Clinking Coins

Matthew 26:14-16 Then one of the Twelve-- the one called Judas Iscariot-- went to the chief priests 15 and asked, "What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?" So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. 16 From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

Sounds can leave a lasting impression. Tonight our thoughts of the passion of Jesus are stirred by the haunting sound of clinking coins – the thirty pieces of silver that were paid to Judas to betray our Lord. 

The first time Judas heard the clink of coins he had come to the priests with a proposition: “What will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” It was an intriguing possibility. Just a few days before, the priests and Pharisees had decided against trying to arrest Jesus during the upcoming Passover celebration. After all, if they got caught trying to arrest Jesus at the wrong time, a riot could break out, and they’d feel the wrath not only of the crowd, but also of the Roman “peacekeepers.” So they decided it would be safer to put off Jesus’ arrest till another time.

But now Judas came with a stimulating proposition. He would give Jesus’ enemies a hand. He would deliver Jesus to them gift-wrapped. He would find a quiet, lonely place — no crowds around to raise a fuss — and let them arrest Jesus there. He knew the places; he knew the times. The only question was whether or not the priests would be interested.

Of course they were interested. They’d be fools to let a chance like this pass by. But, they surely wanted to know, why was Judas suddenly willing to betray his Master? And how much would it cost them?

The Bible tells us why Judas did it. His words to the high priests were simply, “What will you give me …?” Judas was selfish, and periodically he would pilfer the common treasury of the disciples for his own needs (John 12.6). In the Gospel of John it is specifically Judas who complains that the expensive ointment that was poured upon Jesus could have been sold and given to the poor. Plus, Satan spiritually entered Judas and motivated his movement toward Jesus’ enemies (Luke 22:3). 

The Bible also answers, “How much?” After some negotiation the priests and Judas came up with a fair price —30 pieces of silver — three months’ pay for the average worker. The amount was no simple coincidence. Thirty pieces of silver was the value Moses had set for a slave who’d been killed by a wild ox. In the Book of Zechariah 30 pieces of silver was the amount the townspeople paid him when they fired him as shepherd of the flock. Thirty pieces of silver — thee months of wages – but still a relatively small amount for betraying the Son of God. And so Judas stood there, hand open, as they counted the 30 pieces of silver into it. Clink. Clink. Clink. Coin clinked against coin as they came to rest in his palm. They jingled together as he put them in his moneybag. How much is a man’s life worth? We know now: 30 pieces of silver.

It’s so easy for us to condemn Judas, isn’t it? We can sit here in judgment. We would never betray Jesus in such a way! And we certainly wouldn’t betray him for a few coins! The very idea is insulting.

But let’s not get too carried away with our own righteousness. We betray our Lord time and time again. In one of our confession of sins don’t we say: “I have sinned against God by my fault (clink), by my own fault (clink), by my own most grievous fault” (clink)? Right there, we admit before God and to each other that we have betrayed our faith, our confirmation vows, and our God. But we don’t see it that way, do we? Oh, no! We’ve made a “mistake”; we “fulfilled our desires”; we “just weren’t thinking.” But God sees sin as something far more serious. Sin is rebellion against God. Sin is actively collaborating with the archenemies of sin and death. Sin is having Satan spiritually enter us to do his bidding. 

If we agree that we betray Jesus, then why do we do it? Most of the time, we have no idea. When I ask my daughters why they did something naughty, they just look at me with wide eyes and blank stares and say, “I don’t know.” But that’s no different than when I was a kid. My parents would ask me, “Why did you write with markers all over your little sister?” “I don’t know. It just seemed like a good idea at the time.” We don’t know why we do some of the things we do. We act, we sin, we betray our faith without thinking. We just do it.

And the price for which we’re willing to betray our faith is ridiculously low! A good feeling, to pleasure our body, the desire to lord it over another, the craving to feel superior. The reward for our sin is absurdly low.

