“Not Just a Gory Story”
Easter 7, June 2, 2019
Not Just a Gory Story
Text: Acts 1:12–26
This scary-looking book I’m holding in my hand is called Gory Deaths (Jonathan Schkade [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2016]). Believe it or not, this book was published by the publishing company of our own church body, Concordia Publishing House. The question is why. Why would CPH publish a scary-looking book called Gory Deaths? Well, the subtitle might help a little: Not-So-Nice Bible Stories. These are gory stories, but they’re also from the Bible, and we believe (don’t we?) that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16).
In this morning’s sermon, I’d like to focus on two of the gory chapters included in this book. The first is told in today’s text from Acts 1. The second one doesn’t explicitly appear in today’s text, but it is definitely connected to the first one—and to every gory thing, we find in the Bible.
The purpose of this sermon, like the purpose of the book, is not to shock you or offend you or gross you out. It is to help you understand why our all-knowing, all-loving God chose to include stuff like this in the Bible, why they happened in the first place, and what they have to do with us.
The text begins on such a high, holy, “spiritual” note: the risen Jesus has taught the disciples, promised the Holy Spirit, ascended into heaven; the disciples have spoken with angels; and now they’re gathering for fellowship and praying together (vv 12–14).
This then leads them to the issue of Judas’s replacement. This was an important thing. Jesus picked 12 apostles because in the Old Testament there were 12 tribes of Israel. Peter and the gang believed that there had to be 12 to fulfill Jesus Christ’s messianic mission to “all Israel.” But why does Luke—by inspiration of the Holy Spirit!—include such gory and graphic details about Judas’s death and its aftermath (vv 18–19)?
The account of Judas’s horrible death reminds us that, according to Scripture (and Martin Luther), humankind has always faced some harsh enemies. Our enemies include:
(1) Satan: The real and nasty instigator behind the traitorous actions of Judas, was the archenemy himself, the devil. It says in the Bible that “Satan entered into Judas,” (Lk 22:3; cf Jn 13:2, 27). That’s one enemy.
(2) The next enemy is Sin: “The devil has been sinning from the beginning” (1 Jn 3:8). The one who tempted Judas to sin was the one who brought sin into the world in the first place.
(3) Death: “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). Once sin entered the world, gory death soon followed, with brother (Cain) slaughtering brother (Abel) due to mere jealousy and anger. Gory stories of death as God’s punishment for sin abound throughout the pages of Scripture (the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, military slaughters, and so on). Death cannot and must not be “prettified.” It is our ultimate (“last,” 1 Cor 15:26) enemy. It is for good reason that Luke portrays the death of Judas, the betrayer of Christ, in such horrific, graphic terms.
(4) Our last enemy is Hell: Tragically, Judas suffered not only a horrible physical death but also met the worst fate imaginable: eternal death, hell itself, with its unthinkable spiritual and physical sufferings (“where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched,” Mk 9:48). It may be hard for us (especially today?) to think and talk so bluntly and graphically about the horrors of hell, but we dare not deny or avoid this biblical teaching and reality.
The story of Judas’s gross death snaps us out of a false view of life. It is a necessary reminder that these same enemies continue to wreak havoc in our world, the church, and in our lives today.
As we consider our first reading today, I think we all can see that it was pretty gory. It should not surprise us that this account is in the Gory Bible Storybook. What might surprise you is that the very next chapter in this book is about another gory death: the death of Jesus.
While it may seem unthinkable to “compare” these two gory deaths, the truth is that they actually do have some things in common. Obviously, there are some differences. The death of Judas frightens and horrifies us. The death of Jesus gives us ultimate comfort, consolation, and salvation.
Both Jesus and Judas died on a tree. Matthew 27:5 tells us that Judas hung himself. Our text tells the rest of the “gory story” that occurred sometime after his death, that “falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out” (v 18). It is generally believed that this is a reference to Judas’ body, after death, falling out of the noose and landing on the ground. Yuck. (Student in Little Rock in 1989.)
Jesus, of course, was nailed to a “tree” or cross. BUT: The tree on which Judas died (by his own hand) is nothing more than a tree of death. It is a symbol of hopelessness and guilt and despair. The tree on which Jesus died has become a new (cf Gen 3:22) tree of life for all who look to Him to be saved. “The Terrible Tree” is actually a glorious tree for all who believe, just as that very bad Friday on which Jesus suffered and died is now observed as “Good Friday.”
Both Jesus and Judas died gory deaths. BUT: While the gory death of Judas simply makes us want to “turn away” in sadness, revulsion, and disgust, The blood of Jesus, on the other hand, “cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7). Rather than turning our eyes away from the cross, we fix our eyes on Jesus and on the cross. We also get to partake of His blood (and body) in, with, and under bread and wine for our life and salvation.
The gory death of Judas reminds us of the horrific enemies of humankind: Satan, sin, death, hell. The Gory Yet Glorious Death of Jesus Assures Us All Those Enemies Have Been Defeated Forever. As the Bible testifies:
Satan: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn 3:8).
Sin and temptation: “The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7);
Death and hell: The gory death of Jesus allows us to be joyful and know that death and hell are no longer in our future. “ ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:54–57).
While Judas’s death sealed him in his sin, in death and hell forever, Jesus’ death and resurrection won for us faith, forgiveness and eternal life. Gory? Yes. Glorious. Yes. That Jesus died and rose for us is not just a gory story. It’s the best news ever. It’s the TRUTH. It’s LIFE.
In Jesus’ Name.
Adapted from material in Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 29, Part 2.