Cross Examinations: #2
Examining Key Witnesses In The Jesus Conspiracy
Why? If I had only one question to ask Judas that’s what it would be. Why? Why did you betray him? After all those years together, what was it that drove you to seal Jesus fate?
Was it the money? Was He not revolutionary enough? Were others outside the inner circle of twelve pressuring you to get Jesus to act on their understanding of what the Messiah was supposed to do and be? Did you become disillusioned when the miracles stopped and Jesus began all the talk about the cross and sacrifice? Why? I want Judas to look me in the eye and tell me why he betrayed his friend?
But that’s not the only “Why” question I have. I want to know “Why did he hang himself? Why did he choose Passover and the garden of Gethsemane. And why did he do it with a kiss?”
Judas Iscariot has gone down in history as the one who knowingly committed the most heinous and famous betrayal of all time. His name is forever associated with the words traitor, turncoat and deserter. Shepherds call the goat that leads the flock of sheep to slaughter the “Judas Goat.” Thanks to Mario Puzo and the Godfather series of books and films, we all know about the “Kiss of death.”
Judas, I’ve never met anyone named Judas. I’ve met a couple of guys named Jude and I know a guy named Jud. But I don’t know a single Judas. And we know why! No one wants to bear the stain associated with that name. But it wasn’t always like that. Let’s look at the Scripture for this morning from Matthew and then we’ll see what we can learn from the life of The Betrayer: Judas.
Matthew 26:20-25, 36, 45-50
 When it was evening, [Jesus] took his place with the twelve;
 and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”
 And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?”
 He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.
 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.”
 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.”
 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”
 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.
 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.”
 At once he came up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.
 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him.
I. THE MAN:
The name “Judas” wasn’t always such a horrible name. It was almost as common as the name Jesus in that time period. We often overlook the fact that two out of the twelve disciples were named Judas. Luke 6:16, the last verse of Luke’s list of the Twelve Apostles tells us that, “Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor” were both part of Jesus inner circle. Both Matthew and Mark changed the name of “Judas the son of James” to Thaddeus, to make sure there was no confusion.
Up until that infamous moment in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas was a well-respected name. It means “Praise Yahweh” or “Praise God.” It was made popular by the Jewish hero Judas Maccabaeus who led the nation in their fight for independence from Syria in 166 B.C.
We know that Judas was the son of Simon Iscariot. As Mel pointed out last week in talking about Mary Magdalene, the second name is a descriptive of the individual because they had such a popular or common name. Just as Magdalene denoted where Mary was from, Iscariot tells us where Judas was from. Iscariot is an Aramaic word which means “man of Kerioth”, a town near Hebron in Judea. Judas was the only disciple from Judea.
We know he must have been trusted and assumed trustworthy, at least at the beginning, because he acted as treasurer for the Jesus and the Disciples. It’s not until later that we find out later that he was a thief and pilfered from the joint account as he had need.
And I think the important thing to remember is that Jesus chose him. Jesus called Judas to be his disciple, just like he called the rest of the twelve. Jesus saw potential in Judas. If Jesus saw so much potential in Judas, why did it turn into such a mess?
II. THE MESS:
I don’t know why Judas betrayed Jesus. There are all kinds of theories. Some say Judas was fascinated by Jesus’ revolutionary preaching and assumed he was building the people to throw Rome out and retake their homeland. Judas didn’t think Jesus was moving fast enough and tried to push the revolution into fast track.
Others think it was simply because Judas was corrupt and was in it for the money. But the 30 pieces of silver was only equivalent to about 4 months wages. So that doesn’t make sense.
Others say he was currying favor with the powers that be. If that’s true, then they used him, chewed him up and spit him out without a second thought.
Was Judas a Victim? No? No more of a victim than you are I. Only thing he was truly a victim of is sin, just like the rest of us. We’re victims of our sinful nature and our sins of the past. We’re victims of our separation from God. We’re victims because in midst of that separation, rather than going to God, we try to fill the void or the gap in our lives with stuff that doesn’t actually fill that gap.
We know it but we keep throwing stuff into the hole. The problem is that pretty soon, if we don’t step across the gap on the only bridge God ever built, the Cross of Christ, that gap, that hole, that void in our lives will swallows us up just like it did Judas.
Some say it doesn’t matter what Judas’ motive was because he was born and chosen for this job. Was Judas predestined or fore ordained for that moment? Did he betray Jesus because he didn’t have a choice? I don’t think so. If God compelled Judas to be the betrayer, if all of this was set up and planned from the beginning of time, then that means, unlike us and everyone else God has created, Judas had no free will. I believe in free will too much to agree with that.
I believe each of the Disciples had equal opportunity and could have betrayed Jesus for their own reason. Peter almost did. He didn’t betray him but he certainly denied Jesus three times.
