Midweek Lent - 2

Preached: February 13, 2008

False Witnesses Testify about Resurrection
Mark 14:55-59

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Savior. The Word from God for us to take to heart and put into practice is Mark 14

The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin kept looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death, and they weren't finding any. For many were testifying falsely against him, and there testimony didn't agree.
After standing up, some were falsely testifying, “We heard him say, ‘I will tear down this man-made temple and within three days I will build one not made by man.’” Not even in this did their testimony agree.

This is the Word of our Lord

Dear friends in Christ, fellow pilgrims to the cross:

From “Perry Mason” to “Law and Order” witnesses testify in courtroom dramas. Are they telling the truth? They take a solemn oath to tell the truth. The attorneys examine and cross-examine them to make sure their testimony holds up. The outcome of the case depends on what the witnesses say.

What empty, perverted justice the Sanhedrin practiced against Jesus! To start with, from what we know about Jewish law from that time, they weren't to hold a trial until sunup. But here they gather in the middle of night to figure out how to condemn Jesus to death.

They want to make it look like justice. So they figure they need witnesses. The Old Testament Law commanded that no one be put to death except by the testimony of two or three witnesses. But Jesus hadn't broken any laws. How were they going to find witnesses to testify against him? That wouldn't be a problem, they figured. Just have them lie, give false testimony.

So we see a parade of witnesses coming up with various accusations. But even though they had no concern for the truth, even though they could have colluded beforehand, God saw to it that even these false witnesses couldn't make their testimony agree. Clearly Jesus had done nothing wrong.

But then two witnesses come forward with a similar story. “We heard him say, ‘I will tear down this man-made temple and within three days I will build one not made by man’” (Mark 14:58). Jesus had said something like that at the beginning of his ministry three-years earlier. How it's truth must have troubled the hearts and minds of these people that they still remembered it! But these witnesses have twisted and perverted what Jesus had said, trying to make this divine truth sound like a crime. So not even their false testimony agrees.

But what had Jesus been talking about three-years earlier? What exactly did he say at that time? The Holy Spirit answers those questions for us in John 2.

Toward the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for the Passover. As he looked at the courtyard of the temple, he found men selling cattle, sheep, and doves. He found others sitting at tables exchanging money. They had made the holy house of the Lord into a money-grubbing cesspool. Believers, coming to celebrate the Lord's deliverance, rejoicing in his promise of forgiveness pictured in the Passover lambs, were themselves fleeced and sacrificed on the altars of greed. How could they do that!

Filled with zeal for his Father's house, Jesus took a cord and used it as whip to drive out the sheep and cattle. He overturned the money-changing tables, scattering the coins. He told the dove-dealers, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!” (John 2:16 NIV).

The Jews demanded that Jesus perform a miracle to prove that he had the authority to do this. But Jesus says to them (and this is the quote the false witnesses pervert), “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19 NIV).

Contrast this with what the false witnesses said. Jesus did not say that he was going to destroy this temple. Rather he was telling the Jews that they were going to end up destroying this temple. And Jesus does not call it a man-made temple. In both of these ways, the false witnesses lie about Jesus' words.

But what did Jesus mean when he said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19 NIV)? The Holy Spirit answers that back in John 2. John writes, “But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said” (John 2:21, 22 NIV).

Jesus used what we might call a riddle. That way the Jews would remember it and think about it, trying to figure out what he was talking about. And it worked. Three years later they still remember it, and they understand more of what Jesus meant then they want to admit.

Why did Jesus refer to his body as a temple? Because the temple was picture of the coming Savior. Think back to your Bible history. The temple was modeled after the tabernacle. The tabernacle's design was given to Moses at Mt. Sinai. Inside the holy of holies was the Ark of the Covenant over which the glory of the Lord dwelt. The tabernacle and later the temple was God's presence among his people. And Jesus is our God present with us. He became flesh to dwell among us as our tabernacle and temple. The temple itself pictured the incarnation, God with us, Immanuel, Jesus Christ.

“Destroy this temple.” Kill my body. Put me to death. “And I will raise it again in three days.” I will rise from the dead on the third day. Jesus was promising his resurrection.

So how ironic this is! Even as the Sanhedrin is bent on carrying out the first part, putting Jesus to death, these false witness, who were suppose help accomplish that, actually remind them that Jesus will rise from the dead. And when these witnesses add that Jesus will build one not made by man, they show that they understood more of this riddle than they want to admit.

How ironic in this hour of darkness and death, despite the lies and twisted testimony of false witnesses, God's truth shines through. Jesus will rise from the dead on the third day. The more Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin plotted to put an end to Jesus, the closer Jesus came to fulfilling his promise.

What comfort and hope for us! Even in darkest night, God's promise shines through. Even when Satan and his allies attack us the fiercest, God's promise shines through. Even when tragedy, disease, disaster, or death stare us in the face, God's promise shines through. His promise sealed by Jesus' resurrection.

Jump ahead to Easter. See the empty tomb. See him alive whose hands and side were pierced for you. He lives, he lives, who once was dead. On the third day he raised up the temple of his body, just as he said. God's promise is true, for Jesus has risen.

What does that mean for you? God's promise of forgiveness is true. Jesus has paid for all your sins. God has justified you. He has acquitted you, declared you not-guilty in his courtroom, based on what Jesus has done for you. You are forgiven because Jesus is risen. Since your sins are forgiven, God is your Father through faith in Jesus. No matter how dark life is for you, you have a merciful Father in heaven taking care of you. He opens his hands to graciously give you all that you need. For Jesus is risen. And since your sins are forgiven, no matter what pain or death this life brings, you too will rise to be with Jesus forever in Paradise. For Jesus is risen. That's the greatest witness and testimony of all.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

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