Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Sermon for Invocavit: “The Chief Human Agent in Christ's Passion” — Dr. Adolph Hoenecke

Judas Iscariot Retires from the Table, by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890)On Wednesdays through the Lenten Season this year (2013), we will be publishing sermons from Dr. Adolph Hoenecke (1835-1908), who is among the most important theologians of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), and from Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann (1883-1965), a prolific author, educator, historian and theologian of the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod (LCMS) and among the more significant figures of 20th Century American Lutheranism.

Last Sunday marked the beginning of the First Week in Lent, also known as Invocavit, and this week we will again be hearing from Dr. Adolph Hoenecke (WELS) on The Chief Human Agent in Christ's Passion. That Chief Human Agent was Judas Iscariot — the Betrayer of Christ, pictured at left in the night of his infamous deed, deviously and hurriedly departing from the Passover Table. From Christ, and His interaction with Judas, we have much to learn both about ourselves and the nature of God’s relation to us, as Dr. Hoenecke explains in the following sermon.



A Sermon for Invocavit

The Chief Human Agent in Christ's Passion

by Dr. Adolf Hoenecke1
    Text: I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me. Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake. Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake. He then lying on Jesus' breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it? Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly. Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him. For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor. He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night.

    Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you.
    (John 13:18-33)

The manger at Bethlehem, the cross on Golgotha – these are the truly conspicuous milestones on Jesus’ path of humiliation. With the one He began, as anyone one may see, to tread the wondrous way of humiliation for our redemption; with the other He reached the end of that road, and again it was for our redemption. That the Child Jesus might be laid in the manger at Bethlehem, God made use of an agent whom He had selected from the mass of mankind. It was Augustus, the Emperor, who with his census had to serve God, the All-Highest, as His lackey and assistant in carrying out His counsel. He, the heathen, had to be at God’s beck and call, when God was ready to fulfill His will, His counsel of grace, in accordance with His promise.

But the complete fulfillment came about in this that the Son of Man had to be delivered into the hands of the heathen (Gentiles) in order to be nailed to the cross, as the Scriptures had predicted. And behold: again God made use of His agents in the execution of His counsel. But, as certainly as we find joy and delight at Christmas in seeing how the great and mighty heathen Emperor Augustus had to act as God’s agent on behalf of the lowly-appearing Child in the manger, just as certainly are we deeply grieved to observe who acted as God’s agents in delivering the Son of God into the hands of the heathen. These agents were children of God’s people, the elders and priests. Pre-eminent among those agents, however, was one man: not one from among the dregs of the people; not one from among the clique of hate-blinded priests; no, one out of the circle of Jesus’ disciples. Let us, then, take this as the subject for our devout consideration:

  1. How Judas became such an agent.
  2. How Judas set about his work.


How he became such an agent.I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture might be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.” Thus the Lord spoke to His disciples. They were gathered with Him about the Communion Table on the night that He was betrayed. The institution of the Lord’s Supper had already taken place. With the words: “This is my body” (Lk. 22:19-20; Mt. 26:26-28; Mk. 14:22-24; 1 Co. 11:23-27). He had already given His bread to His disciples – to all the Twelve. At an earlier hour the Lord had also washed the feet of the disciples and had bestowed a beatitude on them. But, He then said, this beatitude did not apply to all. “I speak not of you all,” the Lord said. There is one among you to whom I cannot speak my “Blessed are you.” He is the one in whom the Scripture must be fulfilled: “He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.”

These words are recorded in the Forty-First Psalm (Psalm 41:9). Centuries before this night in which the Lord was betrayed that person had been determined, that child of perdition was settled upon as the one who was to perpetrate this heinous deed, the betrayal of the Son of Man. Judas had to offer his services as the betrayer and had to serve as the agent who led Jesus into His sufferings, once it had been prophesied in Scripture. Not some heathen, not any Jew, not anyone out of the number of seventy disciples could serve as this agent. It had to be one of the twelve disciples of the Lord, one who ate His bread of the New Testament, which He had distributed for the first time in the night in which He was betrayed. And, friends in Christ, since the Scriptures certainly reveal the eternal thoughts and counsel of God, therefore this also is a certainty: It was nothing accidental that Judas became a leading agent in bringing about Jesus’ Passion. That was foreseen and included in the whole eternal counsel of God, the heavenly Father, according to which the redemption of the world was to be accomplished through the sufferings of His Son.

