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Thirty Pieces of Silver

Perhaps one of the saddest and most telling stories to come from the last week of Jesus’ life was his betrayal by one of his own disciples, who was not only the treasurer for the group (and a dishonest treasurer at that), but he also witnessed Jesus’ miracles and healings, and he heard Jesus’ parables and his teachings. In fact, he followed Jesus along with the other eleven disciples during Jesus’ three-year ministry on earth. And in the end, this disciple sold out Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-16):

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests and asked, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” And they gave him thirty pieces of silver. From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus. ~Matthew 26:14-16 NLT

Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC, and a New York Times bestselling author, notes the following about Judas Iscariot in his book, All In: You Are One Decision Away From A Totally Different Life (2013):

He [Judas Iscariot] couldn’t keep his hand out of the cookie jar. He didn’t just sell out by betraying Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Judas never bought in. And it’s evidenced by his lack of integrity from the get-go.

He was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. ~John 14:6

The betrayal of Jesus by Judas wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment mistake. He betrayed Jesus each and every time he pilfered the money pot. And while most of us can’t imagine pickpocket Jesus, we shortchange Him in a thousand different ways. We rob God of the glory He demands and deserves by not living up to our full, God-given potential.

No matter how we slice it, sin leaves us with the short end of the stick. Sin always over-promises and under-deliver, while righteousness pays dividends for eternity. Yet we sell out . . . now instead of holding out for . . . later.

Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of stew.
Samson sold his secret for a one-night stand.
Judas sold his soul for thirty pieces of silver.

What were they thinking? And the answer is, they weren’t. Nothing is more illogical than sin. It’s the epitome of poor judgment. It’s temporary insanity with eternal consequences. And we have no alibi, save the cross of Jesus Christ.

It’s not worth it, and we know it.

Yet we do it.

We sell out for so little instead of going all in for so much. . . .

Thirty pieces of silver. That was Judas’s price point. Jewish readers would have recognized it as the exact amount to be paid if a slave was accidentally killed under Mosaic law. Judas sold his soul for the replacement value of a slave.

The silver coins were most likely sanctuary shekels, since he was paid off by the chief priests. And while some estimates range higher, each coin may have been worth as little as seventy-two cents! So in today’s currency, Judas betrayed Jesus for $21.60.

We know very little about Judas from Scripture, but theories abound. Some scholars suggest Judas was a weak-willed coward with a manipulative wife pulling the strings. Others believe Judas betrayed Jesus out of pure greed. And some suggest he had revolutionary aspirations. He wanted a political savior, and when Jesus didn’t meet his expectations, he went AWOL.

And we do the same thing, don’t we? When God doesn’t conform to our expectations, we’re tempted to betray what we believe in. Like Judas, we’re in it for what we can get out of it. So when God doesn’t grant our wishes like a divine genie in a bottle, we are tempted to turn our back on Him.

This is what separates the boys from the men. Our maybe I should say the sheep from the goats! How do you react when God doesn’t meet your expectations? If you truly accepted the invitation to follow Jesus, you’ll keep going on through hurricanes, hail, and hazardous conditions. If you have simply invited Him to follow you, you’ll bail out at the first sign of bad weather.

As I’ve said before, it’s difficult to psychoanalyze someone who lived thousands of years ago, but it’s safe to say Judas was spiritually schizophrenic. And so are we. Our lives are mixed with lies. We steal from the One we have supposedly surrendered our lives to. And we betray Him in our own unique ways.

There is a little Judas in all of us. And any of us are capable of betraying God if we allow the fear of people to erode the fear of God, selfish ambition to strong-arm godly ambition, or sinful desires to short-circuit God-ordained passions. (Quote source: “All In,” pp. 149-151).

Batterson makes a valid point when he states that there is a little Judas in all of us. A longer explanation of “the Judas in us” is found in an article titled, You’re Probably More Like Judas Than You Think,” by Ed Cyzewski and Derek Cooper, and published in Christianity Today. The two authors state the following:

We all want a Messiah whose plans mirror our own. But a true disciple surrenders to the Master’s will.

When Judas Iscariot, the disciple of Jesus, mouthed the Lord’s Prayer, especially when it came time to say “Your will be done,” perhaps he voiced this prayer with the tacit assumption that God’s will paralleled his own. We have probably all been guilty of that sin before.

