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“Questions at the Cross: What Will You Give Me If I Betray Him?”
Matthew 26:14-16


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
First Sunday in Lent—February 17, 2013

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Today is the First Sunday in Lent, the season in which we meditate especially on our Lord’s suffering and death, as we prepare to celebrate his resurrection at Easter.  During Lent this year, for both our special evening and Sunday morning services, we are considering “Questions at the Cross,” questions asked by Jesus and others during the first Holy Week.  The entire sermon series is listed on the back of today’s bulletin.

You probably are familiar with the names Maundy Thursday and Good Friday for the end of Holy Week.  But, did you know that Wednesday of Holy Weeks is traditionally called “Spy Wednesday”?  That’s because, from the chronology of the Gospels, it seems to be on Wednesday of Holy Week that one of Jesus’ own disciples agrees to betray him to death: “Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I betray him to you?’  So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for a good opportunity to betray him.”

Today’s “Question at the Cross”: “What Will You Give Me If I Betray Him?”

In the movie “Lincoln,” currently in theaters, the President’s young son Tad is fascinated by some old-fashioned Magic Lantern glass projection slides that the President has, with pictures of slaves that are for sale.  Tad holds them in front of candles and by the firelight to see their ghastly images.  And glued along the edge of each slide is a piece of paper giving the price, usually a few hundred dollars, for these suffering slaves.

In the book of Exodus if a slave is killed accidentally the owner must be paid 30 pieces of silver.  That’s probably why the high priests select this same sum to give Judas. But, in this case, it’s not the slave but the Master whose life is taken, and this death is no accident, but an execution, carefully planned and carried out.

Why?  What was their motive?  Why did the religious leaders and Judas conspire together to have Jesus killed?  As the old saying goes, “follow the money trail.”

The Gospel of Mark explains, “The chief priests and scribes . . . kept looking for a way to kill him, because they were afraid of him, for all the people were spellbound by his teaching.”  They were afraid that Jesus’ enormous popularity with the people would lead a political and religious revolution, and as a result they would lose their powerful positions, which brought them great wealth and prestige.  That’s why Mark’s Gospel says that when Judas came to them and offered to betray Jesus, “They were delighted to hear it.”

But, why would one of Jesus’ own chosen disciples betray him?  What was Judas’ motive?  “Follow the money trail.”  Last week the former treasurer of Dixon, Illinois was sentenced for embezzling an astonishing $53 million from the city over 20 years.  Judas was treasurer for the disciples, and the Gospel of John reports that he was doing the same thing, embezzling: “He was a thief, and as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” 

Maybe Judas feared he was finally going to get caught, like that city treasurer in Illinois.  But, it seems it was the event that took place right before Judas agreed to betray Jesus that pushed him to escalate his crimes from embezzlement to murder.

“A woman came to [Jesus] with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. ‘Why this waste?’ they asked.  ‘This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.’ Aware of this, Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.’”

“What a waste of money!” all the disciples indignantly say.  “When she poured this perfume on my body,” Jesus replies, “she did it to prepare me for burial.”  The other disciples are humbled by Jesus’ beautiful reply, but, not Judas.  Then and there Judas comes to his dastardly decision. He realizes that Jesus is never going take clever advantage of his enormous popularity to rake in piles money, so that Judas can skim off more and more.  Jesus obviously doesn’t care about money, so Judas will have to take care of it himself.  The very next verse says, “Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I betray him . . . ?’”

It’s hard to calculate the value today of those thirty pieces of silver.  The denarius was a silver coin equal to one day’s pay for a common laborer, and each of these thirty silver pieces Judas received was probably equal to about four denarii.  So, something like 120 working days, which at the current minimum wage would be around $7,000 in our modern money.  At first $7,000 sounds like a lot of money, but if you compare it to the reward offered last week for a fugitive in California of $1 million, you see how very cheaply Judas really gave Jesus up. “So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for a good opportunity to betray him.”

“What Will You Give Me If I Betray Him?”  In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus himself is tempted by Satan to betrayal: tempted to betray his Father in heaven, by worshipping Satan, and to betray us, by selfishly using his divine powers for his own good and glory instead of our salvation.  “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread. . .  If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here. . . I will give you all [the] authority and splendor . . . of the kingdoms of the world . . . if you worship me.” 

