Summary: The story of Judas Iscariot, and his betrayal of Jesus, should remind us to examine ourselves. We need to avoid betraying Jesus in twenty-first century style. As Judas attempted to re-make Jesus and then abandon Him when He was not the "Jesus" Judas wan
Surely Not I, Teacher?
Those are the words of Judas as he was about to betray Jesus.
We now approach the Easter season. In our culture Easter is a happy holiday with bunnies and candy. But the events leading up to what we could anachronistically call “the first Easter” were anything but happy and pleasant. I haven’t seen the movie, but apparently Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ makes this unpleasantness abundantly clear - just in case we have forgotten what the book versions says.
I would like to focus on one of those unpleasantries today. I want to draw our attention that arch-villain figure: Judas Iscariot. As someone commented, you hear a lot of people named after people in the Bible, but you never hear of a mother naming her child “Judas Iscariot Jones” or anything like that.
It’s no wonder, is it?
What We Know About Judas
Judas was one of “the twelve” whom the Bible tells us Jesus designated as His Apostles. Judas was present even when Jesus said, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (John 6:70) Judas was “from Kerioth” which is a small town in southern Judah - that’s what “Iscariot” apparently means. So Judas was from Judah, and not a Galilean as were the other Apostles.
But he was one of the twelve, and this means that Judas was present for all those amazing things Jesus did - all the signs and wonders He performed. He was present when Jesus fed the thousands. In fact, must have done some amazing things himself, for we read in Mark 10:4 that Jesus “called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.”
Judas was very familiar with Jesus’ teaching. He was present to hear “the sermon on the mount.” He was present for Jesus’ teaching in parables. Not just that, but he was also there when Jesus gave a private explanation of the parable of the sower in Mark chapter 4. I find this especially ironic. Was Judas like the hard path where the seed that is the word of God falls and then is taken away by Satan? Was he the rocky place where the seed grows a little but then dies out from lack of depth? Or was Judas that thorny ground where the seed tries to grow but is choked out by, as Jesus said, “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things.”?
That last one is more than a little intriguing, is it not? For there came a time near the end of Jesus’ life when Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (whom, by the way, we have to presume Judas saw Jesus raise from the dead!) opened a bottle of expensive perfume and poured it onto Jesus. While she did this to honor Jesus, John’s gospel tells us that Judas especially objected. “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?” said Judas. “ It was worth a year’s wages.” John goes on to tell us (12:4) that Judas did not say this because he really cared about the poor. He said it because he was a thief who was the “keeper” of the treasury (and John uses a play on words here) who would “keep” some of the money for himself. Did Judas cringe a little when Jesus spoke of “the deceitfulness of wealth”?
It is interesting, is it not, how Judas is mentioned in the gospels without acrimony. When the lists of the Apostles are given in the gospels, all that is said of Judas is “the one who betrayed Him.” Some say the gospels are fiction, written to justify a baseless faith of the church. It’s an odd fiction that, rather than vilifying the villain, presents him as a pathetic character. Why have Jesus choose Judas as an Apostle if you are just making this story up? Why indeed? It gives the gospels that “ring of truth.”
But the point is this: Judas did not lack knowledge of Who Jesus really was and what Jesus stood for. He was as acquainted with Jesus as it was then possible to be. And yet he betrayed Jesus.
Judas, we are told, went to the chief priests. They didn’t come to him; he went to them. According to Matthew, Judas asked the chief priests “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” The Jewish leaders offered Judas thirty silver coins. Yes, Judas had a money problem, as we have seen. But he is with Jesus, who can make all the food you need. What motivated Judas? Was it just money, or something more?