Thirty pieces of silver…..and prophecy! (Mathew 27: 9-10)

Prof B Holwerda

translated by J Vanlaar

Ps. 95: 3                                            Zechariah 11, Math. 27: 1-10
Ps. 119: 66                                        Text; Math. 27: 9,10
Ps. 80: 1, 5
Ps. 80: 7, 8
Ps. 44: 8, 9

Beloved in the lord Jesus Christ;

In his gospel of sorrows the evangelist Mathew has come to the moment at which Christ is led away from Caiaphas to Pilate; from the Jewish judgement seat to the Roman one. And with this changeover he includes a note that tells us what happened to the thirty pieces of silver that Judas had pocketed as the wages for his deceit.

That story you are well aware of.

Later Judas regretted what had happened. The money burned in his pocket when he saw Jesus brought before Pilate, he understood very well that judgement had been declared and the sentence would soon be carried out. He came to the sobering realisation, what have I done! The money no longer interested him. He went to the Sanhedrin and stammered a confession; I have betrayed an innocent! If Jesus is crucified now then His blood cleaves to my hands and to the money!

Judas becomes claustrophobic, and in his angst he tried at the last moment to exorcise the consequences of his deceit. But the priests are in a hurry, they had many other things on the minds. And beyond that they are icy cold and indifferent. Their plans against the Nazarene were now finally being accomplished. Is it murder? What does that have to do with it? They will not let the opportunity slip away.

Is the principle witness starting to hesitate?  So what, he has accomplished his work. He may go now.

Is his conscience starting to bother him? Nonchalantly they say; sir that is your problem! What have we to do with it?

Then Judas understood that it was too late. His remorse turned into desperation. He brought the thirty pieces of silver and threw them onto the floor of the temple; he wanted nothing, nothing to do with it any longer.

His purse had become lighter, but not his heart. He carried it along with him; the memory, the responsibility, the guilt of a murder, and he no longer saw any escape. He dared not continue with life, and he found a tree somewhere in an isolated place. A little while later some people came by and made a horrible discovery (Acts 1: 18). Judas had committed suicide. One could also say: the Sanhedrin had committed a second murder!

But the gentlemen did not concern themselves about this. What they were busy with was the question of what to do with the money. It could not be deposited into the temple safe; it was blood money. Yet it could still be used for a “good purpose”. For a long time it was felt that there was need for a cemetery for Jews from abroad who had died here. There just happened to be a potter who wanted to sell a piece of land. So the deal was made and the cemetery was established: a beautiful “social” provision. One less problem and the money put to good use!

So the thirty pieces of silver and the potter also received a place in the gospel.

Thirty silver pieces and a potter….. Then Mathew suddenly remembers the prophecy! This amount had also been paid out ages ago and also ended up with a potter.  Mathew realised what had happened now and his pen, driven by the Holy Spirit, wrote “then was fulfilled what was written by Jeremiah the prophet,” 1)

What is the history of that tree on which Judas robbed himself of his life? And Akeldama, that new cemetery for strangers, how did that come about? Is here the despair of a man who no longer dared to face life? Or is it the warm feelings of social responsibility of the leaders of Israel who could not with a free conscience allow their poor foreign brothers to be abandoned after their deaths?

Who are involved here? A human being who is tired of life, a maker of pots, and the lords of the great Jewish council? Are there angels busy here, who bring the pariahs of life to rest after their deaths anyway? Or is it the bursts of laughter of the devil that again has made a human being so low and despairing, so crazy with fear that he struck himself with his own hand.

Indeed people are at work here, as well as angels and devils. But more than anything; the word of prophecy has come into action! It all goes exactly according to what the Lord had revealed to Zachariah! All those people do their own things, they go their own way. But they are all, despite themselves, directed by the Lord who speaks His word, His prophecy. It is that Word of God that persists in all that happens! Also in the horrible despair of Judas there is the triumph of the Word of God! The Sanhedrin solves its own little problems, secures its own needs and the cemetery is set up. But in that too is the victory of the Word! It all comes about as the Lord had spoken through His prophet.

The Word is always alive and powerful, also when the people think they have the strings in their own hands. If life comes to a point where there is no escape and a human being can not go on and also if they manage to find a new prospect to carry on with their plans, -- there is always the intervening God behind it all performing His Word.

A life without prospect, we slowly begin to understand what that entails. Especially after the liberation from the Germans, there was fresh air again and the people rejoiced. But soon the shadows returned and a frigid gray mist started to cover all of life. A few years after the end of the war a lead weight was laying on many European nations and sombre oppressiveness ruled outside of it. Life could no longer soar and many began to understand that there was no future here. There was no prospect in life anymore just as it had become for Judas!

Maybe some will think: it was certainly different with Judas than with those despairing today. He had betrayed Jesus, we did not. He was brought to despair by his own deeds, while we on the contrary are anxious of the deeds of others, with the carryings on of the world powers.

I wish that was true beloved! I wish it was that today was really different then it was in the past. But I don’t believe it. In my head I hear the words of Zachariah ringing; thirty pieces of silver and a potter: exactly as the Lord had declared to me.

With what are we concerned here, about the suicide of Judas, about the foresight that the Sanhedrin experienced? No, but about the suicide of the world, and about that of Israel!

About the suicide of the nations of Europe, and the same of the church! Because the Word will not allow itself to be silenced!

I preach to you: The extradition of Christ and the power of prophecy.
                       1) the prophecy of Zachariah.
                           2) the events by Mathew.
                           3) the facts of today.

You know that the prophet Zechariah was called up around the year 500 before Christ to mention a round number. More precisely some have written of the year 520. It was internationally a time of tensions, and it became much worse as time went on.

Somewhere in the middle of the boiling sea of nations there existed a small group of people; Israelites who had just returned from captivity to the fatherland, trying to get back to normal life again.

That was not so easy: their cities were destroyed; the land had become a wilderness. They had to build houses, and a temple: they had to bring their land into cultivation again. Actually they had to start from the ground up. That would have been possible maybe if there had not been so many international problems. But that was just the problem: they were not on an island with their reconstruction far from the international happenings of the day. They experienced daily setbacks because they were in the middle of that seething cauldron.

Durung that time Zachariah rose up as a prophet. A real prophet does not live outside of reality but stands in the middle of life with both feet! That is why they are prophets!  They are people who declare the Word of God about life here below, and who always have to do it on a particular day, and in context with the circumstances of their time. The Word of God is eternal but never timeless.

Prophets do not address the stars, but they address people who constantly have the stars above them, even if everything here below is turned upside-down. They never speak into the air above their heads, so that their voice is lost in immeasurable space but they speak to their real life situation.

Therefore prophecy is totally different than fortune telling. Fortune tellers always try to push aside the veil that hides the future and distract the attention of the people from their own present situation to what will eventually come to pass. But prophets are always the voice of God today. Therefore Zachariah speaks God’s Word as a power for today! As something that applies now, asking for a decision today and only then making for the day tomorrow.

You will see that emphasized in Chapter 11. Zachariah starts with a lamentation over the forests of Lebanon: about the beautiful cedars haughtily standing there and about the proud oaks of Bashan. He sings a lamentation because all of these trees will soon be blown over. From now on you will hear from him “a voice for the weeping of the shepherds”. Without metaphor: he sees destruction coming over all the mighty of the earth, whose thrones will topple down. A storm is coming, screaming over the world that uproots and falls all what is great and powerful.

At that moment the Lord gives Zachariah the command: pasture these lambs bound for slaughter. You will understand straight away: if the princes are called “shepherds” then their subjects are “sheep”. But if they are presented here as “sheep bound for slaughter, that means then that these subjects are doomed to destruction. The collapse of the political powers always unleashes grief for the inhabitants.

The approaching world tempests not only cast the rulers to the ground but also drag their subjects along as they pass.

Zachariah became disturbed when he realized that all the nations were only sheep as heading for the slaughter house. 

