Good morning and welcome to our eighth annual Sunrise Service here at Dove Mountain Park. I know many of you have joined us in prior years – in fact there may even be a few of you that have been with us all eight years. And if you’ve been with us before, you probably know that on Easter, I like to focus on a person whose life was impacted in a significant way by the event we’re celebrating this morning – the resurrection of Jesus.
So in past years we’ve seen how the resurrection impacted people like Mary, Thomas, Peter, John, and the Roman guard. And in each case, their lives were changed radically because of the resurrection of Jesus. But this morning I’m going to take a little different approach. Today, we’ll focus on someone who missed the greatest historical event in the history of mankind.
This morning we’re having a sunrise service. Depending on which source you use the sun officially rose this morning in Tucson some time between 5:59 and 6:03 a.m. Obviously it rose a little later right here because the Catalina Mountains are between us and the sun. So technically if you arrived right at the beginning of the service this morning you missed the sunrise. But there is another “Sonrise” that I want to make sure that none of us miss – the rising of God’s Son, Jesus, from the grave that very first Easter morning.
Unfortunately Judas missed that most important “Sonrise” ever. Most of us know that Judas is the one who betrayed Jesus to the Jewish religious authorities. But I think we tend to forget what happened to him after that. As we read the account of Jesus’ arrest and His trial before the Jewish council and the Roman authorities in Matthew’s gospel account, Matthew records what happened to Judas during that process:
Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.
Matthew 27:3-5 (ESV)
To me this is one of the saddest accounts in the entire Bible. Just think about it. Had Judas just waited three more days, He could have witnessed the greatest event in the history of mankind – the resurrection of Jesus – and personally experienced the changed life that could have been his as a result of that event.
Unfortunately, nearly 2,000 years later, people are still missing out on that same “Sonrise”, probably for some of the very same reasons that Judas missed it. So this morning, let’s take a few minutes to see if we can figure out why Judas missed that “Sonrise” and use what we find out to make sure that none of us miss it, too.
Judas missed out on the “Sonrise” because:
Although the Bible doesn’t tell us directly exactly why Judas did what he did, I think there is enough in the Biblical text to help us determine at least some of the reasons that Judas missed out on that “Sonrise”. I’m going to focus on just two of them this morning:
1. He didn’t understand God’s plan
Judas’ surname, Iscariot, probably means “a man from Kerioth”. If that is the case, then Judas would have been from a city in Judea and therefore the only one of the twelve apostles who was not a Galilean. So some have speculated that Judas became bitter over being the odd man out and that is what drove him to betray Jesus.
However, we just don’t have any Biblical evidence to support that theory. It seems much more likely that Judas never really intended for Jesus to die that day. There is some good evidence that Judas was probably part of a group known as Zealots. In the list of apostles in the Bible, he is listed in a pair with Simon the Zealot and it’s also possible that his surname, Iscariot, connects him with that group.
These Zealots, as a result of their misunderstanding of the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah, believed that if they incited war against the Romans the Messiah would arise against them and God would install His king to rule over Israel.
At first, Judas and the other Zealots were very excited about Jesus and His early teachings and the miracles that He performed, which led them to believe He was in fact the Messiah they were looking for. But as Jesus began to talk more and more about dying on the cross that just didn’t fit with their idea of what the Messiah should be like.
We see evidence that as Jesus failed to be the kind of Messiah that Judas wanted Him to be, Judas became more and more disenchanted with Jesus. He began to find fault with some of the things that Jesus said and began to steal from the funds that supported Jesus and His ministry.
So when Judas had the opportunity to betray Jesus, I really believe he did it because he believed he could force Jesus’ hand. Surely if Jesus was arrested and put on trial, He would prove Himself to be the conquering Messiah that Judas and the other Zealots were waiting for and He would overthrow the Roman government and set up His own. And as part of Jesus’ inner circle, certainly Judas would have an important position in that new government.
