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Unconquerable Love

Many Christians have wondered, in the Gospel accounts of Jesus' trial before both Jewish and Roman leaders, why he doesn't give his judges a direct answer. In Matthew 26, for example, when Caiaphas, the high priest, demands that Jesus respond to the witnesses who said that they heard him say that he could destroy the temple and raise it in three days (see John 2:18), the text says, "But Jesus was silent" (Mt. 26:63). When the high priest asked him, point blank, "Tell us if you are the Messiah," Jesus' response is maddeningly sideways, "You have said so." Later, the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, asks him the same question and gets the same response: "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus said, "You say so." The text once again emphasizes, "But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer" (Mt. 27:12). When Pilate pressed him, "Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?" the text repeats, with emphasis, "But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge" (Mt. 27:14). 

Why? Why does Jesus refuse to answer? Why does the gospel of Matthew repeat that Jesus gave no answer? Clearly, the writer wants us to grasp that Jesus did not respond, except very indirectly, to his accusers' questions. 

Readers who know this scripture account should be saying, "Wait a minute. Jesus did say something to Caiaphas." Yes, he did. He quoted Daniel 7:13, "But I tell you, 'From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.'" After not answering any questions, this response is a whopper. Everyone within earshot of Jesus' answer would have known that Jesus, indirectly still, suggests that there is something about what is happening to him right at this instant that connects to the revelation of the Messiah. Daniel 7:13 is a classic "Messiah" text. 

In the Daniel passage, "one like a Son of Man" (in contrast to the beasts described just prior to this verse) is presented before the "Ancient of Days" and given an everlasting kingdom that encircles "all nations and languages." Jesus' answer in Matthew does not explicitly say, "I'm that guy," but it would have been nearly impossible for Caiaphas not to understand Jesus' response as communicating, "I am the Messiah." It gave Caiaphas all the reason he needed to send Jesus on to Pilate.

In my mind, a huge paradox is revealed in the Matthew account of Jesus' trial. On the one hand, Jesus submits to the whole charade, to a kangaroo trial. Lots of people, apparently, came to the chief priests and told what they had seen or heard from Jesus. They're all false witnesses (Mt. 26:60). Who knows what they were saying? Regardless, the chief priests, knew that, especially in the case of a capital crime, they must keep the law requiring at least two corroborating witnesses (see Deut. 17:6-7). They had to find two people who would say essentially the same thing about Jesus' alleged offense. Jesus does not protest. He does not defend himself. When those coming to arrest him came, he gave himself up to them. There is nothing in the trial account that indicates he, in any way, tried to vindicate himself.

At the same time, in his silence, he stands in judgment of the whole treacherous affair. Imagine all the words flying around him. One can imagine how exaggerated, even ridiculous, the accusations came. Jesus says nothing, himself the judge, listening, watching. 

And acting. We begin to understand, after (and in light of) the resurrection, that Jesus the King and Judge is enacting judgment through his own death. He receives the judgment on his own person. The trial is a massive object lesson in human abuse of power, of hubris, of sin. My sin or yours may not match exactly to what the religious leaders and Pilate do, but we are included. Have I been arrogant? Have I demanded that my preferred way is the one adopted? Have I falsified the "record?" Yes.

Jesus surrenders himself to this process and he is fully in control of it. I don't really know how to explain it. Still, it moves me to worship. It shows dramatically what Romans 5:10 tells us, that God worked to reconcile us to himself "while we were enemies." Jesus stands, in the trial scenes in the Gospels, in front of his enemies, his accusers. He loves them. 

The words to a hymn come to mind:

Oh love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee.
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.


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