Because how does it go with these animals? The buyer can kill them according to his will without affecting his conscience. The seller tallies up the profit and says he had a good day! Or, with a pious excuse says the Lord has blessed me! And the shepherds who must care for the sheep till the day of their slaughter, they in their turn are as equally uncaring in their dealings with them. What does it matter, they are going to the abattoir anyway. They give a kick here and a slap there!

That is how Zachariah saw life in the world of his days, all nations delivered defenceless to the arbitrary control of their regents. Today in this government, desiring power and keen for nice roles that improve their lot if only they can survive the transition of power, then they are on the “inside’! And tomorrow a new regime comes which seeks its own, forcing the people to the edge of the abyss remorselessly. Don’t they have the say? Power is might, order is order!

So when the authorities lead in this way, the administrators are not one wit better. They also try to carve out a position for themselves not making themselves busy with the thought; what will become of the people now. That is why all subjects became butcher sheep, because the people are delivered to the powerful and stand powerless against the regime by which they have been duped.
But these sheep that are driven recklessly and roughly to the slaughter receive another chance. For the Lord gives His prophet Zachariah the commission: you pasture these sheep bound for slaughter. God, in His grace, wants the destruction bound nations including that ‘running for the cliff’ Israel to be saved from the apparently unstoppable chaos. He props up the heathen world and also Israel under the staff of His Word. He himself takes the life of the world and the life of the church into his protection. He takes a saving grip Himself! In His name and by His authority Zachariah has to raise God’s staff over them.

How was this commission of Zachariah fulfilled? In a symbolic way naturally, as prophets often do. He accepts the shepherd’s staff over a flock of feed lot sheep. Actually there are two flocks that he gets to pasture: a large flock symbolic of the gentile world and following that a small flock that represented Israel. That there are two flocks numbered here and that they are respectively images of the gentiles and of Israel appears in the continuation of the chapter. Because in verse 10, Zachariah’s care of the large flock is called “the covenant that God had made with all these nations”. And according to verse 14 the gathering work with the second flock is a symbol of “the brotherhood between Israel and Judah”

So there are two flocks. Zachariah finds two sticks, two staves with which he as shepherd manages both flocks. He gives the sticks beautiful names, the one he baptises as “favour” and the other receives the name “union”. The names express exactly what Zachariah comes to do for the flocks, and thus what God means to be for the nations and for Israel.

Now that the Lord becomes merciful over the sheep for slaughter “favour” comes into the lives of the heathen. The Lord by His intervention into world events makes the nations come upon a time of peace and prosperity wherein the favour of God enlightens their lives. And thanks to this intervening God a new future rises for the church people as well. “Union” comes to Israel because God’s shepherd establishes the communion of the saints by his staff.

The symbolism of Zechariah’s function as a shepherd is this: the light of “beauty” is lit in the world now that the Lord takes upon Himself the leadership of the nations. And a still richer grace is tasted in the church because there the Lord binds together in the unity of faith and love.

So it seems then that everything would become very beautiful. Both world and church could proceed to meet a new future. The Lord wanted to avert the threatening destruction from them both by His own direct intervention.

Ah yes, it seemed so perfect. But Zechariah complains bitterly when he tells how his involvement came to an end. He recalls first his experience with the large flock that had been placed under the staff beauty. He found it necessary within three months to fire three shepherds: that is three of the shepherds who were given charge of the flock under Zechariah’s leadership had to be laid off after a few weeks. It simply just did not work out: Zechariah could do nothing with them. They loathed him and wanted nothing to do with him. That means he gets fed up; you can not operate with such personnel. He had honestly tried, but eventually he has had enough and considered it a lost cause.

He had to sadly admit finally that he could no longer do it. If the shepherds pay no attention to his orders he no longer can take responsibility for the flock. Will the sheep perish? Well then so be it, what ever starves will starve: it’s not my problem. Is there a new danger of destruction? I cannot help it; the consequences are the shepherds’ responsibility: they do not recognise my authority. I can not do anything any more to prevent the sheep from consuming each another. I will not make it my business and as a sign he breaks the staff “beauty” in half.

