1) God’s sovereignty and human free will need to always be held in tension and we see this in Judas’ choice to betray Jesus. That’s the first point.
2) Judas is condemned because he lacked repentance and faith.
Now, let’s look at the character of Judas more specifically. Within the group, he was the keeper of the money bag. He was the group treasurer. So we can presume that people thought he was trustworthy. Would I entrust a new Christian whom I barely know, who is in a lot of financial debt and bumming around at his parent’s house with the role of treasurer of this church? Probably not. Because I want to see the person grow in faith and stand up to various temptations and prove that he can be trusted. And this trust is earned over a period of time. And for whatever reason, Judas is given that position of trust.
Fast forward, three years later, and this person who was presumed to be trustworthy is betraying Jesus for thirty silver coins. Which if you remember in Zechariah, this was an insulting low amount of money offered to Zechariah. It was the price for a slave in Old Testament times, and considering inflation, by Jesus’ time, that must have been a really, really small amount of money.
What happened between Judas being the trustworthy treasurer, to him starting to dip his hands into the funds from time to time, and now he reaches the point of betraying Jesus for a measly thirty silver coins?
The Bible doesn’t say. But we can presume that like the rest of the disciples, Judas started out with good intentions. He wanted to please God so he must have been a faithful Jew looking for a Rabbi to be trained under. Then Jesus comes onto the scene. And he’s no ordinary Rabbi. He is the rock star of Rabbis. Great crowds are following him so you know this guy is good. He speaks with authority. Judas has never heard teachings like this before from other Rabbis, so at least at the beginning, Judas must have been impressed. In addition to that, Jesus performs miracles. So Jesus is powerful. And I could imagine Judas thinking, I need to align myself with this guy. This Jesus character is going places and when he rises to the top, I want him to take me with him.
And what started out for Judas as a pure desire to live a pleasing life before God, somewhere along the way, his heart shifted. Jesus was not measuring up to his unspoken expectations. So Judas was disappointed. Maybe he wanted Jesus to exercise his force like a powerful king and defeat all enemies of Israel. And because of this rise to power, Judas could occupy an important government post. Who knows why? We can only speculate what those unmet expectations were. What we do know is that this choice to betray Jesus was not an overnight, impulsive decision. How do we know that? Because he had been stealing from the treasury for some period of time prior to the betrayal.
This means, for some period of time, Judas was there physically, he was part of the group, he was listening to the same sermons and having the same experiences as the other 11 disciples, but he was not really there in his heart. He was checked out. And while people like Peter were always blurting things out so that Jesus could correct his thinking, Judas remains relatively quiet throughout the gospels. So these hidden, unspoken expectations that Judas had for the kind of Messiah Jesus would be were never hashed out in the open. Instead, they festered in the dark corridors of his heart.
I believe once you are saved, you are always saved. And Judas was there with Jesus, the Author of Life and you wonder, how come he didn’t get it? He wasn’t saved. But wasn’t he literally part of Jesus’ inner circle, he was part of a community of faith with other disciples, the first ever local church? Yet, he was not saved. And what’s worse, he had no chance to be saved because he’s physically there, but his mind and his heart were checked out and he has been checked out for some time. So nothing that Christ has been saying is really penetrating into Judas’ heart. He is just getting information. He was a mere religious man attending religious events but there was no spiritual regeneration, no inner transformation, no born-again moment, no salvation.
Does this describe you this morning? Maybe you came into the church and you walked in with a list of needs. You are here because you are lonely and you want some fellowship. You’re looking for some friends. Or you want to find a spouse and a church seems a safer place to find one than a dorm party. Or if you are married already, maybe you came because you want to teach your kids some morals so that they don’t get into trouble later in life. Isn’t that why parents with young children return to the church? Or you want your spouse to listen to messages about fidelity and commitment because you don’t want to be just a statistic of another failed marriage. Or you want therapy, you want to be told that you’re okay, that things are fine. Sin? What sin? Don’t worry about it. Or you just want reassurance that you are going to heaven, or you need some direction, or just some religious advice. And some of those expectations were met along the way. Other expectations have been sorely unmet. And because you came with a list of wrong expectations, nothing that you hear from Jesus is really penetrating. And you are a bit disappointed with Jesus, although you would never verbalize it. So you continue to attend church and Christian meetings. And you’re here, but you are not really here. You’re checked out.
Others of you are here and you did meet Christ and you are saved, but you, too, are checked out. It’s been so long, you can’t even remember the last time you were really engaged, when the messages caused your hearts to burn, and you enjoyed an intimate walk with God. In college, I couldn’t wait for the weekend. Why? Because I could attend bible study on Friday and church on Sunday. That was always the highlight of my week.
