3rd Sunday in lent March 3, 2024


A Premeditated Accident

Exodus 21:32

Scripture Readings

Jeremiah 26:1-15
Ephesians 5:1-9


155, 172, 173, 179

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) (TLH) unless otherwise noted

Sermon Audio: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/ministrybymail

Prayer of the Day: O Lord our God, whose blessed Son gave His back to be whipped and did not hide His face from shame and spitting: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our meditation is based on the passion narrative just read, namely Judas and the thirty pieces of silver. You will see how the foolishness of dealing with guilt on your own finds relief in the wisdom of God revealed in the sacrifice of His Son. To that end, I offer as sermon text from the Law of Moses:

If the ox shall push a manservant or a maidservant; he shall give unto their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.

O Lamb of God, bless Thy Word that we may trust in Thee. Amen.

In our narrative today, we see Judas express regret and in this regret try to make go away, undo, what he has done, as if his guilt could be wiped clean by reversing the initial transaction with which it all began. He tossed the thirty pieces of silver he had been paid for his part in Jesus’ arrest and condemnation before the feet of the priests, who won’t dare take it back into their hands.

The scene is prophetically portrayed by two Old Testament prophets, both Jeremiah and Zechariah, as the gospels rightfully quote and summarize: And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of Him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value, and gave them for the potter’s field…

But this story of the silver pieces goes farther back than those two later Old Testament prophets, way back to the Prophet Moses, and the Law given on Mt. Sinai. That’s where you find the first reference in the Bible to thirty coins, and it’s that law the later prophets are referencing in their depictions of our Savior’s passion:

If the ox shall push a manservant or a maidservant; he shall give unto their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.

The scenario which Moses addresses is this: you lend your hired man out to your neighbor to help out with field work, but in the midst of planting or harvest, the ox gets a little wild, and kills its driver. The resolution presented through Moses concerning this accidental death is this: pay your neighbor 30 pieces of silver, stone the beast, and get back to farming.

You see, part of the purpose of the Mosaic code was to provide Jewish society with a free-flowing structure, that any mishap or hick you’d encounter, any disruption to the economy or social order, could be overcome, society could keep functioning, and you could keep going with life.

In this sense, then, the Law seemed to have an answer for everything. Each specific example speaking by extension to a wide range of situations. Here the thirty silver coins, the stoning of the ox, serving as a guide as how to cope with any unintentional death.

It’s this law, then, Judas is trying to make work. Trying to make good in reverse. As if tossing the dirty pieces of silver he has been paid for his part in the unfortunate calamity befallen his Friend, as if reversing the transaction might undo his guilt. Was he really turning to that Law to try to cope and move on with life? All to no avail.

This plan has been rotten from the start. For Judas has been paid a specific price loaded with meaning—and Judas realizes this perhaps only in retrospect—that he has been paid the price of an unintentional death. For by having picked that price of 30 pieces in the first place, the priests have declared Jesus’ death to be no one’s fault before their plot begins to unfold. Jesus’ betrayal for thirty pieces of silver—don’t you see?—this was a premeditated accident.

And thus what you see here is some of our craftiest ways on dark display.

Why, most messes you get yourself into, you don’t jump in without first taking a good look ‘round to assess whether you’ll sneak through unscathed, or that if it goes south, it won’t somehow be just your fault. Or make sure you can keep forging ahead like an ox in a china shop, no hurdle or mishap you might encounter get in your way, with a little upfront bonus: “I’ll take care of any extra expenses,” as an excuse to be a bit careless in order to get the job done. Or just assume you’ll make it all good in the end, as that old adage goes, it’s better to ask for forgiveness later than ask for permission now. All this so we can have ready at our disposal the all-too-common and convenient resolution to any difficult situations no one can make good, “Really no one’s to blame here.”

When really, we all are. Which is really what Judas and the priests are trying to make happen with thirty pieces of silver, with their premeditated accident. Why, didn’t Moses give an easy way out? He shall give unto their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. It’s as if this Law, if nudged and stretched just right, might prove that no one is at fault.

But when the priests refuse to take it back in hand—What is that to us?—and let instead the coins scatter and roll about the floor, Judas’ guilt swells and refusing to let go of that Law, as if fulfilling it on his own might make things good, he takes upon himself the role of the ox to be stoned, when he hangs himself from a height, and his body tumbles across the rock face of a cliff, stoned o’er and o’er each bump and roll his way down to the ground, as his soul comes to discover how no law can save.

Leaving the priests, staring at those coins on the floor, leaving them with no other option that to discretely purchase the very soil upon which Judas’ blood had been spilt in vain. They couldn’t keep it: It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood.

Not so much unlawful as unwise, for were this silver added to the treasury, recorded as a thirty coin donation, anyone with a basic knowledge of Mosaic accounting, when scanning the ledger, would naturally have to wonder what happened here, and ask aloud, “Who died?”

Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. That’s who.

Though they try to cover their tracks best they may, you know the answer. And the Gospel truth that Jesus’ death was no premeditated accident.

Premeditated, yes, delivered [to be] crucified and slain… by wicked hands according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. (Acts 2:23)

But it is certainly no accident, no mere sad story of a good man who ended up in the wrong hands in the wrong place at the wrong time, as if gored in some unforeseen mishap, but instead offered up as the perfect sacrifice in your place, according to the eternal plan of the God of love.

Ah, thirty pieces of silver, declaring it all unintentional, unfortunate, from the start, as if they could make it look like no one’s to blame. Laundering the silver coins away lest they be discovered and known, in hopes this death would be undocumented, as if it never happened, as if this Jesus had never existed.

Who, then, is to blame for Jesus’ death on the cross? In one sense, each of us, but in the greatest sense, the will of our Creator, who sent His Son to suffer for sinners who plan and plot, pass the buck, try their best for it to be everyone else’s fault but mine.

All that by repentance, you might own up to your part, and embrace by faith in Christ, God’s perfect forgiveness for your craftiest of ways! All because Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, took the blame Himself and paid the price to make you blameless before the throne of God, purchasing and redeeming you “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent sufferings and death.

And thus silencing any guilt your heart holds, wiping it clean by the “everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness” now yours in Jesus’ name.

How foolishly the sinner tries to deal with sin on your own, and this is Judas’ error trying to nudge and stretch the Law to make his sin as if it never happened, his guilt disappear. And from that core of impenitence, despite any sorrow and anguish of heart, the morbid comedy of error we see play out throughout, when the very sacrifice of God’s only-begotten Son—which Judas so desperately wanted to make not happen—is what puts an end to everything the sinner would rather deny.

Have no fear, then, of Judas’ end, that it might be yours. Not as long as you keep in this Word, and see in this tragedy your victory o’er sin, death, and hell.

Now that Law, which Judas turns to, which can seem to have an answer for everything, it does serve a purpose. As a guide to order and decency among us, not to make your sin go away, but how to honestly own up to it, and move forward as a reflection of the divine forgiveness so shown you. Confident that Christ’s death and resurrection reveal how, in the kingdom of God, there’s no such thing as an accident.

Each unforeseen mishap you encounter, is an opportunity for your faith to shine. Each good intention gone wrong, is a lesson in humility, in God’s wisdom above ours. And every unexpected blessing, is proof of the same grace with which your life abounds in Christ Jesus. For nothing in your life happens by accident. And it is no accident, either, that you get to hear this Gospel tonight. All very much premeditated, very much God’s eternal counsel, very much yours from birth to grave to an eternal home with Him.

Now the peace that passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

—Pastor Timothy T. Daub

Prince of Peace Lutheran Church
Hecla, SD

Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.