The Parish Church of Connersville, Indiana

The Sunday Next Before Easter 2024

Sermon Date: March 24, 2024

Passage: Matthew 27

…I have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent blood (Matthew 27:4).

Today’s Gospel reading drops us in the terror and blood and shame of our planet’s worst and greatest moment. If another 2,000 years pass before the eyes of the children of men, no series of days will scream with the birth pangs of the new heaven and new earth like what we hear and feel during the solemn recitation of our Lord’s passion and death. The Man who wronged no one, the Man who represented the best of us—the living, breathing symbol of what Mankind was created to be—was tortured and suffocated for the sake of money and power and lies. We often look for meaning in the violence and savagery of Man, but those of us who have spent any time walking with Christ from the dark trial of the Sanhedrin to the unjust halls of Pontius Pilate’s palace to the place of the skull to the indignity of being hanged on a tree and buried in another man’s tomb, we know evil endures not by logic or reason, beauty or truth, but rather, with fear and pain and sorrow.

On the way to Golgotha, on the way to the Cross, Matthew shows us this pain and fear and sorrow in an unlikely place. Judas Iscariot, chosen as one of the twelve by our Lord, betrayed Jesus for money. The Apostle John, no doubt still angry over Judas’ betrayal, makes a point of calling him ‘a thief’ decades later in the pages of his own eye-witness account. Apparently, Judas, the treasurer of the apostles, had been betraying His Lord for some time before finally cashing out by leading the religious and cultural leaders of Judah to destroy his friend and Lord. In the 13th century epic poem, The Inferno, Judas is placed at the ice-cold heart of Hell next to Brutus and Cassius: the two men who betrayed Julius Caesar and eventually took their own lives. They are, of course, joined by the greatest betrayer of all: Lucifer, who in the infancy of creation chose madness and rebellion in the face of God’s perfect love and justice. Dante, the author of The Inferno, rightly viewed treachery or betrayal as the sin which belongs in the deepest pit of Hell’s hopeless despair. To be ungrateful is so much worse than being lustful or envious or proud, for it is from the poisoned soil of ungratefulness that all sin grows, the place where the root of all evil can take hold and spread until there is nothing left of us.

As Paul writes, ‘But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows’ (1 Timothy 6:9-10). Because our country has essentially abandoned any sense of moral realities linked to the unchanging Creator, money serves as the unfortunate means by which our national culture evaluates people’s worth. Money is converted from a means for furthering the people of God’s holy campaign against sin and death, while caring for those who are our responsibility, into a cruel idol destroying those who worship it while rotting out their insides with self-loathing. As we read in the Psalms, ‘But they who run after another god shall have great trouble’ (Psalms 16:4). We see a lot of people with great trouble even as they stack piles of money they will never use.

Trouble finds Judas, and we are allowed to see Judas’ impotent, material god betray him when he needs it most. In the depths of his despair, when he knows he has done an evil, terrible, unspeakable thing, Judas’ money lies on the floor of the temple absolutely powerless to help him. How many pieces of silver can console a man who has betrayed his friends; how many trinkets of desire can make a man feel whole when he has declared war on God? ‘For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?’ (Mark 8:36). Millions of our fellow countrymen wake up every day and try to convince themselves that their money and their things will protect them, or for many others, that their lack of money and things makes them trash, but it is the job of Christ’s followers to shake men out of their idol worship, to warn them before the death bell removes all doubt in their hearts and minds of the utter powerlessness of money to save us from what we have done to ourselves and others. Judas, abandoned by his silver god, murders himself by hanging on a tree. The broken apostle takes the curse of this world on himself—the curse of sin and death and pain and sorrow and misery—he places that burden on his own shoulders, and the weight of humanity’s tremendous failures crushes him to powder. How could it not?

Of course, today we see another man take on the curse of sin and death; another man take on that evil which poisons the hearts of men and robs them of their loves and dreams. Jesus becomes the lightning rod for that evil, and it burned the very flesh from His body. As He hanged on His own cursed tree, we hear on the lips of Jesus that familiar phrase: ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ The proud and ignorant men who surrounded the cross shaped altar upon which God Himself bled, those men couldn’t understand the words he was saying because they had forgotten the mother tongue of Israel. God spoke to them from the new tree of life flowering in the fullness of time, and they mocked Him and spit on Him.

We, of course, are privileged to know the words he spoke, and further, to know why he spoke them. In that moment of pain and anguish, our Lord prayed a psalm. This isn’t despair; it’s praise. These divine words given to David, prayed by God’s people for thousands of years, serve as the promise Christ came to fulfill in Golgotha. God the Son binds the threads of history around Himself and shows us who He is: He shows us what Man can be. As we just read together, the twenty-second psalms is our throbbing hope: ‘Ye that fear the Lord, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel. For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard. My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him. The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the Lord that seek him: your heart shall live forever. All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the Lord’s: and he is the governor among the nations…My seed shall serve him; they shall be counted unto the Lord for a generation. They shall come, and the heavens shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, whom the Lord hath made.’

If you hear my voice, and the voice of God reigns in your heart, then you are the people born of blood and iron nails, the people made from the sacrificial love which bore the weight of sin and death that humanity might rise from the ashes of despair into the dawning light of eternity. We will spend this holy week remembering that glorious day of days because we must remember we are not Judas; we must drown out the black voices in our world trying to convince us to die in despair and misery so they can feed off our time and treasure and broken hearts. Roar back at them, ‘My seed shall serve him, and they shall be counted unto the Lord for a generation; I shall serve Him, and death will be my defeated foe.