Today’s Reading: Matthew 27
If ever a man had a chance to become a saint it should have been Judas.
Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus.
For more than two years, he lived with Jesus. He listened to His words, watched His miracles, and yet this man deliberately planned to betray Him. No one in history had a better chance than Judas. The rich young ruler only met Jesus once, and yet Judas was with Him every day.
Judas ruined for all time the name he bore. No woman in history ever thinks of naming her child “Judas;” yet Judas was an honorable name at one time. There was Judas Maccabeus—who bravely fought to defend the Jewish land and religion more than a hundred years before Jesus was born. Even one of Jesus’ brothers bore the name Judas. And now forever that name is associated with betrayal.
When Jesus said, “One of you will betray me.” No one said, “Is it Judas?”
Jesus always has a double effect, but He never allows neutrality. Just as fire can soften wax or harden clay, to be with Jesus is either a blessing or a curse. The presence of Jesus changed fickle Peter into a rock and exposed Judas’s greed.
The sin of Judas was a sin against repeated warnings. The more I think about Judas, the more I see how many times he heard Jesus speak about the perils of money. Judas heard, “You cannot serve God and mammon.” He heard, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul.” Judas heard the parable of the man who filled his barns but did not prepare his soul and was called a fool. I believe Jesus calling him “friend” in Matthew 26:50 was a last-ditch effort to win Judas back before the deal went through in the Garden of Gethsemane.
There is a butterfly hidden within the confines of an ugly caterpillar. But not all caterpillars become butterflies. Scientists tell us that sometimes flies thrust the bodies of the caterpillar with a tiny egg. The egg hatches into a grub, which feeds upon the butterfly, forming elements in the makeup of a caterpillar. The caterpillar does not even know it happens. It goes right on living and eating, but the grub has destroyed its capacity to advance. The glorious, winged creature, which might have been, is now gone and it never becomes the butterfly.
Judas had a grub inside him that made him a lover of money more than a lover of God. When he saw the woman break the alabaster box and pour the costly perfume upon Jesus’ head, his first thought, It might have been sold.
Listen to the end of his betrayal while Jesus was being tried and led to the cross. Here is what was happening with Judas:
When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”
“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”
So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5, NIV)
I thought hard about this: Peter and Judas. One was a denier and the other a betrayer.
After he denied: Peter went out and wept bitterly. After he betrayed: Judas went out and hanged himself. Each of these men had a chapter in their life where sin ruled them. Both failed but their stories ended differently. Should not have Peter’s story ended up like Judas’s? Which is the better end—the disciple with the tearful eye or the disciple with the broken neck?
Why would failure bring suicide? And why would failure bring repentance? One disciple after failure became a swinging corpse on a tree and the other became a preacher on the Day of Pentecost.
Why did the Master choose a man like Judas? The better question is why did He ever choose someone like me? He did not choose him or us for what we were—certainly not for what he became—but for what he, and we, might become.
We are going to sin. We are going to mess up. There have probably been times when I have sold Him for far less than thirty pieces of silver, sold Him for a temporary thrill. But here I am by the grace of God. And there have been times I have denied Him. I have been ashamed to speak up like Peter and cowered into silence. Why am I still here? Why am I not swinging? Why am I not preaching like Peter? Instead of trying to figure out the end of Peter and Judas’s differences, we must make sure our end is gripping the mercy of God.