The Passion and the People: Judas

Judas and JesusJohn 12:1, 3-6; Luke 22:2-6

Such a mystery is unbelief.  The unbelief of Judas goes deeper.  For Jesus calls him to be His disciple, and he follows.  One of the Twelve, the teachings of Jesus come to him firsthand.  Still, he betrays the Son of God and dies in despair, committing suicide.  Is Judas’ betrayal of Jesus unforgivable?  Peter repents and lives, but Judas repents and dies.  Taken under by what he did, he did not believe in Jesus’ forgiveness.

The Scriptures also reveal Judas to be a thief.  A close friend of our Savior, Mary, took a pound of expensive ointment to anoint Jesus’ feet and Judas objected.  “Why didn’t we sell this fragrant oil and give the money to the poor?”  The Apostle John explains, “Now, he didn’t say this because he cared about the poor.  No, he carried the money bag and used to steal some of the contributions.”

From what little we can piece together, Judas is most likely a Zealot.  Named after the sharp knife they carried, the Zealots uses their blades to bleed out Roman soldiers in quick, slice-and-run attacks.  Through attrition, they strove to rid Israel of Roman occupation.  So, we can understand why Judas rejected Jesus as the Messiah.

Like most Jews, the Zealots await the promised Messiah—but they seek the wrong one.  Staunch nationalists (or terrorists), these Zealots believe God will send the Messiah to restore the kingdom of David—on earth.

The Messiah will be the ideal general-king, who will free the Jews from political oppression.  Economic prosperity will follow, but also a proper worship life for the Jews.  The questionable religious practices of God’s people will become a lost relic.

Early on, when Judas joins Jesus and the other disciples, he seizes an opportunity to be at the start of something monumental.  Imagine him thinking, “This man is someone I can support, for He may be the One of prophecy.”  For many Jews, the Messiah would emerge as a world leader, a new king for a new era on earth.

The miracles come, the crowds follow Jesus, including a growing number of regular followers.  Now Judas experiences Jesus’ power, and he believes this Rabbi is on the right track.  A gleaming future yet to come shines inside the mind of this disciple.

The other disciples welcome Judas, recognizing him as a skilled administrator.  Soon, he is their treasurer and fits well within the group, sharing their zeal for Jesus.  The Messiah movement gains traction, and the promise of the future beams bright.

Yes, this man sounds like the Messiah.  Does He not fulfill many of the prophecies?  The miracles point to Him as the Messiah, who will conquer Satan, sickness, and death.  Still, no armies are being trained or recruited.  What’s going on?  After three years, Judas realizes—Jesus isn’t going to start the revolution against Rome.

Many try to figure out Judas’ motive for selling Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver, the price of a slave.  Some think Judas tried to force His hand.  Some say he considered Jesus a phony, so he cut his losses and salvages what he can.  The point is this—Judas betrays Jesus because He isn’t the Messiah he wants.

Still, his journey with Jesus starts well, with Judas becoming an ardent supporter.  In truth, he isn’t the only one with flawed thinking about Jesus.  So, how did Judas turn so hostile?  No doubt, ambition!  This ambition squeezes a death grip on Judas’ heart.

Picture the disillusion darkening Judas’ mind as Jesus disappoints his dreams of a greater Israel.  Soon, he realizes his expected King never intended to create a kingdom on this earth.  The events take their turn—Herod beheads John the Baptizer—and Jesus withdraws, not avenging his death.  An upsurge of people wants Jesus as their bread king, and again He withdraws.  The Pharisees challenge Him to show a sign of His authority, and He doesn’t capitalize on the moment.

The so-called Messiah talks about shame and death, stressing the moral and spiritual facets of His kingdom.  Near the end, others who follow Jesus begin to fall away.  Any smart person can spot where the trend is leading.  So, he decides to jump off the donkey cart while he can, to salvage something from events gone bad.

The faith-life of Judas now crashes and burns.  The hounds of hell call out to him as he totters on the precipice.  To hold on demands too much, for after refusing this Rabbi’s teachings, he is too feeble to say no.  Only the misdirected passion of his soul guides him—and he plummets into the abyss.

At first, he seeks to satisfy his selfish longings by stealing from the treasury, taking money meant for the poor.  With his real feelings festering beneath, he scolds Mary for anointing Jesus with expensive oil.  So, he continues to seek a way out, but one which will also profit him.

