The Death of Judas

We are continuing our meditation on the hours before the conviction of Christ (Scroll down for yesterday’s devotional). The high priest had issued the decision that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy because He was saying that He was and is God. When Judas heard of the conviction, he was struck with guilt and the enormity of what he had done. The demons that controlled him now plagued his mind with condemning thoughts. Perhaps, he tried to assuage his guilt by dwelling on the last three years and trying to think of some sin in Jesus that could justify his action, but he found none. Jesus was totally innocent.

 3Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, 4saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” 5And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself. 6The chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, “It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood.” 7And they conferred together and with the money bought the Potter’s Field as a burial place for strangers. 8For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “AND THEY TOOK THE THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER, THE PRICE OF THE ONE WHOSE PRICE HAD BEEN SET by the sons of Israel; 10AND THEY GAVE THEM FOR THE POTTER’S FIELD, AS THE LORD DIRECTED ME” (Matthew 27:3-10).

Judas went back to the meeting place of the Sanhedrin to try and turn the decision, but they would hear none of it. The elders of Israel had paid thirty pieces of silver, i.e. the price of a slave that had been gored by an ox (Exodus 21:32). That’s how much the leaders of Israel valued their Messiah. They saw Jesus only as a blasphemer and a trouble-maker. Judas then threw the money through the doors of the temple as a sign of disgust against the priests. This brought the fulfillment of prophecy spoken more than 500 years previously by the prophet Zechariah. The reason Matthew says that it was the prophet Jeremiah (Matthew 27:9) was because the prophetic books in Hebrew began with the prophet Jeremiah. The prophetic word was clear as to how much the Jewish leaders of Israel valued Jesus:

12I told them, “If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.” So they paid me thirty pieces of silver. 13Then the LORD said to me, “Throw it to the potter, that magnificent price at which I was valued by them.” So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the LORD (Zechariah 11:12-13).

Matthew tells us that Judas was seized with remorse (Matthew 27:3). It is possible that he was expecting a different outcome to his betrayal. If a false witness in a capital case like this was found guilty, it was punishable by a sentence of death. Perhaps, thinking that he would find relief from the spiritual condition in which he was, i.e. having a condemning conscience, Judas went and hanged himself. After he died, his body fell from the tree, and his entrails burst out (Acts 1:18). Even though he was filled with remorse, we never read that he fully repented. He did not seek for restoration; instead, he was driven to self-destruction. I pray that situation does not fall on any that read these words. May each of you find forgiveness for sin by turning in faith to the Lord Jesus on the basis of His substitutionary death.

Taken from the series on the Gospel of Luke, found in the middle column near to the top. Click on study 62 at this link, Jesus Before Pilate and Herod (Luke 23:1-25). Keith Thomas

Jesus Willingly Bore the Curse We Deserved

We are continuing our meditation on the drama of the hours that led up to Christ being crucified (Scroll down for yesterday’s meditation). At Jesus’ words saying that He was and is the Great I AM, finally the high priest thought he had enough to condemn Christ for blasphemy. He ripped open his outer shirt. The tearing of the clothes of the high priest was a pictorial way of stating that something blasphemous had just happened. In this case, the Jewish leadership clearly understood that Jesus was making the statement that He was (and is) God in the flesh. After they reached the verdict, they continued the beating and humiliation. Luke describes the beating with these words:

63The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. 64They blindfolded him and demanded, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” 65And they said many other insulting things to him (Luke 22:63-65).

It is possible that Peter was a witness to this game of blind man’s bluff with a difference, at least for a time. They used Jesus for a punch bag, but the Lord did not retaliate. He suffered nobly in silence. Peter later writes that, “When he was reviled, He did not revile in return; when he suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23). It must have been hard for Peter to watch what they were doing to Christ, especially after he had just denied even knowing Him. Matthew tells us that they took turns beating him with their fists and spitting on Him: 67Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him 68and said, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?” (Matthew 26:67-68). If Peter was there, he did not have the courage or the will to try and intervene. It was probably at that point that he left. We don’t know how long the beating went on. By this point in time, Jesus would have been already weakened by having no sleep and also by the struggle in the garden of Gethsemane.

Having convicted Christ of blasphemy, the Jewish elders now began to think of how to kill Him. To the Jewish elite, it was not enough to stone Him, the normal method of execution of a condemned criminal in Israel. In the book of Acts, we read of Stephen being stoned by the Jews (Acts 7:54-60), and the woman caught in the act of adultery was to be stoned to death (John 8:4-7). If stoning was a common way of dealing with those pronounced guilty, why was Jesus crucified instead of being stoned?

The ruling elite plotted how they might curse Jesus by having Him lifted above the earth to die on a tree. In their minds, a man that was cursed by hanging on a tree would dispel any notion that Jesus was the Messiah. They may have referred to the Scripture in Deuteronomy: You must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse” (Deuteronomy 21:23). Jesus allowed Himself to be cursed, for He would take the curse that we deserved. Later, He was to be crowned with thorns, the symbol of the curse (Genesis 3:18).

