I just read a great book about one of the heroes of WWII?and when you think about it, that?s the way we usually study history?by focusing on the heroes…the GOOD GUYS…those brave men and women who attempted things never done before…famous presidents, war heros, athletes?people we admire and look up to.
But to have a more thorough understanding of history we have to be careful not to leave out the actions of the BAD GUYS as well?the villains of our fallen world. For example, a study of the life of Julius Caesar would be incomplete without an account of the traitorous act of his friend, Brutus. To learn the whole story of the American Revolution you would have to examine the actions of Benedict Arnold. If you wanted to learn all there is to know about the life of our 16th President…you would have to read that chapter of Lincoln?s life that tells how his life was cut short by the bullet fired from the gun of John Wilkes Booth.
I?m saying to really KNOW history you can?t limit your study to the GOOD GUYS. You have to learn about the BAD guys as well. I bring this up because today I want us to look at the life and work of perhaps the world?s best known BAD GUYS… a man named Judas Iscariot. Take your Bibles and turn to John?s gospel, chapter 13 and follow along as I read of his account of Judas? act of betrayal. Jesus is speaking…
18 – ?I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the Scripture: ?He who shares My bread has lifted up his heel against Me.?
19 – ?I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He.
20 – I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts Me; and whoever accepts Me accepts the One Who sent Me.?
21 – 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.?
22 – His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them He meant.
23 – One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to Him.
24 – Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, ?Ask Him which one He means.?
25 – Leaning back against Jesus, he asked Him, ?Lord, who is it??
26 – Jesus answered, ?It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.? Then, dipping the piece of bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon.
27 – As soon as Judas took the bread, satan entered into him. ?What you are about to do, do quickly,? Jesus told him,
28 – but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him.
29 – Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor.
30 – As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.
Now…I don?t know about you but, whenever I read this text and the other gospel accounts of Judas? actions…well, I feel a revulsion. I feel a level of disgust…that I don?t feel when I study the actions of history?s other traitors. This is because the actions of Brutus and Boothe and Benedict Arnold pale in insignificance when compared to the treachery of Judas Iscariot. You see, Judas didn?t betray his emperor or his president or even his nation. No, he went far beyond that and betrayed Jesus Christ, God?s only Son, Who came to earth so that all people?including Judas himself?could be saved from their sins and experience the love of God in a personal way. It is little wonder then, that today men name their SONS after PAUL, and their DOGS after NERO…but the only thing named after JUDAS is the STOCKYARD ANIMAL that guides the others into the slaughter house.
This morning I want us to organize our study of Judas? life around three words. First we?ll look closely at the MYSTERY that surrounds this man. Then we?ll examine the possible MOTIVES that might have led him to commit his act of betrayal. And finally I want us to see what MESSAGE there is here for us. I want us to see what lessons we can learn from Judas? life.
(1) So, let?s begin with a look at the MYSTERY that is Judas Iscariot.
And his life IS a huge enigma. I mean….at first glance Judas didn?t look at all like the ?traitor-type.? For example the NAME his parents gave him indicates that he probably came from a loving home. I say this because his was ONCE a very PROUD name in Jewish history. You may remember from your study of the Old Testament that ?Judah? or ?Judas? was the name of one of the twelve sons of Jacob…each of whom headed up one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Here?s another example. History books tell us that the brilliant uprising for Jewish independence in 164 B.C. was led by a man named JUDAS Maceabeaus. Judas Maceabeaus was sort of a ?George Washington figure? to the Jews. I told you about him a couple weeks ago. For these reasons many parents gave their sons this popular Jewish name. Even Jesus? parents named one of His half brothers, ?Judas? or ?Jude.? And…you may remember that there was another apostle named Judas… ?Judas, son of James? who, to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot usually went by his nickname, ?Thaddaeus.? So when Judas Iscariot was born his parents picked what was in their day one of the best names any boy could have. As he grew they no doubt raised him like other Jewish boys with a thorough understanding of Jewish history. They guided him in his study of the Scriptures.
I?m trying to help you see that Judas probably had a GOOD START in life.
