Matthew 27: Judas Hangs Himself
1. Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. 2 So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor.
3 When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”
“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”
5 So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.
The most famous and infamous deaths occurred on the same day-Jesus and Judas. I’m struck with the opening words “early in the morning.” These are words normally associated with resurrection, but Friday was the morning from “hell”.
Judas was beside himself. Seeing Jesus condemned to die was more than he could stand. For a moment, the scene looked hopeful. Judas was remorseful, changed his mind, and returned the money. It had all of the elements of perfect repentance except for one thing-he failed to forgive himself.
Friday is awful. Good Friday is so poorly named. I know all the theological reasons behind it being “good” for us, but let’s face it-there is nothing good about Friday.
Judas had the right feelings for the day. How senseless that the best man who ever lived would have to die for something we did. Contemplating the cross makes me rethink all of my stupid sinful behaviors.
Jesus spared no miracles when it came to helping even the lowest caste of humanity, but had nothing left for himself when a few spoken words in his defense could have cleared up this whole kangaroo court debacle. But as the Negro spiritual says, “He never said a mumblin’ word.”
Judas executed himself, Peter denied, and all the disciples deserted him according to Mark. Who should go free- Barabbas, a menace to society, or Jesus, the spotless son of God? Barrabas won in a unanimous landslide vote. Of course had I been there, I would have voted for…..Barabbas. That’s right. I’m ashamed to admit, but I need Barabbas to go free. If Jesus goes free, I’m doomed. Fredrick Buchner says that Jesus would have voted for Barabbas too. Oh and did you catch his full name? Its Jesus-Barabbas. It means Jesus son of Abbas. This story messes with me. I feel for Judas. I identify with the crowd who picks the wrong Jesus.
Jesus rose above mere manhood when he chose not to fight or flee. Jesus rose above instinctive mammal instinct and willingly accepted the cross. He didn’t defend himself in court, he didn’t fight back when beaten and spit on, and he didn’t drink the anesthesia offered to him.
There is nothing good about this story and yet we must immerse ourselves in it. I have a real problem with Protestant Christian who go straight from Palm Sunday to Easter and skip the cross. In the next breath they belittle Catholics for the crucifix claiming that Jesus is no longer on the cross. We Protestants take Jesus off the cross too early. If Catholics are accused of not placing enough emphasis on the resurrection then Protestants should take responsiblity for diminishing the cross.
If there is no Friday, there is no Easter. Before the God kissed Easter morning from heaven, we must endure the gut wrenching morning from hell. The more awful that Friday is, the more wonderful Easter becomes.
History is divided by the words “It is Finished.” This was more than an event in time. This was apocalyptic. The ground shook, righteous dead people got out of their graves, the veil in the temple was split from top to bottom. The dead knew something that we had yet to understand. Jesus blood was retroactive. It flowed backwards from the cross to the prophets and the kings, and Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham, back to Noah, and all the way back to Adam and Eve. It would roll forward to you to and to me. But, on that first Friday, we only knew that our king was dead, all hope was gone and we were forever lost in our sins. Our last best hope went the way of all flesh.
It was time to grieve and go on. Go on with doubting. Go on with hopelessness. God on with life without purpose. It looked like all there really was to life was fishing. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” There is no joy on earth. My God my God why have you forsaken us.
Embrace the pain of Friday. We now know more than in the original characters in the story knew because we look from the perspective of Easter. So “we grieve, but not as those who have no hope.” But hope will come soon enough.
Let Friday be a day of grieving. Godly sorrow can work repentance in us. Look at the cross. Take responsibility. Change your mind. Make amends where possible. Hear the words of Jesus, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Here those words and be forgiven. Finally, forgive yourself. And wait…
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