Judas May Have Been a Traitor. But Consider This:

Good Friday, on Day Eight from Passion Week: Ten Days that Changed the World. The story of Good Friday and Judas is given in Matthew 26:47-27:56; Mark 14:43-15:46; and John 18:2-19:30.

Bitter Fruit

There are so many things to cover on Good Friday: The treachery of Judas bore fruit: Jesus was illegally tried by the high priest, shuttled back and forth from Caiaphas to Pilate to Herod… Pilate kept trying to evade judging Jesus, saying “I find no fault in him.” Jesus was beaten by professionals, mocked and abused by jaded sadistic guards who tried to get a rise out of him… Yet he bore their accusations and insults stoically, refusing to indulge their curiosity or their cruelty.

He was unjustly condemned to death by crucifixion, certainly a most horrible way to die, and the agonies of the cross are well-documented. His statements on the cross reveal his character or point to prophetic predictions about who he was and how he would die. By quoting Psalm 22 (“My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”), he reminded us yet again that this wasn’t some random cry for help. Jesus was quoting SCRIPTURE! 

Jesus knew what was coming, and His reference to Scripture shows us that He PLANNED all of this, and that He wanted us to remember. When He said “It is finished”, He wasn’t speaking about his life but his mission, and He died only when He announced that He was commending his spirit to his Father.

So Many Players, so Many Failures

This day was pivotal in all of human history, and it contains so many themes and moments that it is hard to do it justice in a short devotional. Read the whole thing and you’ll see what I mean… There is scheming, conniving, betrayal, political maneuvering, cruelty, a kangaroo court, a mob mentality, and vigilante justice. We can observe the hard-hearted Pharisees, cowardly disciples, corrupt priests, and the impatient Romans. There are a number of story lines, and many of them provide some degree of failure. Peter failed to stand up for his best friend. Pilate failed to administer justice. The Sanhedrin failed to adhere to the law.

What catches my eye, however, is the story of Judas. (You know, the guy no one names their kid after?) His failure may be the most obvious and the least-discussed out of all of those people.

Judas

Not Just Betrayal

He was Judas Iscariot, the zealot, the thief, the would-be revolutionary who perhaps tried to force Jesus into action. He was Judas the traitor, the one who sold Jesus out for thirty pieces of silver. His name is synonymous with betrayal. But don’t forget this: He was also Judas the remorseful. Here’s what Matthew said:

“When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” (Matthew 27:3-4, NIV)

Judas certainly obtained an infamous place in history, and he has been condemned for his actions ever since. He is forever linked to the death of Jesus as the greedy traitor who valued money more than his master’s life. Judas killed Jesus as surely as if he had personally nailed him to the cross. Despicable, right? Surely a man who willingly betrayed his teacher and friend had to be influenced by selfishness and sin.

He’s Certainly Deserving of Condemnation

Certainly all civilized people would be justified in condemning Judas for betraying his friend, Jesus. Anyone who turned their back on the Son of God deserves whatever justice requires, don’t they? Well, here’s the deal: we are ALL Judas. We have all sold Jesus out at one time or another, and we’ve all turned our back on him, or ignored him and pursued some selfish sin. Every one of us can say along with Judas, “I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

This week, when you think about Judas, don’t feel too smug. (You might recall that Judas was so overcome by remorse that he committed suicide. He was so uncomfortable with his own sin that he took his life.) So, how comfortable are you with your sins? My own sins sent Jesus to the cross. YOUR sins nailed him to it. I heard a speaker say once, “If you had been the only person who would ever have believed the Gospel, Jesus would still have died on the cross for you.”

Flip the Script

That certainly personalizes what really happened on the cross: wow, Jesus loved me so much that he would have died for only ME! And it is true. However, when you think about it, it also means that it personalizes the penalty. If I was the only person to ever live, Jesus would still have had to endure the agony of the cross to save me. I put him there. YOU put him there. Along with Judas, we all did. That probably means we should live in such a way to justify the cost of the cross. And not just at Easter.

And the question remains: What Do YOU Believe About the Cross?

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Thursday Provides Lessons on Power, Prayer and Pain

Thursday was perhaps the longest day of Passion Week, since events occurred deep into the night and continued straight on into Friday. On Thursday the disciples shared the Last Supper and heard Jesus speak about things they didn’t understand. “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” (Mark 14:22-24, NIV)

Little Bible Mysteries

On Thursday Jesus and the disciples ate the Last Supper together. While they were probably still a little giddy over the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus continued to prepare them for what was coming. First, he reminded them that God provides when we do not see a way. Mark 14 recounts how he told them to find a man carrying a water pot, who would show them a large room already prepared for their supper. Who was that man? Who prepared the Upper Room?

