Night of Betrayal
I: -- “It
would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”
Simply to hear the words is to shudder.
“He would have been better off if he had never seen the light
of day.” Who said it?
Jesus did. As a
matter of fact, scripture says the most chilling things about Judas,
things that ought to make our blood run cold.
“Judas went out,” John says, “and it was night.”
Judas stumbled out into a darkness whose irretrievable bleakness
and impenetrable blackness had nothing to do with a moonless evening.
Following the death of Judas, Luke says with commendable brevity
and restraint, “Judas went to his own place.”
No doubt Judas felt somewhat awkward in the
apostolic band. The other
eleven fellows, plus Jesus, came from Galilee, in north
. Galileans spoke with their
own accent (as a servant girl was later to remind Peter.)
In addition, Galileans were known as “people of the land.”
They were earthy, unsophisticated (even crude, by some
standards). Judas, on the
other hand, came from Judea, in south
. Judeans weren’t
“people of the land.” Judeans
were more urbane, more polished, more accustomed to finding their way
among the cultivated and the power-brokers and the financially aware.
At the same time, Jesus called Judas to be a disciple in exactly
the same way, and for exactly the same purpose, that he called others to
be disciples. Since the
Kingdom Jesus came to inaugurate would include people of every sort, his
band anticipated the Kingdom as it gathered together Matthew, a
tax-collector (and therefore a collaborator with the Roman occupation)
as well as a “zealot” who had sworn to knife any unwary Roman
occupier. If the apostolic
band was to anticipate the Kingdom then it was only fitting that both
Galilean and Judean be found in it.
We shouldn’t think that Jesus called the eleven for a positive
purpose (to school them for the coming Kingdom-ministry) but called
Judas merely for a negative purpose (to get himself betrayed.)
To think this is to cast aspersion on our Lord.
Jesus was sincere when he called Judas along with the rest.
II: -- Then
why does Judas appear so very different from the rest?
Judas is said to have betrayed Jesus while Peter is said to have
denied him. At the end of
the day, is there a difference? There
is. Peter denied our Lord in
a moment of panic. Peter
would have been aware that a shadow (Calvin later called it, in
hindsight, ‘the shadow of the cross’) fell across the life and
ministry of Jesus from the first. Peter
knew of the slaughter of the innocents at the news of the birth of
Jesus. Peter was aware of
the imprisonment and beheading of Jesus’ cousin, John the Dipper.
Peter was aware numerous times in the earthly ministry of Jesus
when authorities bristled at the audacity of someone who said, “Moses
has said; now I say….”
Peter was present when Jesus healed on the Sabbath, provoking the
rage of those whose Sabbath-keeping was exercised differently.
And of course Peter would have heard Jesus say to his detractors,
“You are 100% correct: only God can forgive sin – and I’m
forgiving this sinner whose alienation from God has already lasted too
long.” And when Jesus was
subsequently denounced as blasphemer, Peter knew that the vitriol spat
upon his Lord spattered onto him, Peter, as well.
Peter knew that wherever Jesus went in his earthly ministry there
Then did Peter expect to live in the
company of the trouble-maker yet remain trouble-free himself?
Of course not. But
there’s a difference between trouble and death.
Until Jesus was killed he hadn’t been killed.
The trouble Jesus landed in he could land in only because he was
alive to occasion it.
Then one day in a courtyard Peter saw that
the trouble Jesus was about to land in again would be the end of all
trouble just because it was going to be the
end. At this point Peter
knew that if he were publicly identified with Jesus, the same
end-of-trouble end would come to him.
While he was trying to warm himself at a charcoal fire a
fifteen-year old girl said to him, “Your accent; you don’t come from
Jerusalem. You’re from
– like the Galilean in there who is on trial for his life.”
In a panic-fuelled instant Peter swore loudly that he was no
friend of the Galilean even as his love for his Lord contradicted his
utterance. Shamed by his
cowardice, Peter broke wept bitterly.
To be sure, panic contradicted his love for
his Lord; contradicted it and eclipsed it.
