This summer we have been exploring characters of the New Testament. We looked for a few weeks at Jesus’ apostle Peter, then a woman named Lydia, and last week we looked briefly at man named Apollos. This week, I would like us to explore a mysterious figure of the New Testament, Jesus’ apostle named Judas Iscariot. Judas is mysterious because he was an intimate personal witness of the life of Jesus and yet betrayed Jesus. As Christianity grew, the use of the name Judas fell out of use because his name connotates darkness and wickedness. In fact, the name Judas became a noun used to describe peepholes or other devices used to spy on someone. This is because observing someone without their consent is considered an act of betrayal.
I admit it is a little odd to speak of Judas in a sermon because Judas is always described in the New Testament as the betrayer of Jesus. And that fact can make us ask, “What can I learn from the life of a betrayer that will help me in my faith journey?” Let’s see what we might learn from Judas’ life.
We first hear about Judas in a list of men Jesus called to be his disciples, his apostles. The Gospel of Luke says, “One [of those] day[s] Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. 13 When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: 14 Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, 15 Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, [who became a traitor] (Luke 6:12-16). The first thing we learn is that after prayer, Jesus chose Judas to be an apostle, Jesus’ personal representative. We learn further from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark that Jesus then gave each apostle the authority to preach, drive out demons, and heal every sickness and disease (Mt. 10:1; Mk. 3:14, 15). Judas was only one of 12 individuals in the world chosen and empowered by Jesus to exercise the power of God. Once invested with this power and authority, Jesus sent Judas and the eleven other apostles out into the world and said, “7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give” (Mt. 10:7, 8). The apostles, including Judas, went out into the world, two-by-two, doing as Jesus instructed. “When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done” (Luke 9:10). Judas was a preacher and healer in the name of Jesus. What an amazing experience that must have been for Judas. Here Judas was called by Jesus into ministry. He was a witness to miracles and transforming teachings of Jesus. Judas was commissioned by Jesus to preach and to heal, and Judas did just that. Excitedly Judas returned to Jesus and shared everything he had done. Have you ever daydreamed about what it would be like to have the power to heal another person’s body? I have. I have thought about how marvelous it would be to be able to touch another person and remove cancer, end Parkinson’s disease, heal someone’s spirit, and on and on goes the list. I have dreamed about that life. Judas lived that life.
After Judas and the other apostles returned from healing, Jesus continued to teach them in private and to share his ministry with them in public. One time, Jesus said to them, “Things will surely happen that will make people sin. But it will be very bad for anyone who makes this happen. 3 So be careful! If your brother or sister in God’s family does something wrong, warn them. If they are sorry for what they did, forgive them. 4 Even if they do something wrong to you seven times in one day, but they say they are sorry each time, you should forgive them.” 5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Give us more faith!” (Luke 17:1, 3-5, ERV). Judas listed to Jesus and heard the warning that things happen in life that cause even the best of people to sin. But Jesus said something so reassuring. “All is not lost when you sin. You can repent and receive forgiveness.” Judas heard the warning that things cause us to sin, but you can repent and receive forgiveness. We need to hear those words for ourselves and we need to apply them to one another. We do not have to daydream about having the power to forgive another person. We have that power to heal broken and damaged relationships. To use that power, we must be able to say, “I am sorry,” and we must be able to say, “I forgive you.”
The response by Judas and the other apostles to this good news was to ask Jesus to, “Give us more faith!” Give us the faith to do what you ask of us. Give us the faith to believe that we do not need to keep secret sin but that we can bring in forth into the light and be forgiven. Give us faith to truly forgive others. Judas and the other apostles were on a faith journey in which their lives were being transformed into the very likeness of Jesus and they shouted for even more. Judas was having a spirit filled experience with the Lord developing in wisdom and faith.
We learned from our reading today from the Gospel of John that Judas had a position of trust. He oversaw the money purse for the group. Judas kept account for the money received, the money spent, and for holding onto to the money as the group traveled. Judas was trusted by the other apostles.
But something happened to Judas and his authority over the money purse. One day, a woman poured an expensive perfume over Jesus. The perfume was worth a year’s wages. “4 [But one of his disciples], Judas Iscariot, [who was later to betray him,] objected [to this woman pouring out this expensive perfume], 5 ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:4-6). It seems that at some point, probably after Judas’ death, the apostles came to learn that Judas had his hand in the money purse to use for himself.
