Innocent Blood (Matthew 27:1-10)
27:1 When morning came, all the chief priests and elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death. 2 And when they had bound Him, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor.
3 Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”
And they said, “What is that to us? You see to it!”
5 Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.
6 But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood.” 7 And they consulted together and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. 8 Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.
9 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, 10 and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”
Jesus came and ministered to Israel, preaching to this nation, commanding them to repent, proving that His words were God’s Word by many signs and miracles. Israel should have listened, but Israel did not. Instead, Israel’s leaders were enraged by their God made flesh. They plotted to put Him to death. And after capturing Him in the dead of night with the help of one of His closest friend’s betrayal, they tried Him in an unlawful show trial and condemned Him to death. Now, in our text today, we see Israel’s leaders plotting to accomplish this death sentence, and the fallout of Judas’ betrayal.
Concocting a Reason for Rome to Execute Jesus (v. 1-2)
Israel in Jesus’ day was an occupied people. They did not rule themselves any longer. They had been conquered by Babylon and made a vassal, Babylon was conquered by Persia, and Israel remained subject to them. After Persia was conquered by Alexander the Great, the heirs to his heirs, Seleucus and Ptolemy, often fought over possession of Israel, but regardless, for hundreds of years, Israel was under Greek domination, so much so that the language of the New Testament is not Hebrew nor the Aramaic that was the native tongue of Jesus and the disciples, but the lingua franca that everyone east of Rome spoke: Greek. Israel was dominated by Greek culture, and that did not change when Rome conquered the remainder of the Greek territory in the First Century BC.
All of these empires served as great beasts, to use the language of the Old Testament prophets. We often get confused by what that means, but the great beasts were generally not bad (though they did sometimes have to be resisted by God’s faithful people). They should instead be understood as guardians that protected Israel. That was their role in this period, guardian beasts that stand watch over Israel and placed in that position by God Himself.
By Jesus day, this was still the set up. Pilate was the representative of Rome, and law and order went through him. If the Jews wanted someone to be executed for violating their law, they had to get his permission. And so the chief priests in verse 1 have to concoct a reason sufficient to get Pilate to put Jesus to death. It is not enough that they have persuaded themselves in a show trial to kill Jesus, they need something that will get Pilate to sign off on His killing. And so this is what Matthew is showing us in verses 1-2, having condemned Him under their law, they now have to plot a second time to actually kill Him. They have to deliver Jesus to Pilate to do the actual spilling of blood.
Innocent Blood (v. 3-10)
After they lead Jesus away, Judas, regretted what he had done to Jesus after he saw He was condemned. And so he returns the blood money to the chief priests, admitting to them his sin, knowing that Jesus was innocent, and now condemned to die. Now, just stop here for one moment. If you are an Israelite living in the Old Covenant, and you sin a great sin and are remorseful for this sin and want to make things right, what are you supposed to do? Go to the priest, confess your sin, and offer the appropriate offering to the Lord.
But what is the problem here? Judas does just that, but the chief priests refuse to do anything (obviously because they are implicated in his sin). “What is that to us?” is the attitude of the priests. “Not our problem.” “You take care of that yourself.” Judas, still feeling grief over his betrayal, throws the blood money down, left and “saw to it” by hanging himself.
Then what the chief priests do next is something that reaches across the millennia to us today, showing us exactly what sinful men are like. We think that sinful men, being sinful, reject all laws, but the reality is sinful men love breaking big laws and doing very bad sins, while at the same time being extremely careful to make sure they follow all the small laws. Sinful men are rarely, if ever, open about how wicked they are. Quite the opposite. Almost no one thinks they are sinful. Especially the very worst sinners. They cloak themselves in how well they keep the rules that everyone can see. The conduct of the chief priests and leaders of Israel like the Pharisees is something that shows how keenly the Bible cuts between soul and spirit. It reveals clearly what we are, and 20 centuries between us and them does not matter one bit. These men are literally putting an innocent man to death and they are extremely careful to maintain the purity of the temple. Oh we can’t take that money, it is blood money. Yeah, we know it is blood money because we paid for it. So they decide instead to donate it to a graveyard for vagrants, called the Potter’s field, but was renamed the Field of Blood ever since.
The next thing that Matthew tells us is difficult to understand since he says he is quoting Jeremiah, but the verbatim quote comes from Zechariah 11. If you listen to scoffing, unbelieving Bible scholars, they will tell you that “clearly Matthew just made a mistake, he didn’t know the Bible well and here is evidence the Bible is not the inerrant Word of God.” We know that is not true, and so we have to work a little harder figuring it out. There are a number of places where New Testament writers mash up quotes from multiple prophets but only refer to one by name. They force us to do more exegetical work. And they show us that interpreting the Bible is not a science with white lab coats, but an art which requires skill and wisdom.