But as certain as it is that Judas was selected by God to become a chief agent in the sufferings of Jesus through his shocking betrayal, let us be just as certain of this truth: Judas was not fitted out by God for this deed of betrayal. God did not cause Judas to be born with such a spiritual makeup that he was compelled to perform his abominable work; He did not endow him at birth with such an extraordinary sinfulness that he had to become the devil’s tool. Not at all! Judas was born a sinner like all other men, no more sinful and no less. For “there is no difference, all have sinned” (Rom 3:23). By nature Judas was in no deeper, no more hopeless state of sinful corruption than a Peter or a John. For in this respect there is no difference by nature. And it was through his sinfulness, which was none other than that common to all the children of Adam, that Judas was fitted out to be the agent in the betrayal.

Now, what was the particular sin which finally led him to become a traitor to his Lord? It was no sin of an unheard-of kind, one of which men in general know nothing. On the contrary, it was a sin which is very common all over the world, a sin which holds sway over thousands and thousands of hearts. It is a sin which, beyond all doubt, has its dominion even in many Christian hearts, namely, greed, avarice, the lust for money. Judas was a money-hungry man. His greed for gold became the handle by which the devil laid hold on him. Through his lust for money, through greed, he fitted himself out to be a leading agent in bringing about the Passion of Jesus.

If you, friends in Christ, have followed my remarks closely, you will realize with me that we are here dealing with a very significant, a very sobering matter. The unfailing result must be a knowledge that alarms us to the depths of our souls. I submit that we see in Judas, as in a mirror, what our inborn sinful condition is, and what can come out of it, particularly out of the avarice, the lust for money, inherent in us. For Judas is of the same sinful flesh as we; we are flesh like his. At this, friends in Christ, we have reason to be alarmed. We have reason to tremble at the thought that our evil flesh can easily gain the upper hand in us and lead us the way of the curse. Whether anyone of us will ever become a vessel of wrath and the curse is something known to God. No one of us knows it.

But this I do know: if we do, we have fitted ourselves out through our own sin to be such vessels of wrath. Ah, if only this knowledge would make us tremble and fill us with a deep, deep dread, and make us shudder at the thought of the perdition which, in the form of the sinful flesh, lies slumbering in our hearts. But only too few realize that. How many Christians act as though in their inmost heart there is nothing but heavenly light and love of God, nothing but innocence and holiness. Accordingly they say, when they look at one of their fellow men who has fallen deeply: I don’t know how anything like that could happen to me. I know how far I can go; I know how to control myself! How bloated with conceit, how giddy-minded you are! If you would only learn, with a man like Judas before you, to say with fear and trembling, as does Paul: “May God preserve me, for I know that in me, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing. I know into what depths my sin, my love of mammon, my pride, and my worldly-mindedness could plunge me” (Rom. 7:18, para.).

If we inquire, fellow Christians, whether there was any factor present which hurried Judas along on the evil way which led to betrayal of His Lord and Master, then we must say: Yes! Judas was encouraged and emboldened by others to betray His Lord, and thus to become the agent in delivering the Lord into His sufferings. These were the high priests and Pharisees, the elders of the people. They wanted to capture Jesus and try Him, but they wanted to get Him into their power without any commotion. It was to be done without exciting and rousing the people.

Therefore they had issued the command: If anyone knew where Jesus was, he was to give the information so that they might take Jesus captive. And so Judas had gotten in touch with them. You can imagine how the high priests and Pharisees urged the argument on Judas that he would be earning a real reward from God, that he would be doing the Church and the people a great service, if he would deliver Jesus, this deceiver of the people, into the hands of the elders in Israel. So it is true that Judas became the chief agent in bringing about Jesus’ sufferings because he was encouraged and strengthened in his evil intentions by godless men.

