… one of the twelve apostles, the one named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests. He asked, “What will you pay me if I hand Him over to you?” They offered him 30 silver coins. From then on, he looked for a chance to betray Jesus. – Matthew 26:14-16
There is a story about a little old woman who came to a Pastor one day, asking that the Pastor conduct a funeral service for her parakeet. “I’m sorry,” said the Pastor, “It is not our custom to conduct funerals for pets.” “Oh, please,” pleaded the lady. “No,” said the Pastor. He was quite firm, “We do not conduct funerals for pets in this church. You will have to go somewhere else.” “I am sorry to hear that,” said the little old lady, “I was going to make a memorial gift of $100,000 to your church if you would do it.” “Wait a moment,” said the Pastor. “I think I can do it after all. I did not know the parakeet was a Lutheran.”
This little story is to be an illustration of a saying we all may have heard, probably hundreds of times, “Everyone has a price.” The Pastor was quite right, the church is no place to conduct funerals for pets; but when the lady mentioned the $100,000, the Pastor began to think about the expensive things the church wanted to buy but could not afford. He thought of the parking lot they wanted to pave and of course there were many other needed repairs. The Pastor had his convictions, but he also had his price.
All of us have convictions, too, but the question is, do we also have our price? Can we, too, be persuaded by situations and circumstances to give in to sin? A man was once applying for a job in a bank. The interviewer asked, “Suppose I was to put $5,000 here on the desk and go out of the room, what would happen?” The man responded, “Why not do it and we will find out?” $5,000 is a lot of money and if you were a person out of work with bills to pay, how would you react in that situation? Would you give into the temptation to take the money and run?
What is your price? This evening in Lent this is a question we want to ask ourselves. How does that saying, “everybody has their price” fit into our life as Christians? How much would someone have to pay us in order to get us to commit a sin? What would someone have to do or say to get us to do something we know God says is wrong? Are we so spiritual that we feel we could resist any temptation, or are we like Eliza Dolittle’s father in My Fair Lady who sings, “With a little bit of luck, when temptation comes, you’ll give right in?”
What is our price? Is it high or is it low? We would like to think of ourselves as being spiritually strong enough to be able to resist most temptations, and yet we realize, too, that there are some areas of our lives where our resistance is terribly low. If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that there are times when we do have a price.
We see in our text that Judas had a price. He was willing to sell Jesus, the Lord of Life, for thirty pieces of silver. In the Old Testament, thirty pieces of silver was the price of a dead slave … it was what you owed the owner if your bull gored the slave to death. (Exodus 21:32)
Thirty pieces of silver may or may not seem like a large sum of money to you. It depends on your perspective. In Jesus’ day, thirty pieces of silver was about an average month’s pay. In today’s economy, that might be around $1200-1400 dollars. If you are poor, that amount can seem like a lot of money. If, on the other hand, you are a millionaire, that might seem like merely “walking around money”. The thirty pieces of silver may or may not have seemed like a large sum of money to Judas. We know from the story of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume that Judas had a love for money. Whether this love of money prompted Judas’ betrayal of Jesus we do not know.
Some scholars contend that Judas betrayed Jesus for political reasons. They say Judas probably was a Zealot. This was a political group which wanted to violently overthrow Roman rule and make Israel self-governing. Zealots were the terrorists of their day and they were looking for a Messiah to lead their movement. Perhaps Judas thought Jesus was going to be the leader of this bloody revolution. Perhaps Judas got tired of waiting for the revolt to begin. And maybe he thought that the arrest of the popular Rabbi Jesus would trigger some violent upheavals among the masses and this would get the revolution started. Perhaps the thirty silver coins were not really part of Judas’ consideration at all, but just some frosting on the cake. Whatever Judas’ motivation, whether it was the greed for silver, or the desire for a revolution, or some inner jealousy, or whatever, we know Judas had his price. There was something he wanted and it was worth more to him than his loyalty to Jesus.
What is your price? What is your loyalty to Jesus worth? What would it cost someone to make a deal with you and get you to betray and sin against Jesus?
All of you women are probably very virtuous. If some dirty old man came up to you and said, “Hey, honey, I will give you ten bucks to tumble into bed with me,” you would be shocked! You would be horrified! You would tell that creep in no uncertain terms to get lost. But what if some incredibly handsome, virile, movie star were to whisper softly in your ear that he would give you a million dollars and could guarantee that no one would ever find out? Would you be tempted then? Might not your virtue have a price?
