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)



1 Corinthians #14. A Way Out. 1 Cor 10:1-13

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Just as in 1 Corinthians chapters 1-4, Paul has a general subject in mind here, but he starts straying and covering all sorts of topics before he comes back to finish the discussion. The topic, begun in chapter 8, was about food sacrificed to idols. But he tells us in that chapter that the point is not what you are free to do, but how your actions affect the consciences of others. In chapter nine, he spent a great deal of time detailing his own rights and freedoms, and pointing out that he gave those up for the Corinthians.

In chapter 10, he warns the Corinthians that they are not above falling. He uses the Israelites as an example. In verse 11, he says:

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction…

This isn’t the main point, but it is an important one. He says something much like it in Romans also:

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)

The reason I point this out is that sometimes Christians act as if the Old Testament is no longer relevant to us any more. But the New Testament itself teaches that the Old Testament offers us instruction and encouragement. It applies to us – certainly in a different way than it applied to the Israelites who lived before Jesus, but still, it is there for our instruction, encouragement and benefit. Paul, looking at the Old Testament, sees its fulfillment in Jesus, and its application for present followers of Jesus.

So he uses an Old Testament example for the Corinthians. The Corinthians were baptized into Jesus Christ. They had faith in Him. They regularly received the Lord’s Supper. But, says Paul, that does not automatically mean that they will be in heaven, if they don’t persist in these things. He says that the ancient Israelites, had their own baptism-like experience. They had their own experience of the Lord’s Supper, partaking of food and drink that were not only physical, but spiritual (v.3-4). Paul even says that Jesus Christ was present with them through the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night, just as Jesus is present with us through the Holy Spirit.

I have seen two common attitudes among Christians like the attitude that Paul warns about. In the Lutheran and Catholic traditions, many people have the attitude that if they simply get baptized as babies, get confirmed as teenagers, and take communion once or twice a year, they automatically go to heaven. They feel that if they just do those things, they can live the rest of their lives however they want, and it will have no eternal consequences.

Many Baptists and other evangelicals have exactly the same attitude, only in a different way. They laugh at the idea of putting their faith in sacraments. But instead, they put their faith in a different ceremony, that of “getting saved.” They believe if that at one single point in their life, they respond to an altar call, walk down to the front of the church and say that they believe, then they “got saved.” Church of Christ people would add that they have to get baptized too. But the attitude is that if they simply do that once, they can go live the rest of their lives however they want, and it will have no eternal consequences.

The result of all this is that we have people all over the country who never go to church, never talk to God, never read their bibles, live in all different kinds of moral sin, give their lives to alcohol and drugs, or to the pursuit of money, and yet believe that when they die, they’ll be in heaven with a Lord they have never known or cared about. But Paul says:

Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence. (1 Cor 10:12, the Message).

Now, there is great debate between Christians about a related topic. Some Christians feel that if you are truly saved, you can never lose your salvation, no matter what. They point to several verses like Romans 8:38-39

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Others point to this passage, and other passages like Hebrews 6:4-8, which contain strong warnings about falling away, and even to people like Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom Paul says rejected the faith and so destroyed themselves spiritually (1 Timothy 1:20).

I like to solve the dilemma by saying this: First, there are great many promises to us so that we can rest assured, knowing that the power and grace of Jesus holds us and will keep us and bring us safely to eternal life with Him. Second, a life of true faith will show itself by growing closer to God and moving away from sin and worldly ambitions (even if the movement is slow).

The point Paul is making today is the second one. If you have true faith, you won’t neglect your relationship with God. If you think that you can more or less ignore God for the rest of your life and still have eternal life, then you are in desperate spiritual and eternal danger.

But Paul also has a word of comfort. He says:

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. (1 Cor 10:13, New Living Translation)

In other words, though the possibility of spiritual danger is very real, God does not simply leave you to figure it out yourself. He doesn’t abandon you to stand or fall on your own – he is there to help in the middle of your temptations and trials. The word for temptation here means to “trap” or to “test.” This word is for you if you are tempted to sin, or if you feel caught, or if you feel your faith is being tested in some way.

Now, I want to be honest with you: there were times in my life when I wasn’t sure that this was true. For a long time I struggled with a sin that I always seemed to give in to. If I was tempted in that way, I was going to sin. I wondered where my ‘way out’ was. Slowly, over the years, I’ve learned two things about the “way out” listed here.

I had areas of my life where I was holding on to hurt and not forgiving others. I had closed off parts of my heart from God, and that naturally opened them up to the devil. I was defeated by that particular temptation, because I let Satan live in a little corner of my heart where I wasn’t letting God come in. In other words, God couldn’t give me a way out, because I closed part of me off from him. I needed help and prayer from other believers to discover this and to walk through the process of dealing with it. Once I did that, I was till tempted to sin in the same way, and yet I found that I could now resist that temptation.

If you are dealing with a particular sin in which you fail again and again in the same way, I encourage you to talk to me or another mature Christian about it, and seek the wisdom and prayers of others.

There is another aspect about this way of escape from temptation. You must believe that the Holy Spirit really does offer it, and that means you need to keep looking until you find it.

I grew up in Papua New Guinea. We always had plenty of food available to us, but not nearly the variety of food there is in the United States. We could always find meat and bread. There was always rice. Fresh milk was never available. Other things, like crackers or potato chips or breakfast cereal only showed up occasionally. If we saw Froot Loops or macaroni and cheese in the store, we knew a ship had recently come in to town. We also knew that within a few days, all boxes would be gone, and we probably wouldn’t see that kind of food again for a year or more.

One year we returned to the US for a few months of furlough. I went to an American grocery store with my Grandfather. We got various items, and then we started looking for oyster crackers. We went to the aisle where Grandpa normally found them. They weren’t there. Grandpa was puzzled, and we looked very intently without finding them.

“Grandpa,” I said after a while, “they’re probably just out of them.”

Grandpa didn’t really know any more about New Guinean grocery stores than I knew about American ones. He stared at me like I was an alien. “They’re not out of them” he said. He was vastly amused at my idea that there would be no oyster crackers.

If it had been me, I would have gone home without oyster crackers, because I did not believe they were there. However, to my great surprise, we eventually found them, and my grandpa laughed at my consternation all the way home.

In order to find the way of escape promised by the Holy Spirit here, you must believe that it really exists, and you must keep searching, believing you will find it. If you don’t believe it is there, you might be like me with the oyster crackers – you’ll look around a little, and then give up. But my Grandpa found what he needed because he believed it was there, and kept searching until he had obtained it.

That needs to be our attitude when we face temptations and trials and tests of any kind. The way is there. God has promised it. Don’t stop, don’t give up until you have made use of it to find relief from temptation and trial.