You understand the horror beloved when as you think about it that Zechariah’s appearance to the one flock was symbolic of what God did in the life of the nations. He had taken upon Himself the leadership of world affairs and wanted His beautiful favour to appear to the nations. But they wanted nothing of the Lord. They severely provoked Him so that he finally removed His hand from them. The breaking of the staff “beauty’ does not only mean that Zechariah leaves some sheep to their own end so that the animals consume each other and go to their deaths, but it also means that the LORD leaves the nations to their lot so that they have no future anymore and that they will destroy each other in battle. The sun shining above the world has set!

And so you can understand what follows this chapter. When Zechariah ended his cooperation with the first flock, it immediately turned into a great confusion; the sheep were no longer cared for, there was mass chaos inside the flock. Everyone could see things were greatly amiss!

At that moment, when the fate of the first flock had been determined, Zechariah turned to the sheep handlers in his own neighbourhood, that is to say the owners of the second flock that he pastured with his second staff “union”. Zechariah had done his work for them and he had done it well so that unity had come.

For the Lord wanted to make it clear to Israel that He specifically watched over His people with exceptional care. He had established the communion of saints there. Wasn’t unity between the sons of the same house symbolised by this action?

Well the owners of the second flock, the Israel flock, were near Zechariah when he broke his first staff. They watched him and had seen with their own eyes that immediately a deadly chaos came over the first flock when Zechariah ended his service with them. They also understood the symbolism. They knew that it not only meant that a shepherd of some sheep had broken a stick but that the Lord had destroyed His covenant with the nations. So they were warned. They saw by the terrible consequences there the incalculable importance of Zechariah’s services.

Then Zechariah said to them: please give me my wages. You have been able to see over there how important my work was for the flock. And I have also pastured your sheep; I still have the second staff in my hand. What is it worth that I continue working with your sheep now? You saw with your own eyes that a flock is written off as dead without my leadership. So figure now, at this moment, what the value is to you if I, as shepherd, keep on pasturing your flock.

Then they paid him thirty pieces of silver, an insulting gratuity, because that was the same wage that everyone else also got. That was how they sent Zechariah off, at the very moment that it was shown that he was not like everyone else; in importance he was far above the other shepherds.

It is self evident what this means. The work of Zechariah with the second flock was an image of God’s merciful gathering of His people Israel. Of the extraordinary grace that
He united His people through Word and Spirit! From election to the communion of the saints!

So when Zechariah presented this wage to the Lord, God was bitterly insulted. Because the people had fully understood that here there was not simply a relationship between a shepherd and some sheep: this was a matter of God’s care in the lives of people. Indeed had not Israel seen with her own eyes that God had removed His hand from the nations and broke His covenant with them? They saw that then the whole world ran off into the abyss.  It had been proved to them that without the governing of the Lord life will no longer have any future.

And at that moment, when Israel sees in the development of world history that without God it comes to nothing, - at that moment Israel says: the work of the Lord, His uniting grace, is to us as valuable as the work any arbitrary worker would do for a farmer. The ministry of the Word, the prophecy that establishes and maintains the communion of the saints is not worth one penny more than any other work for them. They put the Lord on the same level with some random worker, and the unifying grace of the Word is in their eyes of no more value then the work of the best day labourer. By paying thirty silver pieces to Zechariah, Israel has shown they consider the Word of God and the prophetic ministry totally unimportant. Thirty pieces of silver means that: the church trivialises the ministry of the Word!

That is why you hear the razor sharp irony in the God’s word when Zechariah comes to bring Him the silver pieces. “A great price it is that they have judged Me worth!” The shepherd of God more or less equal as the value of a slave! God’s word not any more important than who cares for what little job! And this at the moment when they see that God’s husbandry means everything and is worth everything!