But the problem is that Judas and the other Zealots did not have a right understanding of what the Old Testament prophecies taught. While it is true that one day Jesus the Messiah will return to this earth and establish His permanent rule, at His first coming He came as the suffering servant that Isaiah, in particular, had predicted. It was only as that suffering servant that Jesus could save people from the penalty of their sins by dying on the cross and coming back to life three days later.
Today people still miss the “Sonrise” because they do not understand God’s plan. The idea that someone would die on a cross in order to pay the penalty for our sins seems foolish to many people. That is why the apostle Paul would write these words years later:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
1 Corinthians 1:18, 21-24 (ESV)
Perhaps this morning, you’ve missed out on the “Sonrise” because God’s plan doesn’t really make a lot of sense to you either. I’m assuming that since you’re here you probably at least believe in the fact of the resurrection of Jesus. But unless you’ve trusted in the death and resurrection of Jesus as the only way that you can be made right with God, then maybe you’re a lot like Judas – you know about Jesus, maybe you’ve even spent some time with Him, but you’ve never understood God’s plan enough to really trust Him.
If that’s the case, then my words aren’t going to convince you this morning to make that decision to trust in Jesus. But if you really are seeking to understand God’s plan for your life and you pray and ask Him to help you understand it, that is one prayer that I am confident God will answer every time it is prayed.
So first of all, Judas missed the “Sonrise” because he didn’t understand God’s plan. But there was a second reason that he missed that “Sonrise”
2. He wouldn’t wait on God’s timing
As we examine the text carefully, we see that it is not until Judas sees that Jesus has been condemned to death that he returned the money to the Jewish leaders and then went and committed suicide. In Judas’ mind, all was now lost. Jesus could not possibly be the Messiah he had been waiting for.
To me, this is the saddest part of all. Even after Judas had lived with Jesus for three years and observed all the miracles that Jesus had performed and the way He had changed people’s lives, Judas had no faith that this was not the end for Jesus.
What is interesting is that all the other apostles had their doubts, too. They publicly denied that they knew Jesus and then during the trial and crucifixion all but John went into hiding and they were still there three days later when Jesus rose from the dead. And yet, they all had enough faith in Jesus that they remained together, hoping that this was not the end. Even though they certainly didn’t understand everything, they patiently waited for their Lord.
Most people don’t hold Judas in very high regard. I’ve never known anyone who names their baby boy Judas. And we still use his name today to describe a traitor. And even today, there are those who still blame Judas for Jesus’ death.
But I certainly don’t hate Judas; instead I feel really sorry for him. Had he just waited a few more days to see the entire drama played out, he, too, could have experienced that “Sonrise”. And I’m convinced that if he had just patiently waited like the others, he, too, would have finally understood fully what those Old Testament prophecies meant and he, too, would have had his life radically transformed by the resurrection of Jesus.
I pray today that you haven’t missed out on the “Sonrise” because you’ve failed to wait on God’s timing. Perhaps you’ve had some tragedy or trial in your life and when God didn’t immediately come to your rescue, you turned away from God and you’ve missed that bright new beginning that God has in store for you. Again, my words this morning aren’t going to convince you to wait on Jesus. All I can do is promise you that, based on the Word of God, it’s never too late to commit your life to Jesus and experience the new life He has in store for you.
So what exactly was it that Judas missed out on by not understanding God’s plan and not waiting on God’s timing? Obviously a lot more than we can cover in the time we have remaining this morning, so let’s just look at three of the most significant.
As a result, Judas missed out on:
Judas was not the only one of the apostles that betrayed Jesus that night. Peter also let Jesus down. Let me read Luke’s account of that betrayal:
Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house, and Peter was following at a distance. And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
Luke 22:54-62 (ESV)
But because Peter was willing to be patient and allow God’s plan to played out in its entirely, even though he didn’t fully understand it at the time, Peter experienced God’s forgiveness through his faith in Jesus.
