Title: (Im)Perfect Atonement
Text: Matthew 27:1-10
FCF: We often struggle depending exclusively and continually on the cross of Christ for our victory.
Prop: Because God accomplished his plan to redeem His children through Christ’s death, we must only and continually depend on Christ’s cross.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to Matthew 27. Last week we were able to compare Jesus and Peter as they both endure a trial of sorts. Jesus although innocent is condemned to die but through His death will inherit glory. Peter although guilty is spared any physical repercussions, but his pride is broken as he finds the end of himself. Today we will see two groups of people in the narrative that Matthew compares to Peter’s experience, but with radically different outcomes.
I’m in Matthew 27:1 and reading from the NET which you can follow in the pew bible on page 1127 or in the version you prefer. If you don’t have a bible of your own, take the pew bible home with you today.
Although only 10 verses, there is a lot here to work through. Let’s get to it.
I.) Sinful men accomplish God’s plan to redeem His children through Christ’s death, so we must ONLY depend on Christ’s cross.
a. [Slide 2] 1 – When it was early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people plotted against Jesus to execute Him.
i. This is at best a hint at what actually happened here. Matthew both omits details and adds details to this account in comparison to the synoptic gospels.
ii. Mark makes it plainer that this was not simply a meeting but rather an official convening of the whole Sanhedrin council.
iii. Luke actually gives us the details of this trial which are very similar to the trial at Caiaphas’ house. So similar it is difficult to know whether there is conflation or repetition. Jesus’ words before Caiaphas in Matthew are quite similar to His words before the whole council in Luke. And the council’s reaction to Christ’s words in Luke are similar to Caiaphas’ reaction in Matthew.
1. Did Matthew or Luke combine the two into one? I don’t think so.
2. Since there are several details that are different, it seems more like this is repetition rather than combination.
3. In other words, the trial before Caiaphas was a pre-trial to make sure they could convict Him. Once they were sure they took Him to the official court and knew then exactly what to ask Him to lead the others to the same conclusion.
iv. However, again in this trial they did not vote properly. They did not entertain witnesses. They convicted based on a question asked to the accused that incriminated Himself. All of this was illegal according to Jewish law.
v. Although Matthew and Mark make a note here that all the chief priests and elders conspired and agreed he must be executed, Joseph of Arimathea and probably Nicodemus, were both on the council but did not agree since they were disciples of Christ. This may mean that they were not present for the trial at all.
b. [Slide 3] 2 – they tied Him up, led Him away, and handed Him over to Pilate the governor.
i. Their plan was to execute him, and all was going splendidly, even if they had to break a few laws to do it, they have gotten Him to blaspheme.
ii. At least by their definition He has. Twice. Once before the smaller illegal court, and again, illegally, before the official court.
iii. But as many historians have attested, and as we pointed out last week, right around and before the trial of Christ, the Roman government removed the right of Jewish leadership to execute their own criminals.
iv. All other prosecutions and penalties they could enforce, but execution was in the hands of the Roman authorities exclusively.
v. The Sanhedrin would have taken Jesus out and stoned Him right there, but if they did they would have been in violation of Roman law.
vi. Interestingly enough, only a few years following Jesus’ crucifixion the Romans relaxed this law so the Jews could execute certain criminals under specific circumstances. It is like some unknown entity was guiding everything to make it so Jesus must die on a tree. I wonder…
vii. So here we see the Jews taking him to the prefect of Judea – Pilate. He would be able hand out a death sentence. Although blasphemy would be no cause for such a penalty in Roman reckoning. How the Jews deal with that is interesting. We’ll talk about that next week.
viii. Pilate, although normally ruling from Caesarea, would have been in Jerusalem for the festivities of the Passover. But who is Pilate?
ix. As a prefect and sub-ruler of the area, Pilate has had a long history with the Jews. Both Philo and Josephus record several times that Pilate nearly caused an insurrection because he had no respect for the Jews and their customs.
1. In one instance Pilate brought pagan effigies and images into the city of Jerusalem. When the people protested, he had his soldiers threaten them with death. They decided they were willing to die. Eventually Pilate took down the images.
2. He installed golden shields in Herod’s palace that were supposedly to honor the Emperor. The people protested and Pilate appealed to Emperor Tiberius. Tiberius rebuked Pilate and basically told him to keep the peace.
