As we move towards Jesus’ crucifixion, we see the number of things that came together that resulted in the events of Good Friday. Tonight’s Gospel shows us that one of the greatest sins that brought about Jesus’ death is greed. We see it in Lazarus and the Pharisees and the Chief Priests. They are greedy, they covet what Jesus has. So, they do what they feel they need to do to get Him out of the picture, to put things back in place.
But we know greed and covetousness don’t start in John 12. Coveting first rears its ugly head after the first Sabbath, after God rested from His work of creation. Isaiah revealed to us what ran through Satan’s head: “You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” He coveted what belonged to God alone, that is, the worship of all creation. Ezekiel tells us that Satan was “the signet of perfection, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty.” So in addition to coveting the worship that belonged to God alone, he didn’t like that the pinnacle of creation was man, not himself. In arrogance he knew how perfect he was. But this arrogance gets things wrong. So he leads a rebellion against God, who has it all wrong.
Of course, that sounds extremely familiar as we hear tonight’s Gospel with Judas’s attitude and think about the Jewish leadership. Judas is an example of a mind blinded with covetousness, and yet pretending godliness. As St. John reveals to us, Judas said something pious—this costly perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor—while what he was really thinking was, “I wouldn’t have minded getting my hands on a portion of what that perfume cost.” The perfume issue aside, Judas, like Satan, thought Jesus had it all wrong. This dying business was way off the mark. How will crucifixion end Roman rule? How will humility restore Israel’s former glory? Jesus is someone who needs to be eliminated because He’s messing with what Judas thought was right.
Which explains why Judas had no problem becoming an ally to the chief priests and Pharisees and betraying Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. They were on the same page—Jesus needs to be silenced because He’s messing everything up. After Lazarus’s resurrection, people were realizing that Jesus was no mere teacher, but that He was the promised Messiah, the one for whom they had been waiting since Adam and Eve plunged the world into sin and death. The Jewish establishment, the lucrative religion of works righteousness that it had become, was being upset, so Jesus needed to go.
And more often than not, we’re in the same mindset. Jesus upsets my life balance. We covet the position He has in our lives as God. He gets to call the shots, to tell us what’s sinful and what’s not; what’s good for us and what’s not. But we want that ability to decide for ourselves. He shows us that it’s good to conduct our lives according to God’s Word. It’s good to curb our greed. It’s good to keep our tongues tamed. It’s good to spend our time in prayer and the study of God’s Word. It’s good for us to share what we have with the poor, regardless of the cost. It’s good for us to turn the other cheek. It’s good for us to be ridiculed by the world for having so-called outdated morals. But none of that is fun. None of that is comfortable in society. So we try to pull a Judas—saying the right thing while thinking evil in our hearts. The same greed and covetousness we see in Satan, in the chief priests and Pharisees, and in Judas we know stains all of our lives and actions today.
And that speaks to our need for this week, for this holy time where Jesus accomplished our salvation. Apart from Him we are shepherdless sheep who go astray. We follow the paths to what pleases us, which is rarely good for our spiritual lives. Satan, the Pharisees, and Judas are examples of what following our own hearts and minds results in. So Jesus, out of great love for us, laid down His life. He walked through great sorrow and anguish in this week, knowing what was on the horizon. He could have been greedy and selfish, walking away and refusing the cross. He could have removed Himself from the cross and obliterated His enemies. Yet, in His great love for us, He died for us. He died to save us from our covetousness and greed that damned us. He has set us free from every sin that threatens to harm us. In Him, we have full forgiveness for all our sins.
And as He was anointed with costly perfume, He anoints us with His grace and Spirit. He comes to us through His Word to teach us what is right, to turn us from lives and hearts of covetousness and greed. His Holy Spirit creates in us new and contrite hearts that lament sin and desire to live for God alone. He anoints us with that Spirit so that we will not be lost eternally.
As you mark this week and follow Christ to His cross, you will see more clearly how much He has done for you. You will see clearly how God uses evil for good, how He uses the sins of men to bring about His good purpose. And ultimately you will see how He defeats sin and death and gives you an eternal inheritance.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.