Lent 2023: Leaning Towrads the Light

Revised Common Lectionary: Year A Sixth Sunday in Lent

Liturgy of the Palms

April 2, 2023


Highlighted Text: Matthew 26:14-27:66

Summary of the Text


Ancient Lens: What can we learn from the historical context?  

Judas’ motivation for betraying Jesus is not clear in Matthew and Mark. It certainly was not the money because “30 pieces of silver” was probably a modest sum. Both Luke and John attribute his motive to Satan (Lu. 22:3; Jn. 13:2). The time was “the first day of Unleavened Bread,” a feast that began on 15 Nissan and ended on 21 Nissan (March/April). Some would suggest that the festival actually began on 14 Nissan and lasted eight days. The place was the house of one whom Jesus refers to as “the man,” even though there was evidently a relationship between him and Jesus, for the man knew him as “the teacher” (26:18). It is quite likely that Jesus had pre-arranged the event with this man. 

Ἰησοῦς Lens: How do we point to Jesus?

This pericope begins with the shocking information that “one of the twelve,” Judas Iscariot, carried out a sinister plan to betray his Master (26:14). Matthew’s record of the final Passover meal Jesus ate with his disciples, including the Lord’s own stunning statement that one of his disciples would betray him (26:21), increases the dramatic effect of this story. It is drawn out further by the disciples’ sorrow at this mournful news as they passed the question around the table, “Is it I, Lord?” (26:22) Although not stated, one wonders by virtue of the fact that Judas’ question concludes this quizzical account, whether Judas was the final one to ask the question. Certainly Jesus’ answer was conclusive whether or not Judas’ question came last, “You have said so.” We know from all four Gospels that Judas had collaborated with the Jewish authorities prior to the Last Supper (Matt. 26:14-16; Mk. 14:10-11; Lu. 22:3-4; Jn. 13:2).  

After the account of the Last Supper, Matthew orders his narrative to relate both the disciples’ and the authorities’ (political and religious) reaction and activities regarding our Lord’s arrest, trial, and death. Every aspect detailed in 26:31-27:66 formed the composite of the Savior’s sorrow and suffering.  

Modern Lens: How does this touch our heart, life, emotions, thoughts, and relationships today?

What we do with this story is of utmost importance during the Lenten season, but not only this season of our sacred calendar but the whole of it, from the cradle to the grave, and leads triumphantly into the resurrection of Christ. But we miss a critical piece of this story if we do not properly proclaim the message of Christ’s birth, life, passion, death, and resurrection (Matt. 28:16-20). And decisively important is that Christ is with us always (Matt. 28:20). The message and the presence are an absolute verity. 

Hassell Bullock

C. Hassell Bullock is the Franklin S. Dyrness Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at Wheaton College (IL) where he taught for 36 years. He is a graduate of Samford University (Birmingham, AL), Columbia Theological Seminary (Decatur, GA), and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Instiutute of Religion (Cincinnati, O).

Among his published works are An Introduction to
the OT Poetic Books (Moody), Encountering the Book of Psalms, and a two-volume commentary on the Psalms, Psalms 1-72, and Psalms 73-150 (Baker Academic).

In addition to forty years of teaching in the college classroom, he has served Presbyterian congregations as pastor in Alabama and Illinois. He is married to his college sweetheart, Rhonda, and they have a son and a daughter and five grandchildren.

Sermon Resources

Key Quotes


In order to speak of the crucified God we need a theology of abandonment, of dereliction, of an alienation so profound that it can only be expressed in language marked by paradox and by great daring and risk. The Crucifixion of the Son of God by one of the most advanced civilizations in the ancient world does not seem to be an acceptable or reasonable method of redeeming the world. There is something so outrageous and obscene about it that the agony in Gethsemane becomes the only comprehensible part of the whole saga.

Kenneth Leech, We Preach Christ Crucified

No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown. 

William Penn

Love was compressed for all history in that lonely figure on the cross, who said that he could call down angels at any moment on a rescue mission, but chose not to – because of us. At Calvary, God accepted his own unbreakable terms of justice.

Philip Yancey, Where Is God When It Hurts?, Zondervan.

Key Illustration

The Judas Goat

The idea of spiritual goats in a church has always been intriguing to me…They gave opinions to questions they were never asked and sought attention to soothe their feelings of neglect… Then, in every congregation, there was always the Judas goat. Few believers need to read the résumé of Judas Iscariot, the personally chosen apostle of Christ who willfully chose to betray the Savior…Judas entered the flock as a sheep, but the agenda in his heart exposed him as a goat. The Judas goat was the name of an actual goat especially trained to work at a slaughterhouse.

The process works as follows: In the case of sheep, the goat is trained to associate and become familiar with the sheep in the field—eating with them, lying down with them, and generally gaining their trust. After many months the season arrives for leading the sheep into the slaughterhouse. As the stockyards open, the sheep, in an innocent manner, will follow the Judas goat into specially marked pens or into the back of trucks and, in some instances, into the slaughterhouse itself.

The outcome for the goat differs from the sheep—because as the goat leads an entire flock into the slaughter, a special gate is prepared and opened for only the goat, enabling the goat to escape the final gate that leads the others to their deaths. The goat will escape the slaughter, returning to the field where he will begin this deceptive process again with a new flock of sheep.

Perry Stone, The Judas Goat: How to Deal With False Friendships, Betrayals, and the Temptation Not to Forgive, Charisma House Publishing.

Additional Sermon Resources

Liturgical Elements

Call to Worship

Adapted from Psalm 31:14-16

Leader: We trust in you, O Lord.

People: We say, you are our God.

Leader: Our times are in your hand.

People: Deliver us from the hands of our enemies and our persecutors. 

Leader: Let your face shine upon your servants. 

People: Save us in your steadfast love. 


Prayer of Confession

​​“It is finished.” With those words, You declared victory. Sin, death, and evil lost their power. We are the church: Each of us recipients of Your victory. In Jesus, we have won! But often we deny Your victory. We allow sin, evil, and death to reign as if we do not have a Savior. When challenged in our faith, we throw up our hands in defeat. We fail to rely on You. Lord, we are sorry for our failures. Cause us to trust Your words and to stand firm in Your victory. Amen.

Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church


Assurance of Pardon

Isaiah 53:1-5

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.


Revelation 5:12-13

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! …To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!