Dangerous Upstart, Impotent Master, Innocent Madman -- Or All-Conquering Lord?

A sermon on Mark 14:53-15:15 by Coty Pinckney, Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA 8/27/00

Who is Jesus? What do you think?

In our studies in Mark we have come to the two trials of Jesus: before the Jewish court, the Sanhedrin, and before the Roman governor, Pilate. These two trials bracket Peter’s denial of Jesus. In these stories, the chief priests, Peter, and Pilate answer the question “Who is Jesus” incorrectly – with terrible consequences. As the sermon title indicates, these three think of Jesus as:

In the 35 verses we consider this morning, Jesus speaks only twice; the bulk of the passage relates the actions of those around Him. Yet those two statements by Jesus are central not only to these 35 verses but to the whole gospel of Mark – and indeed to the entire Bible. Jesus here clearly claims authority, power, and majesty.

So let’s turn to this most important section of Scripture: For each of us must decide: Who is Jesus? Will you agree with the priests? With Pilate? With Peter? Or will you accept Jesus’ statement about himself? This is the most important question you will ever answer: Who is Jesus?

Recall what has just happened in Mark’s account. Chapter 14 opens with Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus with the most valuable item in her possession – a vial of perfume, worth about $15,000. She recognizes Him as more precious than anything in this world. She pours this perfume over Jesus, which he explains as an anointing of his body for burial. Mark contrasts her action with that of Judas, who agrees to betray his Master for a much lower price – about $5000.

The evening prior to his arrest, Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper, picturing our need to feed on Him always – to get all our power, energy, and sustenance from Him. Once again, Jesus is pictured as precious above all things, the only true source of strength.

Then Jesus tells His disciples that they all will fall away: They don’t believe Him, choosing instead to be confident in their own power. Peter is the most emphatic: “Even though all these others might fall away, I will not!” Jesus tells him before the cock crows twice, Peter will deny Him three times. Peter proudly asserts his complete devotion, saying, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!”  But then in the Garden, with Jesus facing the real prospect of taking all the sins of the world on himself, bearing God’s hatred and punishment, Peter and the disciples sleep instead of praying for Jesus and for themselves in the hour of trial. Jesus, however, strengthened by prayer, is ready. All these men faced a choice: To depend upon themselves or to depend on God, through prayer. The disciples chose to depend on themselves; Jesus depended on God.

The consequences of those choices are clear when the mob led by Judas comes to arrest Jesus. The disciples’ bravado is exposed for what it is. Peter wildly swings his sword, but accomplishes nothing. Seeing Jesus in the hands of his opponents, all the disciples flee. Jesus, however, after His agony in the garden, by relying on God’s strength remains calm and in control, seeing all that happens as the fulfillment of God’s plan.

This brings us to today’s passage, Mark 14:53 to 15:15. Here Mark gives us three scenes:

The Dangerous Upstart

53 ¶ And they led Jesus away to the high priest; and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes *gathered together. 54  And Peter had followed Him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the officers, and warming himself at the fire. 55  Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain testimony against Jesus to put Him to death; and they were not finding any. 56  For many were giving false testimony against Him, and yet their testimony was not consistent.

The conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities here comes to a head. Recall that this conflict begin as early as chapter 2 of Mark, when Jesus forgives the sins of the paralytic let down through the roof. The scribes who are present ask, “Who but God can forgive sins?” So already, they are thinking that this man is committing blasphemy.

The conflict escalates as the religious authorities see Jesus eating with “tax collectors and sinners;” not instructing His disciples to observe fast days; and violating their interpretation of Sabbath regulations. To their consternation, Jesus claims to be Lord of the Sabbath! Concerned with Jesus’ growing popularity, by chapter 3 the Pharisees are looking for some public act where they can denounce Jesus. They find a man with a withered hand who is seeking healing from Jesus on the Sabbath. Jesus, by this point is angered by their hardness of heart, asks, “Which is lawful: to do good or evil?” He then heals the man. Humiliated by Jesus in front of the crowds, the Pharisees and Herodians, for the first time, plot how they might kill Jesus (3:6).

By chapter 7, the conflict has become even more intense. The Pharisees and scribes accuse the disciples of eating with unclean hands, in violation not of Scripture but of their traditions. This prompts Jesus’ strongest reaction yet: “You hypocrites!” He then sets aside all their rules and regulations concerning eating by saying, “What comes out of a man is what makes him unclean.”