That’s what Jesus was offered by Satan for his betrayal, to betray his heavenly Father, to betray us, to betray his mission of salvation.  Not just a measly 30 pieces of silver, but all the authority and splendor of the kingdoms of the world.  But, each time Jesus fought off the Devil’s temptations with word of God, which is described in “Scripture as the sword of the Spirit.”  “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’”  “It is written:  ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”  “It is written:  ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

“What Will You Give Me If I Betray Him?”  It wasn’t only Jesus’ life that Judas gave up for a few silver coins.  Because in the process Judas really gave up everything of importance and value in his own life too.

Peter says in Acts, “He was one of our number and shared in this ministry.”  Judas was part of the most honored group of men in history, chosen as one of Christ’s twelve Apostles.  But, for a few thousand dollars he lost that privileged office.

For three years Judas had traveled with Jesus and the other Apostles.  “I have called you friends” Jesus said at the Last Supper.  But, now for a few thousand dollars Judas loses his friends, and betrays to death the greatest Friend of all.

And, it wasn’t just Jesus’ earthly life that Judas sold for 30 pieces of silver, but his own earthly life too.  For, the next chapter of Matthew’s Gospel reports, “When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins 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.” 

Worst of all, for the sake of those 30 silver coins—that he threw back anyway—Judas lost his very soul to an eternity in hell.  As Peter says in Acts, “Judas left to go where he belongs.”

“What Will You Give Me If I Betray Him?”  In exchange for a few measly coins Judas lost everything of importance and value, his very earthly life, and his soul to an eternity in hell.  What a price Judas paid for those 30 coins!  And, then he didn’t even get any satisfaction or gratification from them, but ended up throwing them back.

Like Judas, we often lose so much in exchange for Satan’s false promise of greater gratification.  For the sake of illicit sexual activity, husbands and wives lose their families, marriages, homes, children.  Like that city treasurer in Illinois, for the sake of illicit money or other tempting property, people lose their careers, jobs, reputations.  For the sake of a few feel-good moments people lose control of their lives to drugs and alcohol.  What a price we pay when we follow Satan’s way!

You see, when Satan says to Jesus in today’s Gospel Reading, “I will give you all [the] authority and splendor . . . of the kingdoms of the world . . . if you worship me . . .  for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to,” that is a lie.  Satan doesn’t have such power.  His promises are hollow, he can never deliver on what he’s enticing you with. Like Judas and the 30 pieces of silver, it’s always a lie whenever Satan tempts you, “Just do this, and see what you’ll get.”

“What Will You Give Me If I Betray Him?”  Like Satan’s temptation of Jesus himself, the Devil holds out for you such wonderful promised rewards and pleasures, if only you will do his wicked will.  But, when you do yield to Satan’s temptations, you always end up like Judas, losing everything, and gaining nothing.  “What Will You Give Me If I Betray Him?”  Whatever it is that Satan is dangling before you, it’s never worth it to betray your Lord and his holy will.

Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. . .  but if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  In today’s Old Testament Reading, Moses tells God’s people of old to celebrate the Lord setting them free from slavery by his mighty power.  That’s what we are doing here today, celebrating the Lord by his mighty power setting you free from slavery to sin. 

Under the old covenant the price for a dead slave was 30 pieces of silver.  But, the price Jesus paid for your life, to buy your freedom from death and slavery to sin, was his own life and death upon the cross: “This is my body which is given for you . . . this cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you. . . for the forgiveness of sins.”

“For the Son of Man came not to be served,” Jesus says, “but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  Your sins are all forgiven because Jesus gave his life as a ransom for you.  Paul says in Galatians, “Stand fast, then, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”

“What Will You Give Me If I Betray Him?”  When Satan dangles temptations before you, like he did both Judas and Jesus, no matter what Satan seems to be offering you to betray your Lord, don’t give in like Judas, to your damnation, but like Jesus stand fast and fight back with the word of God and prayer.

Amen.

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