The KissPastor Lutzer | March 24, 2013
We should all question, “Is it I, Lord?” Do we really belong to Jesus?
Selected highlights from this sermon
Does God have a purpose in betrayal? Can it be a part of God’s larger providential plan? There’s no story in all of the Bible that answers these questions better than the story of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.
When Judas kissed Jesus, he became guilty of one of the greatest sins of all time. This man had walked with Jesus for three years. He saw Jesus walk on water, feed the multitude with just a few pieces of bread and fish, raise Lazarus from the dead, and yet, even after all of this, he had never been born again—he never received Christ into his heart. And so he betrayed the Lord for thirty pieces of silver.
But even this greatest of betrayals was fulfilling Scripture—fulfilling what God had ordained from eternity past.
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The kiss of Judas! The word betrayal is a very painful word. You can imagine the pain of children betraying their parents. Parents betraying their children! A friend who betrays us, using information that perhaps they know about us and they use it against us! Betrayal is a very painful thing, but the question that we have to ask is this. Does God have a purpose in betrayal and can betrayal be a part of a larger scheme of God’s purposes and providence? That’s the question. And there is no story in the entire Bible that leads to an answer to that question like the story of Judas.
Now on a day like today when we think about the return of Jesus, and we think of Him coming down the Mount of Olives to the City of Jerusalem, we are reminded of the fact that even though He was well received by the crowds, by the common people, the fact is that when He got to the city He was rejected. And it wasn’t only the rejection of the religious leaders and the Romans. It was also the rejection of His disciples. In fact, in the end they all forsook Him and fled, but the one that we think about most often is Judas who betrayed Jesus in a very horrid way, and therefore actually was guilty of one of the greatest spectacular sins, as John Piper calls it, in all the universe to betray the loving, pure, holy, Son of God. And it is his story that we will consider today.
Now the text of Scripture that I am going to use is found in Matthew 26. Please turn to it in your Bibles. You’ll notice starting in verse 47 it says, “While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; seize Him.’ And he came up to Jesus at once and said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ And he kissed Him. Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, do what you came to do.’ Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him. And behold, one of those who was with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and He will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?’”
In my Bible the little word must is underlined. “It must be so.” They are graphic, powerful words.
Let’s take a look at Judas today, and first of all, we notice that his kiss was really the kiss of hypocrisy because Judas never really loved Jesus. Judas loved money. I’ve often thought of Judas. I think of men like him. I think of men like Hitler, and I also think of good men such as Billy Graham, and realized that when their mothers held them in their arms they had no idea who they were holding. The mother of Judas never knew that someday her child would be famous for his evil, and that no one would name a boy Judas today. Judah, yes, but not Judas! And you think, for example, of the mother of Billy Graham. She did not know that in her arms she was holding a boy who would touch the world by preaching the Gospel. Mothers, you have no idea who you are taking care of. Give them good training because there is great potential in every human heart for good and for evil.
But Judas was a hypocrite because he really didn’t love Jesus. He loved money. We don’t have time to turn to the passage, but if you are taking notes, jot down John 12 because it is there that they are in the home of Martha and Mary and Lazarus, and Mary takes spikenard, very pure and expensive nard, and she anoints the feet of Jesus and wipes his feet with her hair, and Judas says, “What a waste! Could not this have been sold and the money given to the poor?” And then John adds, “This he said not because he cared for the poor but because he had the money bag and was pilfering what was put therein.”
So the heart of Judas actually was a heart that was greedy and he was following Jesus as an opportunist, taking advantage of being with this famous teacher, and trying to use it as a stepping stone to earn money. He was opportunistic, but he was also gifted. In the book of Acts we read that this man had part of our ministry. In other words when the disciples cast out demons Judas cast out demons. The demons evidently cooperated. When the disciples preached a sermon, Judas stood up and preached a sermon. He had all of the gifts for ministry. That’s why he was able to cover who he really was inside. Judas had the behavior of a saint and the heart of a devil, but he was as smooth as silk and was able to cover it.
