The scene going into Jerusalem is familiar. Crowds cheering, Palm branches waving and the followers of Jesus were all smiling; some may even have been waving to the crowd. On Palm Sunday Jesus was the star of the show but like most stars, fame can disappear in a moment.
This morning we are going to look at one of the darkest events in the life of Jesus. A mere four days after he marched into Jerusalem to the cheering crowds, his friends turned against Him. This morning we will spotlight Judas because his betrayal was the worst however, as Max Lucado wrote,
Though the kiss was planted by Judas, the betrayal was committed by all. Every person took a step, but no one took a stand. As Jesus left the garden he walked alone. The world turned against him. He was betrayed. [And the Angels Were Silent p. 152]
With this stark reality in focus, let’s look at the text,
Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, 2 and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people.
An Assassination Plot
To the Jew Passover was like our Christmas. It celebrated a miracle that took place while Israel was held in Egypt as slaves. Moses, as God’s representative, requested Israel be released to serve their God. Pharaoh refused. God fired nine warning shots over the palace of Egypt. We know them as the first nine plagues in Egypt. There was water turned to blood, darkness, bugs, frogs, hail and more. Pharaoh wavered, but he refused to give in. That led the tenth plague, the one remembered by Passover.
During that tenth plague the Jews were told to sacrifice a lamb and put the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of their home. That night we are told the Angel of death took the life of every firstborn male in each household that did not have blood on the doorpost.
The plague brought the flag of surrender of Pharaoh. There was too much heartache. He could not compete with a God such as this. He not only told the Jews they could leave . . . he urged them to leave and all the Egyptians gave them treasures!
Each year the Jews celebrated Passover as a reminder of God’s redemption. In preparation for the celebration roads and bridges were repaired, and tombs were painted white to keep people from accidentally touching them and making them “unclean” for the celebration.
Don’t miss the irony of what is about to take place. On this holiday that celebrated the deliverance of Israel from Egypt the leaders were looking for a way to kill the very Messiah who had come to save them! He was the final and perfect Lamb whose blood would save those who put their trust in Him. They sought to erase the central figure in the celebration for which they gathered.
Our text tells us that they were looking for “some way to get rid of Jesus”. The issue was no longer up for debate. They had already decided what they were going to do; now they were just looking for a way to make it happen!
Their dilemma came from the fact that Jesus was very popular (as evidenced on Palm Sunday). If they tried to arrest him in front of the crowds there could be a riot! They believed they had to wait until after Passover until after the crowds disperse to address their “Jesus problem”.
The Traitor Appears
All their plans change when Judas approached them.
3 Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. 4 And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. 5 They were delighted and agreed to give him money. 6 He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.
Notice four facts about the betrayal of Judas. First, Judas initiated the contact. This completely baffles us, doesn’t it? Here is a man who has walked with Jesus for three years. He has witnessed His power over nature, His ability to heal the sick, and His astonishing ability to bring the dead back to life. He had witnessed and surely personally experienced the compassion and grace of Christ. He listened as the Creator of the universe unlocked the truth of life. Judas was surely among the disciples who went out on internships and saw God work through him. How could such a person turn against Jesus?
It is a hard question to answer. It always is. It doesn’t matter whether it is Jesus or you or me. What makes a betrayal a betrayal is the depth of the relationship that is violated. You expect your enemies to turn against you. You aren’t surprised when people who don’t know you take advantage of you or seek to use you as a stepping stone. You don’t expect this from people you call your friend or consider part of your family.
Why does marital unfaithfulness hurt so much? Why do harsh words from a child sting so deeply? Why does the embezzlement of a business partner devastate you so much? Why does it hurt so much when a friend spreads lies or violates your trust? It’s because what you thought was a special relationship, has been violated. This is exactly what Judas did and we find it impossible to comprehend.
Second, we are told that he did so because Satan entered in to him. This statement raises a new question: how does one who walked so closely with Jesus get mixed up with Satan?
