Finding Judas

Jesus Christ was in the upper room and seated at the table with his men. They were keeping the Passover Feast as required by God. During this time together, he kept his disciples engaged in eating, drinking, washing, and teaching. However, suddenly, his demeanor and dialogue changed:

After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?”     (John 13:21-25)

The odd words of Jesus troubled his disciples. He had promised a betrayer, and they were not sure whether or not he was referring to them. But amidst all their uncertain questions, this was certain, no one focused on Judas and said, “That’s the turncoat! That is the fraud! That’s the betrayer! It’s Judas, isn’t it?” Instead, their minds and mouths were filled with hard questions. Where is the betrayer? Who is the brother undercover for another? Is the betrayer in the room? Is the betrayer at the table? Is the betrayer in my family? Is the betrayer in my seat and wearing my shoes?

Some of us ministers have painted Judas as the devil in human flesh. We have presented him as the serpent in human garb. For example, hear the words of G. Campbell Morgan, “I do not believe that Judas was a man in the ordinary sense of the word. I believe that he was a devil incarnate, created in history for the nefarious work that was hell’s work.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon followed in the manner by calling Judas a “man-devil.” Because we know the end of the story, we have the tendency to think of him as an eternal antichrist custom-made by the Prince of Darkness. However, perhaps we should think of Judas differently.

As a baby, when his father named him, “Judas” was a respected biblical name. It is certain that he was a circumcised and marked child of the covenant who was regularly catechized in the holy faith. As a teenager, he undoubtably travelled with his family to worship in local synagogues and at the required feasts in Jerusalem. Then, some years later as a young adult, one can imagine his aged parents must have been delighted to see their man selected to be a disciple of the traveling rabbi.

As a disciple, Jesus called for a radical commitment, “If any will follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” Judas heard the call, made his choice, declared his allegiance, and was “all in” as a disciple of Christ. He attended the seminary of all seminaries and made great progress in the sacred faith. Judas was trained by the best, influenced by a band of noble men, encouraged to sacrifice and serve, and driven to give back to his community — which he did. Jesus sent Judas and his brothers away from him with the following instructions, “Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. (Matthew 10:5-8)  This Judas did. He was a trained and ordained preacher, faith-healer, and exorcist, and like the other disciples, he did great service for God and man. Judas grew to become a well-respected and powerful minister of the Gospel. He was a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Judas was not a sadistic monster. He was not half-man and half-Satan. To the contrary, he was a child of the covenant, raised in the worshiping community, matured in the Master’s seminary, spiritually beneficial to his lost and hurting world, and responsible for many individuals finding eternal life in Christ Jesus. Judas was an exemplary minister in the Master’s service. And by those who knew him best, Judas was not noted for self-serving interests, abusive demeanor, or hedonistic lifestyle. Like the rest, Judas had a sweet Christian testimony and was recognized to be a godly individual. If he lived today, Judas would be the kind of man welcome in our churches, found behind our pulpits, invited into our houses, and trusted with our children.

But something went wrong, and Judas fell long, hard, and permanently. He stole from the Lord’s purse, abused the Lord’s female worshipers, and fell to the point that he could even betray Jesus with a kiss for a paltry amount of silver. Ultimately, according to Scripture’s testimony, his name became associated with the worst of antichrists. In all four Gospels, when the names of the disciples were listed, his name was always placed last. Matthew and Mark, inspired by the Holy Spirit, entitled him “the betrayer.” Luke called him “the traitor”, and John and Jesus referred to him as “the devil.” Why? What went wrong? What happened? How did a devoted disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ transition to become one possessed by the devil?

Friends, the story of Judas is one of a devoted disciple overly influenced by the world, the flesh, and the devil. He is one who put his hand to the plow and then looked back. He is one who started the race but failed to finish. He looked predestined but failed to persevere. He was like the plant that grew, produced fruit, and then withered away. He had worldly sorrow but not godly repentance. One might even say he “picked up his cross and followed Jesus” but then laid it down and did his own thing when the going got tough.

But sadly, the horrid tale of Judas is not one and done. No, it is repeated over and over again in our own religious circles. Tragically, the blackest of hearts can strangely be found looking pious at the feet of Jesus. In our schools, seminaries, churches, and houses, there are many disciples of Christ who are being overly influenced by the world, the flesh, and the devil. And many of these will perish in such an unrepentant condition and find themselves eternally separated from the Christ they served. And this predicament is nothing new; Charles Spurgeon preached it well over a century ago:

Understand … that no gifts can ensure grace, and that no position of honor or usefulness in the church will necessarily prove our being true to our Lord and Master. Doubtless there are bishops (and pastors) in hell, and crowds of those who once occupied the pulpit are now condemned forever to bewail their hypocrisy.

Therefore friends, where is the next Judas? Here is the answer: those who grievously sin and seek not reconciliation with the Son, they are proving themselves to be the next Judas. Regardless of their past testimony and ministerial benefit, they are showing themselves to be hypocritical frauds. Such individuals may be overtly religious, know the truth, teach the truth, and be sorrowful over the consequences of sin. They may even have a long track-record of ministerial success behind them, but by their lack of repentance they prove themselves to be enemies of the Savior they serve. And if they perish in this unreconciled condition, they will find themselves disciples of Christ, kissers of Christ, who “go to the place where they belong.” (Acts 1:24-25)  Jesus looks at such men and women and pronounces his “woe” upon them. (Mark 14:21)  The Holy Judge declares his eternal curse, “It would be better for him if he had not been born.” (Matthew 26:24)  Such disciples are devilish; they are “lost, sons of perdition.” (John 17:12)

So, how can we know we are not the next Judas? Repentance is the key. We who grievously sin and deny Jesus Christ, and then follow our dastardly acts by repenting and bowing before the Son, we can find ourselves like Denying Peter, Arrogant James and John, Doubting Thomas, and the rest of the fellows. We can be like the thief on the cross and the centurion found below. Such horrid sinners are welcomed by the pierced hands of Christ and granted undeserved grace. Therefore, while being disciples who have been overly influenced by the world, the flesh, and the devil, we find ourselves even more greatly influenced by the grace and mercy of the long-suffering God. Such is the case for all who repent.

Therefore friends, repent today and worry not! Come to Christ, believe his promises, and confidently set out to be a more worthy and faithful servant. Repent, be reconciled, and then rejoice that Judas is not found in your seat wearing your shoes.

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