Through the Bible in One Year

Day 42

Matthew 27:1-14

The section of Matthew that we are in details the ten stages of Christ’s sufferings.  The first stage is detailed Matthew 26:36-46.  This first stage of Christ’s physical and spiritual suffering began in Gethsemane as he prayed about what was ahead.  “His sweat became like great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44).  Under extremely intense stress, the small capillaries in the sweat glands can break and mix blood with sweat.  The second stage of Christ’s suffering occurs during his “trial” before the Jewish Council, Matthew 26:57-68.  After Jesus’ arrest at night, his disciples abandon him, and he is brought to Caiaphas and the Jewish council.  Where he is blindfolded, ridiculed repeatedly, spat and hit in the face.  Which brings us up today’s passage from Matthew, where we see the third stage of Jesus’ suffering which lasts throughout the rest of Matthew 27.

Matthew 27:1-2 and 11-14 say this:

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…Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

The third stage of Jesus’ sufferings leading up to his crucifixion takes places the next morning after the illegal trial before the Jewish Council.  Already battered and exhausted, Jesus is taken across Jerusalem to be questioned by Pilate, the Roman governor of the region.  Reluctant to sentence Jesus, he offers to release him, as was the governor’s custom during the Passover Feast).  But the leaders and the crowd refused to let Jesus go and asked instead for the release of a notorious criminal named Barabbas.  Jesus is flogged (whipped with bone or metal-laced leather straps) and handed over to be crucified.

In between these two passages we see what happened to the man who betrayed Jesus to the authorities, and who also happened to be one of Jesus’ disciples.  This account is found in Matthew 27:3-10, which 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.” 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. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”

Apparently, Judas did not expect his sinful and treacherous actions to lead to Jesus’ death (perhaps he thought that Jesus would be released by popular demand, or that he would outwit the leaders as he had before).  In the same way, our sinful actions (which are the reason for Jesus’ death) inevitably affect others.  Many things we set in motion cannot be stopped, and the results are often destructive.  It is extremely important to avoid plans and actions that may have potentially harmful consequences, regardless of whether we think others will be affected or not.

Judas’ remorse did not lead him to repent, but rather it led him to kill himself.  Matthew says that Judas “hanged himself” and Acts 1:18 records that he died from a suicidal fall (a hanging could have involved jumping off of something).  What Judas probably did was to throw himself on a sharpened stake.  “Hanging” in those days often described crucifixion or impalement (being speared through the body and sometimes lifted up for public display).

In the very last verses of this section Matthew combines two symbolic images from the Old Testament prophets: Jeremiah (buying a field, Jeremiah 32:6-9) and Zechariah (receiving the thirty pieces of sliver, Zechariah 11:12-13).  Matthew gives credit to the older and more honored prophet as the source, a custom frequently used when pointing back to writings from the prophets, and Matthew did this to point out that everything that has happened so far and that everything else that is going to happen was part of God’s plan from the very beginning.

Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:

Exodus 34:1-35:9, Matthew 27:15-31, Psalm 33:12-22 and Proverbs 9:1-6

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