While all the Jewish authorities – the chief priests, scribes, Pharisees, and Herodians – want to kill Jesus, they are afraid of the crowds. So they try a new tactic: to embarrass Jesus in front of the crowds, in order to cut into his popularity. They try to trick Him into taking an unpopular stand publicly. So they ask Him about divorce, about the source of His authority, about taxes, about the resurrection, and about the greatest commandment. But Jesus responds so wisely that they, not He, end up looking foolish. So eventually: “No one dared ask him any more questions.” They change tactics again, deciding to arrest Him when crowds aren’t around, and deal with Him at night.

Note the content of these disputes with the religious authorities. Most of their differences have to do with the interpretation of the Law, and Jesus’ claim to have authority over that interpretation. Other than his forgiving of the paralytic’s sins – perhaps a subtle point – there is no outright, obvious blasphemy, from their point of view. The religious authorities’ concern is their own position, not truth – as their response to Jesus’ question about John’s baptism (11:29-33) makes clear.

But the authorities can’t put Jesus to death for challenging their authority to interpret the Law. So they bribe men to testify against Jesus. But even then they have a hard time proving their case:

57  And some stood up and began to give false testimony against Him, saying, 58  "We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.’" 59  And not even in this respect was their testimony consistent.

Was this claim true? In John 2:19, Jesus says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” John clarifies for us that Jesus spoke here about His body, not the Jerusalem temple. And the witnesses twist His words, making Him the agent of destruction. But perhaps because they are mangling His words, even now the authorities can’t get witnesses to agree about what was said. They still don’t have the semblance of a charge against Him that would allow them to pronounce a death sentence by Jewish law.

60  And the high priest stood up and came forward and questioned Jesus, saying, "Do You make no answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?" 61  But He kept silent, and made no answer.

Frustrated, the High priest tries to get Jesus to incriminate himself. Jesus gives no answer, in accordance with Isaiah’s prophesy:

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)

There is not need for Jesus to defend Himself against false charges. His purpose here is to proclaim the truth of Who He is, not to convince the court of His innocence. For this reason, He breaks His silence when asked the next question:

Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, "Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" 62  And Jesus said, "I am; and you shall see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN." 63  And tearing his clothes, the high priest *said, "What further need do we have of witnesses? 64  "You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?" And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.

Here we have the central point of the passage. When they accuse Jesus of saying He will tear down the temple, He says nothing. When they accuse Him of inciting a riot, leading a rebellion, He is quiet. But when questioned about His identity, He answers: this is His witness. Now is His time. He declares Himself.

Jesus’ response is emphatic: “I AM,” with allusions to the name of God spoken to Moses at Mt Sinai. But He doesn’t stop there: He quotes Psalm 110 and Daniel 7, claiming for Himself power and authority. Look here at the wider context of those verses:

Psalm 110:1 The LORD says to my Lord: "Sit at My right hand, Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet."

Daniel 7:13-14  "I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations, and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.”

In these few words, Jesus proclaims that He is not the one on trial – they are on trial. The High Priest is not His judge – rather, He is the judge of the High Priest and all others in the room. God will destroy His enemies, and all glory, dominion, and power belong to Him. All people – including these who hate Him – will bow before Him.

Realize that the normal Jewish conception of the Messiah at this time was of a good man, not a God-man. So even if anyone in the room might have wondered if Jesus was the Messiah, they did not think the Messiah was God. So for Jesus to claim that He has this type of authority and power is blasphemy to their ears, worthy of death. Jesus’ proclamation of His person has done for them what their bribing of false witnesses could never do – provided them with evidence against Him sufficient for their condemnation.

65  And some began to spit at Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him with their fists, and to say to Him, "Prophesy!" And the officers received Him with slaps in the face.

All the pent up anger, venom, and frustration of the last several years comes out now. Forgetting all semblance of a fair trial, they spit on Him, beat Him, and mock His claims to authority and power.

Who is Jesus? For the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees, Jesus is a dangerous threat to their continued power. He calls them hypocrites and asserts in front of the crowds that their interpretation of the Law is wrong. He overthrows the order of society that has them at the top. So He must die.

