Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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The Trial of Christ

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss points out an irony in the trial of Jesus.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: There were many, many laws that were broken during Jesus’ trial, and yet, isn’t it amazing that Jesus still chose to die for law breakers.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for March 19, 2015.

We’ve been in a rich study. Our listeners are reading the book, The Incomparable Christ, together, and Nancy’s been teaching through the topics brought up in this book. She’ll continue in the series "The Incomparable Christ."

Nancy: In the last session, we entered with Jesus into that very intimate scene in the Garden of Gethsemane—the “oil press.” It was at the end of that time of prayer and surrender, submission, consecration, that Jesus was arrested there in the Garden of Gethsemane, around midnight, maybe the very early hours of the morning.

From that point, within less than twelve hours, maybe as few as nine hours, Jesus went through both a Jewish trial and a Roman trial; He was declared guilty; He was sentenced to death, and He was crucified. It all happened very quickly. Sometimes we forget that when we’re reading the Gospel accounts. We have these lengthy chapters about the Passion of Christ, and we forget that from the Garden of Gethsemane to His death on the cross was a very short period of time—just a matter of hours.

Today as we look at the trial of Christ, which, again, is something that makes Him incomparable, we’ll see how there is no one else like Him as we look at His trial. We often focus on the unspeakable physical torture that was inflicted on Jesus through the course of His trial. If you’ve watched a movie like The Passion of the Christ, you’ve seen a depiction, very graphic, very vivid of something of what the physical torture was like. Perhaps you’ve read descriptions of it as well.

There’s a benefit in focusing on that, but I want us today to focus on the trial itself, on the legal aspects of the trial and what was inarguably the greatest travesty of justice in the history of the world—a gross, deliberate miscarriage of justice. But through it all, we’re going to see that it had a purpose, and that even that trial, as unjust as it was, was a vital part of God’s plan to rescue and redeem sinners. So we’re going to have new eyes of gratitude that Jesus would not have only gone to the cross, but even preceding the cross would have endured this trial on our behalf and why that matters.

Now, you have to put all of the four Gospel accounts together to get the whole picture of Jesus’ trial, and even then it’s not all clear what the exact sequence was and what all the details were, but we do know that both the Jewish trial and the Roman trial each had three stages. We’re going to kind of walk through those stages of the trials over these next few moments.

The Jewish trial, or the religious trial, began in the middle of the night after Jesus’ arrest. The first part, the first stage of that trial was an informal examination by Annas, who was a former high priest.

The second stage, Jesus was privately questioned by Caiaphas, who was the son-in-law of Annas and was the current high priest. Now this was all a big family thing. This was a dynasty, a high priestly dynasty that was not a godly dynasty at all. Caiaphas was the current high priest who had conspired with Judas to betray Christ.

Then thirdly, after these preliminary meetings with Annas and Caiaphas, Jesus was formally tried before members of the Sanhedrin, which had been hastily assembled in the wee hours of the morning.

The Sanhedrin, as you may know, was the equivalent of the Jewish Supreme Court. It was composed of leading priests, teachers of the law, and elders. It comprised seventy members plus the high priest. They only had to have twenty-three to have a quorum, so we don’t know that all seventy were there for the trial of Jesus. There had to be at least twenty-three. We don’t know beyond that.

Now, the Jewish legal system was based on the Law of Moses. It was well known for its commitment to justice and equity. Let me read for you, for example, a passage from Deuteronomy chapter 16 that describes God’s heart for how the law was to be applied among His people:

You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the LORD your God is giving you (vv. 18–20).

Right away, as soon as I read that passage, when you think of the trial of Jesus, you realize how it violated the Jewish legal system that God had given to them. We don’t have time to read all the different accounts of the trial—there are many verses in Scripture—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—given to the trial. Think about this passage in Matthew 26. It says:

Now the chief priests and the whole Council [that’s the Sanhedrin] were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward (vv. 59–60).

Now, does that sound like it meets with the direction in Deuteronomy 16? Not at all! This was way out of line and out of character for the way that the Jewish system was respected for functioning typically.

The trial of Jesus before the Jewish religious authorities was a mockery of justice. It was a kangaroo court. It violated virtually every legal procedure that had been put in place for how a trial of a Jewish man should take place. There was one illegality and one irregularity after another throughout the whole trial. Let me give you several examples, of which there are many.

First of all, the arrest and the trial were conducted in the middle of the night where, according to Jewish law, trials had to take place during daytime hours. So the fact that they arrested Him in the middle of the night was a violation of their own Jewish law.

Second, the trial was conducted in private rather than in public—again, a violation of their law.

Third, the trial was completed in less than one day—less than half a day, actually—which was contrary to Jewish law. In Jewish law, a case that involved a capital offense had to take place over two days. It could not be concluded until the following day to allow opportunity for witnesses to come forward to give the man a just trial.

Jesus’ trial violated Old Testament laws requiring that the defense be thoroughly investigated. Instead, they rushed to judgment and pronounced sentence as quickly as possible.

Then in Jesus’ trial, He was tried by partial judges—as opposed to impartial—members of the Sanhedrin who were known enemies of Jesus. It said in the passage we just read, in Matthew 26, they were seeking to put Him to death. They were not saying this man is innocent until proven guilty. They were convinced He was guilty. They had the end objective in mind before the trial even started, and they just pushed the trial to accomplish what their objective was, which was to put Jesus to death. So these were by no means impartial judges.

Then, Jesus was condemned on the basis of His own testimony, which was illegal according to Jewish law.

There were many, many laws that were broken during Jesus’ trial, of which I’ve just named a few—and yet, isn’t it amazing that Jesus still chose to die for law-breakers, even considering the fact that many laws were broken as He was en route to die for law-breakers. It’s ironic. It’s amazing. It’s astounding that He would have gone through this.

Around dawn, having been through the Jewish mockery of a trial, a formal decision was made to put Jesus to death. However, the Jews could not carry out a death sentence without confirmation from the Roman authorities. We know that from John chapter 18, verse 31. It tells us that. So very early in the morning hours, they—according to Matthew 27—“bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate” (v. 1).

The examination by Pilate was the first phase of the Roman trial. We saw the Jewish trial. Now we have the Roman trial, which also had three phases. Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea. Now, Romans didn’t care about blasphemy, which is what the Jews had tried Jesus for. That was like, “That’s your religion—whatever.” So the Jewish leaders, when they took Jesus to Pilate, switched the charges from blasphemy to sedition, which was a Roman crime.

To the Jews, it really didn’t make any difference what the reason. They just wanted Jesus dead. They trumped up charges. “Whatever it takes, whatever we’ve got to accuse Him of, whatever false witnesses we have to bring in, we want Him dead.”

Of course, we know as we study the Gospels that they were driven by pride, by greed—greed for power, greed for place, for position. Scripture tells us they were driven by jealousy. Jesus was getting a following that they didn’t have, and He was making them look bad to boot. He was questioning, calling them hypocrites and white-washed sepulchers and pronouncing woes on them.

There was this jealousy. They were protecting their own interests, their hold, their control over the people. They were afraid they were going to lose control, this control they had exerted over the people—they put the people in bondage rather than being a liberating leadership. So driven by these ulterior motives, they just said, “We want to get rid of Him.”

It’s such a picture to me, as we think about the trial of Jesus 2000 years later, that some things never change. Still today, unbelieving, lost sinners in this unbelieving, lost world will go to almost any means and lengths to do away with Christ. They hate Him because His purity exposes their sinfulness. His truth exposes their deception. His reign and right to rule, His authority dismantles their own authority and right to rule and be god over their own lives.

Isn’t it amazing today how other religions in this world are respected, they are protected—you can’t be politically correct and challenge some of their tenets—while at the same time there’s this concerted effort to do away with Jesus. So, today you talk freely about other religions and things that aren’t true, but you start talking about Christ being the way, the truth, and the life, and you’re going to be attacked—not because they hate us, or if they do, they hate us because they hate Jesus.

Well, Pilate’s conclusion, as He tried Jesus, was simply, “I find no guilt in this man. I don’t see anything in Him that is worthy of death” (see Luke 23:4). But to the Jewish leaders, that was not an acceptable answer to them. They were insistent.

Now imagine, this was probably before 6 o’clock in the morning. So I don’t know if they got Pilate out of bed, or they just knew He started his day early. But I can just imagine Pilate thinking, What a headachy way to start this day. There’s no reason for this man to die, but these people are blood thirsty. They’re determined to get rid of Him. And the Jewish leaders were insistent that the man was a trouble-maker and a threat to Caesar.

Okay, now Pilate’s ears were open. That matters to him. So when Pilate learned that Jesus was a Galilean, from the northern district of Israel, who belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he decided to send Jesus over to the court of the Galilean king named Herod, who happened to be in Jerusalem at the time. Perhaps it was to maintain order during the Passover season, but he was just across town. There’s Herod, and Jesus is under his jurisdiction. I can imagine that Pilate was only too glad to get this messy case off of his hands.

So we come to the second phase of the Roman trial, which is Jesus before Herod. Now, there are lots of different Herods, so this can get confusing. This was Herod Antipas, who was the king who had beheaded John the Baptist. He was the son of Herod the Great who had ordered the slaughter of the Jewish infants thirty years earlier. So we see a legacy of violence and hatred and bizarre behavior at the best in this line of Herod.

Now, Herod was glad to see Jesus. He had heard a lot about Him, but he’d never met Him, and for a long time he had been wanting to see Jesus. The Scripture tells us that he had been hoping to see Jesus perform a miracle. So Herod questioned Jesus for some time, but as we’ll see in the next session, Jesus would not answer any of Herod’s questions.

So finally, having mocked Jesus and treated Him with contempt, Herod sent Him back to Pilate for the third phase of the Roman trial, and the final scene of this trial. Let me just read to you a couple of paragraphs from Luke’s Gospel, chapter 23, to show us what happened next. Again, I know we’re familiar with it, but as we come up to this holy week in the days ahead, it’s good that we should meditate and ponder again what actually took place there. Beginning in verse 13 of Luke 23:

Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, "You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. [Pilate was right about that, wasn’t he?—nothing deserving of death has been done by Him. So Pilate says,] I will therefore punish and release him” (vv. 13–16).

Punish Him? Why? Not because Jesus was guilty of anything, but just to get this mess off of his hands, hoping that would satisfy the Jews.

But they all cried out together, "Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas"—a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder (vv. 18–19).

So here’s Jesus, who has done nothing wrong, and they’re saying, “We want Him dead, but Barabbas, a man who was a known insurrectionist and murderer, we want him released. Let him go.”

Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, "Crucify, crucify him!" A third time he said to them, "Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him." But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will (vv. 20– 25).

Now, as we consider this trial, with all its illegalities and irregularities, pushing Jesus to judgment and execution, I want to just suggest several take-aways for our own hearts.

First of all, those who betrayed, tried, and condemned Jesus were guilty of treason against the Holy One of God. They were guilty—both Jews and Romans. But here’s what we need to remember—they were fulfilling a plan that God had ordained, so that they could be redeemed from their sin. Go figure! Think about it! They were guilty. No excuse. They put Christ to death. They murdered the Holy One of God. But they were also fulfilling a plan that God had put into place in eternity past in order for them to be atoned for their sins.

In Acts chapter 4 we read a prayer of the believers after Peter and John were released from prison. In this prayer they quote from Psalm 2, which is a Messianic psalm. They say,

The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed [speaking of Jesus' trial]—for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place (vv. 25–28).

That says that not for a moment were the Jews or the Romans in ultimate control of the matter. Ultimately, they were fulfilling, even the wrath of men will praise God. Ultimately, they were fulfilling a wise and loving and good plan of God for redemption.

That should comfort us when we feel like the whole world has gone crazy, and it's impacting us, and we're being affected by it. Remember who really is in control. God's plans will not be thwarted. He will accomplish His purposes, even if He has to use the wickedness of men to accomplish it.

Then secondly, I see that Jesus’ trial is a powerful apologetic for the fact that He was indeed sinless. If you ever wondered, His trial placed His innocence in the clearest possible light.

Paul was preaching in Antioch years later, and he says in Acts 13: “And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed” (v. 28).

Listen, Pilate was a seasoned governor. He knew how to know who was guilty and who wasn’t. He knew Jesus was not guilty, and even in that secular, pagan leader’s assessment, we find the truth that Jesus was indeed sinless . . . if you’ve ever wondered.

Then, when those in authority sin against us, abuse their power and lie, remembering Jesus before Herod, Pilate, and the Sanhedrin can comfort our souls. He’s been there; He’s experienced that; He did it for us, which leads me to this really major point:

The trial, again, points out the substitutionary nature of Christ’s work in saving us. The Holy Son of God endured those trials—bogus as they were—as the representative of sinners. He stood there in our place, bearing our sins, on trial for our sins.

In the book I’ve quoted earlier this week by F. W. Krummacher called The Suffering Savior. (And again, such a rich book. You may want to get a hold of that.) He says,

The Lord stands before Herod, as he did before Annas, Caiaphas, and Pilate, not merely to be judged by men, but by God at the same time; and it is my sin for which He atones and my debt which He liquidates.

