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What to Remember When You Are Seized with Remorse

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+ In the Name of Jesus +
What to Remember When You Are Seized with Remorse
Sermon on Matthew 27:3-4
Midweek Lenten Services
St. Stephen’s, March 2
Good Shepherd, March 9
Juneau, March 16

  1. Judas presents us with a tragedy and a The deepest tragedies are often stories of missed opportunities, wasted potential, or even a life full of talent and potential cut short. All of these describe the life of Judas. Thinking about missed opportunity—Judas had been with Jesus for about three years, the same as the other disciples. Think of what he saw! Think of what he heard! He saw Jesus heal many, feed the thousands, raise the dead, still the storms. He heard Jesus speak with the most gracious words: “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” To a man seeking healing, he first brought healing of soul and spirit, “Son, be of good cheer! Your sins are forgiven!” The parables that emphasized grace, the Prodigal Son, the lost sheep. And Judas was among those who went out as apostles, and came back with the others saying, “Even the demons submit to us in your name.” That was Judas—his potential, his opportunities.
  2. The gospels tell us what Judas’ downfall was—greed. (And Judas would have heard Jesus’ warnings and teachings about greed.) We are told that he kept the disciples’ common purse, and used to help himself to what was in it. The day before Palm Sunday, Jesus and his disciples were in Bethany. Mary and Martha had a dinner in honor of Jesus for what he did for Lazarus. Mary had a special gift for Jesus. She poured very expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet—it was worth nearly a year’s wages. Judas spoke up, “Why this waste! This could have been sold and the money given to the poor.” Judas was really concerned about cash flow—more he could help himself to. Jesus knew it. (Of course Jesus knew it.) And he said, “Leave her alone. She has done a beautiful thing for me.” At that point, Judas knew that Jesus was on to him—and that being a disciple of Jesus wouldn’t be financially profitable for him anymore. So he went to the chief priests: “What will you give me if I hand him over to you?”  Yes—the Jesus gave Judas opportunities. Warnings. Judas bypassed each one, made greed his god, and did his worst.
  3. The mystery comes at the end—and it’s in the selection for our meditation today:  Then when Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he felt remorse. He brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders 4 and said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? That’s your problem.”
  4. So here’s the mystery. What made Judas feel remorse? Was he surprised when he saw Jesus was now condemned to death? Handed over to the Romans to be crucified? (Jesus had talked about these things many times. Was Judas so occupied by greed he wasn’t listening? The other disciples didn’t get it either.) Or did Judas know this was the chief priests’ plan all along, and the horror of it and his role in it finally hit him when he saw the plan in action? Remorse is related to another re- word, regret. And we see that here. He wanted to undo what he had done. He brought the money back, and they responded, “That’s your problem.” Remorse and regret can mean that Judas didn’t like the outcome—it reminds me of a public figure in recent news whose secret life has come to light—he denies it, he praises his victim’s courage, and pays her off with a settlement to avoid a trial. Yes, it’s regret, an outward display of remorse. He certainly doesn’t like the outcome. But it falls short of another re- word, repent. Repent means “turning.” A “change of heart and mind.” It means living free under God’s forgiveness. Judas never got there. Judas’ remorse led him to despair. “What have I done?” “I can’t undo it.” “What is left for me?” Perhaps he was in such a state of mind, any memory of Jesus, his warning, his teaching, and even his grace drove Judas farther down, with his afflicted conscience adding, “But not for me.” He mistook self-punishment for repentance, and chose the harshest self-punishment of all. Self-punishment is not repentance. In the middle ages, people whipped themselves, starved themselves, did all kinds of cruel things to themselves thinking they were “doing penance.” (And many people still do that today. I think we all do that at one time or another.) All self-punishment does is it makes you miserable and distracts you from true repentance and forgiveness.
  5. “What to remember when you are seized with remorse…” Remember that there is such a thing as forgiveness. God forgives freely because Jesus took the punishment to bring you peace. Remember that redemption and even repentance aren’t your work—it’s what God himself works in you. He is the Savior. He is the one who cleanses you. He is the one who changes heart and mind. He saves you because he is gracious—not because you redeemed yourself. If you only look within when you feel remorse, the darkness will only deepen. If you look to Christ, you will find the light. “The blood of Jesus Christ… cleanses us from all sin.’
  6. Jesus covers all of these: remorse, regret, a low sense of self-worth, feelings of failure, self-punishment. There is nothing that his love and forgiveness cannot cover. Silence that voice that says “But not for me” with those clear words of Scripture, “God so loved the world…” Even me! “The Son of Man gave his life as a ransom for many…” Yes! For me! “God reconciled the world to himself in Christ…” Even me! And silence that voice that says, “But there must be more I have to do” with those clear words of Scripture, “It is finished!”  Yes! For me! “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Yes! For me!  “The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Yes! For me!
  7. “What to remember when you are seized with remorse…” Remember Jesus. Remember that he is the Savior. Remember that you are the saved. Remember his grace—his grace alone. Remember his blood shed for you, his life given for you. That is the cure for your remorse and regret. The life of Jesus given for you gives you new self-worth. Jesus thought you were worth all he had to go through. Feelings of failure… we will have failures. That’s part of the human condition. That’s part of life in this broken world. That’s also often the result of sin in our lives. Jesus succeeded. His righteousness covers your sin, your regrets and your failures. So remember Jesus. He restored Peter after Peter denied him. The holiness of Jesus was the solution—even for Judas—but Judas’ faith was destroyed by despair. He forgot Jesus. He looked inward—inward at the darkness. The light of Christ is forgiveness, redemption and peace. Even for you. That is what to remember when you are seized with remorse.

 Amen.

 

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