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3rd Wednesday in Lent
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Vicar Kaleb Yaeger
March 15, 2023
Text and Audio: immanuelhamiltonchurch.com click “sermons”
Full Service Audio: bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship
Judas took the money. Thirty pieces of silver in exchange for his beloved teacher. The coins rattled in his money purse as he crept out with the crowd to betray his Lord.
The sign had already been arranged. Judas thought he was still a trusted friend of Jesus. He had spent time with Jesus these last three years. Judas was there by Jesus’ side at the Sermon on the Mount. When Jesus taught the people the wisdom of God. He was there when Jesus fed the five thousand with just a few loaves and some fish. He was there when Jesus walked on the water, calming the storm with but a word.
Judas had stood by Jesus’ side. He was, as Matthew’s Gospel reminds us, one of the Twelve. Jesus’ trusted inner circle. But now, thirty pieces of silver rattle in his moneybag. Judas’ greed has outweighed his loyalty. Now, he creeps after his trusted Lord under cover of night at the head of a mob. Something changed.
Satan had entered Judas. Satan hates the Son of God with a fiery passion. So he inflamed Judas’ greed. He whispered doubts in his ear. Judas listened. He was led astray by the whisperings of the Evil One. He was one of the Twelve. But not anymore. Judas picked his side, and he stands against Jesus. Three years of friendship and trust will be used to hand Jesus over to the scribes and the Pharisees. Betrayal by a symbol of friendship. Betrayal by a kiss.
The mob comes to the agreed place. Jesus typically comes out to the garden to pray, and tonight is no different. Judas sees that He has finished His prayers, and now is speaking to Peter, James and John. Judas comes up to him. Thirty pieces of silver rattle in his money bag as he kisses Jesus. He calls Jesus by a title he has used a hundred times before:
Jesus receives the gesture of affection willingly. He knows what’s going on here. He knows Judas cannot be trusted. But He submits anyway. We have seen Jesus escape the crowds before. He can do it. Jesus is not here to escape. He does, however, have words for Judas.
“Friend, do what you came to do.”
The word Jesus uses for “Friend” here isn’t exactly a friendly term. The only other times it’s used in Scripture are to describe children’s playmates or evil men. It’s a little closer to our modern “Hey, buddy!” Jesus isn’t fooled by Judas’ airs of friendship.
The crowds, having seen the sign, come then. They bear swords and wooden clubs. The crowds are ready for violence. They lay hands on Jesus, arresting Him.
Peter has been watching this whole exchange. Peter is, in almost every way, the opposite of Judas. Peter has been nothing but loyal. Peter loves Jesus. Peter would do anything for Jesus. He’s been with Him from the beginning. The first disciple whom Jesus called, Peter left his nets and followed Him.
Peter too, has been by Jesus’ side. He heard the Sermon on the Mount. He helped pass out bread and fish to the five thousand. He saw Jesus walking on the water and witnessed Him calm the storm. Peter has been with Jesus these three years. That has bred loyalty and love.
So when the crowds lay hands on Jesus, Peter sees his opportunity. He would do anything for Jesus. He would fight for Him. He would die for Him. So Peter draws his sword and slashes at the man closest to Jesus. He only struck a glancing blow, just barely managed to cut the servant’s ear, but another strike would finish the job. He would defend Jesus. Peter was going to be the hero of the story. He would make sure that Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God, would live another day.
But then comes Jesus’ rebuke.
“Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”
Peter is shocked. Here he is, standing against Judas, the traitor, fighting against the crowds, ready to die for Jesus in a blaze of glory. But Jesus said no. Jesus would go willingly to die.
Peter should have seen this coming. All the way back in Matthew chapter 16, Jesus prophesies that He will die and be raised three days later. Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked Him. He said
“Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
But Jesus had a more stern rebuke for Peter
“Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Peter wanted to keep Jesus from the cross. Satan wanted to keep Jesus from winning His victory. This was Satan’s final temptation to Jesus. It is as though he said:
“Look, Jesus. See how your beloved Peter fights to keep you from your cross! See how Judas, one of your own, has betrayed you! Fight now, stand against the forces of man with violence. Destroy this crowd and the cup of God’s wrath will be taken from you.”
