Selected highlights from this sermon.
Judas walked with Jesus for three years, saw the miracles, heard the teaching, was one of the twelve disciples, and sat at the place of honor at the Last Supper, but he still committed the most horrific of all sins. Why?
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It was God’s will that Jesus live a very painful life and die an agonizing death. Almost everything that happened to Jesus was predicted in the Old Testament. For example, in the book of Psalms it says that Jesus would be rejected by evil people, and Jesus affirmed that when he said that the stone, which the builders rejected, has become the chief cornerstone.
It was also predicted that Jesus would be hated and Jesus quotes that Psalm and says, “It is necessary that the Scriptures be fulfilled that they hated me without a cause,” and it was also predicted in Psalm 35 that Jesus would experience the pain of betrayal from a very close friend. “Indeed, the very man with whom I eat and the one who has eaten bread with me has lifted up his heel against me,” and that was fulfilled in the life of Jesus just as predicted, and the person who did the betrayal is known throughout history and his name is Judas.
I’m going to give you a theological statement that I want you to think about. It’s one that you could remember and chew on even on your way home today. I want to say that theologically God chose Judas to volunteer to do the ghastly deed. God was involved and Judas was involved. God chose Judas to volunteer to be the man to do it.
Who was this man Judas? A number of years ago there was the special that was put on by National Geographic, and Judas was portrayed in very wonderful colors as a hero according to the Judas document. And the media, of course, played it up, and said that the Judas document is authentic. What they didn’t explain was that by authentic they meant that it was indeed an ancient document. It was known as far back in history as the year 185, but authentic did not mean that its contents were true. Indeed the Gnostics made up these stories, and from that standpoint it is very clear that the story of Judas as portrayed there is fraudulent. Judas cannot be made into a hero. In the Bible he is spoken of as a traitor and the one who betrayed Jesus. Judas became guilty of what John Piper calls the most spectacular sin that has ever been committed in contributing to the murder of the holy Son of God.
Judas’s last name, Judas Iscariot, means that he probably came from a place called Kirioth, which is in southern Judah. I’ve often thought about the mother of Judas as she held that little baby boy in her arms. She had no idea whom she was holding, did she? As a matter of fact, you don’t know whom you are holding in your arms either. You don’t know whether you holding someone who is going to turn out to be an evil person or a good person, but this dear mother, as she held that baby boy and wished for him the best, did not know that she held a boy who would become famous around the world for two thousand years for betrayal, intrigue, greed and the most horrific of all sins.
We don’t know where Jesus and Judas met. It’s possible that they met when Jesus was in the southern part of the land, and I can imagine Judas being invited to be part of Christ’s disciples. Do you remember that Jesus prayed all night and chose twelve, and among them was Judas Iscariot? It was an honor in those days to be invited by a rabbi as an itinerant evangelist, if you please, and to learn from him and to watch with him, and to be able to eat with him, and the groups would sleep together out in the beautiful starlit countryside. It was an honor, and I can imagine that when Judas was chosen he thought to himself, “What a great opportunity for me to advance myself. Think of the story that I am going to be able to tell the kids back home t at last Jesus of Nazareth chose me to be one of his disciples.” And so Judas was chosen.
You can take your Bibles today and turn to the fourteenth chapter of the book of Mark “For Us,” and today’s message is “Jesus Betrayed For Us.” And so even though your Bible is open, we will be looking at this passage a little later on. What I need to do now is to go to other passages of Scripture to build the total story of who Judas really was and the story of his betrayal. So as we move through this, know that I’ll be referencing other verses to give you the fuller picture.
If we were to describe Judas, one of the characteristics would be that he had a covetous heart. To put it clearly, Judas loved money. There’s an interesting story in John 12. Jesus is there with Mary, Martha and Lazarus, and Mary, because of her overwhelming love for Jesus, takes costly ointment worth several years of wages. In fact, that was kind of the way in which people kept something that was a treasure as a hedge against inflation. And she took this box of ointment, pure nard the Bible says, and she broke it open and she poured it on the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair, and Judas, the Bible says, said, “Could not this ointment have been sold and the money given to the poor?” And then John adds very interestingly, “But Judas said this, not because he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief,” and he had the moneybag and he pilfered from it. Isn’t that amazing? The treasurer for the disciples is a thief, and when he was sent to buy something he would say that it cost a certain amount. In our money he might have said it cost $35.00 when actually it only cost $20.00, and he would pocket the difference. He was a lover of money and he was such a skillful hypocrite that for three years all of this is happening and nobody is suspecting that there is anything that is seriously wrong. It’s amazing what Judas was able to do.