There was now only one problem. The Roman government had taken away the option of capital punishment from the Jews, so they had to get Pilate to condemn Him, too. The ruling leaders led Jesus off to Pilate:

1Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate (Luke 23:1).

We must stop to consider this verse of Scripture because we see the whole assembly abandoning the place of judgment, i.e. another illegality. No one stayed to see if any late witnesses would appear. It was after the Sanhedrin had disbanded that Judas came back to testify of his lie and the innocence of Jesus. This was not about justice; this was about murder.

Taken from the series on the Gospel of Luke, found in the middle column near to the top. Click on study 62 at this link, Jesus Before Pilate and Herod (Luke 23:1-25). Keith Thomas

The Mock Trial of Jesus

We are continuing day by day to look at the drama of the events that led up to the biggest murder of all time, the crucifixion of Christ. Israel’s system of jurisprudence was one of the best in the world, and truth was held in high esteem, except when it came to Jesus. A man could not be questioned without his lawyer being present. Jesus was given no lawyer. A man could not be tried during the night, yet Jesus endured two trials at night by Annas and Caiaphas before His third public trial at dawn before the Sanhedrin, i.e. the elders of Israel. If there was a guilty verdict, those giving the verdict were to stay a full day in the place where the pronouncement of guilt was given in case someone came forward with additional evidence.

Justice was to be protected and opportunity given for late testimony before punishment was carried out. Israel’s system of jurisprudence also held that no one could incriminate himself and that there needed to be at least two witnesses. Therefore, Jesus was silent before His accusers.  More than 600 years previously, it was prophesied by the prophet Isaiah that, when the Messiah came, He would be “oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).

When Jesus came out of the house of Annas, He witnessed Peter’s third denial and betrayal before being taken across the courtyard to the house of Caiaphas, the puppet High Priest. Jesus stood boldly and did not reply to the lies and accusations from Annas and Caiaphas about Him. All legal proceedings of the ruling elders in capital cases had to be open to the public, and nothing incriminating was given by Jesus, so Christ was beaten, perhaps to weaken His resolve and courage, either before or after the public trial in front of the Sanhedrin (John 18:22), maybe both.

Early in the morning, the elders sat in judgement of Him. Standing before the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of seventy elders, He was already bloodied and bruised. The meeting of the Sanhedrin was just a mock trial to satisfy the legal requirement. The real trial had been illegally held before Annas and Caiaphas during the night. The accusation before the Sanhedrin was one of blasphemy, claiming that Jesus stated Himself to be God and Messiah:

66At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and the teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. 67“If you are the Messiah,” they said, “tell us.” Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.” 70They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied, “You say that I am.” 71Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips” (Luke 22:66-71).

Luke points out the fact that Jesus would not incriminate Himself; after all, He was not the one on trial. It was the ruling elders and high priests who were on trial. Everything that they did was illegal and an affront to Israel’s system of jurisprudence. The high priests themselves were the ones who would speak blasphemy as would occur later: “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered” (John 19:15). As the trial went on, the high priests could not get anything blasphemous out of His mouth, so in a blunt and direct manner, the high priest put Jesus under oath to tell them if He was the Messiah, the Son of God: “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:62).

61But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 63The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. 64“You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” (Mark 14:61-64).

Here before us, Jesus was saying that He was and is, the Great I Am, the name by which the Israelites would recognize God being among them (Exodus 3:14). Thank you, Jesus, for paying the price of our redemption.

Taken from the series on the Gospel of Luke, found in the middle column near to the top. Click on study 62 at this link, Jesus Before Pilate and Herod (Luke 23:1-25). Keith Thomas

The Restoration of Peter

We are continuing our theme of the drama before the crucifixion of Christ, and especially Peter’s 3-time denial of Christ. Peter was very broken when he saw Christ after the cock had crowed (Scroll down for yesterday’s meditation). After the resurrection, when the angels at the empty tomb appeared to the women after the resurrection, they singled out Peter, saying,

But go, tell his disciples and Peter, He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you (Mark 16:7; emphasis mine).

We all fear confrontation. Confrontation, though, can be one of the most loving things that a person can do or have done to them. We have all had times when we have had to face our failures. The enemy of our souls would have us believe that we are out for the count and not worthy, thereby halting our growth and effectiveness. Satan knows what will happen when we get up. We will arise having learned something more of God’s grace and something more of our need to lean on Christ. Our thankfulness deepens. This is how failure can make us stronger. We have more humility in our souls and more dependence on the Lord. It is how we respond to our failure that will make the difference in where we go from that point. We are to fail forward and continue to walk. While they waited in Galilee for Jesus, Peter went back to what he had done in his younger days:

“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing (John 21:3).

John tells us that it was early in the morning when Jesus came and called to them from the shore, asking them in the negative, almost as if He knew that they had no fish. “He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered’” (John 21:5). Fishermen normally will stretch the truth about the one that got away, but the disciples were honest with Jesus that morning and said that they had no fish. Life can be unfruitful unless the Lord is in the boat. Even though they did not yet recognize that it was the Lord, when He said to try the right side of the boat, they did so. Immediately, they caught a huge amount of fish, so many that they had difficulty hauling in the net. Instantly, their minds went back to a time some three years earlier when Jesus had instructed them to push out their boat into the deep water and recast their nets for a catch. When they saw this miracle repeated in front of their eyes, they knew it was the Lord on the shoreline. At the words of John, Peter wrapped himself with his outer garment, and swam to Jesus. Peter had denied Jesus publically, and now he is restored before the others.

