Jesus Stands Trial (Luke 23:1-25)


In the American classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, trial lawyer Atticus Finch gives one of the most compelling courtroom speeches in his defense of Tom Robinson. Finch closes his argument with appealing to the court saying,

There is one way in this country which all men are created equal—there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefellerthe stupid man equal of an Einstein, and an ignorant man equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court. It can be the Supreme Court of the United States or the humblest J.P. court in the land, or this honourable court which you serve. Our courts have their faults, as does any human constitution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal.
I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system—that is no ideal to me, it is a living, working reality. Gentlemen, a court is no better than each man of you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up. I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty.[1]

Finch believed in the integrity of the court and in justice. He believed that if the facts were clearly presented and if the evidence was closely examined, then truth would prevail in the end. He was wrong. Tom Robinson was convicted and was sentenced to death. 

Finch makes a true point in saying, “A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up.” The jury Atticus Finch faced in To Kill a Mockingbird was one that valued the words and opinions of one group over the truth. Likewise, Jesus faced a jury who valued the words and opinions of the world over the truth. Jesus was an innocent man standing trial for telling the truth. The Jews appealed to Pontius Pilate to try Jesus for a capital crime. Pilate will rightly discover the facts, but will act in self-preservation against the truth. As Jesus stands trial confirming his identity, I pray that you will review the evidence and in the name of God come to a decision on the truth. 

Jesus Stands as the Sinless Savior

The Sanhedrin believe that after Jesus confession of  being the One who is going to sit at the right hand of God’s power that he needed to be tried for a capital offense. Jews were allowed to deal with smaller offenses, but they had to appeal to the Romans if they wanted to administer the death penalty.  Notice what specific charges they are bringing against Jesus. Luke 23:1-3,

Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.”

The Jews came with half-truths against Jesus.  They had three specific charges. The first is their opinion, the second a lie, and the third was the truth. 

Their opinion was that this man was misleading the nation of Israel (hardly a capital offense). The lie was that he was forbidding the nation from giving tribute to Caesar. The Jews had already tried to trap him with this lie. He was asked in Luke 20:22, “Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not? But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them…render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” This is not a new charge, but a blatant lie. And yet they mix this lie with the truth to make it appear believable. The third charge was that Jesus called himself the Christ, the King. He affirmed this in the previous chapter and again to Pilate. The only charge Jesus agrees to is the truth. It is very dangerous when the truth is mixed with a lie, because it deceives people who did investigate the evidence. Half-truths lead people to hell.

Whether it is the half-truth of the prosperity gospel that truthfully says God blesses people for their faith, but lies that suffering is sign of no faith, or the half-truth of Bible belt that truthfully says that faith in Jesus saves, but lies by omitting repentance from the gospel proclamation. Half-truths are dangerous to the soul, but Pilate investigates and seems to see through these half-truths.  Luke 23:4-5, “Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, ‘I find no guilt in this man.’ But they were urgent, saying, ‘He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.’” Pilate appears to investigate in his conversation with Jesus and reveals that he finds no guilt in him.  This is the first declaration of Jesus’ innocence during his trial.  

And despite the declaration of innocence, the rulers and priests took on a more aggressive tone highlighting how he “stirs up the people.” This language implies that Jesus promotes violence. We know that this could not be further from the truth. As you watch this trial unfold, I want you to notice two things: the injustice of the trial and Jesus’ response to injustice. Jesus was just declared innocent by the highest authority in the land, but he was not released. 

Have you ever experienced injustice? Have you ever been wrongly accused or misrepresented? Think of the emotions that come with facing injustice: bitterness, anger, hurt, etc. and watch how Jesus encounters his injustice.

Jesus Stands as the Sinless Sheep

Pilate senses the frustration and the anger of the people, but here in their last comment was an opportunity for him to escape making a decision in this highly charged trial. He has the opportunity to pass the buck. Luke 23:6-7, “When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time.” Herod had never met Jesus, but there were rumors that he wanted Jesus killed. Luke 13:31, “At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” Jesus responded to them by calling him a fox before adding, “for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.” Jesus knows that the injustice of his trial is going to lead to his death.

People in positions of power are accustomed to get their way. Herod was no different. Herod was excited to finally see the Jesus he had heard so much about. Luke 23:8-9, “When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer.” Herod spent a considerable about of time with Jesus (questioning him at some length), but Jesus gave him no reply. This is not what is expected.

In most court room scenes when the innocent is brought in for questioning by the authority, we are expecting an impassioned speech and claim of innocence, but Jesus does not give them what is expected. He remains silent. His silence fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah 53:7, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” Jesus’ silence demonstrates tremendous faith and trust in God.  His silence also serves to show the opposite of the accusations against him. He is not one who is stirring up the people, but one who is silent in his affliction like lamb that is led to the slaughter and like a sheep before its shearers.

Jesus is the Messianic King of the Jews and has been declared innocent, but the nation of Israel continues to mock him. Luke 23:10-11, “The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate.” Herod looked at Jesus and mocked him thinking that his kingship is a shame. Herod had no respect for Jesus, but looked at him as a joke. The one he has heard so much about stood before him silent and he was unimpressed.