Time passed. Judas betrayed Jesus just as he had promised. Jesus was taken away; they really intended to crucify him! Seeing Jesus being led to Pilate, Judas was filled with guilt. Never in his life did he feel as miserable as he did right then and there. So low! The guilt was oppressive. Where could he go? How could he relieve the guilt?

So he ran back to the temple. Clink, clink, clink. The money jangled in his purse with every footfall. No longer was there the soft, comforting clink of coins; now the money called to him, laughing at him, mocking him. “Murderer!” it cried. “Betrayer! Liar! Thief!” The moneybag seemed to weigh a ton. He had to struggle with all his might to carry it up to the temple mount.

The priests were still there. He ran to them as fast as his tired feet could carry him. The guilt was overwhelming. “I’ve sinned,” he cried out. “I’ve betrayed innocent blood!” There. He’d said it. Jesus was innocent. He knew it. He admitted it. Certainly they had to see that, too. Maybe they could help him right the wrong and fix the sin.

They only looked at him. “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility” (Matthew 27:4). Then they walked up the steps into the temple. 

That was it? This is how they helped in his time of need? The guilt was killing him, and all they could say was, “That’s your problem.” He betrayed his Master, gave him over into the priests’ hands, and now they wanted nothing to do with him. He could read between the lines. He knew what they were saying. “We paid you. You did your job. You got your money. Now go away.” He started after them. The money jangled in his purse as he moved.

Oh, the money. He’d almost forgotten about the money — the stinking, filthy, dirty money. He hated it. He wanted nothing to do with it. “I’ve sinned,” he must have pleaded again. “I’ve betrayed innocent blood. Here — take your stinking money!” And he threw the money on the ground after them. The money clinked across the stone walkway. Then Judas ran from the temple and hanged himself.

The priests looked at the money on the floor. They picked up the coins. But what could they do with it now? “It’s blood money,” they said. Under Jewish law, they were forbidden to put money like that into the treasury. It had been used for a sinful purpose; it couldn’t be used to God’s glory again. So they took the unclean money and bought an unclean field — a field where potters dug their clay — and used it for a ceremonially unclean purpose: to bury strangers who died among them.

What did Judas get for his betrayal? Nothing but death. He died, and his money was used to buy a field for death. Thirty pieces of silver — the price of death. Again and again, our sin leads us to betray God and everything we stand for. And what do our sins — our betrayal — get us? Nothing but death. Death in our lives now as we hurt and wound those around us, death at the end of our lives, and death in hell for eternity. All the stuff we think will do us so much good, and all it gives us is death. Oh, yes, Scripture is right, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Our 30 pieces of silver only kills us. Clink.

So what do we do with the guilt and the pain? What do we do with the sentence of death that hangs over us? Can anyone do anything? Yes, there is One. Jesus Himself. Jesus, who literally paid blood money — His blood given on the cross — pays the punishment for us who betray Him by our sin. Judas truly is a sad man. He never believed that Jesus could forgive him. So he tried to pay the debt on his own. But that never works. 

We don’t need to give in to the despair and pain that overwhelmed Judas. We can confess our sins and hear the good news of God’s grace. Jesus died on the cross to pay for the sins of the whole world — yours, mine, even the sins of Judas. Jesus gave His life freely so that we could be forgiven of all our sins. Instead of bearing the guilt and pain, we can take it to the cross. We can put the burden there and know that Jesus has forgiven us our sins. We cannot pay the price on our own. Thirty pieces of silver — no amount of silver—isn’t enough! Only the blood of Jesus can bring forgiveness, forgiveness that is complete and free to all who believe.

In one translation of the Lord’s Prayer we say, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” We owe God a debt of sin, a debt that none of us could pay. Judas hoped so desperately that he could pay the debt of sin with the clink of coins, coins that he took as the price of betrayal, coins that he finally returned. But the truth is, nothing can pay the debt of sin … except for blood money — the price of Jesus’ blood on the cross. The debt of sin has been paid. Jesus has paid the price for us … and we are forgiven! Amen.