All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
This quote from Shakespeare came to mind today as I was reflecting on the sad story of Matthew 27. Enter Jesus. Enter Judas, Exit Judas. Exit Jesus. But these actors had very different impacts on the world’s stage, didn’t they? And their respective deaths had dramatically different outcomes (pun intended 😊). I thought it worthy of our discussion today.
What first caught my eye in the details of the story was the fact that Judas threw the 30 pieces of silver “in the temple”. Why there? Was it only that he found the chief priests there – or does the Bible outline this detail so we will dig deeper? In digging, I found some interesting insights.
Having read the story, I hope you can follow my train of thought here. Judas feels remorse for betraying Jesus, goes back to the leaders and tries to get them to stop their murderous actions. Not being able to alter their course, however, he throws the betrayal money somewhere in the temple. They scurry around gathering it up and have a pow-wow about what to do with this “donation” while Judas goes and commits suicide.
Just think this through with me for a moment. These supposed-spiritual men were so hard-hearted that they were unmoved by the avowal of the betrayer himself that the man he had turned over was innocent. They were unmoved by the desperation in Judas’ eye as he left, and were likely unmoved when they heard of his subsequent suicide.
They “counseled together” and decided to use the money to do a “good deed” by buying a field to bury strangers. Really?! A Good deed?! Or a cover-up for the rest of their twisted sin? Even they could not justify putting Jesus’ betrayal price into their Temple coffers. Or was it just their legalism that kept them from this – no remorse or regret? Acts 1 tells us the field was called by a Hebrew name: Hakeldama – notorious as the “Field of Blood.” (Testifying to Jesus’ blood spilt and still speaking like Abel’s? cp. Hebrews 12:24) It’s a sad day for any nation when even its religious elders are so hardhearted. However, isn’t that the story the Bible repeats over and over? When it gets to that point, Judgment is on the way…
Thirty pieces of silver were enough to purchase a (likely urban blighted) piece of nasty property that had been a source of clay for ubiquitous pottery jar businesses of the past. Hardly good land for digging graves! I wonder who owned the land? One of themselves? So they buy a property thanks to the slave of sin (Judas) by which he betrayed the servant of righteousness (Jesus). In this property they will have an unclean burial ground for “strangers” who, they too, surely consider unclean. Quite a testimony to this evil deed done behind closed doors of the religious institution of Jesus’ day – and yet put down in writing for all subsequent readers throughout history to observe!
Matthew quotes Jeremiah 18 as commentary on this passage. It is worth exploring in the light of our discussion. (Especially since it is in our readings for Friday 😊) Interesting to note that the Matthew account leads us to Jeremiah but actually quotes from Zechariah 11. Both passages must be part of the joy of discovery as we piece together the messages here. (Isn’t God’s word good that way?!)
Does Jeremiah visiting a Potter’s house describe the same field as Judas’ money purchased? It’s possible. And Jeremiah’s enacted parable is striking. It enhances the commentary on the events of Judas’ betrayal. In fact, it has many of the same players on the same type of stage…
In this chapter we find that God is finished with the “clay pot” of His nation. He desires their repentance but, like the potter Jeremiah visited, He is considering his “pot” – “spoiled in the hand of the potter.” v.4
My people have forgotten me, they burn incense to worthless gods and they have stumbled from their ways…I will scatter them before the enemy; I will show them My back and not My face in the day of their calamity.
In Jeremiah 19 we find him taking the elders of the people, the senior priests, and a clay pot to the gate of Jerusalem that overlooks the Valley of Hinnom. From that vantage point, they can see the terrible High Places constructed to worship their false gods. (cp. Jer. 32:35) Note that this same area is called Gehenna/hell in the New Testament and was a trash dump where they always kept a fire burning. Is this possibly where Judas’ body was thrown?) Here Jeremiah shatters the pot – symbolically prophesying the destruction of the nation because of their incurable wickedness.
Like Jesus’ trial, the Jeremiah 18 drama cast includes plotters and potters. The priests are the wolves who constantly plague him but, like Jesus, he continues to decry their behavior. Like Jesus, he suffers for his obedience. “Come let us devise plans against Jeremiah…” v.18
I wonder if the Lord Jesus read Jeremiah 18 with a knowing eye. He, like His Father, gave both Judas and the chief priests plenty of opportunities to make different choices with their lives. I find the climax of the Jeremiah play quite poignant. It is also a commentary on the state of both Judas and the plotting priests’ minds, if you ask me.