Satan is a master strategist. He knows that those who are superficial believers are more useful to his cause just the way they are. He is content to let them undermine their own profession by the way they live their lives. Those who walk closely to God undermine the cause of Satan. If he can cause even a few of these people to stumble hard he will make a much bigger impact than getting superficial followers to fall away further.
Though we may never understand how this happened to Judas, our concern is this: if it can happen to Judas, then it would seem that it can also happen to us. If we let our guard down; if we listen to Satan’s whispers rather than the voice of the Lord, we too may fall prey to his devices. Let me give you some examples,
- God tells us that we are loved and valuable in His sight; Satan will point out that others seem to have more and imply that they must be loved more than we are. Resentment is an open door that invites Satan in.
- God tells us that He will judge sin and vindicate those who have been falsely accused. He tells us to forgive and let Him deal with the matter. Satan will point out that God doesn’t seem to be doing anything. The other person seems to be oblivious to the hurt they caused. They seem to be “getting away with it” so we determine that we will exact our own revenge and perhaps we will even add a little more for good measure. The bitterness of unforgiveness is another welcome to the influence of Satan.
- God tells us that sexual intimacy is designed to be within the boundaries he has established. Satan whispers “prude” and helps us justify why there is nothing wrong with ignoring God’s standards. Infidelity follows. Satan gains a foothold.
- God tells us He will provide for our needs. Satan whispers that with just a few subtle maneuvers we can also fulfill our “greeds”. We soon find ourselves on the shortcut to indulgence. Materialism is a path we walk with the Devil.
Satan does his best work by getting us to trust our own feelings and rationalizations more than we trust what God has told us. He will urge us to move forward when God says to wait and he will convince us to be more cautious and careful where God tells us to move forward.
Satan perverts what is good but he can’t be successful without our help. God has given us His Spirit so that we know what is right and wrong. We fall into the trap of the devil not because of ignorance but because of our own rebellion.
Third, it appears Judas was interested in money. We can only speculate but it appears that Judas offered his services for a fee. In my mind he probably asked for much more than he received. What he was offered was the amount that would be given to purchase a slave.
Why would Judas sell his Lord for such a pittance? Do you think that Judas was upset that the Kingdom would not be as he expected? Judas wanted to be famous and powerful but Jesus seemed to be leading them in the direction of sacrifice and service. Was Judas frustrated that Peter, James and John all seemed to be the favorites?
I don’t know why Judas wanted the money. I suspect that Judas had some noble sounding reason for what he did. We all do in such times. We never say, “I want to betray my friend” or “I think I will do what is wrong today.” Instead we find a way to justify our actions. We deceive ourselves (with Satan’s eager assistance). Somehow we convince ourselves that wrong is really right; that somehow we know better than God does.
Fourth, Judas had the opportunity to change his mind. He had to look for the right time. He had to wait. He had a few days to think about his choices. Judas sat through the Passover meal with Jesus. He heard Jesus announce that someone would betray Him. Judas could have stopped this train wreck from happening, but he didn’t.
We’ve talked before about running through stop signs. You can’t get to where Judas was without running a series of stop signs. He had to silence his conscience again and again. In order to sin so blatantly we must harden our hearts. Sin never “just happens”. How many times have you heard someone say, “One thing led to another”? Each of those “things” was a stop sign warning of danger and they ran through each one of them.
It is true that Judas was sorry for what he did. That’s often the case after the damage is done. Unfortunately, by that time, the damage is done. The one who had professed allegiance for three years revealed that his heart was not truly devoted to Him.
Jesus and the Betrayer
In John 13 we read an incredible encounter of Jesus with Judas which follows this meeting with the chief priests.
21 After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.”
22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”
25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”
26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. 27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.
“What you are about to do, do quickly,” Jesus told him, 28 but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. [John 13:21-29]
John 13 is an account of what we know as the Last Supper of Jesus. Jesus met with his disciples to celebrate the Passover feast. At the beginning of the meal Jesus washed the feet of his disciples as an illustration of the servant heart he wanted for his followers. This means that Jesus also washed the feet of the man He knew was going to betray Him! Judas betrayed, Jesus loved.