But what happens when God’s will differs from my own? What happens when the fulfillment of the prayer, that is, the part when God’s will is accomplished, flies in the face of my will?

Judas may be the most intriguing of Jesus’s disciples. He is certainly the most elusive. Over the centuries, Christians have characterized him, some maliciously so, in any number of ways. He was a heartless miser, a power-hungry schemer, or a green-eyed apprentice overshadowed by a more talented master.

Maybe, but maybe not.

Perhaps we should more modestly characterize Judas as a man who initially latched onto the magnetic personality of Jesus but eventually became disillusioned as Jesus’s vision for the Messiahship began to contrast considerably with Judas’s vision. And when Jesus the Messiah failed to fulfill the obligations Judas had imposed on him, he craftily bailed out when there was still time.

There is good reason to believe that Judas was the most perceptive—”shrewd as a snake,” we might say—of Jesus’s disciples. He may have been the first one to recognize that Jesus’s intentions for the Messiahship embraced nothing pertaining to physical rebellion or military rule.

During their last week together in Jerusalem in celebration of the Jewish festival of Passover, on which occasion Jesus brought his ministry to crescendo, Jesus aggressively unpacked his teachings and did not mince words. As Jesus did so, he openly defied—in fact, condemned—the religious establishment to such an extent that he made his death inevitable. Jesus made enemies when he was in Jerusalem, and Judas, as astute as he was, knew it. It’s possible that some of Jesus’s other disciples also flirted with betraying their Master after their stint in Jerusalem. Within a few hours of Judas’s betrayal, in fact, practically all of Jesus’s disciples—even Peter—scattered like sheep without a shepherd.

When death is on the line, loyalty wavers. Unlike Judas, who knew exactly what was going on, the response of the other disciples evidenced their surprise at the betrayal, and their actions were clearly not premeditated. Peter wanted to fight, Mark ran away without his clothes, and John watched from a distance, while the others may have quietly left the scene.

We essentially have two options when God does not follow our plan for life: going our own way or readjusting our course. On the night when Jesus was arrested, Judas had previously made his decision to go his own way. That is to say, at some point in his apprenticeship to Jesus he rejected his Master and decided to cash out his chips while he still had a hand to play. . . .

As is well known, Judas left the Passover feast early Thursday evening. The other disciples were clueless about Judas’s duplicity. Only Jesus was aware of Judas’s impending betrayal. The public conversation between Jesus and Judas the night before at Simon the leper’s in Bethany went over everyone’s head, and the same thing happened at the Last Supper: “What you are going to do, do it quickly.”

At this point in the story, we should see the other option we have when God does not follow our plans: rethink our plans and adjust accordingly. Faithful disciples of Jesus put their plans at the feet of their Master.

We all have motives for the things we do. And Judas must have had a motive for his betrayal of Jesus. Although money may have been a contributing factor, it was not the primary reason. Judas may have been a pilferer, as the Gospel of John suggests, but the fact that he very shortly returned the “blood” money he initially received from the Jewish leaders indicates that greed was not the whole story.

Whatever motivated him, the Gospel accounts make it clear that Judas did not readjust his course. At best, Judas found Jesus genuinely perplexing and completely misunderstood how Jesus’s plans could be better than his own. At worst, Judas was so blinded by his plans and so desperate to secure a future for himself that he was willing to take part in a complex murder scheme. At the root of Judas’s betrayal was a belief in a particular kind of Messiah who would lead him to a prosperous future. He could not accept a suffering servant who bears the sins of others and lays his life down in order to conquer death. If we’re honest with ourselves, such things are not easily believed today, for that matter. Who wins through self-sacrifice? Who would want to trade in his or her own plans for a prosperous future and submit to a God-King’s new plan? Who says that the first shall be last and the last shall be first?

Judas couldn’t let go of his plans because he could not imagine any other way forward. . . .

Plans come between us and God slowly, almost imperceptibly sometimes. . . . Over the years I wanted to follow Jesus, but I always kept backup plans stashed away. I had goals I wanted to meet, assuming that I could keep them along with my relationship with Jesus. I was quite far from Peter’s statement, “Who do we have but you?” [Note: the article contains a section on Peter not included in this blog post.] If I was honest, I would have said, “Well, I sure would like you to be in my life, Jesus, but I also have some other great stuff that offers meaning and fulfillment. In fact, I’d like your help with some of those things.” Each time I let go of these plans or goals and allowed God to reshape them, I found that my original vision for the future wasn’t all that great after all.

