7th Sunday of Easter – C LSB #856
Text – Acts 1:18
Now this man bought a field with the reward of his wickedness, & falling headlong he burst open in the middle & all his bowels gushed out.
Whoa! Whoa, whoa! Pastor, where are you going with this? You can’t seriously be writing a sermon on that text! The picture it paints is disturbingly ugly. My response – “That is most certainly true.” Sin, if we could see it accurately, is always disturbingly ugly. It is never cute, cuddly or harmless, although the devil, & we ourselves, often picture it that way.
In Matthew 7:15, Jesus painted a picture describing how you & I often mischaracterize sin: “Beware of false prophets, who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.” (NLT) Have you never thought of yourself in that way, as someone who disguises a vicious wolf to look like a harmless sheep?
Typically, we think of Jesus’ warning as referring to other people, not ourselves. In fact, it’s likely you tend to think of the devil himself as the classic example of a wolf coming to your children, let’s say, in sheep’s clothing as he tempts them to sin. However, in the Bible reading from the 1st chapter of Acts, I think the Word of God is warning you & me about our sin.
To be more specific, I think it’s about where Satan would lead us with our sins: “…falling headlong he burst open in the middle & all his bowels gushed out.” Disturbing as that visual may be it is a picture of where unbelief will take you. It is a description of life without the mercy & goodness of Jesus. It is a glimpse of hell.
So back to the wolf in sheep’s clothing image. “But pastor, we had guests in our home this weekend. We couldn’t just leave them & go to church.” Could that sort of attitude be like a wolf disguised as a harmless sheep? Are you being ‘nice’ to your guests on the outside while depriving them of being in the house of God on the inside? Looking at another example, did you teach your children how to pray? Did you also lead them by example, I mean, did you pray out loud while they were in your presence, especially when you were anxious or troubled? Maybe they were embarrassed, so to keep the peace, you were ‘nice’ to them on the outside, by not submitting them to your prayers. What did Jesus see in that; a wolf lurking on the inside?
We want to trust that God means business when He baptizes someone in order to bring them into His kingdom, but the 1st chapter of Acts also warns us that Lucifer is not playing games either. The disturbingly ugly picture of Judas’ death is Satan’s intention for you & me as well. Sometimes it takes a very harsh image to wake us out of our slumber.
The recent movie about the life of Abby Johnson, who was once the fastest rising director in Planned Parenthood, has already motivated hundreds of workers to leave the abortion industry. As one now former employee saw the ultrasound video of an abortion taking place, this is how she described her experience in the theater:
“I just … heard everyone gasping & I thought to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, this really isn’t normal, what I’m doing every day. This isn’t normal. I’ve been trained to believe that it is, but it’s not.’”
Satan is training each of us to think that our sins are normal, that they’re no big deal. Abortion workers, who think it’s normal, must hear the gasp of horror from the rest of the audience to realize they’ve been brainwashed. The horrible account of the death of Judas is in God’s Word so that sinners might realize they too have been brainwashed to think it’s normal.
In our world, from our perspective, everyone we know does sin. We don’t know a single person who doesn’t, & for that reason sin is part of the everyday fabric of our lives. It’s so normal we have a saying to describe its effects. Murphy’s Law says, “If something can go wrong, it will.” There’s a reason that rings true. Things work that way because of sin. Praise God that Murphy will be out of work in heaven, but until then, there are times when the Holy Spirit needs to challenge our perspective on life. If you find the image of Judas’ death to be disturbing, you should ask yourself why would God have put those words in Holy Scripture. For what purpose is He showing us the stark horror of sin?
In the Lutheran tradition, we hold all the Word of God to be holy, life-giving & worthy of study in its every word. Peter uses the death of Judas to highlight a focus on new life. He goes back to words from the Psalms to guide their actions after Judas betrayed his calling into the kingdom of God. His place is effectively erased, & they don’t dwell on his demise.
The end of Judas was horrifying, but the disciples move on, with the Word of God as their guide. Peter didn’t say it was going to be easy to move on. By this time, they knew full well that their Rabbi Jesus was also not going to be with them in the same physical way He’d been for the past three years. They had to move on from that as well.
Sin & it’s effects are always horrifying to those who are holy & good. That ain’t us! Apart from the holiness & goodness of Jesus Christ, sin is destroying you & me – for eternity. And even with Jesus Christ, to our physical eyesight, it looks all the same. If you are a humble follower of Christ, it’s still good now & then to reflect upon the awful death of Judas.
It’s good to be reminded that we are not normal in this life, not ever. Then, we need to move on. In our worship services, we confess our sins with no excuses. That should be as uncomfortable as hearing about the gushing bowels of Judas. Then, we hear the absolution & we move on. All of us desperately need the righteousness & holiness of God’s Son.
The great & good news is that He freely offers it to us. No matter how disappointing or how ugly are the circumstances of our families & our lives the Holy Spirit is able & willing to work through you! Yes, even with Jesus Christ, to our physical eyesight it appears as if we & our world are going to hell in a hand basket. That’s why St. Paul explained: “…we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” To believe in Jesus is to look at our lives & our world honestly, & then move on. This world also is wasting away, but our Creator will build a new one as the reading from Revelation described.
It’s true, there are times when we are ashamed of worshipping Jesus. There are times when we cover up our beliefs, so the world does not see us as belonging to Jesus. In either case, our sin is putting on the outer cloak of a harmless sheep because we don’t want to ‘scare’ certain people that we know. In so doing we might as well be devouring them ourselves.
The gory demise of Judas is truly a picture of life without Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin. Judas’ death is a symbol for the ultimate despair of a fallen individual. That is where sin ultimately leads, even if you don’t end up literally with your bowels gushing out. Life is never found at the end of rejecting Jesus’ mission.
Do you recoil from the picture painted by the sermon text? Christian humility should regard the end of Judas with pity & horror. Do you want a religion that is pretty & undefiled, neat & clean, cut & dried, something you can present to the world wrapped up with a pretty bow & a colorful ribbon? The death of Judas does not allow it.
Hopefully, the conclusion of his life causes you to gasp & realize that you are not normal in your sins. They need to be repented of just like the sins of everyone else. The time for repentance is always now, because you cannot know how far down the road to hell you may travel & still be able to come back.
Beware of false prophets who offer any Jesus other than Christ & Him crucified. His death on the cross was also disturbingly ugly. That too is a picture of where sin always leads, but at the cross of Jesus Christ is where sin ends. His life ended in love rather than despair. Every sin, of every man, woman & child was paid for in the death of the Son of God. The chains of sin were broken. Death has no hold upon us. We are free. We truly can move on from the horrors of our past. You can move on from the prayers you forgot to demonstrate to your children. You can move on from the times you failed to live your faith in front of your guests.
In all those circumstances where you played the vicious wolf hidden in sheep’s clothing, the robe of Jesus’ righteousness now covers all your sins, all your failures, all your despair. He placed that on you already at Baptism, & He can do that because He not only died for your sins, He lived the perfect life that you did not.
One day, what lives beneath that robe, will be totally new, sinless & holy. That new creation began when the body of Jesus was raised from the dead to the new life that will never end. “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” That too is most certainly true. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
 2 Corinthians 4:16 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet