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What comes to your mind when you hear the name “Abraham Lincoln?” How many images and connections and associations immediately come to mind when you hear that name? And if I were to speak the name, “Adolf Hitler?” What thoughts, what emotions does that name provoke? Names are powerful. Our name is our identity, especially to those who happen to know us or our story. Our life’s story is contained in our name. The name and the story go together.
“Judas Iscariot.” Now there’s a name with a story. It is our intention this evening to enter into his story. We want to explore his story as it’s recorded in the Scriptures, not because we’re really terribly interested in Judas Iscariot per se. But he was one of those who was in direct contact with Jesus during that week we call, ‘holy week.’ And so we can use Judas to get close to Jesus.
I. Introduce Judas
The first thing we notice is that “Judas Iscariot,” is listed as one of the 12 disciples of Jesus in all three places where the list appears – Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospel.
One of the things that we sometimes forget to consider, but should keep in mind as we read the gospels, is that all four, gospel writers write their gospels after the ascension of Jesus into heaven. The gospels are not written like ‘reporters’ write their stories for the evening news or the daily paper – “reporting live from Jerusalem,” reporting the story as it develops.
The story of Jesus Christ is reported in retrospect. The writers are looking back on the events that happened. Which means that, at times, they may interject into the record details that haven’t actually happened yet according to the strict chronology of the account itself. Maybe they want to give us an understanding of how a particular event fits into the big picture. Or maybe, it’s because they themselves can’t separate what they already know and have experienced from what they report.
It’s like that with Judas. When Matthew, Mark and Luke list the 12 disciples, Judas Iscariot is listed as “Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.” Even as we meet Judas Iscariot for the first time, we already know that he is the one ‘who betrayed Him.’
The fact that they cannot bring themselves to think about Judas apart from his betrayal, suggests that his betrayal was very personal to them. They were deeply hurt by his actions. It wasn’t just Jesus that he betrayed, he had also betrayed them. Imagine how close the 12 would have become with each other. They were like the “Band of Brothers” in many ways. We’ll come back to this again, but as we heard in Psalm 42, there is something about being betrayed by someone close to us that makes the betrayal particularly painful.
The Lutheran pastor, Helmut Thielicke tells the story of a man who was arrested by the Nazis for his protest against the government. He was sent to prison and spent a lot of time in solitary confinement and experienced regular beatings in order to force a confession from him, but he never broke. This went on for several months, and not being able to break him, the Nazis released him. Two weeks after his release he hanged himself in his attic. No one could understand how he could have been so strong for so long and then commit suicide. Someone who knew this man well later reported that after his release, he had learned that it was his son who had informed on him and delivered him over to the Nazis. The betrayal of a loved one accomplished what the Nazis could not do. (Taken from ‘At The Cross.’ Richard Bauckham.)
II. 1st Appearance – Bethany John 12:4-8
A. A Trusted Member of the 12
Other than the fact that he was ‘one of the 12,’ we know nothing of Judas until holy week. We don’t know his past, how it was that Jesus recruited him. But we do know that Jesus recruited Judas to “come follow me.”
Even though we don’t read his name in the events of Jesus’ public ministry, we should see Judas in them. He witnesses the miracles, hears the preaching, he participates in the feeding of the 5,000 and 4,000. He was in the boat on the stormy sea when Jesus walked on the water. He was paired up with another disciple when Jesus sent the 12 out in two’s with the authority to heal the sick and cast out demons, and he was one of those who were amazed at the authority that Jesus’ name had.
Judas seems to have been completely trusted by the eleven. Money was given to Jesus in support of the work He was doing, just as we support certain ‘causes’ that we think are worthy. Someone had to keep this money and be in charge of dispersing it for food and, as we will see, for the poor. The disciples elected Judas to be the treasurer of the group. He carried the purse. He couldn’t have been one of those ‘shifty types.’
B. In Bethany at Simon the Lepers House
The first time we actually meet Judas is in the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany when Mary of Bethany broke open the expensive Nard and poured in on Jesus. And this connects us nicely with where we left off last week.
Matthew and Mark record that the “disciples” objected to wasting the perfume when it could have been sold for a year’s wages. But John writes, “But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him) said, ‘Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denari, and give to the poor?” And John adds this bit of commentary. “He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the money bag he used to help himself to what was put into it.” (John 12:4-8).
Is this something that the disciples were aware of all along? It’s hard to imagine that they would have just overlooked this or kept quiet about it. Or is this one of the pieces to the puzzle that is Judas that the disciples figure out later? In either case, John, like Matthew, Mark and Luke, cannot mention the name Judas unless he attaches this terrible footnote.
III. 2nd Appearance – Judas’ Arrangement. Matthew 26:14-16.
The 2nd appearance of Judas is shortly after this. We find him with the chief priests, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.” (Matthew 26:14-16).
We can’t help but wonder how this meeting came about. Had the priests approached Judas somewhere along the line and suggested that there might be a handsome reward for information leading to the arrest of Jesus? Or did Judas decide on his own that he should go to them? What was he thinking?
We’re not interested in psychoanalyzing dead men. What we can say however is, the devil is at work here. Somewhere along the line, we don’t know when or where it was, a question, a doubt, a suspicion was planted. It took root and grew, just about the same way that true faith is planted in the heart by the hearing of the word and takes root and grows, or withers and dies.
As we said last week, the tensions in Jerusalem surrounding Jesus were very high. To be associated with Jesus was to be in great danger of being arrested. Was it fear for his life that moves him to go to the priests? Or, does he believe that he is doing the brave thing? Impossible for us to say.
