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The Betrayal

Tim Ayers

The Easter story is such a hopeful story. The story of Jesus' resurrection from the dead is filled with the promise of new birth and forgiveness and renewal...and at a time like this, with what we are living through together right now, when we all are looking for glimmers of hope in our lives, Easter's promise of new birth and renewal feel particularly important. And yet to get to the Easter story's glorious, hopeful end, the sad truth is that we have to travel through some very heartbreaking moments: Jesus' trial is a terrible mockery of justice; Peter's strong denial of even knowing his dear friend Jesus is totally unexpected; and the unimaginable brutality of the crucifixion itself is something that is almost impossible to comprehend. These difficult moments in the Easter story have always been hard for me to take in...But I can read about these sad events with a sense of hope because I know the end of the story. I know that on Easter morning Jesus will rise from the dead...he will bring forgiveness and new life...and he will change the trajectory of the entire history of the world for the good, forever! Yes, there is sadness in this story, but the sadness is ultimately overwhelmed by the hope of the resurrection! But there is this one part of the Easter story that has always been hard for me to come to terms with. It has no upside...no ray of hope...and, in truth, has always left me wondering...and that is Judas' betrayal of Jesus. Just think with me about this for a moment: Judas was one of the 12 original disciples; he'd traveled with Jesus...more accurately, he'd lived with Jesus for 3 years. And in those 3 years he'd listened to all of Jesus' public teaching and most likely most of his private conversations as well. In those 3 years he'd watched Jesus perform countless miracles and seen him drive out many demons. Judas had seen Jesus change people's lives for the good time after time after time. Judas had been one of Jesus' trusted insiders and yet, he betrayed him. This is so hard to figure out. In fact, it's been so hard to figure out that no one seems to even try. Most scholars have concluded over the centuries that Judas was simply an evil man. Medieval theologians concluded that when all is said and done Judas and Satan will spend eternity together in the lowest level of Hell. Why even in almost all paintings of the disciples you can always tell which one is Judas...he is the dark, brooding, almost devilish man slinking around on the edge of things. But the truth is, the Bible doesn't tell us too much about him. All four gospels do mention him, but none tell us about Jesus calling him to be a disciple and only a couple of the gospels give us any details what-so-ever about him...except all 4 gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John do tell us that he betrayed Jesus by turning him over to the Jewish religious leaders. But the question remains, 'Why would he do this?' What could have possibly driven Judas to turn on Jesus? Jesus of all people!

We are now in the 3rd week of our Easter series we are calling 'In the Moment' our look at the events of Easter through the eyes of Jesus' disciple Peter...two weeks ago Dave talked about what happened on that chaotic night we refer to as "The Last Supper' and last week Barry took us into the Garden of Gethsemane and we saw the disciple's inability to stand with Jesus in his darkest hour. And now we come to Judas...Now, we believe that we can get a pretty good picture of what Peter thought about the whole of the Easter story by reading the Gospel of Mark. (an aside: I have put some notes in the app that explain why we feel confident that the Gospel of Mark is essentially Peter's recollections of his time with Jesus). And, yes, Peter did have a couple of things to say about Judas, but not much. He tells us in Mark 3:19 that Judas Iscariot was one of the original disciples, but he names him like this: Judas Iscariot...the one who indeed betrayed Jesus.' After that terse introduction, Peter says absolutely nothing else about Judas until he tells us when Judas decided to betray Jesus and then how he betrayed Jesus...and that's all he tells us. Now, I think there may be a good reason that Peter is so thin on details about Judas. Peter, if you know his story, and Barry talked a good deal about this last week, had his own embarrassments to deal with during the arrest and trial of Jesus. Peter may not have betrayed Jesus, but he certainly denied ever having known him...3 times he denied knowing Jesus during the same time that Jesus was being cruelly interrogated by the High Priest. My bet is that Peter didn't want to do a lot of finger pointing when it came to re-telling this part of the story of the life of Jesus because Peter knew he had a lot to answer for as well.