In Acts 1 Peter says that Judas had a ministry with us. Do you know what that means? That means that when the disciples cast out demons, Judas was able to do it too. Very probably the demons cooperated. When the disciples preached a sermon Judas stood up there and he preached a sermon too. And when they performed miracles he was able to do the same miracles in the name of Jesus. He did the very same thing. He was a part of Jesus Christ’s disciples, and he functioned like that and was never put off by Jesus. He was never ashamed of Jesus as far as we know, and he played the game with such skill. Judas was one who outwardly for three years, for the most part, had the behavior of a saint, but inwardly had the heart of a devil.
You see, what makes this so scary is that Judas was not the kind of person who comes into a service late and sits in the back row (and I’m looking at those of you who are there now by the way). He was not the kind of person who did that and then left before the benediction. Ah no, no, he’s the Sunday school teacher. He’s the deacon. He’s the elder. Maybe he’s even the pastor, and nobody knows what is in his heart. Judas was covetous. He was a lover of money.
Now a second characteristic of his heart was he had a very deceitful mind. Let me speak to you very candidly today. Most of us think that we are rational people. We think, “You know I go by reason.” Well, that’s not true. Most of us are desire driven, and whatever the heart desires, the mind is recruited to bring it about. If you desire something like sexual gratification the mind is commissioned to somehow arrange circumstances to fulfill that, whether honorably or dishonorably. The heart wants what it wants, and when it comes to money the mind is recruited to figure out a way to make it whether honorably (that’s good) or dishonorably if necessary. By any means, get it, and Judas had a heart for money.
Now you remember in the life of Jesus the chief priests were looking for someone to betray Jesus, and they were looking for someone who probably was part of the inner circle, because they didn’t want to arrest Jesus in the day. They wanted to arrest him at nighttime, after dark, and so they thought to themselves that if they could find someone who knew Jesus well and knew where he would be and could identify him for them in the twilight, then they could catch him. Judas, in his heart, knew that they were looking for someone, and he volunteered for the job, but before he did, he went up to the upper room with Jesus. What an amazing story!
Jesus had all the disciples sitting there and he said to them, “One of you is going to betray me,” and to the everlasting credit of these disciples they all went around the table and said, “Is it I?” And that’s the question I should be asking today and that’s the question you should be asking. Is it I? It’s amazing to me. Peter didn’t nudge James and say, “I’ve always been worried about Judas.” No, he said, “Is it I?” It’s very interesting that Judas changes the question just a little bit and says, “It isn’t I, is it?” Judas is sitting next to Jesus, the place of honor. Jesus says, “After I dip the morsel (which is the beginning of the meal) the person to whom I give it, he’s the one who will betray me,” and Jesus takes the morsel and he dips it in the sauce and he gives it to Judas, and the Bible says in John 13 that immediately Satan entered into him.
I was just thinking about this yesterday in preparing the message. I had never thought about it before. Just imagine that Satan entered the upper room, because it says that when Jesus gave Judas the morsel Satan entered into him immediately and Jesus speaks to Judas and says, “What you think you need to do, go ahead and do,” and so Judas leaves and the Bible says it was night. No matter how dark that night was, there was something else that was even darker and that was the soul of Judas, and he left.
Now the moment we introduce Satan into this equation we have to ask a couple of questions, don’t we? One of the questions you might want to ask is, “Was Judas just a harmless victim?” I mean, he was just going along and one day Satan says, “I’m recruiting you to do this terrible deed and therefore I’m going to enter you now and do it.” No, no! Judas wasn’t an innocent bystander in this drama. You see, because he loved money, and because he was covetous, there was a doorway point if you please an entry point, and what Satan was really doing was he was coming along to help Judas do what Judas had already thought of doing and planned to do. The devil, in effect, said, “I’ll help you do what you’ve decided to do.”
There’s another question. This was brought up in the little booklet by John Piper entitled, “The Most Spectacular Sin,” where he talks about Judas. Why did Satan change his technique? All throughout the life of Jesus Satan is trying desperately to keep Jesus Christ from the cross. He’s even using Peter to say, “No, you will not die,” and Jesus said, “Get thee behind me, Satan,” and he’s speaking to Peter, because that was the will of the devil. Now the devil changes his mind and begins to help the process. Why? Well, I think what Piper said is true. It’s because Satan knew by now that there was no way to prevent Jesus from going to the cross. The plan had been laid. The will of God had been done. Jesus was resolute in his decision to go to the cross, and so, as a result, Satan decided since he couldn’t stop it he would do all the damage he could do in the process. He was going to make it as hard as possible for Jesus. He was going to use Judas so that he would get the satisfaction of seeing this betrayal. He was going to make it as messy as he could to make sure that Jesus had as hard a time as possible. And so Satan enters into Judas to do this ghastly deed
Well, I’ve mentioned to you that Judas had a very covetous heart. He had a deceitful mind and then he decided to go through with the deed and had a very resolute, strong will, and now we do pick up the passage here in Mark 14:43. Please follow along as I read. “And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.’ And when he came, he went to him at once and said, ‘Rabbi!’ And he kissed him.”