Take note: they see the destruction of the whole world around them; they know that it is because God’s care has been scorned and rejected. But instead of saying: “Lord, Thy work is beyond price, we can not value it high enough; we cannot name a price and give Thee a wage suitable to its worth: but Lord we beg Thee, remain with us. Keep uniting us with Thy Word for otherwise we are lost; it is worth everything to us that Thy staff union remains above us. But carelessly they say instead: thirty pieces of silver is plenty.
Zechariah, have you seen the insult that they sent my way? In these fiery times, when everything is up in the air, I am worth as much as an average worker. They have terminated me with a tip! I will not take it! Throw that money to the potter who sits somewhere in a small side room in the temple fabricating his earthen wares, I reject this gratuity. If My pastoral care for Israel is not worth anything, then I will lay down My staff here too. They will have to finish this game on their own.

So Zechariah broke the second staff; the unity in Israel also came to an end. They flew at each other and splintered irreparably apart.


So that is how I now come to Matthew. I needed the entire eleventh chapter of Zechariah to make you understand the text, and to let you clearly see what is really happening here. Otherwise you will only read about a suicide and the purchase of a graveyard, sad things none the less. But without the light of Zechariah’s prophecy you may never discover how remarkable this all is.

I can well imagine that when you first read the text from Matthew you might say the evangelist has only dragged Zechariah alongside on a hair. He quotes sloppily and is factually a bit off tune. He says these words are spoken to Jeremiah while it is written in Zechariah. The man does not even seem to be at home with the Bible. No one has been known yet who can give a satisfactory explanation. But, more importantly, in both cases the amount was the same and in both there was a potter. But for the rest, when it comes to the point, the report of Matthew has nothing in common with that of Zechariah.

It appears as if Matthew allowed himself to be misled in using a line from Zechariah that basically had nothing to do with these happenings by the value of the price and the figure of the potter.

After all with Zechariah the thirty pieces of silver are, although admittedly too low, an honest wage for prophecy but in Matthew they are the wages of deception. Now it does make some difference if a minister receives too low a stipend than if the same amount was paid to a henchman of the secret police during war time.

With Zechariah the potter apparently was some one who practiced his craft in a side shed of the temple and who suddenly received a present of thirty silver pieces without doing anything for it. In contrast, with Matthew it is a man who happened to have piece of ground for sale and received thirty pieces of silver as equal value.

Had Zechariah said anything about Judas’ treachery, about his suicide or about a graveyard? How could Matthew then say that the word of prophecy was being fulfilled here?

But if you want to know how mightily the Holy Spirit enlightens the facts of the day, then you should not say so quickly that Matthew missed the point. The question is what is really happening here?

As you know it was in the time during which the Romans had put the whole world underfoot. One nation after another saw their independence disappear. They first saw the danger coming and they shuddered but they were as helpless as sacrificial lambs. Their leaders no more than cattle dealers who had sought their own advantage while allowing the sheep to be sold off piecemeal.

 Israel also saw the threat coming. The Romans were already found within their borders. They experienced the misery on their lives and asked themselves fearfully how long it would be before the final blow would fall and the last bit of meagre independence would be taken away.

Practically the whole world was within the grip of Rome since the rule of Caesar Augustus. Only in scattered parts was there a shadow of independent national existence remaining, it was only a matter of time before the final deadly strike.

That awareness lay as a heavy lead weight also on Israel and dominated all parties. Caiaphas has only one great fear; that the Romans would come and remove their place and their people. The Zealots arm themselves, form clandestine operations and are already in action. The Pharisees ponder with the question whether they should pay Caesar’s tax, yes or no. The establishment of parties and party struggles are completely dominated with the question of what position people should take against the Roman threat. They all feel like sheep going to the slaughter house.

Then that great wonder manifested itself! Suddenly, while the other nations ran to the abyss because God took His “favour” away from their lives, the good shepherd, Jesus Christ, stood in the midst of Israel. And knew Him at His own word as being “sent to the lost sheep, the sacrificial sheep, of the house of Israel (Mathew 15: 24). When He saw a large multitude coming toward Him He was deeply moved with pity “for they were as sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6: 34). But the Good Shepherd had come so that the death bound sheep would receive life and prosperity, so that they would receive pasture. He was prepared to put up His life for the sheep for He was a shepherd and not a hireling (John 10).