At last, Satan enters his heart, and the Betrayer goes to cut a deal.  No doubt, this Jesus will fall, this much is certain.  Why shouldn’t he profit from this foreseeable loss?

So, Judas sneaks over to the Jewish Council and offers to deliver Jesus to them.  With a slice of scorn, they offer him 30 pieces of silver, the value of an ordinary, Israelite slave.  The value of a captured Jesus to the Jewish leadership is much more, but this fallen disciple is in no position to bargain.  So, he takes the silver and sells his Lord, and his soul, for the price of a slave.

The problem isn’t limited to Judas.  For others also reject Jesus for the same reason, whom He compares to spoiled children.  Anger stirs within people.  For this saving God in human form doesn’t play their game, refusing to act like the Savior they want (Matthew 11:16-19).  So, they seek another.

This mindset isn’t only in the people of Jesus’ day.  So, when our Lord doesn’t fulfill the expectations of people today, they discard Him.  Now, when people suffer a severe loss, they want God to end their grief.

Not doing what people expect, they accuse Jesus of being uncaring.  Not erasing the injustices of our lives, we consider Him weak.  Not removing the problems, which we brought about by our sin, we believe Jesus to be useless.  Whenever He doesn’t fit our mold or meet our expectations, we reject Him.

Do we not also, in our weaker moments, stand where Judas once stood?  The storms of doubt shake our souls, and we teeter on the cusp of spiritual ruin.  The personal passions and self-will inside us strive to take us away from our Lord.  Ready to slip and plunge headlong as the Betrayer did, the voice of our Savior calls us back.  Can we forget how close we came, so many times?

Despite Judas’ rejection and betrayal, something caused him to repent.  Now, the Greek word for Judas’ repentance (metamelomai, Matthew 27:3) isn’t the word for the repentance, which also includes a renewed faith (metanoeo, Matthew 3:2).  No, Judas’ regret doesn’t lead him to believe God will forgive him, for he only changes his mind about betraying his master.  With Jesus condemned, the sad reality hits him, “I sinned by betraying innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4).

A pang of sadness grips Judas, but not trust in God.  In misery, he throws the money he took for betraying Jesus into the Temple.  On some property he owned, he hangs himself in despair.  In the Small Catechism, we learn, “Confession includes two parts.  First, we confess our sins.  Second, we receive absolution, which is, forgiveness.”

Here’s the irony—Judas never enjoyed the money.  For his belief died, but not his conscience.  Tormented by what he did, he tries to return the money, but he doesn’t search for Jesus.  Did our Lord leave Judas or denounce him?  No, but he doesn’t come back to his Savior.  A place for Judas remains with Jesus, but Judas wants little to do with Him.  The reaches of Hell now claim him, and in despair, he plunges into eternity at the end of a rope.

Gaze back in time.  Such a tragic irony you will find!  For Jesus presents Judas with more than he craves.  The yearning for fame, social approval, and prestige drive him.  By being a disciple, with the friendship of angels, and the love of God, Jesus gives Judas more than he wants.

Still, Judas demands everything his way.  A position worthy of his talents, so he thinks, but Jesus offers to bring him into God’s family and make him a steward of the mysteries of God.  More security and wealth, but Jesus offers him eternal life, the forgiveness of sins, and the riches of heaven.  Oh, Judas wants Jesus, but only on his terms.  Today, the testimony of Judas comes to us from the graveyard for the outcast.

Believe in Jesus.  Live through Jesus.  Trust Him to be the Son of the living God, when life is going well and when you are disappointed.  For He, and no other is the Messiah.

Some 2,000 years later, we are not immune from the errors of Judas.  By God’s grace, however, we abandon the way of Judas for the way of Jesus.  In eternal hope, we realize, “If God is for us, who can be against us [Romans 8:31]?”  The peace beyond all understanding is ours.  “My peace I give you,” reveals Jesus (John 14:27).  The strength of God is with us, “I can do all this through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).  For the Savior’s love and comfort is ours.

On the cross, our Redeemer died filled with Judas’ sin, suffering his penalty—and yours and mine!  In your place, and mine, Jesus died.  Only He paid the cost of redemption for us all—but Judas got nothing because he refused to believe.  Not so when You are in Jesus, for in Him, everything is yours, revealed to you on the Last Day.  Amen.