DUNCAN/A theology of the atonement
If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Matthew chapter 27 verses 1 – 10 as we continue our study through this great gospel. You know, often times we hear people say that there isn’t a theology of the death of Christ. Sometimes you’ll hear people say, “There isn’t a doctrine of the death of Christ in the gospels. You have to go to the epistles to find a theology of the atonement.” Well, they haven’t read Matthew 27 verses 1 – 10 because there are three planks of a theology of the atonement in this passage. Firstly, in verses 1 – 2 we see that the death of Jesus was a judicial action. Secondly, in verses 3 – 5 we see the innocence of Jesus highlighted by Judas’ testimony. And thirdly, in verses 6 – 10 we see the sinfulness of the Sanhedrin concurrently with the sovereignty of God.
I. The Judicial Action
In verses 1 – 2 we see the official trial of the Sanhedrin. Their conspiracy and unjust verdict against Jesus are being finalized and Matthew records that for us here to indicate that Jesus was condemned as guilty and worthy of death by the highest religious and civil court in the land. They find Jesus guilty of blasphemy. And they consider Him a candidate for the death penalty.
And here in these two verses sits the first plank of the doctrine of atonement. Jesus’ death was of a judicial nature. God wants us to understand what is happening to Jesus is not an accident, it’s not just a tragic incidence of an innocent man being condemned by a crooked court, though it is that. It is a judicial action whereby God visits his own wrath upon Jesus, standing in as the culprit for a crime. It’s forensic. It’s courtroom. He is experiencing the penalty for sin in the divine court that you and I should have experienced. This passage shows us that we are candidates for the death penalty. And the only way out is if someone stands in our place. And Matthew is reminding us here that the judicial condemnation of Jesus Christ was necessary for our salvation.
II. The Innocence of Jesus
In Matthew 27 verses 1 – 2 Matthew has gotten us to think in terms of Jesus’ death as a judicial action. But now in verses 3 – 5 he wants us to understand that Jesus was an innocent man. And this fact is absolutely essential to our salvation. And he is using this story of Judas, his remorse and demise, to highlight that particular reality. Though He was condemned by the highest courts of the land as worthy of death, even this traitorous disciple knows that Jesus is a perfectly innocent man. For whatever reason after Jesus’ condemnation, Judas came to regret his part in the plot; and he attempted to return his reward. And Judas’ anguished words of confession in verse 4 serve to accent Jesus’ innocence, his guiltlessness, his integrity, his impeccability. They show the perfect innocence of Christ.
J.C. Ryle says this: “If there was any living witness who could have given evidence against our Lord Jesus Christ, Judas Iscariot was that man.” Judas had been His disciple. He had been with Him almost twenty-four hours a day for three years. If there was any charge that could have been sustained in the court before the Sanhedrin, Judas could have given it. And what is the final confession of Judas? “I betrayed an innocent man.” He shows that Jesus is innocent of the charges.
And this is necessary for our salvation. He had to be a lamb without blemish to pay the penalty for our sin. Because we see from this passage that the chief priest and the elders are the wicked ones. They ought to be undergoing the death penalty. In Jewish law, if you brought a false charge in a capital crime, you were liable to the penalty of that crime. They themselves should have been led to the Roman cross just as we should be. Yet the innocence of Jesus, imputed to us, by the grace of God through faith, blots out our sin. That’s the second plank of the theology of the atonement that Matthew teaches us here.
III. The Sin of the Sanhedrin and the Sovereignty of God
In verses 6 – 10 we see these sinful religionists splitting hairs over contrived manmade righteousness while they ignore the weightier matters of the law. It is a pitiful sight to see these men debating what the proper use of tainted money is. Now they had seen fit to use temple funds to pay for the betrayal of the Lord Jesus Christ, but now when those funds come back to them, they say, “Oh, we would never have blood money in the temple treasury.” You see the perversity of this. These men used tithes to bring about the death of Jesus, and now when that money comes back to them, they try and contrive some sort of good deed outside of temple worship for which this money could be used. And they decide to spend it on a field. Now Matthew is showing you two things in this scene.
On the one hand he’s showing you the perversity of their hearts. These are the men who tried Christ. Not exactly paragons of righteousness, were they? But Matthew is also saying that, even though these men are responsible for this plot, all of this is under the sovereign control of God.
This is the plan of God being carried out. And Matthew is saying in verses 9 – 10 that this money, this ransom money, this tainted money of Judas’ reward was given back according to the command of God, according to the plan of God, according to the decree of God.
All that is happening is in accordance with what God already prophesied hundreds of years ago before in Scripture, and it’s in accord with Scripture because it’s the plan of God. God is sovereignly in control. Why does Matthew tell you this? He wants you to understand that the death of Jesus is not an accident. It is God’s stratagem against Satan for the saving of your soul and the third and final plank of the theology of the atonement. Having seen the wickedness of the people and their conspiracy against the Lord Jesus Christ side by side with God’s plan in this, you ought to bow the knee to God’s sovereignty and flee to Christ alone.
In the end, the difference between Judas and Peter is that Judas never fled to Christ. He came to his co-conspirators. He confessed to them. He tried to put it right, but he never sought the mercy of Christ. That’s the only difference between Peter and Judas. By the grace of God, Peter sought the mercy of Christ. And Matthew wants you, as I want you, to seek and find the mercy of the one who laid down His life for you.