3. Later, Pilate is reported to have stolen temple money to pay to build an aqueduct.
x. We’ll talk more about Pilate next week and attempt to understand the trial of Jesus through the lens of Pilate’s absolute disdain for the Jews and their religious superstitions.
xi. This helps us to understand that even though the Sanhedrin had determined Jesus should die, there is quite a big hurdle standing in their way. And his name is Pilate.
c. [Slide 4] Passage Truth: But for now, from Matthew, we see Matthew showing the Jews, saved and unsaved alike, that Jesus was so despised by their own Religious leaders, that not only do they break their own laws, abusing their authority to kill Him – but when their authority runs out, they are willing to work with pagan Romans, enemies of Israel, to accomplish their plot. Truly Matthew encourages every Jew to see Christ as the cornerstone that was rejected. The one that the shepherds of Israel had discarded so easily and readily, was the Great Shepherd that they thought they did not need.
d. Passage Application: And so the application for every Jew reading Matthew’s text continues to be – Repent and believe. Repent of your opposition to Jesus – The Son of David, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And Believe – put your trust, hope and faith in Him and His finished work. And continue to do so.
e. [Slide 5] Broader Biblical Truth: For us, the Spirit reveals the absolute failure of religion to bring us closer to God. Religion is often defined as man’s attempt to find God. And the problem is that none truly seek Him. Certainly through religion God can reveal Himself, but here we see some of the most religious people of the time, cooperating with some of the most godless of the time, to execute the God of the Universe. It truly is as Paul wrote, there is none righteous no not one. And although it was the Jews and Romans who killed Christ – ultimately it was God who held Him on that cross until His wrath was fully poured out upon Him. We see God’s hand of providence guiding every event to accomplish His purpose. Even through the sins of men.
f. Broader Biblical Application: The application for us then, is the same as the one Matthew intends for the Jews. That we must not depend on our own abilities, rituals, devotion or creed, but on Christ and Him crucified. This is the core of Christianity. This is the core of Protestantism. This is the core of Orthodoxy. That naturally each of us in this room would be at best a Chief Priest and at worst a Pilate. But God through His perfect and Holy plan, provided our substitute in Christ Jesus. If you are depending on anything else, including Christ plus anything to save you – you are still in your sin.
[Slide 6 (blank)] So we have seen that Christ’s cross is the only thing in which we can put our hope and trust. But what if we fail after that? What if we have trusted in Christ and His work, but have fallen again into sin? How do we earn our way back from that?
II.) Sinful men accomplish God’s plan to redeem His children through Christ’s death, so we must CONTINUE to depend on Christ’s cross.
a. [Slide 7] 3 – Now when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that Jesus had been condemned, he regretted what he had done and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders,
i. Judas has disappeared from the narrative since betraying the Son of God into the hands of the Chief priests.
ii. What has he been doing? We have no idea. We could suppose that he was trying to sleep or wrestling with his guilt. But all this would be conjecture. For all we know, he could have been content with his decision to betray Christ.
iii. However, as Judas discovers the fate of Jesus, Judas regretted what he had done. Why? We don’t know.
iv. But what we DO know is that Judas came back with the money to the chief priests and elders.
v. Is this while they are taking Jesus to Pilate? Again, we don’t know. Matthew makes it seem like it was – but Matthew as we know is no stickler for chronology. And Matthew is our only source for this episode.
vi. Is this repentance? Does Judas repent here? The unfortunate answer is no.
1. The word used here for regret (metamelhqeiV) is not the same word used by John the Baptist and Jesus to repent. It simply means to change your mind or regret.
2. But the word used for repentance unto salvation (metanoew) is a change of heart or person. It is a change of being not simply of the way you think, although that is included.
3. Paul actually uses both of these words in one paragraph when speaking to the Corinthian Church. He says he repents of sending the letter that caused them to repent. The first repent is the word for regret, the second repent is the word for change of heart.
