Summary: Who is responsible for the death of Jesus? Consider his own disciples: a betrayer, a denier, and the rest deserters.
This morning we are beginning a series of sermons featuring the passion of Christ. The title of the series is Who is Responsible? Who is responsible for the death of Jesus? We will consider the cast of characters who make their appearance in the story and consider the roles they played. But I will reveal my hand now. As you look at each character, do not be surprised to find your own reflection.
We begin by looking at Jesus’ disciples, the men who had proven their devotion and loyalty to him, but in the hour of his need become known as the betrayer, the denier, and the deserters. Take first the betrayer.
We know less about Judas than we think. Many believe that the name “Iscariot” indicates he belonged to an extreme group of Jewish nationalists who assassinated Romans and countrymen who collaborated with Romans, much like Muslim terrorists today. Thus, Judas betrayed Jesus because Jesus failed to live up to messianic expectations of leading a revolt against Rome, or as an attempt to force Jesus’ hand against the Romans. That is a possible scenario, but it is speculation nonetheless. Why would a terrorist collaborate with the establishment? If he wanted Jesus dead, he had his own friends who could do the job. If he was trying to force Jesus to play his hand, he certainly miscalculated the man whom he had daily lived with for more than two years.
What baffles us, of course, is how Judas could betray Jesus. How could a man who been in Jesus’ inner circle, who had heard him teach and witnesses his miracles – how could he do it? We know nothing about Judas other than he served as Jesus’ treasurer. Judas kept the money bag. John claims that he was a hypocrite who pilfered money from the bag. Remember the story of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume and how the disciples protested her extravagance? John says that Judas was the one who spoke up:
But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it (John 12:4-6).
To put it plainly, Judas was a bad apple. And Jesus knew it. Another time, John reports Jesus as saying, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him (John 6:70-71).
Some think Judas betrayed Jesus for the sake of money. Besides the above example, the gospels report him going to the authorities and agreeing to receive payment. Matthew even quotes him asking for a price. Even so, he settled on a fairly cheap price. He must have demonstrated some kind of money sense, considering that he was entrusted with the group’s funds. And don’t forget other possible motives. Perhaps it was resentment. Even within the Twelve there was yet an inner circle of three disciples closer to Jesus made up of Peter, John, and James. Perhaps he did not think he got enough attention. More than one such person has murdered to get attention. Why did Satan as an angel turn against God? Why did Adam disobey?
In the end, Jesus gives the best answer: One of you is a devil. Indeed, John speaks of the devil putting the thought of betrayal into Judas’ heart (cf. John 13:2), and Luke goes so far as to say that Satan entered him (Luke 22:3). Whatever Judas’ motivation, at some point he became susceptible to Satan’s influence.
Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11 And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him….
Note Judas’ initiative. He goes to the authorities. They do not seek him out. Rather, he is a pleasant surprise to them. Their strategies had not figured on this boon to their efforts to entrap Jesus. We know from Matthew that Judas asked about the money. They did not dangle it before him as temptation. And then, he seeks the opportunity for betrayal. He is not a victim of circumstance; he exploits his circumstance for whatever it is that he supposes is his gain.
The time comes the one evening that Jesus stays after sundown in Jerusalem. During what would be known as the Last Supper, he slips out to alert the authorities. Again, note his involvement. He does not merely tell Jesus’ whereabouts. He leads the arrest party to the Garden of Gethsemane where he knew Jesus would be spending the night.