I have a feeling that in the Kingdom we will get to know many such anonymous heroes of the faith, who quietly worked behind the scenes to fulfill God’s mission and to do what Christ asked of them without seeking credit. How many good deeds would we do if nobody ever knew? Jesus was showing the disciples that there was more about love than public display of affection…

Thursday supper

Bittersweet Moments

He knew that Judas was going to betray him and that Peter was going to deny knowing him. Certainly the sacrifice of the Passover lamb was not lost on him, and if you think about how Jesus must have felt during dinner, it is an incredibly poignant moment. At dinner he told them frankly that they would all desert him, and all protested that they’d never do such a thing! He knew they loved him, and he knew they’d fail.

Have you ever had good intentions, and promised the Lord you’d never forsake him? And then you did it anyway? Remember what happened with the disciples and take heart! (During Passion Week they turned their backs on their best friend, and ended the week feeling hopeless and defeated. But something happened that changed their minds and changed the world!)

Human Desires, Heavenly Instruction

In Luke’s account they argued about who would be the greatest in the new kingdom, and he used this time to teach them. If you knew you had but two days to live, what would you share with your family and friends? What final things would you say to them? Jesus told them (and us) to love one another. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35, NIV).

Christians celebrate this day as Maundy Thursday, and I always wondered what that meant. “Maundy” comes from the Latin word mandatum, or commandment, reflecting Jesus’ words “I give you a new commandment.”

In this case, Jesus literally demonstrated his lesson by humbling himself as a servant and washing their feet. (And in a land without indoor plumbing, dust was not the only thing that made feet stinky and dirty—which is why foot washing was such a degrading task.) Jesus told them to serve one another, and to lead through service.

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:14-15, NIV) The church today celebrates this as “Maundy Thursday” as the day Jesus performed this act of service, but the word actually comes through old French and Middle English from the Latin mandatum, or mandate. Jesus said, “a new mandate I give to you, that you love one another”, and demonstrated it by serving.

Thursday wash

The Opposite of Congress

Servant leaders are a rare commodity, and you have to believe Jesus thought this was a pretty important concept, since he emphasized it with this very personal object lesson. Imagine having Jesus kneel in front of YOUR chair, looking up and locking eyes for a moment as he cleanses your dirty feet. What kind of person have those feet carried? Where all have those feet been? His eyes see deeply into yours, full of knowledge and forgiveness as he washes the unwholesome residue of your journey away. Along with Peter (that OTHER cowardly denier) we say, “No Lord! I am not worthy!” Still looking compassionately into our eyes, Jesus says, “Yes, my child, you are.”

On Thursday night they go out to the Mount of Olives to Gethsemane, where Jesus prays, and the disciples fall asleep. (We are incredulous that they do, but seriously, have YOU ever fallen asleep while praying? Thought so!) Judas brokers his deal with the Pharisees, and they come out with armed guards to arrest Jesus.

The Impossible Arrest

John’s take on this is interesting, to me one of the most fascinating vignettes about Jesus’ power in all of Scripture: “Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons. Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I AM he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.)

When Jesus said, “I AM he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.” (John 18:3-5, NIV, emphasis mine). When just the sound of his voice was enough to make a group of tough armed guards fall down, do you think they could have taken Jesus by force unless he allowed it? No way! It would have been impossible for guards to capture Jesus, which he demonstrated over and over.

Up until now, Jesus avoided capture whenever he chose (See Luke 4:30, John 2:4, 7:30, 8:59, and 10:39) but at this point he allowed himself to be taken. He told Peter to put his sword away because he intends to drink from the cup that has been set before him.
Again, he is a volunteer on this mission, not a victim of circumstance.

Lots Going On

Thursday is a busy night. Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. Peter denies knowing Jesus three times, locks eyes with Jesus across an open courtyard, and then goes out and weeps bitterly. John is close enough to Caiaphas’ house to record what transpired there, but technically ALL the disciples betrayed Jesus because there is NO ONE who tries to stand up for him against the Sanhedrin…

It’s easy from a distance to judge these cowards until you stop and think: has there ever been a time when YOU didn’t acknowledge knowing him? When YOU didn’t stand up for him, if even in the quietness of your own heart when temptation to sin beckoned you? I understand the cowardly disciples better when I take an honest look at MYSELF.

All the Way

The high priest’s guards blindfold and beat Jesus, saying, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” This sleepless night initiates an exhausting journey to the cross, which Jesus could have chosen to avoid at any time. The Son of God did not HAVE to go through with this. He had a choice in every moment, and could have called upon Angels to minister to him, to end the exhaustion and the pain and suffering. Yeah we all might have been lost, but HE would still have been the Son of God. So what made him do it?

One of my favorite verses is tucked quietly into John’s account: “It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (John 13:1) Jesus went to trial, endured betrayals and beatings and humiliation and the cross because he loved us all the way to the end. May we love one another in the same way, and not just at Christmas and Easter…

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread