Reminiscere, the Second Sunday in Lent February 28, 1999


Thirty Pieces of Silver

Matthew 26:14-15


145, 151, 144, 157

Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, And said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver. Here ends our text.

In the Name of Jesus Christ, Who was betrayed by one of His own and sold for thirty pieces of silver, Dear Fellow-Redeemed,

When is a penny worth $20,000? Well, according the American Numismatic Society, it’s when that penny is a 1922 wheat-back with no mint mark. Due to an error, a few pennies slipped out of the Denver mint that year without the characteristic “D” stamped near the date. In perfect condition, the coin is worth $20,000, making it the most valuable penny ever minted in the U.S.

Collectors know that some coins have a value much higher than their face value. Depending on their age, history and condition, certain coins can be worth far more than the amount stamped on their face.

No coin collection in the world, however, could match the value of the coins mentioned in this morning’s text. They were the set price of betraying the Son of God. To Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, they were thirty pieces of silver. For him, that was enough. He couldn’t care less about the history that went with them. The chief priests of the Jews were also once owners of these coins. They didn’t care much about the coins’ history, either, except that they came from the temple treasury, and were meant to be used for responsible church purposes. But in their eyes, the most responsible thing they could do with them was to rid themselves of Jesus of Nazareth. This troublemaker was upsetting their whole program. They taught the traditions of men and how to be saved by good works; but this Jesus was teaching that salvation was a gift of God. The conclusion?—Jesus had to be eliminated, and if these coins help them do it, it was a small price to pay.

Thirty pieces of silver. It was a lot of money, really, for that time—the price of a slave, or six months salary for a common worker. To the chief priests, a small enough sum to get their hands on Jesus. To Judas, not as much as he could have received, perhaps, but enough to satisfy his covetous heart for the moment. And so, the deal was done. Join me this morning, as we consider a special memento of our Savior’s Passion:


It brings to mind two important questions:

  1. What will you give me if I give up Jesus?
  2. II. What did Jesus give up for me?

You know what’s really fascinating is that this episode between Judas and the chief priests?—The whole thing was precisely predicted way back in the Old Testament. The Psalmist told us beforehand about the betrayer: “Yes, My own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, who ate of My bread, has lifted up his heel against Me.” And the prophet Zechariah told us how much the betrayer would get: “So they weighed for My price thirty pieces of silver, and I took the thirty pieces of silver and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord.

Centuries before the night of betrayal, God’s plan of salvation had determined that it would happen this way. The betrayer couldn’t be some heathen man. It couldn’t be just any Jew. It had to be one of Jesus’ close and personal friends—one of the twelve. In the event, Judas Iscariot was the one who would offer his services as the betrayer of the Son of God.

Well, what kind of monster was this Judas? What sin, what weakness could have led him to perpetrate this heinous act? It wasn’t some unheard of crime, the kind that causes people to OOH and AHH and point the accusing finger. It was sin common all across this land—a sin that even Christians are all too often guilty of. Judas loved money. His avarice and his greed were the strings by which Satan controlled him like a puppet. It was greed that led Judas, finally, to ask the fateful question, “What will you give me if I give up Jesus?”

What’s really frightening about all this is that Judas was not some kind of monster. In fact, there’s no reason to believe he wasn’t at one time a sincere follower of Jesus—as you and I are now. He’d seen Jesus’ miracles, he’d talked with Him and heard His teaching, and had followed Him in his travels across Palestine. So how did it happen that this disciple of Jesus would suddenly agree to put His Savior on the bargaining table and ask, “What will you give me if I give up Jesus?

It didn’t happen overnight—it never does, you know. People aren’t faithful followers one minute and betrayers the next. It’s more a gradual process. It begins with compromising in little things. Baby sins lead to giant sins. Apologizing for neglects. Excusing small sins.—And from there, it snowballs. Step by step, the soul is weaned away from God, and taken over completely by the devil.

In Judas’ case, he simply wanted more of the good things the world could provide. Hardly a shocking transgression, I think you’ll agree. His ambitions gradually reached beyond what he could embezzle from the disciple’s treasury bag. Selfish desire and greed grew step-by-step in his heart, and at the same time his faith in Christ waned—slowly, step-by-step. The last flicker of his discipleship went out when he asked, “What will you give me if I give up Jesus?