But life disappoints us and we get old. It’s like opening a box of cereal. I love opening a new cereal box. In college, I ate cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The first few bites, the cereal is so fresh and crisp. But over time, the pieces get stale. Has your love for Jesus grown stale? You didn’t intend it to become this way, but maybe you feel like Jesus or church leaders or mentors have let you down and so you stopped expecting much out of being a Christ follower. You stopped expecting that God would speak to you on Sundays. But you keep coming out of obligation or habit or for social reasons. Along the way, you settled. You stopped having vision for your life. You stopped caring about others except those who you feel comfortable with. And so maybe this morning you are here physically, but you are checked out. And because you are checked out, maybe you’re not committing a major betrayal of Christ, but the sins of indifference and other “minor” sins have been piling up.
To both groups, I invite you to be present today, not just physically, but in terms of our minds and hearts. Be engaged. Eagerly anticipate how God will work whenever we gather. Be present each time we assemble as an ekklesia, as part of this body of Christ. We’re not here to gain biblical insights, or receive advice about how to live better, moral lives. That’s a seminary class for Ethics or Religious Studies. No one here is collecting your devotional journal to judge your performance this past week. Nobody is grading you on your prayer life. But Jesus sees our hearts. And I pray that we’re here, not to have our secondary needs met or simply out of habit, but because we are in desperate need of a Savior.
This is precisely the crucial point that Judas missed. Judas was not saved because he lacked repentance and faith. Repentance is simply an admission of our need for a Savior. You look inside your heart and you know, things are not right. Judas should have known that things were not right. He was a thief. He was stealing money on a regular basis. You might say, I don’t do blatantly bad things. It’s not like I am stealing. I’m not hurting anyone. If you are having a trouble seeing your need for repentance, I would ask you to examine your thoughts. We have a way of classifying sins into different levels — murder, stealing, adultery — these are the major, tier one sins. The rest are minor, they are not that big a deal. And we classify these as the not-so-bad tier two sins. We all commit these minor sins, right? But Jesus says lust is as bad as adultery. And hatred is the same as murder. Jesus says the major and minor sins, overt sins as well as hidden sins, these are all the same in the eyes of a Holy God. The Bible says, we are all sinners, there is no one righteous, not even one.
Jesus said twice to Judas, you are going to betray me. But Judas denied it both times. Later in Matthew 27, we read how Judas saw the result of his actions. Jesus was condemned to die and Judas was full of remorse, he felt awful. If he could, he probably would turn back time and take back what he did, but he learned the painful lesson that what is done is done. Life is not a game. There is no reset button. What’s done is done. We make some bad choices and God holds us responsible for those choices. And at that point, Judas still could have repented and turned to Christ. Instead, he took matters into his own hands. He took his guilt and punished himself. It was his final act of defiance as he turned away from Christ and toward himself in a vain attempt to atone for his own sins.
We can’t atone for our sins. We can only confess our sins and ask for forgiveness. This is amazing grace. That is why the gospel is so liberating. The burden of atonement was never meant to be on our shoulders. Christ puts that burden squarely on his shoulders. And this is why Judas’ story is so tragic. We can’t atone for our own sins. Self-atonement doesn’t work.
We are like that jar of clay that should be smashed from the book of Jeremiah. Because of our sin and rebellion, we deserve to be destroyed, we deserve death and eternal separation from God, outside the walls of the city, in gehenna. In the same way that the Israelites rejected their good shepherd, Zechariah, we, too, rejected our Good Shepherd, Jesus. But instead of leaving us in our captivity to sin and certain spiritual death, Jesus, our Good Shepherd had mercy on us. Jesus took all of our sins upon himself, he became sin for us and he endured the punishment we deserved. This is the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. By the shedding of Jesus’ innocent blood, our sins are atoned for because we can’t atone for our own sins. Why? Because the wages of sin is death. Judas tried to atone for his own sins, but he died as an unforgiven sinner. Jesus came to bear the punishment for our sins, he came to atone for our sins, he satisfied the just requirements of a holy God because Jesus himself was innocent, he was sinless. And this sinless man became sin for us, He took our place and died the death we deserved. And through that sacrifice, we can be reconciled to God and live eternally with him. This is the gospel message.
To be saved, we have to repent and recognize our need for a Savior. And repentance goes hand in hand with faith. Repentance is a turning away from ourselves and faith is a turning toward Christ. We place our faith in Him. He is the object of our faith. We trust him. We surrender ourselves to him, our dreams and plans, we lay them down and say, Jesus, I will deny my life because I am going nowhere apart from you. I am guilty, forgive me. That’s repentance. Lead my life, I’ll follow you. That’s faith.