Every once in while a court case attracts so much interest and attention it is described as “the trial of the century.” Not only do these high profile cases render a verdict they also shaped our culture. The Scopes Trial in 1925 changed the way many people view the authority of the Bible. The trial of Charles Manson in 1970 made people rethink their basic assumptions about human nature. Even though he was acquitted on all charges, the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999 redefined the American presidency.
As important as these trials are, there is one trial in human history that stands head and shoulder above the rest. The trial of Jesus Christ is a “trial for the ages.” While we usually go to the end of the Gospels to read about Christ’s trumped-up trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin, the Apostle John helps us see that Jesus was on trial throughout his public ministry.
John 5:1-47 reads like the notes of a court reporter. In verses 1-15, we find a description of the “crime” that Jesus committed. In verse 16-18, we see a list of the charges that were filed against Jesus by the Jewish leaders. In rest of the chapter (verses 19-47), we hear testimonies from the key witnesses that Jesus called to his defense.
Jesus is on trial in John 5 and you must decide for yourself if you think he is innocent or guilty. You cannot stay neutral or impartial about Jesus. Just like the various characters that interact with Jesus in John’s Gospel, you have to make a choice about Jesus. If He is guilty then He should be rejected as a fake and a fraud. But if Jesus is innocent then He should be received as your Savior and Lord.
THE CRIME (5:1-15).
Jesus went to Jerusalem for an unnamed feast. While there, Jesus met a man near the pool of Bethesda who had been unable to walk for 38 years. Sick people used to lay near the pool waiting for an angel to stir the waters. Whoever got into the water first after it was stirred was healed from their infirmity.
Jesus asked the man if the man wanted to be healed and then commanded him to get up, take his mat, and go. The mat wasn’t heavy, but it was proof positive that the man was really healed. While the man was carrying his mat he was questioned by the Jewish leaders about violating the Sabbath laws.
The man blamed the man who had healed him, but he said he didn’t know that man’s name. Later, Jesus met up with the man who was healed in the temple and revealed himself to the man. Jesus also urged the man to repent of his sins so that he would not suffer worse situation in the future.
THE CHARGES (5:16-18)
Up to that point, the Jewish leaders tolerated Jesus. When they learned that it was Jesus who healed the man, they began to persecute him outright. They persecuted Jesus for two reasons. One reason the Jewish persecuted Jesus was because He violated the Sabbath. The Sabbath was the basis for all the Jewish festivals. The laws that accompanied the Sabbath “rest” were so ingrained in Jewish society that the Jewish could not tolerate Jesus and rebellion.
Another reason why the Jewish leaders persecuted Jesus was that He made Himself out to be equal with God. The Jews had a very high view of God. They couldn’t see how a carpenter for Nazareth, or anyone for that matter, could be on equal footing with God. They viewed His claims and actions as blasphemy.
THE HEARING (5:19-47)
Jesus began His own defense with a confession, but not the kind of confession his opponents were looking for. Jesus confessed His complete dependence on the Heavenly Father (vv. 19-24). The Son only does what He sees His Heavenly Father doing. The Son loves the Heavenly Father because the Heavenly Father loves Him. The Heavenly Father gives the Son the authority to give life and judge all people as He also gives life and judges all people.
Jesus continued by calling four witnesses to his defense (vv. 33-47). Jesus told the Jewish leaders that John the Baptist, who they respected, told the truth about Him when John called Jesus “the Lamb of God.” Jesus also pointed to his teaching and miracles as proof that He came from God. Jesus challenged the unbelief around Him as a byproduct of not listening to the Word of God. Jesus also claimed that Scriptures all pointed towards Him as the Messiah.
John 5 is more than a story, it’s a description of the trial that happens every time someone comes in contact with Jesus Christ – its a trial for the ages. So what will you do with Jesus? Is He innocent or guilty as charged?
In John 1:11-12 we read, “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (NASB).