“How to Witness in the Face of Persecution”
INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of Mark 14.53-72
Mark 14. Mark’s gospel, chapter 14. This week, we take one step closer inside the shadow of the cross. We are inching our way ever closer to our Lord’s crucifixion. Soon, we’ll be on our knees praising God for the cost of our atonement.
It is very early before dawn on Friday. Jesus will be crucified around 9am.
Mark is likely writing his gospel to Christians in Rome. At the time of his writing, Mark could hear as it were, the sharping of the swords of persecution. As Mark’s writes his gospel, he is well aware that public opinion against Christians is plummeting. In a few years, Christians would be persecuted under the infamous Roman emperor Nero, who began the first state-sanctioned persecution in Rome. To describe the persecution would almost be inappropriate. If you are so inclined to read about what happened to our brothers and sisters, you may wish to read Foxes’ Book of Martyrs, in the 2nd chapter.
So, Mark’s burden, as he foresees government and public opinion about the truth of Christ plummet, is to warn believers that this persecution is coming. How should Christians respond? Mark’s desire is that they respond like Christ in the face of persecution, not like the apostle Peter, in his denial of the Lord.
In Mark 14, verses 53-65, we have Christ’s response to persecution for the faith, during His trial before the high priest, Caiaphas. Next, in verses 66-72, we have Peter’s response to persecution…well, we should probably call it Peter’s response to a temptation to be embarrassed about his Lord.
Mark’s burden is to prepare the Lord’s people for how to witness in the face of persecution. He uses the Lord as a positive example and Peter as a negative example.
One of the reasons we know that Mark is focusing on how to give testimony for Christ or how to be a witness for Christ in the face of persecution is because he piles on words referring to witnessing or testimony. Only Mark does this. If you compare the other account of this same story in Matt 26:57–68, you’ll see that only Mark is determined to emphasize this concept of witnessing.
Mark uses 3 different words for “witness” for a total of 7 occurrences, in just 9 verses. In verse 55, you have the word testimony. In verse 56, there is false testimony and their “testimony was not consistent.” Verse 57, you have again false testimony. Verse 59, again the issue of their consistent testimony. Verse 60 at the end of the verse, testifying against. And finally, verse 63 at the end of the verse, witnesses.
Ironically, the major positive witness of Christ is not only Himself in verse 62, but also the high priest Caiaphas himself in verse 61, where Caiaphas says, Mark 14:61 … “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” It’s ironic to find the true identity of Christ in the mouth of His enemies, though it is a question.
And Christ, of course, gives the proper testimony about himself in the face of persecution in verse 62 Mark 14:62 And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.”
Though it cost Him His earthly life, yet He would not deny who He was.
Mark’s preaching point is found in the contrast between Christ and Peter. Peter’s epic failure to stand up for Christ and be a witness for Christ in this most important hour is notorious. By contrasting these two stories on being a witness for the person of Christ, we arrive at the title of the message this morning which is, “How to Witness in the Face of Persecution.”
Now, our generation may not face the persecution that Jesus or the early church did. However, our children or our children’s children may. We are in a unique time and place in church history where we really don’t experience true persecution. Our “persecution” is likely similar to that which Peter faced. We are more plagued with the sins of ease and the fear of man, like Peter was.
So, let’s talk first about Jesus’ witness of Himself in the face of persecution.
In the face of persecution, witness like Christ (14:53-55)
Introduction: In the face of persecution, witness like Christ. Witness like Christ.
Jesus has just been betrayed by Judas, now, in order to be executed, He must be convicted of something. So, he will stand trial. There are actually 3 Jewish or religious trials and 3 Roman or civil trials.
The first Jewish trial of Jesus is before Annas, as recorded in John 18. His son-in-law is Caiaphas, who is the high priest at this time. Caiaphas is the main figure in the second Jewish trial, which we have in our passage, in verses 53-65. Our passage is the second Jewish trial.
