A Discerning HeartErwin W. Lutzer | June 25, 2000
Selected highlights from this sermon
The gate to hell is right next to the gate that leads to heaven. How did Judas, who followed Christ for three years, not go through the gate to heaven? Judas’ covetous heart, determined will, and deceitful mind led him to the wrong door. And when Judas had the chance, he rejected God’s grace, sealing his fate for all of eternity.
His first name is Judas. And the word Judas, derived from Judah, means praise. His last name is Iscariot, which means a man from Kerioth, a little town in southern Judah. We think of Judas Iscariot as the man who betrayed Jesus. What we sometimes forget is that he was at one time a teenager, with all of the idealism, the hopes and the dreams of youth. We also forget that at one time he was a little baby in his mother’s arms and, apparently, she and her husband had high hopes for him, naming him Judas. Praise. Possibly after Judas Maccabees, one of the great heroes of Israel.
We don’t know exactly when Judas and Jesus met, but we can imagine that when Jesus, after a night of prayer, chose Judas as one of his disciples, somehow within Judas his boyhood dreams of grandeur may have come to the surface. We can imagine, almost, in contemporary terms how Judas might have said to himself, “this will look good in the college alumni newspaper.” Jesus chooses Judas. But the problem was that there were some character flaws in Judas which were not immediately discernible but which became clear later.
The experts tell us that when you have a blow-out along the expressway, a tire blows out, that actually the small cracks that caused it probably are months old, if not years old. But the cracks are microscopic, they can’t be clearly seen, and then, suddenly, when you have a blow-out, you say, “well, now, look what happened: the tire became weak.” But it was a weakness that was developing over a period of years. In the very same way, as we take the lens and look into Judas’s life and heart, as we shall do today, we discover that the blow-out, the eventual decision to betray Christ, was actually long in coming because of those character flaws.
Many of you will know that this is a series of messages titled “When Jesus Has Your Heart”, and today’s message is “A Discerning Heart”. It’s the kind of heart, I might add, that Judas did not have. It’s the heart that the eleven disciples had, but Judas did not. When Jesus captures our hearts, we do have discerning hearts, but Jesus never did capture the heart of Judas.
Let’s look at the context of the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, John chapter 13. Jesus had washed the feet of the disciples and he washed the feet of all the disciples. The feet of Judas were as clean as the feet of Peter, but, unfortunately, Judas’s heart was foul, for evil had penetrated even the inner circle of Jesus Christ’s disciples.
And what are those character flaws that led to Judas’s betrayal of Jesus? First of all, he had a covetous heart, a covetous heart. If you were to take your Bibles, at the thirteenth chapter of John, and turn back just a page as it is in my Bible, to the twelfth chapter, you’d find in verse two there was a dinner that was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with Him. Verse three, then Mary took a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume–she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray Him–John is writing this letter after the events so that he understands now what he did not understand at the time–Judas objected, “Why was this perfume not sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” John adds, he did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief and the keeper of the money bag and he used to help himself to what was put into it.
How did Judas pilfer money? Did he just put his hand in the bag and take it? Maybe that’s what he did; maybe when he was sent to buy 50 dollars’ worth of food, we could say, he actually used 45 but said that he used the full 50 and pocketed the rest. One thing we do know about Judas is that he loved money. There’s another statement of that found in the Gospel of Matthew that I shall read. It says this: then one of the 12, one called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I hand Him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. From then on, Judas watched for an opportunity to hand Him over.
Now, mind you, this covetous heart was cloaked with a great deal of religiosity. In Acts, chapter one, Peter is talking about what happened and the need to fulfill the vacancy that Judas created, and he says, “he had a part in this ministry.” Remember, the disciples did not know that Judas was a deceiver. You know what that means...when the disciples healed the sick, Judas healed the sick. When the disciples cast out demons, it at least appeared as if Judas was casting out demons. When the disciples evangelized, Judas evangelized. “He had a part of this ministry,” and in one level, was one with those disciples. As a matter of fact, it is not only true that his covetousness was cloaked with religion. It was also cloaked with deep friendship.
Your Bible is now open to the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of John. You’ll notice in verse 18 Jesus is saying, “I’m not referring to all of you. I know whom I have chosen.” And He’s talking about someone among them who is unclean, and then He says, “but this is to fulfill the Scripture. He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.” And Jesus is quoting Psalm 41, verse nine. It’s a reference to a man by the name of Ahithophel, who was a close friend of David, and that man ended up betraying David and going over to the side of the enemy.
