Pastor Joel Leyrer - Midweek Lent 2 - Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Text: John 13:21-30

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Dear Friends in Christ, Today we begin our midweek Lenten series under the theme, “The Hands of the Passion.” For the next five Wednesdays we will consider certain key individuals and the role they played during Holy Week. This evening we will focus our attention on a man whose name is often used interchangeably with the word “traitor,” and the one disciple that parents rarely, if ever, name their children after: 

JUDAS: THE HANDS OF BETRAYAL

Over the years the Church has assigned a certain symbol to each of the disciples. For him there are two. At times he is represented with a bag and thirty silver coins. At other times he is represented by nothing other than white space. Behind it is the idea that a traitor is not worthy of any memorial.

What do we know about Judas? Not much. About the only hint we have of his early life and history comes from his full name as stated a number of times in Scripture, which is “Judas Iscariot.”  “Iscariot” is generally believed to be the Greek rendition of the Hebrew words, “Ish Kerioth,” which translated simply means “man of Kerioth.” So Judas could apparently claim Kerioth as his hometown.

Although we may not know much about his history, Scripture does have something to say about the kind of man he was. Before we investigate that, it is interesting to note how Judas has generally been perceived down through the ages. Writers of historical fiction and those who try to construct an individual’s personality on very little evidence will often portray Judas as being very bright and idealistic and well schooled and well healed; kind of like the one disciple who had a certain amount of class and sophistication.

For example, let me share with you a passage from an out-of-print book I have in my library entitled, “I Remember the Savior’s Death.” It’s a series of fictional interviews with some whose lives interplayed with Christ’s. In the passage I’m about to read, the Apostle John is supposedly recalling some thoughts about Judas. This is what he says:

We hardly knew Judas, except by reputation, when he was chosen by Jesus with the rest of us as an apostle.  He was a sociable fellow, a friend to everyone, easy to get along with, talented and brilliant.  I think he was the most handsome, physically well built man among us, the kind we admire and envy.  He was a man to whom everything came easy, a natural leader, a good fellow to whom everyone flocked.  He’d never been despised, he never had to work hard, everything he did seemed to succeed without his trying.  When Jesus called him, he followed in an easygoing way.  He probably thought he was doing Jesus a favor by joining us…

That pretty well seems to summarize the way Judas is often perceived – clever, talented; perhaps a little brighter than the rest, perhaps a bit too self-absorbed. 

All of this, of course, is conjecture. But Scripture may suggest a kernel of truth resides in these perceptions because Judas was recognized by the rest of the disciples as having some sort of qualities that set him apart. Among Jesus and the disciples there was but one office – treasurer – and Judas was chosen.  So evidently they trusted him.

But Scripture also tells us that just as he betrayed his Savior, Judas also betrayed the trust given to him by his peers. This comes through loud and clear in an incident that took place in the town of Bethany shortly before Jesus’ passion week. You may recall that Mary, the sister of Lazarus (whom Jesus raised from the dead) poured a pint of expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair as an expression of love for her Savior. Apparently, Judas didn’t see it that way because he objected. He indicated that the perfume could have been sold for a good price and the money given to the poor.

A very noble thought, indeed. But it wasn’t reality, because John’s Gospel continues with these words:  “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 in it.” This piece of information casts a cloud on the idea that Judas was a good boy who just did a bad thing. This passage tells us that regardless of perception and conjecture, Judas had a problem with greed.

And greed no doubt played at least a part in the despicable act of betrayal he committed. However, there seems to be something else that played an even greater part. And that was Judas’ disillusionment with Jesus. Simply put, Jesus had not lived up to Judas’ expectations of him as a Savior, so, in essence, Judas gave up on him. Judas discarded Jesus as being irrelevant to meet his needs.