The third Jewish trial is kind of a formality. It’s found in Mark 15:1. The reason they held this trial in Mark 15 was because the trial before Caiphas was at night, which is illegal. Trials for capital punishment are not allowed to be at night, according to Jewish law found in, what they call, the Mishnah.
Allow me now to comment on how illegal these trials are. The Mishnah was a collection of traditions that would eventually enjoy near canonical authority. In a 100 to 200 years, the Mishnah would be considered to be almost equal to the Bible. The Mishnah commented on religious and civil law.
According to the Mishnah, if you study it out and compare it to what happened during Jesus’ trials, you’ll find around a total of 25 illegalities that were committed in the 3 Jewish trials of Jesus. 13 of 25 were in this very trial before Caiaphas in Mark 14:53-65.
Let me give us some examples. Like we said, it was illegal to hold a trial for capital punishment before the early morning sacrifice, or at night. I won’t read it, but this is clear from Mishnah: Sanhedrin 4:1. The Sanhedrin are the groups mentioned in Mark 14:53 They led Jesus away to the high priest; and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes *gathered together.
The timing of this trial is clearly at night before the morning sacrifice, as Peter warming himself by the fire would indicate in Mark 14:54. Another example from the Mishnah is that trials involving the Sanhedrin were to be held in what’s called the Hall of Judgment in the Temple. However, this one is clearly not there, but is in the private quarters of the house of Caiaphas. Mark 14:54 testifies that Peter followed Jesus from a distance and ended up at the courtyard of Caiaphas, which is below Caiaphas’ house.
TRANS: So, you can see there are a number of examples here of the illegality of this trial. Now, in verses 53 and 54, Mark records the gathering of the enemies, the Sanhedrin, and the following of the denier-disciple, Peter.
Gathering To Jesus (vv.53-54)
After Judas betrayed Jesus, now the mob leads Jesus to the high priest…
Mark 14:53-54 53 They led Jesus away to the high priest; and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes [these groups make up the Sanhedrin. …they …]*gathered together. 54 Peter had followed Him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the officers and warming himself at the fire.
Mark picks back up on this story in verse 66. Like before, this sandwich technique of starting a story, going to another story, and coming back to the first story, is Mark’s way of emphasizing a contrast. And we said that the contrast will be between Jesus and Peter and how they respond to persecution.
So here’s Peter, curious and with a spirit that is indeed “willing” as Jesus said in their prayer meeting. But given, as we saw last week, that Peter has not been spiritually alert, therefore he’s not well prepared, no matter how good his intentions are.
Now, the goal of the Sanhedrin is to find consistent testimony against Him so that they can, at least somewhat legally put Him to death. But they couldn’t find consistent testimony… Mark 14:55-56 55 Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, and they were not finding any. 56 For many were giving false testimony against Him, but their testimony was not consistent.
See, their law in Deut. 17:6-7 and Deut. 19:15-20 required the testimony of 2 or 3 witnesses for someone to be condemned. Notice, finally in verse 57 more than one have come to some agreement on something that Jesus said that might be worthy of death … Mark 14:57-58 57 Some stood up and began to give false testimony against Him, saying, 58 “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.'”
It says , verse 57, that ‘some’ stood up. There’s your consistent testimony. Btw, they are trying to be legal on this point, the demand for consistent testimony. Kind of makes you wonder why these false religious leaders want Jesus dead, doesn’t it? It’s because Caiaphas has said in John 11:49 that this man must die for the sake that the whole nation be preserved from destruction from the Romans.
See, the Jewish leaders were terrified that Jesus would gain enough popularity that he might lead an insurrection against the Romans and then the Romans would come and destroy the Jewish nation. So Caiaphas says that it is expedient that this one man, Jesus, die instead of the whole nation dying. That’s why they want Jesus dead, so that there will be no chance for the Romans to come and destroy the nation. Ironically, they do come anyway in AD 70.
So, they are trying to get consistent testimony so that they can, at least half way legally, put Jesus to death. But the problem here is that their consistent testimony is actually ‘false’ testimony, as Mark says in verse 57. What’s the false testimony? Verse 58 again, Mark 14:58 “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.'”
Did Jesus ever say, “I will destroy this Temple made with hands and in three days I will build another made without hands?” No, what did Jesus say? John 2:19, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” And John notes that Jesus was speaking of the Temple of his body. If you destroy Jesus’ body, then in three days Jesus promises that he himself will raise it up from the dead. Jesus did not say what they said that he said.
But even if they didn’t get that, Jesus never claimed that He Himself would destroy the Temple. But the witnesses testified that Jesus said, “I will destroy this Temple.” But Jesus really said, “Destroy this Temple, then I’ll raise it up.” In other words Jesus said something like, “if you destroy this Temple, then I will raise it up.”
So, Jesus did not blaspheme against the Temple. And the reason then that the Sanhedrin are focusing on Jesus’ words against the Temple is that they consider speaking such destructive words against the Temple as a form of blasphemy. Blasphemy in Jewish law is worthy of death. Blasphemy would likely include…
Some attack against the religious leaders whom God installed to represent Him
Some attack against the temple
And of course, the verbal misuse of the God’s proper name.
But Jesus committed no such act against the Temple. And their lack of consistency proves it. Mark notes that in their testimony against Jesus, they were not consistent.
Mark 14:59 Not even in this respect was their testimony consistent.
But it did not matter, the high priest Caiaphas who is determined to put Jesus to death, no matter what, goes ahead and proceeds with the allegation and asks Jesus Mark 14:60 The high priest stood up and came forward and questioned Jesus, saying, “Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?”
ILL: By the way, where’s Jesus’ defense team? Jewish Law required that Jesus’ defense team first get a chance to defend His innocence. But, that’s not happening.
Well, what is Jesus’ response to these lies? Nothing. Mark 14:61 But He kept silent and did not answer. The trial is stacked against Jesus favor. He has no opportunity for a defense team. The witnesses are trying their hardest to come up with consistent lies, but everyone knows they are not consistent. Why should Jesus respond?
Thus, it fulfills Isaiah 53:7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.
Principle: So we have a principle of witnessing, don’t we? In the face of persecution, God’s people ought not feel required to respond against false testimony. What you should feel a compulsion to respond about is what Jesus responds to next.
Jesus responds, not to false accusation, but concerning the nature of who he is! We must respond concerning the nature of who He is. Continuing in Mark 14:61-62 61 But He kept silent and did not answer. Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” [He said “Blessed One” so as to avoid using God’s name and Himself be guilty of blaspheming. The high priest is asking if Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed One who was prophesied to come to take away sin. And, the high priest is asking if Jesus is asking if Jesus is the Son of God; the priest is asking if Jesus is indeed God!] And Jesus responds …verse 62 …] 62 “I am; and you shall see […now, Jesus will allude to Psalm 110:1 … ] THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF …POWER […power is a word to refer to God], and [….next, Jesus alludes to Dan. 7:13… You will see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER …and…] COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.”
When Jesus testifies that He is the Son of Man, He’s referring to Himself as that individual in Daniel 7:13, to whom Daniel 7:14 says was “given dominion …[to the Son of Man is given…], Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.” Jesus is claiming to be God!
And by sitting on the right hand of power, Jesus is claiming to be that individual in Psalm 110:1 When David listens in on a conversation between God the Father and God the Son…. “The LORD [Yahweh] says to my Lord [Adonai]: “Sit at My right hand Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” Jesus is claiming to have all the authority over the earth, as the rest of Psalm 110 clearly indicates. For example, Psalms 110:5 This person on the right hand of God …. “will shatter kings in the day of His wrath.”
