PART ONE: “MY SOUL WAITS IN SILENCE FOR GOD ONLY”
The scene is striking. The Sanhedrin – the Jewish governing council – finally have Jesus within their grasp. Some wanted to destroy Jesus much earlier on in his ministry – for doing good on the Sabbath (Mark 3:6).
Now, they have successfully tempted one of Jesus’ closest friends to betray him, they have intimidated the others so that they scattered. Now they have Jesus right where they want him. Now they are in control. Now they are able to follow through with their heart’s desire. It is as if they have made arrangements at an exclusive restaurant and have prepaid for the exquisite meal; their mouths are watering.
Though they are beasts following their desires, they hide behind a thin veneer of justice. The judgment is set; now it is time to discover the right witnesses. As Rowan Williams has put it, there is “… the sense of bewildering absurdity in it all. The sentence is settled in advance; the problem is finding evidence.” Or, in the words of Psalm 62:4: “They delight in falsehood; They bless with their mouth, But inwardly they curse.”
And absurd it was. As Jesus had said only a few hours before: “Every day I was with you in the temple teaching…” (Mark 14:49). And yet, though they have stacked the deck against Jesus, their witnesses cannot agree with one another. There is some traction regarding Jesus’ saying that he will destroy the temple, but even that argument fizzles out. It seems as though dinner still has a heartbeat.
Louder than the cacophony of inconsistent witnesses is Jesus’ silence throughout. “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). Like Isaac’s relative silence and trust as he walked up the hill with Abraham (Genesis 22), or like the anointed and faithful David who never attacked, but always defended his own pursuer, King Saul, so was Jesus.
Perhaps Jesus was echoing Psalm 62, a psalm of David:
1 My soul waits in silence for God only;
From Him is my salvation.
2 He only is my rock and my salvation,
My stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken.
3 How long will you assail a man,
That you may murder him, all of you,
Like a leaning wall, like a tottering fence?
4 They have counseled only to thrust him down from his high position;
They delight in falsehood;
They bless with their mouth,
But inwardly they curse. Selah.
5 My soul, wait in silence for God only,
For my hope is from Him.
6 He only is my rock and my salvation,
My stronghold; I shall not be shaken.
7 On God my salvation and my glory rest;
The rock of my strength, my refuge is in God.
8 Trust in Him at all times, O people;
Pour out your heart before Him;
God is a refuge for us. Selah.
9 Men of low degree are only vanity and men of rank are a lie;
In the balances they go up;
They are together lighter than breath.
10 Do not trust in oppression
And do not vainly hope in robbery;
If riches increase, do not set your heart upon them.
11 Once God has spoken;
Twice I have heard this:
That power belongs to God;
12 And lovingkindness is Yours, O Lord,
For You recompense a man according to his work.
Frustrated at Jesus’ silence , the high priest tells Jesus to defend himself. His answer, again, is the faithful silence of the pre-slaughtered lamb.
Don’t forget, Jesus is in one of the most serious of settings. The decisions meted out in courtrooms are life-changing. And yet he has chosen to be silent. Would you be silent as people slandered you? That is doubtful. You would not be silent – and with righteous indignation you would get upset at me or anyone else for challenging you: “How is it right to let false and evil words prevail?” It is a good question. Recall that Jesus was not silent before. He always had a way with words. He could turn any challenger or assailant away with a phrase or two. This is why Jesus’ silence here is so awe-inspiring. It is somehow glorious. Though he is a trapped animal, we see a glimpse here that Jesus is free. He is free by faith, by trust in his Father. He trusts, one way or another, that, “In the mount of the LORD it will be provided” (Genesis 22:14), that “God is a refuge for us” (Psalm 62:8), that “God is to us a God of deliverances; And to GOD the Lord belongs escapes from death” (Psalm 67:20).
Peter Leithart notes, aptly: “Though he was mortal, though he feared death, he was not determined by the fear of death, did not live [according to the flesh]. He went to death and laid down his life, giving it up in the Spirit to his Father, trusting that his Father would vindicate him in the end.”
Jesus’ faithful silence is important for another reason as well, but more on that in a future posts.
Has God been silent lately? Can you trust that He has some good reason? Is He perhaps speaking loudly in some other way that you have closed yourself off to?
In what situations, if any, do you think God is calling you to faithful silence?
When God is silent we often question His love; but here we see that God’s silence may also come from his deep desire to love us – to be the lamb who takes our sin. Though it is true that “Your footprints may not be known” yet it is still true that “You led your people like a flock” (Psalm 77:19).