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Faith Bible Church, NY
July 23, 1995
Sorrow Unto Death
The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Cor. 7:10, “For the sorrow that is according to [the will of] God produces a repentance without regret, [leading] to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” Last week we examined the life of Peter and saw the sorrow that is according to God that produces repentance leading to salvation. Peter was a great sinner. He directly denied the Lord three times, and the last time with swearing and cursing, yet the Lord forgave Peter and used Peter mightily for the kingdom. In the life of Peter we find hope for ourselves because we know if Jesus was willing to forgive Peter that, then Jesus is willing to forgive us too if we will seek out that forgiveness.
Today we look at the second type of sorrow, the sorrow of the world that produces death. We will be examining the response of Judas. Turn to Matthew 27:1
THE ILLEGAL CONDEMNATION OF JESUS
Jesus has undergone the first two phases of His illegal religious trial. Remember I pointed out from John’s account that Jesus first went to Annas (See: No Justice Here!), who had been the high priest. Annas illegally questioned Jesus, illegally tried to get Jesus to bear testimony against Himself, and had even had Jesus struck, which was also against the law. Since Annas was not getting anywhere with Jesus, he sent Jesus to his son-in-law, Caiaphas, who was the current High Priest.
Caiaphas in turn called an illegal assembly of the Sanhedrin and then illegally questioned Jesus; Illegally heard false testimony against Jesus and then compounded the injustice by not taking action against these that had perjured themselves; he illegally accused Jesus, illegally passed judgement on Him, and illegally allowed Jesus to be mocked and abused. In the midst of what was really a kangaroo court that cared nothing for justice, we find suddenly find a strange interest in keeping the law.
27:1 Now when morning had come, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put Him to death; 2 and they bound Him, and led Him away, and delivered Him up to Pilate the governor.
They “took counsel” not in the sense that they were deciding if they would condemn Jesus or not, but in the sense of how best to proceed. They would have several problems to contend with now that they had condemned Jesus. Remember that there are many people are now in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover who believed that Jesus was a prophet from God. In 26:5 the chief priests and elders were afraid that the people might riot if they did anything to Jesus. In order to keep that from happening, they had to somehow give pretense that what was happening to Jesus was proper and that they were not to blame. So even though they had to this point done everything illegally, they now do two things legally.
First, the full Sanhedrin is called “all the chief priests and the elders of the people,” so that the condemnation could be confirmed during the day when it was legal to do so. The fact that their condemnation was still illegal since their meeting held privately at Caiaphas’ house instead of publicly in the Great Hall was of minor importance to them. It also did not bother them that they were violating the three-day waiting period for pronouncing a death sentence, and that they would skip the mandatory fasting. Their interest was not justice, but getting rid of Jesus as quickly as possible without causing a riot.
Second, they defer the death sentence to the Roman authorities. Since Israel was occupied by Rome they had lost quite a few areas of authority including being able to carry out a death sentence. Capital punishment could only be legally carried out by Rome. But don’t think for a moment that these religious hypocrites were concerned about Rome’s legal rights. They had no concern for Rome before when they had tried to throw Jesus off a cliff or when they had picked up stones to stone Him. They would not have a concern for Rome’s legal rights in the future when they would stone Stephen. The chief priests and the Sanhedrin wanted Rome to be involved because it would remove the responsibility for Jesus’ death from their shoulders onto Rome’s. Rome’s power would then put a stop to any riot that might be attempted. Rome would become the unwitting accomplice in their plans.
Their plan to use Roman power might not have worked if someone else other than Pilate had been Governor. Pontius Pilate became the fifth Roman procurator over Palestine some seven years earlier. But Pilate was already in trouble and if too many more problems occurred, he was in danger of losing his position, and in fact did lose it three years later. Those who had condemned Jesus counted on being able to intimidate him. Pilate had been ruthless in many ways and certainly was responsible for his share of murders, yet Pilate had shown early on that if enough pressure was applied, he would back down. When Pilate had first come to Jerusalem he had his soldier bring with them their standards bearing the emporer’s image. The Jews considered this to be an abomination and demanded they be removed. No other procurator had done this before. Pilate threatened to kill anyone who objected, but they called his bluff and he backed down. It seems evident then that they were taking Jesus to Pilate not because they respected Pilate or his authority, but rather because they wanted to use Pilate’s authority for their own purposes in keeping the people from causing problems when they found out Jesus was being put to death.
After the Sanhedrin had sentenced Jesus to death, they followed the normal protocol for condemned men. They bound Jesus and then led Him away in a formal procession to Pilate. It is most likely that Pilate, whose normal residence was in Caesarea, was staying at Fort Antonia which was on the North West corner of the Temple mount. The sight of such a formal procession with Jesus bound in the middle of it would have made Jesus friends fearful, while giving the impression that Jesus had committed some horrible crime to anyone else. It is at this point that Matthew brings Judas back into focus.
THE RESPONSE OF JUDAS
Verse 3 Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See [to that] yourself!”
There has been much ink spilt on why Judas would suddenly feel remorse about what was happening to Jesus. Some have said that Judas did not really expect them to condemn Jesus to death, yet it was well known that this is exactly what they wanted to do (Matt. 26:3,4). Others have argued that the sight of Jesus being condemned and led away was more than even his seared conscience could stand, and he was filled sorrow over the guilt. Other have even tried to make a case that Judas actually repented, but Judas was well aware earlier what he was doing, and Satan had entered into him while he was doing it (John 13:27). I think John Peter Lange gives the best explanation when he says that Judas “seems to have expected that, as on former occasions, so now, Jesus would miraculously deliver Himself from the power of His enemies.” Judas is genuinely shocked that Jesus has been condemned to die and that Jesus has surrendered Himself to it. Lange goes on, “Judas was filled with terror and anguish, seeing in this the fulfillment of Christ’s prediction, and an indication that all His other sayings, notable that concerning His betrayer, would also be fulfilled.”
Judas has sorrow, but it was not the sorrow of repentance. The word used here is μεταμέλομαι, which means to have regret or remorse, not μετανοέω, which means to repent. μεταμέλομαι stresses the emotional element of sorrow. Judas felt bad, very bad, about what was occurring to Jesus, but there is no element of a corresponding change of mind that goes with repentance. This is the sorrow of the world. It is sorry for what has occurred or is happening, but it remains self centered. Like Cain in Genesis 4:14, there was sorrow that he had killed Abel only to the extent that he was now being banished and that someone might take vengeance upon him. His sorrow was completely self centered. So it was with Judas.
Judas feels remorse at seeing Jesus condemned, and now in the procession that would take Him to Pilate. Judas tries to return the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders who had hired him because it has now become blood money, and even wicked, money hungry Judas does not want anything to do with blood money. Deut. 27:25 says, ‘Cursed is he who accepts a bribe to strike down an innocent person.’ This is not anything noble. It is at best a very feeble effort to salve his conscience by returning the price of his betrayal.
Notice Judas’ confession, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” In one sense this confession brings further condemnation on Judas because he knew that Jesus was innocent. In another sense, it brings further condemnation on the chief priest and elders because such a confession should have halted the procession and forced it back for a re-hearing of the evidence against Jesus. But again, these false religious leaders have not interest in justice, only in getting rid of Jesus regardless of how many laws they must violate to do so.
Notice something else about this confession. He says it to the Chief priests and elders. As Israel’s religious leaders, they should have cared, but they did not. Judas had already served his usefulness to them, and traitors are scorned once they have served their purpose. So it is that they now answered him harshly. To use our vernacular they say, “so what, that’s your problem.”
Judas’s confession would have been good if he had brought it to the right person, but instead of coming to Jesus and confessing to Him and asking His forgiveness, he went to those who had unjustly condemned Jesus. If Judas had been genuinely repentant, his greatest concern would have been for the Lord whom he had betrayed and offended. Instead, Judas only had self-centered regret and went to those he thought could remove his responsibility if they would take back the money, but they neither could remove his responsibility, nor would they take back the money. Judas continued to reject the one that could have forgiven him and granted him life for those who would scorn him and leave him to die in his pit of sin.
What was Judas to do now? He was left only with desperation and frustration. Verse 5 tells us, And he threw the pieces of silver into the sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.
