Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was approaching. The chief priests and the scribes were seeking how they might put Him to death; for they were afraid of the people. And Satan entered into Judas who was called Iscariot, belonging to the number of the twelve. And he went away and discussed with the chief priests and officers how he might betray Him to them. They were glad and agreed to give him money. So he consented, and began seeking a good opportunity to betray Him to them apart from the crowd. (Luke 22:1-6 NASB)
It was really hard not to drop the passion week numbering and call this entry “Sold Out”. In terms of what those words mean, it can be positive or negative, especially in regards to our relationship with Jesus. In Judas we see the clear negative meaning in someone who should surprise us.
Judas was chosen just like the others. Judas was one of those who were familiar with Jesus from the time of the baptism until His death. He had seen Jesus heal, raise the dead, feed five thousand, walk on water, and calm storms. He heard demons cry out in terror at Jesus’ approach, seen them flee and loudly leave those whom Jesus cured. Judas knew Jesus was Master of the natural and spiritual realms. And Judas sold Jesus out for silver.
I believe that, in retrospect, the disciples saw in Judas the worst of human character. But at the time, suspected none of it. It’s one of the ironies of Scripture that this man can be so close to the Savior of the world, be so accepted and loved by Jesus, and then betray Him. John especially has no good thing to say about Judas, even about his conduct while among the disciples (6:70,71; 12:4-6, 13:2, 26-30).
This character then, when viewed as the disciples looked back to tell the story of Jesus’ life, was rotten from early on. He was one of those who no one would have picked for holy service. And yet Jesus, who knew a guy with a jar of water would go to a house ready to use for the Passover, looks at Judas and invites him in. In John 13, it’s clear Jesus knows exactly what Judas is doing. Any theories that Judas is a close friend, ally, or some other inner-circle sort of character clearly has a lot of Scripture to ignore. He wasn’t seen that way by the disciples.
So why? Why did Jesus pick this thoroughly wicked looser? Why did God-in-the-flesh call this twisted and deviant version of His beautiful human creatures? In Lord of the Rings, he’s Gollum. In Star Wars, he is portrayed in the betrayal of the good by Anakin surrendering to be Darth Vader. All good fairy stories have a betrayer character, and Judas is the penultimate betrayer in the one fairy story that’s actually true. He had the best of all circumstances available to him, but he chose silver instead. He saw it all, he heard it all, he was a witness of the Fullness of God in bodily form; yet, in the end, it was all for sale.
Even so, Jesus celebrates His memorial supper with Judas. Jesus washes Judas’ feet. Jesus gives Judas the preferred morsel of “friendship” at the Passover. Jesus gives Judas every opportunity to stop the train wreck of his life. But Satan entered into Judas. Satan had put it into the heart of Judas to betray Jesus (John 13:2), so in a sense, he had already possessed this sorry puppet, as Luke says in verse 3. But when Judas accepts the morsel of friendship, Judas accelerates down the disastrous rails to his doom.
A great Communion message I heard this past weekend said that Judas was interesting, not as a pattern to follow, but as a warning of what working for salvation looks like. I thought that was an odd thing to say until the gentlemen explained that, after he betrayed Jesus, he then tried to repent by giving the money back and, in despair, committing suicide. In other words, Judas tried to earn his way back in, when the very thing he caused was actually the only means of his salvation. Once again, Judas completely missed it. I thought that was an amazing observation to make. The tragic figure of Judas is as important as the malevolent evil one.
I learn two lessons from the character of Judas and his relationship to Jesus. On the one hand, I see that the danger of missing who Jesus truly is, is a danger even the ones closest to Him face. I can’t stop focusing on my Master, loosing sight of His face for a moment, or thinking I’ve figured Him out. But the second thing I learn is from Jesus’ choice to hang with this tragic creature. Who is so evil that I can’t love them? Isn’t that true even though their life may be a train wreck coming on at break-neck speed? Even if I know I can’t change them, should I too love them and accept them, and give them every chance to jump from the train of disaster? But I typically find them too risky or not worth my time and effort. I don’t want to jump on their train, but I should be willing to wait at the next whistle stop to invite them to get off.
What’s your view through your knothole this morning?