4. Judas did NOT have a change of heart – simply a change of mind. And a change of what you think or feel is insufficient to salvation. It is sorrow unto death.
b. [Slide 8] 4 – saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood!” but they said, “What is that to us? You take care of it yourself!”
i. Judas has a healthy dose of fear at betraying innocent blood. He fears God. And rightfully he should. Deuteronomy 27:25 says that a man who takes a bribe to kill an innocent man is cursed. And Jesus already told him, it would have been better for him not to have been born.
ii. Interestingly enough the chief priests and elders do not care that Judas calls Jesus innocent. They don’t debate that fact. In fact, for being the religious leaders of Israel and having someone come to confess sin to them, they don’t seem all that interested in providing help do they?
iii. What is that to us? This is irrelevant to us. We can’t help you.
iv. Take care of it yourself. You figure it out.
v. Some Jews had a belief that they could atone for sin by taking their own lives. Is this what the elders are telling Judas to do? It is hard to say. At best they are uninterested in Judas, and at worst, they advise him to kill himself.
c. [Slide 9] 5 – So Judas threw the silver coins into the temple and left. Then he went out and hanged himself.
i. Judas throws the coins into the temple. No doubt as an act of anger. But perhaps there is more here that we will see later.
ii. Then he went out and hanged himself.
iii. Acts tells us that he fell headlong onto a field that we are about to discuss and burst open.
iv. It is not hard to understand what happened. Apparently Judas hoped to end his life by being choked out and slipping from unconsciousness to death. Whether Judas was alive or dead, the rope or branch breaks and sends him hurtling toward a different end.
v. Matthew very obviously wants us to contrast Peter’s response to Judas’.
1. Both Peter and Judas felt conviction for their betrayal and denial of Jesus.
2. Both Peter and Judas experienced extreme emotional reactions to their failures.
3. But Peter, when he feels this conviction, he runs outside and weeps. He is struck with hopelessness and despair.
4. But what does Judas do?
a. Judas tries to make amends.
b. He tries to seek religious absolution from the chief priests of Israel.
c. He tries to take it back. In his own best effort he tries to undo what was done. He throws the money back into the temple. He rejects it.
d. Seeing all of this makes me believe that Judas’ suicide was actually his attempt to earn absolution or atonement for his sin by committing suicide.
i. The Old Testament says that cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree. Perhaps Judas was attempting to atone for his sin by voluntarily taking that curse.
ii. If this is the case, it is interesting that his hanging on a tree was not permanent. No one had to take him down. Perhaps God providentially, even in Judas’ death, even with his false understanding that his death would atone for his sin, did not allow him such a death
5. But compared to Peter – Peter knows that he is guilty and there is nothing for it. He stands convicted and cannot undo it. A once arrogant man, who was so sure that he could do all that Jesus called him to do, was left weeping, discovering that in reality, he couldn’t.
6. It is interesting then that Peter when confronted on the beach after Christ’ resurrection, is asked 3 questions by Jesus.
a. Peter do you (agaph) loyally and unconditionally love me?
b. In our translation we see Peter affirm that he does love Jesus. But in Greek it is interesting his response. Lord you know that I (filew) love you like a brother. Peter does not deny his own love for Christ, but cannot pretend that it is a loyal unconditional kind of love anymore. Because he will never be absolutely loyal again.
c. Jesus tells him to feed his lambs. To teach his followers. Apparently this response was good. But Jesus tests him again. He asks the same exact question. Peter do you loyally and unconditionally love me? And Peter responds with the exact same response. Jesus tells him to shepherd his sheep. To teach and protect his sheep.
d. Finally Jesus asks, Peter, do you love me like a friend and brother? The bible says that Peter was distressed because Jesus asked him the third time a different question. Peter said, you know everything… you know my heart. You know that I love you like a brother because that is all I have. And Jesus says, teach my followers. Teach them what you have learned Peter.
e. Then Jesus prophesies Peter’s martyrdom.
7. In short Peter’s response and Judas’ response were worlds apart. Peter understood that he could never be what God wanted him to be – and Judas assumed that he still could.
d. [Slide 10] 6 – The chief priests took the silver and said, “It is not lawful to put this into the temple treasury, since it is blood money.”
i. Once again the religious elite swallow a camel while straining a gnat.
ii. In Deuteronomy 23 the law stated that any money earned by a prostitute cannot be brought into the temple of the Lord. In addition to that law, they expanded it to include all ill-gotten-gains.
iii. So while they go above and beyond the law to keep tainted money out of the house of God, they ignore the fact that it is their money that they paid to betray the Son of God to death. Which is the greater sin?
