Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. What drives a man to betray his master and Lord? What causes a man to turn on his friend who has been his companion and teacher for so many years? From a theological perspective, there can only be one answer to this question: It is sin. In order for this sort of thing to happen, the corruption of sin must run so deep that a person’s sensibilities and conscience are eroded to the point where there is little left of the man but bitterness, resentment, and narcissism. We are given little by way of explanation as to why Judas Iscariot decided to betray Jesus to the chief priests. But the picture we are given shows very clearly a man who is filled with nothing but greed and selfishness. There is no other explanation for why a man would seek such a betrayal. And the reward price on which he agreed shows how desperately he desired to betray his Lord. Thirty pieces of silver is the price prescribed in Exodus 24 for the penalty of accidentally killing a slave. It hardly seems like a fair price for a betrayal of such magnitude. But without so much as a minor haggling over the price, Judas willingly agrees and seeks out an opportunity to betray Jesus. One thing is very clear through this action of Judas: it is the complete corruption of sin which will lead to Jesus’ betrayal and death.
2. But the role of Judas is far from over in this story. On that Holy Thursday, the day when Jesus and his disciples were to eat the Passover dinner, the plot thickens. Jesus is instructing his disciples how to prepare for the Passover dinner—a perfect opportunity for a betrayal, due to the necessity of advanced preparations for the meal. Yet Jesus keeps his cards close and refuses to give away any details as to the location where they will eat the Passover dinner. This dinner must not be interrupted. It must be eaten in security so that the Father’s plan, written in the Old Testament Scriptures, might be perfectly fulfilled. And so, at the Passover dinner, Jesus makes a troubling statement to the Twelve disciples gathered there: “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me” (Matthew 26:21). The eleven disciples were sorrowed and distressed. None of them would willingly hurt or betray Jesus, but it’s as if they recognize their own sin and capability of unintentionally doing so. And so, one after another they say, almost in disbelief: “Is it I, Lord?” (Matthew 26:22). For Judas’ part though, he is disturbed for a completely different reason. Does Jesus know about his plot? How could he? Judas is left speechless. He is the only one of the twelve disciples who does not say, “Is it I, Lord?” But rather than answering the question of the eleven, Jesus says: “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:23-24). It would be one of these twelve men. One who dipped his hand in the dish with Jesus as they ate the Passover dinner that night would betray him. But this woe that Jesus speaks is not a woe of indignation and anger, it’s a woe of deepest grief and pain. One of his closest friends was about to betray him. Non-existence is preferable to this kind of betrayal. So, with these words, Jesus makes plain how despicable, how utterly low Judas’ act is. These words we meant to strike the conscience of Judas with double force. He who could resist impacts such as this was beyond hope. And so, after this brief exchange as the dinner table, Judas would leave the scene to enact his plan of betrayal, which would sentence Jesus to die on the cross.
3. When we think about the betrayal of our Lord, we rightfully think about Judas role in the whole thing. He is the one who seeks out an opportunity to betray Jesus, actually betrays Jesus, and then when Jesus is dead, his grief and shame drives him to despair and eternal death rather than repentance, as Peter did later in the Passion account. Judas has a significant role, if not the significant role, in Jesus’ betrayal. But the fact of the matter is, the other disciples played a role too. The fact of the matter is, you and I play a role too. Yes, Judas was a historical person who literally betrayed Jesus, but beyond his literal, historical role, he also plays a symbolic role in our Lord’s Passion. The Greek name, “Judas”, is the equivalent of the Hebrew, “Judah.” Seen in this light, we recognize that it is not just the historical man named Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus. It was Judah, the very people of God, who betrayed him. In fact, it wasn’t just the people of God, it was all people who betrayed Jesus, as we see clearly in the Pharisees, the crowds, and the Romans, who all played an active role in the death of Jesus. It is the sin of all people which sentenced Jesus to die on the cross. Each and every time you or I commit a sin, it’s so much more than an innocent mistake. It’s a betrayal of our Lord which nailed him to the cross.
4. But Jesus also makes it clear in our text that while this betrayal must not be down played, it is not unexpected. In fact, it was the Father’s plan: “The Son of Man goes at it is written of him…” (Matthew 26:24a). And so, we see that Jesus goes willingly to the cross. He willingly pours out his blood so that the new covenant might be established in his blood. It is by the pouring out of Jesus’ blood on the cross that God’s wrath over human sin—his wrath over your sin—is satisfied. Jesus is not betrayed against his will. He goes to the cross willingly so that your sins might be forgiven and that your betrayals might not lead to your eternal death.
5. And so, my friends, as we journey through this Holy Week, we come face to face with the reality of our wretched sinfulness. But with Jesus, our sinfulness and betrayal is never the end. Yes, “it is I” who have betrayed him to the cross. But it is he who has willingly endured the suffering and death that I deserve. And so we sing the praise of the one who willingly suffered in our place, because by his death we have been granted a place at the table in his Father’s Kingdom for all eternity.
A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth,
The guilt of sinners bearing
And, laden with the sins of earth,
None else the burden sharing;
Goes patient on, grows weak and faint,
To slaughter led without complaint,
That spotless life to offer,
He bears the stripes, the wounds, the lies,
The mockery, and yet replies,
“All this I gladly suffer” (LSB 438:1).
In the name of Jesus. Amen.