Judas Is Our Middle Name

Richard Secrest Hays, M.Div. - April 9, 2017

Matthew 26:14-16, 31-38, 45-50closeMatthew 26:14-16 14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him. Matthew 26:31-38 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same. 36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” Matthew 26:45-50 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” 47 While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” 49 And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. (ESV)

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THE WAVERLY PULPIT
Richard Secrest Hays, M.Div.
First Presbyterian Church of Waverly
211 Schmitt Dr., Waverly, Ohio 45690 + 740.947.2905
www.firstpresbyterianwaverly.com

 

 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Judas Is Our Middle Name

Matthew 26:14-16, 31-38, 45-50closeMatthew 26:14-16 14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him. Matthew 26:31-38 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same. 36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” Matthew 26:45-50 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” 47 While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” 49 And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. (ESV) ; Isaiah 50:4-9closeIsaiah 50:4-9 The Lord God has given me
the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
he awakens my ear
to hear as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious;
I turned not backward.
I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
from disgrace and spitting. But the Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
He who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who is my adversary?
Let him come near to me.
Behold, the Lord God helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment;
the moth will eat them up. (ESV)
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Throughout the dark night of his soul in the Gethsemane Garden, Jesus begged his disciples to stay up with him, comfort him, pray with him, support him. But they couldn’t do it. On the night that Jesus was arrested, all of his disciples abandoned him. And two of them actively betrayed him.

 

Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus only once, almost immediately regretted his action. He boldly marched back before the powerful, corrupt officials and proclaimed Jesus’ innocence to their faces, throwing their bribe money back at their feet for good measure. Peter, the other fallen disciple, betrayed Jesus on three separate occasions. He hid in abject fear of the officials and then ran off seeking anonymity and seclusion. Yet that first disciple, Judas, has been named throughout history as the prime example of all that is contemptible, corrupt and deceitful in human nature. (Do you know anyone named Judas?) That second disciple, Peter, is honored as the father of the church and is designated a “saint.” (I suspect you know several Peters. I do.)

 

How come we treat these two fallen, betraying disciples, so differently? Why is Judas’ betrayal of Jesus taken in such a different direction than Peter’s?

 

Any competent investigator will tell us that we have to begin with motive. Judas’ treachery seems to have been built on long running conflict of expectations. Jesus wasn’t the militant messiah that many, including Judas, expected. Perhaps Judas thought that if he backed Jesus into a corner with the authorities, Jesus would show the aggressive side of salvation. If Jesus didn’t come out fighting then he would be out of the way for someone else to be the hero people wanted. Judas’ plan was premeditated, calculated, even paid for.
Peter’s act of betrayal, on the other hand, was a cowardly, spontaneous burst of emotion that profited him nothing. He was prone to rash actions without thinking which exhibited both a childlike naivete and a cluelessness.

 

But it isn’t all that simple. Matthew reports the theory breaking fact that Judas returned the blood money, defended Jesus’ innocence before the tribunal, and realized his mistake. All this occurred while Jesus was still alive. In contrast, Peter sneaked back to the disciple’s fold as a mourner after the crucifixion frenzy had passed and the tomb was sealed.

 

The only real difference between these two betrayers – Judas and Peter – was their perception of how Jesus must see them. Judas was overcome with guilt. Although “he repented” (Matthew 27:3closeMatthew 27:3 Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. . . . (ESV) ), Judas could only envision a wrathful, judgmental Jesus declaring him cursed according to Deuteronomic law (Matthew 26:23-24closeMatthew 26:23-24 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” (ESV) , Deuteronomy 27:25closeDeuteronomy 27:25 25 “‘Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.”’ (ESV) ). In his despair, Judas blocked out Jesus’ forgiving gesture in the garden (Matthew 26:50closeMatthew 26:50 50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. (ESV) ). Judas could only hear condemnation ringing in his ears, so he cut himself off from the healing capabilities of God’s grace and, in an agonizing fit of self-judgment, hanged himself.

 

Peter heard other voices. He replayed his three pitiful denials of Jesus over and over again in his head. Matthew says that Peter “cried uncontrollably” after leaving the courtyard (Matthew 26:75closeMatthew 26:75 75 And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. (ESV) ). Peter recalled himself strongly promising Jesus that he would never deny him, even if it meant facing death (Matthew 26:35closeMatthew 26:35 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same. (ESV) ).

