“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.’ They said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself.’ And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this Good Friday comes from the text that was just read from the twenty-seventh chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. Dear friends in Christ, Jesus loved Judas. This seems like a strange thing to say, but it is true. Jesus loved Judas. We certainly don’t love Judas; ever since he handed Jesus into the hands of his enemies, Judas has been a cursed name, a name associated with betrayal and evil. And this began even in the writing of the New Testament. Almost every time that Judas is mentioned in the Gospels, the evangelists add that he was ‘the one who betrayed him.’ It’s almost as if they can’t get the taste out of their mouths, they can’t quite get over the shame and anger that one of their number betrayed the Lord. But Jesus loved Judas, with a love that we cannot understand or comprehend, because we cannot bring ourselves to love the one who traded the Son of God for thirty pieces of silver.
Jesus loved Judas so much that He preached the Law to him over and over again, desperately trying to deter him from his shameful deed. We heard last night how Jesus spoke to the assembled Twelve at the Last Supper, saying, “Truly I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” He didn’t give a name, hoping that Judas would turn away from Satan’s designs. Then He preached the penalty for this sin with its full severity: “The Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” But Judas doesn’t listen. In the Garden, just hours later, Jesus again warns Judas, as we heard from St. John’s Gospel: “Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to Him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’ They answered Him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I AM he.’” Jesus thunders forth His true identity to Judas and the mob: He is God in the flesh, the great I AM walking this earth for the salvation of all. Judas’ task of identifying Jesus is taken out of his hands; there is nothing left for him to do, he is made obsolete by the mighty voice of Jesus. He has heard exactly who it was that he handed over, that His sin was against God Himself in the flesh, but yet, Judas still doesn’t listen. The Law has spoken, but Judas ignores it.
It is only when He sees Jesus taken from the Sanhedrin to Pilate, condemned to death by Jewish law, that he comes to his senses. “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.” He goes to the place where forgiveness was promised by Almighty God throughout the Old Testament, the temple, where the blood of bulls and goats were offered for sin. He goes in repentance, filled with great sorrow over his transgression. He sees the result of his sin right before his eyes, and so he confesses: “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” Like Pilate later that day, Judas finds Jesus innocent, unjustly condemned. Judas knows that he has been an agent of this injustice, he has sinned against God by handing an innocent man over into death; but more than that, he has sinned against God by handing His only-begotten Son into death. He goes to the temple, where atonement was offered and forgiveness given, to the chief priests and the elders, who were charged with the task of offering atonement for sin, who were to point to the coming Messiah. But they have no comfort for Judas. “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Judas is pointed inside himself to find forgiveness, but all he sees there is corruption, sin, and guilt. There is nothing inside of him that provides comfort, that assures him that he has a merciful, forgiving God; all he finds is despair. “And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.”
The chief priests and elders have failed to shepherd God’s people. They are unwilling to atone for sin, but instead the sinner is pointed inside himself; Judas is given the Law without the Gospel, and that can only lead to despair. All the rules of the Pharisees, the pious deeds of the chief priests, are shown for what they are: empty and unable to bring salvation. The Law cannot deliver from sin, whether you think that you can keep it or not. It can only lead you inside of yourself, a tunnel that has no end. That is why Jesus came; at that moment, Jesus is winning the only true path of salvation: His once-for-all sacrifice that fulfills the Law’s demands. Had the chief priests and elders been true servants of God, they wouldn’t have pointed Judas inside himself; they would’ve pointed him to Jesus. They would’ve pointed this repentant sinner to the sacrifice being offered on a hill just outside the city walls.
Had Judas been pointed to Jesus, had he ran to the cross and fallen upon his knees before the bloodied and dying Son of God and uttered his confession: “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,” would Jesus have forgiven him? There is no doubt in my mind that the answer is ‘Yes!’ This is the same Jesus who, as the nails were being driven into His hands, cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is the same Jesus who restored and forgave Peter, who had denied even knowing Him, calling on him to “Feed my lambs.” This is the same Jesus who forgave the other ten disciples, who all fled during His Passion, and He sent them out to the ends of the earth with the message of the Gospel. And this is the same Jesus who took Saul, who persecuted the church and oversaw the murder of the saints, and made him into the Church’s greatest missionary. Jesus went to the cross for all them, and yes, even for Judas.
The tragedy is, at the very moment Judas is hanging himself in despair, Jesus is winning forgiveness for him. He is shedding His blood for Peter’s denial, for Saul’s persecution, and even for Judas’ betrayal. If Jesus can forgive Peter, Saul, and the other ten disciples, then he can certainly forgive Judas. And if He can forgive Judas, then no sin of yours is too great for Him to forgive. Jesus loved Judas, and He loves you. He showed His love to both you and him by freely offering up himself as the sacrifice for your sin. The same Jesus who forgave Peter of his denial, Saul of his persecution and Judas of his betrayal forgives you when you deny Him, abandon Him, or even betray Him in thought, word, and deed. His shed blood atones for every sin, no matter how small or how great. That is how Jesus expresses His love for Judas and His love for you, by going to the cross and giving Himself up into suffering and death on your behalf.
Satan wants you to end up like Judas; he wants you to look inside of yourself when your sin assails you. He wants your repentance to turn into despair. But do not despair- look to the cross! There the sinless, innocent Son of God suffers and dies for your sin. Look to the cross! His blood is shed upon the tree even for Judas, even for you and me. Judas was driven to suicide because all he saw was his sin; he couldn’t see his Savior, hanging upon the cross to atone for that sin. See your sin, repent of it, and look to your Savior. Look outside of yourself to the One whose blood covers each and every transgression. Run to where Jesus pours out what He won on the cross. Run to the Supper, where His Body and Blood are given to you to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of your sins. Run to your pastor, confess your sin and hear the blessed absolution. Run to the font each and every day, remembering your baptism and all that Christ did for you there. Good Friday doesn’t only come once a year; it comes near to you whenever you receive those gifts that apply Christ’s death to you. That is what Good Friday is all about: comfort for broken sinners. Look to the cross tonight, see your Savior suffering, bleeding, dying, and know that He did it all because He loved Judas, and He loves you. In His holy and precious Name, Amen.