Date: February 18, 1940
The high priest arose and said unto Him, Answerest Thou nothing? What is it which these witness against Thee? But Jesus held His peace. And the high priest answered and said unto Him, I adjure Thee by the living God that Thou tell us whether Thou be the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said. – Matthew 26:62-64
Blessed Lord Jesus, who on the cross didst suffer agony and endure shame for us and our sins:
Help us by Thy Spirit not only to behold in Thy suffering and crucifixion the sorrow of Thine anguish, the hatred of mankind, Thy faithfulness unto that bitter end; give us also penitent, trusting hearts to find at Calvary the endless love that redeems us from sin, the limitless face that atones for our iniquities. By the contemplation of this cross may we daily draw nearer to Thee, to heaven and it, eternal life. Amid the swirling floods of our afflictions give us the courageous faith that builds its strength and stability on Thee, our everlasting Rock of Ages, the hope that clings the more resolutely to Thy grace the higher the waters of agony rise upon us! O Christ, hear us now and mightily prove Thy power for Thy mercy’s sake! Amen.
FRIENDS of a New Jersey detective who recently died in the penitentiary are urging the President of the United States to overrule the court verdict of “guilty” and restore the dead man’s good name. During his long career, they point out, he faithfully served the interests of law and order; and the misstep near the end of his life, his attempt to solve a kidnap case by kidnapping a suspect, should not forever brand him a criminal.
In reading of this proposal during these Lenten days, many Christians doubtless have recalled a real miscarriage of justice—the most shocking mistake in legal history, the sentence that sent Jesus Christ, the innocent Savior of all men, to the cross. One can understand why certain prominent Jews have suggested that their coreligionists throughout the world choose official representatives to declare the trial of Christ before the great Jewish Council completely illegal.
No doubt should linger in any modern mind that the account of this hearing before the churchmen of Jerusalem is faithfully described in our four gospels. Dr. Simon Greenleaf, former professor of law at Harvard University and the greatest authority on evidence the legal profession of any country or age has ever produced, has shown in a remarkable book that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John must be admitted as competent and true witnesses. Again, no one is justified in claiming that the verdict of “guilty” pronounced by Christ’s countrymen was not decisive, since Pilate was the ultimate authority. If the high priest and his henchmen had not conspired to brand Jesus a blasphemer, a criminal, who must be executed, there would have been no Roman trial. Humanly speaking, no Caiaphas, no Calvary; no high-priestly hatred, no high-priestly selfsacrifice by Jesus; no cross-examination after that first hearing by Annas, no cross-bearing after the final hearing by Pilate!
Because Jesus is still on trial before the modern world, every member of this far-flung radio audience, either for Christ or—may God forbid!—against Him, must find comfort or condemnation in this courtroom scene. Come, then, as we proceed in our Lenten meditation from the Garden of Gethsemane to the palace of Caiaphas! Behold with us for our warning and our comfort
We take our text from Saint Matthew’s account (chapter 26, verses 62-64): “The high priest arose and said unto Him, Answerest Thou nothing? What is it which these witness against Thee? But Jesus held His peace. And the high priest answered and said unto Him, I adjure Thee by the living God that Thou tell us whether Thou be the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said.”
You may recall that it was about two o’clock on Friday morning when the Jewish Council was hastily convened at Caiaphas’ palace, where the Savior was to be reexamined, after the private hearing before the ex-high priest, Annas. Who constituted the court which was to pronounce the verdict that finally meant life or death for Jesus? If you picture this Council as a group of godless men, sworn enemies of religion, a “kangaroo court” impaneled by politicians and from city gangs, revise your opinion! This was a blue-ribbon jury, an assembly of Jerusalem’s noteworthy citizens: teachers, merchants, and professional men. Every one of the seventy who voted in that Sanhedrin was a respected community leader; and the seventy-first ballot was cast by the pinnacle of Jewish society, the high priest himself!
Nineteen centuries of Gospel history have not drastically changed the spirit of those who today sit in judgment on our Lord. The charge has always been raised that the Church’s roster contains “not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble.” While we can never sufficiently thank God that among the public defenders of our Lord Jesus in this country we number some of the nation’s foremost physicians, business men, scientists, statesmen, industrialists, artists, the rank and file of Christian membership comes from the middle and lower classes. Write that down, you agitators who label the Church an institution for the wealthy! It is the ever-repeated tragedy that too many of the rich forget God and destroy themselves with their own money. No wonder Martin Luther thanked God that he had been born poor! Most men, basking in the warm rays of fame, begin to worship their own bloated bigness, despise the Almighty, and neglect their fellow-men. Only few show a humility like the Duke of Wellington’s. At a Communion service it happened that a poor old man knelt beside him to receive the Sacrament. When one of the church officers hastily urged the shabbily dressed communicant to move away from the Duke, the alert eye of the strategist who had defeated Napoleon at Waterloo immediately grasped the situation, and in an undertone Wellington whispered: “Do not move! We are all equal here.” Most men when they have climbed the highest rungs in the ladder of power, are poisoned by the same pride that in the end made Nebuchadnezzar crawl on his hands and feet to eat grass. True, one or two members of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, were at least secret disciples of Jesus; but why were they not heard in this special session? In charity we may assume with most commentators that they were elsewhere. What tragic absence! Had their voices been raised in our Lord’s defense, they would be honored as brave witnesses for the crucified Savior.
Who conducted the cross-examination after the previous, private trial? Again, do not think of a heartless, corrupt lawyer, who would sell his own soul if the price offered were high enough. As utterly incredible as this may seem, the prosecuting lawyer and at the same time the judge in this life-and-death case was supposed to be of the most blameless character, the most exemplary life in Israel, God’s high priest, the privileged mediator between Jehovah and His people, the chosen servant of the Most High who supervised the Temple, its sacrifices and treasures, the one priest who was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies. Yet this Caiaphas, who wore a triple crown of gold, bearing the inscription, “Holiness to Jehovah,” was anything but holy. It was he who, long before this trial, had foreshadowed his plan to kill Jesus by declaring publicly, “It is expedient for us that one man should die for the people and that the whole nation perish not.” He, together with many ordinary priests, Sadducees, most of them, were the Modernists of that day, who denied not only the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting but also the sinfulness of man and his need of salvation. Well might the trial of Jesus before Caiaphas have borne the title, “Jesus Christ versus the Hierarchy,” “Christ against the Church Leaders.”
The hardest struggle in the Savior’s cause today is not the Church’s battle with the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism, not the counter-attack against the Communist blasphemy, not the campaign of street-corner anarchists and parlor radicals, but the conflict within the churches themselves. The word “Christian” has become one of the most misused terms in the English language. Give a preacher a building with stained-glass windows, an organ, and perhaps an altar; let him, garbed in clerical robes, step into a pulpit, and no matter what he says or does, he can pass as a Christian. He may deny every fundamental truth and even hold Scriptural promises up to public ridicule, but in the minds of the masses he is a Christian. What is of more serious consequence, Modernists lay strenuous claim to this title. If the United States Government takes definite measures to copyright trade names and prohibit their abuse, it is certainly proper that the Biblical forces of this country should protest against the deceptive use of their Savior’s name.
What a deadly parallel often exists between the leading churchmen of the Savior’s time and the powers that be in some denominations today! Christ’s enemies rejected God’s Word; in our time ministers write imposing books to disprove Bible truth. The first-century Sadducees denied the Judgment and the life to come; our twentieth-century Sadducees teach the same delusion and try to hide its hopelessness under catch phrases of double meaning. The Savior’s opponents were the Jewish church-leaders; and now, too, it seems that the way to commanding positions in certain religious sectors is to put a question-mark behind every promise of God. Caiaphas was appointed high priest by the Roman governor who preceded Pontius Pilate; the 1940 Sadducees are often put into strategic positions by American wealth and elite society. The Council which examined Jesus enjoyed the support of public influence. Look at your daily newspapers to see whose sermons receive publicity, those of the consecrated pastor who preaches the cross and the blood and the new life, or of the Modernist who extols the goodness and greatness of man. That Jewish Council was so intolerant that it provided no attorney for Christ’s defense; and the same brand of bigotry is betrayed by certain present-day church councils which take deliberate steps to bar programs like ours from the air and to stifle the testimony to the saving Blood. These seventy Sanhedrists conspired to destroy Christ; there are seven times seventy with imposing official authority dedicated to the unholy task of substituting a counterfeit message for the Gospel of golden hope.
