Turn To Jesus
Some conversations are uncomfortable. There are sins that the bible speaks about that we don’t usually like to speak about. But the Holy Spirit reserves the right to preach against not just the sins we are familiar and comfortable speaking about, but also the ones we are not comfortable speaking about. And this evening we see that so very clearly as the Holy Spirit reminds us about Judas. And so, in Matthew 27, we read: “1 When daybreak came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put him to death. 2 After tying him up, they led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor. 3 Then Judas, his betrayer, seeing that Jesus had been condemned, was full of remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. 4 “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,” he said. “What’s that to us?” they said. “See to it yourself!”” (Matthew 27:1–4 CSB17)
In these words we see the end of human hope for Jesus. If there were a chance of Jesus getting through Friday without being murdered, as we read these words, we realize that hope is gone. And we aren’t the only ones who realize that it’s gone. Judas realizes that, humanly speaking, all hope of Jesus not being murdered is gone. And it affects him deeply and profoundly. Judas is filled with regret and remorse. Judas feels such shame and pain over the fact that he is the one who stabbed Jesus in the back. He is the one who paved the way for Jesus to be murdered.
But, my dear friends in Christ, notice what word is not used in these words. All the english translations use words like “regret” and “remorse” for the word, accurately reflecting the greek word.1 But what word should we have expected to be there but is not? It’s another “R” word. Where is Repentance? You see, there is a huge difference between Regret and Repentance. Regret and remorse is suffering the shame of your sin. It is feeling absolutely horrible over the sin you have committed because of the shame and embarrassment you have brought on yourself. But what is it not? It is not repentance. Repentance has two parts: first, repentance is terror. It is a recognition that your sins rightly cause you shame and earn hell for you. But there is also a second part. Repentance is not just terror. It is also trust. It is trust that when Jesus promises that his blood covers your sin, he means it. Judas had so much regret and so much remorse. But he didn’t have repentance. And where did that lead to? “So he threw the silver into the temple and departed. Then he went and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:5 CSB17)
The regret and remorse that Judas had drove him to suicide. As I mentioned at the beginning, there are topics that uncomfortable to speak about. So there stands in front of us the temptation to sidestep this issue. Why not have Pastor Lindner take up this issue in bible study instead of having it addressed in the pulpit? I suppose, if on a given Sunday the vast majority of people who showed up to worship also came for bible study, we could do that. But what’s the problem? Across our synod, on any given Sunday about 15\% of our members are in bible study. So if we wait to speak about this in bible study, most people will never hear about it. And out of all the parts of God we preach on, this is the only section of scripture that speaks about suicide. And so, tonight, even though it may make us uncomfortable, we speak about because it’s where these words in scripture drive to: Judas went out and hanged himself.
So, my dear friends in Christ, in what context does suicide happen? There are two answers to that question. First, there are suicides that happen despite our faith. One of the effects of the fall into sin is that our bodies can be corrupted and diseased. It happens in ways we can see, (e.g. cancer). But it also happens in ways we might be able to see. In mental illness a person’s brain doesn’t work the way it does for others. And the chemistry in the brain misfires. The result is that a person with mental illness may take his or her own life. And the same can happen with heavy medication. I have ministered to people who, due to the pain they were experiencing were prescribed heavy-duty-medications. And, over time, it changed them. And if there are Christians in these circumstances who take their own lives we give them a Christian burial. For just as a condition like cancer can change their bodies on the outside, so also, a condition caused by mental illness or harsh medication can change them on the inside. Jesus died for their sins. And they now rest with Jesus.
They committed suicide despite their faith. But their faith in Jesus was intact and the Lord took them home to heaven. That is one context in which suicide happens. But my dear friends there is another. There are times that suicide happens because of unbelief. And here, in these words, we see how Satan likes to have this happen. There is a progression. First, a Christian commits a shameful sin. Second, instead of turning away from that sin and to Jesus, the person clings to it. The young man who is addicted to porn refuses to confess the sin and turn to Jesus and instead absorbs himself in that sin. The young woman goes to three years of college and realizes that her major is nothing she could ever do as a job, let alone a career. She flunks out of her classes. And then, with thousands of dollars of debt, she refuses to tell her family. Instead of confessing her sin and turning to Jesus, she turns to herself and wallows in her shame.
So it starts with a shameful sin. It leads then to despair. And here, when I say, ‘despair’, I don’t mean ‘feeling bad.’ I mean the Christian without any mental illness and without any heavy medication clings to his or her sin instead of their Savior. And eventually that leads them to commit suicide. And if they do this as an expression of and result of unbelief, they end up in hell for one reason: their faith in Jesus is gone.
So there are two contexts in which suicide happens. There are some Christians who commit suicide despite their faith. Their faith in Christ is intact. Their illness takes their life. But their Savior preserves their souls. And there are also those who commit suicide because of unbelief. What then is our reaction to all of this? These words here in Matthew lead us to turn away from our shameful sins and turn to Jesus. Just like Judas, Peter betrayed his Savior too. What is the difference between the two? Peter repented. And Judas had deep regret and remorse. Turn to Jesus. For there will be those times in your life when you will commit shameful sins—the sorts of sins you don’t want to talk about to anyone. And when those days come Satan holds out two temptations. First, he says, “what you did is so bad it cannot be forgiven.” Second, he says, “No one has done what you have done. You are alone and you deserve to be alone.”
But, my dear friends in Christ, what does your suffering Savior say? Jesus says, “I died for embezzlers, porn-addicts, drug-addicts and murderers. The sins you could never confess to anyone, confess to me, for I have paid for them and forgiven them with my own life.” And when Satan says we are alone, Jesus says, “Never will I leave you; Never will I forsake you.”
That it the message we need to preach—to ourselves and to others. The teenagers who are tempted to commit suicide—they need to hear those words of Jesus. Years ago, in Columbine CO, two teenage boys killed many people and then themselves. And in the locker of one of those boys was a journal in which he wrote that he was a product of evolution; his horrible urges were parts of his animal ancestors left over in him. If only he had heard and believed those words of Jesus, “I forgive your sin and I will never leave you.” Grown-ups need to hear these words. The highest growing age category of suicides today is white males in their 50’s. They lose their jobs and then can’t find new ones for months and even years. If only they knew the Father in Heaven who promises to give them their daily bread and forgive their daily sin. The Elderly need to hear this too. Every elderly person who has lost their spouse and home and then ends up in a nursing home ends up at one point saying, “I am useless and alone.” Then euthanasia begins to seem like a good idea. If only they would hear these words here about a Savior who promises to raise their lowly bodies to be like his glorious body. If only they heard once more those words, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
And so, these words in Matthew drive us to confront an uncomfortable sin. But these amazing promises drive us to a Savior who is full of comfort. He has promised that he takes away the sin of the world and he will never leave us. Turn to him. Amen.
1 “ⲙⲉⲧⲁⲙⲉⲗⲏⲑⲉⲓⲥ” (Matthew 27:3 GNT-ALEX)