Let the light of scripture flood my heart, oh God. Let the truth of your words be like a chisel, cutting away all in me that is not good, true, or beautiful, so that I may be conformed more and more to the pattern of Jesus Christ, my Lord, my Light, my Savior, my Hope, my Comforter, and my Deep Desire.
This morning I spent thirty minutes reading two verses over and over, in order to let the weight of them—and they are very weighty!—sink in. Read several times, slowly:
Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him. (Mark 14:10-11 ESV)
When I read through this very familiar scenario this morning, there were three phrases that hit me with a fresh sense of horror: “one of the twelve went,” “in order to,” and “he sought.” I think up until now, I have always imagined Judas as a passive player, unprepared for the temptation that would befall him when presented with an opportunity to betray Jesus for a small amount of money. But these phrases tell a very different story. Judas was not tempted to betray Jesus and fell into that sin. He went looking for it.
The betrayal of Christ was Judas’s initiative. He took the initiative to go looking for the chief priests in order to betray him to them. After they “were glad and promised to give him money,” he sought an opportunity to betray Jesus.
What happened to you, Judas?
We know that this was right after the scenario with the woman and the flask of expensive ointment. The text does not tell us which of the disciples were indignant about the “waste,” but my money is on Judas.
I think this was the last straw for him. He had been traveling with Jesus as one of the Twelve (one of the Twelve!!) for about three years or so at this point. I don’t know if his heart was ever in the right place, but I would imagine that Judas had gotten offended at some point early on and began tucking away his indignation, huffing and puffing at choices Jesus made along the way. Perhaps he felt let down by Jesus’s posture as servant, rather than warrior king. Perhaps he was fed up with the itinerant life of a disciple of Jesus—this is not what I signed up for! Maybe he had secretly always wanted to be among the chief priests—the people of power in the community—and disliked the way Jesus “handled” them, feeling embarrassed that his rabbi had made them enemies, rather than currying favor and being one of them.
Maybe he was just plain greedy.
Whatever the case, here he is, looking for a way to betray Jesus to people who wanted him dead.
I wonder how quickly Judas realized his mistake? I wonder how soon the torment of living with such darkness in his heart took hold? I wonder if he regretted his decision at all and wished he could get out of it? We know, if we have read the other gospels, that Judas’s life ended in suicide soon after this. We know that things did not go well for Judas from here on out… but that’s for another day.
There are a few important lessons that I take from these two verses.
First, this is an opportunity for us to identify with Judas—and repent. Honestly, when I read this passage this morning, I found myself examining my own life, wondering when and how I have sought to profit by exploiting Christ. It’s a horrible thought, right? But for those of us who actually make a living in ministry or by writing about Jesus or by serving in Christian education, we are in danger of the very same greed, entitlement, and exploitation of Christ that Judas was guilty of. This is a good time to check our priorities when it comes to ministry and our paychecks and ask God to show us wherever we might be in error.
Second, this is an opportunity for us to identify with Christ—and trust God for justice. Do you know what it’s like to be betrayed? Do you know the horror of discovering that someone you thought was a friend was actually looking for ways to trip you up and then tell others about your failure? Have you tasted the injustice of leading a team of supposedly righteous people, only to discover that one or more of them was out to somehow hurt you?
Jesus could have taken Judas out. Jesus could have exposed Judas’s evil plan and saved himself. He could have fled, he could have turned to his disciples to defend him. But he didn’t. He trusted God.
He trusted God when Judas betrayed him. He trusted God when the guards took him. He trusted God when he was beaten and crucified. He trusted that God was in control and that his suffering was part of God’s plan.
The apostle Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4:26,
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.
Judas might have been angry at Jesus early on for some reason or another. But anger that goes unforgiven becomes a root of bitterness in our hearts and gives an opportunity to the devil.
Instead, we are called to forgive as Christ forgave us. Again, Ephesians 4,
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:25-32 ESV)
This passage is a sober reminder that no one—not even one of the Twelve—is above the grip of Satan or above betraying Christ. And if we are to identify with Christ, we will also be betrayed. How will we respond?
Will we tuck away the anger, letting it fester and grow, making our hearts the devil’s playground?
Or will we turn to God, trust in God, forgive as Christ forgave, and love our enemies, leaving vengeance to God?
The application always begins with prayer, asking God to show us how this passage might inform our lives specifically. Perhaps you are a pastor with an elder board that is divided—some are for you, some are against you. Will you forgive? Will you trust God? Perhaps you have discovered that a co-worker has been whispering about you behind your back. Will you forgive? Will you trust God? Perhaps your young employee, whom you have invested in and sought to give every good opportunity to, has decided that she doesn’t trust you and is looking for a way to profit from you as she leaves you high and dry. Will you forgive? Will you trust God? The possible scenarios are endless, but the bottom line is, we have a lot to learn from both Judas and Jesus here. Will we forgive? Will we trust God?