But Jesus still does not yield. He rebukes Peter in the garden just as He rebuked him before. Jesus will go to the cross. Jesus will die there. He will drink the cup of God’s wrath and He will do so willingly.
Satan couldn’t stop Jesus. He’s lost the war. He knows that he lies condemned beneath the conquering heel of Jesus. So now, his tactics have shifted. Instead of tempting Jesus, who has already beaten him, Satan tempts you. He wants to drag you away from Jesus. Barring that, he wants to drag you away from the cross.
There are a few different ways that Satan does this. One tactic he employs is to weaponize ignorance about the Bible. The average unchurched person probably knows that Jesus was a good teacher who loved everybody and wanted everybody to just love each other. This love of Christ isn’t expressed through sacrifice, but instead through tolerance. If God loves me, they reason, then He should accept me as I am! My sins don’t affect Him, so what’s the big deal? Why does God care if I break a few of His commandments? He loves me, so He should put up with me.
Satan uses this misunderstanding about the love of Christ to focus people on tolerance rather than the cross. If people understood that Jesus suffered and died for their sins, then they might contemplate their sin. They might start to think that maybe what consenting adults get up to should be taken seriously. That might lead to repentance. Satan can’t have that. He wants to drag as many to hell with him as he can. So he pushes an image of Jesus as a loving, tolerant, nice guy who will probably let you into heaven anyway.
But this is not the only tactic Satan takes. He works in Christian circles too. He tries to get you to set your mind on the things of man rather than the things of God. He, through his tools of false preachers, distorts the message of Christianity to be about your own personal happiness. He wants you to think that God wants your best life now. He wants your glory, your success, your victory in life.
It is telling that the preachers who take this route have fleeced their people of their cash. Greed for gain has outweighed their loyalty to God’s word. These tools of Satan have betrayed Jesus in exchange for much more than thirty pieces of silver. Preaching the cross is counter to their goals. Repentance and forgiveness aren’t what they’re all about. That might cut into the bottom line. The cross might make people uncomfortable. That might drive some people away. So they let the cross fade from their preaching while they focus on financial success.
But Satan does not just use his wiles and ways to trick those who are ignorant or those who find themselves easily convinced by smooth words. Just like He doesn’t just use Judas, but also Peter in his scheme against Jesus, Satan will take any passion and try to misdirect it.
There are those in the Christian community who are not taken in by liberal church bodies or by secularism and tolerance. In fact, they react strongly against it. To an extent, this is good. It is good to be on guard against false doctrine and false teaching in the church. It is good to stand against the things that God’s word condemns. But, like Peter’s hot-headedness misguided his genuine love for Christ, sometimes these reactions are taken too far.
There are those who stand so firmly against secularism that they cry out for violence. They desire that the laws of the land change so that God’s law is policed by force. They desire that certain sinners would perish at the hands of the executioner so that society can reflect the will of God. They want to use the sword to further the kingdom of God. This is the lie that Satan has sold them. He has convinced them that they fight a noble battle against the devil, when in reality they have joined his ranks.
To them, as to Peter, Jesus says:
“Put your sword back into its place.”
Christianity is not about conquest. Violence never furthers the kingdom of God. The church is triumphant, but not on the battlefield. From the very beginning, the church has followed Christ into suffering. The ones who planted the seeds of Christianity watered them with their own blood. The faithful apostles would all be killed for their confession. The heroes we commend on feast days are not generals and conquerors, but martyrs. Christianity is fundamentally a religion of sacrifice.
We follow our Lord. All the way to Calvary. Jesus went to the cross willingly for your sake. He did not call down twelve legions of angels to fight on His behalf. He didn’t need Peter’s sword and he doesn’t need yours. All He needs is the cross.
Jesus doesn’t fight so that you can have your best life now. He doesn’t fight so that your sins can be tolerated. He fights, not with swords or clubs, but with His holy, precious blood and innocent suffering and death. These are Christ’s weapons of war. Sacrifice for mercy’s sake. Thanks be to God that we need not raise our swords because Christ has already been lifted up on the cross for your sake.