Listening to Jesus About Himself and His Return

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Mark 14:61-62

But he was silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am; and you will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

Mark 14:61,62 rsv

There come times when speaking the truth may be costly, even dangerous. Suppose, for example, that you’re called to be a witness at the trial of some Mafia figure. Anonymous phone calls have hinted grimly at what may happen to you if you testify. Or suppose you know about questionable practices and cover-up attempts in an organization of which you are a part. When someone asks you about this, the truth may be explosive. Or let’s say you have to confront with a serious charge, a person who has been a lifelong friend. It’s hard then, isn’t it, and very painful to tell it as it is?

One of the titles which the early Christians gave to Jesus Christ was “the faithful witness.” They saw Him as one who spoke for God with integrity, with unswerving loyalty. In saying that, they were simply affirming His own words about the mission on which He came, “For this was I born,” He said, “and for this cause I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.”

We’ve been listening in recent weeks to Jesus’ teaching on a number of subjects. Today what we look at is teaching in the form of personal testimony. One of the most remarkable instances of His witnessing faithfulness came in Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin. It was when the high priest demanded of Him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” As we think about that crisis and Jesus’ response to it, we learn a great deal about what it means to tell the truth, to be a faithful witness.

COURAGE

First, quite evidently, it calls for considerable courage. Jesus knew well what was at stake in this trial. The fact that He had been arrested under cover of darkness had ominous overtones. He knew the bitter envy of the religious officials and their fury at what He had been teaching and claiming. When on trial, He had heard already the accusations of several false witnesses, obviously hired to charge Him with serious crimes. It was plain that malice more than justice was at work in these proceedings. And when the question was asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus saw clearly how an affirmative answer would be received. It was the occasion His enemies had been hungrily seeking. Who but the brave would speak the truth then?

Anyone can be honest when among supportive, sympathetic friends. It’s easy to expound to people a doctrine they already believe and appear ready to hear with delight. But truth speaking is a challenge when our hearers dread and hate what we are about to say. Fear leaps up then to strike us dumb or make us equivocate. We fear retaliation from those whom we may have to expose. We shrink from the loss of face, the ostracism we may meet among those who disapprove of our stand or who criticize us for making trouble. There is always the chance that no one will stand by us and we’ll be left completely alone. We dread that prospect, don’t we?

The more richly favored we are, the more highly placed, the more frightening it becomes for us to risk everything in the name of truth. Blaise Pascal put it piercingly when he said, “Hence each degree of good fortune that raises us in the world takes us further from the truth, because we fear to wound those whose affection is most useful and whose dislike is most dangerous.”

Alexander Solzhenitsyn has displayed a rare brand of courage in our time. Few in this generation have known the pressures to which this man was once exposed. Remember how all the might of a totalitarian state and all the cunning of its official propaganda were deployed against him, this one man. Yet as a TIME article reported back in 1974, “After a massive three-week campaign against him, Alexander Solzhenitsyn last week raised his voice in counterattack. The besieged writer defied the Kremlin to refute the charges made in his book The Gulag Archipelago. He accused the Soviets of damning Gulag’s description of Leninist and Stalinist terror out of an animal fear of disclosure. To his critics, he said, `You liars!’ It was an unprecedented moment of confrontation between the state and a lone heroic man.” We are stunned and humbled at such courage, such an electrifying witness to the truth.

Solzhenitsyn, of course, had some hopes that he would be spared. The Soviet Union, even in those days, had to deal with a watching world that much admired this author’s heroism. He was too well-known, as it were, to squelch, too symbolic a figure to be put in prison. They finally did to him all they felt they could, deporting him, declaring him a non-person.

But for Jesus at His trial, there were no hopes of deliverance. No international press would herald His words. No friendly free world would be prepared to welcome Him. The only ones who would hear His response that night would be men bent on destroying Him. Not only were the leaders of His people against Him, but behind them stood the might of imperial Rome. If He claimed before the Sanhedrin to be the Messiah, His death would surely follow as the night the day. But that is precisely what He did. “I am,” He said. “And you will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). He dared to give His accusers exactly what they were looking for. Jesus above all others deserves John Bunyan’s famous title: “Valiant for Truth.”

CERTAINTY OF THE TRUTH

But courage in His case was closely linked to something else. He was certain of the truth He proclaimed. Depth of assurance often appears in what people are willing to sacrifice and suffer for what they believe. This courage of our Lord grew in part out of His unshakable personal conviction.

Anyone who reads straight through the Gospel according to Mark is likely to be startled when he comes to this self-witness of Jesus before Caiaphas here in Chapter 14, verse 62. Startled, I say, because Mark up to this point portrays Jesus as quite reticent in making any claims about Himself. This gospel has sometimes been called for that reason “the gospel of the secret.” Jesus seems reluctant that anyone should know He is the Messiah. Follow that with me. “And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him” (1:34). Jesus said to a leper whom He had cleansed, “See that you say nothing to any one” (1:44). When afflicted people fell before Him and cried out, “You are the Son of God,” He strictly ordered them “not to make Him known.” After He raised from death the daughter of Jairus, He strictly charged the people who had witnessed it that no one should know this. And you can imagine Simon Peter’s surprise when after he had made his great confession, “You are the Christ,” he heard Jesus say, “Don’t tell anyone!”

