God on Trial

Mark 15:1-15

God Leads a Pretty Sheltered Life!!

At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a great plain before God’s throne.  Some of the groups near the front talked heatedly, not with cringing shame, but with belligerence.

“How can God judge us? “How can he know about suffering?” snapped a joking brunette.  She jerked back a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp.  “We endured terror, beatings, torture, death!”

In another group, a Black man lowered his collar.  “What about this?” he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn.  “Lynched for no crime but being black!”  “We have suffocated in slave ships, been wrenched from loved ones, toiled till only death gave release.”

Far out across the plain were hundreds of such groups.  Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering He permitted in His world.  How lucky God was to live in heaven where all was sweetness and light, where there was no weeping, no fear, no hunger, no hatred.  Indeed, what did God know about what people had been forced to endure in this world?  “After all, God leads a pretty sheltered life,” they said.

So each group sent out a leader, chosen because he had suffered the most.  There was a Jew, a Black, an untouchable from India, a person from Hiroshima, and one from a Siberian slave camp.  In the centre of the plain, they consulted with each other.  At last, they were ready to present their case.  It was rather simple:  Before God would be qualified to be their judge, He must endure what they had endured.  Their decision was that God “Should be sentenced to live on Earth — as a man!”

But, because He was God, they set certain safeguards to be sure He could not use His divine powers to help Himself:

Let Him be born a Jew.

Let the legitimacy of His birth be doubted, so that none will know who His father really is.

Let Him champion a cause so just, but so radical that it brings down upon Him the hate, condemnation, and eliminating efforts of every major traditional and established authority.

Let Him be betrayed by His dearest friends.

Let Him be indicted on false charges, tried before a prejudiced jury, and convicted by a cowardly judge.

Let Him see what it is to be terribly alone and completely abandoned by every living thing.

Let Him be tortured and let Him die!  Let Him die the most humiliating deat.

As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the great throng of people.  When the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a loud silence.  No one uttered another word.  No one moved.  For suddenly all knew –  God had already served His sentence.

Jesus on Trial

Ah yes!  Jesus Christ has taken his place among the tried, convicted, and the executed..

The Four Gospels tell us of the time he was tried and sentenced.  His trial stands out in the annals of history as one of the most infamous of trials.  It is a case of our terrible capacity for handing out injustice.  The trial of Jesus was unfair from start to finish. In short, it was scandalous.  

In the course of a few hours He was tried by three sets of judges in a series of four kangaroo courts.

His first trial was in the dead of night while most of the city was asleep.  He had been arrested at night, yanked off to face trial before the quickly called Sanhedrin.  They listened through that night to trumped up charges, but could not find witnesses to anything that he had done that was wrong.  Both judge and jury are angry that they cannot pin a conviction on the man.  But they want him to be guilty.  Hardly an unprejudiced jury.  They want him hung, though they cannot find him guilty of anything.  They are so frustrated that finally the victim helps them out by saying something they regard as blasphemy, and in the next few moments the jury piles out of their seats and start beating and cursing and spitting on the prisoner.  They charge him with blasphemy and demand the death penalty.    That was trial one. 

But they cannot carry out their sentence.  There is a need for a second trial before the secular magistrate.  They wake up Pilate the Roman governor.  They want him to ratify their decision. Pilate, the new judge, listens to their charges, which by the way, were not the same as those at his first trial.  They tried to persuade the governor that Jesus was a terrorist, guilty of sedition.  Pilate was smart enough to know that this man was guilty of no such thing.  But he didn’t want to bother with the thing at all.  Then Pilate heard that Jesus was from Galilee, so he had him sent to Herod, who was in charge of Galilean affairs, to be tried instead.  That was his second trial. 

But Herod is a buffoon.  He is a king who would rather be a clown.  He is a judge in a case, but he would rather be a court jester.  He wants entertainment, not employment, so he listens to the charges, puts on a mock trial, refuses to deal with the case, has his soldiers beat the prisoner for the sadistic fun of it all, and then returns Jesus to Pilate to try the case.  That is the third trial of Jesus. 

