2nd Sunday in Lent Sounds of the Passion, Part 2 “Clinking Coins”
March 5, 2023 Matthew 26:14-16
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
During our Lent Sundays we’re thinking about what are a few of the particular sounds associated with the time of our Lord’s suffering. Here’s a little story, as told by one of our LCMS Pastors; it’s an illustration for our Sound of the Passion this morning. He said: my wife had put our young son in bed for a nap. Altho he was pretty convinced that he didn’t need one, we were equally convinced that he did. After some time past, she crept upstairs to check on him; she heard a noise coming from his bedroom. (Clink. Clink. Clink.)
It was the clink of coins hitting each other. Opening the door, she looked, and he was there on his bed; beside him was his empty piggy bank, and all the change from it was in a pile. He would take some out, lift it up high, & then let them drop one-by-one back into the pile. She smiled; he had found something more interesting to do than go to sleep. But now the jig was up. He was done-in by the clink of coins.
(Clink.) One of Jesus’ close disciples was done-in by the clink of coins. In fact, there are two places in the Gospels where jingling money was the sound of destruction for Judas Iscariot.
The first time Judas heard the clink of coins was when he had come to the temple priests & teachers of the Law with that business proposition we just heard. Judas said, “What will you give me if I deliver Him over to you?” It was a break they had been looking for. Just a few days before, the priests & Pharisees had decided not to arrest Jesus during the upcoming Passover celebration. Why? Because the crowd following Jesus would demand a really good reason for them to arrest Him; do it at the wrong time, & it would create a riot. That would be a problem for their reputation & trust of the people; and a riot would cause the Romans to crack-down on the Jews, including them. So, they decided they would just have to wait.
They knew who Judas was; they would have identified each one of the Twelve; and now here comes Judas with an idea right out of their playbook. It was like God was agreeing with their plan to get Jesus; they would have a mole in Jesus’ troublesome operation! What was that worth?! Judas would deliver Jesus to them gift-wrapped. He would find a quiet, lonely place to arrest Jesus ==no crowds around to raise a fuss.
Naïve Judas came to ask if the chief priests would be interested. Of course they were interested. They’d be fools to let a chance like this pass by. But, they would want to know 2 things: ‘why’, & ‘how much’? Why was Judas suddenly willing to betray his spiritual Rabbi – his Master? And, how much would it cost them? We don’t hear if they asked Judas those questions; but I’m sure they did. They would’ve wanted some sort of assurances that this was a real offer.
So, why would Judas betray Jesus? I think God does not tell us in His Word for a purpose. It doesn’t matter what Judas’ personal reasons were; there are no good reasons for betraying a friend, a master, or betraying a trust. If we have ever betrayed a friend, we realize later that no amount of money can cover over our guilty conscience. If it was for money or things, that money is soon gone & those things are worn out, and we can still feel the sting of our shame years later. If we betray someone in order to get ‘in’ with the popular crowd, those people often turn out to be much less loyal & dependable than the one we betrayed. Betraying someone may be considered for many different reasons; but the actual cost of that action is often very high in regrets.
Some think Judas had become disillusioned with Jesus & His mission & work; others think Judas was tired of waiting for Jesus to prove that He was the Messiah & he wanted to get the new Davidic Kingdom up & running; some have suggested that Judas was really the devil in disquise. Even tho Luke 22 does say that Satan surely motivated Judas, the devil has no power to become a man. We also know that man does not need to be ‘possessed’ to do wicked & evil things. We are told, in John 12, that Judas ‘loved’ money; and 1Tim.6 tells us that the ‘love of money’ is the root of all kinds of evil. In the end, it wouldn’t make any difference if we did know exactly why Judas did it. The fact is, Judas’ own ideas and/or greed became an idol to him, and he betrayed his Lord.
After some negotiation, the priests and Judas agreed on a price = that famous ‘30 pieces of silver.’ That was three months’ pay for the average worker. If you make $50,000/yr that would be about $12,000 = is that a lot? Is that enough? Somehow, it didn’t occur to Judas or to the teachers of the Law that 30 pieces of silver was the value Moses had set to compensate for a slave who’d been killed by a wild ox. In the Book of Zechariah, 30 pieces of silver was the amount of severance pay given to Zechariah after the townspeople wrongly removed him as their shepherd or ‘pastor’.
30 pieces of silver; about $400 for each coin; Judas stands there to make sure they count right, as they drop each coin in a leather sack. Clink. Clink. Clink. Cold, hard cash = now we’re talking! But does Judas realize that the sound he’s hearing is the price of a man’s life?
His intentions don’t matter; sin is sin.
He doesn’t realize, does he? Just like you & I often don’t realize the actual cost of the sins we put our minds & hands to. At the time, all we can see is our own ‘good reasons’ for the actions we take. But the name ‘Judas’ is like the name Stalin, or Mao, or Hitler. What a historically wicked person. We condemn Judas, a terrible person = maybe the worst of all. Our judgment is clear: WE would never betray Jesus for a few coins. We would never be disloyal to our Lord, never unfaithful to our spiritual teacher, or underhandedly use Him or His name to advance our own personal ideas or agenda. How insulting to suggest that! We would never put on a good face for Sunday, but then go & consort with His enemies Monday thru Friday… …would we?