Consider also the despicable tactics employed by the Savior’s murderers and the complete violation of the legal codes that marked their hatred. “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” the Law of their God demands; but the priests, the very men who were to uphold truth, planned the perjury of bribed witnesses. “Be not a sole judge!” the Talmud declares; yet Christ was examined before Annas alone. “Let a capital offense be tried during the day but suspended at night!”—these are the very words of Jewish law; but so viciously did they hate Jesus that it was about two o’clock in the morning when He was summoned before His persecutors. “Thou shalt not judge on the eve of the Sabbath nor on that of any festival!” the Talmudic regulations require; yet Jesus was tried on a day that was both festival and pre-Sabbath. “If a sentence of death is to be pronounced, it cannot be concluded before the following day”—thus, literally, does Jewish procedure prohibit haste; but within hardly twelve hours Jesus was tried and crucified. “There must be at least two witnesses for the conviction of a crime,” Maimonides, Jewish authority, stipulates; but, as the Scripture reports, “though many bore false witness against Him, . . . their witness agreed not together.” The Old Testament prohibits the high priest from tearing his garment; but in his hatred of Christ, Caiaphas breaks this injunction and rips his own clothes. The Talmud asks judges to weigh each case “in the sincerity of their conscience”; but there was nothing sincere nor any voice of conscience expressed by that Council which, as other illegalities show, assailed Jesus by deliberate connivance. We talk of corruption in our courts, and God knows we have too much; yet with all this, how careful magistrates usually are to see that the prisoner receives full consideration! Do you remember the so-called “trial of the century,” when a New York politician was charged with receiving “protection” money from gangsters and gambling interests? One single sentence spoken by the district attorney caused the judge to declare a mistrial; but here, before Caiaphas, every utterance of magistrate, witnesses, jury, is a hate-filled attempt to convict Christ.
The same malice marks the modern trial of Jesus. Some of you condemn Christ without ever giving Him a chance to explain His blessed promise. You do not show Jesus the fairness ordinary courtesy demands even for your fellow-men. With a fatal prejudice that can send your soul to hell you sentence Jesus on the basis of perjured testimony found in the filthy writings of unbelievers or in the subtle lies of Christ-denying Modernists.
We cannot overlook the sequel to this fatal verdict. When that Council shouted its unanimous sentence, “He is guilty of death!” it really pronounced its own doom. Some of the seventy probably lived until the year 70, when the arm of divine justice gripped godless Jerusalem. In that year Titus placed his siege engines around the city walls, and the beleaguered city became an inferno of torture and death. Our age must likewise take heed lest the rejection of the Cross weaken our spiritual foundations. Americans dare not minimize this warning stressed by past history: No nation can prosper through rebellion against God, disregard of His Word, and willful rejection of Jesus. The present war, despite all the flag-waving, is a visitation from God for the repudiation of Christ. Do you think that the holiness and justice of the Almighty can see a nation like Germany prosper indefinitely when that country has thrust on the world so many gifted but destructive Bible critics and enemies of our Lord? Do you believe that a God who hates evil will continue to shower His rich blessings on an empire like the British where haughty churchmen publicly deny Scripture truth and reject the Savior’s atonement? Do you suppose His divine favor can rest forever on France, the nation that helped to start the hostile Bible criticism and that produced notorious infidels? Above all, how long can we in the United States expect continued divine benediction on our land when hundreds of churches have turned from the crucified Christ, some of the largest theological schools disavowed the redemption, and many colleges ridiculed faith in the saving blood?
