Matthew 27:1-2 – Duke Lacrosse, Jesus, And Fantastic Lies

Posted: April 16, 2016 in Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 27:1-2

The Council of Religious Leaders Condemns Jesus

 

I recently saw one of those “30 for 30” documentary pieces on ESPN. The name of the series was originally that ESPN created thirty documentaries about sports figures or sports related issues to celebrate the sports network’s 30th anniversary of its launch as a network. However, the series’ presentations were so well-done and so well-received critically that I believe they have gone beyond the original 30 films. Back to my point though. I watched the documentary, “Fantastic Lies”, recently, about the Duke lacrosse team rape case that blew up the city of Durham and polarized the nation about a decade ago. The case was the classic case of rich white kids against a poor black girl. It was university vs. college town. It was poor choices. It was Ivy League of the south vs. the common man. And it was ultimately truth vs. lies. There was so much high profile pressure in this case. It was national news. It was the kangaroo court of public opinion. It was right at the beginning of the mushrooming of news media coverage. It was right at the beginning of the social media craze. These boys from the Duke lacrosse team were vilified everywhere to the point that they lacrosse team was shut down for the entire season (a Duke lacrosse team that had barely lost the national championship the season before), players suspended from school, the coach forced to resign. It was like the book, The Ox-Bow Incident, in the 21st century. And the case had not even been brought to trial yet. However, the district attorney in this case had made up his mind already before the trial had begun that someone or several from the Duke lacrosse team was going down. The thing was here that you had the combination of a popularity lusting district attorney up for re-election, national attention focused on this case in which most had pre-determined that these rich white kids were guilty, and thus the soup was set.

 

The district attorney ignored evidence to the contrary, police investigations focused on proving that the boys were guilty and stacking the deck in that manner, and a national media that if they could’ve would have already had these boys behind bars. In all of this, the truth was a casualty. Sure the boys made a horrendously stupid choice of asking a stripper to come to their team’s off-campus residence, but poor choices should not always convict a person to prison, especially when the truth is different from the charges. These boys were being railroaded by the district attorney, but if it were not for the youngest of the defense team immersing himself in the understanding of DNA evidence, these boys would be in prison today. It was the DNA that was the DA’s undoing. It was found that the boys’ DNA was found nowhere in, on or around the supposed rape victim’s body, the room it supposed occurred in. It was found that the DA had instructed the lab to make the evidence fit the charges. Ultimately, the case was thrown out, the boys released, the district attorney disbarred and removed from office, Duke University settling lawsuits with these boys out of court, and a national media with egg on its face. However, we have a team of boys, particularly the three boys who were formally charged with rape, whose lives were forever altered by the incident regardless of the truth setting them free.

 

That idea of truth being a casualty in the Duke lacrosse case is what came to mind when I read the short passage here in Matthew 27:1-2. Let’s read it now:

 

27 Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor.

 

The religious leaders were not interested in giving Jesus a fair trial. In their minds, Jesus was guilty and they just had to figure out a way to make it stick. They wanted Him out of the way. They wanted Him dead. This blind obsession led them to pervert the justice that they were appointed to protect. They did and end-around on their own laws to get their way. Here are some examples of how they skirted their own laws:

 

  1. Even before the trial began, they had determined that Jesus must die (Mark 14:1, John 11:50). There was no “innocent until proven guilty” approach.
  2. False witnesses were sought to testify against Jesus (Matthew 26:59). Usually, the religious leaders went through an elaborate system of screening witnesses to ensure justice.
  3. No defense scribe (or attorney) was sought or allowed for Jesus (Luke 22:67-71).
  4. The trial took place at night (Mark 14:53-65, 15:1) which was illegal according to their own rules of law.
  5. Cases involving such serious charges were to be tried only in the high council’s regular meeting place, not in the high priest’s home (Mark 14:53-65).

 

The Jewish leaders had arrested Jesus on theological grounds – blasphemy. Under Jewish law, such a charge would be punishable by death. However, since they were now part of the Roman Empire, only the Romans could put people to death. As such, to put Jesus to death, they had to drum up a charge that would stick under Roman law. A charge of blasphemy would be laughably thrown out of court under Roman laws because there was no such law on their books. They, then, had to come up with a Roman reason for putting Jesus to death. Their strategy then become to show that Jesus claimed to be King of the Jews. This would work! Anyone claiming to have the right to rule over land that belonged to Rome and thus to Caesar would be committing an act of treason. Treason, under Roman law, was punishable by death.