Now, what’s remarkable is the integrity of Scripture, because the quotation in the Psalm says, “he who ate bread with me, my friend whom I trusted, has lifted up his heel against me.” You’ll notice when Jesus quotes that passage, He leaves out that phrase, “whom I trusted” because Jesus never did trust Judas. Jesus knew what was in his heart. But Jesus said “my friend”! “My friend with whom I have eaten has lifted up his heel against me, has now betrayed me.” Have you ever experienced such betrayal of someone with whom you ate and someone whom you trusted (because we are all frail and cannot see the human heart)?
Judas had a covetous heart. He loved money. If you were to say, “now, what is that crack that caused the eventual blow-out?” It began with that fixation on money. When Mary gave Jesus that great gift, John says Judas objected not because he cared for the poor (that was a cloak for his covetous heart), but because he was a thief and had the bag and bear what was put therein and pilfered from it. The love of money was the beginning of his downfall.
Well, there’s a second character flaw. He had a covetous heart, but he also had–notice it now–a deceitful mind. Did you know that our minds tend to rationalize what our desires really want? We are basically desire driven; we are not mind driven. We are driven by our desires, and the mind comes along and makes those desires plausible and gives us a reason to believe that it’s okay to follow those desires. Judas reveals to us what is there. I mentioned that he had a covetous heart–how do we know that he had a deceitful mind? The mind, now, is going to have to justify that which is in the heart.
And we pick up the text of Scripture, John 13...Jesus is speaking in verse 21: and 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.” I want you to just hear the pathos in the heart and mind and voice of Jesus. “One of you is going to betray me.” To the everlasting credit of the disciples, they did not point fingers. They didn’t say, “Well, you know, I’ve often wondered about Nathaniel.” And Thomas didn’t say to himself, “You know, that loud-mouthed Peter, he’s probably the guy.” Now, according to the book of Matthew, where we have a similar account, each one of the disciples, in effect, went around the table and asked this question: “Surely not I, Lord?” And then we read in Matthew chapter 26 this question Judas, who would betray him, said (notice the difference now): “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He did not call Christ Lord, but I want you to know how he played the game! They are all asking “Is it not I?” and Judas asks “Surely, it isn’t I, Rabbi?” and the disciples don’t know what is lurking behind his heart and his mind. As smooth as oil.
Now, trust Peter to want to know who it is of whom Jesus is speaking. The disciples, the Scripture says, stared at one another at a loss to know who of them might be meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved–that was John-was reclining next to Him, so Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, in effect, “John, you’re closest to Jesus,” as they were sitting around this low table (actually not sitting on chairs, that’s a sixteenth century portrait, the one that we are used to, but reclining on the floor). So Peter says to John, “ask Him who it is!” And Jesus answered and said, “it is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” And then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. Jesus said, “he is the one,” but Jesus talked so silently that the rest of the disciples did not catch what is being said–John points that out in the very next verses. But I want you to know what happens. Jesus is sitting there giving Judas the place of honor! Judas is to the left of Jesus. John is in the bosom of Jesus as they recline in one another’s bosoms, as it were, around this table. And there’s no doubt that the reason Judas was at the place of honor is because Jesus invited him to come there and said, in effect, “Judas, sit next to me. Today I honor you, but if you do not honor me, someday I shall have to condemn you. Judas, is this really what you want to do? Is this really the desire of your heart?”
Now, notice what happened. Judas takes the sop. It was customary to take a bit of mutton and to put it in the dish and to hand it to the honored guest and Jesus honors him by giving it to him, and Judas receives it and, it says in verse 27, as soon as he took the bread, Satan entered into him.
It’s time for a pause in this message. It’s time that we just talked eye to eye, heart to heart, life to life, truth to truth. Do you notice it is not necessary to invite Satan in in order for him to come in? Judas did not have to say, “Satan, please enter me.” Satan entered because, as long as Judas was going to do the work of the devil, the devil, who does not play by rules, who is not a gentleman, who comes in uninvited, simply began to take over and said, “you stand on my territory, you play my game, and I have come to take charge.” Satan enters into him to give him the strength and the ability and the rationalizations to do what he needs to do because, sitting there in the presence of the disciples, he did not even blush.
Jesus said to him, “what you’re going to do, do quickly.” The disciples don’t know what Jesus is saying, they’re still thinking that He’s asking Judas to go and buy something. That’s what the text says. Verse 30: as soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out and it was night. What John wants us to understand is that he who was now night goes into the blackness, into the darkness, because all of the night of that fateful evening in Jerusalem was now wrapped up in the heart of Judas, whose heart had been tainted by Satan. The behavior of a saint but the heart of a devil.
