That’s one prophecy from the book of Jeremiah. We pick up the strand of God’s redemption history in Zech 11. Zechariah was another prophet who came upon the scene after Jeremiah. While the Israelites were captives in Babylon and the temple lie in ruins, Babylon was attacked by Cyrus, the king of Persia, and Babylon fell in 539 BC. And God in his sovereignty influenced a pagan king, Cyrus, and Cyrus allowed the Hebrews to return to their homeland and rebuild their temple. So Zechariah was a prophet that God had raised up to shepherd his people during this restoration period when exiles were returning to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple.
By the way, even Cyrus illustrates the amazing sovereignty of God – as it was prophesied hundreds of years before he was even born in the book of Isaiah that he would play this role in God’s plan in allowing the Israelites to return home. Some say he was even converted to faith in Yahweh and this is very plausible to me. If I were Cyrus and I read my name in the book of Isaiah and history happened just the way it had been prophesied hundreds of years prior, then I think I would believe in Yahweh, too. God really is sovereign — can you see that?
Now back to Zechariah. He was the shepherd-prophet to lead the Israelites back home. And so God instructs Zechariah to act out the role of a good shepherd for Israel since the earlier shepherds neglected the flock and led them to the brink of disaster. And what happens? As he is being faithful to his calling to be a good shepherd, his efforts are spurned, the Israelites reject him as their shepherd. And they want to go back to their previous shepherds who are referred to as worthless shepherds because they only cared about themselves.
Do you see the parallels between Zechariah and Jesus? Zechariah is a prototype for the coming messianic Good Shepherd, Jesus. And like Jesus, Zechariah is rejected. And in his frustration, Zechariah wants to terminate his relationship so he asks to be paid. It’s kind of a strange request. I’m sick of you so pay me. And what do you think the flock of Israel gives this spurned shepherd, Zechariah? Thirty silver coins. That was the price of a slave so the pay was a pitifully small sum of money considering all the years Zechariah labored and sacrificed for his flock.
God is angry so he instructs Zechariah in Zech 11:13 —
Zech 11 – 13 And the LORD said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the handsome price at which they priced me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD to the potter.
Zechariah was the messianic, prototype for Jesus, our Good Shepherd. Zechariah is rejected by the people he is shepherding and in anger, he refers to the thirty silver coins that he is offered for his services sarcastically as the handsome price at which they priced me! And so in disgust, he throws the thirty silver coins to the potter.
And in Matthew 26, instead of the shepherd rejecting the insulting low price of thirty silver coins, we have Judas, the one who is on the other side, rejecting the true Good Shepherd. And the price of his betrayal is thirty silver coins. That blood money is thrown to the chief priests and used to buy a potter’s field. The parallels are staggering. Prophecies hundreds of years before Christ are being fulfilled right before the eyes of the disciples.
Therefore, we see that God is sovereign, even to the minute detail of the number of coins that Judas was offered to betray Jesus, and Judas, unfortunately, is part of God’s plan. I don’t know if you get excited hearing about this or you get scared. God really seems to control everything. You see this and you may wonder, how does God’s sovereignty and human free will work? That’s a topic we covered earlier this year in Romans, but I want to show you again briefly how those two things — God’s sovereignty and human will — work together because this is very important for us to understand.
Did God know I was going to wear this shirt on April 3, 2011. Yes, he did. It’s not like I wanted to pick the solid blue button down shirt but God in his sovereignty forced my hand against my will to pull out this shirt. No, God knew what shirt I would wear this day, but I choose it as well.
What about in my marriage? Did God know that I was going to marry Jackie? Of course, he did. You could even say it was ordained for us to attend the same school and end up in the same campus group and attend the same church and this led to courtship and marriage. And the rest they say is history. Was it our choice to marry one another? Of course. Nobody had to twist my arms to marry Jackie. In fact, I actually had to push some other brothers out of the way so that I could be sure that Jackie would marry me. God knew that we would marry and we would have 3 kids. I was fine with two boys, but God knew we would have not two, but three. And he knew them each by name even before we named them. He is sovereign. Does it negate our human free will? Of course not.
If you remember the conclusion from the Romans study, I said we acknowledge and affirm both sides — God’s sovereignty as well as human free will. God’s sovereignty and human free will must be held in tension. If you remove the sovereignty of God, then you make God out to be reactionary. He has to wait for us to decide and then he reacts. You marry the wrong person and then God has to say, oh no, what am I going to do? And then he has to spend many years cleaning up the mess. Like chess, we make a move, then God sees what move we just made and based on that new information, God is ready to make his next move. It doesn’t work this way.
If you remove the sovereignty of God from the passion account, then what might it look like? It’s the last supper but how would Jesus even know this is his last supper? Think about it. Maybe on this day, Jesus gets a bad vibe from Judas. Judas didn’t say hi to him when he came over. Judas seems to be in a bad mood. And Jesus is wondering, what is he going to do? And then the betrayal happens later that evening and Jesus is totally blind-sided and he has to react. Does this make sense? No, it doesn’t. That is not how we read the events of the passion of Christ unfolding. Jesus is in total control. He knows what is in Judas’ heart. And this betrayal was prophesied centuries earlier in Jeremiah and Zechariah.
On the other hand, if you remove human free will from the equation, then everything is predestined, everything is pre-ordained, and therefore, we are just puppets. And if we are puppets, then how can anyone be held responsible for their actions? Following this logic, you could say, poor Judas. Why was he not chosen to be saved? Out of the rest of the disciples, why was Judas the unlucky one to be chosen to betray Jesus? If you believe that there is no free will and everything is pre-determined, then you can’t pin any responsibility on Judas for what he did. It wouldn’t be fair.
You can’t conclude that either. Judas is clearly held responsible for his actions. Jesus says, the one who betrays the Son of Man, it would have been better for him not to have been born.
In John 12:4-6, we read about Jesus being anointed by a sinful woman at Bethany and Judas speaks up,
“Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”
And then the gospel writer, John, offers a clue into the character of Judas. Judas was not really concerned with the poor, but as the treasurer of the group, he used to steal from the money bag. And the Bible clearly holds Judas responsible for his actions, his hidden actions of stealing money that were later exposed, and his final act of betrayal, Judas was the one who chose to do these things. No one was forcing him.
God’s sovereignty and human free will need to always be held in tension. Meaning, God knows the future, he knows all our choices, good choices and bad choices. This means we are responsible for our choices and God doesn’t force us to do anything. But because God sees everything and knows everything, like a master composer, He orchestrates every instrument to play each note at just the right time, and together we perform a beautiful masterpiece across several movements throughout human history. So even our individual choices and sins are weaved together for God’s greater purposes.