Thursday, April 21, 2011

They Covenanted With Him For Thirty Pieces Of Silver

A few days before Jesus' death, the gospel of Matthew records Judas's anger at the "waste" made of a jar of costly ointment, with which a woman had anointed Jesus' head.  In this gospel, the anointing is immediately followed by one of the most disturbing scenes in all of scripture.  Matthew records, "Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, And said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver" (Matt 26:14-15).

Not long thereafter, Judas, "and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people" accosted Jesus as He prayed in Gethsemane's garden (26:47).  Having determined beforehand to indicate to the soldiers which man was his master with a gesture of affection, Judas "forthwith...came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him" (v. 49).  The cruel irony of this token did not escape the Savior's notice, and He asked, "Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?" (Luke 22:48).

Later, of course, Judas was seized with horror at his betrayal, but by then, the vicious act was done, "the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners" (Matthew 26:45).  Returning the money to the indifferent Pharisees could do nothing to save either Judas or Jesus.  For both men, their Last Supper had been eaten; they were not long for this world.

Much has been made of the price for which Judas agreed to hand over his Master: thirty shekels, or pieces of silver.  Many have noted that thirty pieces of silver was the price fixed by law as that of a slave, and so it was.  That Judas would be persuaded by so paltry a sum to turn from his Redeemer is tragic, and reflects poorly on his character.  But that Christ's life would be bought for that specific price is far more meaningful than the commentary it gives us on the faithlessness of His former disciple.

Thirty pieces of silver was the price of a slave, it is true, but only under a very specific circumstance: it was the price paid for the life of a manservant or maidservant who had been pierced (or gored) by the horn of an ox (Exodus 21:32).  Thus Christ's life was valued as that of a "suffering servant" (Isaiah 53), of whom had been prophesied, "They shall look on Him whom they pierced" (John 19:37, Zechariah 12:10).

Pilate's words to the people the next day would beg them to see Jesus' true identity, his cry changing from "Behold the man" (John 19:5) to "Behold, your king!"  (John 19:14)  But all the leaders of the people could see was a dying servant, pierced through, a man for which the price had been paid, and called for his death, considering that "it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not" (John 11:50).  And so it was, eternally expedient, that one man should die, a sinless sacrifice for all, "that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

"Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children" (Matthew 27:25).  On this day of Atonement, and always, this is my fervent prayer.

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

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