Lenten Service 2
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 27:1-5 Sermon
March 1 & 8, 2017

Click here for service internet broadcast/podcast.

Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & Lutheran Service Book):
TLH 145 "Jesus Refuge Of The Weary"
TLH 326 "Lord To Thee I Make Confession"
TLH 153 "Stricken, Smitten & Afflicted"
LSB 767 "Jesus Remember Me"  
LSB 884 "Lord Support Us All Day Long"


TEXT: “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.

            Chaplaincy work can often bring a person into the middle of situations that are unpleasant and heartbreaking.  Having done this volunteer work for Lincoln Police and Lincoln Fire Rescue for the last 18 years, I have experienced a lot of different things.  One of the most difficult situations I have to deal with is a suicide.  Over the years, I can't even begin to count how many suicide calls I've had.

            They all have one thing in common, however, and that is pain.  It's a type of pain that I have only witnessed.  I'm not talking about whatever the victim felt; I have no idea what was going through their mind.  The pain to which I'm referring is what those left behind are experiencing.  And I have opined that if the victim could only see what happens after they've committed suicide, they would never have even considered it in the first place.  And I have yet to see that committing suicide has ever accomplished anything, and that's not even considering the spiritual ramifications of it.

            Let me give you an example of one of the most heart-breaking experiences I've had.  It was sometime last winter when I got a call to meet a police officer and a detective in a parking lot.  We were going to a home a few blocks away to deliver some very tragic news.  A senior in high school had jumped from the top story of a parking garage, which killed him.  And the three of us had to go and break the news to his parents.

            Now imagine for a moment that your doorbell rings.  You open the door and see a uniformed police officer, a detective with a badge around his neck, and a uniformed chaplain.  They ask if they can come inside.  You know right away that this is not going to be good.

            Without going into further details, I can tell you that the sound parents make when they hear this news is like no other sound you'll ever hear in your life.  It's like every imaginable negative emotion erupts into one excruciating and haunting noise that would rival the most sophisticated tornado siren.

            I know that we've all experienced painful emotions of one form or another to a greater or lesser degree.  Someone we love has walked away from us.  Someone we love has pursued a destructive lifestyle or has landed in jail.  Someone we love has caused us hurt, or grief, or despair.  And so we grieve.

            So maybe we can have some understanding as to what Jesus felt that night in theGardenofGethsemane.  Jesus had one of the most telling blows dealt to him by a friend.  This friend had become his enemy, and the kiss he gave him was, in a very real sense, the kiss of death.   

            Jesus and Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, were more than friends.  They shared a spiritual fellowship.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke all make a point of the fact that Judas from Kerioth was called by Jesus to be one of his twelve apostles.  Considering what the apostles did, we can therefore picture Judas sitting at Jesus’ feet learning the Word and asking Jesus questions.  

            Or think of this: Can you picture Judas preaching the Word, cleansing lepers, healing the sick, driving out demons, and even raising the dead?  As an apostle, it’s highly likely that he did all of these things, because that is precisely what Jesus commissioned his disciples to do in Matthew chapter 10.  We can only assume that Judas was, for all intents and purposes, a zealous disciple, an eager servant, and a faithful follower. These are all biblical pictures of Judas Iscariot; and despite his sundry personal flaws, he was a man on a mission sent by Jesus. 

            But then there is that most infamous picture of Judas.  He was on a different mission, a more sinister mission that night in Gethsemane.  Matthew records this in chapter 26, verses 47-50:  “While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: ‘The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.’ Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed him. Jesus replied, ‘Do what you came for, Friend’.”

            Judas went from doing the work of an apostle to betraying the Lord of life.  How did that happen?  Did Judas wake up one morning and say, “Ah, you know what?  Today’s the day I’m going to betray Jesus, the Son of God.”  Instead, Satan had worked on Judas’ heart in a completely different way.  Satan had gotten a foothold in Judas and just took over.

            What was the point of departure for Judas?  Where did he take the wrong turn?  The Bible sums it up in one word: "greed."  The Apostle Paul gave some good advice to Timothy in his first letter, chapter 6, verse 10: “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.”  Judas is perhaps the ultimate poster boy of one who loved money too much. And as a result, he ended up wandering away from the faith and turning away from Jesus.  Things did not end well for him!

            The real tragedy, of course, is that Judas had been warned. He knew that earthly wealth was only an exercise in futility.  It could be destroyed or lost or stolen.  He knew that a man could not serve both God and money.  He knew that wealth can choke the Word right out of the heart.  He even knew that absurd picture of a camel being crammed through the eye of a needle, which, of course, is easier to do than for a rich man to enter heaven.  Regardless of all that Judas turned away from Jesus and turned toward those earthly treasures.

            It would have started small.  He was entrusted with the important job of keeping the disciples’ treasury safe and in good order.  Cash was consistently crossing his hands.  The opportunity for lining his pockets came easy and often.  And when Mary poured expensive perfume on Jesus' feet, Judas complained that the money should be given to the poor.

            The Apostle John knew charity wasn’t on Judas’ mind. He records this in chapter 12 of his gospel, verse 6: “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.”  He was an embezzler!

            So when the opportunity came for some "easy money," he jumped at it.  His friendship with Jesus put him in contact with Jesus' enemies.  It was just a kiss in exchange for some cold hard cash.  What could be easier?

