For this month, we’re going to take a break from Romans and study the Passion accounts in preparation for Good Friday and Easter.
Today, I have 3 points.
1) God’s sovereignty and human free will need to always be held in tension and we see this in Judas’ choice to betray Jesus.
2) Judas is condemned because he lacked repentance and faith.
3) Judas sinned against Christ and he also sinned against the body of Christ.
Let’s set the scene. Jesus is gathering with his 12 disciples to share a meal. In the 3 years together, they must have eaten thousands of meals together because they lived in community. They were the first church. They traveled together. Jesus taught them as they had various experiences like Peter walking on water and encounters with crowds like feeding of the 5000 and encounters with individuals like the Samaritan woman. These were men whom Jesus loved. In his last evening together, Jesus was not healing the sick or performing miracles. He was with the people he had poured out and invested in the most. And it was a very familiar, very intimate circle of friends around a dinner table.
But this was not your ordinary dinner. In John’s account, starting in John 13, Jesus had just finished washing the disciples’ feet, which is something that Jesus had never done before. I had my feet washed once by my youth pastor and it was a very moving, emotional experience for everyone involved. I don’t know if I can do that. Because some feet are kind of nasty. You have to deal with foot fungus and toe cheese and cracked heels. Maybe someday. I imagine that this was a very somber, tearful experience for Jesus and his disciples. So already, the evening started off in a very unusual way. And clearly, two men were very troubled that night. Jesus, because He knew the hour had come for him to enter his passion, his suffering, the loneliness as all the disciples would flee him in his time of greatest need, and his eventual death on a cross. And the other person who is burdened that evening was Judas, because he had already committed in his heart to betray Jesus.
We read in v14 that just prior to this meal, Judas had gone to the chief priests and they had hatched a plan to capture Jesus in exchange for thirty silver coins. If the gospels were a movie, then we would notice that the action is moving pretty briskly throughout the the earlier chapters of the gospels until you get to the passion accounts leading up the crucifixion. That’s when the camera zooms in, and we would be watching in slow motion and getting a frame by frame recounting of what is happening, who said what, how Jesus is feeling, the overconfidence and the cowardice of the disciples and the brewing hatred of the Jewish religious leaders. Because this is the climax of the story, the cross of Jesus where he died for the sins of the world only to resurrect three days later in victory, this is where human history has been heading toward ever since the Fall of Humanity in Genesis 3.
And so we have to pause at that first detail given to us by Matthew in this 26th chapter — Jesus was betrayed by Judas, one of his own, for thirty silver coins. And Jesus, because He is the Son of God, already knew that Judas was going to betray him so twice during their meal time, Jesus calls him out. The first time Jesus says, the one who has dipped his hand into the bowl will betray me. Everyone denies it, of course. Even Judas whose hand was dipped into the bowl with Jesus.’ And everyone must have seen that it was Judas who had dipped in his hand right as Jesus said that. Judas is probably nervous at this point so he says, Surely not I, Rabbi? And Jesus singles him out a second time — Yes, it is you. So Jesus already knows that Judas is going to betray him. Fast forward a chapter and we read in Matthew 27 that Judas, seeing that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and he returns the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. He even seems repentant for he says, I have sinned, I have betrayed innocent blood. And chief priests and the elders answer, what is that to us, it your responsibility? In other words, it’s out of our hands. The guilt is on your hands. And not knowing how to cope with this guilt, Judas hangs himself.
This is one of the greatest tragedies in all the Bible, but I want to underscore that Jesus was in perfect control of his circumstances. He was not caught off-guard by Judas’ betrayal. He knew that things would happen this way to fulfill Scripture prophesied hundreds of years prior.
And the gospel writer, Matthew, offers his own commentary on this betrayal. Since the thirty silver coins is blood money, the chief priests cannot put the money into the treasury so they decide to use the money to buy a potter’s field. And then he quotes a prophecy from Jeremiah in Matt 27:9 — They took the thirty silver coins, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.
And that’s a reference to a prophecy from the book of Jeremiah. And I wanted to connect the dots a bit with a couple of Old Testament prophecies to illustrate once again the interplay between God’s sovereignty and human free will. In Jeremiah, the glorious days of reformation under Hezekiah in the 8th C. were eclipsed by the long, ungodly reign of Manasseh, who maintained a syncretistic worship for his people. Syncretism was a blending of various religions to form a kind of spiritual hodge podge of beliefs. And Jeremiah was called to the ministry in 626 BC in the 13th year of Josiah’s reign during a period of reformation.
In Jeremiah 19, the Lord instructs Jeremiah to go to the Valley of Hinnom by way of the Potsherd Gate in Jerusalem. It was called Potsherd Gate because of its proximity to the potter’s house. And right outside the walls of Jerusalem, right on the other side of the Potsherd Gate is where the potter would dump all of his waste from his pottery. And due to syncretistic pagan influences, this Valley of Hinnom had been connected with child sacrifice. As a result, Josiah had put an end to child sacrifices and had turned the Valley of Hinnom into a garbage dump for Jerusalem. And in those days, to get rid of the garbage, they would burn it so the valley was always on fire. In Hebrew, the word for valley is “ge” so the Valley of Hinnom was Ge Hinnom. And that’s where we get the Greek word gehenna, which is the New Testament word for hell. Outside the city walls, perpetual garbage dump in flames, hell — you see the connection?
So at this very valley where child sacrifice was performed and innocent blood was spilt, God asks Jeremiah to buy a clay jar from the potter and in a graphic display of divine judgment, God tells Jeremiah to break the jar in plain view of everyone. That would be a pretty powerful sermon illustration if I took a ceramic vase from home and I smashed it in front of you during a sermon about God’s judgment. That’s what Jeremiah is doing here. And the message is very clear — you Israelites, you are going to be smashed, you are going to be punished for your sins — the child sacrifice, children, those who are utterly helpless, their innocent blood is being shed for your stupid religion. And so the Lord’s anger burned against them. And Jeremiah warns the Israelites that these sins are going to lead to your destruction.
And of course, this message of judgment was a foreshadowing of the approaching slaughter at the hands of the Babylons and the subsequent captivity of Israel. And this actually happened in human history. The prophecy was fulfilled.
Do you see the parallels with the life of Judas? Jesus was innocent. Innocent blood is about to be shed. Jesus denied his rights and made him himself helpless before human hatred and cruelty. Like a child, which harkens back to the innocent children sacrificed in Jeremiah’s day. And as a result, divine judgment is about to be executed, starting with Judas. We read in Matt 26:24 —
Matt 26 – 24″The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
And sure enough, a chapter later, Judas is judged and we see him taking his own life.