Summary: In this series, we’re taking a closer look at those people who were around Jesus during his last days. This sermon looks at Judas Iscariot.

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“Were You There?” Sermon Series

Sermon #3 – Judas

March 19, 2006

Kory Wilcoxson

It’s always been a popular idea to give your child a biblical name. Did you know that our associate minister has three brothers named Matthew, Mark, and Luke? I guess Tim’s parents didn’t want to seem too religious by naming him John, so he’s Timothy. Some of the most popular biblical names are those of the disciples. Think about: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Phillip, Thomas, Matthew. I bet we all know a Simon, and probably even a Thaddeus and a Bart. If Leigh and I had a boy, we were considering naming him Matthias, which is the name of the 13th disciple who was appointed in Acts.

But how many Judases do you know? How many social situations have you been in where that name comes up? “Kory, I’d like you to meet Tom, Matt, and Judas.” Oh. How unfortunate. No one names their child Judas these days, because that name is associated with one of the most reviled characters in all of history, Judas Iscariot.

I find his universal condemnation to be a bit odd, actually. Judas did not accuse, try, condemn, sentence, mock, or spit upon Jesus. He didn’t put a whip to his back or a nail through his hands. And yet, he is often thought of as the essence of evil in this story. I guess anyone could have done those other things, but only a friend could betray, and betrayal is a most personal offense. No one attended Benedict Arnold Elementary School, and no one names their kid Judas.

Judas is a complex character in this drama who can’t be painted with a broad brush. He’s been portrayed a variety of ways, from heinous villain to unfortunate victim. I remember the first time I saw “Jesus Christ Superstar” I was shocked at how sympathetic a portrayal Judas was given. I always assumed he was an unfeeling opportunist looking to make a quick buck. But there’s more to Judas than meets the eye.

We don’t know a lot about him. The gospels don’t tell us about how or when he was called to follow Jesus, so we can only assume it was with the same enthusiasm and vigor as the others. I doubt Judas would have begun following Jesus with the plan to betray him. He saw Jesus, he believed, and he followed, like the other disciples.

We know that he was chosen to serve as the treasurer for the disciples, so he must have displayed some positive characteristics. This office is not usually given to someone thought of as greedy and irresponsible. It was a respected position and probably indicates the degree of esteem in which he was held. And yet, Judas isn’t even mentioned in Matthew’s gospel until chapter 10, and even in that first mention, he’s not labeled as the money-keeper, but as the one who betrays Jesus.

The burning question for me is, “Why did Judas do it?” In their gospels, Luke and John both say that Satan entered Judas and caused him to do what he did. Some might say that it was all a part of God’s plan and that Judas didn’t have a choice. But that lets Judas off the hook. I don’t believe either God or Satan controlled Judas like a marionette on a string. Do we ever lose our free will, our ability to make our own choices? If we can excuse Judas for his actions, then it becomes easy to make the same excuses for our own. “The devil made me do it.” If Judas didn’t have any choice in what he did, why would he be so grieved about it that he would take his own life? Judas has as much culpability in the Crucifixion as anyone else.

So why did he choose to betray Jesus? There are several theories that exist. The first one says that Judas was greedy and betrayed Jesus for the cash. But that doesn’t fit what we know. The amount of money he was given was modest, about the price you would pay for an injured slave, and later he returns the money. Besides, as the treasurer, he could have dipped his hand into the cookie jar anytime he wanted. There’s something more at work here besides greed.

Another theory says that Judas was disappointed that Jesus wasn’t the military hero the Jews were expected. Judas’ surname, Iscariot, may have been taken from the Greek word sicarrii, which means “dagger-bearer.” This word was also used to describe the group of Zealots who used revolutionary tactics to undermine the Roman authority. Judas may have been looking for Jesus to be the kind of savior who could lead this rebellion. When Judas realized Jesus wasn’t that kind of leader, he may have betrayed him out of anger or revenge.

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