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March 12, 2017



3.12.17                                    Lent 2                    - Matthew 27:1-5 ESV


When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor. Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.




As we continue this Sunday Lenten series on repentance, today we’ll learn more about what it means to repent, which was the first of Luther’s 95 Theses.  Using the example of Judas in this text, we’ll find again that repenting is about turning, not to yourself as we heard last week in the story of the Pharisee praying in the temple.  But also not turning away from Jesus of which Judas is the classic example.  We know him, of course, as the betrayer of Jesus, the tragic results of which I just read to you.
I watched a movie a week ago, rented from Redbox, called “Allied.”  I hadn’t heard anything about it when it was in the theatres, but the story line sounded intriguing and it stars Brad Pitt so I figured it could be pretty good.  It’s about espionage agents during the Second World War, operating out of French Morocco in Northern Africa.  One (Pitt) is a Canadian working for Great Britain, the other (a pretty woman, of course) is an undercover French resistance fighter, posing as a Parisian sophisticate.  Both are gathering intelligence on Nazi Germany for the Allies (hence the name – they’re allied and they all lie).  Well, they fall in love, naturally, and they live together in London where they have a baby.  She seems to be domesticated as a wife and mother, while he continues to pursue a career as an intelligence officer.  Long story short, his superiors suspect that she is giving secret information to the enemy, which he vehemently denies.  But they set up a test operation, and sure enough, she is a double agent.  I won’t tell you how it ends, but he feels totally betrayed by someone he dearly loved. 
Enter Judas.  We all know the story of how Judas betrayed Jesus with the kiss of death in the Garden of Gethsemane that fateful night.  Let’s explore behind the scenes a little further.  Jesus and Judas were friends, more than that, they shared a spiritual bond.  Matthew, Mark and Luke all make a point of the fact that Judas Iscariot, which means “the man from Kerioth,” was called by Jesus to be one of the twelve disciples.  We therefore can picture Judas sitting at the feet of Jesus learning the Word and hearing Him pray.  But can you also picture Judas preaching the Word, going out on a mission trip with the power of Jesus to actually heal the sick and cast out demons?  It’s highly likely that he did because that’s what Jesus commissioned the twelve to do in Matthew chapter 10.  We can assume that Judas was a zealous disciple, an eager apostle, a faithful follower of Christ. 
But then something changed.   Was Judas suddenly disappointed with Jesus?  If so, no reason is given, although suspicions are he had a different idea of what the Messiah should be.  Judas prearranges the betrayal with the temple authorities.  He leads an armed guard to Gethsemane under cover of darkness.  He gives the signal to identify Jesus.  “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.”  Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi! and kissed him.  Jesus replied, “Friend, do what you came for.”  Friend?  Can’t you hear the hurt in His voice?  Have you ever been hurt by a dear friend?
Judas went from promoting the Lord of life to betraying the Lord to death.  How did that happen?  Judas didn’t wake up one morning and say, “I’m going to betray the Son of God today.”  No, we must imagine that the devil began to work on Judas subtly, finding a crack and slithering into his heart.  What was the point of departure?  Where did he take the wrong turn?  The Bible suggests what it probably was.  Greed.  Paul wrote that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Some people eager for money have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim 6:10).  Judas may be the poster boy of one who loved money too much.  As a result, he wandered away from the faith and turned away from Jesus.  And it did not end well.
The real tragedy is that Judas had been warned, not just in the Upper Room when Jesus spoke to him.  He had heard from Jesus that his true treasure was in  heaven where moth or rust cannot destroy.  He had heard from Jesus that no one can serve two masters,  God and mammon (material things).  He had heard the parable of the sower and the seed falling among weeds, and the explanation that the deceitfulness of wealth can choke the Word out of our lives.  Judas may even have chuckled a bit when Jesus used the absurd analogy of a camel going through the eye of a needle, which would be easier than a rich man entering heaven. In spite of everything Jesus taught Judas about the love of money and how that clogs our heart-eries, Judas turned away from the light of Jesus and slowly turned toward the sparkle of silver and the glitter of gold. 
It was probably innocent enough at first – sin usually is.  He was entrusted with the important job of keeping the group’s finances in order.  Maybe the trouble began by writing himself a “personal loan.”  He would pay it back . . someday.  We know for a fact that several women with substantial means were supporting Jesus and the disciples’ ministry.  Cash was constantly crossing his hands, so sticky fingers could line his pockets.  Eventually his greed surfaced openly when Mary (Martha’s sister) showed her love for Jesus by pouring expensive perfume on His feet.  Judas protested that this extravagant gift, worth an entire year’s wages, could have been better used to give for the poor.  John, who recorded the incident decades later, looking back commented: “He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”
Then came the ultimate opportunity for easy money.  His friendship with Christ put him in contact with enemies of Christ.  Rich powerful rulers, who were willing to pay cold, hard cash for the chance to capture Christ quietly.  Whatever Judas thought they might do to Him was secondary to his willingness to be an accomplice.  He negotiated a business transaction with the religious leaders.  He formulated a plan to accomplish the task.  He carried out the covert operation with shrewd skill.  A kiss of friendship so that the other disciples might not suspect what he was up to right away. 
So Judas got his money: 30 pieces of silver, the price of a common slave.  But the thrill of the deal did not last long.  He paid dearly for it.  Listen again to this agonizing description: “Then when Judas his betrayer saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’  They said, ‘What is that to us?  See to it yourself.’  And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.”
Judas repented . . sort of.  “He changed his mind,” this translation says; the NIV says he was “seized with remorse.”  He regretted what he had done, the consequences of his actions tormented his conscience.  But he didn’t believe in the mercy of God.   He didn’t turn to Jesus; he turned away and tried to fix the mistake himself.  He confessed his guilt to the priests; he had sinned by betraying innocent blood.  But they told him in effect, What do you want from us?  That’s your problem.  You made the mess, you clean it up.  (I’m glad I don’t have to go to confession with that priest.)  Lutheran theologians explain this verse clearly that Judas felt contrition, sorrow for what he had done, but he didn’t have faith to believe God could forgive him.  Luther wrote: “Wherever the Law alone exercises its office, without the Gospel being added, there is nothing but death . . and one must despair, as Saul and Judas did.”  Both King Saul and Judas Iscariot dealt with their despair in the same way: they committed suicide. 
There was nothing Judas could do to make up for his sin.  The blood money burned a hole in his pocket; he threw it into the temple, but there was no way he could pay for his guilt.  He got what he wanted, but he forfeited his soul.  He didn’t trust his eyes, what he had seen Jesus do as He received rejected sinners with open arms.  He didn’t believe his ears, what he had heard Jesus say to stricken sinners: “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more” – “your sins are forgiven” – “come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest for your souls.”
What lessons can we learn?  That depends where we are in relation to Jesus.  Maybe as Christians we think I would never do anything like Judas.  Paul warns: “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.”  We need to be careful that we don’t play with fire.  Premeditated sin, putting Jesus on a shelf and experimenting with evil is a toxic brew that can turn us away from the Lord without even being aware of it perhaps.  But then when we get caught, and eventually we do, don’t let the guilt turn you away from Jesus.  Remember there was a Peter, too, a disciple who denied Jesus cowardly.   He was heartbroken when Jesus gave him the look of love, balled like a baby when he realized his sin . . but . . he didn’t turn away from Jesus when He came in mercy to forgive and to restore a fallen disciple. 
Friends, we’re all fallen in some way.  Don’t let your guilt turn to despair.  Do not turn away.  Feel the remorse, yes, but then trust the Savior.  Turn to Jesus.  Only Him.  Always Him.   Amen.