To say that panic eclipsed his love for his Lord is to say that
his panic rendered it invisible, nowhere evident.
But his love for Jesus wasn’t destroyed, any more than a solar
eclipse de-creates the sun.
Judas, on the other hand, didn’t panic.
Judas calculated. Judas
had always calculated. If he
could get thirty pieces of silver for Jesus, at least it was better than
nothing. To be sure, it
wasn’t much better than nothing, since thirty pieces of silver was the
price of a slave, and slaves have always been cheap.
Then did Judas regard Jesus as no better than a slave?
If so, why had he acceded to Christ’s invitation in the first
place? Surely Judas had
joined himself to Jesus and the others because he believed himself to be
joining a promising Messianic movement.
Messianic movements have come and gone
’s history. They are most
likely to proliferate when the people are oppressed.
In first century
the people had been oppressed for hundreds of years.
Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Syrians, Greeks, and finally
Romans had overrun
in turn. The oppression
perdured agonizingly, and would end only at the appearance of the
There finally appeared one Messianic
movement that seemed better than most.
Judas was invited to join the group that gathered around the
Nazarene. He did so.
We shouldn’t assume any insincerity on his part at all.
Then why did Judas derail? Where
did it all go wrong?
The gospel of John tells us that during the
Last Supper the devil, Satan, “had already put it into the heart of
Judas to betray Jesus.” Satan
put it into the heart of Judas. In
other words, the Last Supper wasn’t the first time it occurred to
Judas to betray; neither was the Last Supper the moment Judas decided to
Then is Satan the difference between Judas
and Peter? Was Judas
Satanically inspired while Peter was not?
earlier Jesus had told the twelve that he, the Son of Man no less, must
suffer many things and finally be crucified.
The twelve were aghast. Speaking
for the entire band Peter had remonstrated with Jesus, rebuked him even,
told him off. “Shut up,
Satan” Jesus had shot back; “You, Peter, are Satanic, nothing less
Jesus pronounces Peter Satanic
because Satan has inspired Peter’s utterance.
Satan would later put it into Judas’ heart to betray Jesus.
It would appear, therefore, that Peter and Judas are Satanic in
-- But appearances
deceive. When Jesus rebuked
Peter (and with him the entire band of disciples) he did so because
Peter and the band repudiated how God was going to inaugurate the
Kingdom of his Son. They
regarded as preposterous God’s plan to inaugurate the Messianic Age
through the death of the Messiah. They
scorned the notion that the Kingdom commences when the King himself
becomes a servant, and not just any servant but the servant-slave who
does the most menial work of washing feet.
arrives when the Righteous One is numbered with unrighteous sinners and
is executed alongside unrighteous brigands at the city garbage dump.
The Messiah’s people are exalted when the Messiah is
David had been
’s greatest king, yet David would pale alongside David’s Son, the
Messiah of Israel. And now
the One who made implicit Messianic claims for himself (“Moses said; I say….”); the one who didn’t silence the Messianic adulation
of the crowd (What else would the triumphal entry be?); now David’s
greater Son insisted that the Shepherd of Israel could truly shepherd
his people only as the shepherd was sacrificial lamb.
This King could be victorious (a victory-less king is no king at
all) only as a victim.
Kings expect to be glorified.
Anyone who fails to recognize the king’s glory is obtuse;
anyone who fails to acknowledge the king’s glory is perverse.
Yet this King’s glory would be recognized in a cross of degradation
and humiliation. And this
King’s glory would be acknowledged by subjects who lived in the shadow
of his cross and who shouldered their cross in the wake of his.
To deny any of this is to call forth our
Lord’s vehement “Satanic.” When
Peter is rebuked, and the other eleven along with him, Judas is part of
the group. Then where does
Judas differ from Peter?
-- Scripture says
little about Judas’ inner life, his motivations.
Whenever scripture does speak an aside here or there about Judas
it mentions money. For
instance, when Mary of Bethany poured her perfume over the feet of Jesus
and wiped his feet with her hair Judas protested, “The perfume could
have been sold and the money given to the poor.”