Maybe = maybe we shouldn’t get too carried away with our own righteousness. ‘Betrayal’ means ‘unfaithfulness’. Have we ever been less than faithful to our Lord? Have we gone behind His back & cooperated with His enemies? Actually, just a few minutes ago, we all agreed that we have sinned against God in thought (clink), in word (clink), and in deed (clink). In shame & guilt, we admit that we have done sins that make us no better than Judas. We do have a hard time admitting that; we simply do not see our sins being as bad as his. We think ours are just little mistakes, a few careless thoughts, private things, no one gets hurt, sometimes we just weren’t thinking. (clink)
How does God see & measure sin? He sees the serious price needed to pay for each disobedience; whether eating just a bite of forbidden fruit, or rising up & murdering our brother. Every sin, in some way, is a cooperating with the enemy, and a work against God’s goodness in the world. Instead of worrying about why Judas betrayed Jesus, we might ask why -at times- we will betray the faith & teaching we have learned. When I was a youngster, I stole some gum from the store. It was little nuggets of yellow gum that came in a small cloth sack; it probably had 30 pieces in there! Why did I do it? No good reason; I just wanted it. Even 50 yrs later, the cost of such a little sin leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Sometimes the price we agree to, as a reward for our wrong actions, is that we get to feel a little revenge, a little payback, make others suffer! Or, we get to feel superior to someone, we showed them! But now what == was it worth it?
So, Judas Iscariot led the temple guard to the Mount of Olives, to the little garden Gethsemane, and he identified Jesus, just as he had agreed. Jesus was taken away, but rather roughly = Judas thought. And why were those men wispering about crucifixion = that wasn’t part of the deal! Jesus better get ready to resist & reveal Himself. But Jesus didn’t resist. And now the word was that Caiaphas, the high priest, was going to lean on Pontius Pilate for the death penalty == for what crime?! This was a huge mistake.
Now Judas is seeing the real cost of betrayal, and his guilt is growing. Suddenly that bag of coins tied to his belt seems very heavy. What can he do? He can’t go to the other disciples – he’d seen the look on their faces in the garden as they ran away. He can’t go to Jesus – he’s in the governor’s place under Roman guard. How can he undo what he did,
and relieve this heavy weight of guilt & shame?
So he ran back to the temple with that money jangling at his side, mocking him.
He had to get rid of it. Some of the priests were there, in the outter court. He ran up to them, breathing heavy, and cried out, “I’ve sinned. I’ve betrayed innocent blood!” There; that was his testimony. Jesus was innocent; he would swear to that ‘on a stack of Bibles! ‘You can have your money back!’ Surely now they had to help him right the wrong, and fix the sin.
And what did they do? They just looked at him and said, “What is that to us? That’s your responsibility.” (Mt 27:4). With that they begin to walk away. That was it? This is how they helped in his time of need? He just betrayed his Master, and all they can say is ‘that’s your problem, we paid you, now go away’? There he stands clutching that bag of money.
He can hear the echo of his words, ‘I’ve betrayed innocent blood.’ So he throws the money on the stone floor, and their sound (clink, clink, clink) is the second time those coins signal the destruction of Judas. He runs away from the temple area, and goes out and hangs himself.
The priests looked at the money on the floor. They picked up the coins. But what could they do with it now? “It’s blood money,” they said. They thought that sometimes you had to do things the world’s way in order to accomplish the ‘greater good.’ But, under Jewish law, they could not put money like that into the temple treasury.
It had been used for a sinful purpose; it was not to be used to the glory of God. So they took the unclean money and bought an unclean field; a field where potters dug their clay;
a place where the stranger & the ceremonially unclean dead could be buried.
What did Judas really get for his betrayal? Nothing but death. He died thinking that he was unforgiveable, and his money was used to buy a field for death. 30 pieces of silver, the most famous price for sin & death. A tragic story, but one we must hear & know.
To ‘betray’ is to be unfaithful; to to consort with God’s enemies & to disobey. Whether on purpose, or in foolish ignorance, our various sins lead us to betray God and the faith we stand for as we hurt & wound those around us. This saying is a thousand years old: ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions.’ This saying is even older: ‘The wages of sin is death.’ When Judas looked around he couldn’t see any help or any hope for his guilt == how did he miss it?
So what do WE do with the guilt & shame of our sins == do you ‘see to it yourself’? That didn’t work for Judas, & it won’t work for us. But there is One who came to work for us. Jesus paid the complete price, literally & spiritually. He paid ‘blood money’ = His life-blood on the cross. God said that that would pay for the punishment we deserve for betraying our Lord, & for every other sin. Judas got it wrong, and gave-in to the despair that overshadows all sinners, including us: he decided he needed to pay the price. But God had promised long ago that His Messiah would take care of it for us. Not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and innocent suffering & death.
Sin feels bad; there’s no feeling good about our disobeying God. But God calls us to confess those sins and hear the good news of His mercy towards us in our Savior. Forgiveness is His purpose; it’s His aim & mission & goal for all people == you, me, & even as it was for Judas. Judas heard about the cross & the empty tomb, but didn’t believe it, or see it. By the gift of God’s grace & Spirit, you & I have seen it thru Scripture, and so we believe it, & now live by it.
We do not bear the guilt & shame of our sins; our Lord & Savior Jesus does. His cross has taken it and ended it, so that now we will live in forgiveness and in peace with God.
As far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our sins from us. Now our lives are returned to us – new; and ready to be lived in thankfulness as redeemed children of God.
The clink of coins is a Sound of The Passion. (clink) It reminds us of the high cost of betraying God. But it also reminds us of the high price that has been paid for us, so that we will trust that what God has promised us in Jesus & His cross brings us forgiveness and a new life of loyalty & obedience to His holy ways, until the time we can enter into eternal life.