Amazed by His Silence
Isaiah prophesies about Jesus, saying, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” We see this played out particularly in Jesus’ interactions with the Sanhedrin, Pilate, and Herod. In His trials at the Sanhedrin, Jesus was accused and questioned. While He gave answers to some of the questions put to Him, He never gave a defense or tried to refute the charges. In part, this was because, by law, He didn’t have to answer. It was illegal for the High Priest (who was supposed to be neutral like a judge) to question as if he were the prosecutor. It was illegal to demand the accused defend himself. When the High Priest asked Jesus, “What do you say to these charges,” the question was absurd because there were no charges, only allegations by witnesses who did not agree. The Sanhedrin was hoping Jesus would say something so they could charge Him, and they finally got their wish when He claimed to be the Son of God (Matthew 26:60-68). But even this was not stated in a way that would explain or defend Himself. Instead, it only served to seal His fate.
Have you ever been falsely accused and wanted to clear your name? Have you ever had your motives questioned and wanted to explain? What if the thing you’ve been accused of is simply ridiculous? When they accused Jesus of wanting to tear down the Temple, it wasn’t humanly possible, so if they were genuinely accusing Him, they’d actually be admitting He was divine. But He didn’t explain what He meant by His statement. He didn’t even dignify the farce of an accusation with an answer.
When Jesus was before Pilate, He faced a different law than that of the Sanhedrin. While Jesus wasn’t legally required to answer in the Jewish court, in a Roman court the defendant was required to give a defense, or it was assumed the accused was guilty. It is one thing not to answer when it is to your advantage to be restrained, but it is another thing entirely to keep quiet when it assures you of being punished despite your innocence. His silence in regard to the accusations was a source of amazement to Pilate (Matthew 27:14).
Jesus did talk to Pilate. Despite the fact He spent more time with the Sanhedrin in the three separate trials there (one with Annas and a few members, one with Caiaphas and more of the Sanhedrin, and one with the whole Council), He said more to Pilate than He did to them. There were many reasons for the conversations that Jesus had with Pilate, but none of these purposes included persuading him to let Him go. Pilate did fully believe that Jesus was innocent; however, this conclusion was not advanced by Jesus defending Himself, refuting the charges, explaining his motives, or claiming His innocence. The closest Jesus came to an explanation was when He stated that His kingdom was not of this world, but this was hardly a defense.
When Jesus was taken to Herod, He was the most silent of all. Herod wanted a show, and Jesus wasn’t there to play games. His silence was a repudiation of the absurdity of Herod’s agenda. By sending Jesus back to Pilate, Herod was confirming the verdict of not guilty (Luke 23:15), and all of that was accomplished without Jesus uttering a word (Luke 23:9). Jesus didn’t even react to the mockery and ridicule Herod and his men heaped on Him when they dressed Him in the white robe to send Him back to Pilate.
There was abuse suffered under the Sanhedrin, torture under the Romans, and mocking under Herod, yet Jesus never reacted in kind. He never murmured against the injustice or responded in anger to the vicious treatment. This Son of God, who could have commanded the angels to rescue Him, offered no threats, insinuated nothing sinister. There were no statements like, “You’ll pay for this,” or “You’ll be sorry.” The closest He came to declaring an outcome was, “In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven,” which was more a statement of fact than a threat, although it certainly was not welcome news to the Sanhedrin, had they believed it.
While there is much to admire in the above-mentioned silences of Jesus and much to aspire to as we seek to follow Him at times when we are falsely accused or ill-treated, there is one aspect of His silences that particularly affects us as His redeemed. Whereas we read that Jesus told His disciples in advance He would suffer and die, we have no indication that He explained the plan to them. There is nothing recorded where He clearly tells them that it was the Father’s plan to redeem the world through His substitutionary sacrifice. It seems that it wasn’t until after the resurrection that He went through the prophecies to explain to His grieving followers on the road to Emmaus the reasons why He had to suffer and die.
There are many purposes for Jesus’ refusal to explain, but it is instructive to us to realize that very often God will also be silent with us as to why something is happening. You can imagine that, as Jesus hung there watching those He loved so dearly suffer such agony on His behalf, He would have desired to comfort them right then and there. But He was silent, knowing that they, too, needed to go through their own Valley of the Shadow in order to experience for themselves that God was really with them. He had a plan and was working it out, and they needed to learn to trust, especially in the silence. These times are vital to our growth.
When we are in the midst of some dark times in our lives, when something has hit us out of the blue, and God seems to be mute as to the whys of it all, it will help us to hearken back to this situation and Jesus’ own silence, and to the fact that He didn’t explain all the details, even to those closest to Him. He allowed the experience to teach them about themselves, and reveal to them more about Him. Sometimes He speaks quite profoundly in His silences.
Think about His examples of silence. Be in awe of the way He entrusted His ultimate vindication to the Father and the Holy Spirit, who raised Him to victory. He didn’t try to exonerate Himself. Be amazed at His restraint in the face of accusation and abuse, all the while not being sullen, or defiant, or threatening, or rebellious in spirit. As you consider His ways, aspire to rush less to your own defense through explanations or justifications of your actions, words, or motives. Allow the Father to vindicate you in His way and His time. Also, at times of uncertainty, yield yourself in trust, as Jesus did, demanding no explanations from the Lord, but with a heart that says, “I have come to do your will, O Lord,” accepting His silence.
by Sheri Cook, Director of Special Ministries