A surrendered disciple can say to Jesus: I will live anywhere. I will travel anywhere. I will do any kind of work. The details don’t matter, as long as you are in my life.

Judas provides a stunning contrast between trusting in our own plans and a childlike faith that can hold loosely to goals and dreams for the future. His murderous plot isn’t something we can imagine doing. However, once we understand his commitment to Israel with specific political, religious, and personal outcomes in mind, we can at least understand why he struggled to follow Jesus. As we begin to notice the ways our prayers wander from “Thy will be done” to “My will be done,” we’ll find that Judas, if anything, provides one of the most important warnings against confusing our plans with God’s and one of the most visible contrasts with the childlike faith that helps disciples draw near to Jesus, even during the most trying moments of our lives. (Quote source here.)

This focus on “us” (as in “my will”) instead of Jesus and what He wants (as in “His will”) brings me to something I just read in a new book titled, The Gospel According to Paul (2017) by Dr. John MacArthur, who is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church, as well as an author, conference speaker, president of The Master’s College and Seminary, and featured teacher with the Grace to You media ministry. In Chapter 5 titled, “The Great Exchange,” MacArthur writes:

Today’s evangelicals often speak about the gospel as if it were a means of discovering one’s own purpose, a message about how to have a happy and prosperous life, or a method of achieving success in one’s relationships or business. In the minds of many, the best starting point for sharing the gospel is an announcement that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”

All those ways of presenting the gospel have become such common clichés among contemporary Christians that most people in the church today do not flinch when they hear the gospel framed in such language. They don’t notice how profoundly all those narratives deviate from the gospel Paul proclaimed and defended. A major problem with all of them is the way they turn the gospel into a message about “you”–your life, your purpose, your prosperity. You become the center and subject of the story.

Those are concepts that would have appalled and outraged Paul. One truth that should stand out boldly. . . is that the central figure in the gospel according to Paul is always “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). The apostle takes great care never to let the narrative drift.

Here in our text (2 Cor. 5:18-21), Paul’s intention is to explain how “God . . . has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ” (v. 18). He mentions both Christ and God in every verse. In the span of those four verses, he mentions God by name at least once in every verse (fives times total). Three additional times he refers to God with pronouns (“Himself” twice and “He” once). He uses the Messianic title “Christ” four times. And in that final verse he refers to Christ twice with the pronoun “Him.” The entire passage is decidedly God-centered, not man-centered. That should be the case anytime we talk about the gospel. It’s first of all a message about God’s purpose in the work of Christ; the sinner’s own purpose in life is secondary. That, of course, is the point we started with in this chapter: the gospel is a declaration about the atoning work of Christ.

Nevertheless, we are by no means left entirely out of the picture. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ is the subject of this narrative; His people are the objects. All told, pronouns referring to redeemed people are used nine times in the passage. People from every tongue, tribe, and nation constitute “the world” whom Christ has reconciled to God.* Everything Christ did, He did on our behalf. 

Why? Not for our comfort or self-aggrandizement, but for His glory. So “that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (v. 21). [*Note in book: Paul isn’t suggesting that every individual who ever lived will be reconciled to God. Both Jesus and Paul emphatically reject universalism (Matt. 7:21-23; Rom. 2:5-9) “The world” in this context refers to humanity as a race, regardless of gender, class, or ethnic distinctions (Gal. 3:28)]. (Quote source: The Gospel According to Paul,” pp. 89-90.)

Too often today our focus is on us and what we want, and just as Batterson stated when he said there’s a little Judas in all of us, we need to be aware of our tendency to go in that direction. Cyzewski and Cooper made a statement at the end of their article that is worth our consideration during this Passion Week leading up to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They stated, “As we begin to notice the ways our prayers wander from “Thy will be done” to “My will be done,” we’ll find that Judas, if anything, provides one of the most important warnings against confusing our plans with God’s, and one of the most visible contrasts with the childlike faith that helps disciples draw near to Jesus, even during the most trying moments of our lives.” It’s a good reminder . . . .

Not my will . . .

But Thy will . . .

Be done . . . .

YouTube Video: “Lose My Soul” by TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, and Mandisa:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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