Do you see that it is the style of Zechariah 11? The Father had said to Him: pasture these sheep bound for slaughter. The favour of God fades from the life of the nations but Israel has the grace of the union. All is not lost yet! Here life has future and direction.

But naturally the big question now comes up; what will Israel do with Christ. They too saw around them what it meant when God broke His staff. Therefore they had the more earnestly to follow the Good Shepherd and to kiss His staff. They also had the verse in their Psalm book: 


                                Give ear oh Israel’s shepherd give ear;
                                Who has favourably led like sheep
                                Joseph’s offspring, chosen by Thee.
                                Faithfull shepherd, bring us back;
                                Save us, show us the gracious light
                                Of Thy glorious countenance

If they had believed that psalm with all their heart, as they had confessed it by the mouth, then they would have said to Jesus Christ: keep us on Thy pasture because outside of Thee we have no future.

But at that moment all Israel preferred that their only shepherd be killed and so deliver Him up to Pilate. They themselves kneel down before the Romans whom they fear and hate and condemn the shepherd of the sheep. The humiliation that Israel had brought upon Zechariah, and in him on their God, is fulfilled.

They still had some regard for Zechariah for they gave him a wage although it was ridiculously low. But for Christ there is only hate! They gave Zechariah thirty silver pieces and were prepared to keep him on. But to Judas they gave the same sum as long as they could get rid of Christ.

But because the sin of Zechariah’s day becomes full here, therefore God then executes the judgement that comes. He comes to fulfill the sentence. At that moment he breaks the staff called “union”. Israel, who rids herself of her shepherd and rejects the communion of saints given by His Word and Spirit, commits suicide herself. The nation disintegrates, the sheep consume each other and the nation is torn up into many warring parties.

There you have Judas, at this moment the man finally realises what he has done. How would you describe him psychologically is any ones guess. Maybe he thought at first that his deception would cause no harm because they would not be able to find anything against Jesus. Perhaps in the first few days the money had him so much in its power that he did not think of the consequences. Perhaps he was living in a stupor. Perhaps….. Ah, who will list all the possibilities and come to a decision? Only one thing is certain: the Word of God determined the outcome, also with him!

He sees that they bring Jesus to Pilate and immediately comes to his senses: He is innocent and I have sinned! He is filled to the brim with angst. Whatever you will say of Judas; he acknowledges his guilt, he publicly brings out his confession. He still tries at the last moment to forestall the consequences. His heart races, he is no longer himself, I am a betrayer, a betrayer of innocent blood. This is how he comes to the Sanhedrin, with his turmoil, with a gnawing conscience; not able to quench that voice. He screams his confession.

But he is mistaken if he thinks that he still can change anything. He runs up against the unyielding nature of Israel’s leaders, against their cold disregard for Jesus’ rights; against their indifference to Judas’ remorse. Does your conscience burden you? Man that is your business, it is nothing to us.

Those are the leaders of Israel, the shepherds of the sheep, and they have the keys of the Kingdom of God. It is to them that the sinner must come for they must admonish but also comfort, to punish and to forgive. They have a task, an evangelical task with regards to the heart broken and defeated by consciousness of sin.

Here stands one who had conspired with them and he is desperate. They see his wild eyes and hear his shrill voice. In his despair he goes to his shepherds, a lost sheep. They see him lurching toward death. They know that this child of Abraham himself totters swaying along the abyss, in confusion he stands dazed upon the rim of hell. He will immediately plunge into the unfathomable depths of hopelessness if they do not stretch out their hands. But the lords of the church shrug their shoulders: what does it interest us? Guilt, indecision, judgement, that is your own business, save yourself.

He came to the temple, wild, bewildered. The money rolls clinking over the pavement, they hear him scream, a lost sheep of Israel who sees no way out. Didn’t Judas, a quarter of an hour before his horrible end, still come into the church where there is the gospel of forgiveness and the ministry of atonement? He found no one to receive him, no one who had a heart for him, they let him go. That is the result of the fact that God has broken the staff union in the church.

