Welcome to another day where the ruthless devil has become the toothless devil by the power of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross!
Yesterday we sat at Jesus’ feet as He preached against the Scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Herodians in the Temple and on the Mount of Olives. We heard Him speak against hypocritical faith and ceremonial works performed without justice, mercy, true faith, and love.
Today is a particularly dark and difficult day in Jesus’ journey towards the cross, as it is today that we remember the initial betrayal of Judas.
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“And every day [Jesus] was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him.
Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people.
Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.” (Luke 21:37-22:6, ESV)
“Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, ‘Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.’ But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.’
Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?’ And they paid him thirty pieces of silver.And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.” (Matthew 26:6-16, ESV)
“And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, ‘Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.’ And they scolded her. But Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.’
Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him.” (Mark 14:3-11, ESV)
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Before speaking of Judas’ betrayal, it’s helpful to note two things about the accounts.
First, Luke writes that Jesus retires at night to “the mount called Olivet,” but in Matthew and Mark, Jesus is at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper. These accounts are not mutually exclusive, as both Bethany and Bethphage are nestled into the foot of the Mount of Olives. Similar to how Middletown and the Golden Mile are separated by Braddock Heights, Bethany/Bethphage and Jerusalem are actually significantly closer – Bethany and Bethphage were about 2,000 cubits (or a little less than 3,000 feet) along the highway from Jerusalem to Jericho, the maximum distance allowed to journey on the Sabbath Day.
Secondly, it might be helpful to define the importance of the ointment used in Jesus’ anointing. Pure nard means that it was “spikenard,” an essential oil that was made from a plant that only grew in the Himalayas and was in extraordinarily high demand among the Romans. When the disciples say that the oil could have been sold for more than 300 denarii, which means that to afford it, your average Jehosophat laborer in the Empire would have to work for more than 300 days and put all of the money they earned toward the perfume. It was worth nearly a year’s wages.
The woman is not splashing normal aftershave on Jesus, but is pouring an oil made in the Himalayas, transported to the Empire, highly sought after in Rome, worth almost a year’s wages, out of a flask made from alabaster, which was used in the upper classes as a costly material for decoration and sculpture. I suppose a fair analogy for today would be if the woman offered Jesus a bottle of $30,000 Scotch. This was no small gift.
When the disciples grumble, Jesus pointedly responds: “She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.”
Rather than grumble with the disciples, I’d invite us to look at this in a different way. Is there anything that you and I can offer that would be worthy of anointing God with?
The creator of the universe, of the farthest stars, of the smallest quarks, of the mountains, the seas, the heavens and the earth, of things as various as angels and animals, has come down in the flesh for you and I. He has taken our sins upon Himself. He has showered us with His grace, His mercy, and His love. He dies a horrific death for us. Rests in the tomb for us. Is raised from the dead for us.
Would an expensive bottle of nard or a $30,000 bottle of Scotch even come close to the value of what God has done for us? To the free gift of grace in Christ that showers us with love, eternal life, the forgiveness of sins, and the peace that surpasses all understanding? For an end to spiritual and physical death?
Yet Jesus looks at a gift that to the disciples seems excessively luxurious and fancy, but pales in comparison with His gift to us, and says “She has done a beautiful thing to me.” The woman gives freely and gracefully to Jesus, and He remembers her for it.
Of the disciples who grumble, Judas Iscariot leaves to betray Christ. Grumbling about ointment worth 300 denarii, Judas sells the Savior to His enemies for 30 pieces of silver, which, depending on the coins used, would probably be worth anywhere from about $90 to $450 today.
To Judas, that was the price of God’s death. That was the price of Christ’s blood. At most, $450. At least, $90. Let that sit with you for a minute.
Judas, quite possibly, could have betrayed Christ for less than $100.
Less than $100.
What is Jesus worth to us?
“O God, O Lord of heav’n and earth,
Thy living finger never wrote
That life should be an aimless mote,
A deathward drift from futile birth.
Thy Word meant life triumphant hurled
In splendor through Thy broken world.
Since light awoke and life began,
Thou hast desired Thy life for man.
“Our fatal will to equal Thee,
Our rebel will wrought death and night.
We seized and used in prideful spite
Thy wondrous gift of liberty.
We housed us in this house of doom,
Where death had royal scope and room,
Until Thy servant, Prince of Peace,
Breached all its walls for our release.
“Thou camest to our hall of death,
O Christ, to breathe our poisoned air,
To drink for us the dark despair
That strangled our reluctant breath.
How beautiful the feet that trod
The road that leads us back to God!
How beautiful the feet than ran
To bring the great good news to man!”
(LSB 834, vv. 1-3)
My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us never forget that Christ was glorified in His humiliation. In His betrayal for 30 pieces of silver. In being mocked and spat upon. In being stripped, beaten, crowned with thorns. In being crucified and killed.
This was the payment for our sins, which have been washed away in His blood poured out for us. In the cross we find death, but also our sins destroyed, the love of Christ outpoured, and the sacrifice that bought eternal life and reconciliation for us. Thanks be to Christ Jesus who suffered, died, and was raised for us!
In Christ’s Peace,
Pastor Singer ☩