When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely not I, Lord?” Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” Jesus answered, “Yes, it is you.” While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of thecovenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matt 26:20-28)
Nobody names their son Judas anymore. Judas has become synonymous with gross betrayal and wretched sin. As we walk closer to the events of Good Friday, I was reading this passage above and thinking about the Judas factor again.
There are many questions that swirl around in my mind whenever I think of ole Judas. Was his betrayal predestined? If so, is he really to blame? Should he instead be given some credit for “faithfully” performing his unfortunate role in the redemption story in helping Jesus accomplish what he came to earth to do? Did he “betray” Jesus or merely “hand him over” to the authorities to help Jesus fulfill his destiny? (The Greek word can mean either “betray” or “hand over.”) Did Judas repent? Will he be in Heaven? Unfortunately, the Biblical narrative isn’t interested in addressing these questions.
Instead of answering these questions today, I’m offering a couple simple reflections I had as I read the familiar story again this week.
1. Before we single out Judas as the betrayer, let us remember that as the story continues all the disciples but John would flee and abandon Christ in his darkest hour. Peter’s denial is no less tragic and sad as Judas’s. In some sense it was necessary for someone to hand Jesus over to the authorities to go to the cross for us. But was it necessary for one of Jesus’ closest friends to deny knowing him as he went to face his death? Judas’s betrayal involved a bold, face to face kiss. Peter’s treachery involved a cold, cowardly slunking off into the night while pretending he never knew Jesus. And standing behind the entire story of the cross was the central fact that the entire world had betrayed God, you and I along with all the disciples and, yes, Judas himself. We are all Judas. We have all betrayed our Lord time and again, sometimes immediately following an affectionate kiss of faithful obedience. As we journey to the cross on Good Friday to remember Christ’s sacrifice, let us acknowledge the sobering reality that with love and truth Christ looks down from the cross at all of us with the words he told Judas, “Yes, it is you.” But that’s not his only words. More importantly it’s not his last words.
2. In verses 26 and 27 the sequence of events shifts from an accusation of guilt and betrayal to a meal of great significance and grace that Judas shares in. Jesus turned to the disciples, broke bread and poured wine and passed it to Judas first. And the words that stuck out to me like never before are “Drink from it, ALL OF YOU.” Not everyone except Judas. ALL of you, the loyal and the unfaithful schemer. The next statement out of Jesus’ mouth must have hit Judas very hard: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” I’ve always read this as a general statement about Christ’s atonement for the sins of the entire world — which it is. But it includes the horrible sin of betrayal happening right there in front of their noses. In one sitting Judas is faced with both the truth of his treachery and the glorious grace and forgiveness that comes through Christ’s looming death.
So, we’re all sinners like Judas. And we’re all offered forgiveness like Judas immediately following our offense, or even while we’re in the act! We don’t need to wallow in shame, do hard penance, shape up our life and clean up our act before we can be forgiveness. God’s scandalous grace is available immediately and it covers us completely.
The real tragedy of Judas’ life is not that he betrayed Jesus, but that he chose to hang himself from his own tree in shame rather than let Jesus take that shameful sin with him to his own tree. I’m holding out hope that Judas did repent in his last desperate moments, and joined the thief with Jesus that very day in Paradise. That’s the gospel hope that leads us to call it Good Friday.
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
by ISAAC WATTS
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.