Sermon preached at Our Savior Lutheran Church for Ash Wednesday. The theme for this sermon comes from a Lenten series purchased through Northwestern Publishing House. The sermon itself, though, is my own.
Sometimes all you need to hear is a name. And when you hear the name, it’s immediately connected with a very strong feeling in your heart. Judas is one of those names. Of Jesus’ twelve disciples, two of them were named Judas, but it’s safe to say the name has gotten quite a bit less popular since then.
Yes, when we hear the name Judas, we think of one particular Judas: Judas Iscariot, the disciple that betrayed Jesus. It’s a name that has become synonymous with betrayer, with sinner, with evil. If someone called you a Judas, you can be pretty sure it wasn’t a compliment. Judas seized the opportunity to sell out Jesus, to take some money to allow Jesus to be arrested, crucified, killed.
The first part of our text shows this moment in all its horror. Now the feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present. (Lk. 22:1-6)
The whole scene makes our skin crawl. We get that the chief priests and teachers of the law were bad, but at least they were pretty much always Jesus’ enemies, right? They never seemed to hide the fact that they didn’t believe in him and they wanted him gone. We don’t agree with them, but at least they were honest. But Judas, he was one of the disciples! He was one of those closest to Jesus, who got to see him day in and day out, who got to hear his teaching in person, who witnessed his miracles! How could he!?
We probably don’t tend to think that we are very much like Judas. Would any of us turn Jesus over to death? Would we be a hand in his pain, his suffering, his crucifixion? Never! Right?
Oh, sure, we’re not perfect. We know that. We get that. And when we think about it, I’m sure we can come up with plenty of examples of our sins. But nothing — nothing — in comparison with Judas’ sin of turning Jesus over. At least that’s what we tell ourselves.
At his heart, Judas wasn’t that much different than anyone else. He was a sinner, yes. But so is everyone. Judas, when you get down to it, was an opportunist with his sin. When he saw an opportunity and thought he could get away with it, he took it. That’s where the other example of our text from John’s gospel comes in.
Judas gave a little glimpse into his heart a few days earlier in holy week. Jesus was at Mary, Martha, and Lazarus’s house. Mary took some very expensive perfume and put it on Jesus’ feet. And Judas, though I’m sure he wouldn’t normally reveal his sinful thoughts, just couldn’t help himself. He had to react.
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. (Jn. 12:4-6)
Judas liked money! He was greedy! He saw that perfume being poured on Jesus’ feet, and he imagined a different opportunity. What if they had sold the perfume? All the money they’d get! And all that money would be put in the money bag, and Judas would be able to slip a pretty good chunk out for himself. Here it was, holy week, just days before Jesus’ death, and Judas is thinking about how he could steal more money! He was greedy!
And you could see how that greed spilled over. The chief priests and teachers of the law hated Jesus; everyone knew that. And maybe they’d be pretty generous if someone put Jesus into their path. The opportunity of Judas’ greed led him to betray his teacher, his Savior, his friend.
And before you think, “I would never do that,” look again at your own heart. Yes, you’re a Christian. Yes, you love your Savior. Yes, you’ll even come out for a midweek Lent service. But before you congratulate yourself too much, what opportunities to sin do you take? Where do your weaknesses lie?
When the opportunity presents itself, when nobody else is looking, when no one will find out, do you resist those sinful temptations every time? Or do you give in to them? Oh, sure, maybe they’re “little” sins; maybe they’re not killing anyone!
But that’s just a lie and you know it. All of your sins, and all of mine, were put onto Jesus on the cross. Our sins put him there. We didn’t betray him and collect money from the chief priests, but we were there. We were most definitely there. Your sins, your little secrets, your little “no-big-deals” were there with Jesus, they were nailed with him there on the cross. They were a part of his death. Don’t ever kid yourself into thinking they weren’t. You saw the opportunity to sin, and you took it. And Jesus paid the price.
Jesus paid the price. He really did. He took the opportunity to come to this sinful world. He took the opportunity to live with all our temptations yet never give in to any of them. He took the opportunity to allow himself to be betrayed, arrested, tortured, killed. He took the opportunity to rise from the dead. He took the opportunity to save you, to forgive you, to love you all the way to the cross and back!
Yes, your sins are real; they are what killed Jesus. But he died out of love for you. He paid the price and won your forgiveness. So, tonight (and finally every night), take the opportunity to thank him. Take the opportunity to thank your Savior with your lives, not falling into those little “no-big-deal” sins, but living out of love for your Savior. Repent of your sins. Turn away from them. And turn to the Savior whose love knows no limits.
Sometimes all you need to hear is a name. Just the sound of a name and it goes straight to your heart. The name to remember is Jesus. He paid your price. He forgave your sins. He gave you life — now and forever. So live for him.