John tells us, however, that Judas didn’t care at all for the
poor. He was a thief, and if
the perfume had been sold, the money it brought Judas would have been
able to pilfer before the money passed through the apostolic purse to
the poor. The Greek text
uses an iterative imperfect tense: Judas “kept on taking, customarily
stole, the money from the apostolic purse.”
Never make light of the grip that money had on Judas.
Never make light of the grip that money can
have on anyone. Jesus said
“You cannot worship God and mammon.”
According to our Lord the “either-or” is stark.
I know what you are going to say.
Surely the two powers are God and Satan.
To be sure, John says in his first epistle, “The reason the Son
of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”
The author of Hebrews insists that the Son of God appeared in
order to “destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil,
and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong
bondage.” But there’s no
contradiction: Satan, says Jesus, is a liar and a murderer.
Satan falsifies and Satan slays.
Money is the principal weapon that Satan yields as he falsifies
and slays. Do you think my
reading of scripture one-sided, even out-and-out incorrect?
Then you should recall that Jesus said more about money than
about any other single thing. Jesus
maintained that money is the gravest spiritual threat, alongside which
"crystal meth" appears almost child’s play.
In the synoptic gospels Jesus discusses money in one verse out of
ten; in Luke’s gospel, Jesus brings it up in one verse out of eight.
The apostle James, rightly apprehending our Lord in this matter,
discusses it in one verse out of five. Money
is the power that turns the universe.
Money talks, we are told. Money
also silences. Money
lubricates; money bribes; money perverts; money addicts.
People are deemed cynical if they say “Do you want to know
what’s happening here, there or anywhere, on either larger scale or
smaller scale? Follow the
money; if you want to know what’s going on, just follow the money.”
Why do we label “cynical” people who speak like this?
They are speaking truth.
Jacques Ellul, French Protestant lawyer, historian, sociologist;
Ellul maintained that Karl Marx couldn’t grasp the human condition,
since the human condition is that we are rebel sinners before God,
alienated from God on account of his judgement upon our disobedience,
and alienated from our fellows and ourselves as well.
This is the human condition. Marx can’t
discuss it. On the other
hand Ellul said that Marx’s explanation of the human situation
remains more accurate than any other.
The human situation is where we live politically, socially,
economically, psychologically, communally.
And Marx’s explanation of how money insinuates itself into our
private and public lives, our individual minds and our public
institutions, our assessment of what’s wrong and how it’s to be put
right; Marx’s explanation of the role of money in the human situation
is more accurate and more useful than any other.
The more I ponder Ellul’s assessment in light of world
occurrence the more profound I think him to be.
-- During the
eighteenth century awakening John Wesley’s frustration mounted as he
watched Methodist converts gain sobriety and industry and thrift thanks
to their gospel-quickened faith, only to have their spiritual ardour
diminish as their new-found sobriety and industry and thrift elevated
them socially. In his
frustration Wesley wrote nine tracts on money.
In one such tract he confronts readers with his settled judgement,
based on years of observing his people, as to what happens when people
acquire more and more and still more.
He notes that as one’s bank account goes up one’s zeal for
holiness goes down. What I
call the ‘root’ command of scripture – “You shall be holy, as I
the Lord your God am holy” – isn’t so much set aside as simply
lost to sight. The root
commandment of scripture, of course, is also the overarching,
all-comprehending promise of scripture.
This grand promise of scripture gathers up all the ways and works
and words of God as it declares that the God who is holy will not fail
to render his people holy. And
as his people are rendered holy they will be made fit to serve God and
fit to see God. Wesley
maintains that increasing money finds scripture’s grand promise no
longer cherished and its fulfilment no longer hungered for.
It’s all forgotten as money ices one’s desire for holiness,
hardens one’s heart concerning the command of God and distracts
one’s mind concerning the promise of God.
Wesley says more.
He says that as our influence increases and our social position
rises our heart is warped. The
warped heart isn’t merely bent; it’s disfigured, ugly.