In the Passover meal the disciples reclined around a table. One man’s head would be in the chest of the man to his right. As the food was passed you would serve the person next to you, as we read the full account of the Last Supper it seems clear that on this night Judas was given one of the seats of honor. We are told John leaned back against Jesus, so John was on the left (or front) side of Jesus. When Jesus talked to Judas He would have leaned back into Judas to talk with him.
If Judas was ever going to turn back and repent, one would have expected him to do so here. But he does not turn back. His heart is hard. The Savior’s love did not soften that hardness; it seems to only make it harder.
In the garden when Judas arrived, Jesus calls him friend. “Friend!” It’s not the word that you or I would have used. However, Jesus saw the bondage of Judas and He ached for him. Max Lucado wrote,
Jesus knew Judas had been seduced by a powerful foe. He was aware of the wiles of Satan’s whispers (he had just heard them himself). He knew how hard it was for Judas to do what was right.
He didn’t justify what Judas did. He didn’t minimize the deed. Nor did he release Judas from his choice. But he did look eye to eye with his betrayer and try to understand. [p. 154, 155]
It’s a great contrast: the Betrayed and the Savior; the one with the hard heart and the one with the tender heart; the one who pursued violence and the one who continued to extend grace and mercy.
Take Home Points
It seems to me that we can draw a few lessons. First, we are warned that even those who appear to be close to Jesus may turn out to be false sheep. God knows the human heart. He knows when faith is genuine and when it is not. We do not have that same ability. A person can cheer with the crowds on a Sunday morning and still betray the Lord in their living. A person can be involved in significant ministry yet still turn from the Lord. A person can be a leader yet still be only pursuing their own Kingdom.
I don’t say this to get us to look at each other with suspicion. The intention is to get us to continually examine our own hearts. We must ask, “Am I a true follower of Christ or am I only playing a part? Am I following Him because He is the Lord or because I think He will get me what I want? Have I surrendered to Him or am I merely trying to use Him for my own ends? They are tough questions but it is better to ask them now than to find yourself in Hell.
Second, we are reminded that sin does not happen suddenly. Judas thought about this for awhile. He went to the leaders. He was the one who told the leaders where to find Jesus. He is the one who kissed him.
We can never say to God, “Why didn’t you stop me?” God always gives opportunity for us to escape the temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13) but if we continue to ignore the warnings, we are to blame, not Him.
Third, it’s possible that you are one who has faced the pain of betrayal. Perhaps it was a friend, a spouse, or a business partner. The pain is real and it is deep. This act of betrayal may have caused great harm to you or to people you love. This passage reminds us that In the midst of this pain you still have a choice: you can plot revenge or you can look the betrayer in the eyes and try to understand. You can be like Judas or you can be like Jesus.
It’s hard to look a hurt in the eye and see past what it has done to you. It is hard to care about the betrayer; but that is what Jesus calls us to do.
We forget that Judas was not the only one who deserted Jesus that night. The disciples ran away. Peter denied he knew the Lord three times as he stood by the fire in the courtyard. Though the crowds cheered on Sunday, when it came to the cross, Jesus had to travel alone.
If we are honest today we will recognize our own fickleness in the story of Judas. We too have betrayed Him on occasion. We are the ones who have on occasion needed grace; sometimes from the Lord, sometimes from others. We may have slandered Him, denied Him, or chose to ignore His commands in our lives. We at times simply been too busy to even notice Him (perhaps the cruelest betrayal of all).
We are all, in some respects, betrayers in need of the compassion and grace of the Lord. We depend on His grace. That grace has saved us from the despair and restored us to a good relationship with Christ. Judas spurned that grace and ended up committing suicide. There is a better way. We not only need grace; we need to also extend it.
It’s a sobering lesson. Lots of people cheer Jesus during Easter or Christmas. Others cheer for Him each week in church sanctuaries. We are reminded by the story of Judas that anyone can cheer Jesus publicly . . . it’s what you do in the shadows that reveals your true heart.