We can also infer from the New Testament that Judas…at least at the beginning… apparently had no obvious vices. He had no dishonorable past like the tax collector-turned-disciple, Matthew Levi. Most of the OTHER disciples were known for some weakness prior to their following Jesus. Simon Peter was famous for his impulsiveness….James and John for their temper…but nothing uncomplimentary is mentioned about Judas? character. In fact, he must have had an honest face and acted in such a way that made him at least appear to be trustworthy…because at the beginning the other disciples apparently admired and respected him enough to give him the responsibility of being their treasurer, managing their meager funds. It is also important for us to note that Judas WAS a man of promise. I think Jesus saw a great potential in him…In Judas He saw someone who could have been used in a mighty way in the Kingdom of God. After all Jesus thought highly enough of him to send him with the other apostles on that first mission trip and then welcomed him home warmly after the trip?s success. Clarence MacArtney says, ?Judas was called to follow Christ, called to be an apostle, called to be one of those who were to lay the foundation of the church.? So…the mystery is that Judas WAS an admired person with great promise in life. If in someway Judas?prior to his betrayal of Jesus?were to have attended this church…he would have no doubt been highly regarded and respected. We would probably have been glad to have him in our membership.
I say this because he seems to have been a model citizen. I mean, the Bible never says that he pushed himself on Jesus as did James and John. It says nothing about him ever making rash promises or big boasts like Peter. He seemed to be quiet, businesslike, and respectable…yet the perplexing truth is he chose to sell out the Messiah…the only Son of God!!!
And there are many other things about Judas that are a complete mystery to us. I mean, why did he follow Jesus in the first place? And how could a likeable, respectful man like this with such a good beginning in life spend three years in the company of Jesus Christ and then do what he did?
I mean Judas listened daily to Jesus? teachings and prayers…he saw Him work His miracles…he went out and preached and taught in Jesus? name…he let Jesus wash his feet at the Last Supper…but then he betrayed Him for 30 pieces of silver. Angered by what he deemed a waste of expensive perfume Judas went to the Jewish religious leaders and offered his help in capturing Jesus. And…they were glad to have his aid because these religious leaders knew that the people, with whom Jesus was still very popular, would riot if they arrested Him in public, so they arranged to have Judas deliver Jesus to them quietly under cover of night, something that would have been very difficult to do without his help. You see, there were several private gardens on Gesthemane and as one of the Twelve, Judas knew which one Jesus had planned to use. He even went so far as to arrange a signal by which he would identify Jesus for his fellow conspirators.
He would greet Jesus as one customarily greeted his rabbi…with a kiss. Judas may have decided to do this because he was afraid that one of the disciples would surrender to the authorities in Jesus? place, pretending to be Him in order to spare their Master?s life. After all, just hours before in the Upper Room, Judas had listened while each of the other disciples had professed his willingness to go to prison or die for Christ. Weeks earlier Judas had apparently contracted to buy a piece of property. He no doubt decided to use the betrayal funds to complete the purchase.
Well, how could…Why would…he do this?
(2) What possible MOTIVE or motives would Judas have that would lead him to betray Jesus Christ?
A. First…we must understand that Judas did not do this because he was set apart or chosen by God for this wicked deed.
Scripture does record that it had been prophesied hundreds of years earlier that a close friend would betray the Messiah for 30 pieces of silver. (Psalm 41:9; 109:5-8, Zechariah 11:12-13) But, God didn?t predestine or coerce Judas or somehow program him for this action. Jesus didn?t chose Judas to be a disciple so he would fill the prophesied role of traitor. If He did, then Jesus encouraged Judas to sin…and our Lord doesn?t do that. As James 1:13 says, ?God does not tempt anyone.? Plus, Jesus? actions that night show that He gave Judas every opportunity to abandon his plans to betray him. For example, when He washed Peter?s feet Jesus said, ?A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, THOUGH NOT EVERYONE OF YOU.? (John 12:10) With this statement Jesus was saying, ?Judas?I know you?re not clean. You need to reflect on what you are doing and repent. It?s not too late.? When Jesus quoted Psalm 41:9 in verse 13 and said, ?This is to fulfill the Scripture: ?He who shares My bread has lifted up his heel against Me.?…when He said this He was telling Judas, ?I?ve got your number. I know what you are about to do. Why don?t you stop? It?s not too late.? Even the way the table was arranged demonstrated the love Jesus had for Judas. The seating arrangement was (left to right) Judas, Jesus, and John. So, Judas had the seat of honor on Jesus? left. I think Jesus arranged this seating on purpose…as a way of reaching out to him once again. And then when Jesus answered John?s inquiry as to who would betray Him by dipping a piece of bread and giving it to Judas…even this was Jesus appealing to Judas to turn back. You see, in that culture to take a morsel of food, dip it and give it to someone else was a gesture of special friendship. Jesus was reaching out to Judas. He was saying, ?Judas, here is My friendship. Here is restoration. Judas, here is My heart. All you have to do is take it.? But Judas said no. He used his FREE WILL to reject our Lord. And the instant he made that decision, satan entered his heart. Avery Lee says, ?If Judas was ?predestined? to betray Jesus, meaning Judas had no choice, we would be too harsh in blaming this man for doing something over which he had no control. It would be a peculiar God Who would ?predestine? a man to such a fate and then condemn him for eternity simply for fulfilling his destiny.? I agree. This kind of thinking violates every concept of God that I have…everything the Bible teaches us about Him For example…this way of thinking contradicts texts like Ezekiel 33:11 where God says, ?I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.?