Those commentators that have wanted to make Judas to be something other than he was have said that Judas had cast the money into the Temple treasury as a final act of charity. But the simple truth is that the language will not support that idea. This was not tossing the coins into the trumpet shaped chests that were located in the outer court of the temple used for collecting both the temple taxes and alms. This throwing the coins with all the frustration that was pent up inside him toward the sanctuary, the holy place where only the priests could enter. The act is one born out of the treatment he had just received. If the chief priests would not take the blood money willingly, then Judas would force them to have to pick it up from off the floor of the holy place unwillingly. This was not an act of charity, but one of spite. Judas wanted them to feel the guilt he had by forcing them to handle the blood money.
It is possible that Judas did this while the procession made its way to Fort Antonia. Judas then departed from the temple mount and went away and hanged himself. What exactly was in Judas’ mind that would cause him to commit suicide is speculation, but we do know the general reasons that people commit suicide. All of them are self-centered.
REASONS FOR SUICIDE
Research has shown that most people commit suicide as an act of revenge. This seems especially true of young people. They have been hurt and they want to get back at the one that hurt them. It is the extension of the idea that “if you don’t give me what I want I will hold my breath until I turn blue and then lets see how you feel?” The twisted reasoning of such a person thinks that the guilt they will cause makes their death worth the price. Such foolish thinking ignores the fact that 1) the guilt caused is not worth the price. 2) Christians would simply seek the Lord’ forgiveness for anything they had done and go on with their lives. 3) Most non-Christians would refuse to accept the guilt to start with. 4) Even those who would accept the guilt will eventually move on with their lives.
Another reason people commit suicide is the desire to be with a loved one that has already died. This occurs most often with old folks whose spouse dies, and they cannot stand the loneliness that surrounds them. But this two is foolishness. For non-Christians there will be nothing pleasant about a reunion in hell. For the Christian, they short change the service they could have given to the Lord. They reduce the treasures in heaven they should have been storing up.
A third reason for suicide is escape. Those who have gone to Dr. Kervorkian and those who have pushed for medically based suicide fit in this category. They fear the pain the future may bring, and so they elect suicide as a preferable way of escape. Again, it is sheer foolishness. For the non-Christian there is no physical or emotional pain that can be experienced in this life that will compare to the horror that will be experienced in hell. There is no benefit in sending yourself there early. For the Christian, they again short-change what the Lord can do in and with their lives for His own purposes. Any suffering we have here will be short lived compared to eternity. Peter wrote 1 Peter as an aide to prepare for persecution. He wrote in 2:21 “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” Or as the Lord said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” We as Christians need to come to grips with the fact that the Lord often uses us best in our weakness. For one thing, it is harder for us to get in the way then.
A fourth reason is self-retribution. A person considers their guilt to be unforgivable and in effect they carry out capital punishment at their own hands. They believe they deserve to die so they carry out the sentence themselves.
There are some other oddball reasons. Retroflex, in which a person takes their own life because they cannot bring the guilty part to justice. Occultic practice in which suicide is part of the religious experience, and some of this has occurred in our nation at the promotion of satanic rock bands. Copycatting is when a person, usually a teen, will do it because they want to be like some idol of their who did it. This too has occurred do to the influence of satanic rock bands.
But in every case suicide is a clear violation of God’s law not to murder, for no one has the right to murder even anyone including themselves. It is an act of sin and unbelief, an act of rebellion against God’s sovereign right over life and death.
It is also the act of remorse and regret, not repentance. Judas had the sorrow of the world that leads to death. Whether he took his life out of self-retribution or escape from the extreme guilt he was feeling, Judases’ suicide only hastened his entrance into eternal condemnation and punishment. No wonder Jesus had told him earlier, “but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”
Judas’ method of suicide was also fitting. He hanged himself and demonstrated the curse that was upon him for Deut. 21:23 says that “he who is hanged on a tree is accursed of God.” Acts 1:18 adds a little more detail to what happened though it is a bit gruesome, “and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.” Apparently either his rope broke while hanging himself or when he was cut down he fell, his belly ruptured, spilling its contents. So ended the earthly existence of Judas, but the consequences of his sin will be with him for eternity.
