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Jesus Encounters: Judas and Betrayal

Those of us who gathered here last Wednesday to begin Lent together by celebrating Ash Wednesday heard the account of the woman who anointed Jesus with very expensive perfume to prepare him for his burial. Lent leads us to the cross of Christ and his burial. Of course, the story doesn’t end there, but before we get to resurrection Jesus is crucified and buried.

The encounter between Jesus and this woman is the first of a series of encounters that various people – and often significant people - have with Jesus throughout his Passion. Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial, torture and crucifixion are often called his Passion.

This sermon series through Lent will focus on the encounters various people had with Jesus.

We will use Matthew’s Gospel to do this.

Maybe the most notorious encounter in the final days of Jesus’ life was between Judas and Jesus. It was Judas who betrayed Jesus Christ into the hands of the Jewish authorities, leading to his eventual condemnation and death. What are we to make of Judas Iscariot?

Judas was one of the Twelve. He had a special relationship with Jesus. He was chosen by Jesus and part of the inner circle. Jesus wanted Judas with him. They prayed, worshipped, ate, traveled and served together. Is it hard to imagine that they loved one another?

When Jesus gave his disciples authority over unclean spirits and power to heal diseases and sickness, Judas was included in that. Judas was trusted and charged with spreading the gospel like the rest of the disciples.

“There must have been some good in the man for Jesus to have chosen him not only to follow him but to be one of the Twelve.”[1]

Judas goes to the chief priests who along with the elders have plotted a conspiracy to arrest and kill Jesus. He asks what they are willing to give him if he delivers Jesus over to them. Judas sees value in Jesus. He understands that there is personal gain for him because of Jesus. His relationship with Jesus had turned into what he can get out of it. He will use Jesus.

Every person should be careful about claiming Jesus only for what we can get out of him.

The chief priests offer thirty pieces of silver, or more accurately thirty shekels, and Judas agrees to the deal. Thirty shekels was not a significant amount of money. Thirty shekels was the price of a slave’s life. In Exodus, there is instruction about the death of a slave and it says, “If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels of silver to the master of the slave…”[2]That might sound kind of random to us, but the point is the price of a life of a slave.

We contrast Judas getting a pittance for Jesus’ life with the story right before this. It is of the woman who anoints Jesus with very expensive perfume, the cost of which was an entire year’s wages. Jesus says she does this to prepare him for his burial.

Here this unnamed woman does a beautiful thing to Jesus, maybe even going broke to pour out this costly perfume on him. Judas wants to know what he can get against Jesus.

One foretells Jesus’ burial. The other sees to Jesus burial. One gives an extremely valuable gift for Jesus. The other takes an extremely small pay off for Jesus.

In the upper room at that first Communion, Jesus stops the dinner by telling his disciples that one of them will betray him. Judas says, “Surely, you don’t mean me, Rabbi?” He is lying. He knows it is him, just as Jesus knows it is him.

Judas joins in with all the other disciples asking Jesus, “Surely you don’t mean me?” because if he everyone else questions and he doesn’t he will look too conspicuous.[3]

Judas sells Jesus for his own gain and he lies to Jesus’ face. How does one – a disciple no less – get to this place? Luke tells us that Satan entered into Judas.[4] The other Gospel writers don’t attempt an explanation.

When Judas asks, “You can’t possibly mean me?” Jesus responds to Judas with, “You have said so” which can also be read, “Those are your own words.”

He doesn’t expose him before the other disciples by saying, “Yes, Judas, in fact I do mean that you are the one who will betray me.” To say “no” would have been untrue. For Jesus not to respond might have been indifference. Is Jesus giving Judas one more chance? Is he saying, “I know what you are up to and there is still opportunity to repent”?

After Jesus shares the Lord’s Supper with his disciples – which includes Judas, by the way - they go to Gethsemane where Jesus wants to pray.

Sometime before Jesus took his disciples to Gethsemane Judas separates himself to find the chief priest and elders to lead them to Jesus. Think about this: Judas knows where to find Jesus because of Jesus’ prayer life. Gethsemane was a common place for Jesus to pray. Judas had probably been in prayer meetings with Jesus at that place. He knows where to find the Lord.

Judas shows up with a large crowd with swords and clubs. Why all the weapons? They are ready to get violent.

