The accidental betrayal?


When Jesus predicts his betrayal, his disciples don’t doubt his words. But each one doubts himself. Each one thinks: “I know I love him. How could I ever do that to him? And yet, I know, I really do know, what is inside me. I know I’m capable of it. But please don’t let it be me.”

They were making a mistake. What they were actually afraid of was failing. But what Jesus was talking about was not failing. They were not going to accidentally betray him. The betrayer knew what he was doing when he did it. It was deliberate, and pre-meditated; a clear choice to make a break with Jesus.

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Matthew #91.  Matthew 26:14-25; 31-35

In chapter 26, Matthew begins to tell of the events that led up to the death of Jesus. The story of Judas is told in bits and pieces, because it was happening behind the scenes, at the same time as other events.

The chief priests and the Jewish religious ruling council (also called the Sanhedrin) decided to eliminate the Jesus problem. They were probably provoked by Jesus’ triumphal entrance to Jerusalem. Remember, though Matthew (and we) take a long time to get through the events of Jesus’ last days, we are talking about less than a week. Jesus rode into town on Sunday. During the next few days, he cleared the merchants out of the temple, and taught several parables that directly confronted the ways of the religious leaders. It was on Wednesday that the religious rulers gathered and decided to get rid of him:

3Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, 4and they conspired to arrest Jesus in a treacherous way and kill Him. 5“Not during the festival,” they said, “so there won’t be rioting among the people.” (Matt 26:3-5, HCSB)

They had two major problems. The first was that Jesus was extremely popular with the crowds: the Sunday afternoon entrance to Jerusalem had proved that. It was easy enough to find him when he was teaching people, but if they arrested him in public, in front of the people, it would provoke a riot, and get the religious leaders into trouble with the Romans, who had the ultimate political authority in Jerusalem. The Romans did not tolerate public uprisings. So they needed a way to lay hands on Jesus in some quiet, out-of-the-way location.

The second problem is that they did not technically have the authority to put Jesus to death. Matthew’s narrative explains how they overcame that issue, later on.

In stepped Judas, who declared himself willing to solve the first problem for them. He said he would take them to Jesus when the Lord was in some quiet, unpopulated location. For his service, he agreed to take thirty pieces of silver. This is equivalent to about $15,000 in 2016 America. The amount seems to be prophetic, but we won’t get the full understanding of just how until chapter 27:

12Then I said to them, “If it seems right to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.” So they weighed my wages, 30 pieces of silver. 13“Throw it to the potter,” the LORD said to me — this magnificent price I was valued by them. So I took the 30 pieces of silver and threw it into the house of the LORD, to the potter. (Zech 11:12-13, HCSB)

There has been a lot of discussion through the centuries about the motives of Judas. When we get to chapter 27, we will see that he felt a certain amount of remorse about what he did. I intend to preach an entire message on that, so I won’t go into it here. I will say, however, that John records that Judas was a thief, who helped himself privately from the common funds used to support Jesus and the disciples in their ministry (John 12:4-6). In addition, all of the apostles attribute bad motives to him. Luke records that he was influenced by Satan (Luke 22:3) and John agrees with this (John 13:2, also verse 27).

In the meantime, the Passover meal is prepared. Jesus and his disciples go to celebrate it. The Passover is most definitely supposed to be a happy time – a time when God’s people remember and celebrate what God has done for them. But Jesus, at some point during the meal, makes his statement that one of the twelve would betray him.

As the questions come up, he says: “The one who dipped his hand with me in the bowl – he will betray me.” Matthew is giving us his own perspective of that night. John remembers it slightly differently. Speaking of himself, he writes:

25So he leaned back against Jesus and asked Him, “Lord, who is it? ” 26Jesus replied, “He’s the one I give the piece of bread to after I have dipped it.” When He had dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son. 27After Judas ate the piece of bread, Satan entered him. Therefore Jesus told him, “What you’re doing, do quickly.” (John 13:25-27, HCSB)

Obviously, the others didn’t quite catch the whole exchange. In fact, the way meals were eaten in those days, pretty much everyone would have been breaking off pieces of unleavened bread and dipping them into common bowls of charoset (an apple mixture), or meat broth, or spices. So it wasn’t like Judas was the only one to have done it during the meal. This, however fulfilled another prophecy from the Old Testament:

9Even my friend in whom I trusted, one who ate my bread, has raised his heel against me. (Ps 41:9, HCSB)

Just pause for a moment here, and picture the scene. These men have been with Jesus for three years. They have absolutely uprooted their lives for him. They’ve left businesses and families and lives back home, just to be with him. There have been compensations. Something about Jesus makes them feel that they are in the presence of true goodness. Something about him is just right, and it is very powerful. They know how much he loves them. They’ve seen miracles and heard the very words of God. They don’t always understand him, but they do love Him. And now, this man that they love like a Father – maybe even like a Master – is telling them that one of them will betray Him.

This is hard news. They still can’t quite accept that he is going to die. They are still holding on to the idea that all his predictions about his upcoming death were figurative, not literal. But this betrayal thing is serious.

The reaction of the eleven innocent apostles is beautiful and touching. Each one says in turn to Jesus, “Is it I, Lord?”

