The text below is largely as the message was preached this morning at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, New York. The sermon audio is available at this link. I’ve got an awful sinus cold, so my voice might sound a little different–I don’t know, the cold is messing with my hearing too. A couple of the things that I added this morning I typed up and put in brackets below. I added citations for the one thing that I mentioned this morning that I didn’t say when I preached it. As usual, text with a strike-through is there for organizational purposes but not read aloud at that point. When the point is made it is in italics. Next Sunday the passage we will explore is Luke 23:1-25.
Before we read the short passage for today, allow me to give some of the larger context. We saw back in Luke 20 that the chief priests and scribes had been trying to catch Jesus in His words and each time Jesus has caught them with their own trap. Indeed, we saw that they responded to the parable of the vineyard tenants by wanting to lay hands on Jesus at that very hour but they refrained from doing so because they were afraid of the people (Luke 20:19). Then we saw the next verse, Luke 20:20, which said, “So they watched Him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch Him in something that He said, so as to deliver Him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor.” Then the spies asked Jesus about paying tribute to Rome. It was a question designed to catch Jesus but He caught them with their own trap as we saw last Sunday. Then the Sadducees tried to stump Jesus with a question about a woman who had seven husbands. The Sadducees were the chief priests and unlike the scribes they didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. Thus they asked, ‘Whose husband would she be in the resurrection?’ If Jesus had been unable to answer their question designed to stump Him, then He would have been very unpopular with the people who by and large did believe in the resurrection of the dead. However, Jesus’ answer impressed the scribes so much that they said, “Teacher, you have spoken well” (Luke 20:39) and Luke told us, “For they no longer dared to ask Him any question.” So Jesus challenged the scribes who were thought to be experts in the Scriptures, saying, “How can they say that the Christ is David’s son? For David himself says in the Book of Psalms, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ David thus calls Him Lord, so how is He His Son?” (Luke 20:41-44). It was yet another question that the scribes refused to answer just as, for example, they refused to answer if John’s baptism was from heaven or from man. You may remember that the reason they refused to answer that earlier question was that they were afraid the people would stone them to death. Thus the spies had tried to catch Jesus and make Him unpopular with the people for the same reason that the religious leaders of Israel should have been unpopular, the Sadducees tried to catch Jesus and make Him unpopular with the people for the same reason that they were unpopular, and the scribes continue to refuse to answer questions that they know will make them unpopular with the people. The next chapter of Luke is a series of Jesus’ teachings. The story-line resumes in Luke 22 and Luke tells us that the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put Jesus to death because they feared the people. And Luke tells us that Satan entered Judas Iscariot and Judas went to the chief priests and officers and agreed to betray Jesus to them, which Judas did. And when they came to arrest Jesus under the cover of night, He said “When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53). So there has been this religious power struggle going on between Jesus and the chief priests and scribes and then we come to the trial in the morning where we see who justly claims the victory in that struggle. Listen to how Luke describes it:
- The first three words, “when day came,” are not insignificant [Jesus wins in the light of day.]
- They may have to do with the rules of having a trial. We do not know for certain all of the rules that were in place at the time for trials conducted by the assembly of the elders, which consisted of the chief priests and scribes. We do know that they could not exercise the death penalty. In order to seek capital punishment they would have to hand over the accused to the Roman governor for trial. We also know that no one could be called “king,” a political title, without permission from the Roman emperor. And the assembly of elders understands and follows these Roman rules. But we do not know for certain all of the rules that they had for themselves about trials. One rule that we know they had in place later is what we might call a sunshine law. I would call it a sunshine law because the assembly of elders could not hold a trial under the cover of night but only during the day. We have sunshine laws today for the same reason. We want government, both our political and religious governments, to publish their minutes and act in the light. And it appears that the assembly of elders must have had a rule even then about holding trials during the day and technically speaking they kept this rule. So Luke tells us, “When day came…”
- But even more significant than this is the contrast that Luke is showing between the arrest of Jesus and the trial of Jesus by those words, “When day came.” The arrest of Jesus took place under the cover of night and Jesus Himself pointed that out. They could have arrested him during any of those days when he was teaching in the temple but they did not do it. Instead, they came out against him with an angry mob at night. At the time of His arrest, Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders who had come out against Him, “this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” And so “when day came” now it was Jesus’ hour, so to speak. “When day came” even points forward to the resurrection, for Luke 24 will begin, “But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb.” And what did they find? An empty tomb because Jesus wins in the light of day. More important than any rules about trials, those three words, “when day came” are significant because Jesus always wins in the light of day and we will see how that was even true at His trial by the elders of Israel. (This observation that Jesus makes about them exercising the power of darkness at His arrest is an important one. And when we think of the power of darkness we are meant to think of the demonic or the Satanic. Luke expects us to make that association. After all, I mentioned earlier that Luke tells us that Satan entered Judas Iscariot. This is why Judas is now in league with the scribes and chief priests. Therefore, this was the opportune time spoken of back in Luke 4:13 at the end of his temptations of Jesus in the wilderness, “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him [Jesus] until an opportune time.” The arrest of Jesus under the cover of night was the opportune time for Satan. After all,…)
- The religious leaders of Israel were acting like the unbelieving seed of the serpent during the daylight when they say, “If you are the Christ, tell us.”
- The temptations of Christ by Satan in the wilderness followed the same pattern, “If you are the Son of God, then command this stone to become bread” so they are imitating Satan when they say, “If you are the Christ, then tell us.” In Luke, “the Son of God” and “the Christ” are interchangeable titles – they mean the same thing. Thus there is little difference if Satan uses the one title and the scribes use the other title, they are doing the same thing. They are tempting Jesus. (The scribes are acting like the unbelieving seed of the serpent and consistently so.)
