Loyalty (Matthew 26:47-56)

By | April 3, 2011

The Event #5
4th Sunday of Lent


     A Vacation Bible School teacher, one summer, taught class on Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. After the lesson, she went over the review questions and asked, “Who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver?”

     Without hesitating, her 7-year-old son replied, “I know! It was ‘Judas the Scariest!'” (1)

     Without a doubt, in my opinion, Judas was the Scariest disciple of all. He’s the most frightening character of the entire Passion story. He’s more frightening than Pilate or Herod or Caiaphas or even the Roman soldiers who whipped and beat Jesus. To me, Judas is even more frightening than the guards who nailed Jesus to the cross.

     You see he wasn’t a Frankenstein or a Freddie Kruger. He wasn’t a serial killer or dictator bent on taking over the world. He wasn’t some misshapen monster or someone who haunts our dreams. Judas is more frightening than any of those. Why? Because Judas was one of us. He was a believer and a follower. He was a Disciple. And frightening the reality of it all is, any one of the disciples and any one of us could have done what Judas did.

     That’s why I think Judas is the most frightening character of the Passion. You see, there is a small kernel of Judas that lives within each and every one of us. We all have the capability to not only deny Christ but to Betray him just as Judas did.


     The title of the sermon today is Loyalty. It could have just as easily been titled Betrayal or Failure or Stupidity. Peter failed, he got it wrong but eventually he got it right. All the other Disciples failed but eventually got it right. Judas failed completely. He got it wrong. Let’s look at passage form Matthew.

Matthew 26:14-25, 47-50 (NRSV)

[14] Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests  

[15] and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver.  

[16] And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.  

[17] On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?”  

[18] He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.'”  

[19] So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.  

[20] When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve;  

[21] and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”  

[22] And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?”  

[23] He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.  

[24] The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”  

[25] Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”  

[47] While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large 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; arrest him.”  

[49] At once he came up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.  

[50] Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him.     

     Judas got it wrong, all the way around. But we can learn from Judas. And what we learn is: FAILURE ISN’T FINAL, FAILURE ISN’T FOREVER AND FAILURE ISN’T FATAL.


     A. Ray Anderson has written a sermon titled “The Gospel According to Judas” which I found both challenging and enjoyable. In it, he describes going into a men’s restroom in San Francisco and there carefully lettered on the pale green paint beside the mirror with a black pen, were the words: “Judas, come home; all is forgiven.”

     He says he pondered that for a long time, wondering who it was who put the message there. Was it some father, hoping that a prodigal son would find his way into that obscure place and see the message and know that he was Judas, and realize that, despite the horror of what he had done to his father and his family, there was a way home?

     Or was it the boy himself, projecting upon that wall some impossible hope and belief that all could be forgiven. (1)

     I can almost imagine Jesus writing that the day of the resurrection. I can also imagine Jesus’ disappointment when he found out what Judas did.

     B. You see, Judas didn’t understand. He just didn’t get it. Despite his failure and betrayal and failure, the Cross of Christ made the noose completely unnecessary. All Judas had to do was put himself and the rope in Jesus’ hands.

     In the very early church, the Apostle’s Creed had an extra phrase in it. You can find it in our hymnal listed as the Ecumenical version of the Apostles’ Creed. The phrase is one that we don’t use very often. It says that after Jesus was crucified, dead and buried, “He descended into hell.” There are all kinds of theological and historical reasons why we don’t include that in the Protestant version of the Apostles’ Creed. But there is an interesting legend that goes along with that phrase.

     It says that Jesus did indeed descend into Hades for the purpose of finding Judas. Jesus went looking for Judas to offer forgiveness. But remember Judas had lost faith. He was so filled with guilt and shame; he was so convinced that he couldn’t be forgiven, that he hid from Jesus. Consequently, Judas couldn’t repent because he wouldn’t even hear the offer of forgiveness.

     Is it true? I don’t know. But one thing is certain, the Good News of Jesus is that FAILURE ISN’T FINAL. The reason I say FAILURE ISN’T FINAL is because of the message of repentance and the Good News of Forgiveness. And because there is forgiveness it means FAILURE ISN’T FINAL.


