************ Sermon on Matthew 27:4 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 15, 2009
"Innocence, Guilt, and Judgment"
John Huffman tells the classic story of the man who was in a difficult situation, and in desperation turns to the Bible. He didn't know where to look, so he let the book flop open and he laid his finger on a verse, which said that Judas "went and hanged himself." After a moment's thought, he decided to turn to a different verse for help; he repeated the process and read, "What thou doest, do quickly."Needless to say, this is NOT how we are using the portion of Scripture in front of us today.
On the night before He died, Jesus uttered four prophecies regarding the disciples. He said one of the Twelve will betray Him (Mt 26:21). He said there will be woe to the one who betrays Him (Mt 26:24). He said all the disciples will fall away on account of Him (Mt 26:31). And, He said Peter will disown/deny Him three times (Mt 26:34). Three of the four have already been fulfilled: Judas has betrayed Him (Mt 26:47f); all the disciples have deserted Him and fled (Mt 26:56); and, Peter has denied Him three times (Mt 26:69-75). There remains the prediction of woe for the one who betrays Him. In this morning's passage we see the fulfillment of this prophecy of Jesus.
As we study this passage we are told about innocence, guilt, and judgment.
A The Judas' scene in front of us and the Roman trial that follows proclaim the message that Jesus is innocent. Judas rushes to the chief priests and elders and says, "I have sinned for I have betrayed innocent blood" (Mt 27:4). In the next couple of verses Matthew also tells us about Pilate's wife. She has a dream that Jesus is innocent so she warns her husband not to have anything to do with Jesus (Mt 27:19). Finally, Pilate himself find Jesus to be innocent, declares Him to be innocent, washes his hands of the whole affair, and declares that Jesus' blood is the responsibility of the crowd (Mt 27:23-25).
B The phrase Matthew uses is "innocent blood." The innocent blood of Jesus. That's the message Matthew wants to get across to us. By using this phrase Matthew expresses the solidarity of Jesus with all the innocent blood that has been shed throughout the history of God's people (cf Mt 23:35). Think of righteous Abel murdered by his own brother because his sacrifice was more acceptable to God (Gen 4). Think of the 70 sons of Gideon killed in cold blood by their brother Abimelech (Judges 9). Think of the murder of Abner by Joab (2 Sam 3). Think of the blood of Jeremiah and Zechariah. Think of the murder of Bethlehem's baby boys (Mt 2). Think of the execution of John the Baptist (Mt 14). None of them deserved to die. Those who killed them shed innocent blood. The words of Judas tells us that Jesus is one with all of these innocent victims. He too does not deserve to die. Those who kill Him shed innocent blood.
C "Innocent blood." What is it that Jesus is innocent of? We can point to three things. First of all, Jesus is innocent of the charge of blasphemy. That's the charge the Sanhedrin leveled against Him. They were outraged when Jesus agreed that He is "the Christ, the Son of God ... the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven" (Mt 26:63-64). When the high priest heard this he tore his clothes and the teachers of the law and the elders pronounced the death penalty (Mt 26:65-66).
If Jesus is just a man – nothing more, nothing less – than He is guilty of blasphemy. If Jesus truly is the Son of God, then He is not guilty of blasphemy. When Judas talks of Christ's "innocent blood" he is saying Jesus is not guilty of blasphemy. Judas must have thought back to the miracles done by Jesus, to His authoritative teaching, to His baptism and transfiguration, to the glimpses of heavenly glory, and suddenly realized, "Surely he was the Son of God" (Mt 27:54).
Second, Jesus is innocent of the charge of rebellion. That's the charge the chief priests brought against Jesus to Pilate (Luke 23:13). They claimed Jesus was inciting the people to rebel against Roman authority. If the chief priests were so concerned about rebellion, why did they want Barabbas released – a man who had rebelled against the Romans and committed murder? (Lk 23:19). Both Judas and the Pharisees knew this charge was false, that Jesus was innocent. Remember what Jesus all did? Jesus refused to let the people make Him king both after feeding the 5,000 (John 6) and after the triumphal entry of Palm Sunday (Mt 21); if you remember, the crowds wanted Jesus to be the kind of king that would drive out the Roman occupiers of Palestine. Jesus refused to let Peter and the other disciples offer armed resistance to the crowd that came to arrest Him (Mt 26:52). Jesus told His followers to pay their taxes: "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (Mt 22:21). No, Jesus was not guilty of rebellion.