First of all then you have the kiss of hypocrisy, and secondly the kiss of betrayal. Now here’s what happened. The Bible indicates that Judas went to the high priests and the high priests were wondering about how they could arrest Jesus. They wanted to do it at night to cause less commotion, and so what they needed was someone in the inner circle who would identify Jesus in the darkness, and Judas was the one who volunteered for the job. And Judas is there, and he haggles as to how much he’s actually going to get, and they finally agree with thirty pieces of silver.
When I was in Israel a coin collector showed me an actual first century shekel. The thing that was so remarkable about it was how well it was preserved, and when you turned it around on the other side you could still see the insignia of Caesar. It was like thirty of these that Judas agreed with and said that if you pay me the money I will betray Him. He was a man who rationalized it, who thought possibly that Jesus could escape the crucifixion. After all, Jesus was a miracle worker, and did not Jesus say in the text that we read that he could call twelve legions of angels and he would be delivered? After all, Judas thought, “This isn’t going to harm the Son of God,” or at least possibly he was rationalizing that way.
So he rationalized but he also was demonized. This becomes very interesting. In John 13 the disciples are gathered together in what we call the Upper Room and they are having this discussion. Jesus says, “One of you will betray me.” This ought to really give us pause. You would think that all of the disciples would say, “I know who it is. It is Judas because I’ve never really trusted Him.” You know we think that Judas was the kind of person who came to church late, sat in the back row and then left before the closing song, but he wasn’t. He was the kind who was up there doing ministry, and every one of the disciples went around the table asking, “Is it I, Lord?” To their everlasting credit they asked that question, and that’s a question that you and I should ask ourselves. Are we truly born again or are we not? Is it I, Lord? And even after Jesus gives him the morsel, Jesus said, “He it is to whom I should give the morsel after I have dipped it,” and he gives it to Judas. And Jesus says, “Whatever you’ve got to do, do quickly,” and Satan entered into him, and the text goes on to say that the disciples still didn’t get it. They thought possibly Jesus was asking Judas because he had the moneybag to go buy something for the feast. But imagine this. The devil actually came into the Upper Room and was there. It is there that he entered into Judas. The Bible says that Judas went out and it was night. It was not only darkness outside. It was darkness in his soul and he was on his way to do the ghastly deed.
Now there are two theological questions that we should comment on. The first is simply this. Why did Satan change his methodology? When you read earlier in the Gospels you discover that Satan tried to keep Jesus from the cross. That’s what the story was all about there in the desert when Jesus was tempted. “Bow down and worship me and I’ll give it all to you.” What he was saying was, “Avoid the cross, and you can still be king.” Now Satan changes his tactic and actually becomes a part of the crucifixion.
I think that it’s true to say that Satan, as long as he thought that he could prevent Jesus from going to the cross, tried to do it. When he saw that he couldn’t prevent it anymore he decided to join it and do as much damage as he could and to inject in Judas his own evil so that Judas would have the nerve to do what he had planned to do. And in this way he would be able to stall God’s program or at least mess it up and become a part of it. And Satan loves to do those things and to drag as many people as he can with him into evil. That’s the first theological question, but the other is simply this. Was Judas simply a victim? Was he just arbitrarily chosen? Could the devil have entered into Peter or John? The answer is no, and the reason the answer is no is this. Judas had already opened up his heart to Satan. His love and his obsession with money and the deal that he struck and the evil that he planned to do was already in his heart, so Satan came along to help him fulfill it, and to do what he desired to do. And of course he was also fulfilling Scripture that the Scripture might be fulfilled that he who eats with me has lifted up his hand against me.
Now we are in deep theological water, and if this were a classroom we’d have a discussion about that so let me simply put it this way. I was thinking of saying it this way this morning as I was going over my notes.
Judas actually volunteered to do what God ordained. How do you like that? He volunteered to do what God ordained because it was part of the scheme and it was part of God’s purpose, but even there, in this evil the hand of God was there. Jesus could have been delivered as He said, but the trail became a part of God’s program, a part of the piece of the puzzle of Jesus going all the way to the cross. It was the kiss of hypocrisy. It was the kiss of betrayal, but also, it was the kiss of death.