John’s gospel ends with the account of Jesus gently restoring Peter as they ate breakfast together on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. And then the book of Acts records how Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, becomes a powerful leader in the early church. And as a result of the forgiveness that he experienced firsthand, Peter later preached these words:
To him [Jesus] all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Acts 10:43 (ESV)
The only difference between Judas and Peter is that Judas was too impatient to wait for the forgiveness that Jesus offered. Judas even recognized and confessed his sin when he said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But because he missed the “Sonrise” he had no way for his sin to be forgiven. And because he had no way to deal with the guilt of his sin, he committed suicide rather than live with that guilt.
I think that one of the reasons that many people never trust their lives to Jesus is that they have this perception that doing so will rob them of their freedom. They think following Jesus is merely a long list of “don’ts” that is going to keep them from doing all the things they want to do. But the consistent message of the Bible is exactly the opposite. Following Jesus actually provides us with a measure of freedom that far exceeds anything this world has to offer.
During His earthly ministry Jesus dealt with a group of Jews who thought that they were free because of their heritage, but in reality they were actually enslaved in their sin. Listen to the words of Jesus as He addressed them:
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
John 8:31-36 (ESV)
Without faith in Jesus, it is impossible for us to get free from the bondage that sin brings into our life. That was certainly the case for Judas. Without trusting in Jesus, he had no way to get free from his sin and the guilt that it brought. So the only way that he thought he could escape those chains was to take his own life. But the reality is that his decision didn’t free him at all – it merely ensured that he would be in bondage for eternity.
It may very well be that Judas felt like the outsider among the apostles if indeed he was the only non-Galilean among the group. If that is the case then it is because he focused on that which made him different than the others – his racial heritage – rather than on the one who would have united him with the others – Jesus.
We see from the Biblical accounts that those who did wait on Jesus and experienced His life-changing resurrection experienced a level of intimate relationship that would have never been possible otherwise. One of those apostles, John, later wrote about that level of deep fellowship:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
1 John 1:1-3 (ESV)
Notice here that the deep fellowship John and the others experienced was on two levels. First, and most importantly, because of what Jesus did for them on the cross, they could have a deep personal relationship with God the Father and with Jesus. And, as a result of that relationship, they could also experience a level of fellowship with each other than is beyond anything that occurs naturally in this world.
Ultimately, Judas missed that crucial “Sonrise” because he was trying to gain the best of two worlds. He wanted to inherit the kingdom of God, but at the same time he wanted to gain all that the world could offer him. But in the end, he lost them both. But he shouldn’t have been surprised because Jesus had warned against trying to have the best of both worlds:
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.
Matthew 6:24 (ESV)
Perhaps there are some of you here this morning that are just like Judas. You want to experience the forgiveness, freedom and fellowship that Jesus offers. But you’ve missed the “Sonrise” because you’re trying to hang on to what this world offers as well. You’ve failed to understand God’s plan and/or you haven’t been willing to wait on God’s timing.
We know that at an event like this, we have people who are at all different stages in their walk with Jesus. Some have never entered into a personal relationship with Jesus through faith in Him alone as the means for that relationship. Others have taken that first step but have failed to mature. They are pretty much in the same place in that journey that they were when they first started. Many have been consistently growing in that relationship as they read the Bible and spend time in prayer on a regular basis. But from time to time, you come to a dry place on that road where you feel like you’re no longer experiencing the forgiveness, freedom and fellowship that Jesus offers the way you once did.
But wherever you are on that journey, we’re here to help you take the next step. That is why our church exists. Our purpose is to develop mature disciples who follow, serve and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. So if there is anything we can do to assist you, please let us know.
There are several ways you can do that. There is a flap on the bulletin that you can fill out and give to me or to one of our greeters after the service this morning. Just check one of the boxes there and provide us with your contact information and we’ll get in touch with you this week.
You can see me after the service and we can set up a time to talk some more later this week. Or you can always go to our website and contact us that way by email, by submitting the contact form there or you can also call me directly at my personal cell phone number you can find on the website.
But whatever you do this morning, don’t leave here like Judas and miss the most important “Sonrise” ever.