(from the Wednesday night Lent 2020 series: The Truth Opposed)
It all started out fun, but it went so wrong so quickly. Giggling turned into laughing and laughing turned into sheer carelessness. You see, mom went to run some errands and left the kids home. Since she was gone, it meant they could not go outside. So, they decided to bring the outside inside. A kickball somehow appeared, and even though kicking it around inside was forbidden, they did it anyway. It was fun; they were careful— until the sound of shattering glass broke through the air. He wound up his leg, focused on kicking to his brother, but the minute the ball left his foot, his heart sank. Like a slow motion movie, the ball left the ground, started veering right, almost attracted to his parent’s wedding picture. The frame tumbled off the wall. Glass broke, its shards tore into the picture.
He broke the rules; he became enslaved to the consequences. Still, he tried to escape them. He scrambled to piece the glass pieces together, but nothing held them in place. He taped the picture up, but it was obviously destroyed. He even went so far as to punish himself by sitting on his bed in his room. Try as he might, nothing could silence his screaming conscience. Why? Because, he did not have the power to free himself from punishment.
Throughout Lent we meet opponents of truth. Each adversary confronts undeniable truth, but fights against its judgments. A man confronts his crime against the blameless and tumbles into despair. ‘I Have Sinned by Betraying Innocent Blood.’
Who could have ever imagined the situation would reach this point? Think about how it all started. Judas Iscariot serves as keeper of the moneybag (John 12:6). (Really, he manages the bank account for Jesus and the disciples.) Wherever this group travels, crowds gather. They flock to hear this marvelous Teacher from Nazareth. He preaches with divine authority. His words penetrate and heal the heart. Jesus brings real peace with God. So, many want to support the expenses associated with his travels. Women give fistfuls of coins. Men slip financial support. Judas handles that money. He pays the dinner bills and the hotel bills. He gives the beggar money for food and helps the financial needs of widows and orphans (John 13:29).
Yet, one day, something catches his eye. New sandals. A fine leather belt. Extra dessert. Those little luxuries promise pleasure— and a few coins from the moneybag covers the expenses. At first, the conscience burned. He should not have used church funds for personal expenses, but he promised to repay everything. I mean, no one would ever know the money was gone. You know what? No one ever did. Since no one knew the funds were missing, it did not seem pressing to repay. After all, money not missed must not be all too needed. So, no one gave much thought when Judas said, ‘You go ahead without me, I’ll settle our lunch bill’ or ‘I saw a beggar back by the clothing department, I’ll give him something’ or ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ (John 12:5) The inkling of greed blossomed into stealing (and stealing more!), and lying (and lying more!) and conniving (and conniving more!)
Then an easy opportunity for quick cash appeared. Judas approached some powerful Jewish officials. “What are you willing to give me if I hand [Jesus of Nazareth] over to you?” (Matthew 26:14). Remember the price? Thirty silver pieces. Three months wages. Judas could take a luxurious vacation to Sicily or buy the fancy camel or get the AD30-Judean-Summer wardrobe collection.
He seized the opportunity. After all, Jesus will probably be arrested, roughed up, and then released. Never did Judas ever imagine the situation would reach this point: [He] saw that Jesus was condemned.
How did that happen? Judas had travelled with this man for three years! He spent time in his circles, listening to his preaching! Yes, Jesus could condemn the greedy heart and that could be annoying, but he never committed a crime deserving death! When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” That’s how every temptation ends, isn’t it?
You see, the devil loves setting up his classic one-two punch. First, he promises that life will become more satisfying, more fulfilling by following your heart. (After all, it cannot be wrong if it feels good, right?) Take the extra drink, finish the bottle. After all, you had a stressful day. Vent your unfiltered frustrations, make unreasonable demands. Your daughter should clear her work- and family-schedule to drive you all over town. Your son should call daily and spend at least one hour on the phone. You are the parent, right? You raised those kids and you have need; your grown children cannot just ignore you. Dig in your heels. I mean, you dedicated years to this congregation. If no one welcomes your help, then let them taste your anger. Criticize. Gripe how you would handle matters differently (and better). Make those who overlook you beg for your unsurpassed value! The devil promises life gets better by dabbling with wrong!