Notice that they don’t doubt his words. But each one doubts himself. Each one thinks: “I know I love him. How could I ever do that to him? And yet, I know, I really do know, what is inside me. I know I’m capable of it. But please don’t let it be me.”

They were making a mistake. What they were actually afraid of was failing. But what Jesus was talking about was not failing. They were not going to accidentally betray him. The betrayer knew what he was doing when he did it. It was deliberate, and pre-meditated; a clear choice to make a break with Jesus.

And that brings us to one of the reasons Jesus brought up the subject, and Matthew recorded it for us. Judas, like the others, asked “Is it I?” Of course, he was only trying to keep up appearances. He had already taken the money to do the deed. He knew it was himself. But Jesus shows Judas that he also knows. Jesus’ response is two Greek words: “You say.” It could be translated as either “So you say,” or “You said it.” John records that after this, Jesus told Judas:

Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. (John 13:27-29, ESV2011)

So Jesus clearly let Judas know that he knew. I believe that in this moment, Jesus was giving Judas one last chance to repent. He was giving Judas every opportunity to turn away from his betrayal – even just a few hours before Judas did his deed.

Let’s make all of this practical in our lives now. I have met many, many, Christians who are afraid that they will betray Jesus; in short, they are afraid that they will utterly reject him, and lose their salvation.

Now, of course, there are two schools of thought about this. One is that once you are saved, you can’t lose your salvation. Without debating the various verses, let me say that sometimes this results in people who think that they have a guaranteed ticket to heaven, even though they do not actually trust Jesus in their everyday lives. At one particular moment in their lives, they felt some emotion, and walked down the aisle, and “got saved;” maybe even baptized, too. However, it has been a long time since they have had much to do with Jesus. They live as they please; their lives are about their own ambitions and desires. God doesn’t really figure into their lives, not in a real way. They ignore the sin in their lives; in fact, sin doesn’t really bother them. The fact that their lives are distant from Jesus doesn’t really bother them.

Some folks might say these are Christians who have fallen away. Others might say that those folks probably weren’t ever true believers in the first place. I don’t think we have to quantify that. What may have happened in the past is needless speculation. All I know is this: If people can live in an ongoing pattern of sin without their consciences troubling them, then it is very doubtful that Jesus lives within them presently, and doubtful that they are saved at this point in time.

Now, I do think there are some genuine Jesus-followers who try to live in sin for a while, but it tears them apart inside, at least in the beginning, because they know they are sinning, and the Holy Spirit inside them keeps asking them to stop. If, however, a person is content to live in an ongoing pattern of sin, and it does not bother that person’s conscience, such an individual is probably not someone who genuinely trusts Jesus; at least not any more.

But I want to speak to the other group: these are people who have indeed trusted Jesus, and surrendered their lives to him. However, at times they are weak, and they fail. They worry that in their failure, they will utterly reject Jesus. I think this is something like what the disciples were feeling when each of them asked, “Is it I, Lord?”

But look at this from the outside. There was no way they could accidentally do what Jesus was talking about. What Judas did was pre-meditated and deliberate. In the same way, I do not believe that a genuine Christian can “accidentally” reject Jesus and turn away. Unfortunately we can (and do!) fail; sometimes frequently. But that is a different matter. Jesus addressed this at the end of the supper, when he told them that Peter would deny him, and the others would all desert him:

31 Then Jesus said to them, “Tonight all of you will run away because of Me, for it is written: I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered. 32 But after I have been resurrected, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”

 33 Peter told Him, “Even if everyone runs away because of You, I will never run away! ”

 34 “I assure you,” Jesus said to him, “tonight, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times! ”

 35 “Even if I have to die with You,” Peter told Him, “I will never deny You! ” And all the disciples said the same thing.

Jesus knew they would fail. They didn’t reject Him, but in their moments of weakness, they did not stand by Him. It was a failure; a big one. It did need to be forgiven, and it was ultimately forgiven. Jesus instructs them to meet up with Him again in Galilee, after it is all over: in other words, “I know you are going to mess up, but come back to me. Don’t stay away from me. Come on back and meet me, and receive my grace again.”

It is good and right to try not to sin. But I do not believe that those of us who trust Jesus need to live in constant fear that we will somehow reject Jesus altogether. No matter what your theology tells about whether or not that happens at all, I think we can all agree that that sort of thing can’t happen by accident.

If you are still worried about these things, the only antidote I know is to actually trust the words of the Bible. Even if you don’t worry about this often, it is a wonderful thing to pause and meditate upon the many wonderful promises of God’s love and forgiveness:

1My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father — Jesus Christ the Righteous One. 2 He Himself is the propitiation for our sins .(1John 2:1, HCSB)

 13And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses. 14He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross. 15He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; He triumphed over them by Him. (Col 2:13-15, HCSB)

31What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He did not even spare His own Son but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything? 33Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect? God is the One who justifies. 34Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the One who died, but even more, has been raised; He also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. 35Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or anguish or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written: Because of You we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered. 37No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us. 38For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, 39height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Rom 8:31-39, HCSB)



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