WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PETER AND JUDAS?

peter-denies

Peter is my hero. He seems to mess up more than any of the other disciples, but he is my hero because of what he does after he makes mistakes. Every time, he repents, and goes back to Jesus in humility and faith. It’s not about how often you fall down: it’s about what you do after you fall. And Peter always does the right thing after he falls. He’s a terrific example for us.

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Matthew #96. Matthew 26:69-27:10

There is a lot going on here. Matthew tells the tale as it happened, so we are jumping back and forth between various events. So far, I have not spoken about the physical suffering that Jesus experienced, beginning with his arrest. I will continue to put that off until another message, and this time, instead, we will concentrate on Peter and Judas.

In the book of Acts, Luke describes the fate of Judas in these terms:

18Now this man acquired a field with his unrighteous wages. He fell headfirst and burst open in the middle, and all his insides spilled out. 19This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that in their own language that field is called Hakeldama (that is, Field of Blood). (Acts 1:18-19, HCSB)

This is not necessarily incompatible with Matthew’s account. I will warn you that there are some gruesome thoughts in this paragraph. Here’s one way to reconcile the two. It may be that the body of Judas hung, unattended, until it began to decompose. Then, whenever it fell down “bursting open” would be a normal sort of thing to happen. At that point, the field in which it happened would have been, for Jews, ceremonially contaminated by contact with the dead body. For the Jewish religious rulers, the ideal solution to both the money (which they couldn’t use for themselves or the treasury) and the contamination, would be to buy the field as a burial ground for foreigners, since it was no good to Jews anyway. The one slight variation to this theory could be that when Judas went to hang himself, he did so at the edge of some sort of cliff, and instead of succeeding, the rope broke, and he fell to his death. After that, the same logic takes over for the rest of it.

In any case, I don’t think we have to imagine the entire sequence of Judas as happening on the very same night when Jesus was tried. I believe Matthew included it here to wrap up the history of what happened to him, but I tend to think it did not all occur on the same day Jesus was crucified. After all, the religious leaders were busy with that, and then with the Sabbath, and it is doubtful they would have taken time to debate about what to do with the money on that very day. I would say it is likely that Judas changed his mind and committed suicide within a week or two of Jesus’ crucifixion.

A lot of people use this passage to “rehabilitate” Judas, so to speak. They point out that Judas felt regret because, he says, “I have betrayed innocent blood.” Using that, many people speculate the Judas betrayed Jesus because he thought that the betrayal would provoke Jesus into some spectacular action that would then prove he was the Messiah. In other words, Judas really believed in Jesus, and just thought he needed a little “push” to start the war with the Romans. The argument boils down to this: Judas had really good intentions, and just went about it the wrong way.

However, both John and Luke tell us that it was Satan who motivated Judas to betray Jesus (John 13:27; Luke 22:3). I think that pretty conclusively ends the argument that he was just a misunderstood man with good motives.

I don’t think it is an accident that Matthew puts the story of Peter’s betrayal next to the story of Judas’ end. We have very important similarities, and also very important contrasts between the two disciples. It’s true that Judas’ betrayal is premeditated. Jesus gave him at least two opportunities that very night to repent. However, you could say the same thing about Peter. Jesus warned Peter about what was coming. When Peter denied Jesus the first time, you might say it was the heat of the moment. But there was time before his next denial, and time again before the third. After each one, Peter might have re-considered. He too, was given every chance to do it differently, and yet he too, in his own way, betrayed Jesus.

So what was different? Why is it that Judas committed suicide, while Peter went on to become the leader of Jesus’ church?

I think it boils down to the essence of what the Bible teaches: repentance and faith. [By the way, before we get into this, let me say that I am not talking in general about people who commit suicide. I am talking about Judas, specifically.]

Let’s start with repentance. Matthew says that Judas felt remorse for what he did.  The word is metamelaytheis. It is only used six times in the New Testament: the HCSB translates it three times as “changed his mind,” here as “remorse” and twice as “regretted.” The ESV translates it here as “changed his mind.” Though it is related, it is not the same word as “repentance.”

At some level, Judas felt bad about what he had done. So bad, in fact, that he committed suicide. But in all his bad feeling, he never turned back to Jesus. He regretted, but he did not repent.

Regret eats away at you. It doesn’t help you change, or lead you to anything positive. You just sit there, wishing you had done differently. Regret means you wish it hadn’t happened, but it doesn’t mean you are sorry, or that you are willing to change. That is why “regret” is one of the favorite words used by politicians in meaningless “apologies.” Over and over, you hear some Pol, caught in a scandal, say something like, “I regret what happened,” or “I regret that people were hurt.” This isn’t the same thing as saying, “I’m sorry,” or, “It is my fault; please forgive me,” or, “I am going to change.”

Since both Luke and John tell us that Judas was deeply influenced by Satan, I think we can assume that this regret was deepened, worsened, and played on demonically, over and over.

There may be something else, too. The regret of Judas was focused on the fact that he had done something wrong. Maybe you could put it this way (please pay attention to the italic emphasis):

Peter sat there, thinking, “I’ve betrayed Jesus!”

Judas sat there, thinking, “I’ve betrayed Jesus!”

What I’m getting at is this: It could be that Judas was more upset about the fact that he screwed up than the fact that it was a sin against Jesus. For Judas, it was about himself. He had regret, but not repentance. He did not humble himself before God. Though he regretted the incident (deeply) there is no evidence that he repented.

For Peter, it was that he had hurt the man he had come to know and love. The point wasn’t that he screwed up (Peter might have been used to that by now!) but that he had hurt Jesus. He wasn’t just sorry that he had made a mistake – he was sorry he had hurt his Lord. Regret is self-focused, but repentance is God-focused.

By the way, some of you have mentioned that I seem to enjoy picking on Peter. Actually, Peter is my hero. He seems to mess up more than any of the other disciples, but he is my hero because of what he does after he makes mistakes. Every time, he repents, and goes back to Jesus in humility and faith. It’s not about how often you fall down: it’s about what you do after you fall. And Peter always does the right thing after he falls. He’s a terrific example for us.

It takes humility to repent. When you repent, you are fully owning the fact that you are wrong, and in addition, humbling yourself by asking for forgiveness. You are putting yourself in a position of need in relationship to the person you hurt. You are saying that you need their forgiveness, and that you have no right to be forgiven, and no power to make them do so. You are, in a sense, offering them power over you. Peter was very humble. He knows what he is talking about when he writes, years later:

God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. 6Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7casting all your care on Him, because He cares about you. (1Pet 5:5-7, HCSB)

The second difference between Judas and Peter was faith. Despite the fact that Jesus predicted it all, neither Judas nor Peter understood what was happening when Jesus was put to death. But somehow, though he couldn’t see how, Peter believed that Jesus could overcome. He believed that Jesus would have mercy on him, and forgive his failure.

Judas, clearly, did not believe he could be forgiven. I believe he could have been. I believe that Jesus, with his question in the garden “Why have you come?” was inviting Judas to repent, even after his deed was done. Even after, Judas had the same opportunity that Peter had. But the truth was, he simply did not believe in Jesus, which is why he betrayed him in the first place.

So how do we apply these things to our lives today? I’ll offer a few thoughts, but let the Holy Spirit take you wherever he wants with this. Here are my thoughts:

The Bible says we have all sinned:

9What then? Are we any better? Not at all! For we have previously charged that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin, 10as it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one. 11There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12All have turned away; all alike have become useless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one. (Rom 3:9-12, HCSB)

We aren’t any better than Judas or Peter. We all stand on the same ground. The question is, will we be more like Judas, or Peter? Obviously, we want to be like Peter, but how?

  1. Seek repentance, and beware of regret. Regret doesn’t help you in any way. It leaves you with nothing. Repentance motivates, and brings you back to the Lord. If you find you are regretful but not repentant, I encourage you to ask God to help you repent instead. Repentance means you change, you turn away from your sin and toward God, even if that means sacrificing other things to do so.
  2. Seek humility. You cannot repent without humility. In repentance you admit your faults, you admit that your actions (or inactions) are wrong, and you are truly sorry for them. In addition, you give God (and sometimes other people) power over your life by admitting that you stand helplessly in need of his (and possibly their) forgiveness. To do that, you need humility.
  3. Believe that Jesus’ death was truly enough to make up for your sins. Trust what the Bible says:

Everyone who believes has God’s approval through faith in Jesus Christ.  There is no difference between people.  Because all people have sinned, they have fallen short of God’s glory.  They receive God’s approval freely by God’s grace through the price Christ Jesus paid to set us free from sin. (Romans 3:22-24, God’s Word Version)

Sometimes when I see people struggling to accept that God really forgives them, I ask this: “Are you saying that what Jesus suffered wasn’t enough for your sin? Are you saying he should have suffered more? Are you saying that what he did was somehow incomplete? If not, then stop messing around, and believe you are forgiven. Take him at his word, and receive his forgiveness.”

Peter humbly took Jesus as his word. More than that, he trusted the character of Jesus, that somehow, he could make it all OK. And that’s exactly what Jesus was doing at the very time that Peter betrayed him: making it all OK for anyone and everyone who will trust him.

The accidental betrayal?

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)