And it isn’t merely ugly; it’s lethal.
Do we think Wesley exaggerates?
Then we should listen to him as he writes his people in 1781.
As we become more affluent, says Wesley, we
acquire greater self-importance. As
we become more self-important we are more easily affronted.
Surely no one is going to disagree with Wesley.
Who, after all, are more ‘touchy’ than the self-important?
To be sure, the self-important never speak of themselves as
‘touchy.’ They prefer
forgotten that genuinely sensitive people are distressed at the
suffering of others. Touchiness,
on the other hand; touchiness is narcissistic blindness to anyone
else’s pain thanks to one’s self-absorption.
The ‘touchier’ we are, continues
Wesley, the more prone we are to revenge.
Now the slightest affront will trigger our vindictiveness as we
search out and destroy the person whose violation of us (as it were) is
actually no more than a cat’s whisker alighting on us but which we now
regard as excoriation.
In the course of his nine tracts on
the dangers of money Wesley makes the following five points.
ONE: Money is the talent that gathers up
all other talents. For
instance, we acquire an education. What
do we do with our education? Unless
we are spiritually alert, before we know it our education simply follows
the money. We do with our
education whatever maximizes our financial gain.
Why does God always call us clergy (as it were) to congregations
whose stipend is larger, never to a congregation whose stipend is
TWO: Money, said Wesley, is the temptation
that fosters and foments all other temptations.
As a pastor I have heard the sad stories, scores of them, of
people whose vow of marital fidelity seemed no burden at all when they
had little left over of their pay cheque at the end of the month, yet
whose vow of marital fidelity seemed harder to keep as surplus income
mounted, and whose vow of marital fidelity appeared not so much hard to
keep but simply pointless when they found themselves in the in the
rarefied air of material privilege.
THREE: Wesley maintains that money is the
snare, “a steel trap (he says) that crushes the bones.”
He has in mind the largest animal trap found in eighteenth
, a bear trap. Once in a
while a human being blundered onto a bear trap, only to find that its
jaws not only held him fast but broke the bones in his lower leg.
is the poison that kills discipleship.
Frustrated at seeing his people’s cavalier indifference to
sacrifice as their material fortunes rose, Wesley ‘boiled over’ and
shouted caustically, “What? Are
you afraid of spoiling your silken coat?”
He reminded them that when they were newly born of the Spirit
they would head out any time of the day or night, brave any kind of
weather however inclement, in order to lend spiritual or material
assistance to the suffering person who was suffering for any reason at
all. Thanks to the gospel
and the faith in penitent people that the gospel quickens, Wesley’s
people had been newly rendered sober, industrious and thrifty.
People who are sober, industrious and thrifty will invariably
accumulate mammon unless they are giving it away.
While Wesley declaimed ceaselessly, “Earn all you can; save all
you can; give all you can”, his people, he noted, quickly became
wonderfully adept at the first two and shamefully inert concerning the
third. The result was that
their social position rose. As
their social position rose it made less and less ‘sense’ to
inconvenience themselves for sufferers whom they now couldn’t so much
as see. Whereas they had
earlier headed out, heedless of wind and weather and cost to themselves,
now they looked out the window first to see if it might rain.
Are you afraid of spoiling your silken coat?”
Prior to their conversion, when his people were gutter-gripped
thanks to their habituations and impecuniousness, they had no coat of
any kind. Now, thanks to
their conversion, the attendant prosperity, and their social elevation,
they had not only a coat but a silken coat – and their silken coat was
much too valuable to get rained on or muddied or clung to by someone
whose hand was grimy or greasy or bloody.
FIVE: The fifth point Wesley makes we’ve
already heard. Money is the
magnifier of a self-importance that renders us vindictive.
Then what’s to be done?
Give it all away as if we could save ourselves by impoverishing
In the Middle Ages our mediaeval foreparents spoke much of the
Seven Deadly Sins. One such
sin was lust. Lust wasn’t
a deadly sin merely when it issued in profligate, unprincipled sex
without concern for God’s command or human good.