And now we are in Matthew 27. You’ll notice it says, “When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put Him to death. And they bound Him and led Him away and delivered Him over to Pilate the governor. Then when Judas, His betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned (Maybe he thought that Jesus would miraculously escape. He saw that Jesus was condemned and was on the way to the cross.), 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.’ (I thought that they were his friends. I mean weren’t they bound together in this evil deed?) 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.” Now the chief priests didn’t feel that they could use this blood money. They used it to buy the potter’s field which is known as the Field of Blood, and that also fulfills Scripture.
You’ll notice it says this in verse 10. “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of Him upon whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field as the Lord directed me.” It’s a fulfillment of what had been spoken by Jeremiah in the Old Testament.
I guess what I want you to see is that even when the devil works, God works. And you’ve heard me quote the words assigned to Martin Luther many times from this pulpit. He said, “Even the devil is God’s devil.” But I want you to see something here. Judas loved money. He had money. Why didn’t money bring happiness? His conscience would not allow him to enjoy it. And you can have money. You can have wealth. You can have fame. But if your conscience is not at rest you cannot enjoy all the things that the world says we ought to really enjoy and the things that would make us happy.
Now he admitted that he sinned, as we shall see in a moment, but he went out and he couldn’t take the remorse. He did what 25,000 Americans do every year. He committed suicide thinking that it would end it, but you and I know it doesn’t end it. If I might quote the words of Hamlet, “In that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil?” But there is Judas – dead.
There are some lessons that we have to learn as a result of this. They are powerful lessons. They should be lessons that would make all of us ask ourselves the question, “Is it I?” I don’t think that there is any story in all the Bible (of course a true story) that so speaks to our hearts in terms of whether or not we really belong to Jesus. Judas had it all except the real thing.
Lesson number one is simply this: No abilities or promotion or position can substitute for conversion. No ability, no honor, no privilege, no usefulness or ability to be used can substitute for conversion.
You know, sometimes we as the staff have discussions about this but there are many people who think that they are saved but may not be. And the reason they may not be is that they are depending on their baptism, they are depending upon their church attendance, they are depending upon who they are or what they’ve been able to achieve. But you can sing in the choir, you can be a leader in a church, you can preach, you can do all of those things and not belong to Jesus Christ. The Bible says very clearly that Judas never belonged. It says that in several passages.
In fact, one day Jesus said, “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” The thing about Jesus is He always spoke with a great deal of clarity about issues, and that certainly is one instance in which He did that.
So ask yourself this morning, “Is it I?” because unless we are born again we’ll not see the kingdom of heaven. So we have to ask ourselves that question because no position of honor, no birthright and no genealogy can ever save you.
There’s a second lesson we must learn and that is that remorse doesn’t save anyone. Now the Bible talks about the remorse of Judas, and here in this passage it even says that Judas said, “I have sinned.” Oh, that’s a good first step, isn’t it? “I have sinned.” Sounds like repentance but not quite because he did not deal with his sin. He did not come to Christ.
You say, “If Judas had come to Christ at this point, if he had gone back to Jesus and said, ‘Jesus, I committed this horrid crime of betraying you; will you forgive me? I plead for mercy,’ of course He would have received it because there is no sin so great but that God’s grace is greater still. (applause)
You show me a mountain of sin and I will show you a greater mountain of grace. The grace of God that brings salvation is capable of covering any sin including the betrayal of the Son of God. But the fact of remorse doesn’t bring forgiveness. Remorse is basically dealing with our sin out of sight of Jesus, acknowledging our guilt perhaps but unwilling to go to the one person who is able to take it away, namely the Lord Jesus Christ. And there are many people today who think that if they live with enough remorse and they live with enough regret, surely God will forgive them and they will have hope of eternal life. But it’s not a matter of your suffering even for your sin, though all of us have learned we have to suffer for our sins. But it’s not a matter of that. It is receiving the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord, which is available and offered to everyone. The way is narrow but it is open to all who desire to believe, those in whose hearts the Holy Spirit is working to show them that Jesus is the only Savior of the world. (applause)
There is a final lesson and that is simply this – that sometimes the gate to hell is right next to the door to heaven. I mean we shouldn’t hurry over this. For three years Judas was there. He was there in the boat when Jesus walked on Galilee. He was there when Jesus multiplied the loaves. He was there in the synagogue when Jesus read those gracious words in Luke 4. Judas was there. He saw it all. He heard it all, and he was standing for three years right next to the very gate of heaven because Jesus said that He alone is the way to the Father. And by the way, you can’t get to the Father apart from Jesus. But there he was, and yet, in his heart he had never been born again. He had never received Christ and salvation. He played the part that would be significant enough for an Oscar but he wasn’t the real deal. So I do have to ask you today. Are you the real deal? Have you actually been converted or are you going through the motions? Ask yourself that.