And poor Pilate is stuck with the onerous task of making the decision..  He is sure the man is innocent.  He keeps on asserting it.  “I find no fault in this man.”  But a verdict of “innocent” is inadmissible to the prosecution. They know that Pilate is wavering.  So they coerce the judge.  “If you let him off,” they shout, “we’ll report you to Caesar.”  Pilate already suffers from job-insecurity and so he gives in to the pressure.  He gives the order to get him executed, and then he washes his hands of the entire thing.  He knows that injustice has prevailed, but, hey, peace is worth it, whatever the cost.  That is the fourth trial.  And every one of them a travesty.

God on Trial

But if the truth be told, those four trials were just making visible what had been true of our treatment of God down through the ages.  We have put God on trial times beyond counting.  Adam was the first one to accuse God.  When he and Eve had crossed the boundary of right and wrong, Adam blames his wife and God in the same sentence, “The woman, you gave to be with me, gave me the fruit, so I ate.”   He has hung his wife and his God out to dry, to protect himself. 

There are a series of Psalms that are called the Psalms of complaint.  They are songs in Israel’s hymn book that accuses God of not being fair, of being too late, of not caring.  They often ask “Why, God, Why?”  They are psalms of puzzlement.  If God is so good and so powerful how comes he doesn’t get us out of the mess we’re in?

The Prophets join the chorus.  Jeremiah often puts God on trial, accusing Him of being unfair.  Habakkuk the prophet one day climbs the high tower in Jerusalem and says to God, “I know you’ll win, but  I need to say something anyway to you about the way you are running the universe.”  And he accuses God.

But it is not a phenomenon limited to the pages of the Old Testament. To this very day it continues.  God is blamed for life’s difficulty far too frequently by far too many of us.  God is accused of bringing earthquakes and floods, calling them “acts of God”.  He is blamed for the illnesses and the deaths of our loved ones.  When we say “it’s not fair” we often mean “God is not fair.”  

God gets put on trial fairly frequently.   

The Coming of Jesus

But it is interesting.  In the pages of the New Testament there is a change.  The teachings of Jesus and Paul and others do not carry on the old tradition of accusing God.  The O.T. has its cries to God about His justice.  Cries of impatience, cries of anger at God.  There are none of these in the New Testament.  Why not?  

In the coming of Jesus, we came to understand that it is we who have been unfair to God.  We know that we had misread God.   We were angry at a picture of God that was not accurate.  God is not the cosmic bully making life difficult.  We are the bullies who hound innocent people to death.  We are the mini-tyrants who make life difficult for one another.  God is like Jesus who suffers alongside us,  who is victimized and charged with horrible crimes of which is he absolutely innocent.  God is the crucified God who takes our anger on the chin and does not retaliate.  

During those four trials Jesus is not self-defensive.  He says nothing in his own defense. And God has been that way.  He is accused and He does not get all defensive.  He does not pay back in turn.  When we strike him on the left cheek he turns the other.  When we take his coat, he hands us his cloak.  When we insist that he walk a mile in our moccasins he walks two.  When we curse him, he blesses us.  

But let us return to that story with which I began.  The millions on the plain bring their accusation asking what right does God have to judge us?  They too misunderstand God.  They think that God desires to put them on trial and to pass judgment.  Instead God says “I have no desire to pass judgment.  I would rather embrace you, adopt you, help you to find healing for your damaged lives and those haunting memories. 

As King Arthur says to the fallen Guinevere, “I have not come to note thy crimes…. but to forgive you as eternal God forgives.”  And the God who is put on trial by us, would rather not return the favour, but offers to make peace with us while we are on our way to the court.  He would rather settle out of court.  He would rather postpone justice, until redemption has done its better work.

The hymn we are about to sing contains these words:
Bearing shame and scoffing rude
In my place condemned He stood
Sealed my pardon with His blood
Hallelujah, What a saviour. 

“In my place condemned He stood”   That is the teaching of the Gospel story.  I deserved to be tried, condemned, and executed.  Instead, the innocent One was found guilty instead, and took my place 

Hymn #175 “Hallelujah, What a Saviour”