e. [Slide 11] 7 – After consulting together they bought the Potter’s Field with it, as a burial place for foreigners.
i. The reason this place was called potter’s field was because it was dead. It was a field that could not be cultivated for any crops because it was laden with hard clay. Clay that potters would harvest for their trade.
ii. This is actually the Valley of Hinnom. It is the valley where the garbage and corpses of animals would be thrown to rot. This valley is what is used in scripture to illustrate eternal death.
iii. They use bribe money that was used to betray the Son of God in order that they may bury gentiles outside the city walls. Behold their great kindness, right?
f. [Slide 12] 8 – For this reason that field has been called the “Field of Blood” to this day.
i. For two reasons this field is called the field of blood.
1. Because of the purpose of it – for burying bodies.
2. Because of Judas’ remains being broken over it. As Acts 1 points out.
ii. As a side note, this is compelling evidence that Matthew was writing before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, since the field would have not probably been so named after that event.
g. [Slide 13] 9 -10 – Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “They took the thirty silver coins, the price of the one whose price had been set by the people of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me. “
i. Now these last two verses are perhaps one of the most perplexing bible difficulties in the book of Matthew.
ii. Why is that?
iii. [Slide 14] Well to put it as simply as I can, Matthew appears to attribute the following quote as a prophesy from Jeremiah which has been fulfilled in the events preceding. The only problem with that is that if you search all of Jeremiah, you won’t find this quote. Not even in small sections. In fact, this quote more closely resembles what the prophet Zechariah said in Zechariah 11:12-13, which is up on the screen now.
iv. So how do we account for this? What are our options?
1. Matthew made a mistake. He wrongly attributed Jeremiah when He should have said Zechariah. This is what I call the nuclear option. If we use this, then Matthew is uninspired, and we need to start stripping down our bible and removing all the uninspired texts. So let’s see if there is another option.
2. Matthew says Jeremiah but means both. This is rooted in two defenses.
a. There is a precedent in Mark for quoting two prophets and giving attribution to the greater known prophet. In this case, Jeremiah would have been a greater known prophet over Zechariah, and some concepts are coming from Jeremiah so we will say Jeremiah.
b. The second way of seeing this is that Jeremiah would appear first on the list of the prophets. And there is a precedent in Jewish writings to use the first book in a genre as a way of expressing the whole genre. So when Matthew says Jeremiah he means the prophets.
3. [Slide 15] A third option is that Matthew says Jeremiah and quotes Zechariah to force his readers to study both side by side. This is my own home brew theory, although I am pulling from the thoughts of many other wise men. Turn with me to look at Jeremiah 19:1-15 and Zechariah 11:4-13. Because when we put them next to one another there are a surprising number of connections. We won’t read, but just scan the words as I summarize.
a. The context of Jeremiah 19 serves as a prophesy about future destruction of Judea and Jerusalem because of their unfaithfulness to Yahweh. Specifically that they will be broken and absorbed by the valley of Hinnom or the burning trash dump used as an illustration of final judgment throughout the bible. Interestingly as part of the prophesy the field will be known as the valley of suffering. Or as the LXX renders it, the valley of butchery. Field of blood and valley of butchery are far more similar than they are different. The city will fall and they will eat the flesh of their sons and daughters. Then Jeremiah breaks a pot to represent the broken nation.
b. The context of Zechariah 11 describes a future time when Yahweh will destroy 3 former shepherds who keep the flock of Israel. For those who survive they will eat each other’s flesh. He will break his staff of favor and annul his covenant with his people. Interestingly, the flock that was faithful to Yahweh knew that this was His divine word. Then he describes a buy out. Israel buys out their own God as a former shepherd and for His services they offer him 30 pieces of silver. Yahweh mocks their price and tells Zechariah to throw the money to the potter or treasury at the temple. The word for pottery and treasury is disputed here.
c. Both these contexts describe a time when the religious leaders would betray their own God and because of this He will bring their city to ruin.
d. Later in Zechariah 11 he also brings their union as a nation to ruin.
v. Therefore, Matthew is saying that all these events, primarily in regard to the Chief priests and elders, happened to fulfill the fall and utter ruin of the nation of Israel. And even though we may look at the nation of Israel today think they have not been destroyed– the fact of the matter was that what is Israel today is even more pagan and more debauched then 1st Century Israel. They look even less like God’s child today than they ever have. God annulled his covenant with Israel.