The Impotent Master

While all this is going on, Peter is below, in the light of the fire, warming himself. But the source of light now causes him difficulties:

66 ¶ And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest *came, 67  and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him, and *said, "You, too, were with Jesus the Nazarene." 68  But he denied it, saying, "I neither know nor understand what you are talking about." And he went out onto the porch. 69  And the maid saw him, and began once more to say to the bystanders, "This is one of them!" 70  But again he was denying it. And after a little while the bystanders were again saying to Peter, "Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean too." 71  But he began to curse and swear, "I do not know this man you are talking about!" 72  And immediately a cock crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had made the remark to him, "Before a cock crows twice, you will deny Me three times." And he began to weep.

Here is Peter, the one who was so confident in his own abilities earlier in the evening. He did not take the opportunity to pray while in Gethsemane, instead choosing to depend on himself. He must be disappointed with himself after the arrest, his wild swordplay, and his fleeing. But he has gathered himself now, and followed Jesus into the courtyard of the High Priest. Yet here he fails again. And he fails at the prompting of a servant girl, the lowest-ranking servant in the household. Note the contrast: Jesus, facing most powerful Jewish officials, confesses the truth, knowing it will lead to His death; Peter, facing the most insignificant Jewish official, fails to confess the truth, even though there is no certainty any harm would come of it.

As soon as he denies Jesus the third time, the cock crows. Remembering Jesus’ words, Peter breaks down in tears. Luke tells us Jesus was going through a passageway at this time and looked into Peter’s eyes. What Peter never thought he would do, he has done. He is placed face to face with his own weakness, his own depravity, his own need of a greater power than himself.

What is Peter’s view of Jesus? In effect, Peter is accepting Jesus as master, but as an impotent master. Peter has confessed Jesus as the Son of God, but in Peter’s view this Son of God needs Peter’s help. He needs Peter’s guidance – remember when Peter reprimands Him for speaking of His death? – He needs Peter’s protection, He needs Peter’s loyalty. Jesus has just proclaimed to the High Priest that all power and dominion and authority belong to Him. Peter has yet to learn that lesson.

So both the chief priests and Peter are terribly wrong here. Ray Stedman brings this out clearly:

Everybody recognizes that hatred and anger and vehemence are wrong, and we know those things come from an evil, perverted heart. But what Mark wants us to see is that the love of Peter was no better. It, too, was depending on the flesh, on human abilities and human resources, to carry him through. In the hour of crisis, it was no more effective than the hatred of the priests. Love and loyalty and faithfulness mean nothing when they rest on the shaky foundation of the determination of a human will.

The Innocent Madman

1 ¶ And early in the morning the chief priests with the elders and scribes, and the whole Council, immediately held a consultation; and binding Jesus, they led Him away, and delivered Him up to Pilate.

By Jewish law, blasphemy is a crime worthy of death. But the Jewish Sanhedrin, the highest court, did not have authority to put anyone to death while the Romans were in control. To execute Jesus, the Jewish leaders will have to convince the Roman governor that Jesus has committed a capital offense. How can they do this?

They hold a consultation, and decide (as Luke makes clear) to accuse Jesus of rebellion. Given His past actions, and their difficulty in proving the blasphemy charge to themselves, this doesn’t promise to be easy. And it’s not:

2  And Pilate questioned Him, "Are You the King of the Jews?" And answering He *said to him, "It is as you say."

This is Jesus’ second and final statement in this passage. Once again, when asked about His person, Jesus makes the good confession. There is a hint here in the grammatical structure – a hint that John elaborates on – that Jesus is saying, “Yes, I am a king, but not in the sense you are thinking.”

3  And the chief priests began to accuse Him harshly. 4  And Pilate was questioning Him again, saying, "Do You make no answer? See how many charges they bring against You!" 5  But Jesus made no further answer; so that Pilate was amazed.

The chief priests then accuse Him of inciting riots and setting Himself up in opposition to Caesar. But Jesus returns to His silence. He has stated Who He is; He has proclaimed the truth; no more is necessary.

Pilate knows Jesus is innocent, and all things being equal would prefer not to execute an innocent man. So he tries to come up with an excuse for letting Him off, without having simply to decide for Himself that He should go free.

6  Now at the feast he used to release for them any one prisoner whom they requested. 7  And the man named Barabbas had been imprisoned with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the insurrection. 8  And the multitude went up and began asking him to do as he had been accustomed to do for them. 9  And Pilate answered them, saying, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" 10  For he was aware that the chief priests had delivered Him up because of envy. 11  But the chief priests stirred up the multitude to ask him to release Barabbas for them instead. 12  And answering again, Pilate was saying to them, "Then what shall I do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?" 13  And they shouted back, "Crucify Him!" 14  But Pilate was saying to them, "Why, what evil has He done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify Him!" 15  And wishing to satisfy the multitude, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged, he delivered Him to be crucified.