But let us add this as equally true: he did not become such an agent without receiving even stronger and more earnest warnings to dissuade him. This had been done not only on a previous occasion. No, even now at the Communion Table he was admonished and warned in the most earnest and heart-gripping way. First of all, Jesus warned him through His words. “When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me” (v. 21). Most likely our dear Saviour’s deep grief and sorrow showed itself in the look of His eyes and the tone of His voice. Tell me, was not that warning one to shake Judas to the depths? How could he help noticing that Jesus with all his heart desired to check him in his path of sin! Then there was something else to warn him, to call out to him: “Stop! What you are about to do is a revolting thing.” This warning came to him in the form of the great consternation of the disciples at the words of Jesus. They were shocked and alarmed when they heard of this sin (v. 22). Even though the godless priests and Pharisees had made Judas’ heart callous toward the sin which he was about to commit, as though it were nothing, still the consternation of all his fellow disciples must have shaken him. Their fear, their loathing of this deed which Jesus had mentioned surely served to warn him: It is a repulsive thing that you plan to do; all God-fearing hearts recoil from it in horror.

There was, finally, a third thing to warn him. This came in the form of a plain sign. Through it Jesus told him and explained to him: Judas, do not think that your iniquitous ways are hidden. I know what you have in mind. As the sign which was to identify the person of the betrayer, the Lord gave him the sop. Remember, the Lord had said before this: “He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.” Thus Jesus had identified as the betrayer the man who would do this thing. And now by giving the sop to Judas, He told him: Thou art the betrayer, Judas. Bluntly Jesus told him so.

This is always the final, most earnest warning: You are the man who has done this damnable thing. Confronting a sinner point-blank with his sin is the strongest kind of warning. In the face of such a warning the last delusion that beguiles so many to continue on their sinful ways – that delusion is shattered, the delusion that their sins are hidden. So, we see, Judas had received the most earnest warnings against his sin; he had no excuse.

If some Christians would only take this to heart. I mean those who in many respects travel the ways of the godless world and, like Judas, prefer this world’s reward, be it the goods, or the pleasure and recreation, or the acclaim and the honor that this world offers. These they prefer to the Lord and faithful fellowship with Him. Oh yes, these people plead too: Those men used so much persuasion on us as to how good it would be if we followed their advice, how well we could provide for our own, if we would join this or that society, lodge, club, and how many friendships, advantageous connections, and acquaintances we could gain, if we would live their kind of life and share their pleasures. That may all be. But did not your Saviour raise His voice against that? Has He not done this through His ministers? Has He given you no indication of His sadness because you wanted to follow ways on which He simply cannot lead you to His salvation? Have you had no fellow Christians who showed you by their shocked, alarmed attitude toward your ways that these are the ways of shame? Who can offer a reasonable excuse?

But once more we turn our eyes to Judas. A deed of darkness is never done unless the prince of darkness has a hand in it. Thus it was in this case. “And after the sop Satan entered into him.” (v. 27) The Evil One took possession of Judas’ soul, made it completely subject to himself, helped to remove the last misgiving and to confirm the resolution to carry out the betrayal. From this it is evident that it was also through the inner working of Satan in the soul of Judas that he was driven to become an agent in the Passion of Jesus.

That, however, is true only in this sense: he was made willing to do the devil’s bidding only through his own wickedness. In what did his wickedness consist? In this: Though he stood revealed before His Lord, he still impudently and brazenly resisted the last warnings of the Lord. Who can describe the earnestness of the Saviour’s words: “That thou doest, do quickly!” With a powerful stroke it cuts deep into the soul: Hurry to betray your Master! Hurry to earn the blood-money! Isn’t that word like a hammer-blow that will pulverize rock?

And yet, with all the earnestness designed to cut most deeply, the Lord treated Judas most tenderly and sparingly. For this whole incident remained a mystery to the other disciples. “Now no man,” we read, “at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him” (vv. 28, 29). Even now the Lord had not exposed the betrayer to all the others. But both the earnestness of the Lord and His forebearance were all in vain. Not the Lord, but the Evil One triumphed. The wickedness that impudently resists God made Judas his willing servant.

