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Judas' Remorse and Suicide

Series: Matthew

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Dec 26, 1999

Matthew 27:1-10

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If you have your Bibles I’d invite you to turn with me to Matthew, chapter 27 as we continue our study through this great gospel. We’ve spent a number of weeks in Matthew 26, and if Matthew 26 is a prelude to the death of Christ, then Matthew 27 is the main movement for it. It records for us the final events immediately prior to the crucifixion, and then the crucifixion itself.

Now it’s important as we come to our study today to remember last week what we looked at in Matthew 26, verses 69 through 75, and Peter’s three denials. And, in addition to that, the prediction of those denials by Jesus in Matthew 26, verses 30 through 35. Matthew has deliberately placed the denials of Peter side by side with the remorse of Judas. He wants to compare and to contrast Peter’s reaction and Judas’ reaction to his condemnation, and he wants to do this as a warning to professing believers. In the story of Peter’s denial one of the things that Matthew is particularly concerned to warn us about is prayerlessness in the face of temptation. Jesus had explicitly called upon His disciples to pray in preparation for the trial that they were going through. And in the Garden of Gethsemane they failed that particular challenge on several occasions, and they found themselves wanting when the hour of trial and temptation came. And Matthew is highlighting for us the importance of prayerfulness in the Christian life, especially in the face of trial.

And then there are other lessons that he has for us in today’s passage. So let’s turn to Matthew 27, beginning in verse 1, and hear attentively God’s word.

Matthew 27:1-10

“Now when morning had come, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put Him to death; and they bound Him, and let Him away, and delivered Him up to Pilate the governor. Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to thee chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ But they said, ‘What is that to us? See to that yourself!’ And he threw the pieces of silver into the sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself. And the chief priest took the pieces of silver and said, ‘It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood.’ And they counseled together and with the money they bought the Potter’s Field as a burial place for strangers. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying, ‘And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one whose price had been set by the sons of Israel; and they gave them for the Potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.’”

Thus ends this reading of God’s holy and inspired word. May He add His blessing to it.

Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, as we come to this solemn, this memorable, this tragic passage we pray that You would speak to our own hearts as we think of that which our Lord suffered in His incarnation. Our thoughts are turned above all to the sufferings in direct connection to His death. And we pray as we see His humiliation that we would both see a sight of our sin and what it deserves. But also that we would see a sight of our Savior that would move us towards Him and cause us to praise Him with our whole hearts for the grace which He has extended towards us while we were yet sinners. And we ask these things in Jesus’ name, Amen.

The carols we have been singing all season long have emphasized a number of themes. One of the themes that you will remember, even from the carols we have sung and heard sung today is the theme of the privation of the Lord Jesus Christ. On the one hand He is the Lord of glory. On the other hand He is a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. He’s lying in a cattle stall in a trough used for the feeding of animals. The privation of Christ in His glory is a theme throughout Christmas carols. As we contemplate the humiliation of Christ, the privations, the things of which He was deprived, figure largely, but also as we read passages like Matthew 26 and 27 we see that there is more to Jesus’ humiliation than merely his privation. There is the positive humiliation which He endured on our behalf in this passage graphically pictures for us part of that humiliation.

In this somber passage we see three things. We see the conspiracy against Jesus Christ consummated by the Sanhedrin. Secondly, we see the innocence of Christ highlighted, even by the confession of Judas. And thirdly, we see the sovereignty of God over all this. And the sinfulness of man. Let’s look at the passage then together in three parts.

I. The official trial of the Sanhedrin.

In verses 1 and 2 we see the official trial of the Sanhedrin. They’re coming to a conclusion about Jesus’ guilt, and what His guilt deserved. And Matthew records that for us here in order to indicate the responsible parties in the plot against Jesus Christ. Over and over in this passage and elsewhere Matthew will point right back to the chief priests and the elders. Remember Matthew is a Jew, now a Jewish Christian, writing to Jewish Christians predominantly, but also writing to his brothers and sisters in the flesh desiring that they would believe in the Messiah. And he wants them to know the truth about Jesus and about what happened to Jesus. And so in this passage he says once again, sorry to say, my friends, it was the highest religious leaders of our people who were involved in the plot in carrying out the death, the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And Matthew shows us here in verses 1 and 2 the conspiracy against Christ as it’s consummated by the Sanhedrin. Jesus was condemned as guilty and worthy of death by this the highest religious and civil court in the land. In accordance with their law, the Sanhedrin had to make its decision in the day time. And so they wait ‘til daybreak so that they can eek across the line of the bear minimum that they are required to do in accordance with their own rules. And they find Jesus guilty of blasphemy. And they consider Him a candidate for the death penalty as we see in verse 1.