There is a sorrow unto life as seen in Peter. There is a sorrow unto death as seen in Judas
THE CALLOUSED CHIEF PRIESTS
Contrasted with both of these are the hardened hearts of the chief priests. Peter had denied the Lord and left with bitter weeping, wanting the relationship he had just violated to be restored. Judas realized he had just become guilty in condemning Jesus to death because of his betrayal. His guilt caused him to commit suicide in a vain attempt to escape it. These callous men who were without sorrow or compassion will pay the price of their utter wickedness throughout eternity.
The chief priest eventually returned to the temple and found the 30 pieces of silver Judas has thrown there. Judas’s plan had worked, they did have to handle it. Now they needed to do something with it and the words they spoke while doing so condemned them and continued to do so for many years afterward.
6 And the chief priests 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.” 7 And they counseled together and with the money bought the Potter’s Field as a burial place for strangers. 8 For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.
It is strange that these men who had violated every aspect of the law in their trial and condemnation of Jesus now have a concern for the law. It was not lawful for them to put the bribe money they had given Judas into the temple treasury because it was “the price of blood.” That is, it was money illegitimately paid and received to falsely convict a man of a crime punishable by death. By admitting that it was blood money, they condemned themselves with their own mouths because they are the ones that had paid it. The mind twisted by sin is seen in the utter hypocrisy that they had no problem taking the money out of the temple treasury to pay Judas the bribe, but now that it was returned their scruples would not let them put it back in.
They now counseled together to decide what to do with the money instead. They chose to use it for a charitable purpose in buying a burial place for strangers. The potter’s field was a place that the potter would dig up clay for his work. This field apparently was played out or would not have been offered for sale. The field was purchased and became a burial ground for strangers who had died in Jerusalem. “Strangers” was often a euphemism for gentiles, or it could have been used for those pilgrims who died while visiting Jerusalem.
Apparently the source of the funds was known because as Matthew says, “For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.” By its very name it continued to be a witness of Jesus’ innocence and the guilt of Judas and the chief priests. We learn from Acts 1:18 that this field turned out to be the very place that Judas had committed suicide, which was not fate, but God’s sovereignty.
His sovereignty is also seen in that it fulfilled prophecy. 9 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; 10 and they gave them for the Potter’s Field, as the Lord directed me. ”
The quote itself is taken from Zechariah 11:13. Some have claimed that Matthew erred since he ascribes the quote to Jeremiah, but there are two solutions to the dilemma. First, The Jews divided the Old Testament into three sections, The Law, The Writings, and The Prophets. In their order, Jeremiah was the first book in the section of The Prophets. For this reason the entire section of The Prophets was sometimes simply referred to as “Jeremiah” the same way “Psalms” was used for other books in the section of The Writings. “Spoken through Jeremiah the prophet” then becomes equivalent of saying, “recorded in the prophetic books.”
A second solution stems from the fact that quote does not exactly match Zech. 11:13. There are several prophecies quoted in the New Testament that are actually a compilation of two or more prophecies from different prophets (Mark 1:2,3 for example). The major prophet is always the one listed. The quote here then contains elements from both Jeremiah and Zechariah, but it is just attributed to Jeremiah since he is the major prophet.
In either case, the purchase of the potters’ field fulfilled the prophecy of the low value they would place on the Lord’s prophet, only enough to purchase a worthless field.
THE MARK OF A TRUE CHRISTIAN
The mark of a Christian is not whether he sins or not, in fact 1 John 1 makes it clear that the Christian will sin. The true mark of a Christian is how they respond to sin. They will have godly sorrow which leads to repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. They put into practice 1 John 1:9 of confessing their sin and receiving forgiveness and cleansing from the Lord. The true Christian will be grieved at the alienation that sin brings between them and the Lord. They will want their fellowship with Jesus restored. Sin in the life of a true Christian brings godly sorrow unto life.
For the one who has a false profession and the non-Christian, sin brings the worldly sorrow of remorse and regret. Their self-centered nature will keep them from turning to the Lord for forgiveness and direction because their concern will be how the sin affects them personally, not on the fact that the Lord has been offended. The result will be that they will be left in their sin along with its guilt and its consequences of eternal death.
The good news is that for anyone who has up to this point only had the sorrow of the world, they can seek out true sorrow, turn to the Lord and He is willing to forgive. He has already paid the price for your sin. Will you respond to His offer to change your life?
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