But I do think that if we take all that we do have about Judas from all 4 of the gospels and we do some CSI-sort of thinking, we can figure out much of what was motivating Judas that night he betrayed Jesus. First, let's start with his name: Judas Iscariot. Iscariot wasn't his last name; it simply means: 'Man from Kerioth' and Kerioth was a town in the south of Judea about a day's walk south of Jerusalem. What this means is that Judas was the only disciple who wasn't from Galilee. And in that day, people from Judea were the sophisticates while Galileans were considered the country bumpkins with county bumpkin accents. In fact, it was Peter's accent that made people assume he knew Jesus. So, Judas starts off being the only disciple that sounds like he's cultured. And he may have even had some sort of Judean, urban education that made him the right candidate, as John's gospel tells us, to be put in charge of keeping the disciple's money. We can also assume that if Judas was from Judea, he most likely first met Jesus when Jesus made the three-day trip from up north in Galilee down to Judea to be baptized by John the Baptist. My bet is that Judas was probably pretty serious about spiritual things; that he'd been listening to John the Baptist and eventually he'd chosen to follow Jesus all the way back up to Galilee. Unfortunately, though, we hear nothing about Judas at all from the naming of the 12 disciples until an important event that takes place in the week before Jesus goes to the cross. But, we can assume that Judas was involved in everything that the other 11 disciples were involved in...that he saw all of the miracles; he heard all of the teaching; he was sent out in Jesus' name to spread the good news of the kingdom; he was also given authority from Jesus to cast out unclean spirits and heal the sick. Nothing ever tells us that Judas was standing on the sidelines during any of Jesus' ministry. But then comes this moment that 3 of the 4 gospel writers go to great lengths to describe: the moment when Jesus is anointed with oil at a big, fancy banquet by a woman named Mary. Now, each gospel writer has a little bit of a different take on what happened that evening, but here is the story in a nutshell: it was the week of Passover, the most important week of religious celebration on the Jewish calendar and Jesus was the guest of honor at a large banquet in the town of Bethany, a town that was just outside of Jerusalem, And Lazarus, the man that Jesus had recently raised from the dead, was also at this banquet because Bethany was his home town. And while everyone was eating, Mary, who happened to be Lazarus' sister, took a twelve-ounce bottle of oil...well, let's just read the passage. John 12:3-8 Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus' feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance. 4 But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, 5 "That perfume was worth a year's wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor."6 Not that he cared for the poor - he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples' money, he often stole some for himself. 7 Jesus replied, "Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me." This story is in two other gospels, Matthew and Mark and in both of these gospels the very next words after Jesus' words here are something like, 'Then Judas decided to go to the leading priests and find out how much they would pay him to betray Jesus.' It seems very clear to me that Jesus' rough, public response to Judas trying to look like some pious, religious man who was deeply worried about the poor, in front of a crowd of Jerusalem big wigs, cut Judas to the core. Remember, they were in Judas' territory now; they weren't up in backwater Galilee. This was sophisticated Judea. And if there was any place that Judas wanted to make a great impression it was here. And Jesus had publicly called him out...he'd publicly shamed him...publicly made him look like a fool over the actions...the seemingly ridiculous actions of a woman! In fact, the Greek here isn't as nice as the NLT's 'Leave her alone.' It simply says, ???????????????????? 'Leave her!' And we know that these words of Jesus would have made Judas the talk of the town...he'd have been the butt of every joke...'Did you hear what Jesus said to Judas in front of everyone last night at that fancy banquet?' I'm sure '??????????'?was ringing loudly in Judas's ears...and what seems to have happened was that Judas decided right then and there to find a way to get even, to make Jesus pay for shaming him, especially for shaming him in public, at a fancy dinner, over the extravagance of a woman. Now, we do know from what we read in John's gospel that Judas was hiding a secret. He was stealing the disciple's money. One of the most important spiritual acts of 1st Century Judaism was giving money to the poor. So, it would have been easy, if you were in charge of giving other people's money to the poor, to take some for yourself. My bet is that Judas went to the religious leaders thinking he could turn Jesus over to them, they would rough him up a bit, bring him down off his high horse for a while and put him through some very public shaming, during Passover week no less...Judas could get some silent revenge and it would all be over in a little while. You see, Judas knew that it would be hard for the religious leaders to know which man in the large crowd was actually Jesus; remember no one had pictures of anyone...all men had beards...they all dressed essentially the same way...and this group all had the same accent! It was going to be hard to know which one of these Galilean men was Jesus. But Judas knew Jesus from everyone else! He could take the religious leaders right to Jesus. Why, he could even do it in the middle of the night when the crowds that loved Jesus were gone. And that is exactly what he did. I am confident he did this to get even...to get revenge...to placate his sense of being unjustly shamed...to give Jesus some of his own medicine and to keep his secret about stealing money under wraps. We do know that Judas didn't expect what happened to Jesus to happen at all! Look at what Matthew's Gospel tells us in chapter 27 verse 1. Very early in the morning the leading priests and the elders of the people met again to lay plans for putting Jesus to death. 2 Then they bound him, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor. 3 When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse. So, he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders. 4 "I have sinned," he declared, "for I have betrayed an innocent man."What do we care?" they retorted. "That's your problem."5 Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself. 6 The leading priests picked up the coins. "It wouldn't be right to put this money in the Temple treasury,"they said, "since it was payment for murder."7 After some discussion they finally decided to buy the potter's field, and they made it into a cemetery for foreigners. 8 That is why the field is still called the Field of Blood. 9 This fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah that says, "They took the thirty pieces of silver - the price at which he was valued by the people of Israel, 10 and purchased the potter's field, as the Lord directed." Earlier I said that I didn't think Peter had much to say much about any of this in his telling of the story because he was still smarting over having denied that he knew Jesus...I also think that some of Peter's reticence to talk too much about Judas was that he knew that he wasn't all that different from Judas. He may not have wanted revenge, but he sure wasn't above lying about knowing Jesus to save his own skin. He may not have wanted to publicly shame Jesus, but he sure didn't want to be publicly shamed for having been with Jesus. I'm sure that as Peter thought about things...as he thought about the events surrounding Jesus' death and resurrection and as he thought about all of the disciple's actions that night, he saw that everyone had their own moments of failure and he didn't want to try and downplay his own failings by focusing on Judas.