You may have a score of different answers to the question, “What do the people of the United States need today?” And we will gratefully accept any reply that offers sound economic, industrial, social help. But much more than this, millions in our nation need repentant sorrow over their sins. The country must have the spirit of humility and contrition. The individual citizens—and now, with the Spirit’s help, I speak to the hearts of those who oppose the Lord Jesus—should learn from this crossexamination of Christ how tragic it is to see that suffering Savior faced by the fury of hate-filled men and to cry out, “He is guilty of death!” Caiaphas did not continue long as high priest after he helped send Jesus to His death. Others who rejected Christ—Pontius Pilate, Herod—were likewise doomed; for no matter how self-confident a man may be, if he allies himself with Jesus’ enemies, the time will come when he will shriek in terror; when not our Lord but he is cross-examined; when the courtroom is no earthly palace but the bar of eternity; when the judge is not Caiaphas, but the everlasting High Priest! Laugh at this truth if you will; some day you will weep the bitterest tears you ever have shed. While there is still time, as long as Christ’s mercy and His forgiveness are extended to you, turn from these cross-examiners to Him who for your sake was cross-examined, and pray that you may find in Him pardon, peace, and eternal blessing!
How impressively Jesus faces His accusers! Innocent of any charges malice can invent, He listens in silence as perjury follows perjury and old falsehoods give way to new. In His unbroken composure the bound Savior towers so infinitely above His persecutors that Caiaphas rises from his imposing seat in the center of that inquisition chamber to demand, “Answerest Thou nothing? What is it which these witness against Thee?” Still no reply comes over Jesus’ lips. Does He refuse to speak because He thinks words are useless and nothing can deter His bloodthirsty enemies? Or does He refuse to raise His voice in His own defense because something that He says may help to set Him free? We hardly know, but it has always seemed to me that Christ’s silence shows His complete innocence. He needs no lengthy, voluble defense against these accursed lies; He has the divine conviction that the truth of His cause and the fulfillment of His mission must eventually triumph over the worst that earth and hell together can devise against Him.
Behold that silent Savior once more! Turn back to the golden prophecies of Isaiah’s fifty-third chapter, where twice we read, “He opened not His mouth,” and where for the first time in the entire Scriptures Jesus is directly called the “Lamb”—sin-bearing, yet uncomplaining in His suffering. Turn forward from Calvary to the unfolding chapters of the Church’s growth, and you will see that in every dark age when the cause of Christ was attacked men have turned to Jesus, repeating the question of Caiaphas, “Answerest Thou nothing?” In these latter days it often appears to us, too, that Jesus never answers swaggering unbelief and boasting blasphemy. How is it, we ask ourselves, that Christ permits the foes of our faith, unchallenged and unrebuked, to shake their fists at Him? Why can atheists succeed in crushing Lutheran Finland? Why do Modernists acquire the largest churches, while the humble preacher of grace and truth is often relegated to the backwoods or put on the list of the unemployed? Why do the godless prosper, despite their adultery and vicious lies, while the godly, trying to walk in Christ’s footsteps, meet almost endless reverses?
God’s ways are not ours, for our heavenly Father is much more merciful and long-suffering than we are. If a soul can be saved, even a soul weighted down by terrifying sins, He often lets mercy prevail instead of justice. But Christ does hear, and finally He must answer. He may delay; He may postpone; but though His retribution is sometimes slow, it never fails. That inevitable reckoning may come in this life; but no matter how emphasized the prosperity of the wicked and their easy existence may be in this world, Christ always answers in the next world. Don’t speak lightly of sin because in your own eyes you may have escaped judgment. Don’t think for a moment that because you have emerged undetected from a series of secret transgressions, you can keep on safely pursuing your lusts. The Savior is too close to every life not to know the private vices that you like to believe concealed forever. When Lafayette, friend of Washington and our American Republic, was once imprisoned, a small hole was bored into the door of his gloomy cell; and through that opening a soldier ceaselessly watched Lafayette. Morning, noon, evening, night, midnight—it was terrifying, he recalled, to be confronted by that eye. The eye of God, which penetrates deeper than any X-ray, sees farther than any telescope, magnifies more times than any microscope, is even more relentlessly focused on our lives; and woe to us if, when God delays in punishing our wrongdoings, we think that He cannot see us and will not rebuke us!
