Easter Week Devotional Day 3

Spy Wednesday: Jesus is betrayed and Prepares for death

Matthew 26:1-16

Spy Wednesday gets its name from the spy, Judas, among the disciples; and indeed it is the betrayal of Jesus by Judas that sets the events of the Passion into motion and leaves us to ponder what could be motivating the ‘spy’ to betray the Son of God. Our reading for today gives us some indication on how Jesus’ betrayal came about and what we may meditate on as we, ourselves, prepare for Easter.

Chapter 26 of Matthews Gospel begins with Jesus once again (16:21; 17:12, 22-23; 20:18-19) predicting his arrest and crucifixion, yet this time his prediction is that it will be soon. We know from Mark’s gospel that the disciples had difficulty wrapping their heads around Jesus’ fate, with Peter in Mark 8 going so far as to rebuke Jesus for saying such a thing. And here we must recognize the shame and fear that crucifixion carried with it for Jews in the Roman world.

Crucifixion was a method of execution that was reserved for those considered lesser-than in Roman society; political dissidents, slaves, rebels, and disloyal soldiers. The men that surrounded Jesus were also introduced to the torturous spectacle of crucifixion at a young age. Assuming that they were all generally around the age of Jesus, they would have witnessed the aftermath of a Jewish rebellion in the year 6 AD lead by a Galilean messianic figure (ironically) named Judas. The outcome of that revolt was that Publius Qunictilius Varus, had 2000 Jews crucified in and around Jerusalem. The trauma from that event still clearly lingered in the collective imaginations of the people that lived in Judea at the time that Jesus was speaking to his disciples. In fact, we are even told that the Jewish Chief Priests and Elders, who were conspiring to kill Jesus, were reluctant to kill Him during Passover because it could cause a riot in Jerusalem, and that would in-turn be used to justify a harsh response from Pilate and the Roman authorities.

With that in mind, we can deduce that Judas, and likely the other disciples, would have considerable cause to fear Jesus’ proclamation that he would be crucified. Not only because their beloved Messiah would endure a terribly painful and shameful death, but also because they may receive the same death sentence.

Our reading today also includes the story of Jesus’ anointing by the worshipful woman in Simon the Leper’s house (26:6-13). In this event, there was costly perfume poured out onto Jesus’ head in the fashion of funeral preparations. The disciples reaction was negative, wondering why such costly perfume would be used instead of sold to give the proceeds to the poor. When Jesus tells them that He is, Himself, worthy of the expense of the perfume, we find that soon after Judas is making a bargain to betray his master to the authorities for money.  

On this Spy Wednesday we grapple with the hard truth that the pearl of creation, Jesus Christ, was betrayed by one of his friends and executed by the ‘religious leaders’ who should have known Him and praised Him. That both of the betrayers, Judas and the high priests, were likely motivated by greed and fear is a truth that convicts. Judas’ greed for wealth and fear of crucifixion, and the high priests and elders greed for power and fear of a Messiah who did not operate on their terms, is a reminder of what we are susceptible to. As Christians we must contend with the fact that we will not be given all that we want and our Messiah does not operate on our terms. What we have been given, however, is a hope that transcends all of our wants and desires. We are loved by God to such an extent that our wants and our fears cannot stand up to the power of His love. We are all susceptible to a desire for power and wealth, we are also presented with many circumstances that can inspire fear; yet, the our fear of death has been overcome by our hope in life everlasting in Christ and our desires for wealth and power are satiated in the abundance of love that we have with the most powerful being in existence!  Truly, no eye has seen and no ear has heard (1 Corinthians 2:9) what God has prepared for us in glory, and that is a reminder that we can take into this week! Praise God!