1. But the covenant was not annulled with all of Israel, but only those who were not faithful to him. Basically we see the covenant being split to apply only to those of faith. Undoubtedly this is an allusion to the New Covenant.
2. And if we carry on into the context of Zechariah 12, we find a Judah that repents and is made right with God while they are surrounded by enemies.
vi. So Matthew presents to us, all these events unfolding to reveal mysterious prophesies, covert and overt about the future of Israel and the covenant of God inherited by all people through the faith of Christ.
h. [Slide 16] Passage Truth: Matthew again reveals the treachery and betrayal of both the religious elite and one of Jesus’ own disciples to bring about His death. But even in this Matthew reveals to the Jews that this was all according to the masterful plan of God to bring about a new covenant. A covenant based on the faithfulness of a new Adam.
i. Passage Application: Again Matthew is unrelenting in his appeal to the Jews to cast aside their misunderstandings and believe on the substitutionary atonement of their King and Savior.
j. [Slide 17] Broader Biblical Truth: And from this text and beyond we see Man’s attempt to justify or atone for their own actions but without the atonement provided by God, there is no hope.
k. Broader Biblical Application: And again for us, there is only hope in the atonement of Christ. We continue to see man fail again and again in this narrative – but Christ has already put down his human frailty. And he has answered the accusations of the Sanhedrin. He has prophesied as the Messiah would. And he is not having his life taken, but is laying it down. Victory is only hours away. Victory for God. Victory for Light. Victory for The Good. And in Christ we can share in that triumph… every day.
The cross of Christ is not just our ONLY hope - but it is our CONTINUAL hope.
Oftentimes I think we limit the cross of Christ to our initial step in the life of faith. We view it as the avenue or the means by which we enter into the courtroom of God. And if we stayed there, in that courtroom. If we lived in perfection, never succumbing to the flesh again, never failing our Lord again, I think that perhaps we could speak of Christ’s cross in such a way.
But the fact of the matter is that once we enter the glorious presence of our Lord through the blood of Christ, no sooner have been stepped in to lay our lives down, that we take them up again and leave to pursue lesser things.
If we preach a cross of Christ that is able to convert only, then it is a powerless cross. A cross that ultimately will fail.
But if we preach a cross of Christ that supplies to us a perpetual entry into the presence of God – access to our Father’s throne, we can truly say now that there is no condemnation in Christ.
When we fail, we need not pay penance or seek atonement – what further atonement could there be? What more could He do over and above what He has done?
If we come, we come by the blood. If we come, we come by His sacrifice for us. An enduring and everlasting sacrifice.
So if you are a follower of Christ. If you are struggling right now with sin. You have been overtaken. You have been overwhelmed. Your thought life is trash. Your respect for your father is zero. Your love for your wife is hollow. Your grumbling and complaining has gone public. You have idols vying for God’s place, chief among them is yourself.
Listen friends. You may feel like the road to victory is long and difficult. You may feel overwhelmed with guilt and possibly are even thinking – how can I ever make it up to God for how I’ve betrayed Him. Friends. If you are in Christ… there is no condemnation. I’m not saying your sin isn’t serious. I’m not saying keep sinning so grace can abound. But what I am saying is… trying to dig yourself out of the hole you are in is foolish. Why?
Because YOU could never make up for it, but Christ has already bled and died so that you can have victory over what has overtaken you. You have access to the one who can set you free. Repent of the foolish distraction and run to your loving Father who is ready to forgive, restore, and cleanse you. And if you need help with that… that is why the church exists. If you are humble and broken, there will be no judgment and no shame, only help to be restored.
But if you are proud, if you cannot get victory no matter what you do, if you have never been a follower of Christ, then here is the truth. In your own strength, by your own will, you can never and will never change. You may change temporarily. You may change a single aspect of who you are, but ultimately you will remain what you are.
Friends there is only hope in Christ. His death and resurrection gives His children continued victory.
Don’t be like Judas and try to earn your way back. Don’t be like the religious leaders and think you don’t need God for anything. Be like Peter – and weep for your helplessness. Because when we are weak… He is strong. When we are humble, He will lift us up. [Slide 18(attribution page)]