     A. Nor is it Forever. FAILURE ISN’T FOREVER.

     Peter proved that. There wasn’t a bigger failure than Peter amongst the Disciples. One day he was right on target and the next day it was as if he hadn’t even shown up. One day he is being given the keys to the Kingdom by the Son of God and not an hour later he is being compared to Satan. One moment he is bragging how he will stand by Jesus side no matter what. And a few short hours later he is skulking away from Caiaphas’ courtyard after denying he knew Jesus, not once, but three times.

     But Peter found out something Judas never did. He found out that FAILURE ISN’T FOREVER.

     B. In our Lenten study of Adam Hamilton’s “24 Hours that Changed the World” he includes an extra video on the DVD that isn’t covered in any of the lessons. I want to share it with you. WATCH.

     What if Judas had waited those three days? He would have learned that FAILURE ISN’T FOREVER. Forgiveness is available for EVERYONE.


     A. And finally, we learn that FAILURE ISN’T FATAL. Judas needed desperately needed to hear, that. As Adam Hamilton said, “If he’d just waited three days.” But he dind’t.

     I read a story told about an eight-year-old girl who did something wrong. When confronted with it she got angry and argumentative with her mother. What started off badly quickly went from bad to worse. The girl refused to admit she had done anything wrong, even though she had been caught in the act. She finally ran out of the room in anger and went upstairs.

     She saw her mother’s new dress laid out for a party that evening. She was so angry that she found scissors and vented her hostility by ruining her mother’s new dress, seeking to injure her mother.

     Later the mother came upstairs, saw the dress, threw herself on the bed, and began to weep. It wasn’t long before her daughter came into the room and whispered, “Mother.” But there was no reply.

     “Mother, Mother,” she repeated, Still no reply.

     “Mother, Mother, please,” she continued.

     Finally, through her tears, the mother responded, “Please what?”

     The girl pleaded: “Please take me back, please take me back.”

     Of course the mother did take the child back, just as Jesus would have taken Judas back. All he had to do was ask.

     That is what the cross is all about. The cross is not about God’s love for saints. The cross is about God’s love for sinners like you and me. It’s about second chances for people just like Judas. FAILURE ISN’T FINAL. FAILURE ISN’T FOREVER AND FAILURE ISN’T FATAL.  

     Jesus always has the last word if we’ll just listen. WATCH THIS


     In Louise Fletcher Tarkington’s poem The Land of Beginning Again, she writes:

          “I wish that there were some wonderful place

          Called the Land of Beginning Again;

          Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches

          And all of our selfish grief,

          Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door

          And never put on again.”

     The truth is there is a place just like that. You are in it. You may be here feeling like Judas today, feeling like a betrayer but God will take it for you.

     You may feel alienated and lonely, God will take it for you. You may feel like the world’s worst failure. God will take it for you.

     You see, every time we gather for worship we’re reminded that this IS the Land of Beginning Again. This IS a place of do-overs & second chances thru the forgiveness offered to us by Xst Jesus our Savior especially when the altar table is laden w/ feast of Lord’s Supper. It is a feast of Forgiveness. An all you can eat buffet of God’s Grace.       So, whatever it is that’s weighing you down, whatever it is that you’re holding back, whatever burden you’re carrying that you don’t think you can lay down or give up, it’s not too late.

     Even if you feel like a failure or betrayer or worst sinner of all. Even if you feel like the scariest disciple of all, Judas . . .

     This IS the Land of Beginning again. And the one who offers you New beginnings has invited you to Supper today.

     It’s a simple meal of bread and wine but so much more. It is a Meal of Beginning Again. It is a meal in which to confess our failure, refresh our spirits and renew our loyalty.

     It’s a simple meal with a simple invitation because Jesus wants you to know:

You see, every time we gather for worship we’re reminded that this IS the Land of Beginning Again. This is a place of do-overs and second chances through the forgiveness offered to us by Christ Jesus our Savior especially when the altar table is laden with the feast of the Lord’s Supper.

     So, whatever it is that is weighing you down, whatever it is that you’re holding back, whatever burden you are carrying that you don’t think you can lay down or give up, it’s not too late. This IS the Land of Beginning again. And the one who offers you new beginnings has invited you to supper.


This is the Word of the Lord for this day.



1.   Ray S. Anderson, The Gospel According To Judas