 15When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 17The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep (John 21:15-17).

He lovingly asked Peter a question, “Do you love me more than these?” It is possible that Peter was wondering if he was done with ministry and, perhaps, thought that he had disqualified himself from service in the kingdom of God. With the Lord, though, brokenness is part of the training. The Lord had no sharp rebuke for him, but asks Peter the only question that matters, “Do you love me?”

There are many things that Peter may have been expecting Jesus to say to him, but I don’t think he was expecting to be asked about his love for Christ. When Jesus asks Peter the first time, He asked him if he loved Christ with an agape love. Peter responds saying that he loves Christ with an affectionate love, avoiding using the Greek word agape to describe his love. He is no longer self-confident and admits that alongside the tender agape love of the Lord, his love is insufficient to be described as agape love. Each time, Jesus restores Peter back to feeding the Lord’s lambs, taking care of His sheep, and feeding the sheep. For each of the three denials, the Lord asks him three times as to his love for Him. Do you love Me? This is the heart of all ministry that God’s people do in His Name—is it done out of a personal and abiding love for Christ?

It is important for us to grasp that Christ’s love for Peter was just as strong and just the same as it was before his denial. We are not loved any less for our failures. We are to rebound back into the grace of the Lord Jesus and the calling of God for our lives. Peter did return to God’s calling for his life, and was eventually martyred for his faith. May love for Christ be our central focus too.

Taken from the series on the Gospel of Luke, found in the middle column near to the top. To view, click here. Click on study 61, Peter, the Broken Disciple (Luke 22:54-62). Keith Thomas

What is Brokenness?

We are continuing our meditation on Peter’s 3-time denial of Christ just a few hours before the crucifixion (Scroll down for yesterday’s meditation on Peter’s brokenness). We are saying that the pressure put on Peter was used of God in breaking his heart, in order that he may be reliant on God’s strength rather than his own to lead the disciples. Jesus had said to him earlier: “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). But the question remains with us, why would God want to break the heart of one of those He loves?

In Chapter 18 of the book of Jeremiah, the prophet was taken down to the Potter’s house and saw the potter making a jar of clay. It was all bent out of shape and had no beauty or correct shape to be used. The potter took it off the wheel and started again with the pliable clay to form it into what he wanted to create. The lesson that God was teaching Jeremiah and Peter (and us, too) is that through the brokenness, God will reshape every one of us. All He needs is a broken and contrite heart.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (Psalm 51:17).

A.W. Tozer once said, “God never uses a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.” How can we define brokenness? Brokenness is the working of God in a person’s life leading to a point of abandonment of one’s self to a place of complete dependence and trust in the Father’s care. John Collinson, an English Vicar, put it this way:

When to do the will of God means that even my Christian brothers will not understand and I remember that even His brothers did not understand or believe in Him, and I bow my head to obey and accept the misunderstanding, this is brokenness. When I am misrepresented, or deliberately misinterpreted, and I remember that Jesus was falsely accused but He held his peace, and I accept the accusation without trying to justify myself, that is brokenness. When another is preferred before me and I am deliberately passed over, and I remember that they cried “away with this man and release unto us Barabbas” and I bow my head and accept rejection, that is brokenness.

When my plans are brushed aside and I see the work of years brought to ruins by the ambitions of others and I remember that Jesus allowed them to lead Him away to crucify Him, and He accepted that place of failure, and I bow my head and accept the injustice without bitterness, that is brokenness. When to be right with my God it is necessary to take the humbling path of confession and restitution, and I remember that Jesus made Himself of no reputation and humbled Himself to death, even the death of the cross, and I bow my head and I’m ready to take the shame of exposure, that is brokenness. When others take unfair advantage of me because I’m a Christian and treat my belongings as public property and I remember that they stripped Him, and parted His garments casting lots, and I bow my head and accept joyfully the spoiling of my goods for His sake, this is brokenness.

When one acts toward me in an unforgivable way and I remember when He was crucified, He prayed “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” and I bow my head and accept any behavior towards me as permitted by my heavenly Father, this is brokenness. When people expect the impossible of me, and more than time and human strength can give, and I remember that Jesus said, “this is my body which is broken for you” and I repent of my self-indulgence and lack of self-giving for others, this is brokenness.

Wherever these words find you today, if like Peter the apostle, you have just denied your Lord by your actions or words, know that He loves you and will restore you if you will turn to Him in brokenness and repentance: “But in their distress they turned to the LORD God of Israel, and they sought Him, and He let them find Him” (2 Chronicles 15:4).

Taken from the series on the Gospel of Luke, found in the middle column near to the top. To view, click here. Click on study 61, Peter, the Broken Disciple (Luke 22:54-62). Keith Thomas