Thus Judas – let us review it brief1y – became the leading agent in the Passion of Jesus in this way, that he had indeed been selected for that part by God, but had fitted himself out for it through his own sins; that he had been encouraged to do this heinous deed by godless men, but had at the same time been warned against it by God in the most earnest way; that he was, indeed, driven on by the devil, but was made willing through his own wickedness. Now, fellow redeemed, let us see how Judas set about his work.


How Judas set about his work.He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night” (v. 30). At once, immediately, in great haste Judas left the room of Communion. There was no waiting, no hesitating. Like one who has disposed of a nasty, but unavoidable preliminary, and so is happy that he can put his hand to a piece of business that promises him advantage and profit, even so he hurried away from the company of the Lord and His disciples. Up and at the work of earning the “nice piece of money” promised him – that was his thought. He stepped out, and it was night. Wasn’t this circumstance a call, a hint to wait? But no, Judas might have misgivings if he waited till the next day. “That thou doest, do quickly,” the Lord had said. Judas told himself that he might as well act on the advice. Might not someone else forestall him in earning the promised reward? Therefore, away with all delay, even though it was night. Thus he went at work with haste, with an eagerness gruesome to behold, in a greedy hurry to secure the reward of sin.

It is appalling! And yet we see the same sad drama being acted out today by only too many children of perdition, even though a physical betrayal of the Lord is not involved. We see many young people in a great hurry to leave behind, at long last, the warnings and admonitions of their parents. Often they boldly seek to put an end to the time during which their parents, in the never-dying hope for their son or daughter, strive to keep them away from the ways of the world and from unrestrained license. Theirs is an ugly haste and a feverish lust to be entirely unhampered and unrestrained. They cannot wait to cast themselves into the raging stream of fleshly lust, to drink of the world in long, deep draughts!

We see only too many older people trying to cut short the time during which a congregation admonishes them and tenderly pleads with them to beware of walking the paths of sin. They hail the time – in fact, they can hardly wait for it – when they are loosed from such fetters, and then are free to devote themselves completely to their money-making and earthly “happiness.” It is enough to make you shudder, when you see these people, like Judas, hurrying away from the assembly of the Lord and His disciples, away from the Word and Sacrament, as though every minute that they still remained there were wasted. Truly appalling is the sight of their greedy hurry in going out to meet their supposed happiness.

And it was night.” How significant that is! It was into the night of perdition that Judas was going. He went at his work as the victim of darkness. Oh, how bitterly, soon after, he cursed the hurry, the haste in which he had pursued the reward of sin! How roundly, soon after, he damned the burning lust which led him in the chase for mammon, as though he were securing for himself the most wonderful happiness.
Judas Iscariot in Cocytus, Eternally Devoured by Statan
Judas Iscariot in Cocytus with other infamous Betrayers, Brutus and Cassius, being eternally devoured by Satan in the lowest pit of Hell, as vividly described in Dante's Infero, Canto 34
The money burned his palms, now that the sin of betrayal, the betrayal of innocent blood, weighed on his conscience (Matt. 27:3-10). Night, the night of despair, was all about him. And the darkness swallowed him up. A death of damnation was his end.

As a victim of darkness, of hellish night, Judas went at his work. He set about his work as one eternally lost. But this was not so because there was no help for him. “Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God shall glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him” (vv. 31, 32). You understand, friends in Christ, that the Lord was here speaking of His glorification through His sufferings. “Now is the Son of man glorified,” the Lord said. Truly, now he was glorified. The betrayer was already on his way. In a very short time the mob would set out to take Him captive in Gethsemane. The trial and the judgment would be taken care of in short order. Soon the cross would be raised on which He was to be lifted up, to shine forth in His most radiant glory.

Jesus is beautiful when He performs signs and wonders, feeds the hungry, heals the sick, comforts the mourning. But where is He more beautiful than on the cross? In love He offers Himself for us on the cross as the sacrificial Lamb, and now we poor sinners ever and again rejoice to see Him in this picture which bears the title: “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Yes, from all sins. What? Even from the sin of a Judas? Certainly. There is no doubt about it. All sin, even that committed against the Son of Man, can be forgiven by virtue of the ransom price, the blood of the crucified Lamb. – Then, mark it well, Judas did not go his way as a victim of eternal darkness, because there was no longer any help for him. There was help; his sin also was to be made good through Jesus’ blood.