Lust was a deadly sin when sex became a preoccupation regardless
of sexual expression or non-expression.
In other words, the person preoccupied with sexual avoidance was
as much sex-preoccupied as the person constantly on the sexual prowl.
Gluttony too was one of the Seven Deadly Sins in the Middle Ages.
Gluttony, said our Mediaeval foreparents, wasn’t a matter of
eating too much (the misunderstanding that shallow modernity clings to).
Gluttony was a matter of being preoccupied with food.
In other words, the person preoccupied with food avoidance is as
much preoccupied with food as the person, already well fed, who can
think only of what she’s going to eat next.
It’s no different with money. Money,
scripture insists, is as much a threat – the same threat, in fact –
when we have too much and when we have too little.
For this reason the writer of Proverbs pleads with God, “Give
me neither poverty nor riches; not riches, lest my abundance render me
spiritually indifferent, and not poverty, lest my scarcity render me
spiritually insensitive.” No
doubt prior to the Protestant Reformation, but certainly in light of it,
it was plain that self-willed poverty did nothing for people
poverty would only render someone a charity recipient of some kind; but
self-willed poverty was never going to save anyone, if only because
self-willed poverty was only one more gospel-denying attempt at
self-salvation. What will
save us – and would have saved Judas – isn’t self-willed poverty
but release from a spiritually suffocating preoccupation.
And release from any preoccupation never occurs as we concentrate
on finding release from it, since such a concentration merely
intensifies the preoccupation. What’s
needed, as the nineteenth century Scottish minister, Thomas Chalmers
used to say; what’s needed is “the expulsive power of a new
affection.” It’s only as
we have a new love, a fitting love, that the power of the preoccupation
is broken tangentially but broken profoundly just because it’s broken tangentially.
The fitting love of which Thomas Chalmers spoke was love for our
Lord. At the end of the day,
reducing our bank account to nothing is as spiritually useless (and
therefore spiritually deleterious) as counting our ‘loonie’ stash
every day is spiritually deleterious.
Both preoccupations (at bottom they are the same preoccupation)
are an ‘affection’ that has a grip on us that reason can’t break.
The grip all such affections have on us can be broken only as the
affection is expelled. And
any affection is expelled only as it is unselfconsciously forgotten for
the sake of a greater affection, grander affection, an affection worthy
of someone made in the image of God.
And of course the only affection worthy of someone made in the
image of God is love, self-forgetful, self-abandoning love for him who is
the image of God, Christ Jesus our Lord.
Tonight we received an offering.
needs money? Perhaps it
does. But let’s imagine
that the endowment funds of
were so very large as to require no supplementation from the offering
plate. Would we still
receive an offering? Should
The church doesn’t receive an offering in a service of worship primarily
to pay for the church’s expenses.
The church receives an offering primarily
to let you and me reconfirm a truth about ourselves that needs to be
reinforced lest the light that is in us become dark.
The truth about Christians that always needs reinforcing is this:
money is a broken power in our lives.
The issue isn’t how much we have or don’t have.
The issue is that it’s a broken power, and is broken not
because we gritted our teeth and snapped it.
(Attempting to do this only strengthens the power.)
It’s a broken power just because we fell in love with someone
whose attractiveness gave us a perspective on money we couldn’t have
had until we had fallen in love with our Lord.
-- Wesley again.
In his tract, “The Almost Christian”, written in 1741, Wesley
discusses the difference between the nominal Christian and the genuine
Christian. (When he speaks
of the “almost” Christian he means “nominal” or “merely
seeming”.) He states that
the nominal Christian is characterized by lack of faith.
What, then, characterizes the genuine Christian?
We’d expect him to say “faith”.
But instead he says “love”.
The unbeliever is marked by lack of faith, the believer by love.
Then does Wesley believe in justification by love?
Of course not. His
point is this. There is no
faith in Jesus Christ without love for him, and equally there is no love
for our Lord without faith in him.
