During our prayers this morning Kathleen and I discussed the subject of injustice — what happens when the lawful rights of a person or a group are violated by those in power who have unlawful goals. Injustice can deaden a marriage, divide a home, rend a state, or even taint a church.
Christians around the world these days are reading about injustice — the story of a whole series of towering legal offenses committed against our Lord which led to his brutal death on a Roman cross.
The Gospels tell the story.
The religious authorities — the chief priests, elders and other religious leaders — agreed among themselves that Jesus had to be arrested. The high priest, Caiaphas, went a step further: he suggested he must die. But it all had to be planned and carried out by stealth, without stirring up the crowds streaming into Jerusalem for Passover.
From that point on, the religious leaders ignored their laws because their intentions were sinister. Even Pilate, the Roman governor, saw through their plots. He knew that justice was not their issue; he knew they were motivated by sheer “envy.”
Judas, the traitor, helped them, and the temple guards arrested and bound Jesus in Gethsemane, outside the city. They and their accomplices had come armed with weapons in case they had to subdue him, or torches if he should hide and they had to search for him. They marched him to the high priest’s palace and there the nation’s highest religious leaders began breaking Jewish laws with abandon.
William Barclay lists some of the laws they broke — laws which should have protected an innocent man.
1. Criminal cases had to be tried during daylight hours and on the final day must be completed before darkness fell.
2. Criminal cases may not be tried during Passover.
3. Only if the verdict is “not guilty” may a case be completed during the same day it begins. Otherwise, a night must elapse before the verdict is decided, to give mercy time to arise.
4. A judgment by the Sanhedrin, the ruling court of Jerusalem, must not be rendered unless the body is convened in its normal place of meeting – the Hall of Hewn Stone in the precincts of the temple. (There was to be no “offhand curbside justice.”)
5. All evidence must be given by at least two witnesses who are permitted no contact with each other and who are examined separately.
6. In capital cases, the giving of false witness may be punishable by death.
Between the middle of that night before the high Priest and Sanhedrin and the forenoon of the next day when Jesus was nailed to his cross, every one of these laws was broken. Our Lord not only was falsely accused, he was then struck and spit upon by members of the court.
These hasty and lawless procedures amounted to one of the most glaring abuses of law on human record. It was a travesty of justice and it all led to the brutal killing of an innocent man — the world’s Redeemer.
Jesus subjected himself to this injustice for a reason. When Peter attempted to protect him with a clumsy swing of his sword, Jesus said to Peter, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? (Matt. 26:53). But he did not call. He made himself vulnerable to the worst injustice in order to fulfill the Scriptures.
We have to immerse ourselves in the story again and again, detail after detail, to awaken our dull hearts to the price paid for our salvation. The undeserved physical abuse was horrific at the hands of evil men. And the spiritual anguish even worse which made him cry out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1). He was indeed “led like a lamb to the slaughter” (Isa. 53:7b).
As the truth sinks in and our sense of gratitude is awakened afresh, we also ask that God make us alert to injustice in our world or even in our marriages or families or church, helping us to avoid the indifference to injustice that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day showed.