March 29th, 2018
Among Jesus’ disciples, Peter was known for his denial, and Thomas for his doubt. But they were only temporary lapses of faith. The most infamous of his Jesus’ disciples was Judas, and that is who I have chosen to speak about this evening. So what made him so different from Peter and Thomas?
He was a disciple in good standing during Jesus' ministry, apparently trusted enough by the others to be appointed treasurer. And yet, even then, John 12:6 tells us, “he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” So he betrayed the trust of his fellow disciples, although they were not aware of it. But Jesus’ knew. He was aware from the beginning that Judas would become a betrayer. Six chapters earlier in the Book of John, we read “Jesus said… ’There are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him” (John 6:64). Yes, from the beginning. Just as in our first Scripture reading about the wheat and the tares. Judas was indeed a tare among the wheat.
There is good evidence for the fact that Judas went through a process of disillusionment with Jesus. Perhaps he was expecting an earthly kingdom in which he would hopefully have a prominent place. So he couldn't understand why Jesus seemed to be withdrawing more and more, talking about suffering and death, while the religious leaders were becoming more and more angry with him. Judas perhaps began to feel the "loss of a dream." Two other events may give us additional information about a deteriorating relationship between Jesus and Judas. He was left out when Peter, James and John were invited to accompany Jesus up the Mount of Transfiguration, and he and Jesus clashed at Mary and Martha's banquet on the day before the Triumphal Entry (see John 12:1-8). No surprise that it was over money. Is it possible that this disillusioning process caused Judas to turn against Jesus and join the opposition?
The actual process of Judas's betrayal moved through several stages which are chronicled in Matthew 26. First the chief priests and elders make their decision to arrest Jesus and kill him (vs. 3-5). Then we read in vs. 14-16, “One of the Twelve - the one called Judas Iscariot - went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?’ So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over”. Yes, for a measly thirty pieces of silver we read In vs. 47-50 what happened in the garden that night, “While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: ‘The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.’ Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed him. Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.” Yes, he sold out Jesus for a handful of silver coins, even though Judas heard Jesus in person warn, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
It is interesting to note that in the Old Testament (Exodus 21:32), thirty pieces of silver is the price to pay when your bull gores someone, worth at most $600.; it was also often the price of a slave in their culture; and this money was likely taken out of the temple treasury which was to be used for sacrifices. No coincidence that Jesus’ was indeed the ultimate sacrifice – the only one that could truly cleanse us from our sins so we could go to heaven one day. And remember our second Scripture reading from Zechariah? It is repeated in Matthew 27, “Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor. When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’ ‘What is that to us?’ they replied. ‘That’s your responsibility.’ So Judas threw the money into the temple and left… The chief priests picked up the coins and said, ‘It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.’ So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”
I left out one sentence from those verses I just read from Matthew 27. Do you know which one it was? “Then he went away and hanged himself”. Was Judas’ remorseful? Yes. Was he repentant? No. Unlike Peter, who cried bitterly after realizing that Jesus’ prediction that he would deny him three times before the cock crowed twice happened just as he said, and then turned around to write 2 books of the Bible and win many souls to the Lord, before ultimately being martyred for his faith – Judas knew he had sinned, knew what he did was evil, even gave the money back, but his heart was never made right with the Lord. He never asked for forgiveness, he never trusted that God could use even what He did for good; in fact he never put his faith in the Lord at all. No, he never gave His heart to Jesus even though he knew he should, because Jesus had already proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that He was who He said He was - but He was not who Judas wanted him to be. So instead he only wallowed in his own self-pity, and threw away his soul along with his life. Some argue that Judas found salvation, however in Matthew 26:24 Jesus says, “woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born”. Not better for Jesus, not better for us who are saved through Jesus’ death and resurrection, but better for the betrayer if he had never been born. Does that sound to you like he went to heaven?
Yes, Judas is a sad study - of how the wrong expectations of Christ can produce disillusionment, of how dangerous disillusionment can become, of how remorse is different from repentance, of how deals that we consider to be a bargain produce bankruptcy, and of how God can work his plan of redemption even through evil acts of people like Judas. But as C.S. Lewis said in his book ‘The Problem with Pain’, “For you will certainly carry out God's purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.”