The story of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus is the most well known story of betrayal in the world. In America, Benedict Arnold is probably a close second. The story of Judas’ betrayal is often referenced in our culture. For instance, Lady Gaga wrote a song about Judas claiming the Judas is her demon while Jesus is her virtue.
One of my favorite pop culture references to Judas’ betrayal is an episode of the Big Bang Theory. On the show, Leonard and Sheldon are roommates. Sheldon has Leonard sign a bazillon page rental agreement including a lengthy friendship clause. The friendship clause, among a great number of ridiculous scenarios, stipulates that if Leonard or Sheldon ever gets to visit the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland than one will take the other. The collider was only being built at the time the friendship clause was signed.
As luck would have it, Leonard was invited to go to the Large Hadron Collider for a conference on Valentine’s Day. Leonard decides to take his girlfriend Penny so that they can celebrate Valentine’s Day in the Swiss alps leaving Sheldon behind. Sheldon tries to invoke the friendship clause of the roommate agreement. Leonard insists on taking Penny claiming he only agreed to the clause because he never thought he’d have a girlfriend. Sheldon feels betrayed. As a symbolic gesture of his hurt, Sheldon serves Leonard a tray of 30 pieces of silverware for lunch.
I’m sure we could come up with hundreds of other pop culture references to Judas’ betrayal. Judas’ betrayal is the topic of today’s sermon because someone asked: “Did Judas want to betray Jesus?” I want to offer some Biblical references to Judas’ betrayal, as well as some theological reflection on his actions.
The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of Judas this way. Judas was one of the Disciples. He went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I turn Jesus over to you?” They offered him 30 pieces of silver. He then waited for the opportunity to betray Jesus.
At the Last Supper, Jesus announces that one of the twelve will betray Him. After supper when Jesus and the Disciples were speaking in the garden of Gethsemane, Judas leads a crowd in to arrest Jesus giving the men the signal of who Jesus is by greeting Him with a kiss. Later, when Judas saw that Jesus had been condemned, Judas was filled with remorse. He tried to do penance by returning the silver to the chief priests and elders. The men would not accept the return so Judas threw it at them and left the Temple. Judas then went and hung himself.
The Gospel according to Luke says that Satan entered Judas before he went to the chief priests to make the deal to betray Jesus. The Gospel of John says that the devil had prompted Judas to betray Jesus. The book of Acts has a few details that are different than the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew says that Judas threw the money down in the Temple before leaving; the book of Acts says Judas used the money to buy a field. Matthew says Judas hung himself; the book of Acts suggests that he jumped off a high place and landed on the rocks.
There are 2 important things to consider here. The first is the devil’s influence on Judas. The other is Judas’ repentance.
The Gospels of Luke and John say the devil made Judas do it. The first time the Gospels mention Satan is when Jesus is tempted by him in the wilderness after His baptism. In the wilderness, after fasting for 40 days, Satan tempted Jesus to turn stone into bread, to test God’s willingness to save Him, and to have all the power in the world. There were 3 natural human instincts that Satan tested in Jesus: hunger, faith and power. Jesus was victorious over Satan’s testing.
Judas was not victorious over Satan’s testing. Judas had undergone the same testing that Jesus had endured in the wilderness. Judas was tempted in hunger, faith, and power. The Gospel of John says it was at the Last Supper when Satan entered Judas – it was after Jesus gave him a piece of bread. Jesus had given Judas the bread of life; yet, Judas ate the bread of lies allowing Satan to enter his thoughts and influence his actions.
Judas’ faith was tested like Jesus’ was. Jesus passed the test not to test God by throwing himself off a high place trusting God would send angels to save Him. Judas, however, failed the test of faith. Judas failed to see the lies of the chief priests and elders. They had trumped up charges and plotted to kill Jesus. Judas had already betrayed Jesus when he recognized the lies.
Finally, Judas was tested by power. Jesus had passed the test knowing that He had true power in the kingdom of God, where it mattered. Judas’ power struggle was the power of greed. Judas had managed the finances of Jesus and His Disciples. Judas wanted more money than what he already had to manage. Judas’ thirst for power was the power he thought would come with accumulating wealth.
If we’re honest, we would do no better than Judas did when tempted by Satan. Many people struggle with hunger. Some don’t have enough; while others struggle with addiction. Temptation leads us to choose a hamburger over a salad or pie over fruit.
Our faith is tested all the time. Doubt easily enters our thoughts. We want to handle things on our own versus trusting God to take care of it. We might wonder if it even matters whether or not we believe or come to church. We wonder if God even listens to our prayers.
Greed is a tricky one. Greed can trick us into rationalizing our wanting. We might think that we are entitled to what we want thinking that we deserve it for our hard work or always being good. We might think that we need it more than others. This comes from a mentality of scarcity over abundance. When we think there’s not enough, we need to hoard and hide it. When we think there’s enough for everyone, we freely share. Greed in terms of scarcity or abundance is actually a test of faith. Do we believe that God provides or do we think we have to provide for ourselves?
Having failed and given in to Satan’s temptation, Judas betrayed Jesus. When he recognized that Jesus was in fact innocent, he tried to repent of his sin. He was stricken with guilt. The Gospels says he was seized with remorse. He tried to return the money to the chief priests and elders, but they would not take it. Even if they had taken the money back, it would not have undone what Judas had done.
Here’s the difficulty of Judas’ story. We don’t know when he killed himself, whether by hanging himself or jumping off a high place. Did he know that Jesus had been crucified? Did he know of Jesus’ resurrection? Did he know that God had overcome the power of death in the resurrection? Did Judas understand the power of forgiveness and the gift of grace? If had gone on living, would the Disciples allow him to be one of them if he repent?
He had followed Jesus from the beginning. He had heard all of Jesus’ teaching. He had heard the message of repentance and forgiveness. But, did he understand it? Whether or not he knew of God’s forgiveness, he could not forgive himself. And so, he killed himself.
Judas failed as we often fail. Judas’ remorse drove him to commit suicide. We don’t have to feel the same level of remorse over everyone sin we commit. We do need to repent. We do need to be contrite and show God our remorse. We don’t need to kill ourselves over every sin we commit, because we understand the power of forgiveness, kinda.
We understand repentance and forgiveness, mercy and redemption. We can know that God has forgiven us yet still carry around the burden of guilt. Knowing that we have been forgiven by God is not the same as receiving forgiveness from God, another, or ourselves.
I had a friend who divorced her husband after cheating on him. She didn’t feel like she was worthy of being his wife after she had betrayed his trust. She couldn’t bring herself to tell him what she had done, but she couldn’t live with the lie looming over their marriage. For over a decade, she kept the lie from him. She dated man after man always ending it badly. She would never have a meaningful, lasting relationship because she still carried around her guilt. She had not received her ex-husband’s forgiveness and had not forgiven herself. As long as she carried that guilt around, she was killing any chance she had at happiness.
Judas’ remorse is a great lesson to us. We need forgiveness, accept it and give it in order to have any kind of life. We can’t really understand God’s forgiveness unless we accept forgiveness from others and forgive ourselves. Perhaps Satan’s greatest temptation is for us to carry around guilt for sins that have been forgiven.