The sermon below was the one I preached at Tabernacle Baptist Church as a part of our joint Good Friday service. Please hear that this was the core text - the responsive nature of the context meant that this sermon grew a bit in its actual proclamation.
I want to begin this evening by thanking all of those who were a part of last night’s service. It was great night together. Thank you, Pastor Hairston for your strong words that called us to “A Table for One.” As we concluded worship last night I told the congregation present that I always thought I was high energy, until I met Daryl. I truly appreciate your heart and your passion for the Gospel. I also celebrate the friendship that you and I, Beth and Karen, and our daughters have discovered together. I am thankful for you. Our message for tonight is found in Mark 14:53-64 and is entitled, The Faces of Treachery.” Open your Bibles and mark where the passage begins. We will come to it in a just a few moments.
Tonight we gather for a Good Friday worship event. The reason the term Good Friday is chosen is because it is argued that while what the Jews and the Romans will do to Jesus is not good, the results of Christ’s death are very good! While I appreciate this argument, my struggle is that when I come to this night I still struggle calling it good because I cannot get past the faces of treachery that fill the story. It is fitting that this story unfold in the dark of night, because when you look at how the people acted, they would not have wanted anyone to see them acting this way in the light of day. Rather than act in daylight in boldness, they slink and slither in the dark of night.
Our story picks up where we left off last night. Jesus and the disciples had shared a remarkable time together in the Upper Room. After the supper they went out in the dark of night into the Garden of Gethsemane for Jesus to pray – and everything changes….the treachery begins to play out. We see the torches coming in the distance. In the distance you can begin to see outline of the faces of the crowd armed with swords and clubs. The angry mob has been sent by Caiaphas, the high priest, and others from the inner religious circle. It’s funny that they did not want to be seen with the mob, it was beneath them, but sends the mob do to their dirty work. We see the face of Judas kissing Jesus, with a kiss of treachery. The one who had just hours before been seen as one of the twelve, and intimate friend and follower of Jesus, now would forever be known Jesus’ betrayer. The mob seized Jesus and our passage in Mark 14:53-64 begins. We heard the passage read earlier and it is now marked in your hands. With the passage ringing in your ears, let me invite you to walk with me into the heart of the story. The scene takes place not in the courtroom of the Sanhedrin where wind of what was happening might drift to the slumber masses in the city, but rather in Caiaphas’ home, where a mockery of justice could be played out in secret; where the ruling was certain before the first word was spoken; where evil could play outs its game in the shadows of torchlight.
Simon Peter, Jesus best friend, the leader of the apostles, the one on which Jesus had pronounced: (Matthew 16:18) And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it. This same Peter, rather than being at Jesus’ side is, as the scripture say, following at a distance – then standing in the courtyard outside warming his hands by the fire. In the moments to come Peter will denial Jesus three times, just as Jesus had said. Jesus had become a relational liability for Peter. Hear his cry when he is accused of being with Jesus; “I don’t know what you are talking about, I don’t know the man!” (Matthew 26:69-74). He had followed Jesus from the start. He had seen Jesus heal and feed the five thousand; he had been with Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration; he had listened to Jesus teach day after day; he had seen Jesus walk on water; he had professed with passion that Jesus was the Son of God. This same Peter, now becomes a face of treachery in his cry; “I don’t know the man!”
Inside the villa, upstairs in a large upper room, the hastily called Sanhedrin has gathered in the middle of the night to play out their plan. The high priest, and all the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law came together. One of Jesus’ followers had taken the bribe to betray him; they had seized him, now they need to put on a show trial so they could demand the Romans kill Jesus. But they suddenly had a problem. Jewish law required the common testimony of two men to convict someone. They list of false witnesses came in and out of the room, but they could not get their stories together, instead contradicting each other. You could feel the tension rising in the room. Were they going to go through all of this and have Jesus slip from their hands? Their faces of treachery glowed in the candlelight. It could not end here! Caiaphas rose from his seat and addressed Jesus directly: "Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?" 61But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" I imagine that the silence must have hung in the air and every face was on Jesus. Jesus opened his lips and spoke two works: I AM.