What we can say however is that, what Judas doesn’t do is talk it over with the other disciples. What if he had confided in the others and talked about his doubts and fears with them? How much differently things might have turned out for him if he had availed himself of the ‘communion of saints,’ what St. Paul talks about in his letter to the Romans, “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up building.” (Romans 14:19) What Luther refers to as the “mutual consolation of the brethren.” This is the great value of membership in a congregation that we too often, do not take advantage of as we should.
Of course, he didn’t talk this over with Jesus. If only he had gone to Jesus with his questions and doubts, what we would call, prayer, he could have done in face to face. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7). But Judas does not pray.
IV. 3rd Appearance – Upper Room. John 13:21-30
The next time we meet Judas, he is with the 12 and Jesus in the Upper Room. This is the night of the Last Supper where Jesus establishes His last will and testament, the “New Covenant.” He names His church as the beneficiaries and specifies the inheritance as His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. It is interesting now that I think of it, that whenever the church receives it’s inheritance, it always does so by saying, “on the night when he was betrayed…”
As they are seated around the table, Jesus drops a bomb. “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
The disciples all react with utter confusion. “They looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke.” Some say, “Is it I?” You know how easy it is to ruin a surprise party and let the cat out of the bag? Could it be that one of them will slip up and say the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong place? Tensions are that high. They really don’t suspect Judas at all.
John is the one who records the bit about Peter asking the “disciple whom Jesus loved” to find out who it is. That’s because that beloved disciple is John. John is sitting right beside Jesus. Peter signals to John. John quietly asks Jesus. Jesus says to John, none of the others hear this, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.”
Middle eastern eating customs to this day involve a bowl of stew on the table. Each one has a hunk of bread. You break off a piece of bread, dip it into the bowl and pop it into the mouth. No double dipping! To dip and then give the morsel to someone else was a sign of endearment or care for that person.
“So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.” Even John doesn’t get it. But Judas gets it. Judas suddenly knows that Jesus knows. What will Judas do? Confess? Beg for forgiveness and mercy?
“Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.’” Again, John adds his commentary. “Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, ‘buy what we need for the feast,’ or that he should give something to the poor.’
“So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out.” Judas is not included in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus waits until he is gone before administering it with all of it’s benefits.
And John includes this one last detail, as only John would, “and it was night.” Judas entered into the darkness where this is no light.
V. 4th Appearance – Gethsemane. Matthew 26:47-50
After the Supper was ended, Jesus took His disciples, now eleven, for a walk to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. He went there often whenever He was in Jerusalem. This was all perfectly normal. After praying in a bloody sweat, He says, “behold, my betrayer is at hand.”
Matthew describes the band of temple soldiers that follow Judas as a “great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and elders of the people.” Evidently, they would not have been able to recognize Jesus if He had come into the world just for them. The way that Judas identifies Jesus is particularly sad and hard to bear.
Jesus greets his disciple in a way that almost breaks our heart to hear him say it, “FRIEND, do what you came to do.” He calls Judas, “friend.” How painful this must be for Jesus.
“Greetings Rabbi. And He kissed him.” A kiss is a sign of special intimacy between two people. We know what it means to kiss someone and be kissed by someone. In Middle-eastern culture, the kiss is like our handshake.
In the course of the Church’s worship, the kiss takes on a very particular sign of intimacy – it is called, ‘the kiss of peace.’ When the prodigal son returns to his father, the father kisses him, indicating his complete reconciliation with his son.
The practice of the church from earliest times was that before the members of the congregation came forward to receive the body and blood of the Lord for the forgiveness of their sins, they were to be reconciled to one another, as Jesus commanded. The men kissed the other men and the women kissed the other women and only then did they proceed with the Supper. Today, we don’t do all that kissing but we express the same reconciliation with one another, just before the distribution, saying, “The peace of the Lord be with you.” “And also with you.” (Plural, as in ya’ll).
Luke records Jesus’ shock at the drastic hypocrisy. “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:39).
VI. 5th Appearance – Suicide. Matthew 27:3-5
As the events quickly unfold, Jesus is arrested and brutally tortured, Judas is somewhere in the crowd, watching it all. This is not what he expected would happen to Jesus. The devil, who had entered into him to accomplish his purpose, now abandoned him without mercy. Judas is faced with the incredible guilt of his crime.
He tries to undo it, at least in his own conscience. Matthew writes, “He changed his mind.” He repented. But as Luther is careful to point out, repentance always has two parts. “First that we confess our sins and second that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.”
Judas confesses his sin. “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” The job of the priest is to pronounce the absolution. “I as a called and ordained servant of the Word, forgive you all of your sins…” But these priests said, “what is that to us? See to it yourself.” We can only wonder what might have happened if these priests did what they were commissioned by God to do. How harsh will their judgment be?
“And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed and he went and hanged himself.” For thirty pieces, Judas bought death for two.
Let’s conclude like this. We have touched on the deep pain that the disciples and Jesus must have felt at the betrayal of a close friend. The disciples have written harshly about Judas and that has become the final impression that we have of his life.
But we can’t help but wonder. What if Judas had not committed suicide? What if somehow, after the resurrection, Jesus had found Judas, just as He did Peter and Thomas, who also denied Him in their own way. Would Jesus have forgiven Judas – as He did Peter? Would Jesus have taken Judas by the hand and placed his hand into the holes in His hands and the gash in His side and said, Judas, this was for you, and for your salvation? I forgive you all of your sins?
We can only believe that Jesus most certainly would have done just that. There is no sin that is not covered by His blood. His love is that great.
We must believe that Jesus would have forgiven Judas. Or else there is no hope for us either. For aren’t we all guilty of the same treason as Judas, to one degree or another? Haven’t we all betrayed Him for far less than 30 pieces of silver? Hasn’t He called us His ‘friend?’