I believe that none of you men would pick up the $5,000 left laying on a desk by a careless bank teller, but suppose when you purchased a used car the seller was willing to give you a fraudulant bill of sale so you could save some money in sales tax? Or suppose you moonlight and do some work for someone and get paid in cash instead of by check so that you can avoid rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. Would these temptations be appealing? Would your honesty be tempted? Might not your integrity have a price – because business is business?
.Or what would it take to keep you away from church next Sunday? Would I have to pay you $1,000? Or would an invitation to play golf at a fancy country club be all it would take?
What would I have to pay you to take the Lord’s name in vain? $10 or $20? Or would I just need to cut in front of you with my car and steal a parking place?
What is our price? Sometimes the price of our virtue and our honesty and our integrity is indeed high. At other times though, the price is low, very low. Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of beans. Judas sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. What is your price? For how much would you sell the Lord of Life? What would it cost to get you to give up Jesus like Judas did?
As we think about this, we need to be careful before we smugly say to ourselves, “I would never betray Jesus!”
We may be tempted to say to ourselves, “I may sin a little, but I would never completely turn my back on Jesus like Judas did.” If such thoughts dance through our minds we need to be careful. Paul warned the Corinthians (I Corinthian 10:12) IF YOU THINK YOU ARE STANDING FIRM, BE CAREFUL THAT YOU DON’T FALL! How many people do you know who have fallen? They were perhaps Baptized into Christ’s family once and never planned to abandon their faith in Jesus. And yet today the seed of faith planted by the Holy Spirit is long dead. Maybe there are others you know who were Confirmed once; They stood before God’s altar and made a personal promise to be faithful to Christ even unto death and now they live as unbelievers.
Each of us needs to take a good hard look at ourselves. We need to look at all those “little” sins we commit. We may not feel that those “little” sins are really betraying Jesus and yet as we commit them we are bit by bit, piece by piece, selling our souls to Satan. He does not even have to offer us thirty pieces of silver or some fantastic lump-sum payment. Instead we sell our souls on Satan’s own convenient installment plan. There is nothing down, no contract to sign, just small daily installments. A little gossip here, a little tax cheating there, a couple of curse words once in a while, an occasional Sunday missed, nothing too serious, of course, just a little idolatry, a little injustice, a little hatred. It is all very painless and soon Jesus is gone from our lives and we do not even miss Him. Our soul has been sold to Satan. And we may not even know what the final price was!
What is our price? Let us look at ourselves and let us face it: we are all selling out. In some areas of our lives we may demand a high price for sinning or we may not give in to sin at all. But in far too many other areas, we are strictly “bargain basement.” And whether it is for 3 pieces or 30 pieces or 3,000 pieces of silver, the result is still the same. If we turn our backs on the Lord of Life and sell our soul to the wheeler-dealer from Hell, then eternal death is our fate.
And there is nothing we can do to change that destiny. Judas tried to give the money back, but the high priests would not take it. (Matthew 27:3-6) We may try to buy back our souls in various ways, too, but we will not be successful either. We can sell our soul but we cannot buy it back. Scripture says, ALL OUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS ARE LIKE FILTHY RAGS (Isaiah 64:6). The Good News of Lent, though, is that we have already been bought back from Satan. The same Jesus whom we have betrayed by our sins has bought us back from Satan and death. Our price for selling out Jesus may have been cheap, but His price for buying us back was not. Jesus bought us back “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious, blood” (Explanation to 2nd Article, Luther’s Small Catechism). It is the shed blood of Jesus which pays the penalty to God for our wrongdoing. It is the death of Jesus on the cross which satisfies God’s wrath and gives us peace with Him. We may have sold ourselves for pleasure, money, or fame, but Jesus loved us so much that He bought us back by His suffering and death. The forgiveness Jesus won is ours as long as we repent of our sins and trust in Him for that forgiveness.
Tonight, as you leave, you will be given another piece of your CROSS/PEACE display. This evening you will receive a little money bag like this (show sample). May it remind you of several things this Lenten season. May it remind you of Judas’ betrayal for thirty pieces of silver. And may it remind you that all of us by our sins are also guilty of betraying Jesus. But as we hang our money bag on the cross, may it remind us of something else: May it remind us that the Jesus who also hung on the Cross, bought us back from Satan. We are bought with a price, not with the earthly silver we see glued on this bag, but we are bought with the precious blood of Jesus shed on the cross.
In the name of Jesus, who purchased for us our peace, Amen.