But as you also know they did not have the authority themselves to administer the death penalty. And so Jesus is bound and delivered over for Roman sentencing. Now the Sanhedrin knows that the Romans are not going to be so moved by a charge of blasphemy. The Romans may laugh, in fact, at a charge of blasphemy. What do the Romans care if a particular Jewish citizen has blasphemed a religion which is not predominantly a Roman religion, even though it’s tolerated in Rome.

And so there is a particular political spin on Jesus’ sin which is made by the Sanhedrin. Matthew doesn’t mention it as explicitly as the other gospel writers do, but you’ll see it in verse 11 when the very first question that Pilate asks is a question to Jesus as to whether He is the king of the Jews. So you can see the spin that the Sanhedrin has put on Jesus’ sin of blasphemy. They send Him to Pilate, and they say, now by the way, this Man is a conspirator against Rome. He claims to be the rightful King of Israel, He claims to be the Messiah, the anointed leader of Israel, and He is no doubt angling to throw off the yoke of Rome. And we, the Sanhedrin, are so concerned for the peace and prosperity of the Roman Empire in our midst that we wanted to send this conspirator to you for the death penalty. So there’s this political spin that is put on Jesus’ crimes as He’s sent over to the Romans to act on their wishes.

Now, as we’ve said again, the Sanhedrin did not have the right to unilaterally apply capital punishment, but in the case of Stephen, the leaders of Israel were certainly happy to encourage the people to pick up stones and stone him on the spot. So why didn’t the Sanhedrin do that? Well the Sanhedrin doesn’t do that for a variety of reasons, but especially they do it because they desire Jesus to be punished in accordance with the Roman manner of punishment. They want Him to be crucified.

Why? Because the Sanhedrin wants Jesus to be discredited in the eyes of the people in general, and even in the eyes of His followers. And they know that Deuteronomy says that cursed is the one who hangs on the tree. And so the Sanhedrin wants Jesus to experience Roman crucifixion so that perhaps His followers will say well this man is clearly not the man of God because He’s cursed of God, He hangs on the tree. This horrible instrument of torture. So they’re anxious for the Romans to deliver the sentence and to apply their own method of the death penalty.

But furthermore, the Sanhedrin, we’ve seen all along, is afraid of how the people will respond to them. And again, especially the large numbers that they had seen of the followers of Jesus. And so that they will not bear the blame alone, they desire that the Roman government be the acting instrument of applying the death penalty to Jesus Christ so they can say, well, you know after all, it was the Romans. And Matthew is recording this for you here so that you will take it right back to where it originates.

Don’t be fooled by the outward decree from Pilate and from the Roman government and soldiers carrying out the implementation of the death penalty. Matthew is fingering the culprits. He’s saying, this is where this plot started. The Romans were just the instruments. They were foolish instruments. They were pawns. Pilate comes across like a dunce in this passage; whatever you think of him from the rest of history. But clearly Matthew is pointing you right back to the leaders of his own people and blaming them for this plot against the Lord Jesus Christ. So even as Matthew is highlighting the fact that this trial of Jesus takes place before the highest religious and civil court of his land, he’s also telling us something else about Jesus’ crucifixion.

You know, often times we hear people say that there isn’t a theology of the death of Christ. There isn’t a doctrine of the death of Christ in the gospels. Sometimes you’ll hear people say you have to go to the epistles to find a theology of the atonement. Well, they haven’t read Matthew 27, verses 1 through 4, because there are four planks of a theology of the atonement in this passage.

I. The death of Jesus was a judicial action.

And the first plank that Matthew wants you to get in verses 1 and 2 is that Jesus’ death was of a judicial nature. One of the reasons that he highlights so that Jesus was condemned both by the Jewish court and by the Roman court is so that we will understand the judicial nature of Jesus’ death. The judicial condemnation of Jesus Christ was necessary for your salvation. God wants you to understand what is happening to Jesus is not an accident, it’s not a tragic incidence of an innocent man being condemned by a crooked court, though it is that. That’s not all that it is. It is a judicial action. It is a judicial action whereby God visits his own wrath upon Jesus, standing in as the culprit for a crime. And Matthew is reminding you here of the judicial nature of what Jesus did on the cross. He’s preparing you to understand what is going to happen at the end of this chapter.