…and 2 Peter 3:9 which says that God, ?…is not willing for anyone to perish but for everyone to come to repentance.?
No…like you and me Judas had free choice. He had just as much a possibility of becoming what the eleven others became as he had of becoming history?s best-known traitor. Judas was not DOOMED from birth. He DOOMED himself with his own choices….With that settled, what WAS his motive in making this horrible choice?
B. Well, JEALOUSY may have been part of it.
Judas? last name was ?Iscariot? which means he was from Kerioth, a town in southern Judea. So he was the only Judean in the original 12. Perhaps this made him feel like the odd-man out.
Scripture records that he was not a part of the inner circle of James, John, and Peter. With this in mind it?s not difficult to see him, slowly growing jealous and embittered because in his opinion the Galileans had higher places of authority than he. Unfortunately as we well know, people who feel left-out are capable of bizarre behavior. Experts tell us that one of the main reasons those teens in Columbine High School did what they did years ago. I mean, jealousy certainly could have played a role in his actions.
C. And then, GREED may also have contributed to Judas? motive.
John 12:6 tells us that Judas used to help himself to the disciples? meager treasury…money that was to pay the group?s expenses as well as provide for the poor. Judas was not a wealthy man. He was most likely the son of a poor peasant. As such he hadn?t had many opportunities in life to handle money…which magnified the excitement of feeling drachmas jingling between his fingers. Judas must have justified his pilfering from the common purse. Maybe he thought, ?After all, I?ve gone to some degree of trouble for these other guys. These Galileans don?t appreciate me really…they owe me a few bucks at least. I?m the one who has gone to the effort to keep up with this and they ought to be paying me something.? And even today this kind of theft is not unheard of. One banking official has stated that 60% of the individuals who regularly HANDLE money TAKE money. So his experience of being group treasurer could have provided him first with a temptation and then an irresistible opportunity. Thirty pieces of silver was not that much money but no doubt it was more than he had ever possessed at one time.
Now, I think these two factors: his jealousy and his greed DID play a part in Judas? act of betrayal. They gave the devil all the opportunity he needed to tempt Judas…but I think the straw that broke the camel?s back…the main causative factor was…
D. …Judas? dissatisfaction when he realized that Jesus did not come to set up an earthly Kingdom.
As Bert Dominy states, ?Judas was disappointed at the direction of Jesus? ministry.? There?s good reason to believe that Judas was a member of the Zealots, the fanatical group that wanted to follow in the footsteps of Judas Machabaeus….and drive the pagan Romans from Israel so that their nation?s glory could be restored.
IF THIS IS TRUE…then, like others of his day, Judas wanted and expected Jesus to lead an insurrection against Rome…to throw them out..and set up His own earthly kingdom. As a Zealot Judas had probably joined the disciples because he had seen in Jesus, with all His miraculous powers, the chance to fulfill his dreams for Israel. He sincerely believed that Jesus was the culmination of the prophecies concerning the coming Messiah Who would deliver Israel from its bondage…and make it the head of all the nations of the earth. Judas may have read all the great passages in the Old Testament that spoke of this…but like other Jews, he had ignored the other passages that spoke of a suffering Messiah. So he hopped on the disciple bandwagon with the anticipation that he would be in the inner circle of the coming kingdom. And then when Jesus began to speak about the cross, and when Judas saw Him offending the leaders of the Jews, and he saw the growing opposition of the Pharisees toward Jesus…Judas knew that his dream was fading, so he took matters into his own hands. In fact, I think the seeds of this plan were conceived in Judas heart after Jesus fed the 5,000. Remember, after that miracle the people, including Jesus? disciples, wanted to crown Him King of Israel, right then and there. But Jesus stopped them and foretold His death on the cross saying, ?Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.? John 6:66 says that, ?From this time on many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.? When many of His followers left Him at this point, Jesus turned to the Twelve and said, ?You do not want to leave Me too, do you?? I think Jesus must have looked Judas right in the eye as He said those words…for John also records that even at this point Jesus knew the demonic thoughts that Judas was entertaining. In Verse 70 Jesus says, ?Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!? John then includes the following editorial comment: (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray Him.)?