 

This trial on this night was the culmination of a growing hatred by the Jewish religious leaders for Jesus. They had been looking for ways to bring Him down for some time. From the moment our Lord began His public ministry, He was adamantly opposed by a very powerful, hostile group of Jewish religious leaders—the scribes and Pharisees. Among their number were the priests. Indeed, the priests were instrumental in the crucifixion of our Lord. According to Bob Deffinbaugh in his article, “Holiness: The False and The True”, at www.bible.org, he says:

 

The fundamental difference which quickly arose between our Lord and the scribes and Pharisees was the definition of holiness. The scribes and Pharisees had a distorted perception of the Old Testament definition of holiness, which to them was attained by human effort, by avoiding external ceremonial defilement and by observing the prescribed rituals of the Law of Moses. Thus, they concluded that Jesus, who mingled with sinners, who touched lepers, and who challenged their interpretation of the Law, could only be a sinner, operating in the power of Beelzebub. Ultimately, playing their version of holiness and their interpretation of the Old Testament Scriptures to their ultimate conclusion, they found Him worthy of death.

 

You know, on this very short passage, I struggled with how to translate it into something useful for you and for me in today’s world. How can I use this passage as I walk out this door into the larger world outside? How can I translate my illustration, this passage, and now the rubber meets the road moment of what it means for you and me? We sit here nearly 2,000 years later and we can, as believers, condemn these religious leaders for what they did to Jesus. The railroaded Him all the way to the cross. Although we see God’s plan in it and so did the disciples after some time. God’s plan was for the cross to be the necessary place where Jesus took on the full wrath of God for our sins. That’s what God said it was for and that’s what we believe. And, we know that God used the free will of these Jewish leaders to accomplish His goal of creating the eternal for all time reconciling act for us. However, in that, we find the human story of why the leaders wanted Jesus dead. What is it that we can learn from that?

 

I think that the thing that we can learn from these religious leaders who railroaded Jesus is that we are quick to judge. We are not necessarily a whole lot different from them. It is easier for us to write-off the world outside our doors, rather than get to know that world. It is easier to demonize those are different from us and do not believe the way we believe. We can get so caught up in our own holiness maintenance that we forget about a close relationship with God and begin measuring ourselves about how much better our walk with the Lord is than someone else’s. We can judge that other people don’t get it the way we get it. We can make hasty judgments about people when we are more concerned about checklist religion than knowing Jesus Christ in a deeper and deeper way. Being a Christ follower is hard work, it calls us to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love others as we love ourselves. It is simpler to condemn gays than to get to know them and do the hard work of leading them to truth of Scripture. It is simpler to condemn transgenders as demonic than it is to purposefully show them compassion and love and do the hard work of leading them to the truth of Scripture. It is easier to write-off an adulterous husband or wife than it is to do the hard work of forgiveness and leading them to the truth of Scripture. It is easier to write-off a prostitute as unsavable than it is to work against sex trafficking in any major city of the world. It is easier to write-off a murderer as unworthy of our love and compassion than it is to work in a prison ministry. It is easier to believe the worst about someone than it is to get to know the reasons behind their actions.

 

Let us be a people of compassion. Let us be a people of action. Let us be a people that does not stand behind our ivory tower walls and condemn the world below. Let us be a people that is quick to love and slow to judge. Let us be a people that comes from a position of love first. Let us be a people who wants to scratch below the surface rather than hastily judge others for their public sins. Let us be a people that sees those who hold beliefs different than ours as opportunities to introduce them to Jesus Christ rather than writing them off as unsavable. Let us be a people, to quote Billy Joel, that “laughs with the sinners” instead of hastily writing them off so that we can be more like Jesus who came to save the lost. Let us be a people who gets into the mess of people’s lives rather than shutting them out. Let us be a people that reflects Jesus’ desire that everyone be saved. Let us lay it on the line and be dangerous like Jesus rather than taking the easy route of just writing people off. Let us be like Jesus rather than those who railroaded Him to the cross. Amen and Amen.

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