The Price of Unrighteousness
Tomorrow is Good Friday. It’s a day that we remember as the darkest day in all of human history, through which the brightest light of all bursts forth. It is a picture of the deadness of men in sin, paired with the splendor of a Savior who would lay down His life for His enemies (cf. Rom 5:8–10). It’s a day that we treasure and rejoice in, in seeing the Lamb of God act to save the world (cf. John 1:29). It’s a day that also irks us, in considering the brutal and unimaginable sufferings that our precious Redeemer endured for our sake.
And on the precipice of the crucifixion, on the day of Jesus’ betrayal… a question arises. What is Jesus worth? It’s such a simple, yet profound question. What is Jesus worth? Make no mistake about it, it’s one that you have already answered in your mind and you display it with your life. In a moment of honest reflection, what is your answer?
Here’s one of the proposed answers in the Bible… thirty pieces of silver (cf. Zech 11:12–13; Matt 26:15; 27:9). Let that sink in for a moment afresh this season. What is King Jesus worth? The price of one male or female slave according to Ex 21:32. Thirty pieces of silver. That price, that number rings down throughout history, as marred as it is as the price of betrayal, it is also a reminder of the absolute sovereignty and meticulous plan of the Lord. That’s what I want us to briefly consider.
So as to remove all ambiguity about the death of Jesus, so no one could say it was an accident, a mistake, or just bad luck… Peter boldly declared on Pentecost to a group of unrepentant Jewish people, “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God did through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of lawless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.” Everything that happened in Jesus’ passion week was directly in line with God’s predetermined plan. In fact, when you get to Rev 13:8, which concerns the worship of the antichrist, “And all who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.” The last portion is of particular interest. Before the world was made, there was a book entitled, “the book of life of that Lamb…” paying particular focus to the last four words, “who has been slain.” So sure and certain was this book that Jesus would die as a substitute for His people, that this was constructed before the earth was. The cross was the only plan from the beginning.
Based on the playing out of God’s decree, without betrayal, everyone would still be in their sins. Without betrayal, you would have no hope before you of heaven. Without someone like Judas… there isn’t Good Friday or Resurrection Sunday. God ordained it this way. It was through what Judas meant for evil and selfish gain, that God would use it for good to give many people eternal life. To be clear, while we shouldn’t be thankful for Judas’ evil any more than we are thankful for Joseph’s brother’s evil, we are thankful to the Good God who used and orchestrated these circumstances to bring about His choice ends.
Just a couple of days before the Passover, we read in Matt 26:14–16, “Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you willing to give me to deliver Him to you?’ And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him. And from then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus.” Is He, Jesus, worthy of thirty pieces of silver? Judas’ answer: yes.
There are certain names in the world that evoke strong negative emotions. There are some that undoubtedly come to mind from the past century. But outside of Satan himself, there might be none stronger than that of Judas. There was no higher betrayal and treason than that against the Lord of Glory. Yet again, it was no mistake. In John 6:70–71, Jesus makes it clear that He chose Judas and knew that he was “a devil.” Jesus chose “a devil,” to bring about His demise in order to fulfill the will of the Father (cf. John 17:4–5). The other disciples were oblivious to Judas’ true colors. On the night of Jesus’ betrayal, not one of them suggested Judas (cf. Matt 26:20–24). After all, they probably thought, he’s our trusted treasurer. Only later was it found out that he was a thief (cf. John 12:6).
From the outside, Judas looked like a sheep, he talked with other sheep, he ministered with and to them, and He even walked with the Shepherd, but he was never a sheep (cf. John 10:26–28). Judas went directly to those who had put out a standing order for Jesus to be reported (cf. John 11:57). The order was placed precisely because the Sanhedrin had decided as a collective that Jesus must die (cf. John 11:53). Judas knows what he is doing. He comes to the elite and directly asks them what sum of money they would give him if he were to betray Jesus.
There’s so much that’s wrong here. In Judas’ heart, he believed Jesus was worth an earthly price. We might expect to read here, they measured out ten thousand pieces of silver, or ten million. But no… thirty. Judas doesn’t haggle with them. He doesn’t try to raise things a bit. No. The price alone reveals how low Judas thought of Jesus. He’s worth one slave (cf. Ex 21:32). The Shepherd who taught, provided for, and watched over Judas… who empowered him to heal and teach, and who washed his feet is worth thirty pieces of silver (cf. Matt 10:1–2; John 13:5). Judas loved money, not Jesus.
The price not only shows what Judas thought of Jesus. It shows what the religious leaders thought of Jesus. I imagine they thought they were being generous given their desire to murder Him. The chief priests believed that the Messiah they claimed to be waiting for was worth thirty pieces of silver. A piece or shekel of silver would have been worth around four denarii. A denarius was around a day's wages. So this price is around one-third of a year's work. That’s what the Christ is worth to them… in order to put Him to death. And all of this works to fulfill prophecy, again, not by those who love the Lord and want to see prophecy fulfilled but, ironically, by His enemies.
The price, the people, the setting, all of it happened in accordance with the Scriptures. In Zech 11:12–13, we read, “And I said to them, ‘If it is good in your sight, give me my wages; but if not, never mind!’ So they weighed out thirty shekels of silver as my wages. Then Yahweh said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter, that valuable price at which I was valued by them.’ So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of Yahweh.”
