On occasion juries are called upon to make a decision in a civil case where there has been an accidental death, how much was that person worth? What kind of compensation should go to survivors? In Matthew 26:1–16 you are not looking at the value of the life of someone who was killed accidentally, but rather, the question is, what is the value placed on the Son of Man?
The priests and elders rejected the Messiah. Opposition to Christ has been building. Jesus’ authority had been contrasted with that of the religious leaders from the beginning, Matthew 7:28,29 (the conclusion of Jesus’ first discourse). As early as the healing on the Sabbath of the man with the shriveled hand, the Pharisees had been plotting his death, Matthew 12:14. The conflict had intensified the closer Jesus had come to the close of his ministry. His view of the kingdom of God and theirs were radically different.
The religious leaders plot the death of Jesus. Jesus’ teaching exposed the hypocrisy of the leaders of Israel. His popularity with the crowds threatened their own positions of leadership. The issue of a riot was crucial. It could threaten their own position directly. More importantly, it could being down the wrath of Rome, on whose authority some of the leaders depended, and upon whose good will the current situation rested. Their reasoning included a base pragmatism, best expressed in Caiaphas’ unintentional prophecy, that it was better that one man die for the people, John 11:50. Behind the thinking of the chief priests and elders lay a works religion. These were supposedly the shepherds of Israel, but they were leading the people further and further from the Lord.
Judas betrayed his Lord. Judas turned traitor. The initiative seems to lie with Judas, who went to the chief priests and brokered a deal to betray Jesus. Matthew repeatedly calls him “one of the twelve,” here and verse 47, underlining the treachery involved. “Zechariah did not see the path ahead as a smooth one. Israel had not yet seen the last of bad shepherds, and therefore the Messiah, when he came, would hardly be met with universal acclaim. It would in fact bring the relationship between God and Israel to a new, and terrifying point of crisis.… In the time of fulfilment Zechariah’s teaching about the clash between God and the false shepherds gets transposed into a higher key, and played out in the person of Jesus the Messiah.” (Barry G. Webb, The Message of Zechariah, pages 154–155) You can speculate as to his motives. Was it simply greed? The betrayal follows the anointing with expensive perfume, and John tells us that Judas, the treasurer of the disciples, led the protest that better ways could have been found to spend the money “wasted” in the extravagant act. Was it disappointment that Judas’ expectations of the establishment of an earthly kingdom were finally shattered? Is he frustrated with what he sees as missed potential? Matthew focus on the act, not on the motives behind it. The chief priests gladly seize his offer as a way of quietly carrying out their plot. At the Last Supper Jesus’ indicating Judas as the betrayer forces his hand. Although the Jews had not wanted to arrest Jesus during the feast (verse 5), Jesus was determined to be sacrificed as the Passover lamb. Judas is forced to move quickly. The timetable will be that of Jesus, not of Judas, not of the leaders of Israel. Jesus’ confrontation of Judas provides one last opportunity for Judas to repent. Though he has made his wicked bargain, Judas has not yet led the priests to Jesus. There is still time for him to throw himself on the Master’s mercy. There is still time for him to seek forgiveness. But Judas weighs his loyalty to the Lord against the price of a slave, and the 30 pieces of silver win.
Thirty pieces of silver is the value placed on the Good Shepherd. Although it is not clear whether the price was paid then, or upon delivery of Jesus, you can picture the scene. Negotiations drag on, and finally a bargain is reached. Thirty silver coins are counted out. The price is deeply ironic. Zechariah 11 describes the rebellion of the sheep against their Shepherd. They detest the shepherd (Zechariah 11:8), and he finally offers to resign. The thirty pieces of silver is the severance pay, 11:12,13. The amount also “happens” (though not by accident) to be identical to the amount set as the reparation for the death of a slave, Exodus 21:32. Only in irony can it be called a “handsome price” as the coins are thrown to the potter. (See Matthew 27:3-10 to follow the money.) What will you pay for my severance, asks the Lord. What is my price? The answer should be, “we will not and cannot give you a price.” First, such a price would imply dismissal, severance, and we cannot live without the work of the Shepherd. Secondly, his work is of infinite value—we cannot begin to set a price on it. And finally, it is not ours to pay. The Good Shepherd is ultimately the Lord, not our employee to be hired or terminated. But the leaders of Israel put their heads together, bargain with Judas, and the price placed on the head of the Messiah, the sum of coins that value his life, is the price of a slave, a mere 30 pieces of silver. “The primary fulfilment of this prophetic sign act occurred in the life and ministry of Jesus. He was truly the Good Shepherd (John 10:11–18), sent to earth to shepherd the flock otherwise destine to destruction, rebellious humanity (Eph. 2:1–3). He came to his own sheep, to the Jews, but they refused to receive him (John 1:11). He came to bring the Gentiles too into his flock (John 10:16), but the Jews and Gentiles instead conspired together to reject and crucify him. At his greatest hour of need, his own disciples abandoned him and fled, while Judas, one of the Twelve, betrayed him for thirty pieces of silver (Matt. 26:14–16)” (Iain M. Duguid, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi p. 167)
Trust the Savior! Jesus has finished all these sayings. Jesus has completed his discourses. Matthew has marked the conclusion of the various discourse passages, Matthew 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; and now the more comprehensive 26:1. Now Matthew moves on to describe the heart of the work of the Good Shepherd: his suffering, death, and resurrection in the place of sinners. The Savior has his work planned out. He has taught the people and his disciples about the kingdom. Now he undertakes the crucial work which will establish it.
Jesus gave his life for you. Jesus tells his disciples that at the Passover—two days away—the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified. This is not just a prophecy. He is in control. The priests may be plotting. Judas may be looking for an opportunity to betray. But the Son of Man is going to the Passover. He went willingly, doing what his Father had planned. His time was near, verse 18. The priests may have their schedule for his arrest. Judas may have his plans. But it is the timetable of the Father that counts. The feast is an appropriate setting. He is going to be the final Passover Lamb. He will lead his people, not out of slavery in Egypt, but out of sin and death into life eternal. He does this by being handed over, by being evaluated at the price of a slave, by being arrested and executed in your place. “As for ourselves? In fear and trembling we must admit God into our houses, our shops, our studios, and fields. Listening attentively, then, we shall hear Him ask: Give me My price. The question must come to all: what think you of the Christ? In that sense all must make an appraisal, all must return an answer. He is fortunate who can be quick to reply: Lord, I cannot appraise Thee. Thou only canst place a value upon me, O Lord, and include me with those for whom Thou hast given the inestimable price of Jesus’ precious blood, flowing through the infinite, eternal Spirit.” (K. Schilder, Christ in His Suffering, p. 80)
Jesus is the Shepherd who is being undervalued, dismissed, and betrayed. But he is exactly the Shepherd you need. Entrust yourself to him alone!