Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Turn to Jesus and Do Not Turn Away!

Matthew 27:1-5 Can you imagine what it must have been like to hear the Sermon on the Mount directly from the lips of Jesus!  To see the Lord walking on the stormy seas and with just a word commanding the waves and the wind to be still!  To witness the dead raised and the sick healed!  Surely we say to ourselves, our faith would be different because of it.  Our faith would be stronger and our life more faithful!  But would it?
            On our Lenten journey we are encounter Peter who denied the Lord and John who fled from his side in his time of need and the people who welcomed Jesus on Palm Sunday and cried for his death on Good Friday.  And we are especially confronted by Judas.
Judas was one of the twelve.  Like the rest of the disciples he heard the invitation of Jesus to come and follow him as a disciple.  Every step that our Lord took, Judas was right there with him.  Every word that our Lord spoke, Judas heard.  Every experience the disciples went through-- and every miracle of our Lord-- Judas experienced first-hand. 
He heard the voice of Jesus says:  I am the resurrection and the life and he saw with his own eyes what that meant as Lazarus came forth from his tomb.
It was at that moment that the hatred of the Jews and their desire to kill Jesus found a helper in Judas who was willing to betray him for money.  The One who healed the sick and fed the hungry—the One who was compassionate and merciful—the One who ruled over nature and raised the dead-- was betrayed for thirty pieces of silver by a man who was one of his closest friends and confidants.  How is this possible?
At least part of the answer is that somewhere along the way his love of money became greater than his love of the Lord.  John tells us that Judas was the treasurer and held onto the money bag that supported Jesus and the disciples and he began to steal from the common purse.  He covered his tracks with fine-sounding words about helping the poor while all the while he was stealing the money that would have helped the poor. 
His deliberate, unrepentant sin and his façade of self-righteousness to cover it up led him farther and farther away from Jesus and finally John tells us that Satan entered into Judas and he went to the Sanhedrin and planned for Jesus’ destruction and received his reward for treason and betrayal in thirty pieces of silver.
And the Bible writers tell us this story so that we might heed the warnings of his life and turn a deaf ear to the unbelieving world and say no to our flesh and guard our hearts and minds against the schemes of the devil.
The Bible writers tell his story so that we would never grow complacent in our life of faith, so that we would understand that we must always stay close to the Lord, that we can never know too much of his ways or remain strong apart from his side.
But the Bible writers also tell us this story so that we would know and believe—right here and right now—that even when we do wander away—even when we do fall victim to our spiritual enemies—even when we do fall into great and terrible sin—we must not despair or turn away from Christ but go to him and confess our sin and let his forgiveness restore us and help us begin again.  The Bible says that:
When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death.  And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor.
            It is true that the Jews hated him and Peter denied him and the disciples abandoned him and the Romans crucified him and Judas betrayed him-- but we get our Lord’s passion very wrong indeed when we fail to understand that there was not one moment in his entire ordeal that Jesus was not in perfect control over the entire situation—not one moment that he could not have changed had he wanted to.
            Throughout his entire ministry he told everyone just exactly how it would go—that he would be rejected by his people and crucified and die and rise again.  As his earthly ministry drew to a close the Bible set his face towards Jerusalem, resolute in his mission to save the world—making sure to accomplish his will. 
When he was arrested in the garden, with simply a word he caused an armed gang of thugs to fall helplessly to the ground and when Peter tried to fight back Jesus said that he had legions of angels at his command.  And so then…
On the morning after his arrest, innocent of all crimes and yet convicted of death, beginning the walk that would lead him to Calvary—the rejection of his people and the betrayal of his friends and cowardice of the officials all played their part in his journey to the cross.
But dear friends in Christ, we make a terrible mistake if we regard ourselves as innocent bystanders. It was not just the sins and failures and weakness of others that brought Jesus to the cross—it was not just the betrayal of Judas that was the catalyst for what happened that Friday afternoon—it was our sins and our failures and our weakness—it was our love for the things of the world that is so often greater than our love for the Lord that brought Jesus there that day.
And it does us no good to say that it would have been different if we were there, for a we have a life-long track record that testifies to just the opposite. 
And so as we see Jesus arrested and led away like a common criminal, when we hear the hateful lies told about, when we picture that scene of humiliation and spitting and cursing and blows to the face and a whip to the back—when we hear the sound of hammer of nail and the groans of a broken body lifted up upon the cross—we are confronted with what Judas experienced:  and that is fruit of our sins.  The Bible says:
Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”
            I am reminded of that line from the old Lenten hymn:  Ye who think of sin but lightly Nor suppose the evil great Here may view its nature rightly, Here its guilt may estimate.”  It is only when we see Jesus rejected and ridiculed—beaten and crucified-- that we begin to understand what our sin actually is-- and that is what Judas saw and experienced as he saw Jesus convicted of crimes he did not commit and led away to a death that struck terror in the heart of every person in the ancient world.
And what Judas says in response are the words that every one of us must say about ourselves:  I have sinned!  He saw the truth about himself and he saw the truth about Jesus—that Jesus was innocent and that he was guilty and his mind was changed in that moment about what he did and he did not want the blood of Jesus on his hands. 
But of course it was on his hands—he had sinned—he was guilty—and he was ashamed and sorry and he said so.
It’s at that moment that the religious leaders should have stepped in and helped him—it was their job, their sole reason for existence and there were plenty of provisions in the Law to offer sacrifices for his sin and atone for his sin and reconcile him to God.  But instead, They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.”  
In this moment we know that the religion of the Jews as the way to God had come to an end.  The curtain in the temple that kept sinful man away from a holy God would be torn in two from top to bottom at the death of Jesus and in short order the temple itself would utterly destroyed with not one stone left lying upon another.  All of it useless.
There was no longer any need for the countless animal sacrifices—no longer any need for the altar—no longer any need for these faithless priests who by their own admission abandoned their sole reason for existence by leaving Judas in his sin. 
Jesus was now the only sacrifice that mattered—a once for all sacrifice that paid for the sin of the world.  Jesus was now the only priest that mattered, standing before his heavenly Father, interceding for a world full of sinners—even the worst of sinners. 
Peter would be restored as often as he had fallen.  The disciples who abandoned Jesus would meet him in the upper room after his resurrection and Jesus would show them the wounds that healed them.  His brothers who had never followed him became leaders in the church.  Many of the priests who called for his death came to faith.  And an enemy named Saul because a great evangelist.  All of them turned to Jesus in faith and were forgiven.
The power and sufficiency of what Jesus Christ had done on the cross was more than enough to reconcile to God a whole world full of sinners—which is why it is such a tragedy what happens next.  The Bible says:  And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, Judas departed, and he went and hanged himself.
            Repentance has two parts:  first that we confess our sins and secondly that we receive forgiveness by turning to Jesus Christ in faith.  Tragically, this is what Judas would not do and left alone with his sin, with the crushing weight of guilt and shame resting upon his shoulders instead of Jesus, he despaired and took his own life.  The great tragedy of Judas’ life is that he did not believe that the love of Jesus for him was infinitely greater than his sin against Jesus.

The Bible writers tell us this story so that we would never turn away from Jesus—so that we would know and believe that there is nothing that you have ever done or will ever do that is greater than Christ’s ability to forgive.  Amen.

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