Matthew records in chapter 26 that Jesus Christ’s response was, “Friend, why did you come here? Do what you have decided to do.” Jesus, the gentleman! “Friend, why did you come here?” Here’s a kiss of betrayal. Judas is as smooth as silk. Do you know anyone like that who can kill with kindness? Do you know anyone who may do a good deed of kindness to simply deceive you? Jesus is here and Judas is betraying him with a kiss, no less.
And so you know the rest of the story. The chief priests and the scribes and the elders came and they laid hands on Jesus and they carry him away, and now six trials are going to begin
Judas goes to the chief priests and says, “I betrayed him to you. Give me the money.” So they give him 30 pieces of silver. Oh silver! I don’t know how much silver was worth on the common market in those days. I don’t know what it was on the Middle East Dow Jones Industrial Average, but thank God for some silver. It’s a hedge against inflation! Times are tough! It’s a little more than you need but it’s always good to have some for a rainy day. He gets his silver, and the heart of Judas is glad. “I’ve got my money,” but then he hears that Jesus has been condemned and he begins to think back over what he had done, and he is full of remorse. He knows right well he has betrayed innocent blood. He knows right well that he’s stepped over a line here. To be in a man’s inner circle for three full years, working with him, praying with him, doing miracles with him, and now betraying him? The Bible says that somehow money loses its luster, doesn’t it, when you are filled with remorse and guilt? And so the Scripture says that Judas takes the money and he goes back to the people who gave it to him and he throws it into the treasury, and they say, “Why are you doing that? We don’t care what’s happened to you.” Isn’t that interesting? They were his friends as long as the agreement was being reached, but when the agreement was over the people didn’t care at all for Judas, and then in desperation, not knowing where to turn, because his remorse was so great he did what 30,000 Americans do every year. He committed suicide.
Why does God put a person like Judas in the Bible? Judas actually is a prototype of every human being. He’s a picture of you and me. Don’t get the impression that Judas somehow wasn’t human. He was one of us. The fact is that none of us is as good inside as we purport to others on the outside. We’re all hypocritical. We all have the potential for great evil within our hearts, so let’s not point our finger at Judas, but let us learn from him.
There are a couple of important lessons that we should learn from Judas. Number one, no position of honor can substitute for personal faith in Jesus Christ. You can teach. You can sing in the choir. You can be honored. You can be well spoken about. You can memorize verses of Scripture. You can pride yourself in the knowledge of the Bible, and still be lost forever if you’ve never trusted Christ personally. The Bible makes it very clear that Judas never did trust Christ.
Jesus said on one occasion, “Didn’t I choose twelve and one of you is a devil?” And then in John 17 Jesus again very clearly shows that Judas was not a part of him. The other disciples belonged but Judas didn’t. He was there in body, but he was not there in soul. Three years living in the presence of Christ had never captured the heart of Judas. Money did that. Jesus didn’t.
There’s a second lesson, and that is that remorse doesn’t save anybody. We won’t look at the text but the Bible says in a couple of places that Judas was filled with remorse, but that didn’t save him. You know there are people today who live with guilt and they regret what they’ve done and they live with that regret and they think, “Well, you know I’ve done something I regret, and I’ve done my duty in paying it off,” and they may think that they are thereby saved, but they aren’t. You see, Judas died I’m sure because of self-hatred as he thought about what he had done, and some of you are living with self-hatred because of the remorse. Because of what has happened in your past you are filled with remorse, and I am here to tell you today that that remorse does not count with God. All that counts with God is what Jesus Christ did on the cross, and remorse is bearing my own guilt away from the presence of Christ who is able to speak me clean. And I say to you today, “Don’t live that way.” It could lead you down the same path that Judas took. Don’t live with remorse.
Remorse will never save you. Bring that remorse in the presence of Christ and say, “Here I am, a sinner, needing to be saved. Forgive me. I turn from my sin to the only one qualified to save me.”
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, if after the betrayal, and after Judas had taken this money and had thrown it down in the temple, if after that he had repented, would he have been saved?” And the answer is yes. The man who committed the most spectacular sin in the universe, the betrayal of the innocent Son of God leading to the murder of the Son of God, could have been saved if only he had turned to Christ and said, “I’ve been a hypocrite I’ve been wrong my sin is overwhelming. Forgive me.” I can’t imagine that Jesus would have turned him away. He would have said, “Friend, I forgive you.”