The term Mark uses for "I am" is only used twice in the whole of Mark's gospel and its historic tie is clear. The way Mark uses the term "I am" invites us to let them leap forth from our memory calling us to Moses and his encounter with God at the burning bush. Exodus 3:13 Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?" 14 God said to Moses, "I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.' "The God of Moses and Abraham, Jehovah, Yahweh, The Great I AM was in their midst but their eyes were so blinded by their own sense of power, place and privilege that they could not see. God was speaking to them, but their eyes were so filled by the sound of their own voices they could not hear. Their faces were so set on treachery they could not step back.
63The high priest tore his clothes. "Why do we need any more witnesses?" he asked. 64"You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" They all condemned him as worthy of death. 65Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, "Prophesy!" And the guards took him and beat him. This moment haunts me. In a matter of a few hours Herod and Pilate will become embroiled in the story and their faces will be added to the treachery, but it is this moment, when the Sanhedrin issues its death warrant that is the catalyst for Jesus’ crucifixion. This moment is burned into my heart and mind. It is the angry treacherous face of Caiaphas that I see when I think of the mockery of justice that leads Jesus to the cross. It is the voice of Caiaphas I hear echoing in my ears when the crowd yells “crucify him!”
This moment became more personal in an unexpected encounter in Montreal, Canada. When I worked as a part of a mission organization staff I visited a missionary family from our organization living and working in Canada. One of our meetings finished a bit early and learned that there was an exhibit for the Dead Sea Scrolls, some of the old New Testament manuscripts that exist. I could not wait to see them. The exhibit was great and just off to the side that had another room that read; “Other Antiquities for the Era.” I had some time left open so I went into the room. It was full of incredible artifacts. Then I came to one that sent chills down my spine. The placard read that this was the Ossuary (or coffin) for the High Priest Caiaphas. I stood there looking at the intricately carved stone box and felt an overwhelming sense of anger and hatred filling my heart. This was the man! This was the man that condemned my Jesus to the cross! There was a part of me that wanted to smash through the glass and destroy the box and anything inside of it that helped to sustain his place in history.
Then suddenly I felt a stirring in my heart. It was like a whisper speaking into my soul. It was not Caiaphas alone who condemned Jesus to the cross. The face of treachery that joined him was mine. He did my bidding. It was my sin, my choices for speak words that wounded, or to sit silent when words that called for justice needed to be spoken. It was my sin, the times I acted out without the consideration of others and the times I did not act out in love when it was needed. It was my sin, my moments when my soul was drawn into darkness rather that living a life of light before the word. There are some who want to claim that we are predestined to sin because we are Adam's heirs. My problem is that sin is not something that happened to me. I see clearly that my sin is of my own choosing. I remember a boy in my 6th grade class who was overweight. I remember the things we said to him. I can only imagine how our words - how my words - must have hurt him. I did not think about his hurt at the time, but I have countless days since then. How I wish I could find him now and say "I'm sorry!" Perhaps you have a similar story in your life - a moment when you the word that tumbled from your lips - or you did something that now makes you cringe. These are our sins. They are not inherited, they are chosen. The Good Friday face of treachery was not Caiaphas’ but the one looking back at the mirror. I am not alone. The Good Friday face of treachery also stares back at you when you look in the mirror.
The whisper spoke again. No one sent Jesus to the cross. It was a path that was chosen before the beginning of time. While the mockery of justice is clear, these men did not have the power to crucify the Son of God. Jesus acted in choice and obedience. The cross was the means for redemption for me, for you, and all of humanity. It was and is the symbol of God’s grand act of extravagant grace. Hear the pronouncement of Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And First Peter 3:18 tells us, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.” Hear the good news; just like Jesus redeems Peter for life and ministry after the resurrection, God is still in the redeeming business, making a way for life to spring forth from death, for forgiveness to rein/rain over sin, for us to reclaim our place as children of God.
No matter whom you are, no matter where you are from, no matter what you have done, Christ paid the price for our redemption on the cross and sealed it for eternity in the moment of the resurrection. It is time to start living like the redeemed and becomes agents, ambassadors, ministers of the gospel of reconciliation and redemption. It is time to quit standing around and warming our hands over the fire, looking from the outside in, like Peter, and find our place in the service and servanthood of God. It is time to move for the comfort of our pews and our sanctuaries into the highway and byways, streets and sidewalks where people need to know that that is a God who loves them so much that he would claim the Good Friday cross on their behalf and claim and empty Easter tomb that we might live life and life eternal. It is time to allow God to transform our faces of treachery into faces of grace, reaching out to our communities and our world in the name of Jesus. Our community, our world, longs to see authentic faces of grace. Amen.