And what were Judas’s needs? Like many at that time, Judas was thinking physically and personally rather than spiritually and eternally. Despite Jesus’ constant teaching otherwise, there were those who wanted Jesus to build heaven on earth. But Jesus was not about to do that. It was as he told Pontius Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world.” It was as he told his disciples previously: “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

When it became increasingly clear that Jesus was going to stick to his charter and willingly sacrifice himself for the sins of the world, it seems Judas wanted out. Judas wasn’t into spiritual goals. He wanted identifiable, tangible, empirical results from Christ as Savior. Consequently, when it looked like Jesus wasn’t going to deliver; when it appeared that Judas had picked the wrong horse to advance his agenda, he bails on Jesus. And makes a little cash on the side.

Our text takes us to the upper room on Maundy Thursday and sets the stage for the greatest act of disloyalty the world has ever witnessed. To summarize our text, Jesus reveals the sad fact that one of the hand chosen Twelve would betray him. He even gave a clue and a visual aid, which eleven of the disciples did not understand at the time. 

However, one of them knew exactly what was going on. He took the bread Jesus gave him. And “as soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.” Darkness in more ways than one. What followed is well known to us and needs little comment. We’ll talk about that on Good Friday.

What part did Judas play in the passion of Jesus? He is the one who gave up on God. He is the one who decided that the Son of God did not adequately live up to the expectations he had placed on him, so he bailed. He is the creature who weighed the Creator in the balance and found him wanting. His are “the hands of betrayal.”

What lessons can we learn from him and apply to ourselves as Christians today? In Judas’ case we can learn much by negative example. We see in him betrayal and greed; things we don’t really need to be told not to imitate…

But there is something in Judas we must be ever vigilant against. And that is a spirit of disillusionment with God. Judas had his own ideas of how God was supposed to be. And when God didn’t live up to them, Judas abandoned him.

The lesson for us is to let God be God and to trust that he will carry out our lives according to his divine ways – as opposed to our personal, prefabricated expectations of how things should go. All of us have a tendency to want to dictate to God on how he ought to do His job. God, let this happen.  God, don’t let this happen. God, bring this into my life. God, take this out of my life.

What happens, then, when prayers aren’t answered as quickly or fully as we want? What happens when “bad things happen to good people” – and we’re the good people? What happens when we very clearly and concisely outline for God what he can do to make things better for us, but then life goes on as if he’s never consulted the plan, or worse, ignored it?

What happens? What happens is that we can fall into the same trap as Judas. Disillusionment with God. Disappointment with God. Maybe even a little anger. Judas said, “What’s the use?” and chucked the whole thing. Satan would like nothing better than to get us thinking along those same lines…

Earlier I read from the fictional account that supposes John is sharing his impressions of Judas. Let me read one more paragraph. John is wrapping up his thoughts…

I cannot easily forget Judas, because I have seen the future of the Church. Judas will be repeated by many of the disciples of Jesus as the Church grows. They will come to Jesus to use Him for their own purposes: for health, for prosperity, and a crutch to lean on in trouble, for all sorts of problem insurance, even for someone to blame for their own weakness. If only they will trust Jesus completely, and let Him decide how to give them all these things, they will come through. Jesus has everything they need. But if they insist on impatiently demanding from Jesus their own kind of benefits, they will have nothing but trouble…

Here is a better way of thinking: “‘My ways are not your ways,’ declares the Lord…” Here is a better plan: “Be still and know that I am God.” Here is a better offer: “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” Here is a better vision: “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord…”  Here is a better frame of reference: “I consider our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

And here is the guarantee for it all. The cross. Here is where our salvation was worked out. Here is where our sins were forgiven. Here is where all doubts about where we will spend eternity are put to rest. Here is where all disillusionment dissolves and is replaced with trust, acceptance and confidence.  The Apostle Paul put it this way in Romans 8: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

Had he relied on trust, acceptance, and confidence that his Lord knew exactly what he must do for him and the rest of the world, perhaps we would be remembering Judas for another reason.

Sadly, he did not. As a result, when we think of him, we think of Judas the greedy. Judas the betrayer.  Judas the disenchanted. 

Therefore, may it be our prayer tonight that through our examination of him, Judas is one personality involved in the Passion of Christ that we never imitate. Amen.