 

Those weren’t the only conversations Peter remembered. There were some stored in his memory that gave him hope on that dark night. Peter was the disciple who had asked Jesus specifically about forgiveness. How many times should we forgive? Peter asked. Jesus declared “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22closeMatthew 18:21-22 21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” (ESV) ).

 

Jesus had singled Peter, asking, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter could recall he had boldly confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:15-16closeMatthew 16:15-16 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (ESV) ). Of greater comfort to Peter was the memory of Jesus’ response to that confession: “Happy are you, Simon son of Jonah, because no human has shown this to you.” And then came Jesus’ playful pun, “I tell you that you are Peter. And I’ll build my church on this rock. The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it” (Matthew 16:17-18closeMatthew 16:17-18 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (ESV) ). What a life-vest that must have been for Peter’s aching heart that night. Jesus had believed in him. Jesus had designated him to be something special in the life of the church. Whatever Peter had done in his past, Jesus had assured him he had a future.

 

Judas was no different from any of the other disciples and no different from any of us. We have all done it – fallen away from Jesus at some time or another, not for money but for safety, security, or anonymity. But Judas forgot one thing, the thing that makes a huge difference between life and death. Judas forgot that he wasn’t alone. He forgot that he was one person in a long, established, and distinguished tradition of God’s failed faithful. Jacob, Moses, Aaron, David, Elijah, Mary, Thomas, Paul all committed grievous acts of betrayal against God. But each one found their way back to God’s side through the back door of grace.

 

Judas died believing in his own heart that he was a betrayer. Why? Because he never even tried the door. He hadn’t gotten the message that Jesus had spent three years proclaiming: grace. Judas didn’t want a gift of grace. He wanted to be in control of his situation. With those 30 pieces of silver, Judas thought he could buy his way into God’s presence. Judas thought the messianic age could be hurried along by forcing Jesus’ hand by confronting him with the military.

 

Faced with the consequences of his catastrophic mistake, Judas then tried to buy his way out of his betrayal by throwing that same silver back at the feet of the chief priests. But Judas could not control the tidal wave of events his actions had unleashed. In panic, Judas’ final attempt to control things was to take his own life. He never dared to check that back door of grace that God always leaves unlocked – and even pushes open for us.

 

Every one of us has seen someone squirming on the viciously barbed hook of some life calamity. And we piously thought, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Would that we never say that. It’s okay to acknowledge the saving nature of grace in your own life, but to deny the possibility of its presence in the lives of others is a “Judas-ism.” It is not “There but for God’s grace go I.” Rather we need the redemptive cry of “There am I… with God’s grace” and then the missional cry of “There go I … for God’s grace.”

 

L. Alexander Harper makes a remarkable observation about Johann Sebastian Bach’s musical representation of the Passion story in the Saint Matthew Passion: “Judas’ question to Jesus had always been a solo in other cantatas, because Judas is an individual. Not so for Bach. Breaking all tradition, he has the whole chorus instead sing that guilty question, ‘Is it I, Lord?’ The chorus represents you, me, the whole world. Judas is within us all, not ‘out there’ or ‘back in history’ somewhere comfortably remote.”(1)

 

The message of the gospel is that God’s grace is available to all, that the back door to God’s loving presence is always open. Judas is the middle name of each one of us. And Judas becomes our first name not when we betray and deny Christ himself, but when we deny the redemptive power of God’s grace that Christ offers every one of us.

 

As we move through Holy Week, as our voices one by one give up the “Hosannas” and take up the call to crucify, as the skies darken and the clang of the hammers against nails assault our ears, may we know that “Judas” is our middle name. And may we know that Christ gives us a new name: filled with grace.

 

 

(1) L. Alexander Harper, “Judas, Our Brother,” St. Luke’s Journal of Theology 29 (1986), 102.
Unless noted otherwise, all scripture references are from The Common English Bible, © 2011 www.commonenglishbible.com.
Copyright © 2017 First Presbyterian Church of Waverly, Ohio. Reprinted by permission.