What source of strength those of you who are Christ’s can find in His silence! When it seems that Jesus does not answer you as afflictions turn your joy into bitter ashes, take courage in knowing that your Savior’s voice was not perpetually hushed! God’s promise to you in Christ is, “Call unto Me, and I will answer thee!” Leave the hour and minute to the Father, for His time of help is always the best. Take steel prematurely from the molten furnace, and it is easily broken. Sometimes the longer God lets us wait for His relief, the more strengthening the trial, the more helpful the patience we learn in trusting Him completely.
It seems that Caiaphas, fearing His whole plan against Jesus might collapse if the Savior maintained His remarkable silence, quickly changed his tactics. In one pointed question, for which he dramatically put the Savior under special oath, he brought the trial to its climax. “I adjure Thee by the living God,” he cries, “that Thou tell us whether Thou be the Christ, the Son of God.” Had the world stood still in that moment, we should hardly be surprised; for this was the question of the ages. Had Jesus been silent then, He probably would have been acquitted, but we should have been surrendered to doubt. If there were any question about Christ’s being God, any uncertainty attached to the fact that, as more than man, yes, as God Himself, He can do what He pledged, the Christian faith would hardly offer a better foundation than the uncertain delusions heathen call their religion.
In that tense moment Jesus, confronted by the world He loved, perishing in its sins, breaks His silence. Glorious Lord of all truth that He is, He answered, “Thou hast said!”—the striking way of replying with a firm and unconditional “Yes!”
Thank God for this testimony! The captive, crossexamined Christ is your God! Let me repeat, so that no suggestion of doubt remains in your heart: this broadcast and everyone whose voice is heard in our “Bringing-Christ-to-the-Nation” mission proclaims, and we pray that you believe, just as this Concordia Seminary, from the campus of which I broadcast, has for a century taught, and with blessing from above will continue to teach, that Jesus Christ is not merely a man nor the most noble and exalted of men; not an angel, even the most powerful of cherubim and seraphim; He is—O highest of all holy truths!—nothing less than the almighty God Himself!
Now, it were overflowing grace if Jesus had been only our God and if He had come into the world to show us some way, however hard, long, and exhausting it might be, on which we could return to the Father. But besides being our God, Jesus, as He solemnly testified before the high priest, is our “Christ.” Do you know the blessed import of this name “Christ”? It means the Messiah, the longpredicted Savior, our anointed Prophet, the King of our souls, and our everlasting High Priest, who with the dripping cross of Calvary as His altar and His own sinless body the sacrifice, gave Himself into the death that has atoned for all our sins and assures us eternal life. That pale Captive before Caiaphas loved every one of us with a soul devotion so divine and all-embracing; loved us—listen closely, my fellow-sinners and fellow-redeemed!—despite our sins, our rebellion against God, our continued ingratitude, loved us into that death by which He suffered the punishment we should have endured, paid the whole amount of our indebtedness to God, so that in His name we can offer every burdened soul complete redemption and the promise of heaven, through faith, and faith alone.
Are you a Christian according to the dictionary’s definition of the term, “one who believes in Jesus Christ . . . and the truth taught by Him”? Do you accept these two foundation facts emphasized in the cross-examination of Jesus, His deity and His atoning death on the cross? Give up everything in life that keeps you from this radiant conviction! Break down all resistance that blocks your way to Christ! Stifle each suggestion of self-righteousness and of earning heaven by your own merits or someone else’s virtues! Come, just as you are in your sins, to your Christ and your God, just as He is in all His mercy; and the same Savior who told the high priest, “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven,” will grant you the pardon and peace by which you can look beyond Calvary to the opened heaven and acclaim Christ, no longer bound by the malice of His enemies, but now victoriously enthroned, your Redeemer and Helper, ready to deliver you in every hour of need. You have in Christ’s own testimony the assurance that He is “coming in the clouds of heaven,” not only for judgment on those who have rejected Him, but also to bring them who believe Him to their bloodbought and love-prepared places in the “many mansions.” O come, Lord Jesus, come to every one of us with Thy love! Come to this sin-darkened, unbelieving age with Thy light! Come to the churches with Thy strength! Come to our homes and our hearts with Thy grace! O Jesus, our Christ and our God, come now! Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.