Anybody following the life of Christ up to this point, and not knowing what we know now, would have surely been on the day of his crucifixion asking the question, why is this man dying? In Matthew 27, verses 1 through 10, Matthew is once again telling you ahead of time why it is that He’s dying. Because His death is judicial in nature. It’s forensic. It’s courtroom. He is experiencing the penalty for sin in the divine court that you and I should have experienced. And the very fact that He is tried by the highest courts of human law in His land, in fact courts of great integrity in their day and time, is simply appointed by God in order to highlight the judicial nature of His death.

II. Jesus was innocent.

And then we see something in verses 3 through 5. This is a strange passage, but here a remorseful but unrepentant Judas crumbles when he realizes the condemnation of Jesus. And then he destroys himself. Don’t miss what’s going on in verses 3 through 5. The innocence of Christ is being highlighted against the backdrop of Judas’ remorse and repentance. In Matthew 27, verses 1 and 2, Matthew has gotten you to think in terms of Jesus’ death as a judicial action. But now in verses 3 through 5 he wants you to understand that Jesus is an innocent man that is absolutely essential to our salvation that He be an innocent man. And he is using this story of Judas to highlight that particular reality. Though He was condemned by the highest courts of the land as worthy of death, even this traitorous disciple knows that Jesus is a perfectly innocent man. For whatever reason, and I’m not going to speculate on that reason, as tempting as it is, but for whatever reason after Jesus condemnation Judas came to regret his part in the plot; and he attempted to return his award.

Now this again highlights the origin of the plot. You know the religious leaders give the money to Judas, and they send him away to do the dirty work. And what they want is Judas and the money and the dirty work to be done and for it to go away. So they’ve got some plausible deniability. And low and behold here comes the bag of money walking right back into the temple precincts. And it’s like the thing that wouldn’t go away. I mean you’re trying to hide it from your wife, you didn’t want her to know that you ate that candy bar and you’re trying to get the wrapper out of the way real quickly, and here comes the wrapper back. And here comes the bag of money right back to the place from whence it came.

And what is Matthew doing? And once again he’s fingering the culprits. This is where this plot started. Judas didn’t think this up on his own. He had some promotion, he had some encouragement, he had some financial encouragement in this plot. And here comes the money right back to the ones who are in fact culpable in their complicity in this plot. And Judas’ anguished words of confession in verse 4 serve to accent Jesus’ innocence, his guiltlessness, his integrity, his impeccability. They show the perfect innocence of Christ.

And this is necessary for our salvation. He had to be a lamb without blemish. J.C. Ryle says this. “If there was any living witness who could have given evidence against our Lord Jesus Christ, Judas Iscariot was that man.” Judas had turned Him in. Judas had been His disciple. He had been with Him almost twenty-four hours a day for three years. If there was anything that you could have given against Jesus as a charge that could have been sustained in court, Judas could have given it to you. And what is the confession? What is the final confession of Judas? I betrayed an innocent man. He shows that Jesus is innocent of the charges. And what is the response? What is the response of the priests who were to be the pastors of the Lord’s people? What is the response of the elders who are to teach the people of God the way of righteousness. What is their response? Well, that’s your problem. How pastoral. Here is a son of Israel, groping in the midst of a horrendous crime, and coming to them and announcing to them you are about to facilitate the death of an innocent man. And their response is well, that’s your problem. That’s your responsibility. You pulled this off. No pastoral concern to see his soul reconciled to God. No pastoral concern to lead him in the way of righteousness.

What is Matthew showing you here? He’s showing you the wickedness of the hearts of the religious leaders of the people of God. They’re only concerned about carrying out their own plot. Even as Jesus’ court trial highlights the judicial nature of Jesus’ death. So Judas’ confession highlights His innocence, and the attitude of the chief priest and elders shows their wickedness. They are the wicked ones in this circumstance. They ought to be undergoing the death penalty. You remember in Jewish law if you brought a false charge in a capital crime, you were liable to the penalty of that crime. They themselves should have been being led to the Roman cross.

And so what is Matthew showing you? Not only the judicial nature of Jesus death, but His perfect innocence. Everything was turned upside down. This was a kangaroo court. It was a mock trial. It was something that was a mockery of judgment, and Matthew knows that you need to know that if you’re going to understand what happens to Jesus at the end of the passage. He’s an innocent man. That’s the second piece of the plank of the theology of the atonement that Matthew teaches you here.

III. The sin of the Sanhedrin.

And then the third and the fourth you’ll find here in verses 6 through 10. In verses 6 through 10 we see these sinful religionists splitting hairs over contrived manmade righteousness while they ignore the weightier matters of the law. It is a pitiful sight to see these men debating what the proper use of tainted money is. Now they had seen fit to use temple funds to pay for the betrayal of the Lord Jesus Christ, but now when those funds come back to them they say, oh, well we would never have blood money in the temple treasury. Well, you used the temple treasury to pay for His betrayal. Why can’t you have it back?

You see the perversity of this. These men used your tithes to bring about the death of Jesus, and now when that money comes back to them they say well, we can’t use this money for religious purposes. We can’t use it for the temple treasury. And so they try and contrive some sort of a good deed outside of temple worship for which this money would be used. And they decide to spend it on a field. Now Matthew is showing you two things in this scene.

On the one hand he’s showing you the perversity of their hearts. These are the men who tried Christ. Not exactly paragons of righteousness were they. But Jesus is also saying even though that was their intention, even though this whole plot was their intention, they are responsible for it. They did it. Nobody forced them to do it. Even in the midst of the greatest light and all sorts of things which ought to have captured their conscience. When Judas came back to them and said, men, I’ve betrayed an innocent man. It ought to have pierced their conscience. It doesn’t. They go right on with their plot. Matthew is telling us that these men are responsible for this plot.

IV. God's sovereignty in His Son's betrayal.

They’re responsible for what happens to the Lord Jesus Christ, but at the same time look at verses 9 and 10. Matthew is telling you that all of this is under the sovereign control of God. This is the plan of God that is being carried out. As difficult as this passage is and it’s difficult on different accounts. It’s difficult as you look at verses 9 and 10 because Matthew attributes the quotation seemingly to Jeremiah, but when you turn back and you cross-reference, you see that it’s almost a direct quotation of Zechariah 11:11 and 12. And so you scratch your head, and you ask well, why is that? And there are all manner of answers that have been given to that.

Let me say very briefly that I believe that Matthew intended both to reference Zechariah and Jeremiah. He intended to quote Zechariah, and he intended to allude to Jeremiah 36 and 19 especially. And he ascribes the quotation to Jeremiah because Jeremiah is the major prophet. And you’ll see Mark do this in other places as well. This is a standard form of citation. These people didn’t have open Bibles with chapters and verses in front of them, and it’s a standard way of citation. That’s a long story. I’m not going to get into it. But Matthew’s point for making this quotation is found in the very last clause of the quote. Look at it, especially the way he quotes it. “As the Lord directed me.” Zechariah, in this quote, gives the money back to the temple for the Potter’s Field. And Matthew is saying that this money, this ransom money, this tainted money of Judas’ reward was given back according to the command of God, according to the plan of God, according to the decree of God.

All of this that is happening, says Matthew, is in accordance with what God already prophesied hundreds of years ago before in Scripture, and it’s in accord with Scripture because it’s the plan of God. God is sovereignly in control. Why does Matthew tell you this? Because he wants you to know that Christ’s death is judicial. He wants you to know that Christ is an innocent man who is condemned, which forces you to ask why. He wants you to know that the people who crucified Him, who hatched this plot are responsible for what they did. But at last he wants you to understand that the death of Jesus is not an accident. It is God’s stratagem against Satan for the saving of your soul.

He has just laid out a beautiful four-fold platform for understanding the atonement death of Christ. It’s not all that you have to say, but it’s the beginning of what you have to say about what the death of Christ means. And he lays it out for you in this tragic passage so that you would embrace Christ, having seen Jesus condemned by the judicial court, you have seen what you ought to receive at the hand of the divine court.

Having seen Jesus’ innocence in that condemnation, you should recognize your own guiltiness, your own worthiness of condemnation, and you ought to begin to understand that Jesus is a substitute for your unworthiness and your sin.

Having seen the wickedness of the people and their conspiracy against the Lord Jesus Christ side by side with God’s plan in this, you ought to bow the knee the God’s sovereignty and flee to Christ alone.

The difference between Judas and Peter in the end is that Judas never came to Christ. He came to his co-conspirators. He confessed to them. He tried to put it right, but he never sought the mercy of Christ. And in the end that’s the only difference between Peter and Judas. By the grace of God, Peter sought the mercy of Christ and Judas didn’t. And Matthew wants you, as I want you, to seek and find the mercy of the one who laid his life down for you. Let us pray.

Our Lord and our God, we bow before your wisdom and your sovereignty, and we ask that by Your Holy Spirit that we would have the grace of heart to see the Savior, to repent and to flee to Him who is full of mercy. We ask it in His name, Amen.

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