Why did Jesus labor in this way to avoid publicity? Why did He shrink from having the crowds know that He was the Messiah? Plainly because their notions of what that meant were very different from His. He didn’t want to encourage nationalistic hopes, revolutionary expectations. But His reserve surely did not mean any doubt on His part that He was God’s Son and Israel’s Messiah. That became abundantly plain in the drama of this trial.

Not only was Jesus’ life at stake – He was also under a solemn oath. He had been ordered by the high priest to swear before God that His testimony was true. His character, His credibility, were on the line. “Tell us now,” fumes the high priest, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the blessed?” “I am,” He answered. No equivocating now, no qualifying, no hedging in the slightest. In the most solemn, binding circumstances imaginable, Jesus testified that He was the Son of God, the hope of Israel, the Savior of the world.

Now that, of course, doesn’t constitute proof that He is all of that. Many people under extreme pressures have made claims about themselves that weren’t founded in fact. But what cannot be questioned is that Jesus Himself believed what He said. Is it imaginable that anyone so transparently genuine would perjure Himself, especially when giving any other answer could have saved His life?

Can’t the same thing be said for those early Christians who preached the resurrection of Jesus? We may say that they were mistaken or mad. We may contrive ingenious explanations as to how they became so deluded. But does it make sense to say that these first-century martyrs were deliberately hoodwinking people? There are all sorts of fanatics in the world, obviously, but where are those who joyfully die for what they know to be a lie?

As you perhaps wrestle sometimes with the all-important question, “Who is Jesus Christ?” will you seriously consider this, what we’ve been thinking about today? He was so sure that He was the Lord from heaven and the world’s one hope that He swore to it and sealed that testimony with His life’s blood. It all comes down finally to this: either Caiaphas and the rest were right in charging Him with blasphemy or else Jesus is all that He claims to be. Ask yourself this: which is worthy of my trust?

CONFIDENCE THAT IT WILL PREVAIL

See now one more trait of this faithful witness. He is confident that the truth will finally prevail. Jesus was not content with answering the high priest’s question in the affirmative. He went on to predict the consummation of this age, His return to earth. Listen: “I am; and you will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” To the Jewish leaders, Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah had seemed blasphemous because they saw no evidence to support it. Surely God would always vindicate, they thought, His own anointed One. This Jesus, on the contrary, was no conqueror, no champion against the heathen nations. He had only a few fickle followers. The really important people in Israel were all against Him. What foolish sacrilege to suggest that this forlorn figure, on trial for His life, could be God’s mighty Messiah!

The Lord, of course, had been giving evidence of another kind all through His ministry. The blind had received their sight from His touch. The lame had begun to walk again. Lepers had been cleansed. The oppressed and afflicted had been delivered. Even the dead had been raised to life. But all that the religious leaders chose to overlook. Now they wanted Him to tell them He was the Messiah. “Yes, I am,” He said, in effect, “and this shall be your evidence. The day will come when you will see with your own eyes that God has exalted His Son as Lord over all. You will look on the one whom you have pierced. You will see Him coming in the clouds of heaven with power and glory.” In other words, Jesus is saying that God Himself will attest this claim on the last day.

For any who follow Christ in our time, faithful witness arises not only from courage and certainty about the truth, but also from the sure hope that this truth of God will triumph. Jesus looked death full in the face but knew that God would be His vindicator beyond death – and that all the world would some day know it. And when we believe also that beyond struggle and suffering is the Lord’s “well done,” that on the other side of death is surely resurrection, and that God’s holy purpose cannot fail, then we have fresh heart too to bear our testimony.

Solzhenitsyn describes his arrest and removal to prison in these words, “The circular upper hall is bathed in electric light, and from the depths of the railway station along two parallel escalators Muscovites rise to meet us in serried ranks. They all seemed to look at me as if expecting me to shout at least one word of truth. Why am I silent? Because these Muscovites standing on the elevator stairs are not numerous enough. My cry would be heard by 200, perhaps 400 people. What about my 200 million compatriots? I have a vague premonition that one day I will scream out for all those 200 million. Once,” he continued, “the truth seemed doomed to die. It was beaten. It was drowned. It had turned to ashes. But now the truth has come alive. No one will be able to destroy it.”

Think, friends, of how that brave man’s hopes are being realized today, in the Soviet Union. And those who know the gospel dare to believe that the secret of all history will yet be revealed – perhaps soon – when the earth will see the glory of the Lord, when every knee will bow to Him, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. Why not take Him at His word now? Why not trust Him today? Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for you, is the faithful witness.

Prayer: Lord, we praise You for testifying so clearly and courageously that You are the Messiah and the Son of the blessed God. Help every person who shares this program to trust You as the faithful witness. In the name of Jesus. Amen.