion, glory, and a kingdom … which will not pass away.” Christ is perfect in holiness because He has lived by God’s Word all His life. Secondly, Christ will offer Himself as payment for the sins of others! There is no one else who could do what He volunteered to do—to stand in our place: the “Righteous One” taking the place of the unrighteous many. Only such a Righteous One can redeem anyone else! He died, so that “by His wounds, we might be made whole” (Isa. 53:5). Thirdly, Christ establishes a righteous standard on earth by spreading the Gospel of His kingdom to all the peoples of the earth. That work is still going on. Listen again to God’s promise given through the prophet Isaiah (2:3-4): “For the law will go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war.”
What should we learn from all of this? First, that there is such a thing as true justice and righteousness. The modern world has so spurned God and His Law that it no longer remembers what righteousness is! Righteousness is not all “relative.” There is true righteousness and absolute righteousness. We have only a dim reflection of that true righteousness of God remaining in our human conscience. God is the “gold standard” of truth and right. Do not be confused about this! Righteousness is revealed to us in the law of God. It is not settled by the vote of the people. Righteousness is not established by a democratic process! It is revealed to us in God’s word—the Scriptures–and it has been shown to us by Jesus Christ the Righteous.
Secondly, God’s righteousness will never be established in the world until people realize the futility of seeking their own standard of “right.” Man’s own righteousness will always be self-centered, and pursuing self-interest always creates conflict, not justice. Until we repent of our own flawed standards of righteousness and acknowledge God’s righteousness, we will never have real peace. Until mankind turns to the righteousness shown by Christ, there will be no peace or justice on earth. The Prince of Peace is the Righteous Son of Man “who humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Philip. 2:8)!
Finally, God’s people are the key to establishing the standard of God’s word as the basis for real justice in the world. The standard of righteousness given to us is the word of God contained in the Old and New Testaments. If Christians do not follow the standard of God’s word as their “only infallible rule for faith and life,” the world around us certainly will not do so. Judgment and justice begin with the house of God. As we gather to share in the Lord’s Supper we claim for ourselves the righteousness of Christ alone for our salvation. As we go out from here today, let’s show to the world what the righteousness of Christ looks like! Neither power, nor passions, nor prejudice will establish justice. It is only Christ in us that can do that. Christ in us brings us peace, righteousness, and eternal glory.