THE WITNESSES AGAINST HIM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-13-76 12:00 p.m.
Now remember, for many of you this is a busy lunch hour. We love to have you come if you can stay for two minutes, five minutes. If you have to get up and leave and go back to your assignment in the middle of the message, it is just fine. We all understand. You will not bother me nor anyone else. We just love having you any time you can come. If you would like to eat lunch with us before the service, in Coleman Hall, our dining room, there is a lunch prepared for you. And then if you would like to eat after the service is over, the lunch is prepared for you at that hour also. We just are grateful to God for your coming. We will be through almost every day about twelve-thirty or twelve-thirty-five. So in that little period of time, if you can pause to be with us for just a moment, we welcome you.
The theme this year is “The Christ of the Cross”: yesterday the message, The Shadow of the Cross; tomorrow, on Wednesday, Can Christ Make Good His Claims? He said, “I am the Son of God” [John 10:36]; on Thursday, What Shall I Do with Jesus? on Friday, Eli Lama? My God, Why? and today, The Witnesses Against Him.
No more panoramic view of human nature is it possible for us to see than to look upon all of the participants of the day of the cross. And this day we shall consider those who witnessed against Him, His enemies. You see goodness, and culture, and altruism, and philanthropy are skin-deep. And underneath is the raw, crude, carnal, unregenerate human nature.
They say beauty is skin-deep, but ugly is to the bone. That is true about the goodness of the human race. It is a veneer, polished, seen on the outside, but underneath there is the possibility of every terror and violence known to the human heart. Just look at Lebanon today. Lebanon was the jewel of the Levant; a beautiful city named Beirut, a prosperous and affluent people. And today, every faction is warring in hatred, and bitterness, and bombing, and murder, and blood against every other faction. That is human nature.
And we see it poignantly on the day of the cross: “Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, Sanhedrin, sought witnesses against Jesus” [Matthew 26:59]. It seemed that the whole human race looked in despicable bitterness on Jesus of Nazareth. In Him was fulfilled that sad prophecy of Isaiah 53: “He was despised and rejected of men; a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not” [Isaiah 53:3].
His own family was that way. John is careful to record that His brothers did not believe in Him [John 7:5]. That was why on the cross Jesus committed His mother to John [John 19:26-27]; because her own sons and the brothers of Jesus did not believe on Him. [Mark] records that upon one occasion the family came to take Him home by force, for they said, “He is beside Himself” [Mark 3:21].
That’s a nice way of saying, “He is mad. He has lost His mind.” His own family looked with despair upon Him. When He came to His own townspeople, the place called Nazareth in which He grew up, when they listened to the marvelous words that fell from His lips, they said in anger:
Whence hath this Man wisdom? Is this not the carpenter? And others said, Is this not the carpenter’s son? [Matthew 13:55]. And are not His sisters and His brothers with us? And is not Mary His mother? And they were offended in Him.
And took Him to the brow of the hill on which their city is built to cast Him down headlong to death.
And the nation, as such, rejected Him. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” [John 1:11]. The scribes, and the elders, and the Pharisees, and the Sadducees, and the Sanhedrin, the whole leadership of the nation were united in denouncing and destroying the Son of God. They finally put a price on His head [Matthew 26:15]. And they eventually encompassed His execution, on a feast day, by infuriating a visiting mob [Matthew 27:20-25]. Why did they so find fault in Him? And what was their criticism of Him? I can name four.
One: they said, “He is a friend of publicans and sinners” [Matthew 11:19]—as Matthew, whom the Lord chose to be one of His apostles. Matthew was a tax gatherer, that is, a publican [Matthew 9:9]. And the Lord showed Himself a friend to these who were outcasts from the covenant and pale of Israel’s kindness and acceptability and hospitality.
Why, this Man not only was a friend to publican sinners, but He ate with them [Matthew 9:11]. He identified Himself with them. Isn’t that the strangest thing? Righteousness usually repels people who are sinful. But they gathered around the Lord Jesus like flies would gather around sticky paper, molasses. He attracted sinners. They loved to listen to Him. They found a marvelous hope in Him. And the self-righteous Pharisees, seeing that, hated Him. He was a friend of publicans and sinners [Matthew 11:19].
A second reason why they disliked Him: He healed upon the Sabbath day [Luke 13:14]. To the Lord Jesus any day was a good day to do good. Monday or Thursday, Saturday or Sunday, any day was a good day to help people who needed encouragement and remembrance. If the ox fell in the ditch, no one hesitated to lift it out. If a donkey was thirsty, no one hesitated to take it to drink. But to heal on the Sabbath day was not to be done. It was not to be countenanced. And they hated Him for it.
Why did they dislike the Son of God? They said He was a glutton and a winebibber [Matthew 11:19]. That is, He was gregarious, and convivial. He liked to be with people. If you had a dinner down here at the church, you’d see Him there. I have looked through the life of Christ and found an unusual thing. He never turned down an invitation. If you didn’t want Him, don’t ask Him. He would be there for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner, or for supper. He was gregarious and He loved to be with people.
They made the distinction between Him and John the Baptist, who was out in the deserts. And they called John “a prophet indeed” [Matthew 21:26]; but this Jesus, this convivial, gregarious Jesus, they disliked Him [Matthew 11:19]. He was with the people all the time and loved being with them. He loved to be in their homes. He is that way still.
In heaven there is a picture of the Lord: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock; if anyone hears My voice, and opens the door, I will come in, and sup with him, and he with Me” [Revelation 3:20]. Like the little girl said, “There are four in our family.” And the neighbor who knew better said, “Sweet, there are just three of you.”
“No,” said the child, “there are four of us. There’s mommy, there’s daddy, there’s Jesus, and me.” That’s the Lord. And they disliked Him for His conviviality and His gregariousness.
Another thing, they didn’t like Him because He didn’t walk in the tradition of the elders [Matthew 15:1-9; Mark 7:5-13]. Now the tradition of the elders is the Halakha and the Haggadah, it is the Mishna and the two Gemaras. And when you write it down––it was oral in the days of our Lord––when you write it down, it is thousands, and thousands, and thousands of pages.
In modern parlance we call it the Talmud. And Jesus brushed it all aside. And He lived and preached according to the Word of God, and just according to the Word of God. And because He didn’t follow the tradition of the elders, they hated Him, and despised Him, and finally encompassed His death [Matthew 27:20-25].
Now, with those who were witnesses against the Lord, His enemies: let us see what they said. First, Judas Iscariot; he’s the one who betrayed Him. He was paid the thirty pieces of silver, the price upon the head of our Lord [Matthew 26:14-16]. And accepting the thirty pieces of silver, he betrayed the Lord Jesus with a kiss [Matthew 26:47-50]. And the Lord was arrested and arraigned [Matthew 26:57-67].
And in the trial, Judas came to those who had given him the thirty pieces of silver, saying, “I have sinned, in that I have betrayed the innocent blood;” and he cast the thirty pieces of silver on the floor of the temple, and went out and took his own life [Matthew 27:4-5]. The witnesses of those who were against Him; first, Judas Iscariot: “I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.”
When I look at that phrase, I think of all of those types of the atoning death of our Lord, from the days when the blood of Abel mingled with his sacrifice [Genesis 3:4, 8, 10], through the Passover lamb [Exodus 12:3-7, 12-13], through all of the rituals in tabernacle and temple. Every victim, innocent, guiltless, that was slain, was a type of the innocent blood of our Lord Jesus Christ [Hebrews 10:1-14]. Judas, who betrayed Him, came and flinging down the thirty pieces of silver, [saying], “I have sinned. I have betrayed the innocent blood” [Matthew 27:4].
The second witness is Pontius Pilate the Roman procurator who delivered Him to execution [John 19:15-16]. He said here, and then he said there, and finally he said there, “I find in Him no fault at all” [John 18:38]. And Pilate the judge, the procurator, examined the Lord Jesus at length, and his verdict was, “I find in Him no fault at all” [John 18:33-38].
Well, why did Pilate deliver Him to execution? [John 19:16]. The reason is very obvious. There were two kinds of provinces in the Roman Empire. There were senatorial provinces, that is, those that were under the direction of the Roman senate. Then there were imperial provinces, that is, those that were under the aegis of the Roman emperor. Now the difference in the two was this. If a province was peaceful, such as Asia, or such as the Pergamean kingdom of the Attalids, if a province was peaceful, it was placed under the direction of the Roman senate, but if a province was volative and likely to rebel, it was placed under the direction of the Roman Caesar because Caesar controlled the army, and the Caesar having the army controlled the province.
Now Judea was an imperial province because it was volative and full of restiveness. Consequently, it was controlled by the Caesar and the Roman legions. Now that meant that the procurator, the governor, was appointed not by the senate, but by the Roman emperor. And Pontius Pilate was an appointee of the Roman Caesar.
Already drifting back to Rome were many things about Pontius Pilate that made the Roman emperor unhappy. And when those elders, thirsting after the blood of Christ, said, “You are no friend to Caesar [John 19:12], and we will report you to the great emperor,” Pilate paled and quailed. And even though his wife sent word to him, “Have thou nothing to do with this just Man” [Matthew 27:19], Pilate pronounced sentence of death [John 19:16], though he found in Him no fault at all [John 18:38], and over His head wrote this inscription, “He is King of the Jews” [John 19:19]. And the elders came to the governor and said, “Do not say He is the King of the Jews [John 19:21]. Say that He said He was the King of the Jews.” And Pilate replied that famous word: “[ho] gegrapha, gegrapha—what I have written I have written” [John 19:22]. And he wrote it in Hebrew, the language of the faith, he wrote it in Greek, the language of art, and science, and literature, and he wrote it in Latin [John 19:20], the language of law and government. “I find in Him no fault at all” [John 18:38].
The witness of these who delivered Him to death: the witness of the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders, and the Sanhedrin and they said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save,” as they walked up and down, mocking Him, saying, “If Thou be the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, and we will believe Him. He saved others; Himself He cannot save” [Matthew 27:41-42].
When I read that and just see it, I think, “O Lord Jesus nailed there to the tree, tear Yourself from the wood and come down, and strike terrified horror in their hearts! Do it, Lord, do it!” No. “He saved others; Himself He cannot save”; not if I am to be saved. For when He is taken down from the cross, it will not be some superman. It will be a limp and lifeless corpse [Matthew 27:46-50], whom they wrap in a winding sheet and lay in a tomb [Matthew 27:57-60]. You see, if I am to live, He has to die [1 Corinthians 15:3]. If my sins are to be washed away, it’s in a fountain of blood, the crimson of His life that was poured out on the earth [1 Peter 1:18-19; Revelation 1:5]. “He saved others; Himself He cannot save” [Matthew 27:42]. O Lord, how indebted we are to Thee.
A fourth witness: there were crucified with the Savior two malefactors. They were vile and vicious men whom the Roman government had condemned to death [Luke 23:32]. And as the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders walked in front of Him, mocking Him [Matthew 27:41-42], why, one of those who were hanged with Him railed on Him, saying, “If Thou be the Christ, save Thyself and us” [Luke 23:39]. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, “Dost thou not fear God? Look, look. We are suffering justly; for we receive the just reward of our deeds. But this Man hath done nothing amiss.” And he said, “Lord Jesus, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom” [Luke 23:40-42].
How did he know that? A malefactor taken out of prison, and nailed to a tree by the side of the Lord, “This Man hath done nothing amiss, and Lord Jesus, when You come into Your kingdom, remember me” [Luke 23:42]. You know what I think? I think the truest knowledge in the world is intuitive. It’s something that God teaches us.
Like on the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John had never seen Moses. Moses had been dead for a thousand four hundred years. They had never seen Elijah. Elijah had been dead for nine hundred years! But on the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John knew them, recognized them [Luke 9:28-33]. How? That is intuitive knowledge. It’s the knowledge that God gives us. And that’s the intuitive knowledge that the Lord gives a man when he comes face to face with Jesus Christ. There’s something on the inside of his heart that says, “This is the Son of God” [Matthew 27:54].
And that leads me to my last witness: “And when the centurion who presided over His execution, given a quaternion of soldiers to nail Him to the cross, when the centurion saw these things, he glorified God, saying, Truly this Man was the Son of God” [Mark 15:39]. A hardened Roman centurion, all of his life with these assignments of execution; but he never executed a man like that. And his heart was filled with awe and wonder as he stood at the cross and saw Jesus die. You know, I have a deep persuasion that any man who will be honest, and right, and fair, and listen to God’s Spirit in his heart, will come to that same conclusion, if he’ll just look, get a good look at the Son of God dying for us [John 3:14-16].
Do you remember that story? Bob Ingersoll, that famous and learned infidel of the last century, was riding on a train by the side of Governor General Lou Wallace, who was the governor of New Mexico. And Bob Ingersoll said to General Wallace, “Why don’t you write a book that sets the truth about this Christ?” And General Lou Wallace said, “I hadn’t thought for such a thing, but I believe I will.” So he studied the life of our Lord; became a great and devout Christian, and wrote one of the noblest books of faith of all time. It is called Ben Hur. Do you know the underneath caption? “Ben Hur—a Story of the Christ.” Ben Hur —a Story of the Christ.” That Roman centurion was just that, looking at Jesus die, found in Him the Son of God, our Savior [Mark 15:39].
My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine;
For Thee all the follies of sin I resign;
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus ‘tis now.
[“My Jesus, I Love Thee” William R. Featherston]
Kneeling at the cross.
So Lord, giving ourselves to Thee, may Thy Spirit sanctify and hallow our way as we reverently bow in Thy presence, call upon Thy name, invite Thee in our hearts and homes. Lord, take care of us for good and for God, in Thy dear and saving name, amen. Thank you.