As I've been thinking about this aspect of the Easter story it has become really clear to me that there is something powerful for me to learn from Judas' story. This may not sound like theological rocket science, but it is way too easy to point fingers at other people. Yes, we do know that Judas' desire for revenge became so strong that 2 of the 4 gospels tell us that he even opened himself up to the presence of Satan...My thinking is that Satan wasn't going to give Judas an opportunity to back out of this one, so he took advantage of the dark opening he saw in Judas' soul. But the more I've thought about all this, Judas really isn't all that different from a lot of people...people like all of us...I'll be honest. Do I like being shamed, especially publicly shamed? No! Do I ever want to get revenge when I feel like I've been seriously wronged? Well, maybe not 'revenge' revenge, but I like getting even in some way...or at least I like seeing someone getting what I think they should have coming to them! And who among us doesn't want to keep our secrets hidden? I know I do. And I can't even count how many times I've done something thinking, 'This is going to work out great for me!' but then the consequences of my foolish or selfish actions were completely unexpected? I know that Judas' actions were in the extreme, but he wasn't that different from any of the rest of mankind, really. Here is what I've been thinking...maybe the reason Peter didn't want to focus on 'Judas things' was that he wanted to get the hopeful part of this story: he wanted to get the one man, who, unlike the rest of us, never responded inappropriately to any kind of offense. He wanted to get to the part of the Easter story that tells us that there was one man who stood silently and took unimaginable, truly undeserved, public shame...he wanted to tell everyone about the one man who made no attempt to get revenge for the great injustices done to him...the one man who had no secrets and yet he allowed others to not only question his every move, but to bring false accusation after false accusation against him. We all know who this one man is. It is the same man who said this to Judas just after Judas had kissed him as a way to tell the temple guards, 'This is your man!' Jesus said, 'My friend. At the moment of betrayal, he called Judas his friend! He said, 'My friend, do what you have come to do.' Only Jesus would have called Judas his friend in this moment. Only Jesus.

I think this is why, when Peter was later writing a letter to Jewish believers (a letter we now call 1 Peter) he wrote these words......words that I'm sure reminded him of both Jesus and Judas...words that scholars believe came from or became an early-church worship song. Peter wrote this 'Jesus is our example and we must follow in his steps: He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls. This is the hope of Easter: Jesus, no matter what circumstances you find yourself in, can now be the guardian of your soul. Jesus is the one who sees us for who we truly are and yet he willingly carried our sins in his body on the cross. Jesus is the one who took the shame...Jesus took the humiliation...he took the rejection and he took our punishment. And on that first Easter morning Jesus declared that we are healed, we have been found and have a home and we can have hope.