A little trivia for our history buffs. Name this man.
He was an early hero of the American Revolution. He was a general at the battle of Saratoga in 1777 and led his soldiers in gallant victory over the British. He proved his mettle with valiant courage. George Washington even recognized him as “the bravest of the brave.” Any guess yet? Here’s a little more.
By 1780, this early hero was disillusioned with the American cause. In fact, he arranged to sell secret military plans to the enemy for twenty thousand British pounds. Today that would be about 4.5 million pounds or about 5.3 million dollars. Back to this guy. In arranging this plan to sell secret military plans, he fled the United States and moved to England, serving the British military. He betrayed the country he had previously defended.
His name has gone down in history as America’s greatest traitor. His name is … Benedict Arnold. He betrayed his country for twenty thousand pounds of silver. To Americans, Benedict Arnold’s name is associated with shame.
Another name which has gone down in history as the world’s greatest traitor. He betrayed his teacher at the price of thirty pieces of silver. He betrayed his Lord and God. His name is Judas Iscariot.
Today we are going to look at Judas’ betrayal. And as we look at his betrayal of Jesus, we are going to see our betrayal as well. We do so in view of Christ’s mercy.
Our reading from Matthew 26 describes the scene for us. It’s Holy Week, it’s the night when Jesus was betrayed. He is in the Garden of Gethsemane praying to God for strength as he gets ready to face the sinful mob who will lead him and severely mistreat him. Matthew tells us that “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” (26:47).
Notice closely what Matthew says. Judas is “one of the Twelve.” Judas was handpicked by Jesus, he was an insider. Judas had followed Jesus, listened to His words and witnessed all of His miracles. He was in on the private teachings which were only for the disciples. Judas was a trusted confidant in the company of Jesus.
And yet, Judas turned against Jesus. He worked together with Jesus’ enemies, with those who wanted to discredit and destroy Jesus. But these enemies knew they couldn’t do it on their own … they needed someone on the inside, an informant, one who would arrange for them to arrest Jesus. And the payoff for doing this? Thirty silver coins, the same amount of money of a slave. Judas would sell his master, sell Jesus as a slave!
Back to the scene in the Garden. Judas leads a crowd carrying weapons to arrest Jesus. To make sure they know who to arrest, Judas tells them what the sign will be. Matthew says, “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” (26:48-49).
Judas used a symbol of love, of friends, of acceptance to betray his master. Judas uses a kiss to condemn Jesus. In a different gospel, Jesus even questions Judas, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48). Try to imagine for a moment how painful that must have been for Jesus. How shameful as well was it for Judas to sell out his Lord, his rabbi, his teacher, with a kiss.
Benedict Arnold betrayed the United States for twenty thousand British pounds. Judas betrayed his Lord for thirty silver coins. The question for us to ask ourselves this morning is this … “What is our price to betray the Lord?” What is our price? And the thing is … everyone has a price.
Maybe your price of betrayal is the price of greed. Your love for money and material wealth are greater than your love for God. Your time and energy are consumed more with making money than with loving God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength.
Maybe your price of betrayal is the price of ambition. The quest to climb to the top of your career trumps that of serving God in humility. You press toward your own selfish will over and against the will of God.
Maybe your price of betrayal is the price of acceptance by the world. You’re motivated to please people more than to please God. You want to impress the powerful and the popular in society at the expense of your confession of Christ. You don’t want to be ridiculed as a Christian, so you compromise, you deny Jesus by your silence or submission to the world.
Maybe your price of betrayal is the price of retaliation. You refuse to swallow your own pride in order to forgive someone who has wronged you. Instead, you seek revenge and you retaliate to hurt back. You betray the Lord who calls you to forgive.
I’m sure there are more we could bring up, but I think you get the point. Judas isn’t the only one who has betrayed the Lord. Like Judas, we call ourselves disciples of Jesus who also betray Jesus. Every time we live in ways that are contrary to the Word of God, every time we embrace a behavior that is contrary to the will of God, we betray God. In our sinful rebellion, we who bear the name of Christ bring shame to that name. We too are traitors.
The gospel accounts are clear in that Jesus knew beforehand that Judas was going to betray him. In fact, Jesus announced that He knew of the betrayal hours before it even happened. Yet at the Last Supper in that Upper Room, Jesus extended gestures of friendship and honor to Judas in the seating placement and in the sharing of bread. And even after being kissed in the Garden, after receiving the assault of betrayal, Jesus addressed Judas as a “friend” (Matthew 26:50).
The price which Judas paid to betray Jesus was thirty pieces of silver. As I mentioned before, that was the price of a slave. In one sense, that price was appropriate. Appropriate because Jesus willingly offered himself as a slave, a servant. Jesus was prophesied by Isaiah to be the suffering servant. Jesus himself claimed that His purpose was to be a servant when He said, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The apostle Paul says in Philippians that Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the form of a servant” (2:6-7).
Jesus was willingly sold as a slave by the betrayal price of thirty pieces of silver in order to purchase us from our slavery to sin. Jesus was betrayed at the hands of sinful men to demonstrate that no matter what, God will never desert us or betray us as sinners. The price of betrayal was thirty coins. But the price of our salvation, Luther says was “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.” Jesus gave His life as a ransom for the many. Jesus gave His life as a ransom for you.
So as we move through Lent and continue to complete the betrayal of Jesus, we do so in view of God’s mercy. Jesus was betrayed to death in order to ransom us, to buy us back from death. To you and me, to all traitors, Christ offers the bread at the table as a gesture of love and as in invitation to forgiveness. To you and me, to all traitors, Christ offers His blood, shed on the cross for the remission of our sins. To you and me, to all traitors, Christ offers himself to death in order to purchase us from the slavery of sin.
In this penitential season of Lent, we come to Jesus with deep sorrow for our betrayal of Him. Yet, we also keep the cross and the empty tomb in sight. We repent, we turn back to God in view of God’s mercy. And because of the sacrifice of the Servant on the cross … we receive God’s mercy … despite being traitors. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.