At this point, we see the background for what took place in Matt 26, in Zechariah. Zech 11 presents a picture of the ministry of the Messiah. The scope is focused on the first advent of Jesus as a shepherd, in shepherding a flock devoted to destruction (cf. Zech 11:4; John 1:11–13; 3:19–21). The destruction would come as a form of judgment for not heeding the word of the Lord and accepting His Messiah. While there were some who were poor in spirit who recognized the season, they were the minority (cf. Zech 11:11).
In verses 12–13, we see a picture of the flock devoted to destruction as seen in rebellious Israel, showing what they think of the Shepherd. When Zechariah says, in speaking as the Messiah, “If it is good in your sight, give me my wages; but if not, never mind.” It further highlights how the people did not esteem this Shepherd. That there would be any possibility of no value seen or given to Him for his shepherding is crushing. Of course, it becomes more devastating as we see that the thirty pieces of silver are given in order to kill Him.
Zechariah records, “They weighed out thirty shekels of silver.” Matt 26:15b reads, “And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him.” A shekel is a unit of weight. They weigh out thirty pieces of silver exactly as expected. Jesus was valued at the price of a slave (cf. Ex 21:32). Even that detail is not without Biblical connection and precedent. While it was meant as an insult, Paul says in Phil 2:5–7, “Have this way of thinking in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although existing in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a slave, by being made in the likeness of men.” Paul glories in the reality of Jesus’ humility because he knew that through it, he was set free. Jesus took on the form of a slave, and He was valued as such in the eyes of fallen men. But what was used as a mean offense in valuing Him as a slave, only reveals His true worth. The infinite and worthy Son of God condescended to become a slave to redeem those who were slaves of sin that they might become slaves of righteousness (cf. Rom 6:17–18). It is a most undeserved and lovely reality.
After this valuing and weighing takes Yahweh tells Zechariah to throw the shekels of silver to the Potter in the house of Yahweh, which is the temple. In Jer 18:5–6, we read about who the Potter is. “Then the word of Yahweh came to me saying, ‘Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?’ declares Yahweh. ‘Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.’” The Lord is the Potter. We see that the Potter says to Zechariah that the silver that “I,” which is a reference to the Messiah, was valued at, was to be thrown to the Potter in His house. There the Messiah is shown to be Yahweh, God. The money was to go into the temple.
While Israel rejected the Lord in Zechariah’s day, this is drawn upon and shown to be fulfilled even in Matt 27. After Jesus was betrayed by Judas for thirty pieces of silver, Judas became overcome with the weightiness of his actions. Matt 27:3–8 reads, “Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ But they said, ‘What is that to us? See to that yourself!’ And he threw the pieces of silver into the sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, ‘It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood.’ And taking counsel together, they bought with the money the Potter’s Field as a burial place for strangers. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.’”
Judas went to the house of Yahweh and threw the silver into the Potter’s sanctuary. The price the Messiah was valued at for His shepherding of Israel, the thirty pieces were delivered into the temple sanctuary as it was stated it would be. Judas did this not because he wanted to see Zechariah’s word come to pass, but rather because of the immeasurable weight of guilt that plagued his conscience.
As the Lord judged Israel and Judah during the days of Zechariah, the greatest point of judgment came at the rejection of the Messiah. In 1 Pet 2:6–8, Peter writes, “For this is contained in Scripture: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, And he who believes upon Him will not be put to shame.’ This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, This became the chief corner stone,’ and, ‘A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.’ They stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this stumbling they were also appointed.” Israel, on the whole, rejected the Messiah who was sent to them. For Judas, thirty pieces of silver were what Jesus was worth. For the multitudes who followed the blind guides, no price was necessary. For the chief priests, they would pay to kill the Stone of Israel.
It brings to the surface the same question that was asked at the beginning of this article. What is Jesus worth? Is Jesus worth up to a certain sum of money? If someone offered you a million, a billion, a trillion dollars, mountains of gold, the whole world… would that be enough to sway you from Him? Is He worth comfort and complacency? If you had security and comfort offered to you for the rest of your life–seemingly no strings attached, is Jesus worth more than that? What about your life? Is Jesus worth more than your life? If you had the opportunity to lay down your life for Jesus… would you, or would you deny Him to preserve it in this world? What is Jesus worth?
In 1922, Rhea Miller gave a clear and definitive answer to these questions. She wrote, “I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold; I'd rather be His than have riches untold; I'd rather have Jesus than houses or lands. I'd rather be led by His nail-pierced hand.” The second stanza reads, “I'd rather have Jesus than men's applause; I'd rather be faithful to His dear cause; I'd rather have Jesus than worldwide fame. I'd rather be true to His holy name.” That bridges into the chorus, “Than to be the king of a vast domain Or be held in sin's dread sway. I'd rather have Jesus than anything This world affords today.” The hymn, as the chorus reveals, is entitled, “I’d Rather Have Jesus.” That’s the cry of the heart of the Christian because the Christian knows that Jesus is worth everything.
During this time of year when we spend a concentrated amount of time on the sufferings of Jesus, be reminded that Jesus is worth far more than thirty pieces of silver. He’s worth far more than the world or anything that you could offer or gain. He is worth absolutely everything.