You can listen to the podcast here.
Today marks one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar. This day along with Christmas are the most attended church services across our nation. The story of Easter is filled with all the makings of a modern day movie blockbuster. It’s filled with intrigue, action, adventure, love, and betrayal. The story is of Jesus and He will always have our focus, but there is another man who plays a significant part in one of the greatest stories ever recorded. We know Jesus had 12 disciples and the names Peter, James, and John are widely recognized. There is another man whose name will be recognized and it is his kiss of death that we will look at today. The name Judas is synonymous with hatred, betrayal, personal gain and a host of other less than ideal adjectives that could be used to describe someone. I’d like to dig into what we know about this man that will help us understand the real miracle of Easter.
Matt. 26:1-5 tells us, “When Jesus had finished all these words, He said to His disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be handed over for crucifixion.” Then the chief priests and the elders of the people were gathered together in the court of the high priest, named Caiaphas; and they plotted together to seize Jesus by stealth and kill Him. But they were saying, “Not during the festival, otherwise a riot might occur among the people.”
Betrayal is something only a friend or loved one can do. A stranger or even an acquaintance can’t betray you. Betrayal can only come after you trust someone. Trust is developed after time. No one trusts strangers. Others can plot your destruction, but betrayal is something that can only come from one that has pledged you support – someone close to you. Rejection may cause hurt, but betrayal rubs salt in a wound that makes it sting. Failure may knock you down, but betrayal kicks you and stomps on you while you’re down. No one likes to be criticized or insulted, but betrayal breaks your heart like nothing else and affects you deep in your soul. We look at Judas as the picture of betrayal. He used a kiss, something that we hold precious, as a symbol of betrayal. “But Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Lu. 22:48) Jesus’ favorite term for Himself is Son of Man and that’s the title He used here. I always find it strange when people refer to themselves in the third person. Why didn’t He say, “Betray Me?” Mark records the same title. This wasn’t a disagreement or misunderstanding between two friends. This was a demonstration of Judas’ total opposition to Jesus’ purpose. This gives us the scope of Judas’ betrayal – it wasn’t just against Jesus, but against humanity.
Are there people like Judas among us? I think there will always be questions about Judas’ life. Why him? Was he just an unwitting pawn in God’s plot for humanity to make the story more exciting? Judas is part of the story and I think we often give him a pass. Following this betrayal, Judas doesn’t get much space in Scripture and after all, it is all about Jesus. In simplistic terms, I think it’s easy to hurry past Judas in order to get to Jesus’ glorious resurrection. I think there’s a deeper, more meaningful purpose we need to explore. It’s a theme Jesus brought to the forefront in His earthly ministry. When you consider who felt most threatened by Jesus’ teachings, you begin to understand who’s behind the proverbial curtain. I encourage you to read Mark 11:27-33 to get an understanding of what Jesus was up against. It was the religious leaders of the day that were on the offensive against Jesus. It was the religious status quo – they made the rules, they enforced the rules, they changed the rules when necessary to ensure they stayed as the religious elite. These were the visible enemies of Christ and they knew what they were doing. Jesus goes on to tell a parable of a man that planted a vineyard. The conclusion of the parable is quite startling when Jesus asks them, “Have you not read this Scripture?” (Mark 12:10) For all of life’s challenges and problems we face, I often find myself asking the same question. Have you not read the Scripture?
And then Mark 12:12 says, “They were seeking to seize Him, and yet they feared the people, for they understood that He spoke the parable against them. And so they left Him and went away.” Judas represents something that has always been a source of confusion and danger throughout history. It is the illusion that religion provides someone a place in eternity. Judas provides us with something we are seeing all too often today. Judas shows us that you can walk with God and talk with God and yet not be a part of God. It is possible to know who Jesus is and yet not know Him as Savior. It’s possible to have the knowledge and not the relationship. This revelation was not shocking to Jesus. Throughout His ministry, He warned about the deception that eventually destroyed Judas. Jesus declared there would be wolves in sheep’s clothing. He warned of false teachers. He explained that the enemy planted tares among the wheat. A tare is a weed that resembles wheat until it matures. It may look like wheat on the outside, but it’s not. At the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (Matt. 7:22-23) We need to remember the story of Judas and remind ourselves that an authentic relationship with Christ is not just knowing about Jesus or believing that God exists. It’s about embracing Him as our Redeemer, our Mediator, our Atonement, our payment and penalty for sin. It is about the transformational power of Christ. You cannot make a credible claim that you have a relationship with God when you do not embrace Jesus as Messiah. In Christian circles we often associate asking Jesus into your heart for salvation. In our study through Proverbs, we’ve seen numerous times that the heart is the seat of emotion, the center of who you are. When Jesus resides there, transformation must result. Jesus didn’t just lecture about doctrine and theology. He used stories to tell the wonderful story of redemption and freedom. He wove doctrine and theology into the fabric of everything He said. He illustrated the truths of God in a manner that the people would understand. Judas’ place in history ends with the harsh reality that there really are eternal consequences for our decisions. Judas walked and talked a good game, but in the end, no transformation was evident in his life.