Jesus says verse 62, that they will “see it” …You will see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER and COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.” You will see probably means that they will perceive that indeed these things are true, that He’s God and that He has all the authority to judge them.
But for now, ironically, Jesus is being judged…
Mark 14:63-64 63 Tearing his clothes, the high priest *said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? 64 “You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?” And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.
In accordance with the Mishnah, on the charge of blasphemy, the priest was to rip his clothes and not mend them back. So, plus one for the priests, minus 25 …if you’re keeping score…
So, they charge Him with blasphemy. He blasphemed in that He claimed to be God. And whoever blasphemes deserves death, Leviticus 24:16 ‘Moreover, the one who blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death.
But clearly Jesus qualified to be a prophet! His prophesies came true and He lead people to greater worship of the one true God. He did many miracles; He lineage and birthplace and where He grew up all testify that He is indeed qualified to be the Messiah. And Psalm 45:6-7 clearly speak of the deity of Christ.
Psalm 45:6-7 6 Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom. 7 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of joy above Your fellows.
The psalmist is speaking to God, saying “your throne is forever and ever”…and then the psalmist says to God … “Therefore, because you have love righteousness, therefore God your God, has anointed you.” How can God have a God?
God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit! The promised one to come would be God in flesh. Clearly, the Messiah is God. Jesus is the Messiah. Therefore, Jesus is God and His life proved it.
And then Mark 14:65 Some began to spit at Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him with their fists, and to say to Him, “Prophesy!” And the officers received Him with slaps in the face.” … And of course this is all illegal.
APP: And Mark’s preaching point here is that when Christians are in in the midst of persecution, Christians should continue to testify concerning the truth about Jesus Christ, even though false allegations are made against you. He indeed is the Christ, the Anointed One, the promised one who would come and reign over the nation of Israel, God in flesh.
With great boldness, Christians, proclaim the person of Christ and who He is, that He’s God and the ruler over all.
So, proclaim Christ’s person. But at the same time, we must not revile in return, like Jesus. Jesus did not return evil for evil. Let’s turn over to 1 Peter 2. We will read verses 19 to 25.
And as we do, an important point to keep in mind here as we turn to 1 Peter is that Peter is the very mind that is behind Mark’s gospel. You remember when we introduced the book of Mark, we argued that Mark interviewed Peter to write his gospel. And Peter is the disciple who denied Jesus in the story. And its Peter himself who is contrasted with Jesus, by Mark and by Peter’s own design. I would say, now, based on 1 Peter 2:19-25, that Peter has learned his lesson and as learned from Jesus.
1 Peter 2:19-25 19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. 21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and [not only did He suffer unjustly at the hands of sinners, but …keep going …] He Himself [even] bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.
These truths being the case, ought we not suffer unjustly and patiently endure it, knowing it finds favor with God?
TRANS: So, Peter has learned how to be persecuted! Though Peter messed up previously, now he has learned. And he wants us to know these things that he has learned.
Secondly, now, in verses 66-72, In the face of persecution, do not witness like Peter. Witness like Christ, not like Peter.
In the face of persecution, do not witness like Peter (14:66-72)
In verses 66-72 of Mark 14, Peter denies the Lord three times. He denies the Lord in verse 68, in verse 70, and in verse 71.
Tell the Story
Mark 14:66-72 66 As Peter was below in the courtyard [… This is the courtyard of Caiaphas. Jesus is up in the house of Caiaphas. As Peter was below in the courtyard …], one of the servant-girls of the high priest *came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and *said, “You also were with Jesus the Nazarene.” [so its Peter versus a girl, a girl who is a slave.] 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you are talking about.” And he went out onto the porch. 69 The servant-girl saw him, and began once more to say to the bystanders […now she’s telling it to everyone … how embarrassing, eh Peter?!], “This is one of them!” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders were again saying to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean too.” [they knew that by the way he talked, his accent gave him away that he was from Galilee…] 71 But he began to curse and swear, “I do not know this man you are talking about!” [He cursed and swore, that means that he pronounced a curse upon himself if he’s lying and he’s swearing by God’s name, that if what he said isn’t true, then he has this curse over his head. Sounds like he’s blaspheming, doesn’t it?] 72 Immediately [according to Christ’s prediction…] a rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had made the remark to him, “Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” And he began to weep.
