Monday, November 14, 2011

Matthew 27:1–10

Matthew 27:1–10 (ESV): Jesus Delivered to Pilate, and Judas Hangs Himself


Jesus has now been “captured” by the religious leaders, and been found guilty of blasphemy. However, as previously mentioned, under Roman law the Jews don’t have the right to execute anyone; that has to be handled by the Roman officials. So they hand Jesus over to Pilate, the governor. In a future passage we will get to Jesus’s trial, but before that happens we find out Judas’ fate.

In fact, Judas has a change of heart. When he sees that the religious leaders have condemned Jesus as a blasphemer, he changes his mind about his betrayal and tries to give them back the thirty pieces of silver that they’d paid him for his betrayal. He tells them that he has sinned by betraying innocent blood, but they’re not exactly feelin’ his pain on this one: “They said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself’” (verse 4 (ESV)). So Judas goes and throws the silver into the temple, and then hangs himself.

However, the religious leaders decide that they can’t put this silver into the treasury since it is “blood money,” and apparently there is a law against using blood money in this manner. So instead they use the money to buy a field to be used as a burial place for strangers, and because of the origins of the money the field takes on the name “Field of Blood.” This fulfils a shockingly accurate prediction made in Jeremiah:

Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.” (verses 9–10 (ESV))


In an earlier passage I’d wondered about Judas’ motives in trying to keep his betrayal secret from Jesus, and one of my hypotheses was that perhaps he hadn’t expected Jesus to be found guilty—or, if he was found guilty, that it wouldn’t be of anything that deserved death. This passage might lend some credence to that hypothesis; when Judas sees that Jesus has been condemned, he has second thoughts; is it possible that it was simply, purely about the money? That he figured he could make a quick and easy thirty pieces of silver, causing only some minor aggravation to Jesus in having to be tried on some trumped up crime, and then have things go back to the way they were (except with Judas’ pocket being more full)? Or is it just that the reality of Jesus being sentenced to death hit Judas harder than he’d thought it would?

In any event, he is obviously remorseful over what he’s done—but I’ve never read a single commentary that claimed he was so remorseful that he sought God’s forgiveness, and I’ve never read anyone who thought that Judas is saved, and in heaven. The unanimous consensus seems to be that Judas died condemned for his sins, even if he did feel some remorse. Which is an interesting spiritual lesson for us: a person can be so remorseful for their actions that they can’t go on living—and yet still not go to God for forgiveness and salvation. Being remorseful for one’s sins is “difficult;” it’s not something we’re naturally prone to do. We’re proud, and arrogant; to admit we’ve done wrong—that we’re short of the standards God has set for us—is anathema to us. But apparently it’s even harder to ask God for help, even after one has made that step. (I say “apparently” as I don’t typically pull these two concepts apart, in my thinking, so I don’t really do any thinking on which one might be more difficult.)

Incidentally, Acts 1:12–26 (ESV) gives some additional (and gory) details on Judas’ death. Matthew gives only the necessary details that Judas was remorseful and committed suicide.

I’ve probably commented many times in this blog about the religious leaders being overzealous in some things, and underzealous in others. To me, the greatest irony in this passage is when they decide they can’t put Judas’ thirty pieces of silver into the treasury, since it’s “blood money”—and that would be against the rules! They’ve just had a sham trial and falsely accused a man of blasphemy, sentencing him to death, but putting tainted money into the treasury offends their delicate sensibilities.

And as usual, I have to ask the same question of modern-day Christians: Are there big sins we commit, and small sins we abhor? I’m reminded of an anecdote my wife once told me, the details of which I don’t remember (and a quick Google search didn’t help): A pastor was giving a sermon and talking about the poor and the needy, and he said, “it’s a f**king tragedy. And the real tragedy is that many of you listening now are more shocked and appalled that I just used the f-word than you are about the state of the poor in this country.” Again, my memory is bad so that isn’t the actual quote, it’s just an approximation. We all know people who would be absolutely scandalized for a pastor to use the f-word in a sermon—I even starred it out here, so as to try to avoid readers missing the larger point from the shock of seeing that word—and yet don’t give a second thought to the poor and the needy. They can read passage after passage after passage in the Old Testament prophets of God condemning His people for not caring for the poor, and yet not care themselves; but to hear the f-word, well that’s just terrible!

I don’t know if that’s a good example, but I’m trying to get us to think about our own hearts, and the sins we consider terrible vs. the sins that we simply don’t care about. If we compare our priorities to God’s priorities, will they be the same or will they be different?

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