But they will say, It’s hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.
Isn’t that telling?! They had set their course on evil and it was too late (in their minds) to change. In fact –“IT’S HOPELESS!” So Judas chooses suicide, and the rulers choose to continue their evil course. There is so much of human, fleshly thinking wrapped up in that phrase and how people respond to it! When “God is forgotten,” people follow “worthless gods”, and “stumble into calamity.” In a word: Hopelessness. vv.15-17
The startling fact is, however, that God is still pleading with people in this category. It’s Jesus thoughtfully responding to them even in the night of his warped trial – and on the cross. It’s the moment just before the final act… the potter is ready to smash the molded vessel but He still mercifully calls out one last time,
…Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds!
But their response was: “It’s too late – it’s hopeless.” And by their own hand, they choose the final act of the play – their own life story. Destruction at the hand of the ruthless Babylonians. Ugly suicide hanging from a bitter tree. And the crucifixion of their only Hope.
Turning now to Zechariah 11 gives us further insight into the Matthew 27 players. Instead of priests, our evil actors are now clothed in shepherd costumes. They are abusing Zechariah who is enacting a live parable of shepherding a “flock doomed to slaughter – the afflicted of the flock.” Zechariah 11:4,7 These evil shepherds/leaders “buy them, sell them, slay them and go unpunished.” They “have no pity on them.” v.5 And Judgment Day (with a capital J!)is coming for these powerful men as well. For his wages, they pay Zechariah – you guessed it! – 30 pieces of silver (which must have been far less than what the job he had done was worth). God tells him to take this money and “throw it to the potter in the house of the LORD.” v.13 (I’m thinking that Judas must have thrown his money “to the Potter” somehow as well. Perhaps the wily priests met in secret behind the Potter’s stall in the Temple courtyard? Or maybe by a Potter’s stall near the Temple Mount gate that opened onto the Valley of Hinnom?) Rather astonishing the links between these three accounts!
When we look at them all 3 side-by-side, they flesh out a similar sad tale, repeating itself over and over. Three times…hmmmm. Corrupted idolatrous people led by powerful oppressive religious leaders and oppressing the righteous within the context of worship of the True God. That same True God watches as The Potter. And He warns of coming Judgment through prophets and through His Only Begotten Son. He promises the righteous ones future blessing for their difficult obedience. His Son was walking that road that night – The cross then the crown.
How sad and relevant this discussion becomes to our own day! How many, like Judas, know Jesus is innocent but try to force him into molds of their own making and have their own life agendas? How many, like Judas, choose the hopelessness of suicide (physical or spiritual) when push- comes-to-shove? How many like him, fail to understand the reality of repentance and forgiveness? How many, even when walking beside him for so long, fail to KNOW their Lord?
How many, too, like the greedy priests and elders misuse their power to fail to act in righteous ways choosing rather to neglect, oppress and afflict? How many refuse to turn away from the stubbornness of their hearts and submit to God’s ways by repenting and seeking forgiveness? How many continue to pursue the righteous with evil intention – like they did Jeremiah, Zechariah and the Lord Jesus?
There comes a day for this sort of person where God has given them the last opportunity for change. He knows “their deadly designs” against the righteous and will not “forgive or blot out their sin from His sight any longer.” Jeremiah 18:23 For those folks (the evil religious hypocrites) – the Babylonians are on the horizon and there will be
…weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out.
I guess the bottom line of this study is to really know the LORD God and His Son Jesus. God repeats the words, “Listen to Me!” five times leading up to the message of Jeremiah 17 (where He also tells us our hearts are deceitful ABOVE ALL THINGS!) Jesus calls out similarly throughout his ministry. Trust in forgiveness even when it feels you have been hopelessly foolish at times. Find hope even in the deepest dark places of your soul. Examine yourself with a humble spirit. Take action to rectify your evil and follow the “ancient paths” that God has carefully outlined for right behavior in His ancient word – the Bible. And follow His word made flesh – His beloved son Jesus – the only man who role models right living for all to see! We have to know that they are longsuffering – even with evil people – but that there is a set time for judgment in every life.
There is certainly more meat to be gleaned from exploring these 3 passages describing Plotters and Potters (and Prophets and Kings 😊). I hope you will take up the challenge of doing so!
Unlike these men we have considered today, may OUR exit from Shakespeare’s metaphorical world stage be a happy ending!
Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.