What was it that caused Judas to betray Christ? He had a covetous heart. “Get that money! Whether you lie for it, whether you steal about it, whether you betray for it, at all costs get it!” Then he had a deceitful mind that came along and said, “I’m going to go through the charade, I’m going to go through the game and play it in such a way that the other disciples will not even know who I really am...Jesus knows, but they won’t.”
There is a third character flaw, and that is a very determined will, a very determined will. He has such a hard heart now at this point that he’s determined to do several things. First of all, he’s determined to betray Jesus at all costs and the cost for him was hell. But at all costs he will betray Jesus.
We read in the book of Matthew how it went. While He was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd, armed with swords and clubs sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now, the betrayer had arranged a signal with them–notice this–“the one I kiss is the man, arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi,” and kissed Him. Jesus, ever the gentleman, replies, “friend, friend, do what you’ve come to do. Do what you’ve come to do.” A kiss! This man was so cunning, he had so much ability, that he was able to make treachery look like loyalty, and in the eyes of the people who were watching this, they thought, “Doesn’t Judas actually love Jesus?” Those who weren’t in on the plot probably thought so. But in the midst of this high tension situation, he’s willing to walk over to Him and give Him a kiss...but it was the kiss of betrayal. A determined, hard will. “I shall do this no matter the cost.”
Well, you know what happened, don’t you? Early in the morning all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. They bound Him and led Him away and handed Him over to Pilate. When Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders and said, “I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood.” Judas, what’s your problem? You love money and you’ve got it! See, Judas could not see the remorse that was going to overtake him. All that he could see is thirty silver coins – a good hedge against inflation and some money to be able to buy those things that normal people aren’t able to buy, to become a part of the upper crust–that’s what all that he could see. What’s his problem now? He’s got it! He could not predict the remorse. He could not predict the backlash. He could not predict the guilt, the shame that would come about as a result of his betrayal.
So what does he do? Judas threw the money into the temple and left. No sympathy from those who were his cohorts here. And he did what 25,000 Americans do every year. He committed suicide.
I wish all of you had been at the passion play. It’s impossible to recreate the sense of presence of these events as was portrayed in Oberammergau, but what I’d like to do is to reread for you a soliloquy that was a part of the Oberammergau play, the soliloquy of Judas just before he hangs himself. I wish I could read it with the same sense of passion that the man who played the part was able to do, but nonetheless, let me give it to you.
Judas is speaking in agony, “Where can I go to hide my shame, to cast off the agony? No place is dark enough, no sea is deep enough. Earth, open up and devour me! I can be no more. I’ve betrayed Him! The best of men I have delivered into the hands of his enemies to be tormented and executed. Where is there another man on whom such guilt rests? I am a contemptible traitor. How kind He has been toward me, how gently He comforted me when dark rejection oppressed my soul. How he warned me when I was already harboring this shameless betrayal, and this is how I have rewarded Him! Accursed Satan! You have made me blind and deaf. You tempted me to do this deed and dragged me into the abyss! Not a disciple any longer, hated everywhere, despised everywhere, berated as a traitor–even by those who seduced me! Exiled from human society with its blazing fire within my gut. Everyone takes flight from me, everyone curses me. Still there is one, one whose face I wish I could see again, to whom I could cling...but this one lies in chains and perhaps is already being led to his death, through my fault...my fault! Woe to me, for there is no hope, no redemption. He is dead and I am his murderer. Cursed, cursed is the hour in which my mother gave birth to me. Am I to drag along this martyr’s life any longer, endure these torturers within me, flee from others as one afflicted from the plague? No, I can bear no more. Not another step shall I take. Here I will bring to an end...end my accursed life. Here the most miserable of all fruits shall hang. Come, you serpent...come, you serpent, coil yourself around my throat and strangle this traitor!” And, with that, he dies. The end of his mother’s dream. “Judas–praise. This is my baby.” The end of his father’s dream. “Judas–potential, possibility!” It’s gone.
You say, “Could Judas, even at that moment, have received forgiveness?” Yes, if he would have desired it, he would have received it. If you ask the other question, “Was it possible for him to desire it?” Then we get into some deep theological water because the text tells us that these things had to come to pass. But let me talk to those of you who maybe are on the verge of becoming a traitor, of becoming a Judas. You can, if you desire, come to the only one who can save you. Judas had remorse. What is remorse? Remorse is looking at your sin apart from the forgiveness of Christ. For remorse there is no answer. For the desire to be forgiven there is a wonderful Savior to whom we cling.
What are three life changing lessons that we dare not forget as we look at the life of Judas? What are those lessons? Let me give them to you. First of all, no position...dare I say, no gifts, no abilities...are a substitute for a converted heart. No gifts, no position, no abilities are a substitute for a converted heart.
