(The Master’s Twelve- Part X) 07/31/2016
Hearing of certain names evokes both positive and negative reactions in us. For example: What goes through your mind when you hear the name Adolph Hitler? You can be enraged by the massacre of up to 6 million Jews. How about the name Mother Theresa? You envision a peaceful, humble saint cleaning the wounds of the dying destitute in the slums of Kolkata. We have been on a journey to discover the lives of Jesus’ twelve disciples. So far we have learned about: Peter the Go-Getter; John the beloved disciple; Andrew the problem solver; James the ambitious but broken; Philip the skeptic mind; Bartholomew, in whom there is no deceit, Matthew the Evangelist, and Simon the (zealot) Militant. Last week we learned about James the less known Apostle. Today we will meet another disciple whose name is Judas Iscariot. What goes through your mind when you hear the name Judas Iscariot?
Most of us evangelical Christians consider Judas as a traitor who betrayed his master and for thirty pieces of Silver, but not all view Judas as a villain, in Sawi tribal culture in Dutch New Guinea, they get a kick out of listening to the betrayal story of Jesus. “The Sawi saw Judas Iscariot as the hero of the story. Judas was a master at deception. From the Sawi cultural perspective the capability of duping someone and then killing them once they have fallen into your trap was to be greatly admired. This meant Jesus was duped and should be mocked and scorned, not adored.” How can we communicate the gospel to people of such beliefs?
Let’s unfold the life of “Judas Iscariot Who Became a Traitor.” He is known for the kiss and betrayal of Jesus to the Sanhedrin for thirty silver coins. His name is often used synonymously with betrayal or treason. Who is Judas Iscariot? What was his early life like? How his life with Jesus was and what were his later years like? The details of Judas’s life are sketchy. Because of his betrayal of Jesus, Judas, however, is even more of a mystery. Luke 6:16
I JUDAS’ EARLY LIFE:
Judas was the son of Simon Iscariot (John 6:71). The term Iscariot was used consistently by the gospel writers to distinguish Judas from the other disciple named Judas. He was from a town called Kerioth in southern Judah. This indicates that Judas was a Judean, the only one of the twelve who was not from Galilee. We know nothing about his previous life before he was called to be an apostle. All we know is that Judas was an ardent disciple and follower of Christ. Along with the twelve Judas was chosen to be part of Jesus’ apostolic ministry team.
When these twelve became an organized team, traveling, receiving money and other offerings, distributing to the poor, it became necessary that someone should act as a steward/ treasurer. According to John 12:4-6; 13:29 Judas was given the charge of the money. We also learn that Judas was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to steal from the box. How was his life changed as he began to follow Christ?
II. JUDAS’ LIFE WITH JESUS:
Given the negativity associated with Judas Iscariot, one wonders has Judas always been a crook with evil intentions or at some point he began to make a series of wrong choices to a point where he betrayed Christ? In order to answer that question let’s look at the period when Judas was closely moving with Jesus. As we know after an all-night prayer Jesus called his disciples and among them he chose twelve those he wanted and appointed them as the apostles.
At the time of his calling Judas may have been a sincere seeker just like the rest of the eleven. He sat under Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom, watched Jesus in close proximity doing all the mighty miracles. Judas was included when Jesus sent out the disciples two by two to go out and preach the good news. He was given authority over impure spirits. He went out and preached that people should repent. He was involved in healing the sick and driving out demons. (Mark 6:12). At some point in Jesus’ ministry many of his disciples withdrew and were not walking with him anymore, to an extent only twelve remained with Jesus. It was an existential crisis for Jesus. Just imagine how would you feel if were a pastor of a mega church of 50,000 and all of a sudden your church size reduced to only you and a mere twelve faithful people?
Jesus might have wondered what was really going on, why was that exodus all of a sudden. He wanted to make sure whether those twelve too would leave or stay with him. So he turns to them and asks them, “You do not want to leave too, do you? Jesus asked the twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom we shall go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:67-71)
Listen to Jesus’ reply to this bold statement. “Then Jesus replied, have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil. (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who though one of the Twelve was later to betray him.) This conversation would raise some questions. Did Jesus know from the beginning that at some point Judas would betray him? Was this the defining moment for Judas that he slowly but surely began to harden his heart?
I have met some believers who were very sincere, humble and God fearing, but when I met them after some time they were different. They were proud, arrogant, and lost the sparkle in their eyes. I wondered what happened to them. Could it be that they made a number of wrong choices, which led them to lose the joy of knowing and serving God?