You know, some people think that Judas? betrayal was a misplaced act of nobility. They believe that Judas was trying to force Jesus to use His powers to set up an earthly kingdom. He was trying to trick Jesus into giving up on being the Suffering Servant Whom everyone would trample on, and becoming the militant kind of messiah so dear to Judas? heart. But after my study, I have come to disagree with that theory. I BELIEVE…that after Jesus? difficult teaching following the miracle of feeding the 5,000 Judas decided that the kind of kingdom Jesus wanted to set up was not for him. From this point on his allegiance gradually disintegrated into a FEELING that he had been tricked and then into a CONVICTION that he had been betrayed by the Master. He decided to disengage himself from a movement that he felt was doomed to defeat. He may even have felt a sense of personal fear. After all, he was prominent in a crusade that had been condemned by the authorities…whose Leader admitted frequently that His days were numbered….and Whose basic purposes Judas had come to despise. Judas sensed that he would be dragged down in the general ruin…unless he repudiated the movement in so dramatic a fashion that everyone would know that he had disavowed his former loyalty. So, he turned states evidence and collected a little money to boot.
Now…Matthew 27 infers that he did not intend to send JESUS to His death. When he saw that Jesus was instead going to be crucified, he felt remorse, tried to give back the money, and later killed himself…hanging himself from a tree growing on the land he had planned to purchase…where Scripture says his corpse hung until it rotted, fell, and burst apart on the ground.
We?ve dealt with the mystery around this man…and his possible motives.
(3) Now, let?s consider the MESSAGE of Judas. What can we learn from his betrayal?
A. Well, first of all his life shows us that SIN IS PROGRESSIVE.
Sinful acts gain momentum that makes it easier for us to embrace other, more heinous sins. I mean, Judas? betrayal of Jesus didn?t occur suddenly. It was not a spur of the moment decision. No…it began when Judas first stole a few dollars out of the common purse…an act that made it easier for him to criticize Jesus? actions…which was not that far from betraying Jesus to His enemies. Judas? treachery came as a result of a number of wrong choices. It developed over a period of time…which shows us that sin is like gravity. It pulls you in deeper and deeper until you are doing things that you would have never thought yourself capable of. Judas? act was the inevitable result of the disintegration of his own character…which is something that happens to all people who continually choose to sin. Years ago Bonnie Chamberlain wrote a story in the Saturday Review that told of an artist who was once commissioned to paint a mural in a Sicilian cathedral depicting the life of Jesus. The painter accepted this task and made it his life?s work. He began by searching for people to be his models for the huge mural…and one of the first he discovered was a twelve-year-old boy whose innocent radiance made him a perfect model for Christ-child. Over the years the mural developed till it reached the events of Holy Week. One by one the key figures were completed till only the person of Judas remained undone. One afternoon a man whose face was seamed with corruption lurched drunkenly into the tavern where the artist was sitting. At once the artist saw that this man was a perfect model for the remaining figure so he led the man to the cathedral and pointing to the bare space on the wall, asked him to pose for Judas. To his astonishment, the wino burst out crying and hid his face in his hands saying, ?Don?t you remember me, Maestro?? Pointing to the Christ Child, he said, ?Fifty years ago I was your model for Him!? SIN IS PROGRESSIVE. No sinful act is just a simple sin. Unless we repent and ask God?s forgiveness it becomes a STEPPING STONE that leads us deeper into rebellion against our Lord.
