*I wrote this for a another blog a few years ago. Photo credit © 2004 Icon Productions
What I learned in church about Judas
Betrayal is a word we don’t use much anymore. Over time most words lose their power because of overuse and misuse. One day we use the word in front of someone who gives us a sideways glance and says, “You know, I’m not sure we should use that word that way.” Suddenly we’re in a conversation discussing the power of a word we’ve long since dismissed.
Betrayal is a word that can still raise eyebrows.
Definitions are often modified over generations due to a changing culture. The definition of betrayal has remained the same, only to be permanently attached to proper names. Benedict Arnold betrayed his country. Brutus betrayed Caesar. Judas betrayed Jesus.
At church this past Sunday, the second reading was from Acts 1:12-26; Matthias is chosen to replace Judas. By this time the Apostles and all of Jesus’ followers had a chance to personally deal with the betrayal of Judas, but you get the sense from Peter’s words that the sting wasn’t gone yet. Peter doesn’t “let it go” and focus on the future. He takes this opportunity to remind everyone that Judas was wicked (he betrayed the Messiah) and incompetent (he couldn’t even hang himself).
In our Bible Study before the Worship Service, we talked about Judas and how we have, in some circles, romanticized Judas. Maybe he was the only disciple who really knew what was going on. Maybe he was just trying to give Jesus a push. Maybe he didn’t have a choice. Maybe he repented but believed he’d never be received back into the fold. All of this is speculation because even Jesus refers to Judas as the one who was lost and the son of destruction (John 17:12).
In the sermon, Pastor referred to Judas’ betrayal as a “compound fracture” in the church. Judas didn’t just betray his friends, he betrayed the Son of God. To show the depth of the betrayal, Pastor pointed to Matthew 10:7-8, where Jesus sends out the Twelve to proclaim the kingdom of heaven is at hand, heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers and cast out demons.
You know who was part of the Twelve? Judas.
Judas must have done all that. At some point, he must have reached out to a lame man and asked, “Do you want to be healed?” And then, by the Holy Spirit, healed the man. Judas must have proclaimed repentance and the forgiveness of sins like Jesus did.
Something changed for Judas.
Pastor took us to the event of Jesus’ anointing by the “sinful woman.” She poured expensive ointment on Jesus’ feet as she cried in sorrow over her sins. John, in his Gospel, points out that Judas thought this was a waste of resources. Judas said the ointment could have been sold and given to the poor. Most of us would call that selfless, but John knew the truth. Judas was a thief and in charge of the Apostle’s money bag; he often helped himself to the money and this would have been a windfall for him.
Betrayal doesn’t come from the unknown; it comes from a close friend. The pain of betrayal is like shock; at first you don’t feel anything and then you don’t know what to feel. The pain of betrayal doesn’t change the message of Christ.
Pastor told us about the persecution of the church under Emperor Diocletian, in the early 300’s and how there was a province in Africa where the Roman governor was a bit more lenient. That Roman Governor, rather than forcing pastors to renounce their faith by confession, only asked them to renounce the scriptures by handing them over. It’s difficult in those circumstances to say what those pastors were going through, or how we would react to such persecution, but there were some pastors who handed over the scriptures.
A man named Donatus saw this as an act of betrayal. These pastors were putting their lives ahead of the Gospel of Christ. Donatus, however, went further than betrayal. Donatus claimed that if you had been baptized by one of these pastors your baptism was invalid and these pastors could not be forgiven.
Pastor reminded us that the message of Christ is not dependent on the messenger. Our faith comes from Christ, not the speaker. Our baptism is in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not the pastor, or the baptizer.
There is forgiveness for the betrayer and reconciliation for the betrayed because it’s the power and faithfulness of Christ that trumps all. This is why God calls us to repent because He is faithful to forgive.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:17