I speak to those of you today who think that you have committed sins that are too great for you to be forgiven. The issue is not the greatness of your sin. The issue is the wonder of the forgiveness and the righteousness that God credits to sinners. That’s the issue. And no matter how much you have sinned, you cannot out-sin grace. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that you should sin in order that grace may abound. No, I’m not saying that, but no matter the greatness of the sin, you pile it up and God says, “Let me see your mountain of sin, and I will show you a mountain of grace that is greater than your sin.” [applause] Where sin abounds grace abounds much more, but for Judas it was water under the bridge (too much water under the bridge) and he couldn’t have the heart at that point to turn back to the Savior whom he had so cruelly spurned.
There’s a final lesson, and that is that the gate to hell is often right next to the gate to heaven. Imagine this, folks! Just imagine it! With Jesus three full years! Judas was there when Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.” Judas was there and he heard it. He was there to see the gracious words that proceeded out of the mouth of Jesus as Jesus held little children in his arms, and as he went about doing good and doing miracles, and preaching the Sermon on the Mount. Judas heard it all, and yet he is known as the son of perdition and is lost forever right there in the presence of Jesus. Here is the gate to heaven here is the gate to hell, and Judas took the wrong path to hell.
What that means, candidly, is that some of you are here today and you’ve never trusted Christ as Savior. Some of you, who have perhaps heard the Gospel preached from Moody Church as it is every single Sunday, still persist in saying no to the only one who can speak you clean and present you to God faultless. Right here at Moody Church is the gate to heaven. It’s also the gate to hell, and they are next to one another.
There are many different epitaphs in the Bible, and knowing that I shall die (hopefully not too soon but it’ll happen), I’ve often thought what I would like to have written on my tombstone. The Bible oftentimes gives us real hints as to what should be written on people’s tombstones. For example, I think that despite David’s great sin, if you were to have a tombstone epitaph for him it would probably be “A Man After God’s Own Heart.” Saul, in the Old Testament wrote his own epitaph when he said, “I have played the fool.” That’s a pretty good description of his life.
Now I’m going to tell you something that should really bring tears to our eyes. There’s an epitaph for Judas too. Jesus said of Judas, “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Wow! Imagine! It would have been better if he had died as a child playing outside. It would have been better if he had died in his mother’s arms. It would have been better if he had never been conceived. What an epitaph! It would have been better if he had not been born, because what the Bible clearly teaches is this. Jesus said, “Unless you are born again you cannot enter the Kingdom of God,” so hear me carefully when I say that unless you are born twice, it would have been better if you had not been born once.
So I have to ask you this, and now we’re just talking one to another. I’m not talking to the person sitting next to you but I’m talking to you. Are you born again? To the everlasting credit of the disciples when Jesus said, “One of you is a betrayer,” they asked that question. “Is it I?” And so I’m asking you today. Is it you?
Back in the year 2000, Rebecca and I had the opportunity of going to Oberammergau and the Passion play there in Oberammergau, Germany, and I had before me the soliloquy that was used in the Passion play at that time. It was a soliloquy that was used for Judas, and the person who played the part of Judas recited it with deep passion. Let me give you a good part of it.
“Where can I go to hide my shame to cast off the agony? No place is dark enough. No sea is deep enough. Earth, earth, open up and devour me. I can be no more. I have betrayed him. The best of men I have delivered into the hands of his enemies to be tortured and executed. Where is another man on whom such man rests? I am a contemptible traitor. How kind he has been toward me! How gently he comforted me when dark dejection oppressed my soul! How he warned me when I was already harboring this shameless betrayal! Accursed Satan, you’ve made me blind in death. You tempted me to do this deed and dragged me into this abyss. I’m not a disciple any longer. I am hated everywhere, despised everywhere, berated as a traitor, even by those who seduced me, exiled from human society with this blazing fire within my gut. Everyone takes flight from me. Everyone curses me. Still there is one whose face I wish I could see again, the man to whom I could cling. Whoa is me for there is no hope, there is no redemption. He is dead and I am his murderer. Cursed hour in which my mother gave birth to me. Am I to drag along this martyr’s life any longer, endure these tortures within me, and flee from others as one afflicted with a plague? I can’t bear it anymore. Not another step shall I take. Here I will bring to an end my accursed life. Come, you serpent. Clothe yourself around my throat and strangle this traitor.”
Jesus asked a very provocative question. “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”
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