So what’s this all mean for us today? I think it’s a great question that many people in the church dismiss. I think the rationale is that answering this question would mean coming to a very personal conclusion about themselves, their families, and their friends. When people talk about Judas, the question is often asked, “Was Judas a Christian? Was he saved? Was he a follower?” Some would say, he lost his salvation. Others answer the question with a question, “If he wasn’t a believer, why would Jesus pick him as a disciple?” Still others might be inclined to think that the money was too great a temptation for him. Still others conclude the devil made him do it. When we examine the Scriptures, we’ll see the real answer. “But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.” (John 6:64) Later in Bethany, we see Mary anoint the feet of Jesus with some very expensive perfume. Judas protested saying that the perfume should be, “sold for 300 denarii and given to poor people.” (John 12:5) That equated to about eleven months’ wages. The Bible tells us that Judas wasn’t concerned with the poor. He was concerned because he was a thief and that meant there would be less to pilfer from the money box. In Matt. 26:14-16 we learn, “Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him. From then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus.” Judas conspires against Jesus and looks for the right opportunity for the betrayal to take place. Judas knows the place where Jesus will be because he had often been there with Jesus and the other disciples and according to Jo. 18:2, he passes on that information to the chief priests. The plot against Jesus is complete and following the last supper, Jesus and His disciples minus one retreat to the place they had gone so many times before. It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that the disciples were told to sit. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John a little further and asks them to keep watch while He prays. Shortly thereafter, Judas comes along with a large crowd armed with swords and clubs and Jesus is taken into custody. The verdict against Jesus was in before a real trial, without any real evidence presented because there was no real crime. Matt. 26:59-63a says, “Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death. They did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward. But later on two came forward, and said, “This man stated, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.’” The high priest stood up and said to Him, “Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?” But Jesus kept silent.” All because Judas betrayed Jesus.
Here’s what we know about Judas. He refused to believe the claims of Christ although he spent a significant amount of time with Jesus and His followers. He chastised the humble and heartfelt worship of Christ by others. He stole money that was given to support the ministry of Christ. He used his inside knowledge of Jesus and the disciples for personal gain. He betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Finally, Judas, “saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.” (Matt. 27:3-5) He dies a broken man unwilling to call upon Christ for forgiveness. After looking at the Bible, one can only conclude that Judas was lost. The words of Jesus spoken at the Sermon on the Mount ring loudly in our ears, “‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (Matt. 7:23) Many people today will hear these same words when they stand before Christ.
How does that affect us? The story of Judas is not meant for our entertainment and it’s not supposed to be taken as some metaphorical tragedy. This is a real life story meant to show us the consequences of denying Jesus the Messiah who offers us eternal life through His death, burial, and resurrection. We need to understand what this means for us today and we can see these things or lack thereof in Judas’ life. Salvation creates positive change in a person’s life. The Bible is filled with examples of people who had a life-altering encounter with Christ. Judas never changed because he was never saved. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36) God is not against the rich. The Bible reveals that Judas’ greed enslaved him and was a big factor in controlling his actions. Here’s a big one. You can deceive people into thinking you are something you are not. I picture the surprised looks on the faces of the disciples during that last supper when Jesus tells them, “Truly I say to you, one of you will betray me . . . They each began to say, “Surely not I, Lord.?” (Matt. 26:22-23) This was a man that was at every meeting, was involved in everything the disciples were involved in yet did not know Jesus as Savior. He went through the motions of being a follower. It’s possible to fool others, it’s possible to fool me, but you cannot fool God.
One final question asked in Heb. 2:3, “How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” The answer is we cannot escape in ourselves. Jesus Christ is the only way of escaping the judgment for our sins. What do we do? Make the decision to become a follower of Christ today. Not like Judas where he just went with Christ and played the part. The longer you put the decision off, the harder it will be to respond. Your heart grows harder without Christ. Don’t confuse knowing about Christ with knowing Christ. Getting smarter is not the same thing as saving faith. If Christ is not your Savior, then call upon Him to save you today. Judas saw Jesus give sight to the blind, make the lame walk, heal the sick. He was there serving alongside the other disciples that fed 5000 people from just five loaves and two fishes. Judas saw Jesus walk on the water. He heard Jesus say, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.” (John 6:35-36) Judas knew that Jesus claimed to be the Savior of the world, but Jesus was not his Savior. Don’t make the same mistake. Make that decision today.