Herod, like so many today, did not take the claims of Jesus serious. They were only slightly more than indifferent. They were not impressed with his claims. What about you? Are you impressed with the claims of Christ or are you indifferent to them? Listen to this story of Chinese missionary Hudson Taylor as he was traveling one day on junk ship from Shanghai,

Hudson Taylor had been witnessing to a man named Peter who rejected the gospel but was under deep conviction. In the course of events, Peter fell overboard, but no one made any effort to save him. Taylor sprang to the mast, let down the sail, and jumped overboard in hopes of finding his friend. But no one on board joined Taylor in his frantic search. Taylor saw a fishing boat nearby and yelled to them to help, but they wouldn't do it without money. Finally, after bartering for every penny that Taylor had, the fishermen stopped their fishing and began to look for Peter. In less than a minute of dragging their net, they found him, but it was too late. They were too busy fishing to care about saving a drowning man.[2]

Are you like these fishermen? So consumed with the busyness of your life that you are indifferent to those “drowning” in sin around you? Beloved, if we take the claims of Christ seriously, then we must understand what is at stake. If people do not believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, they will perish in Hell for all eternity. We must take the claims of Christ seriously.

 Herod was not threatened by Jesus so he sent him back to Pilate. And in sending him back to Pilate, he affirmed Pilate’s earlier declaration of his innocence. Luke 23:12-16,

And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other. 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. I will therefore punish and release him.”

Jesus is in front of Pilate again and is again declared innocent. There is the added emphasis from Pilate in saying, “behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod.” Jesus’s innocence is confirmed now by two witnesses. According to Deuteronomy 19:15, “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.” Jesus’s innocence has been established, and justice is still withheld. 

Jesus Stands as the Sinless Stone


      Pilate continues to try to release Jesus, but is only met with more opposition from the crowd. It was the custom every year at the feast of the governor to release for the crowd any prisoner the crowd wanted. The crowd appealed to this custom, not for Jesus, but for another, Luke 23:18-21, “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. Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” The irony is thick. They want to crucify Jesus as they claim he is a violent revolutionary who stirs up the people to violence and is a threat to Rome, but ask to release Barabbas, who was a violent revolutionary who stirred up the people to violence and was a threat to Rome. Crucifixion was a brutal death that was only reserved for those who committed treason or who were trying to escape capital punishment.

      The crowd asks for Barabbas, whose name literally means “son of the father,” to be released while the true Son of the Father takes his place. The crowd is acting under the sovereign authority of God the Father, who has sent his Son to take the place of sinners and to set the captive free. We are like Barabbas. We are the guilty ones. We are the ones who have committed treason against a Holy God and deserve to be crucified, but Christ, the sinless Son of God, has come to take our place. Pilate again attempts to release Jesus by declaring his innocence a third time, Luke 23:22, “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.’” Pilate asks a question that the people cannot answer, “What evil has he done?” They did not answer, “but they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified” (Luke 23:23a).

      The crowd did not want to answer the question; for they knew by answering it they would condemn themselves. They knew he had done no wrong, but to admit that they would have to come to grips with the evil they had done. John 3:19-20, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” The crowd could not deal with their own evil so they shouted with loud cries, “crucify him, crucify him!”

      Ironically the only way for their evil to be dealt with was for Jesus to take the cross. Jesus had to be rejected. 1 Peter 2:4 says that Jesus is the, “living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious,” fulfilling the prophecy in Isaiah 28: 16, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” And in Psalm 118:22-24, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Jesus was the stone the builders rejected becoming the cornerstone so that whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.

      Beloved, the only way your evil works can be dealt with is through the cross of Jesus Christ. He went to the cross to pay for the evil you have committed. He himself bore our sins in his body on that tree that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. It is only by his wounds that we have been healed.  Friend, you need to look to Christ. He is your only hope for salvation. You cannot expect God to accept you with your evil works. Listen as Pastor JD Greear explains this,

Do you realize how completely pure and perfect God is? Do you realize what danger the presence of sin in your heart places you in? Imagine you were drinking a glass of milk and I told you it had been mixed with a few drops of human blood contaminated by the AIDS virus. That’s not much, but touching that glass of milk to your lips would repulse you. We stand before God wholly contaminated by sin. Sin cannot exist in the presence of God.[3]

Jesus came to become contaminated with sin so you could be made clean. 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Do you believe that? Do you truly believe that?

Pilate believed in Jesus’ innocence, but did not respond to it. Pilate chose to bow to the world instead of the living Christ. Luke 23:23-25,

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.

Their voices prevailed. Pilate did not serve justice, but chose to serve his own reputation and self-preservation. Pilate oversaw the greatest injustice of all human history. The completely innocent Son of God was killed so a murderer could go free. The greatest injustice has become our only hope.

      What will prevail in your life? Will the voices of the world prevail? The voices that beckon you to choose the pleasures of this life, or to choose the busyness of keeping up with the world or the voices that offer you hope in something other than Christ? Will those voices prevail in your life as they did for Pilate? He believed in Jesus’ innocence, but that belief did not change him. His belief only proved he loved himself more than he loved God.

      Beloved, Jesus was delivered over for your sake.  Allow his death and resurrection to prevail in your life. Jesus was crucified for your sake. He died that you may live. Which word will be spoken over you? Forgiven or Condemned. Jesus chose to exchange his life for your sin. He chose to be condemned so you could be forgiven. Let his death and resurrection be the prevailing voice in your life!! You have two choices: bow to the world like Pilate or bow to Christ. Which will you choose?


[3] Greear, JD. GOSPEL. Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary. B&H: Nashville, 2011. P. 94-95
image credit (http://codyknutson.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/sinless.jpg)

Steven Brazzell

Charlotte, NC