I don’t know how many times I’ve read the passage, but I’m thinking this may be the first time I’ve hovered over it. Maybe because I’ve been somewhat tuned to the hypocrisy of the religious elite of Jesus’ day by our mid-week men’s study on the Sermon on the Mount. But the irony of these men of the law picking and choosing which lawful things to obey strikes me as I read the opening verses of Matthew 27.
All is going according to plan in their determination to put Jesus to death. He has been apprehended, has been brought before Caiphas and the Council and found guilty of blasphemy, and is bound and led away to Pilate, the one who has actual authority to issue a death sentence. But as they lead Him away, the one they had bribed to initiate their plan, the betrayer Judas, has second thoughts. Judas goes to them and confesses that he has “sinned by betraying innocent blood” (Matt. 27:4), trying to return the thirty pieces of silver they had paid him for his treachery.
Yet, he confesses his iniquity to those who had no authority to forgive his iniquity. He tries to make amends for his transgressions through those who were also dead in trespass and sin. He goes to those who could do nothing for him, those also guilty of betraying innocent blood. Thus, even in his conscience stricken regret, Judas continues in his refusal to acknowledge Jesus as the Savior. Bottom line? The chief priests and elders have no absolution to offer Judas for his shame and guilt, and so he throws the money into the temple, departs, and goes and hangs himself.
Here’s the irony and hypocrisy which strikes me as I chew on this sin-filled situation:
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.
(Matthew 27:6-8 ESV)
They discerned it unlawful to put the thirty pieces of silver back in their coffers as it was blood money. Yet, somehow it had been lawful for them to have made it blood money in the first place. It would defile the treasury to put it back in the vault, yet they owned no stain upon themselves for having made it the payment for another’s life.
And then, they seek to redeem this tainted treasure by putting it to noble use. They direct it towards a community service project by purchasing a piece of land, which apparently was no longer of value to a local potter, and designate it as a cemetery for out-of-towners who would have had no other place to be buried. Nice, guys! Pretty righteous of you. Pretty disgusting. What blind eyes. What hard hearts.
Listened to a Podcast this weekend that suggested when you come to a passage like this, when deciding which character(s) to identify with, go with the one(s) that disturb you the most. Ouch! No way I want to look into the mirror and see the twisted, self-deceived righteousness of the chief priests staring back at me. But search me O God, and know my heart (Ps. 139:23-24).
Maybe that’s why I chewed on this passage a bit more and started to see a heart-stirring foreshadow of grace, even in this darkness. Check out the use of the word “blood”.
Judas had betrayed innocent blood. The religious elite refused to take back the coinage because it had already been given as blood money, a payment for the death of another. Ultimately it would be used to provide final rest for those once deemed outsiders by providing a Field of Blood.
Jesus shed innocent blood. Blood as the Lamb of God without stain or blemish. Blood shed for others, payment for what they could never pay. In a sense, blood money as well. A ransom for the wages of sin we owed, death. And for those redeemed by His blood, though once outsiders, they are assured a final rest in a place He is preparing for them, His field of blood. Not some rest realized through final annihilation, but an everlasting rest experienced through the divine dynamic of regeneration, sanctification, and one day, glorification.
Even amidst great hypocrisy, shines the light of great hope. And that, through the blood.
By God’s grace. For God’s glory.