The Wound of Betrayal: Matthew 26:20-25

The “sore abuse and scorn” that scourged our Lord’s head “with anguish” (LSB 450:2) began long before the physical abuse.  It began with the actions of a friend, of one whom He loved.  It began with a companion with whom He had traveled many miles and shared many meals.

This was a wound that weighed down our Lord’s sacred head and brought Him sorrow and grief.  That wound further added to the weight of sin He bore on the cross.  “One of you will betray Me,” He said at the last Passover.  And Jesus’ disciples were troubled.  So, they asked, one after the other, “I’m not the one, am I?”

We, too, need to ask such questions of our Lord.

Have I sold You out, Lord?  Have I lived for this world, its pleasures, and bought into them, instead of wanting You, spending time with You, and hearing Your words of life?  Have I lived as if I mattered most and You haven’t mattered at all?  I’m not the one, am I?

Jesus is clear.  It isn’t someone distant who will inflict the wound of betrayal.  It will be a friend, someone closest to Him!  The pain Jesus will bear will be a pain that comes from someone near to Him, from someone whom He had deeply loved.  “The man who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me” (Matthew 26:23).  It will not be someone distant and unknown, but someone near and dear.

But look at the love of the Lord!  Don’t think for one second that His love for Judas, His betrayer, was altered by the betrayal.  Of our Savior, the psalmist spoke truthfully: “The Lord is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made” (Psalm 145:9).  He loved this man who would go his senseless way.  Jesus loved this man who would first despise and turn from His love, and then despair of what he thought he had lost forever.

For Judas, the betrayal was so large a sin that he began to believe that he would never find forgiveness.  Oh, the betrayal was a horrible sin in Judas, and it is a horrible sin in us.  What on earth can justify handing over the Creator of all, who has showed us only benevolence and love, into the agony of torture, crucifixion, and death?  What madness is it that would lead the creature to betray the kind Creator?  What folly to chase after a few coins for a while in this world, spurning all the while the gift of a life that never ends?

“The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him.  How terrible it will be for that man who betrays the Son of Man!  It would have been good for him if he had never been born” (Matthew 26:24).  Did our Lord ever utter such terrifying words?

Yes, He did.  But do you see, people loved by God, that Jesus did not say these words out of hatred, anger, or malice?  He spoke from the depth of His sorrowful compassion.  He saw, as is His way, where Judas would end his life.  He saw that, in the end, Judas would despair of God’s mercy and go to his grave believing that his sin was stronger than God’s mercy in Christ.  And it broke our Lord’s heart even more than the betrayal itself.

How little Judas understood the Son of Man whom he betrayed!  For it was also for the sin of Judas, and the sin of all us Judases, that Jesus stretched His hands on the wood and let them pound in the nails.  It was for the sin of Judas, and of all us Judases, that Jesus pleaded, “Father, forgive!”  It was for the sin of Judas, and of all us Judases, that Jesus, the Lord of life, let “grim death, with cruel rigor” (LSB 450:2) rob Him of His life.  Why?  So sin and death would forever lose their strangling grip on us.

The pain of betrayal cut deep and it wounded our Lord’s tender heart.  But it could never turn that heart to bitterness.  In that heart lives a noble love, a love too strong and mighty for bitterness and hatred ever to have its way.  Although the betrayal hurt like hell itself, Jesus continued to love Judas, even me and you.

And so in the wounds of the Crucified One, we discover a healing love, a love that enables us to love as Christ Himself has loved us.  You know what that means.  Our Lord spoke often of taking up our cross and following Him.

Do you see, now, what your cross is?  You love another and are yet betrayed.  Instead of someone returning your love, it is rejected.  Such betrayal hurts and wounds you in an unspeakable way.  It crushes and reduces you to tears.  Then the old Adam, in anger, resentment, and revenge, rears up inside you to get even.

But by the strength of Christ’s cross, by the power of your baptism into His love, you get to nail the old betrayer to the wood and say, “No!  By the power of Him who forgave me, even when I have betrayed Him so many times, I forgive.  By the power of Him who loved me, even when I sold Him out, I will love you, the one who has hurt me.”

This is a cross, my friends.  And it will be torture and death to the old Adam.  But to the new self, whom God created in you through Baptism, it will be joy and life.  You will share in the life of your Savior.

We have not begun to love with Christ’s love until we have come, by God’s grace, to love those we thought were our friends but who have betrayed us, hurt us, and brought us sorrow.  Yet, we are to love them, seeking what is best for them and God’s blessing over them.

Of course, this is an impossible feat for fallen, human nature.  But it is possible when we are in communion with the love of Christ.  It’s then that we begin to taste something of the joy known by the martyrs of Christ across many centuries, those who loved and prayed for those who even killed them.

As often as the Church celebrates the Lord’s Supper, she celebrates the love that is in her Savior, which is stronger than our betrayals.  It’s a love that He gives us freely in the body and blood that won forgiveness for Judas, for you, and for all.  It’s our experience of such love that frees and strengthens us to bear the wounds of betrayal, following our Lord with joy.

May our crucified and risen Lord give us grace to do so, to whom be glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever and ever!  Amen.