New Testament: Acts 1:12-26 (Easter 7: Series A)
While proverbial wisdom says you cannot compare Judas and Jesus, the preacher responds that you most certainly can, because your purpose is the Gospel.
It is always a jarring Sunday when Acts 1:12-26 is read. People are shocked by the explicit description of Judas’ death. This reading is so dark you can scarcely find a sermon or Homiletical help which does not attempt to do gymnastics in order to avoid verses 15-20. This will serve as the homiletical challenge we will face head-on today. I must admit, though, I would not have had the courage to preach on this text if I had not seen it done by one of the most distinguished Homileticians of our time, the Reverend Francis Rossow. I remember drinking deep from the Theological Symposium I was attending at Concordia Seminary in Saint Louis, Missouri in the first week of May 2009, when I heard Professor Rossow preach a masterful sermon on this impossible text. Today, we will use the lively skeleton of his sermon (slightly modified) to help us find a way to preach the light of the Gospel in this dark text. For your benefit, here is a link to that sermon which is a homiletical masterpiece.
What makes this text also useful for our attention is how it deals with the Old Testament (Psalms 69:25; 109:8). As Peter said in verse 16, “The scripture had to be fulfilled,” which, of course, is the easiest way for the New Testament to use the Old Testament: By demonstrating God’s sweeping plan of salvation. The fact is all of Scripture is fulfilled for us in Christ. But the problem is, Peter was not referring to Christ fulfilling the Old Testament in this text. He was referencing the Old Testament as referring to Judas while giving justification for the acts of the Church in finding an apostolic replacement. Through a Gospel Handle by Comparison and Contrast, a connection can be made between Judas and Jesus, which would give justification not just for the early Church’s staffing problem, but justification by the acts of Christ for the whole of humanity.
Here is how it works:
If you consider the way Peter lays out the dark situation surrounding Judas (A), you can see by Contrast the dark events of Jesus’ own death (B) as a Gospel Handle by Comparison.
(A1) Akeldama (the field of blood where Judas died)
(B1) Golgotha (where Jesus’ blood was shed for salvation)
(A2) Judas hangs from a tree
(B2) The Tree which Christ hung on was the cross
(A3) Judas’ was a voluntary death (despair)
(B3) Jesus’ was a voluntary death (sacrifice)
(A4) Judas was numbered with the 12 (verse 17)
(B4) Jesus was numbered with the transgressors (Isaiah 53:12; made sin for us)
(A5) Judas’ habitation was desolate (verse 20)
(B5) Jesus cries out in desolation: “My God, My God why have you forsaken Me?”
(A6) Judas’ site is a site of damnation to this day
(B6) The site of Jesus’ crucifixion is a site of damnation for salvation
(A7) Judas went to his own place
(B7) Jesus suffered Hell and Judgement in our place (Galatians 3:13)
(A8) Judas’ is a site of infamy
(B8) Jesus’ is a site of Salvation
(A9) Judas’ is a symbol of one person’s despair
(B9) Jesus’ is a symbol of eternal hope for all
(A10) Judas’ is a site of the selfishness of the “son of perdition” (John 17:12)
(B10) Jesus’ site is salvation in the Son of God
I remember seeing this comparison made in artwork. It was the first time I saw Victor Hugo’s work: Ecce Lex (Le pendu), [Behold the Law, the hanged man], 1854. Hugo paints a dark and shocking portrait of a man hung for his crimes. He is, of course, riffing off the more common Latin phrase which Pilate spoke when condemning Jesus saying: “Ecce homo” (Behold the Man). For Hugo, this was a commentary on the miscarriage of justice for condemned people in Napoleonic France. Later, it is a theme he developed in his novel, Les Misérables, where Jean Valjean is redeemed by a man of God whose life is turned around at a tree on a skull-like hill outside of the city of Digne. Though condemned, Valjean is declared innocent through an act of redemption which he did not earn or deserve. To say the least, it is a great story which mirrors the themes of Law, Gospel, and justification.
What I like about Hugo’s work in this piece of art is how he is tapping into the sacred (Ecce Homo) to comment on what is happening now (Ecce Lex). The book of Acts is also capturing the sacred sacrifice of Jesus’ death to talk in contrast, by means of the Old Testament citations, about what happened to Judas in order to try and comment on what needed to happen in finding a replacement for that work. The comparison between the two and the use of Hugo’s art can shed light on the Gospel of Jesus by contrast.
Using this idea, if you do not want to simply use a direct “Compare and Contrast,” one other possible organization is to utilize an Image Based structure.
This “structure uses a single image throughout the sermon and fosters devotional contemplation of an image. In the opening of the sermon, the preacher describes the image for the hearers. The preacher then uses that image as a source for continuing devotional contemplation throughout the sermon. The image serves as a lens through which one views the textual exposition, the theological confession, the evangelical proclamation, and the hearer interpretation of the sermon. As the preacher returns to the image periodically throughout the sermon, he may approach it with a multiple focus: Each time the preacher returns to the image, he focuses upon a different aspect of that image. The preacher may begin by looking at smaller details and, in the conclusion of the sermon, consider the image as a whole. In terms of the progression of the sermon, the image itself serves as a map of the ideas of the sermon, each portion meditated upon at different points in the sermon.”
However, be cognizant of the reality that this work of art by Victor Hugo is, to put it mildly, a little dark. Unless your hearers can handle an image of this potency, you may want to pick another image or structure. You do not want the art to be so strong that it is a distraction which overwhelms the biblical message and drives them away from the Gospel you are attempting to focus on.
Certainly, this kind of comparison between Judas and Jesus lends itself nicely to the Compare/Contrast sermon structure. “This structure systematically explores relevant similarities and/or differences between two topics in order to accomplish a purpose for the hearer. In this sermon, the purpose of comparing/contrasting is crucial.”
While proverbial wisdom says you cannot compare Judas and Jesus, the preacher responds that you most certainly can, because your purpose is the Gospel (see Rossow’s list above).
“The sermon, thus, does more than simply inform hearers of similarities and/or differences. It uses that information for a purpose, and that purpose often makes a difference in their lives. In presenting this information to the hearers, the preacher has a choice of two approaches. He can work whole-to-whole
(for our purposes, listing everything about Judas before proceeding to a listing of everything about Jesus: A1, A2, A3... and B1, B2, B3...),
or the preacher can work part-to-part, offering one item from each topic and then proceeding to the next item
(again, in our particular case: A1/B1, A2/B2, A3/B3... running the list point-by-point between Judas [Law] and Jesus [Gospel]).”
Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Acts 1:12-26.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Acts 1:12-26.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Acts 1:12-26.
 You can find this image here: https://flashbak.com/victor-hugos-blotto-drawings-in-coal-dust-and-blood-1848-1866-367246/ecce-lex-le-pendu-ecce-lex-hanged-man-1854-brown-ink-brown-and-black-wash-graphite-charcoal-and-white-gouache-on-paper/, or here: Lunchtime Art Talk on Victor Hugo | Hammer Museum (ucla.edu)
 For further, see: https://concordiatheology.org/sermon-structs/thematic/comparisoncontrast/