March 4, 2018 Sermon
Easier Than Testimony
First Scripture Reading: John 18:12-18
12 So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. 13 First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.
15 Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16 but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. 17 The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18 Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.
Second Scripture Reading: John 18:19-27
19 Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 20 Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22 When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” 24 Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26 One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.
Easier Than Testimony
“A tale of two interrogations.” That’s the way one Bible commentator described this passage of scripture. And it’s a description that makes sense to me.
One interrogation takes place inside a building, with the interrogation conducted first by the father-in-law of the high priest and then by the high priest, himself, the high priest who is described by the gospel writer John as the person who had masterminded the plot to kill Jesus because the death of one person would be better than the turmoil for many resulting from Jesus’ ministry. And this interrogation, it was an interrogation of Jesus.
A second interrogation takes place outside…in the courtyard, with the interrogation conducted by various employees and slaves and police of the high priest, with the interrogation taking place in the presence of people who had all kinds of physical and economic and relational reasons to have animosity toward any follower of Jesus.
So this story is about two interrogations, each interrogation absolutely filled with tension, filled with the tension of contained-for-now but likely-to-explode violence. There’s the threat of violence – a flogging and crucifixion – hanging over the sham of an interrogation taking place inside the high priest’s chambers. There’s the threat of violence hanging over Simon Peter that leads him to deny knowing Jesus three times. The people who had arrested Jesus with “lanterns, torches, and weapons” are RIGHT THERE next to Peter, and they haven’t hit anybody yet. A relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off is RIGHT THERE…the gospel writer John implying violence is on his mind. More than implying violence, John describes the past violence from the garden, and John describes the violence of the police officer who hit Jesus in the face.
And the same commentator who called this scene “the tale of two interrogations” describes the violence that has already begun to erupt and then states as its cause: “violence is easier than testimony.”
Did you notice what Jesus was doing amidst the ever-increasing violent tension? With every single response to the questions, Jesus gave everyone ELSE an opportunity to testify.
- I have spoken openly to the world;
- I have said nothing in secret;
- Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said;
- If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong.
- In other words – “you testify”.
But, instead of testifying, his interrogators struck him. Then they flogged him. Then they crucified him…because violence is easier than testimony.
But the scene reveals that violence isn’t the only thing that’s easier than testimony. Look at Peter’s interrogation. For Peter, denial was easier than testimony. He had plenty of opportunities, three are described, to testify to the love of God as shown in Jesus. But denial was easier.
Y’all, God gave all the players in the story an opportunity to testify to what they had witnessed. Peter could have testified. Anyone who heard or saw anything Jesus had done could have testified. Even the high priest or the high priest’s father-in-law could have testified. Because Jesus claimed nothing about himself in this scene but rather allowed others to claim for him. Except…no one did…because each decided something else was easier than testimony.
Which gets me wondering: what what about us? Is there anything that’s easier than testimony for us?
- When it’s the end of a long day of work or a long week of work, and you hear about a need – someone who needs food, someone who needs a visit at the hospital, someone who could benefit from a phone call or a card with a get-well wish – is resting easier than testimony?
- When you’ve retired, and your working days are behind you, and it’s time for some serious YOU-TIME, time to finally think more about yourself than all those other people who want or need you, is focusing on YOURSELF easier than testimony?
- When you know there are people who could benefit from hearing about the impact God and Jesus and Church have made on your life – such a difference that you STILL decide to come here week after to week to worship and study and fellowship while so many out there make a different choice and are worse off for their choice – is the safety of keeping what you know to yourself, the safety of not placing yourself at the risk of ridicule or harm or shame, is it easier than testimony…just like it was for Peter in the courtyard?
- And what about your tithes and offerings? Is saying over and over again that the Church shouldn’t even TALK about money, shouldn’t urge you to Give as a spiritual practice, shouldn’t make the suggestion that you follow Jesus’ command of using some of YOUR stuff to take care of people in need, are these things easier than giving testimony with your material goods the way Jesus told you to do over and over and over and over and over again in the gospels? Is saying we shouldn’t talk about what Jesus talked about EASIER than testimony?
Y’all, this scene John describes, this scene of two interrogations, it’s one of the best known scenes in the gospels. It’s the scene that DIRECTLY led to Jesus’ crucifixion. And it’s the scene that describes THE FAILURE of humanity that led to Jesus’ crucifixion. Which gets me wondering every time I read it: why do we keep allowing the scene to repeat itself over and over and over again? Haven’t we learned? It truly does NOT matter what’s easier than testimony. The world, life, EVERYTHING is filled with stuff that’s easier than testimony. But the things that are easier than testimony quite simply DO NOT MATTER. The only thing that DOES matter is that we – YOU – really do testify. Amen.