He was standing there, not only being judged by those human rulers, but being judged by God as the representative . . . standing in my place . . . judged for my sins. So a guilty man who deserves to die, namely Barabbas, is released—as are we released.  And Jesus, who has done nothing deserving of death, is put to death in his place and ours—a picture of Jesus’ substitutionary death in our place.

In a message he gave on the trial of Jesus, Dr. John MacArthur says that as he considered the trial of Christ and the treatment he received, he said,

I am overwhelmed by His grace. I deserved the trial, the sentence, the condemnation, and the execution that Christ undeservedly received for me. It is God who should spit in my face; punch and slap me around, and then execute me. But Christ took my place.

That, my friends, is the gospel. That's the good news. An innocent man was tried and punished so that guilty men and women could go free.

That calls for a response from us. Every person has to take a position in relation to Jesus. Quoting from my friend again, Krummacher, The Suffering Savior, he said,

You see the alternative which is placed before you, either to forever break with Jesus and approve of the blood-thirsty sentence of the Sanhedrin, or to cry "Hosanna" to the lowly Nazarene and fall in humble adoration at His feet as God manifest in the flesh. There is here no middle path. How, therefore, to you decide? Worship Him. Bow before Him. Love Him. Trust Him. Or, cry, "Crucify Him."

No middle ground

Then just this reminder. As we consider the trial of Christ, remember that at His earthly trial, Jesus was the judged one, but one day the tables will be turned and He will be the Supreme Judge who will render righteous judgment.

If you have trusted Christ as your Savior who died in your place, for your sin (have placed your faith in Him), then you have nothing to fear about that day when the Righteous Judge comes wielding His sword to vindicate all righteousness and judge all wrongs. You have nothing to fear. But if you have rejected Christ, have not believed in Him, have not trusted Him, or are trying to save yourself, then can I say, you have everything to fear when the Righteous Judge comes to pronounce righteous judgment.

Oh Father, how we thank You that Jesus endured this trial for us. For our sakes He stood there in our place. Grant us I pray fresh eyes of faith to see, to believe, to repent, to receive what He has done in our place. I pray it in Jesus' name, amen.

Leslie: The trial of Jesus was a miscarriage of justice. I’ve heard that alluded to before, but appreciate the way Nancy took us in depth on the topic. And her application has been convicting.

The entire series “The Incomparable Christ” has been like this. As you listen, your understanding of the gospel story will be enriched. More than that, you’ll be encouraged to know and worship Jesus in a deeper way.

For details on how to listen to “The Incomparable Christ” online, just visit You can also find out how to get copies of some of the books that Nancy looked to as she prepared this series. Again, the address is


Nancy: This series on the Incomparable Christ has been such as blessing in my life. I’ve learned so much about Jesus I never would have known if I hadn’t dug into some of these passages and some of these topics. I’m so thankful for God’s Word. I’m thankful for the treasures available when you search in God’s Word. And I’m thankful for the opportunity to share it with others.

Have you experienced that kind of joy? Of digging into God’s Word, understanding it, and then sharing it with others? That process of women teaching women is crucial as we seek to pass the baton of faith onto the next generation. And that’s why I’m excited about a new conference Revive Our Hearts is hosting this September. It’s called Revive '15: Women Teaching Women.

Now, if you consider yourself a teacher, small group leader, or women’s ministry leader, if you are a pastor's wife or if you counsel or disciple other women, maybe if you are a mom who wants to teach her children well in the ways and Word of God—this conference is for you. And if you don’t consider yourself a teacher, ask yourself: Do I want to get more out of God’s Word? Would He have me share what I’m learning with others? If you'd like to study the Word more effectively and be more equipped to share with others about what you’re learning, this conference is for you.

I’ll be speaking throughout the weekend, and I’ve asked Jen Wilkin, a gifted Bible teacher, to join me. She has a passion to help women get into God’s Word and understand it for themselves.  Also, Lauren Chandler will be leading us in worship.

Revive '15 is coming to Indianapolis September 25–26. I want to encourage you to go to where you can get all the details and register. I hope you’ll join us for Revive '15 and learn to share the joys and the riches and the wonder of God’s Word with others.

Leslie: How do you react when someone accuses you of something? Most people defend themselves, but when He was accused, the response of Jesus was amazing. We’ll talk about it tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.


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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.