Right here, there is a subtle shift in the text about Judas. In v. 47 Judas is again identified as “one of the Twelve” which Matthew has already stated. It’s like Matthew is emphasizing this: the one who will betray Jesus is one of the Twelve, a disciple, a close follower. Can you believe it? But in the very next verse, Judas is for the first time called “the betrayer.”

Judas gives the command to arrest Jesus. He makes the call. And he betrays Jesus with a kiss. The Greek terms suggests that he kissed him warmly, a sign of affection for a friend who you respect and love. What kind of disciple twists a greeting of friendship into a death sign?[5]

As Judas gives Jesus away he approaches him by saying to Jesus “Greetings.” The word used is how someone would joyously greet a friend. It is how you greet someone you really want to see and they want to see you.

And Judas calls him “Rabbi.” Back in the upper room Judas also called Jesus “Rabbi” while all the other disciples called him “Lord.” Is “Lord” too much for Judas to confess anymore? If Jesus is not Lord for Judas, then indeed, a lot has changed.

For some, Jesus is only a great moral teacher. He is a Rabbi. He is not different than any other great religious figure. For Christians he is the Lord. Who we believe Jesus to be will have everything to do with how we relate to him. If he is not our Lord then he will have no claim on our life, and we can do anything we want to him, with him, or against him. Judas seems to have shaken off Jesus’ Lordship.

The story moves on. Jesus is put on trial before the Sanhedrin which is the Jewish court. Jesus is accused of blasphemy and they turn him over to the Romans knowing the government has the power to kill him.

After Jesus is condemned the scripture says that Judas is seized with remorse. He goes to the chief priest and elders and confesses that he has sinned and that Jesus is innocent. Judas has come face to face with what he has done and the burden is huge. He goes to the religious leaders admitting his wrong.

This is what he gets back from his spiritual leaders, “What’s that to us? That’s your responsibility.”

The problem with that answer is that it puts Judas in isolation. He is now alone in his guilt, his burdened-conscience, and his shame. How ironic that the one Judas betrayed is the one who would show the mercy and word of forgiveness he so needs. But now it is too late.

He throws the money he gained off Jesus’ life into the Temple. Matthew tells us that the religious leaders took the thirty shekels and bought a field in which to bury foreigners, those who were not Jewish or of Israel. Really, a cemetery for lesser people because for the most part Jews in that day thought Gentiles were lesser.

It says it fulfills a prophecy of Jeremiah. Actually, it is closer to something we find in the book of Zechariah. Matthew probably thought of an event in the book of Jeremiah that refers to a potter’s field, but really Zechariah is where we need to go.

In our “Help Me Get The Old Testament” class we are learning that you can’t fully get the New Testament until you get the Old Testament. Here is an example.

Zechariah was an Old Testament prophet. When the Lord becomes frustrated with the shepherds – the pastors - of his people because they have not cared for the people and used them for their own gain he calls Zechariah to be a shepherd. Zechariah gets rid of the bad leaders and cares for the people with graciousness. He also symbolizes the Messiah and King to come. But the other people reject his leadership and his rule over them. So Zechariah gives them an out. He tells them they can pay him whatever wages he has earned, or if they don’t think he deserves anything they can just tell him to move along.

The other religious leaders decide to pay Zechariah for his trouble. The price? Thirty shekels. The price of a slave’s life.

Here is what Zechariah says, “I told them, ‘If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.’ So they paid me thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the handsome price at which they valued me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the Lord.”[6]

You see the wage Zechariah received was an insult to the Lord. So the Lord told Zechariah to throw the money to the potter in the house of the Lord.

In the same way, and this is what Matthew wants us to know, Judas, and really the chief priests and elders of Israel – the shepherds of Israel - sold Jesus for the same insulting amount.

The life of our Lord for the price of a dead slave.

What is Jesus worth to you? An hour or so on Sunday morning? A couple bucks in the offering plate? A little time here and there when it’s convenient for you? Or is he worth your life?

Remember that woman who anointed Jesus for his burial? Jesus was worth everything - a full year’s wages – to her. She did a beautiful thing for him.

Few things are as painful as being betrayed. Someone said, “The saddest thing about betrayal is that it never comes from your enemies.” It comes from a spouse, a friend, an employer, a disciple. If you have been betrayed Jesus knows your pain. Some of us have been there.

Sometimes the betrayer actually comes to a place where they own up to what they have done. Judas came to a place of deep remorse and guilt for what he had done. Tom Long, a preacher and one of my Bible teachers in seminary said, “The deepest tragedy about Judas is not that he is guiltier than others. His guilt is shared by all.” Think about it, Peter will deny Jesus and all the disciples abandoned him. All are guilty. “The saddest truth about Judas is he took his remorse to the place of death and not to the place of life. Like all humanity he had innocent blood on his hands.”

That’s right, everyone was responsible for Jesus’ death. Judas, Peter, all the disciples and believers, who cut out on him, Caiaphas and the Jews, Pilate and the Romans. You and I. It was our sin, too.

We all betray him. If you haven’t felt that you probably have never felt the need or the reality of the cross.

Judas used Jesus for what he could get out of him. He came to a place where he could only see the value of Jesus to him. We betray Jesus when we only want to know what value he is to us instead of submitting ourselves to him. We want to know how Jesus will help us when we get into tight spots in life. We use Jesus to make our churches larger. We use Jesus to justify our point of view. We can subtly use him for our own ego or image boosts.

What can we get out of Jesus? That is to betray him.

Judas’ discipleship had become a lie. How easy it can be to say one thing and do another. We put on a façade. We lie to our spouses. We lie to our kids. We lie to our church. We lie to our friends. We lie to ourselves. But we should never think we can’t return to our Lord. We take our remorse to the place of life which is the grace we find in our Lord Jesus Christ.

There was a small chapel built by a church for prayer and meditation. They put twelve chairs in the chapel with the name of each of the twelve disciples on the back. The one marked “Judas” was the one most heavily worn with use. Go figure.

There will come a time, if you haven’t been there already, when you will know that you have horribly failed someone else, and/or the Lord. There may be not just a single time, but times when you do that. We will hurt those we love. We will not face up to some action. We will give excuses because we will give our self excuses. I know because I’ve done it. And that part of us is our “inner Judas.” He lives in the basement of our souls.[7]

It doesn’t matter if you are a spiritually-gifted, born-again, baptized, church-ordained disciple who is one of the Twelve, for gosh sake. Doesn’t Judas show us that we are all vulnerable? Judas is “…a kind of comrade for all of us who have betrayed Jesus. He is our patron. Saint Judas.”[8] But we don’t have to take Judas’ path.

There can come a failure that is so hard on us, and the guilt and despair will be so great that no therapy or medication or amount of drink or vacation is going to fix it. Only Jesus can do that. Bring that guilt and sadness for what you have done and what you have been and lay it at the cross. For there is mercy abounding at the cross. Quite frankly, there is no other story, no other religion or philosophy, no other system that is like this.

Jesus never condemns Judas. Judas condemns himself. He went to the chief priests and elders with his confession, and they said, “You handle it.” That is the worse thing someone can say to someone overwhelmed with guilt. Despairing sinners like us can’t handle our sin on our own.

Judas had convinced himself that innocent blood was on his hands and the stain could never be removed. “But what Judas failed to hear was the answer that Jesus himself gave on the very night of his betrayal.” The Jewish leaders said to Judas “What does innocent blood have to do with us?” Well, Jesus said that innocent blood is “my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”[9]

Here is the consistent thing in the whole account of Judas: Jesus never turned on him, never stopped loving him, never shut the door for him to come and have a changed relationship. Jesus gave him the bread and the cup. Jesus called him “Friend.” Jesus may have still wanted Judas.

That is what he does and will do for us. All who are sinful, all who are guilty – who have done too much or not done enough, who have said one thing with your lips and done something else with your actions – come to the cross. Take the guilt to the Lord and exchange it for his forgiveness, his mercy, his acceptance. As someone said no one can conceive “the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.[10]

Not even betrayal can disqualify us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.

There is so much about Judas that is beyond our understanding. Not everything in the Scriptures give total clarity into the abyss of Judas’ darkness. But the Scriptures do “reveal the unfathomable and incomprehensible depth of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus.”[11]

Claim that as you come to the table.

[1] Gary Wills, What Jesus Meant, p.101 [2] Exodus 21:32 [3] St. Jerome. Found in Dale Bruner, Matthew, vol. 2, The Church book, p.955 [4] Luke 22:5 [5] See Dale Bruner, p.996 [6] Zechariah 11:12-13 [7] Peter Kreeft, Before I Go, p.171, the chapter entitled “When You Fail” [8] Wills, p.104 [9] See Long. And Matt. 26:28 [10] Graham Greene [11]

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