Third, Jesus is innocent of all sin. He is the Sinless One, the perfect One. As Isaiah puts it, "he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth" (Is 53:9). Judas saw the temptations faced by Jesus but Judas also saw that never once did Jesus fall into sin.
Jesus is innocent. Judas, the one who betrayed Him, sees this. Pilate's wife sees this. Pilate sees this. Those who shed His blood are guilty of shedding "innocent blood."
We see the Gospel here. Jesus is innocent. We are guilty. Jesus, though innocent, was pronounced guilty so that we, though guilty, could be pronounced innocent.
A Judas runs to the chief priests and elders and says, "I have sinned for I have betrayed innocent blood." Their response: "What is that to us? That is your responsibility." You know what they were saying? They were saying, "Who cares? So what? Big deal!"
Let there be no mistake about it: the Old Testament looks with horror upon the shedding of innocent blood. Jonathan, for instance, was horrified that King Saul wanted to kill an innocent man like David (1Sam 19:4-5). King David was haunted by the innocent blood shed by Joab (1Ki 2:5). The prophet Jeremiah gave Israel a list of God's requirements that needed to be met for them to stay in the Promised Land; included in this list was this command: "do not shed innocent blood" (Jer 7:6; cf Jer 19:4 & 22:3). The prophet Jeremiah further declared that the shedding of innocent blood brought guilt on the people, the city and the land (Jer 26:15). The psalmist speaks against those who "condemn the innocent to death" (Ps 94:21) and declares that it desecrates the land (Ps 106:38-39). "You will purge from yourselves the guilt of shedding innocent blood," commands Deuteronomy 21:9. And, "Cursed is the man who accepts a bribe to kill an innocent person," says Deuteronomy 27:25.
The chief priests and elders know all of this. After all, these are people whose whole life is dedicated to the law. They are meticulous in keeping the law. They spend hours discussing and learning the law. The law is on their mind day and night. If anyone should be concerned about the sin of Judas or the innocence of Jesus, it should be them. If anyone should be concerned about the shedding of innocent blood, it should be them. But they aren't.
In fact, the exact opposite has to be said. According to Matthew, the chief priests and elders "plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him" (Mt 26:4). And, they are the ones who handed Jesus over to Pilate (Mt 27:2). The chief priests and elders are guilty of shedding innocent blood.
B Matthew wants us to know that Judas is also one of the guilty ones. It may have been the chief priests and elders who plotted against Jesus and handed Him over to Pilate, but it was Judas who betrayed the Lord. As Judas himself puts it, "I have sinned for I have betrayed innocent blood" (Mt 27:4).
Matthew tells us that Judas "was seized with remorse" (Mt 27:3). Does Judas regret his sin or merely the consequences of his sin? Is Judas ashamed of his sin or only of the consequences of his sin? If Judas truly is sorry for his sin, shouldn't he be seeking forgiveness by going to Jesus – the One he betrayed, the Friend of sinners – rather than to the chief priests and elders? In my Greek Bible, the normal word for "repentance" is not used here so we can only conclude that Judas has not really repented of the sin itself.
Judas is like Pharaoh. Here is another man who repented not of his sin but only of the consequences of his sin. I spent some time going through the Exodus story this past week. Over and over again Pharaoh repented of not letting the people go (Ex 8:8; 8:25; 8:28; 9:27; 10:16; 10:24; 12:31). But each time his heart was hardened again. Pharaoh's repentance was not a real repentance. His sorrow was not a real sorrow. It wasn't the sin but only the consequences of his sin that he felt bad about.