How did it come that Peter came to rights and not Judas? The betrayal of Peter was much blacker! Peter became right before Christ, the Good Shepherd, who put His life up for the sheep and with Him is forgiveness. He only asked one thing: do you love Me? After that he said only one word: Peter, feed the sheep! He always thought about the flock.

Judas came to the people who were only called shepherds but were cattle dealers: ‘sir that is your business’. So they chased him to death. Here is no longer any unity. Somewhere far away there lays a corpse; it isn’t their business. What keeps them busy is the question, what should we now do with the money!

So they gather together to deal with a pressing concern! They are very conscientious: according to the law they cannot throw it into the temple chest. But perhaps they could buy a piece of ground with it! Many strangers die here; foreign Jews who ended their last days, poor and shabby, and were finally stuck away somewhere in a hole. These lords say is that the proper way? Aren’t they children of Abraham, the sheep of God’s flock? We have to ensure that they receive an honourable burial.

 A real concept of responsibility isn’t it? A monument of brotherliness this cemetery is! A demonstration of unity even in death! A powerful proof of union! But in the meantime those people who feigned so much brotherliness, who loved the brothers from foreign places and took care of their final resting place, -- those are the conspirators who first chase the sheep to death themselves. Witness Judas.

That is why there is the high irony of God. They wanted to set up a “Resting Place” but the loquacious congregation quickly called the grave yard a “Field of Blood” and that title stuck. They don’t care for the dead but they make the dead! And so the factious struggles flared up higher and higher. It takes forty years and the final blow falls. But they are lost already; the unity was gone now that they had rejected Jesus. Indeed it was a wise choice to establish a cemetery. They devoured one another and were doomed to destruction.


And now the facts of today, I believe this text has a benumbing present reality. In the decade after the war there was panic throughout the whole world during the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia. It’s not in the newspapers today anymore but the events were a storm signal for Europe. After that the whole international political scene was ruled by fear of the communist menace: the Atlantic pact and I know not what else.

And the people personally! The one wanted to emigrate, the other waits with resignation, the third called for forming an alliance and the fourth expected help from America. But who saw the hand of God in all this?

What is happening today? God breaks His staff to pieces! He pulls back His favour and gives the nations over to themselves and to each other. Now unavoidably there comes self destruction and the great suicide.

Because wasn’t there for many years, by His grace, a sheen of glory lying over humanity! But they didn’t want His dominion; men had an aversion for Him. So it started to grieve Him and he refused to keep blessing this life. Things started to break down; there was 1914 to 1918; and even worse 1940 to 1945. Then there was some relief.

But did you see what happened after the liberation? Not a single government reckoned with God. They played with the life of their subjects; it became a world of sheep bound for slaughter. People still speak of the methods of the Russians today. What about the United Nations and what about the Security Council? Also what did our country do? Didn’t the political system eliminate God there too?

We know what it is, the one misery had not yet faded away and a new flood threatens to spill over. Nothing is left of life: God has pulled His hands away! The nations were delivered over to power mongers and politicians. The self destruction of Europe was in full swing. The sheep handlers did not concern themselves about the sheep at all. What was left to save yet?

Did they have to try to get away because it was safer somewhere else? Did they expect salvation by a powerful bloc that would put its foot out to trip up Russia under leadership of America? Unfortunately the people acted as if the Americans could continue to hold up the staff ‘favour’ after the Lord had broken it.

What do we need? This: that the church more then ever desires and values the staff of Christ, ‘union’.

Because since the world has imploded, the same question that God also posed in the days of Zechariah and Matthew comes to us with a vengeance. The request: give Me my wages!

Because God tells us with great emphasis in the current day’s events; you see where life ends up if I break My covenant with the nations and remove My favour. They do not see the dawn anymore. What is it worth to you, you people of the church; that I keep my staff ‘union’ raised over your life in Christ the Good Shepherd? What is the staff of Christ worth to you now that you see what the breaking of My staff means for the world? Give Him His wages! Determine now, you children of Israel the price you must put on the value of Him and the ministry of His Word.

