Summary: A look at Judas in the final week of Christ's life
Judas and Benedict
Matthew 26:14-16, 47-50
March 29, 2015
Saratoga, New York is famous for a couple of things. Firstly, Saratoga is home to a major Horse racing track, and secondly, Saratoga is famous because the last major battle of the Revolutionary War was fought in Saratoga and the surrounding area.
All that remains to remind us of this great and decisive battle is a huge stone statue which is 155 feet high. It stands against the backdrop of the Adirondack Mountains. Cut into the base of each of the four sides is a large niche bearing the name of one of the American military heroes who led us to victory. Above each name there is a great bronze likeness of the hero.
In the first niche stands General Horatio Gates; in the second, General Philip Schuyler; and in the third, Colonel Daniel Morgan. It is really impressive.
But as you walk around the corner to the fourth niche, there’s something missing and it’s striking. The name of the general is there; but the statue is strangely . . . conspicuously absent. This general once commanded West Point, He distinguished himself in battle at Lake Champlain, Quebec, and at Saratoga. You try to remember your US history lessons to understand the story.
It’s a story about a man who sold his soul to the enemy, eventually dying in poverty and disgrace. One person wrote, "The empty niche in that monument shall ever stand for fallen manhood, power prostituted, genius soiled, for faithlessness to a sacred trust."
Who was that man? Benedict Arnold!
What makes a titan like Arnold turn traitor to his country? For that matter, what makes a person turn from his or her first love of any kind? After all, we call cheating on someone we once promised to be faithful to as "extramarital exploration." We call stealing from a company or country as "creative accounting." We call lying to someone who trusts our word as "telling a half-truth." When we abuse a friend who trusted us, we say, “Oh, I didn’t know I hurt you.” Or we call our movement away from God as . . . "backsliding." In the end, it all comes down to the same word, doesn't it?
It's an uncomfortable word, isn't it? It kind of makes us squirm in our seats. Partly because we’ve been there. We’ve been betrayed . . . and when you’re betrayed, it hurts. It’s painful. AND we know what it’s like to be on the other side - to betray!
So, maybe it’s a good thing that we don’t throw too many stones at the Benedict Arnold’s of the world. It's not because they aren't distorted characters; they are . . . but it's never good luck or good sense to break mirrors.
Let’s take a look at the story of Judas Iscariot, the most notorious traitor / betrayer of all time. I think we'll see how easy it is for any of us to stumble, and so the steps we can take to ensure that when our name is on the wall of history, it won't be beneath an empty niche.
What is so shocking about what Judas did in the Garden of Gethsemane, is how loyal he must have seemed as he rode across the battlefield on Palm Sunday. We can't know for sure what was going through Judas' mind as he came through the gates of Jerusalem that day. We don't know for certain why Judas followed Jesus in the first place. But it doesn't seem far-fetched to think that Judas might have been moved by the same interests that move us to make some of the commitments we make.
Matthew 26 tells us before the Last Supper - - -
14 Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests
15 and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver.
16 From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over
As the story continues, after praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, Matthew wrote -
47 While Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people.
48 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest Him.”
49 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed Him.
50 Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”
And we know the rest of the story. The question is why. Why Judas, why? Maybe Judas was drawn by the perks. Think of the benefits that came with traveling in the company of a famous rabbi like Jesus. Most of the time, you received free shelter and food. You were able to meet interesting and important people. You got the admiration of others and, better yet, access to the common purse. In John's Gospel, in chapter 12, John tells us ~