My friend, let’s take another look at Judas. Judas is not the kind of person who comes to church late, sits in the back row, and then leaves before the final hymn. There are people like that, but that’s not Judas. Judas...Judas volunteers to sing in the choir. Judas volunteers to be an usher, maybe especially an usher! Judas is the kind of person who...whom we elect to deacon boards, we may do that...perhaps elders! Shall I swallow hard and say it? Judas might be a pastor. Judas is the kind of person who has ability and who has the sense of ministry. That’s Judas. And so, let us keep in mind, my friend, it does not matter your abilities, it does not matter the honor that has been given to you, it does not matter the image that you may have. The simple fact is there is no substitute for a converted heart, and God knows those who are his, and sometimes we don’t. No position, no gifts, no abilities substitute for conversion.
Number two: only grace...only grace draws us to Christ and keeps us there. People always say, “Well, why did Jesus choose Judas?” Or they may ask the question, “Why did Judas betray Christ?” I’ve a different question for you today: why did the eleven disciples not betray Him in this way? That’s the real question. The reason that God chose Judas...Christ chose him so that he might be a representative humanity, showing human nature without restraints, without the intervention of God’s grace, and without repentance. That is human nature right there – Judas. And there’s a little bit of Judas in all of us. And if we love God, and if we’ve been converted by God, and if we want to follow God, and if we desire and we love Him, it is God’s matchless grace, because all of us, when we’re born, have the same sin nature. The only difference is our environment, what we’re taught, and, at the end of the day, the grace and the intervention of God.
There’s a final lesson, and this, I think, pretty well wraps it up. That the gate to hell is right next door to the gate to heaven. The gate to hell is right next to the gate to heaven. Jesus is the gate to heaven. For three years Judas was able to be with Him, to learn from Him, to become a part of Him. All of that happened, and yet Judas never allowed Christ to change his heart and, therefore, he came to the gate of heaven but walked past it and, eventually, he went to hell.
I think it’s true of most pastors–it’s certainly true of me–somehow we’re fascinated by cemeteries. When my wife and I were in England just last week, we were at a little Anglican church with a marvelous, marvelous cemetery. I like the idea of cemeteries around churches. I think it’d be pretty difficult here at The Moody Church, don’t you? There’s something about having to walk past the alumni association before you get to the undergraduates. In fact, the cemetery had a bench–great idea. Everybody should spend at least an hour meditating in a cemetery from time to time.
I like to look at epitaphs. I often wonder what would be on my epitaph, not the one that my family would choose, because they might be much kinder to me than God would be. I’m thinking, what would God maybe put on my epitaph? Oh, you look at the Scriptures and you think of Abraham, “a friend of God.” Imagine that on your tombstone. You think of David, despite all of his faults, “a man after God’s own heart.” You think of Paul...what would we put on Paul’s tombstone? Possibly, “I have fought the good fight.” We take it right out of his last words. What about Judas? What do we write on his tombstone? The words of Jesus in another context...Jesus said, “It would have been good for that man if he had never been born.” Wow.
Are you listening to me today? Are you hearing what God is saying to us? If you have never been born twice, you will eternally regret that you were born once. It will have been good for you if you had never been born. So I end today with a question: what if Jesus were to say to you and to me, “You know, among you there are some, here at The Moody Church or listening by cassette or radio, there are some among you who will betray me.” What would you say? Would you say, “Hmm, I’ve always wondered about so-and-so. Always had my doubts about their commitment”? Let’s take a page from the disciples and ask a question: “Lord, is it I?” Choir members, is it you? Ushers, is it you? Deacons, pastoral staff members, congregation, visitors...is it you? Is it I? Could I preach the gospel, could I shepherd people, could I share the Word...could it be me, Lord? That’s a question that we should burn into every single human heart. Lord, is it I?
So, I need to ask you something today. I ask myself, but I have to ask you because I’m your pastor. Is it you?
Our Father, we think of the mystery of a life lived in such a way that it would have been good if he had never been born. We think of the mother of Judas not knowing that throughout 2,000 years of history no one, so far as we know, would ever call a son Judas. We think, Father, of this man so close to Jesus and yet, eternally, so far. And we ask that, with the disciples sitting around that table in the presence of the all-knowing Christ, that you might grant us the ability to ask a simple question: Lord, is it I?
(I want you to ask that question right now in the presence of the Lord. Would you? Wherever you are, wherever you’re listening, you ask that question. Lord, is it I who has never been converted?)
Father, grant a spirit of revelation and conviction and truth. We ask in Jesus’ blessed name. Amen. Amen.