Judas wasn’t a victim. Judas had as much choice as any of us. He chose his own path.
III. THE MEANING:
A. I’m not sure why Judas chose to do what he did but I do know this: there is no pain, no wound deeper than the one caused by betrayal. Betrayal is a personal decision, an act of will against another person or cause. It’s not something you quietly slip into. It’s not a casual choice. It’s calculated, premeditated, and totally self-centered. It’s a tormented, angry soul beating down another soul. And I personally think betrayal seals its own fate.
We’ve all experienced betrayal. We’ve all been either the betrayed or the betrayer.
Betrayal always causes and always leaves a huge mess. One of the reasons that betrayal hurts so much is because it IS so personal.
How do you enter the mind and heart of a betrayer? How do you learn from someone else’s evil intent without it corrupting your own heart to do evil in kind? How do you move past the inner desire for revenge? Not just the eye for an eye, even things up idea of Retribution. But Revenge, the get even and in my anger take out your whole family and all your friends for the pain and humiliation you caused me?
How do you move past the inner desire for Revenge and Retribution, plumb the depth of your soul and truly tap into the depth and breadth and width and height of your faith so you can willingly, knowingly, faithfully seek Redemption and Reconciliation with the person who has betrayed you?
In 2005 I had the opportunity to spend three weeks in Ireland. I served on an International team working with the Irish Methodist Church to establish the Upper Room’s Walk to Emmaus ministry. While in Ireland we rode the train or a bus nearly everywhere. Their mass transit system is incredible. One of the first things I noticed was the sign on the floor as you entered and exited the train. We would say: “Watch Your Step” but their sign reads: “Mind the Gap.”
The only way you can faithfully seek Redemption and Reconciliation with the person who has betrayed you is by “Minding the Gap.” And what I mean by that is that God chose to use the cross of Jesus, the cruel instrument of the death of his Son, as a bridge across the gap, the void, the hole caused by our sin that separates us from God.
When we “Mind the Gap,” when we keep our eyes and our hearts focused on Jesus and what He did for us, then the strength and the power of Christ’s Reconciling love and Redemptive act begins to work in our lives. We experience forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation. And in receiving, we’re called to freely give.
It’s hard. But it’s not impossible. Remember what the angel told Mary when she realized she was pregnant and asked “How can this be?” The Angel answered, “nothing is impossible for God” It wasn’t even impossible for Judas.
B. In the end, whatever it was that Judas thought was missing in Jesus’ ministry, whatever his motivation for the betrayal, the minute Judas came to his senses, Scripture says “he repented,” threw the money back at those who had bribed him and then in his grief and remorse went and hanged himself.
He repented, but he thought he couldn’t be forgiven
He repented, but he didn’t wait to hear Jesus’ words from the cross
He repented, but it didn’t touch his heart
He repented, but it didn’t reach to the depths of his depression
He repented, but he didn’t wait to find out the verdict
Poor Judas never even got to Friday and the crucifixion to hear Jesus words from the cross.
He repented, but then he went and hanged himself.
What we need to remember, is that Jesus’ first words on the cross were a prayer of forgiveness that reached across time and space for everyone, including Judas.
But Judas didn’t hear those words. He took his own life and cut himself off from the reconciliation and forgiveness of Christ.
If he’d just waited. If Judas had been a little more patient. If he hadn’t looked through the narrow eyesight of his own expectations and been able to see what Jesus was actually doing. If he’d only waited a couple of more days, he could have felt the same forgiveness and reconciliation that Peter received on the beach over grilled fish and bread.
C. For us I think there’s a couple of things to remember. First and foremost I think we’re called to “Mind the Gap” We are called to keep our focus on what Christ has done for us and for the world. We’re called to keep our focus on the cross which bridges the gap between us and God, the gap caused by our sin and disobedience.
Second, if Jesus reached across space and time, and wrapped his loving arms around everyone: past, present and future; if Jesus included everyone when he prayed “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing” then the Good News is that YOU are included in that prayer. Jesus prayed for God to forgive You. All you have to do is accept it. All you have to do is let Christ bridge the gap between your life and God.
My challenge is this: Don’t let another day or another moment go by. Let go of the burden of the betrayals you were involved in. Let go of the pain you still carry from the times you were betrayed. Leave them at the foot of the cross where they belong. Today is the day to Mind the Gap.
There are a lot of questions I want to ask Jesus when I get to heaven which I’m sure will be made crystal clear the moment I look into his eyes as He welcomes me. But there’s one in particular that has always bugged me. It still bugs me?
That question? “Is he here? Is Judas here?”
I hope the answer is “Yes!” I hope Judas was eventually able to lay all those burdens down. And I hope and pray you will, too!
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.