Summary: A look at the trial motiff in John, where we are the ones on trial to see whether we accept or reject Jesus.
At the height of a political corruption trial, the prosecuting attorney attacked a witness. "Isn’t it true," he bellowed, "that you accepted five thousand dollars to compromise this case?" The witness stared out the window as though he hadn’t hear the question. "Isn’t it true that you accepted five thousand dollars to compromise this case?" the lawyer repeated. The witness still did not respond. Finally, the judge leaned over and said, "Sir, please answer the question." "Oh," the startled witness said, "I thought he was talking to you."
One of the themes that runs through the book of John is that of a trial. For those of you who have been to the bible studies will no doubt recognise this, since we’ve mentioned it a few times and I believe I might have mentioned it in a sermon before. However, tonights passage kind of highlights the issue so I thought I would take the opportunity to explore the theme tonight. So tonight we ask the questions who is on Trial, who is the judge, what is the evidence and what is the verdict?
So lets take the first question and ask who is on trial? There are various candidates for the position. If we look at the story of Jesus life then our first response might be to say that Jesus was on trial. He did seem to spend most his life having accusations flung in his face by the Pharisees and the Jewish leaders. At every turn he faced opposition from one group or another and they always seemed to be judging him and finding him wanted. Or if we take this incident that we read about here, the next time Jesus will appear in public is at his trial in front of Pilate. In actual fact of course there are several trials as Jesus is passed from one group to the other as people try to either get rid of him or avoid responsibility for either condemning Jesus or setting him free. In many ways the trial scenes summarise some who Jesus is claiming to be and the rejection of Jesus by his own people and the Romans. If his death didn’t hold so much significance and if that in turn was not topped by his resurrection then the trial scenes would make a nice conclusion to the whole story. Its the last tragedy, the final chance for the people to acclaim the rightful King, but he is found guilty and sentenced to die.
But here and elsewhere, John wants us to look at a different trial. In the passage we read it is not Jesus who is on trial. Rather it is those who have heard and seen Jesus in action that are on trial. It is the ones who have seen what he has done and must decide what to make of him. In earlier passages in John, it has been the pharisees, the ones who have set themselves up in opposition to Jesus that have faced the trial. They have seen what Jesus has done but they refuse to reach the correct conclusions about him. They are on trial to see whether they believe in Jesus or not. Do they believe he is the Messiah, God’s son, even God himself? Do they suspect but refuse to believe because the cost is too much. As we read, this was the case for some of the Pharisees and leaders. We don’t know the depth of their faith or what they actually believed, did they believe Jesus was God, unlikely since the disciples hadn’t made that leap of faith yet, did they believe he was from God, that he was the Messiah, yes probably, did they believe the message that Jesus preached, as far as they understood it, yes. But they refused to trust him because of what other people might have thought, and so when you come down to it, they fail the test.
Then there were the others, those who didn’t believe at all. Or maybe that’s being a bit generous to them as well. They saw the evidence, they must have suspected, they must have at least entertained the tiniest bit of doubt that maybe just maybe Jesus was who really claimed to be. Even the high priest recognised the signs and what Jesus was doing. But they just counted up the cost and thought the price was too high. Yes, there was something there, but lets get him out of the way quickly before we have to face the full body evidence. Lets not look too closely at the evidence in case we find that we can’t avoid the conclusions. There’s just a hint that there might be something to this guy after all but if we quickly look the other way then we can avoid coming to that conclusion. Typical ostrich syndrome. I don’t know how much truth there is to the rumour, but the rumour has that then when an ostrich faces danger it will stick its head in the ground, figuring that if it can’t see the danger, the lion or whatever, then the lion can’t see it. I know I have been tempted to do this in past. There have been times when at college, the bank account was running low and you didn’t know how you were going to pay for stuff. So I just avoid reading bank statements, leaving them unopened and not checking your balance at the cash points. But it doesn’t work. Trying to avoid the issue does not make it go away. And trying to get rid of Jesus did not help them avoid who he was or what he came for.