And that is the most disconcerting: the church people understand very little about this. Some one once said to me; if you see the developments in world events then the things about which the church keeps itself busy become laughably small. Can’t they put a stop to all those conflicts about confession and discipline? And I fear that there are many who think this way. Over against the life sized threats of world hegemony church matters seem actually insignificant.

But what God says is precisely different! When it becomes chaos in the world because God removes His guidance, then he says to the church: now you for the sake of your life will have to keep close guard over your accounts, because I rule over you with extraordinary love. I keep you together with My staff union. I gather you through Word and Spirit, what is that worth to you?

It is just because the Lord asks this question that I clutch my heart. The situation in the world is serious. But we should not have to be alarmed if everything was healthy in the church. Even if the enemy was standing at the border we could stay at rest because the Lord is mighty to destroy them just as He did with the army of the Assyrians. But Christendom has something fundamentally amiss.

The masses are indifferent about the Word. There are hundreds of places where hardly anyone comes to church in the afternoon (evening) anymore: where people simply withdraw themselves from the staff of Christ. They are lukewarm in the confessions. As long as there is a united front, they no longer ask how much water has been added to the wine. They seek unity outside of the Word of God! Consider our Christian organisations; the foundation is no longer a serious matter anywhere. People work together on a wide basis and you can hardly put fundamental issues on the agenda anymore. And you know how it is with discipline in recent years and the burdened conscience that is not respected.

As long as these matters remain people may act very broadminded and brotherly and try to put up a dam together to hold back the floodtide from outside. But the evil is on the inside: they no longer take serious that the power that gathers the church is the Word of God.

Now that the world is disintegrating the wide layers of church folk still don’t think that they should finally submit themselves to the staff of the only shepherd.

Then God says notwithstanding all pious proclamations and magnificent multifaceted actions a pretty price they have declared as Christ’s worth! They have again, with some pious words, shoved Him aside and abandoned His staff for their self willed sticks of collaboration.

Then the church flies apart, the bonds disappear even if they try their utmost to keep it together.

Therefore beloved, it now becomes the most serious. You see what is happening in the world. Shall we go forward in a state of drowsy slumber? Or shall we establish a unity according to the flesh? Or shall we say finally: Lord if Thou wilt break Thy staff and remove the union by Word and Spirit, then we are lost! Lord, all unity derived by human effort will be crushed; we see it happen before our eyes. Therefore we beg Thee: keep pasturing us with the staff of Thy word! Thou art beyond price for us as Thou gathers Thy church.

And beloved, when we stand up today like Peter and go to Christ praying:
            Let Thy decrees lend me support unshaken
            I wander like a sheep that’s gone astray:
            O seek me LORD; Thy law I’ve not forsaken.
I say: if we so pray and in all of life, church, political, economic and social, we bow under His staff and unite ourselves by that alone; well then I declare to you henceforth peace through Christ Jesus. Because the Good Shepherd who put His life up for the sheep then, still lives today! He has only one desire: pasture the sheep! He wills to graciously gather us together.

I do not know what we and our children will experience then. It could become a painful time, with blood and tears. But the favour and bond of God will not fade from our lives anymore. It may be that we will become sheep for slaughter but it will not be because of our own sins but because of the name and staff of Christ. The dirge may once be forced from our lips:
            O Lord for Thy sake we are slain;
            We are like sheep prepared for slaughter.
Yet He will keep us protected then as sheep of His own flock. Then we are greatly comforted because I hear Paul say: we are considered as sheep for the slaughter, but in all this we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us!

Well then beloved, give Him His wages! The wages of your faith and love, as thanks for your being gathered into the church by His Word!

The wage also of forsaking everything that cannot abide His staff! Amen.


  1. The difficulty that Mathew ascribes to Jeremiah the word of Zechariah I can not deal with in the sermon. Study the commentary of J. Kremer, Die Hirtenallegorie im Buche Zacharias (Alttestamentliche Abhandlungen XI, 2) Munster i. Westf. 1930, pp. 97-105, which discusses a large number of solutions. Read also pp. 22-25.