Dangerous Distractions 2/21
Jesus, Judas, and Money
Matthew 26:1-5, 14-16 // 1 Timothy 6:6-10
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I am not fast. I’ve never been fast, and I am coming to the realization that I will never be fast. But that didn’t stop me from running and from joining Cross Country my senior year of college. I had never run competitively (and even when I was in Cross Country, it wasn’t what you would call competitive). I only beat one guy, now that I look on my records, Brian Valenti, except for one race when he must have been sick, so I came in last.
But, I remember the first race that I ran: it was in Ripon College in Ripon Wisconsin. We had trained for a month or more, and even though it was September, it was hot. 80, 85 degrees, with only a slight wind and lots of humidity. So I remember lining up with everyone else, looking down the line and thinking, “This is going to be a bad race.” And, it was.
It was hot. It was slow. There was just enough wind, that when you went around the cornfields, it could kick up the dust into your mouth, sapping your moisture. I remember at one point I was so far behind everyone else that the critters had started to come out again, and I almost stepped on a garter snake that was sunning itself before it skittered away into the cornfield. But what I remember the most was the humid, close, oppressive heat. Even if you ran, you couldn’t feel a breeze. It was just hot, and there was nothing to keep you from it.
Here’s the point: The heat was a distraction, a very real distraction, that was sapping my will to do what I knew needed to be done. It was a distraction that put pressure on me, luring – more than luring – pushing me to abandon my focus.
With that image in mind, we turn to our text. We don’t now much about Judas, but this we do know: he was one of the twelve. He wasn’t one of the 120 disciples that followed Jesus from town to town. He wasn’t one of the more than 500 people that would come out if they knew that Jesus was near. He wasn’t one of the thousands that came out if they hear Jesus was giving out bread or if they heard he was healing people. He was one of the twelve: one of the few that Jesus had called directly. After he had sent the 500 away, after he had taught the 120, Jesus would take the 12 further and give them special instruction, special time together.
Second, we know that Judas was the money keeper. He had a position of power and authority within the twelve. He was the one who would pay for the Passover expenses. He was the one who would give alms to the poor and pay the taxes.
Third, we know that Judas is the one who betrayed Jesus. There are many commentators and authors that could wonder about this, and we could too – what brought Judas to the point of betrayal? What pressure was on him? Was he psychotic? Was he a bad apple from the beginning? What happened here? But one author puts it this way: “We could guess and explain his actions, but this is what we know: betrayal and money often go together.”
Consider this: how man young men and women enter the business world with high ideals, with a moral compass, with the idea that they are going to do it right? And yet, as they enter the day to day, they find that there are opportunities for them: Stick to their guns, or get ahead. Be true to what they believe, or become one of the boys. Do what they know is right and stagnate, or look the other way, accept the promotion, and become more successful. And the sweet, sweet voice of power and influence start to put real pressure on them – who doesn’t want to feed their family and be more successful? – and they compromise their ideals for material gain, slowly but surely.
And you wonder, what kind of pressure was on Jesus and his disciples here? What kind of pressure would Judas have felt from the powers that be?
We see here in our text that the Sadducees are looking for a way to kill Jesus. Let’s remember who the Sadducees were: they were the ruling class of Jerusalem. They were the ones who had compromised with the Romans just enough to keep their status, some for personal reasons, but others so that they could have a say in protecting the Jewish people. They were the ones playing the teetering game of power, where they fought tooth and nail against the Roman system to maintain their Jewish identity, just so far as they didn’t go too far and upset the system. They were working within the structures of power to preserve the Jewish state. And Jesus was upsetting that.
You remember, Jesus calls the Pharisees a brood of vipers. These were the pastors of the day, the teachers and wise men of their towns, the ones that people would go to for counseling, for marriage advice, for preaching on Sundays, these were the ones who had in a way reinvented the Jewish faith so that it could survive their dispersion to the nations. But for their power without their repentance, Jesus calls out one of the most devout groups of his day to say, if your righteousness doesn’t far exceed that of the Pharisees, surely you will not enter the kingdom of God. He takes the pressure, takes the power structure of his day, and he upsets it; he turns it on its head.
The point is, that the Gospel, the kingdom of God, takes power dynamics and flips them on their head. One author, Tim Keller, calls this the ‘upside-down kingdom.’ “The world’s emphasis on power and recognition seems right-side-up and natural, while Jesus’s approach of service and sacrifice seems totally impossible and unnatural.”
“What Judas and those with him do not understand is that Jesus is indeed leading a revolution, but it is a different kind of revolution, and a much greater one than history has ever seen. What happens in the kingdom of this world is that revolutions basically keep the same old thing on top of the list… money and power and politics always stay at the top… But Jesus isn’t just putting a new set of people in power; he is bringing a totally different administration of reality – the kingdom of God” (188).
The kingdom of God turns power structures on their head. Let me give you an example, from one of the few places where I have experience, in premarital counseling. There’s a point when we turn to husbands to be and wives to be and talk about what wife-ing looks like, and what husbanding looks like. Usually, we start with the husband we go over the biblical language, that the man is the head of the household. He is the one who speaks for the household. He is the one with whom the buck stops…. And many times, the guy will get this look in his eye, “Yeah, I ‘m on top. You have to listen to what I say. When I want bacon, I get bacon. There will be no deviation.”
But it is, to be head of the household, like Christ – laying down his life for his bride, the Church. Headship is the privilege you have to be the first to lay down your life for your bride. Headship is the responsibility to be looking for every opportunity to serve the other. Headship is the calling to never rest until you have done everything that could be done, served in every way that service is needed, listened to every word that your wife is saying to you, and put every one of the needs of your family before your own, so that you might look like a picture of Christ laying down his life for his bride, the Church. Power turned upside-down. Power and influence used for service. To do what your family needs, not necessarily what they want, not what we want them to want, and not what we think they deserve, but to do what your family needs.
And to wives, it is your calling to first acknowledge and receive your man’s service, where he gets it right, and even when he gets hit wrong. Gratefully receive it, and then give it back to him. To do what your family needs, not necessarily what they want, not what we want them to want, and not what we think they deserve, but to do what your family needs.
Every piece of influence we have is a calling to serve. Every bit of power we have is the power to speak for those on the margins, those who are falling through the cracks. Every time that we have an opportunity, it is an opportunity to show that the powers of this world – the heat, the dust, the pressure that they put on – real though they might feel -- do not mean anything in the upside-down kingdom of God.
So, what influence do you have? We all have some. What power do you have? What do you control? These are all callings for us to serve, to do what a person needs, not necessarily what they want, not what we want them to want, and not what we think they deserve, but to do what a person needs.
The kingdom of God turns us around, topsy-turvy. The people of God do not seek power and influence, but when they come, they use them freely. The people of God do not seek honor, but when it comes, they use it freely. The people of God seek those on the margins, those in the shadows, the least of these, because the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men, because my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect, not in strength, not in honor, not in the cream of the crop rising to the top, but it is made perfect in your weakness.
Amen and Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther