Lord, I come to you hungry for spiritual nourishment and thirsty for spiritual depth. Use this time, I pray, to stir my soul, convict my conscience, and ignite my intellect to consider your ways and walk in them. Let my life be a testimony to all I meet, that you are good and your lovingkindness endures forever.
I have been reading different passages over the last few weeks, as I have been preparing for different things and doing some studying that I haven’t been ready to post here online (I will, though—and you’ll be the first to know about it!) I apologize to those of you who have expected this to be a daily or even weekly deposit in your inboxes or RSS feeds. That was my intention when I started this blog, and I have learned how difficult it is to maintain that rhythm when life is busy. (I still read and meditate most days—the missing piece is that I run out of time to actually write them out for you!) But this morning I’m back in Mark, reading Mark 14:17-21, with some thoughts to share:
And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”
(Mark 14:17-21 ESV)
My reflection is very simple this morning. When Jesus said to his disciples “one of you will betray me,” and they “began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, ‘is it I?’, it was because they knew what you and I also know—or need to know: it could have been them.
It’s fun to acknowledge that every one of us has the capacity for great things. I am a huge believer in drawing the best out of people. That’s a big part of what I do in my business, in fact, and in other areas of my life. I believe that everyone has the potential for greatness, and I spend a lot of my time working toward drawing greatness out of people.
What is not fun is acknowledging that every one of us has the capacity for horrible things, as well. We might get glimpses of it in subtle ways—unholy anger erupting unexpectedly when someone cuts us off in traffic or gossip flowing from our lips when an opportunity presents itself that is just too good to pass up. Or, the “glimpses” might be more like “spotlights,” when sin has taken over our lives and actions and words, and we are routinely betraying Christ and hurting those around us and ourselves. These, along with other things, are subtle—or no-so-subtle—reflections of the potential for evil that every one of us carries.
I believe that each of the disciples in the room with Jesus that night knew that it could be he who would betray Jesus. Surely each of them had been tempted. Surely each of them had battled sleepless nights (when we are at our most vulnerable to temptation) over whether he was, in fact, their Messiah. Worth devoting their lives to following. Worth the scorn and shame of being his disciples, especially when the heat was on.
I find it interesting that they didn’t automatically assume it was Judas Iscariot.
I find it interesting that their first assumption, their gut reaction, their initial response was that it could be them. “Is it I?”
It could have been.
In fact, at least two people betrayed Jesus that night: Judas and Peter. Remember? We’ll read about it again later in this same chapter. And forget about the fact that all of them eventually fled, though John was with Mary and the women again later, at the cross.
We need to spend some time every now and then being honest with ourselves about our capacity for betraying Christ. And we need to repent.
In fact, honesty about this and active repentance are keys to what comes next. Jesus said, “Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”
There are two ways I think of this passage—two things it could mean, in my estimation.
First, he is talking specifically about Judas. Someone is going to betray me tonight (Judas), and it would have been better for him never to have been born, because of the fallout of what is coming because of his betrayal.
He is talking about everyone who betrays him—and never repents.
The major difference between Peter and Judas on that night is not that Peter is good and Judas is bad. They are both bad guys that night. If the damnation Jesus speaks of here is about betraying Christ, period, then both men are in trouble. I think the major difference is that Judas went off on his own, separate from his community, where he wallowed in his guilt, eventually giving in to the guilt and shame until it killed him, while we can read in John 21 how Peter stayed with the others, remained with them in the upper room, and eventually faced Jesus, where he received forgiveness and was restored.
Every one of us has the capacity to betray Jesus Christ. We love him, we want to serve him and be faithful, but we constantly battle the “body of death” that Paul wrote about in Romans 7:24. The good and righteous law of God is constantly waging war against our sinfulness, part of our fallen nature that will be with us until our bodies and minds are renewed eternally in the new Jerusalem.
The important—even necessary, vital—thing we must always keep at the front and center of our lives is the Gospel of Jesus Christ—that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8), that if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Committing sin will rob us of joy, will rob us fellowship with Christ and with one another, and could even do damage to others in Christ’s name. Nothing good comes of betraying Christ. But our sin is not the end—at least, it doesn’t have to be. If we confess our sins, if we come to Christ in true repentance, eager to receive his mercy and be restored, abounding grace awaits.
Mediate for a moment in your heart. Acknowledge the ways you have been tempted to betray Christ, maybe even the ways you have betrayed Christ, in your heart, with your lips, or with your actions. Now don’t stay there. Confess these things to Christ and receive his restoration. Walk into this day in the clean conscience of Christ’s forgiveness. And show that love and mercy to others as you shine the light of one who has been forgiven in Christ.