If we say we have faith in Jesus Christ we are saying that we
trust the provision he has made for us in the cross.
But it’s always possible for me to trust the remedy he has
fashioned for my sin while my heart remains cold.
(Every day trust the helpfulness of many people whom I find
If, on the other hand, we say we love our
Lord it’s always possible for us to love him and assume that our love
for him is the basis of our acceptance with him.
It’s always possible to say we love him while denying we are
condemned sinners who cannot remedy our own predicament and who must
trust the provision he has made for us since we cannot make any
provision for ourselves.
There is no genuine love for Jesus Christ
without faith in him, said Wesley. And
just surely, he insisted, there is no genuine faith in Jesus Christ
without love for him.
When the apostle Paul (among others)
championed “justification by grace through faith”,
did he contradict himself when he exclaimed in the last verse of his
Ephesian letter, “Grace be with all who love
our Lord Jesus Christ with love
undying”? Not at all.
The apostle knew that there is no genuine faith in Jesus Christ
without love for him.
Lacking love for our Lord, Judas was devoid
of faith in our Lord, and for this reason remained in his sins.
All of which brings us to the question that
Jesus put to Peter in the wake of Peter’s denial: “Do you love
me…?” The Greek word for love that Jesus uses here is strong: it’s
love in the sense of total self-giving, total self-outpouring, thorough
self-forgetfulness, utter self-abandonment. It’s the word used of God
himself, for God so loved the
world that he gave – himself, utterly, without reservation – in his
“Do you love me like that,”
the master says to Peter. Peter’s
stomach convulses. He has
already denied his Lord and everyone knows it. So
shaken is Peter that he can’t answer the master’s question. He can
only blurt, head down, “You know that I love you.”
The English translations of our bible hide
something crucial: Peter doesn’t use the same word for love that Jesus
has used. Peter uses a weaker word. Jesus has said, “Are you willing
to sign yourself over to me, abandon yourself to me, never looking
back?” Peter is nervous now about vowing anything this large, since
the last time he vowed something large he disgraced himself. Now Peter
can only reply cautiously, “You know that I’m fond of you; you know
that I care for you.”
Jesus asks a second time, “Do you love
me?”, using again the strongest word for love that there is. Now Peter
is in pain. As if his pain weren’t enough, he’s asked a third time,
“Do you love me?” – only this time Jesus uses the word of
Peter’s earlier reply, Peter’s weaker word. “Simon, are you truly
fond of me? Do you really care for me? If this is as much as you can say
honestly, will you say this much?” Peter replies, “You know
everything; you know that I care for you.” After each question and
answer Jesus says to Peter, “Feed my sheep.”
“Feed my sheep”: it’s our Lord’s
command and simultaneously his promise.
He will always use us on behalf of his people regardless of how
compromised our discipleship has been.
What counts is our aspiration, not our achievement.
What counts is our love for our Lord, not supposed
my sheep.” It’s a
command whose fulfilment his promise guarantees.
We can count on being used of him on behalf of his people.
Our Lord’s last word to Peter is
“Follow me”. The Greek
text uses an iterative imperative: “Keep on following me.
Continue to follow me. Dog
my footsteps.” He means,
“Come closer; keep on coming closer.”
As you and I do just that we shall find our love for our Lord
swelling, for as we move closer to him we shall love him more, only to
move closer to him, only to love him more, all of this spiralling up,
and all of this in anticipation of that day when we shall love him
without defect or deficit.
The time of betrayal is also the time of denial.
Both Judas and Peter are Satanically inspired.
The difference between Judas and Peter isn’t the proximity of
Satan. The difference
between Judas and Peter is love for our Lord.
Such love may be permeated with fear.
It may be disguised by cowardice.
It may be beclouded by misunderstanding.
But it’s love nonetheless.
In any era treachery is remedied by the
expulsive power of a new affection as those who love our Lord Jesus
Christ with love undying are taken ever more deeply into God’s oceanic
immensity, there to find themselves lost, says Charles Wesley; lost in
wonder, love and praise.