What happened to them could happen to us, when we don’t guard our hearts. Judas Iscariot is a clear example of someone who failed to guard his heart. As we study the gospel of John further we cannot but notice the backsliding heart of Judas. For example, remember the scene where Mary anointed Jesus at Bethany, let’s see how Judas reacted to this beautiful thing. “But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to be betray him, objected, why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”
Judas protested this idea not because he had so much concern for the poor but he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself (steal) what was put into it.” John 12:4-6 Judas’ heart was turning away from Jesus to money. He was hardening his heart by the day. Matthew records what happened after Jesus was anointed at Bethany. Matthew 26:14-16, “Judas Iscariot went to the priests 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. Vs16, “From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.”
What a progression of deception. Here was a once devoted disciple, called by Jesus to be one of the Apostles, now watching for an opportunity to betray his savior and master just “for thirty pieces of silver.” What is the significance of “thirty pieces of silver”? In Exodus 21:32 we read it was the amount required to be paid to the master of a slave in the event of that slave’s death by a bull. Thirty pieces of silver was referring to two prophecies by prophet Zachariah pertaining to Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, and events immediately followed afterwards.
All the four Gospel writers account the last supper as the scene of the betrayal of Jesus, but with varying details. For example, Matthew 26: 20-25, while reclining at the table with the twelve Jesus said, “One of you will betray me.” Upon hearing that they were sad and began to say to him one after another, “surely you don’t mean, me Lord?
Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.” Then Judas said, “Surely you don’t mean me “Rabbi? Jesus answered, “You have said so.” Let’s pause and see what is really going on here? Eleven disciples said, surely you don’t mean me Lord? Whereas Judas said, “surely you don’t mean me Rabbi? While the rest saw Jesus as their Lord, Judas saw him only as his Rabbi. That shows the hardness of his heart.
John, highlights another aspect of the betrayal. John 13:18-30, here we see another OT prophecy being fulfilled. Jesus said, “He who shared my bread has turned against me.(literally, “has lifted up his heel” (Ps 41:9) This statement evoked a sharp response among the disciples. They wanted to know who that betrayer was going to be. Jesus said, “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, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.” As if Judas’ deception was coming to a climax. To add to that, Jesus said, “What you are about to do, do quickly….Vs 30, “As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out.” We know the rest of the story. Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss in the garden of Gethsemane. That brings us to Judas’ final days following Jesus’ arrest.
III. JUDAS’ FINAL DAYS: (Matthew 27)
Matthew gives a vivid description of the events unfolding after Jesus’ betrayal and arrest. When Judas saw how Jesus was condemned, “He was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. I have sinned, he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” They replied. That’s your responsibility.” So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. There were two disciples who in one way both betrayed Jesus. Peter denied Jesus three times, whereas Judas sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. They both realized that they have sinned. But they both responded differently. Peter went out and wept bitterly but the other went out and hanged himself. What was the difference between these two? Peter repented of his sin and lived, whereas Judas only felt remorse of his sin, but never repented.
He might have thought how Jesus could ever forgive him after all what he has done to him, so in the end he succumbed to his feelings of guilt and committed suicide. What a tragic end of a once faithful apostle? What lessons can we learn from the life of Judas Iscariot who became a traitor? If Judas were to come to our church what might he say to us? Judas Iscariot’s story is a mystery, it raises more questions than one can find the answers. What has actually lead a once faithful disciple in the path of destruction? Though there were obvious signs of sin I wonder why Jesus never confront him. What do you think since, Judas committed suicide, would he go to heaven to be with Jesus? May be you have other questions, for which we may never know the answers.
However what would Judas Iscariot have to say to us today? Firstly, he might say, I started of well in following Christ, but I let my disappointments and greed for money lead my astray. Secondly, he might say, God is not impressed by good starters but well finishers. Thirdly, guard your heart which is the well spring of life. Fourthly, no matter how horrible of a sin you commit there is forgiveness for your sin. Fifthly, don’t stop at only feeling remorse of your sin, but actually repent from it and make a choice to live, because suicide is not an option.
In conclusion, I would not say, like Judas did you too go and do likewise. Judas took life into his own hands, and ended it abruptly. However, I would point you to another apostle, Paul whose beginning may not have been steady, but in the end finished well. He said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day- and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:7-8. Amen