Hope or Despair; Life or Death
“Then, when Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he had second thoughts and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ But they said, ‘What is that to us? Look to yourself.’”
In the flow of things, this is a little out of order (at least with Matthew’s chronology). The main thing to remember, in this case, is that this event is essentially taking place at the same time as some of the mob demands before Pilate — behind the scenes. Moving it down into this position in the harmonized account, allows for the full story around Pilate to be told and then the comments around Judas’ betrayal.
A contrast takes place here, though, that is very important to note. Here, Judas is called, “the betrayer,” a name that will stick with Judas through the rest of history. The term that is used is paradi/dwmi (paradidomi), which literally means “one who delivers.” In this case, context has clarified how the delivery takes place, for Judas has delivered Jesus into the hands of the wicked. The contrast that takes place, though, is that you have two deliverers at work in this passage — Judas the betrayer, the one who delivers Jesus into the hands of the wicked, and Jesus the deliverer of the elect of God. One a worker of unrighteousness the other the Lord of all righteousness. Indeed, what a sad contrast this is.
We are told that Judas had second thoughts. The term used here is metame/lomai (metamelomai) and it conveys the sense of being sorry for an action, regretting one’s decision, and wishing that it could be undone. We should not see this as repentance, though. Typically the word translated as “repent” is metanoe/w (metanoeo), and refers to a total change in one’s worldview or perspective. Judas felt bad because he realized his betrayal was that of condemning an innocent man to death, but his hard heart did not change (to be evidenced by his suicide to follow). Nevertheless, there is honest grief that is exhibited here.
Judas seeks to undo his actions rather than asking Christ for forgiveness, thinking that if he returns the blood money he won’t be as culpable. Again, this is a sign of a heart that is not regenerate, simply regrets his actions and fears his future condemnation. The priests are unable to accept blood money, but we are getting ahead of ourselves. Notice, though, their response to Judas. “It’s your problem, not ours” is essentially what they tell him. They have what they want and nothing can undo the events that will soon transpire.
The final phrase is translated in a variety of ways, often implying that Judas is responsible for fixing his own mess — “don’t involve us” is implied. I would suggest that is partially true, but misses the force of this statement. They say, “look to yourself” or even “look on yourself” (the verb there is a “middle” form, implying an action that one is doing upon or to oneself). Here’s the thing. Judas is sorry for his actions and is going to the priests. It was the priests whose role was to be the intercessor between God and man for sins. They are basically saying to him that there is nothing they can do, he needs to make atonement by his own works — they demonstrate their own impotence as priests do do what they have been called to do. Judas will not run to Christ, he recognizes he stands condemned, what will be left to do but to take his own life — indeed he will look to himself.
Oh, beloved, the despair that comes from looking upon oneself for your own deliverance. It simply cannot be done. No matter how high and lofty the Christ-less ideals of the unbeliever may sound to our ears, they cannot hope to live them out and will end up in despair…like Judas. There is hope in one name for in only one name is there forgiveness for sins and a promise of deliverance from this body of death. And that name is the name of Jesus Christ! Run to him! Cling to him! And call the world to do the same! For in Him and in Him alone there is life and hope and peace and joy! Oh the sorrows we inflict upon ourselves when we seek to take matters into our own hands; what life there is in the hands of Christ. Choose this day, loved ones, whom you will serve — and do it! Live out your faith in everything you say and do, growing in faith and grace yourself and pointing others to the only hope for this life and for the next. Amen.
“Then the High Priest rent his garments, saying, ‘Blasphemy! What witnesses yet do we have to have? Behold, you have now heard blasphemy! What do you rule?’ And they replied, ‘He is liable to death.’”
“Then the High Priest rent his tunic, saying, ‘What witnesses yet do we have to have? You have heard blasphemy! What do you see?’ Then all of them condemned him as one liable to death.”
“Then he said, ‘What witnesses yet do we have to have? We have heard it from his own mouth!’”
A point, perhaps, in clarification. Some of our English translations render the High Priest as saying that they had heard “His blasphemy,” but that is not entirely accurate. Jesus has spoken no blasphemy and the text never inserts the personal pronoun within the sentence of Caiaphas. To make such an insertion implies that Caiaphas might have actually been confused about what Jesus was saying, thinking that Jesus had made a blasphemous statement. Yet, a better picture is of the High Priest manipulating the events of this trial like a puppeteer would put on a play and is seeking to use verbal force and innuendo to achieve the ends he has sought to achieve. He is a bully and those leaders amongst the priests who are with him understand that the only way to keep their positions and “move up in the organization” is to placate this forceful individual.