            So he watched for an opportunity to betray Jesus.  He led the detachment of soldiers, carefully picking out the correct path to Gethsemane.  And then the signal; just a kiss, and nobody would be the wiser.  Nothing like trying to save face with the other disciples while betraying Christ to his face!  And Judas got his money:  30 pieces of silver, which was the price of common slave.

            And then the reality of it all hit him.  Our text says, “When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’ ‘What is that to us?’ they replied. ‘That’s your responsibility.’ So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.” Judas got his money, but forfeited his soul.  He suffers penniless in hell to this very night!

            Scripture doesn’t tell us Judas’ story so that we can pity a dead man but so that we can avoid Judas’ dead end.  The Apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians chapter 10, verse 12: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”  

            Just think of the examples in the Bible who were faithful to God at one point, but then chose to turn away for one reason or another.  They turned away from God for heathen wives or another man’s wife; they turned away for money; they turned away because they trusted another gospel, which was really no gospel at all; and they turned away because they loved sexual immorality more than the bride of Christ.  The sad story of Judas demonstrates a dreadful fact: for some, the road to hell leads straight out of the doors of the church.  People will hear the words of forgiveness and acceptance and love and life, and then go outside and promptly throw it all away.  I can think of no greater tragedy than that.  The consequences are eternal. 

            But you may argue, “I would NEVER fall away from Jesus!”  I pray that’s so.  In fact, there's nothing I'd rather see more than to know you all will be in heaven with me.

            But I also have a feeling that once upon a time Judas thought that he would never fall away.  Simon Peter also had the same thought before he denied his relationship with Jesus.  We've probably thought highly of our Christian moral character.  We have never stolen a widow’s offering money; but then again, we don’t necessarily like hearing what the Bible says about money.  We love to hear the Word of God; but then again, so did every member who has been dropped from church membership for consistently neglecting the Word and sacrament.  I would never think of betraying Jesus, but then again, how many people outside the doors of church even know that I’m a Christian?  I won’t betray him; I’ll just keep him secret!  Then there is good old-fashioned greed, the sin of Judas. Society calls the relentless quest for earthly treasures “keeping up with the Joneses.” I wonder, however, is it really the Joneses we are keeping up with, or are we keeping up with the Judases?

            There is so much sin that can quickly turn us away from Jesus, and turn us toward more sin, which will quickly turn us from our Saviour into the abyss of unbelief.  That’s what happened to Judas.  He turned from being a dedicated Apostle into an unbeliever for money, and an eternity in hell.  Those are the cold, hard facts.  

            When Judas finally came to his senses after seeing Jesus led away like a lamb to the slaughter, he had a change of mind. Tragically, instead of turning to Jesus for full and free forgiveness, he turned instead to his guilty conscience and all of his sins’ ugliness.  Instead of turning to the Lord for mercy, he turned instead to the corrupt priests in an effort to get a refund for his betrayal.  Returning the silver couldn’t make the mess of his sin right.  All the world’s gold and silver can’t make a single sin right!  Only the innocent blood of Jesus can make the mess of our sin right. Judas, in the grips of satanic despair, grabbed for a noose instead of the lifeline of Christ’s mercy.  He rejected that free gift of forgiveness he had in Jesus, and went the way of his own flawed logic.  It's like the Bible says in Proverbs chapter 14, verse 12:  "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death."  And just so we don't forget that, God repeats these words just a couple of chapters later.

            I keep thinking about the suicides I've encountered.  For whatever reason they might have had, the victims did what they thought was right for them at the time.  Not knowing the condition of a person's heart or their mental state does put a question mark as to where they might be spending eternity.  A loved one may have had a change of heart or may have been mentally unstable.  There are a lot of variables.

            In the case of the young man who jumped from the parking garage, I know there had been no Christian instruction in his life, and his family was completely unchurched.  In cases like this, the Bible gives us very little hope, if any.  And that is the saddest part of these kinds of situations.

            We can't ever turn toward our sin or choose the way that seems right to us according to our logic!  Instead, we must turn toward our Saviour.  So, don’t turn toward your guilt.  Turn to your God!  Turn to Jesus!  But we might say, “I have greed in my heart, and lies on my lips, and blood on my hands, and lust in my eyes, and hate in the pit of my stomach, and dark thoughts in my head. Turn to Jesus?  Me?”

            Because of our sin, Jesus turns to us in love with every word he spoke and every deed he did.  In the face of a lynch mob, Jesus told them to let his disciples go.  Jesus, and Jesus alone, would endure the suffering and dying.  As a betrayer kissed his face, Jesus called him "friend."  The hands that had reached out to touch and heal were freely offered to be bound and led away.  The judge of the living and the dead willingly stood in the judgment hall of a petty ruler named Pilate. The feet that had once walked on water walked up the dusty trail of death to the summit of Golgatha.

            Jesus, who was the crucified and living, and the loving and forgiving Son of God, has suffered the punishment and death that our betrayal deserved.  It is impossible for you to be more forgiven than you already are in Christ.  And what a comfort that is!

            Turn to your sin and guilt?  God forbid!  That’s a recipe for spiritual suicide.  Turn to your Saviour?  May God help you to do it every single day.  And he will!  In his second letter to Timothy, chapter 2, verse 13, Paul writes: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”  Those are words filled with hope and promise.

            So my advice tonight is to always turn to Jesus; never turn away or reject him!  No, turn to him, always toward him. Receive the forgiveness that comes to you by grace alone through faith alone.  Never turn to yourself for this; turn only him!