Jesus’ prophecy came true and so Jesus knew Peter would deny Him. Jesus is totally in control of these events. Ironically, Jesus does not blaspheme, but tells the truth and he is put to death. But Peter blasphemes in front of a girl and some bystanders, and gets off free.
Then, Peter goes out and he weeps bitterly over his sin! He knew ever so intimately now that Jesus is sovereign and infinitely wise and that he himself has denied that Sovereign before this little girl!
TRANS: How did Peter get to this point? He had such good intentions, where did he go wrong?
Recall how he got to this point
Let’s recall together some signs that Peter was in spiritual danger. Signs that Peter was in spiritual danger.
From, Mark 14:29…First, he was proud. Recall here … But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away, yet I will not.”
Peter was proud of his own abilities. “I will”
Second, Peter was not humbly submitted to Scripture and the Lord. Mark 14:31. The Lord just predicted and so Jesus just gave God’s word to Peter that this was going to happen, but Peter did not submit to it. Instead, verse 31, Peter kept saying insistently, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And they all were saying the same thing also. Peter was not submitted to God’s Words. This is spiritually dangerous.
On top of that, third, Peter was not alert for prayer. Mark 14:37 And He *came and *found them sleeping, and *said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch [or be spiritually alert…] for one hour?” They were supposed to be spiritually alert for prayer.
Peter was proud in his own abilities to follow the Lord, he was not humbly submitted to Scripture and to the Lord, and now thirdly was not spiritually alert for prayer. He was not spiritually alert to be attentive to prayer.
If these three things are in you, then you are setting yourself up for a fall. And notice who we’re talking about here, we’re talking about none other than Peter. Shall we do much better? So how far and how shameful can the fall of a great believer be? Some believer who has high position like a pastor or Christian leader, or anyone…how great can be the fall!
And the temptation doesn’t have to be very great. I mean, it was just a little slave girl. We too can have small temptations that can result in a great fall.
And notice Peter’s sorrow! Great was his weeping because of his great fall! So be sure, great sin leads to great weeping and sorrow for the believer.
Oh, the grief…oh the pain of heart! But in a few short hours, Christ would die for that great sin. When Jesus dies on the cross, Peter’s great sin of denying Jesus will be paid for at the cross! And Peter once he understands Christ’s work on the cross, he too will repent and turn to Christ. Christ will restore Peter and Peter will confess to Christ his love for Him after Jesus is raised from the dead.
CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of Mark 14.53-72
Think about Peter’s denial again for a minute. This was no real trial for Peter. He was even questioned about his faith but merely about whether he was with Jesus or not. The slave girl says … “You were with Him”; “This is one of them”; “Surely you are one of them.” Not a big trial, his life is not on the line at all. This is the kind of persecution that we face today for the most part.
Peter is our example then, that even when we’re just warming ourselves by the fire or doing some everyday activity, we may end up denying Jesus. So in everyday life, be a witness for Christ! Stand up for who He is and what He stands for.
Peter was the chief apostle! But graciously, Christ is in control of all things and His sovereign grace is over all. We can count on His grace but let that grace teach us to live godly in this present world, being a faithful witness of His person and work!
And let’s keep in mind that as we go about testifying of our Savior and His love, that that prophecy of Daniel will one day be realized, that to Him …to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.” And by God’s grace we are a part of that eternal plan, here in 2013, in a small part of the world.
Let’s sing about that now, #698 “Go Ye Into All the World” “In Athabasca, there is darkness dwelling” “thousands of souls”