10. Jesus before the High Priest
Scripture: Matthew 26:57-68
57 Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. 58 But Peter followed him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end.59 Now the chief priests and the whole council sought false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61 and said, “This fellow said, `I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.'” 62 And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 63 But Jesus was silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his robes, and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” 67 Then they spat in his face, and struck him; and some slapped him, 68 saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?”
Jesus was cross-examined by the high priest and the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of the Jews. The high priest by law was required to wait until morning before he could call the Sanhedrin to try Jesus. In their eagerness to eliminate Jesus they did not hesitate to break their own rules for a fair trial and they used false witnesses. Jesus’ captors also used mockery and physical intimidation to trip up his testimony. They hoped he would say something they could use as evidence of criminal action. When they pressed Jesus for his claim to be the Christ (or Messiah in Hebrew) and the Son of God, he did not deny it but stated simply, “I am”. They understood the claim to be the Son of God an insult to God’s majesty and therefore blasphemy, which was punishable by death.
Jesus bore ill-treatment, mockery, and the charge of blasphemy with peace and confidence. In faith he knew beyond a doubt that what men would try to do to him could not thwart the purposes of God. The cross would lead to ultimate triumph over sin and death and God’s kingdom would prevail over the forces of evil and Satan. Is your faith and hope securely anchored in Christ’s victory on the cross?
“Lord Jesus, you willingly suffered and died for our sake and for our salvation. You took upon yourself the burden of our guilt and the punishment due to our sins. Strengthen my faith and help me in my trials that I may never deny you or forsake your ways.”
11. Peter denies Jesus
Scripture: Matthew 26:69-75
69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a maid came up to him, and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” 71 And when he went out to the porch, another maid saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 And again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” 73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” 74 Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the cock crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
How can faith be sustained in adversity? Peter was one of the two disciples who had the courage to follow Jesus in his passion. John was with Jesus when he hung upon the cross at Golgatha. Peter’s courage, however, gave way to fear, fear for his own life. Peter was overconfident in his own strength and now he must pay the price for his own disloyalty and denial of the Lord Jesus. Peter, after all, had been warned by his Master that temptation would come and he would fail the test.
Mark in his Gospel account records that Peter “broke down and wept” when he remembered Jesus’ prediction that he would deny his Master. Unlike Judas who killed himself because his shame was devoid of any hope for forgiveness and restoration, Peter’s grief was filled with sorrow for offending his Lord. When you meet temptation and failure, do you give in to despair and self-pity or do you turn to Jesus for the grace of restoration and beginning anew?
“Lord Jesus, you willingly suffered and died for our sake and for our salvation. You took upon yourself the burden of our guilt and the punishment due to our sins. Strengthen my faith and help me in my trials that I may never deny you nor forsake you.”
12. Judas hangs himself
Scripture: Matthew 27:1-10
1 When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death; 2 and they bound him and led him away and delivered him to Pilate the governor. 3 When Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5 And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. 6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.” 7 So they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. 8 Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”
Why did Judas end his life in tragedy? When Judas betrayed his Master, he very likely did not intend to cause him bodily harm. He may have thought that Jesus’ arrest would be the catalyst that would make Jesus “wake up” and use his divine power to liberate the Jewish people from Roman rule. He must have been bitterly disappointed that Jesus refused to use his favor with the people for leading an uprising against Rome. Now Judas is bitterly disappointed with himself because his betrayal has resulted in Jesus’ condemnation by the chief religious authorities. His “repentance” however contains no trust in forgiveness nor mercy. He recognizes the horror of his deed and how much evil it has caused. And he knows that it is impossible to undo what he has done. That is always the way with sin. We mostly choose sin because we think it will somehow make us happy. But after we recognize the consequences of our choice, we regret the wrong and wish it could be undone.
Judas returned the ransom, a small sum of money for such a deed, to the Temple priests. Their refusal to take it back makes Judas violently throw it into the Temple. Judas publicly admitted his guilt: “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” And his next act is to publicly condemn himself by committing violent suicide. Judas took matters into his own hands by handing Jesus over to his enemies. Now he takes matters into his own hands again by handing himself over to despair and the destruction of his body. Perhaps he thought that self-inflicted death would put an end to living with a guilty conscience.
Unlike Peter, who also denied his Master, but then repents and seeks forgiveness, Judas regrets his sin but closes the door to seeking peace and pardon with God. Despair is an ally of pride. It cannot see beyond the misery, pain, and grief of self to the possibility of pardon, peace, and restoration of friendship with God and neighbor. Judas could have chosen to not end his life in despair. He would have found his Risen Master ready to give him peace and pardon. And he would have likely died a martyr’s death as did most of the other apostles who shed their blood for their Master. When you are tempted to doubt and despair, do you turn to the Lord for his help and grace?
“Lord Jesus, may I never despair of your merciful love and forgiveness. Whenever I stumble or fail to do your will, give me the courage to call on your name and receive your pardon and grace to change.”
Top image of Jesus brought to Caiaphas the high priest, watercolor illustration by James Tissot, image in the public domain. See The Life of Christ Illustrated by James Tissot: An Artist with a Burning Compulsion to Paint the Narrative Story of the Bible.
Don Schwager is the editor of Living Bulwark and author of the Daily Scripture Reading and Meditation website. He is a lay religious brother and life-time member of the Servants of the Word.