Note here the irony of the release of Barabbas: Jesus is falsely accused of leading a rebellion against Rome; Barabbas did lead a rebellion against Rome. The guilty one goes free; the innocent man dies. Pilate’s preference for not executing an innocent man is just that – a preference, not a conviction. So when the Jewish authorities convince Pilate not that Jesus is guilty but that it is in his personal interest to execute Jesus, he agrees to do so.

Who is Jesus for Pilate?

An innocent madman. Pilate thinks, “This fellow? The King of the Jews? What idiocy! He’s not in his right mind. Clearly he’s innocent and should be released, but, hey, to do so might cause a riot – and I can’t afford any more riots. I’d be putting my entire career at risk! My position is much more important than any Jewish madman. So let him die. It’s a pity – but he must die.”


So consider these four views of Jesus: Dangerous Upstart, Impotent Master, Innocent Madman, All-conquering Lord. How do these views manifest themselves today?

Dangerous Threat:

In our society, who views Christianity as a dangerous threat? I suggest those who say, “Oh, religion is important, but it is private. Don’t let it enter the public sphere. Keep it to yourself.” Religion has nothing to do with daily life, or intellectual inquiry. So marginalize it. And Jesus? Don’t speak that name in public!

Impotent Master:

Many people today believe in a God who is good, but not all-powerful. Indeed, the book Why Bad Things Happen to Good People – which spent many weeks on the bestseller lists -- says exactly this: God loves us and cares for us, but doesn’t have the power to protect us from all the evil around us.

But even many seemingly doctrinally-pure Christians act as if this is true. They act as if God needs our help to accomplish His task. So they use non-biblical techniques to attract people. They soften the “rough edges” of our faith to make it more palatable to 21st century America, focusing on solving problems in this life rather than solving the sin problem, emphasizing the benefits to man rather than the glory of God. All in the name of helping God out. God is our master, but He is rather weak.

With this view, it is easy to begin to think, like Peter, “Isn’t it great for God to have Me on His side!”

Innocent Madman

Then there are those who say, “All this talk about Jesus is foolishness. This has nothing to do with real life. Forget your delusions, your crutches; all this is for babies, the opiate of the masses. Grow up. Be pragmatic. See the world as it really is.”

The All-Conquering Lord

But Jesus is not a dangerous upstart, an impotent master, or an innocent madman. He is all powerful. He is coming on the clouds, and will judge every thought and intention of every man’s heart. Each one of us – you and you and you – will have to deal with Him.

So who is Jesus? How do you answer the question?

Jesus’ answer to Caiaphas answers that question for all time: “Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?” “I AM. And you will see me having ALL AUTHORITY, coming in judgment.”

Who is Jesus? Do you agree with the chief priests, that this statement is a lie, blasphemy? Do you consider the claims He makes in his response to Caiaphas an affront to your autonomy, an attack on your ability to make your own choices?

Or do you regard Jesus like Pilate: as a lunatic, a madman, deluding Himself with thoughts of grandeur?

Or do you think of Jesus like Peter: Yes, the Messiah – but a Messiah who needs my help, the Son of God who needs to be straightened out on occasion. My master – but my weak Master.

Jesus’ claim here is that He has all authority, and all judgment, and all power. We sang earlier, “Every eye shall now behold him, Robed in dreadful majesty.” Do you believe that?

Who do you say Jesus is? Do you view Him as a liar? As a madman? As Master – but as a Master who needs your help?

Jesus is seated at the right hand of God. Jesus is coming in authority and power to judge this world. Jesus is more powerful and more glorious and more beautiful and more precious and more terrifying than you can imagine.

We can do nothing for Him; yet He offers us intimacy and love and mercy – and an opportunity to be used by Him to accomplish His purposes to His glory. Will you accept this free gift? Will you throw yourself on the mercy of this all-conquering King, acknowledging your inability to do anything for Him? These wounds are for you; by His scourging you are healed. Will you bow before Him?

This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 8/27/00. Ray Stedman's sermons on the passage were very helpful, and are the source of the quote.

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