- [The scribes understood that Jesus told them He is the Christ and they responded with unbelief just as He said they would.] When Jesus tells them that the Son of Man is seated at the right hand of the power of God, the scribes—experts in the Scriptures—no doubt remembered what Jesus had recently said about Psalm 110:1, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” Jesus had noted that David’s Lord in the Psalm is the Christ. So when Jesus says that He is seated at the right hand of the power of God the scribes realized that Jesus was saying that He is the Christ. They had asked, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” He responded by saying that if He told them, then they would not believe. And if He asked them, then they would not answer. They wouldn’t answer for the same reason they have been refusing to answer about John’s baptism and about Psalm 110. They were afraid of the people. So now appealing to Psalm 110 again Jesus told them. And they understood what He was saying. This is why they switched to the other title to ask the same thing, “Are you the Son of God, then?” The scribes understood that Jesus told them He is the Christ and they responded with unbelief just as He said they would. (So the religious leaders of Israel were exercising the power of darkness with the arrest of Jesus and acting as the seed of the serpent with His trial. It is more than just a contrast of night and day or between the arrest and trial of Jesus but a contrast of “the power of darkness,” and “the power of God.”)
- [The trial is not a defeat, the trial is when Jesus takes up His seat at the right hand of the power of God.]
- According to Luke the Son of Man does not only ascend bodily in the not-too-distant future to the right hand of the power of God but from the time of His trial by this assembly of elders onward the Son of Man is seated at the right hand of the power of God. Jesus said, “But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” Too often we read this as if Jesus was just speaking as if this will certainly take place after His death, resurrection, and ascension, but Jesus was saying this took place from that very moment. Before that time Jesus had not yet been sitting at the right hand of the power of God, the seat of power. He had stepped down from it to be conceived and born of the virgin Mary and to live among us. But from the time of His trial and even still today He sits at the right hand of the power of God.
- What Jesus describes as happening at His trial is what David said in Psalm 110. He is appealing to this psalm of David and saying that it is fulfilled. From now on Jesus is seated at the right hand of the power of God until God makes His enemies His footstool. And His enemies, the religious leaders of Israel, did not miss this either. So the trial is not a defeat, the trial is when Jesus takes up His seat at the right hand of the power of God. (Thus Jesus had been arrested at night but the trial began when day came and we know Jesus wins in the light, the religious leaders of Israel acted like the seed of the serpent and we know that the seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent, the power of darkness has already had its hour and now Jesus sits down at the right hand of God’s power; that is, we see a trial where Jesus justly claims the victory in His struggle with the religious leaders of Israel. What further testimony do we need?)
- Jesus has told us that He is the Christ.
- [The religious leaders of Israel ironically say it themselves.] Ironically it is the religious leaders of Israel who ask this question: “What further testimony do we need?” No answer is necessary, but their answer reinforces the point: “We have heard it ourselves from His own lips.” We need no further testimony, Jesus has told us. What makes the scene so much more tragic is that the scribes are able to correctly deduce from the Scriptures that Jesus is telling them that He is the Christ without Him coming out and using the phrase “I am the Christ” and yet they are unable to believe in Him. They are able to see that He is the Christ but not able to believe in Him. And yet again ironically it is the religious leaders of Israel who say that Jesus is the Christ. They say, “You are the Son of God, then.” Jesus even wins the debate by getting them to say it. And Jesus points out this irony and rubs it in a little by saying, “You say that I am.”
- This phrase also appears to be a common way of saying, “Yes, but not exactly the way that you mean it.” When the scribes are asking if Jesus is the Christ or the Son of God they are asking if He is king. They expect that the Christ would be a ruler like other nations had, a ruler that would rebel against Rome and set up the kingdom of Israel. But Jesus does not agree with their definitions. So He says, “You say that I am” – “Yes, but not exactly the way you mean it.” [It also occurred to me this morning that the scribes taught that the Christ is the Son of God. Thus, yes, “You say that I am.”]
- But now let me ask you, “What further testimony do we need?”
- He is Lord and we should listen to Him. We have heard it ourselves from His own lips. I do not mean that you were physically there at the trial to hear it, but you have heard it today from His own lips. You may have heard before the argument that Jesus was either a liar, lunatic or He is Lord. If He is not the promised Christ, then He is a liar or a lunatic. Either He knew that He was not the Christ and pretended to be the Christ and thus is a liar and we should not listen to Him or He was delusional and thought that He was and thus is a lunatic and we should not listen to Him. But we know that He is the Christ and we can tell people and they may or may not believe in Him. They will probably still want to consider Him a good man, which neither a liar nor a lunatic are the makings of a good man, because of this argument they may even concede as the scribes did that He is the Christ, but they may still not believe in Him. No further testimony than this is necessary, faith is what is needed.
- Someone here today may be in that place where you know that Jesus is the Christ but you do not believe in Him. When you are going through your valley of the shadow of death, your overwhelming crisis, you may refuse to believe that Jesus is really sitting at the right hand of the power of God. Because if Jesus were sitting there then why am I suffering. You may want a different kind of Savior – one who will bless you with health and wealth right now. Let me encourage you to think about this: at His trial before the religious leaders of Israel, God said to Jesus, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” And Jesus sat down at the right hand of the power of God at that moment and yet He would still suffer and die on the cross for our sins. Jesus was not laying down His power to go to the cross, He was sitting at the right hand of the power of God through the whole crucifixion. [Think on that when you suffer. You are seated with Him in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6) and all of His enemies will become His footstool (Psalm 110:1).] The last enemy to be destroyed is death itself. And we have Jesus who is risen indeed. We do not need to hear more testimonies, we need to believe in Jesus. Jesus who even before His crucifixion and resurrection was right to proclaim victory over the scribes and chief priests. Jesus who won the struggle for what is true power. Let us follow Him.