Here, the allusions to both Zechariah and Jeremiah are about 30 pieces of silver being thrown to the house of the potter, and innocent blood being shed by false shepherds who consume the sheep and breaking the potter’s vessel as a symbol of the destruction of Israel.
4 Thus says the Lord my God, “Feed the flock for slaughter, 5 whose owners slaughter them and feel no guilt; those who sell them say, ‘Blessed be the Lord, for I am rich’; and their shepherds do not pity them. 6 For I will no longer pity the inhabitants of the land,” says the Lord. “But indeed I will give everyone into his neighbor’s hand and into the hand of his king. They shall attack the land, and I will not deliver them from their hand.”
7 So I fed the flock for slaughter, in particular the poor of the flock. I took for myself two staffs: the one I called Beauty, and the other I called Bonds; and I fed the flock. 8 I dismissed the three shepherds in one month. My soul loathed them, and their soul also abhorred me. 9 Then I said, “I will not feed you. Let what is dying die, and what is perishing perish. Let those that are left eat each other’s flesh.” 10 And I took my staff, Beauty, and cut it in two, that I might break the covenant which I had made with all the peoples. 11 So it was broken on that day. Thus the poor of the flock, who were watching me, knew that it was the word of the Lord. 12 Then I said to them, “If it is agreeable to you, give me my wages; and if not, refrain.” So they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver.
13 And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord for the potter. 14 Then I cut in two my other staff, Bonds, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.
15 And the Lord said to me, “Next, take for yourself the implements of a foolish shepherd. 16 For indeed I will raise up a shepherd in the land who will not care for those who are cut off, nor seek the young, nor heal those that are broken, nor feed those that still stand. But he will eat the flesh of the fat and tear their hooves in pieces.
“Woe to the worthless shepherd,
Who leaves the flock!
A sword shall be against his arm
And against his right eye;
His arm shall completely wither,
And his right eye shall be totally blinded.”
19 Thus says the Lord: “Go and get a potter’s earthen flask, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the elders of the priests. 2 And go out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the Potsherd Gate; and proclaim there the words that I will tell you, 3 and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Behold, I will bring such a catastrophe on this place, that whoever hears of it, his ears will tingle.
4 “Because they have forsaken Me and made this an alien place, because they have burned incense in it to other gods whom neither they, their fathers, nor the kings of Judah have known, and have filled this place with the blood of the innocents 5 (they have also built the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or speak, nor did it come into My mind), 6 therefore behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “that this place shall no more be called Tophet or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter. 7 And I will make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place, and I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies and by the hands of those who seek their lives; their corpses I will give as meat for the birds of the heaven and for the beasts of the earth. 8 I will make this city desolate and a hissing; everyone who passes by it will be astonished and hiss because of all its plagues. 9 And I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and everyone shall eat the flesh of his friend in the siege and in the desperation with which their enemies and those who seek their lives shall drive them to despair.” ’
10 “Then you shall break the flask in the sight of the men who go with you, 11 and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Even so I will break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot be made whole again; and they shall bury them in Tophet till there is no place to bury. 12 Thus I will do to this place,” says the Lord, “and to its inhabitants, and make this city like Tophet. 13 And the houses of Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah shall be defiled like the place of Tophet, because of all the houses on whose roofs they have burned incense to all the host of heaven, and poured out drink offerings to other gods.” ’ ”
We may see mere coincidence, but the Holy Spirit inspiring Matthew here sees direct fulfillment of ancient prophecies. The false shepherds are going to receive the judgment due them.
We see the sin of the chief priests and their hypocrisy and it is striking to us, even 20 centuries later. It cuts right to us, because we see this so often today. We all know people who lead lives of high handed rebellion against God and His law, but who are extremely zealous about Covid rules. You see this all over the place. You see people who behave monstrously, but are extremely careful to do the kinds of things publicly that will cause people to laud them as “good people.” And as much as we see it in others, of course we should see it in ourselves, too. I want to be judged based on how well I tithe my dill, mint, and cumin, not on how well I treat actual people around me. I want the little things I am so proud of to be the standard for my righteousness, and not actual obedience to God when it is so much easier to just let things slide. I don’t want to be faithful when it is hard and no one but God sees it. I would much rather carefully keep the blood money out of the temple, than not murder Jesus. We would rather keep easy parts of the law, the parts that are popular and cost us nothing, than put our own sin to death. So often, we’d rather put Jesus to death, that our own sin.
But we are not without hope, like Judas. Judas went to find sacrifice for his sins and there was no sacrifice left. He went to the priests and they had nothing for him. He needed the innocent blood he shed, he needed Jesus’ blood, and rather than repent, he took his own life. For us, for the Christian, you have hope. When you sin you can take your sins to Jesus and that innocent blood washes you clean of whatever sin you have done. So, go, and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ that you have hope because of the forgiveness of sins. In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!