Then what accounts for the fact that Judas, nevertheless, went to his doom, although he felt remorse over his sin, though he, in fact, gave evidence of it in word and deed, and even expressly renounced his accomplices in sin, the priests and elders, and threw the blood-money down at their feet (Matt. 27:3-10)2? Here in our text we have the answer. The Saviour says: “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come” (v. 33). We know that the disciples did that. They sought the Lord. As much as they had sinned against their Lord through their flight, through their forsaking Him, through denial, as Peter did (Matt. 26:69-75), yet in all their misery, their despondency, and their terrible doubts, their hearts were directed toward Christ; they sought the Lord. And they found Him.

But this was the very thing the unhappy Judas did not do. He did not seek Jesus. He could very readily have found Him and, in Him, forgiveness. But he did not seek Him. He had lost the last little spark of faith and confidence. But when a man has lost that, then for him there can be no coming to Jesus any more (Heb. 6:4-8). For this reason Judas found no forgiveness. His fate was the one mentioned by the Lord in our text: “As I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come.” Our Saviour was here speaking to the unbelieving Jews about His going into heaven through suffering. Once before Jesus had told the unbelieving Jews: You cannot come into heaven because of your unbelief. He now told them so again.

Let us take those words as addressed to us, so that we may by all means remain such people who, in spite of many falls into sin, ever and again seek Jesus in faith, that we may not become people like Judas, people who do not seek Jesus.

How, do you suppose, did it come about that Judas in his great misery did not seek Jesus? Fellow redeemed, we cannot go wrong, if we say that, as a result of his hypocrisy toward Jesus, he had over a long period poisoned his soul with a dread of Jesus to such an extent that he no longer dared approach Jesus with any trust. Let us beware. I do not say that the loathsome sin of hypocrisy cannot find forgiveness. Most certainly it can! But I do say that through hypocrisy the way to Jesus can be blocked for us. Even though our life may be marked by much weakness, still let us remain upright before Jesus, so that we, in the face of our deepest distress, may confidently seek Him. God grant it.


Endnotes:Glorified in His Passion, by Dr. Adolf Hoenecke
  1. Hoenecke, A. (1957). Glorified in His Passion (W. Franzmann, Trans.) Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House. (Original work published in German, 1910.). pp. 15-29.

    Note: Dr. Adolf Hoenecke (1835-1908) is among the most important theologians of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). He, along with Johannes Bading (d. 1913), led the WELS out of pietistic indifferentism and unionism into strong confessional Lutheranism, was one of the founders of the the old Synodical Conference, and is credited with being the first German Lutheran to author a complete Lutheran Dogmatics in America – Evangelical Lutheran Dogmatics – recently translated into English and available from Northwestern Publishing House. For more information about Dr. Hoenecke, a fairly detailed biography written by Professor August Pieper in 1935, can be found at the following link: The Significance of Dr. Adolf Hoenecke for the Wisconsin Synod and American Lutheranism

  2. This reference, of Judas remorse and confession, is worth noting:
      Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood. And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value; And gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord appointed me. (Matt. 27:3-10)

    Notice what is happening, here. Judas knows he has sinned a terrible sin. Conscience stricken and full of remorse, he presents himself to his Church leaders, looking for absolution. None is offered. Instead, he is by them bidden, “wallow in your own sin,” and, on his own, to come to terms with the condemnation he assuredly deserves.

    The end which Judas met is the just and natural end met by sinners whose Shepherds, whose Church, fail them: fail to direct sinners to Christ, fail to direct sinners to forgiveness, fail to point sinners to those Means exclusively through which Christ and His promises are received. Thus, such poor sinners are doomed to wallow in their own sin and to die in despair, apart from Christ. And so Christ warns such Church leaders, “better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.” Derelict pastors, and there are many of them, will have much to answer for.


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