This is the first point of departure from faith that we see in Judas’ story. It probably started as a little thing. Sin always starts small. Judas wanted something for himself and used a small amount of money from the group’s money purse for himself. It probably was not a lot of money the first time. After taking the money, Judas waited a bit and then realized that no one knew he had used the group’s money for himself. Sin had entered Judas’ life and he felt like he was getting away with it. He did not do as Jesus called for by confessing his sins and receiving forgiveness. Instead, Judas wanted more money in the purse so that more could be taken. Sin is like a strong acid. Acid eats through whatever it touches making things weaker in the process. Sin eats through beliefs and faith as well as the image of God that resides within us. We become weaker. The only way to become strong again is to confess our sin and allow God’s forgiveness to heal the damage done by sin. The Bible tells us, “9 If we confess our sins, he [Jesus] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). In some Christian traditions, such confessions are made to a priest as God’s representative who will grant (or not grant) forgiveness. We Baptist are different. We believe we have access to God the Father though Jesus the Son. We are free to go to Jesus and confess our sins to him and ask for forgiveness. It is not the role of the pastor to grant (or not grant) God’s forgiveness. Judas had the perfect opportunity to express his sin to Jesus, to repent of his actions, and receive Jesus’ forgiveness and healing. Instead, of seeking forgiveness, Judas went further into sin. That is the funny thing about being tempted to sin. There is nothing wrong with being tempted to sin. Everyone has been and will continue to be exposed to sin. But each temptation to sin always comes to an end. Either the temptation to sin ends with us moving closer to God and denying ourselves the temptation or we follow the temptation and commit sin.
After losing out on being able to sell the perfume poured onto Jesus’, Judas [14 Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot]—went to the chief priests 15 and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver.16 From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him [Jesus] over” (Matthew 26:14-16). Thirty pieces of silver was about one month’s wages. Judas had moved down a dangerous track in sin from healer, to thief, to conspirator. Judas had not just stopped growing with Jesus, Judas was now walking away from Jesus.
What we see unfolding before us is Jesus’ warning being lived out. “Things will surely happen that will make people sin.” Something happened to Judas and sin began to corrode his faith. The sin was not noticeable to other apostles. This is the normal progression of sinful living upon the faithful. Sin, at first, is like an adulterous affair. The sin, the affair, is done in secret while maintaining appearances to others that things are as they should be. Judas was having an affair of sorts with sin. Jesus was no longer his exclusive love. Judas had developed another love on the side that was growing larger by the moment. Was it the love of money, or love for power, or love for rebellion, or love for Satan himself that attracted Judas? We do not fully know because it is not important to know Judas’ motivations or whatever he perceived as his justification for walking away from Jesus. A learned pastor wrote, “We sinners are so backwards that we try to justify ourselves by some condition which preceded the sin. Motives console us.”
There is not one of us here today that is immune to the seduction of temptation and the corrosive nature of sin. As Jesus said, we must be on guard for if our faith in the Lord is not growing, then our faith is getting weaker making us vulnerable to walking away from God. There are many who are not here today who have done just that. They were once strong in their faith but have little by little absorbed more and more of the toxic nature of worldliness that eats away at their faith. Our learned pastor wrote again, “We sinners are so backwards! We invert the true source of our justification. It isn’t some preliminary cause, some motive before sin that justifies me, but rather the forgiveness of Christ which meets my repentance after the sin.” We all must own our sin, however we decided to bring it into our lives. And we must repent of it directly to Christ and receive his forgiveness. Jesus offers that forgiveness to you, to me, and he offered that to Judas.
This brings us to the climax to Judas’ sin as it unfolded in our reading today. Jesus, Judas, and the eleven other apostles were gathered for the Passover meal. In the middle of the meal, Jesus gently washed the feet of Judas and the others. It was an act of kindness, love, and humility. While Judas’ feet may have become clean, there was no change or cleaning of his heart. There was no confession of his secret sin. Our reading said that after washing the apostles’ feet, “Jesus became visibly upset, and then he told them why. ‘One of you is going to betray me.’ 22-25 The disciples looked around at one another, wondering who on earth he was talking about. One of the disciples, the one Jesus loved dearly, was reclining against him, his head on his shoulder. Peter motioned to him to ask who Jesus might be talking about. So, being the closest, he said, ‘Master, who?’ 26-27 Jesus said, ‘The one to whom I give this crust of bread after I’ve dipped it.’ Then he [Jesus] dipped the crust and gave it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. As soon as the bread was in his [Judas’] hand, Satan entered him. 30 Judas, with the piece of bread, left and it was night.” (John 13:21-27, 30).
Judas, the apostle of Jesus, the preacher, the evangelist, the healer of every illness and disease, trusted treasurer, then thief, conspirator, and betrayer let the dark desires of his heart be ruled by Satan and he went out into the night with a piece of bread, the symbol of Jesus’ offer of forgiveness in his hand. In a moment, you will be offered a piece of bread from the Lord’s Table. Jesus gives it to you and me as an offer of forgiveness and healing from whatever sin has come into our life. Let us not be like Judas and leave here with the bread of forgiveness in our hand. Let us instead take the bread life and be nourished in our faith.