And of course, blasphemy had to be the charge that Caiaphas was seeking because it was the only charge within the context of being ruled by Rome, that they could legitimately seek the death penalty (in fact, it had to be a blasphemous act in or around the temple). Yet, there is no blasphemy on Jesus’ lips. Even in human terms, to speak of himself being a “son of God” is not that unusual for God’s people (Genesis 6:2; Deuteronomy 32:8; Matthew 5:9; Luke 20:36; Galatians 3:26). Similarly, there had been many who identified themselves as messiah’s of a sort, and again, this usually did not get the priests into such a frenzy. It is the fact that Jesus’ actions confirmed exactly what the prophets predicted of the Messiah and his miracles confirmed his divinity that got them upset — furthermore, Jesus did not simply claim to be a Son of God, but he claimed to be God himself — which, again was confirmed by prophesy and miracles — which would mean that the priests would have to submit to his authority, thus losing their own. That was something that the High Priest could not consider.
Isn’t it sad how often we get caught up in our own pride, our own status, and our own agenda — even for the church. Isn’t it sad how often we fail to notice God working through the humble in our midst when we wish to achieve a certain end or recognition. And isn’t it sad that we so often fail to notice God’s authority in our lives when we feel that we might achieve our ends. Oh, dear friends, what shall we do other than repent? For we are God’s, God is not ours. We are the clay in his hands — he does not serve us that we might achieve our ends. May we walk with humility and grace as we live our lives in this world and not seek our own ends, but seek Christ’s ends for us.
The First round of Questions
“Then the High Priest asked Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching.”
In light of our discussions above, the High Priest being spoken of here must be Annas — referring to him in this way respecting his reputation and influence (as well as past title) not so much his formal title at the present time. As we labeled it above, we might refer to Annas as “High Priest Emeritus.” Were this not Annas doing the questioning, verse 24 (where Annas sends him over to Caiaphas) would make no sense.
We do not know a great deal of details with respect to this interaction. Clearly, it is not cordial based on what takes place next and it is rather brief (again substantiating that this is likely Caiaphas’ home, though Annas has likely claimed “first dibs” on questioning Jesus as he is likely the one who coordinated the mob that arrested Jesus.
What needs to be noted is that Annas is not only asking Jesus about his theological positions (kind of a hostile Presbytery exam), but also about his disciples. Jesus’ disciples escaped arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane and have gone into hiding. John seems to have connections in the High Priest’s household, so he stays with Jesus to witness events and Peter stays close to John — John getting Peter into the courtyard because of those contacts. Nevertheless, Annas is still after blood and wants to see this movement crushed. The best way to do so, is not just to silence the leader, but also the most significant spokespersons — the inner circle of disciples. Annas did not rise to power and influence without knowing how to silence his enemies and that seems to be exactly what he is doing at this point. Caiaphas can create the political trial; Annas wants to stop the movement.
Friends, it is often easy for us to read the Gospel accounts and to judge Peter and the others for their flight from Jesus’ side. Understand, two things, though. First, the level of hostility that is being expressed here is tremendously high. Were the disciples found, they too would have been similarly tried and killed. Secondly, Jesus had already promised that he would lose none of those that the Father had given to him (John 18:9). Though it was a rather ignoble means of preservation, it was God’s design for the preservation of his own during this time of great wickedness.
Yet, we are still left with the question. Were Jesus questioned about his teachings and disciples today, would we be at risk? Or, perhaps to put the question more plainly — if our words and actions were put on trial, would we be convicted as a Christian? Would the establishment of this world see us as a threat? I propose (sadly) that in most cases, the answer would be, “no.” As Christians, we have grown much too comfortable in this culture we live in and have grown to accept many of the evils around us as “necessary,” whatever that is supposed to mean. Loved ones, let us examine our life and teachings — examine the disciples we are making, particularly of our children — and seek to live and teach in such a way that we can genuinely be convicted of being Christian and even a threat to the status quo of the unbelieving world and their humanism.
Our Great High Priest! (New Song, part 9)
“Our Great High Priest”
Though not specifically mentioned here in this particular hymn, where there is a nation of priests, there also must be a high priest. And, of course, that high priest is Jesus. He is the one who makes constant intercession for us before the father, and it is he who provided the sacrifice that brought us into fellowship with God the Father. Jesus is the only head of the church.
With this in mind, there can be ecclesial hierarchy within the church, though we see hierarchies within many denominations. Many call themselves Bishops or Arch-Bishops or Cardinals, etc… These have no place in Christ’s church. While it is true that the term e∆pi√skopoß (episkopos), from which we get the term “bishop” is a biblical term, it is a term that is used interchangeably with presbuvteroß (presbuteros). Both of these terms refer to one who is an elder in the church. In a sense, then, it is perfectly acceptable for any local pastor to call himself a Bishop, yet, given the way the term has been mis-appropriated by certain denominations, it would be the heights of pride for him to refer to himself in this way. Even the Apostle Peter refers to himself as a “fellow elder” in the church (1 Peter 5:1).
Elect from every nation,
yet one o’er all the earth,
her charter of salvation,
one Lord, one faith, one birth;
one holy name she blesses,
partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses,
with every grace endued.