Once we stumble into that snare, he pulls it tight! We get caught in terrible consequences. The drunk nights damages relationships and the yelling hurts your daughter and getting revenge does not make you wanted. What makes it worse is not just the consequences, but the devil’s painful reminders. ‘How could you say such horrible things?’ ‘Why did you turn your back on your friends?’ ‘You drank too much again— and you call yourself a Christian! God can’t love someone like you.’ You know what, he’s right! The devil’s absolutely right! We Have Sinned, and Jesus is Innocent.
Even Judas realizes that! Compared to Jesus, his greedy heart was one enormous cesspool of filth. Oh, the bone-crushing, strength-sapping guilt! [He] was (1) seized with remorse and (2) returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. (3)“I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” Judas attempts what so many do: He tries undoing the crime! Feel bad! Return the money! Receive instructions! Those solutions never erase guilt, do they? The devil’s whispers still lingers: ‘Not enough. Do more. Be better.’
Guilty hearts confront a very undeniable truth: We Have Sinned, but Jesus is Innocent. The devil love emphasizing that first point: ‘We have sinned.’ If that is all we hear, then we become The wayward heart that has no answer for guilt. We do not have the power to free ourselves from punishment.
Jesus, as he always has, emphasizes the second point. We Have Sinned, but Jesus is Innocent.
We stand drenched with guilt, but Jesus has none! He stands faultless, without blame! Judas never quite understands that. You see, Jesus knew about the embezzlement. He knew about the betrayal. He knew Satan filled Judas’ heart. Three times Jesus makes no secret about Judas’ plot (Matthew 26:21-25). He speaks so that Judas can admit: ‘I’m wrong, but Jesus is perfectly right!’ He speaks so that Judas finds complete, restoring forgiveness. He speaks so that we find The Innocent One becomes accountable for us.
Greed puts Jesus on death row. Yes, Judas’ action puts Jesus in peril. It brings a death-sentence. Still, greed brings an eternal death-sentence. So does arguing and drunkenness and revenge and lovelessness and arrogance— and every sin. It all demands accountability, that the guilty person carry the consequences. Instead, Jesus carries that heavy baggage up Mount Calvary and makes himself accountable for it all. He hangs before God Almighty and says, ‘Punish me instead. Hold me accountable.’ God does exactly that. He charges all sin to Jesus and makes him pay it off with his life. The Innocent One becomes accountable for us.
You know what God finds in Jesus? No guilt. No arguments and regrets and anger and revenge. He finds innocence. He finds a life he loves, a life he raises to be with him, a life that lasts forever. The truth is undeniable: I Have Sinned, but Jesus Is Innocent. The Innocent One becomes accountable for us.
Remember that truth the next time the devil comes slinking your way. His reminders burn. ‘How could you say such horrible things?’ ‘Why did you turn your back on your friends?’ ‘You drank too much again— and you call yourself a Christian! God can’t love someone like you.’ How do you end the torment? How can you actually remove the guilt? Point at Jesus; the devil has no answer to that.
Go to the cross. Point at it and ask: ‘What happened there?’ [Answer:] Jesus died. For what reason did Jesus die? [Answer:] He died for your crime, for my crime. If God punishes Jesus for our crime, then what does that mean for us? [Answer:] The consequences of sin forever removed. In other words, we stand forgiven! You see, the answer for guilt is not to study guilty people. The answer is found in the One not-guilty. God the Father accepts that innocent life for your (and my) advantage. Jesus literally rises from the dead to say to you: ‘Your sins are forgiven’ (John 20:21-23) Return to him again and again and say, ‘The Innocent One became accountable for me.’
Throughout Lent we meet opponents of truth. Each adversary confronts undeniable truth, but fights against its judgments. Judas confronts his crime against a blameless Jesus and plunges into despair. ‘I Have Sinned by Betraying Innocent Blood.’ He fixates so much on self that he failed to grasp the glorious truth of his sentence.
Jesus is innocent! The wayward heart has no answer for guilt. Nothing we do can unlock nagging guilt. We do not have the power to free ourselves from punishment. Yet, Jesus does and he has. The Innocent One becomes accountable for us. His life is more than enough. That’s a truth no one can deny: ‘I Have Sinned, but Jesus is Innocent!’ What soul-satisfying peace!