Oh, if only Judas had been the last person to give up Jesus for the things of this world! Sadly, there have been many betrayals like his since then. How many teenagers and young people—raised in Christian homes—have been gradually weaned away from their faith by the things of this world, and finally been to ask, “What will you give me if I give up Jesus?” If we were to tour the State Penitentiary, how many of the inmates would we find who came from Christian backgrounds—who had opportunity to know and believe in the Savior—but instead, for a price, sold Him out? How many business people in our community and across this nation have asked that same question? For the sake of material wealth and outward success they cast all other concerns to the wind and said, “What will you give me if I give up Jesus?

And what about you and I? Don’t we have, within ourselves, the same sinful flesh that afflicted Judas Iscariot? Have we started the selling-out process by compromising on “little things,” by setting limits on our devotion, by not putting God’s Word FIRST on our list of priorities? I ask you: isn’t it we, especially, who have reason to beware the final, fateful question, “What will you give me if I give up Jesus?

It’s not worth it! For Judas, the coveted thirty pieces of silver turned to ashes. After Jesus’ arrest, Judas returned to the Temple in remorse and tried to give the money back. He told the chief priests, “‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ But they said, ‘What is that to us? You see to it!’ Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.’” For Judas, the price of betrayal bought him misery, despair, and finally eternal condemnation. For us, Jesus’ own words hold a chilling warning: “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul. Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?

What will you give me if I give up Jesus?” -It’s a frightening question—a question we Christians certainly want to avoid asking at all costs. But there’s another question that we DO need to ask A question whose answer can calm all our fears and set our consciences to rest: “What did JESUS give up for ME?”

Sadly, Judas never asked that question. If he had, he might have realized that Jesus’ sacrifice was enough to cover even his terrible sin of betrayal. But he didn’t. He was sorry for his sin, true, but when it came to the crunch he just couldn’t believe that Jesus could forgive him for what he’d done.

My Christian friends, don’t make the same mistake he did! You must ask the question, “What did JESUS give up for ME?” The answer is: EVERYTHING. For you, Christ gave up His heavenly throne and came down to earth as a human being. For you, He gave up every comfort and lived a life of poverty and affliction. He resisted every temptation, so that He could give you a perfect track record before God. He was humble, so that your sins of pride might be covered. He was perfectly obedient, so that your many sins of disobedience might never be counted against you.

Once again this Lenten Season, ask the question: “What did Jesus give up for me?” For it is now, as we commemorate His Passion, that we see the answer most clearly. FOR ME, JESUS GAVE UP HIS BODY AND HIS BLOOD. The Lord of all creation allowed Himself to be mocked, spit upon and beaten; allowed Himself to be pierced with nails and slowly strangled to death on the cross. He gave up His body to be pierced, and the life wrung from it; He gave up His blood to flow freely for the sins of the world. And that includes you!

God grant you the wisdom to accept, in simple faith, the Words He cause to be written for your comfort: “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.—1 John 1:7. Note: from ALL sin. There is no sin in your past, be it ever so wanton or wicked, that Christ has not atoned for with His blood. No transgression, large or small, remains to be dealt with. Have you been guilty of betraying your Savior, in the little things, if not in the big? -Have no fear. Even those betrayals have been covered by the precious blood of the Lamb. In fact, God says, “…Where sin did ABOUND, there GRACE did much more abound!

So if your peace of conscience has been shattered by sin, if you’ve felt the nagging tug of your iniquity, then once again I urge you to ask the question: “What did JESUS give up for ME?” If it is true that He gave up His blood, then I tell you here and now that your problems are over. That precious blood of God’s Son is the antidote for sin; it’s the sure cure for a guilty conscience, and the failsafe prescription for a peaceful night’s sleep. For it is the unchanging Word of God Himself which tells us that …it pleased the Father that in Christ all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.—Col 1:19-20. AMEN.

—Pastor Paul Naumann

Sermon Preached March 8, 1998
Ascension Lutheran Church, Tacoma WA

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