I am sure you realize that there are people within the church who are like Judas and Pharaoh. What makes them upset is not their sin but only the consequences of their sin. They are more sorry about being caught than about the sin itself. So often I look for a broken and contrite spirit, but I don't see it. I look for a sense of shame, but I don't see it. Our sin should sicken us, and drive us to our knees, and cause us to cry, "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner"; yet, I rarely hear anything like this. My brothers and sisters, when we sin we betray Christ, we disown Christ, and we scorn Christ; yet, we worry more about ourselves than how our sin hurts Him.
C To make the point clear, let's compare Judas to Peter. Both were prominent in Christ's service: Peter was His spokesman, Judas His treasurer. Peter denied Him and cursed Him while Judas betrayed Him. Both acknowledged their vile deeds; both were overwhelmed with regret. But notice the difference after the sin: Peter "went outside and wept bitterly" (Mt 26:75); Judas, on the other hand, desecrated the sanctuary by throwing the blood money inside and then he "went away and hanged himself" (Mt 27:5).
Peter felt true sorrow for sin; Judas felt only remorse for the consequences of his sin. In his sorrow Peter clung to Jesus; in his remorse Judas clung to nothing.
It is not enough, congregation, to believe in Jesus' suffering. It is not even enough to weep about what our sins have done. We must actually take our sins and brokenness to Jesus and believe that He will forgive us. Peter did that. That was the beginning of a new life for him.
A The final message of our Scripture reading is that God's justice is not mocked but is visited on each party involved in shedding the innocent blood of God's Son.
Pilate and Herod five times declared Christ innocent of the charges brought against Him and seemed determined to release Jesus. Justice demanded this, for the accusations against Christ had no support; His was innocent blood. The multitude, however, was not seeking justice but rather demanded Christ's death. Inflamed passions were ready to break forth into a riot (Matt. 27:23). Afraid of being accused before Caesar (John 19:12) and fearful of inciting the Jews to riot, Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified. He sought to absolve himself of all responsibility for his decision. "He took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. 'I am innocent of this man's blood,' he said. 'It is your responsibility'" (Matt. 27:24).
The rulers, the priests, and the people united in accepting responsibility for the death of Christ, saying, "Let his blood be on us and on our children" (Matt. 27:25).
It wasn't long before these words came to haunt all those involved in the shedding of innocent blood. We know from history that a short time after the crucifixion, the house of Annas was destroyed. The high priest, Caiaphas, was deposed a year after the crucifixion. Pilate was soon banished to Gaul and there died in suicide. And thirty years later, judgment was pronounced against some of the best citizens of Jerusalem. Of the 3,600 victims of the governor's fury, quite a few were scourged and crucified! When Jerusalem fell, her wretched citizens were crucified around her walls until, in the historian's grim language, "space was wanting for the crosses, and crosses for the bodies."
God's justice cannot be mocked. There is punishment for the shedding of innocent blood.
B Nowhere is this more clear than in the case of Judas. Jesus had said, "... woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born" (Mt 26:24). We know from this and elsewhere that Judas was lost, unforgiven, doomed to everlasting hell fire (cf John 17:12). The clearest sign of this was his method of death. The Jews viewed suicide as an infringement upon God's rights. It was seen as an act of impiety towards the God Who created us. Among the Jews a suicide's body was to be exposed and unburied until sunset, even though Jews buried even enemies slain in war. In later Judaism it was forbidden to rend garments, bare the head, or mourn openly for those who committed suicide.
In the case of Judas, then, suicide is an act of utter despair. It is a statement that he is worthless to all and beyond forgiveness and salvation.
Judas paid, and paid eternally, for the unrepentant shedding of innocent blood.
C Jesus is innocent. But, as sinners, you and I – like Judas, like Pilate, like the Pharisees – are guilty.
Now, I need to warn you, God's justice is not mocked. Sin is punished: either you suffer the punishment for sin or Jesus does. So let me ask:
Have you come to Jesus?
Have you brought Him your sin?
Has your guilt been laid on Him Who has innocent blood?
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