B. And then, secondly, Judas? life shows us that…SIN DECEIVES.
I think there is a good chance that Judas was not as much the betrayer as he was the betrayed. I believe this is what Hester Cholmondeley meant when he wrote, ?Still as of old man by himself is priced…for thirty pieces Judas sold himself, not Christ.? Think about it…like most zealots Judas was a ?now? person. He wanted things to happen immediately. He didn?t like to wait, which is what he had been doing for three years…waiting for Jesus to act…to use His great powers to route the Romans and restore Israel. His impatience betrayed him….it led him to do something he later greatly regretted. He was also betrayed…deceived…by his stubborn closed mindedness. One of Judas? problems is that he was a ?single-issue? disciple. The only thing he was interested in was ridding the country of the Romans an attitude that led him to see Jesus as a CAUSE, not as THE CHRIST. This sinful, selfish focus led him to misunderstand Jesus? main teaching…that He had come to die for the sins of the entire world. And then, Judas was betrayed by his greed. Like so many of us he bought into the myth that more money would bring him happiness and fulfillment…when in the end it led him to do something that brought him unbearable guilt and shame. So Judas? life provides first hand proof that sin always tricks us…as James 1:14 says our sinful desires cause us to be , ?…DRAGGED AWAY and ENTICED.? In this familiar text James uses two illustrations from the world of hunting and fishing to prove his point. ?Dragged away? carried with it the idea of baiting a trap and ?enticed? meant to bait a hook. The hunter and the fisherman use bait to attract and catch their prey because no animal is deliberately going into a trap and no fish will knowingly bite a hook. The idea is to HIDE the trap and the hook. And satan always packages temptation in such a way that it carries with it some bait that appeals to our natural desires. This bait not only attracts us, but it also hides the fact that yielding to the desire will eventually bring us sorrow and grief….as it certainly did in Judas? case. Lot would never have moved toward Sodom had he not been enticed by the ?well-watered plains of Jordan.? When David looked down from the balcony of his palace upon his neighbor?s wife, I don?t think he would ever have chosen to commit adultery if he had seen the consequences of his passion. The devil?s bait keeps us from seeing the consequences of sin. In this way he deceives us…betrays us. And we see this ?bait and trap? philosophy in our world still today. TV SHOWS and MOVIES make extra-marital affairs seem exciting and fulfilling…but they never show the consequences….broken hearts…broken homes…broken children. Watch the super-bowl next week and you?ll see that alcohol ads are the same. You never see one depicting a wino lying in a gutter…or a broken home caused by alcoholism…or the scene of an accident where someone has been killed by a drunk driver. As Judas? tragic life shows, sin always deceives us…betrays us.
C. …and you know…the greatest way that sin betrays us is that it leads us to WASTE OUR LIVES.
When, like Judas, we selfishly make it our life?s goal to amass earthly wealth…when we live ONLY to further the kingdoms of this temporary world…when we ignore Jesus and the eternity He has prepared for us…we waste our God-given existence. You see, any life like that of Judas…a life lived with only a worldly focus…is really pointless because our time here on earth is temporary. Someday all of us will die..and from then on we face eternity. So any life that does not prepare itself for eternity IS a waste. This is why, as Jesus Himself said in Matthew 26:24, ?It would have been better if Judas had never been born.? …because this foolish disciple squandered his life on the here and now…instead of investing in the there and then.
But, you know, Judas? biggest failure was not his betrayal of Jesus. It was the fact that he did not repent and receive Jesus? forgiveness. There?s not much difference between Judas and Peter on that fateful night. Both of these disciples sank to an unbelievable low…and each in his own way completely forsook Jesus. Yet one died and the other lived…one was lost and one was saved…because Peter repented and Judas did not. True…he felt great remorse for his act. He tried to make restitution by returning the money but he never experienced forgiveness and restoration…because instead of confessing his sin to God he went to the religious leaders who had paid him the bribe in the first place. Had he only waited a few days instead of selfishly taking his own life…if he had asked for the Lord?s forgiveness…I believe the resurrected Jesus would have called for him just as He did for Peter. It wasn?t Judas? betrayal that sent him into eternity separated from God. It was his refusal to accept Jesus? atonement for his sins. And this is something that all people need to hear…we tend to think it is the amount of sin that keeps us from Jesus…but it?s not. God can and will forgive ANY sin….but ONLY if we ask Him to do so. Unless we repent of our sin and ask Jesus to forgive us and come into our lives as Lord and Savior then we face the same horrible eternity that Judas? is even now enduring. As Jesus said in Luke 13:3, ?Unless you repent, you too will all perish.? Well, what about you? Are you following in Judas? footsteps? Remember, what any human being has done, any other human being is capable of. So…if you died today, could people say of your life what Jesus said of Judas? life…that it would have been better if you had never been born? If you are not a Christian, then listen to me this morning…don?t make Judas? mistake…as Acts 3:19 says, ?Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out…? Make today the day of your salvation. And…if you make that all important commitment, come and share it with us. In fact, any decision you have to make public, we invite you to do so now by walking an aisle and coming and sharing it with me….as we stand now and sing. Won?t you come?