Rebecca and I have been to Oberammergau, Germany, a couple of times – actually twice in our short lifetime, and a number of years ago I read the soliloquy here that is used at the end of the play, or at the end of the section of the play regarding Judas that is used in the Oberammergau passion play. But I read it again today because obviously it fits right here, and the passion that the actor showed is the kind of passion that I expect Judas would have been able to do if indeed he had been reading this particular transcript. This is maybe the way in which it would have sounded.
Where can I go to hide my shame, to cast off the agony? No place is dark enough. No sea is deep enough. Earth, earth, open up and devour me. I can be no more. I betrayed Him. The best of men I have delivered into the hands of His enemies to be tortured and executed. Where is there another man on whom such guilt rests? I’m a contemptible traitor. How kind He has been toward me. How gently He comforted me when dark dejection oppressed my soul! How He warned me when I was already harboring this shameless betrayal! Accursed Satan! You’ve made me blind and deaf. You tempted me to do this deed, drag me into the abyss. Not a disciple any longer, hated everywhere, despised everywhere, berated as a traitor even to those who seduced me, exiled from human society with this blazing fire within my gut! Everyone takes flight from me. Everyone curses me. Still there is one whose face I wish I could see again to whom I could cling. Woe to me for there is no hope. There is no redemption. He is dead and I am His murderer. Cursed hour in which my mother gave birth to me! Am I to drag along this martyr’s life any longer, endure these tortures within me, flee from others as one afflicted with the plague? No, no, I can bear it no more. Not another step shall I take. Here I will bring to an end my accursed life. Come, you serpent. Coil yourself around my throat and strangle this traitor.
In the Bible there are epitaphs that can be written across the tombstone of its characters. For example, Saul gave his own epitaph. He said, “I have played the fool.” What a wonderful summary of Saul’s life. Paul had his own epitaph. “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” Judas’s was given by Jesus. These are the hardest words you will ever hear. I’m going to tell them to you right now. Jesus said of Judas, “It would be good for him if he’d never been born.” And you know what the bottom line is? The bottom line is this. Unless you are born twice, because Jesus said you had to be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven, you’ll wish you’d never have been born once. The story of Judas!
Cleave to Christ right now. Receive Him even where you are seated. If the Holy Spirit is speaking to you, do not turn away from the only voice that can save you. Ask yourself, “Is it I?”
Our Father, we think of this sobering story of Judas and we recognize that the deceit in his heart is in all of us. The only thing that distinguishes us from him is Your amazing grace and Your intervention in our lives. I pray today, Father, for all who have listened to this message, whether here or on the radio or on the Internet, and ask, Father, that they will turn to Christ, and ask the question, “Is it I?”
And now I am speaking to you folks who are listening, as I speak to myself. If you’ve never received Christ, right now call out to Him and be saved, and say, “Jesus, be my savior. I turn to You because I am a sinner and need to be born again.”
Do that, Father, I pray, in the lives of many right now. May many respond to Him, and I pray that they may leave here today not focusing on remorse, but with a new vision of Jesus, the only one who can save. Help us to learn, Father, from the mistakes and the tragedies of others, that we might be able to say with confidence, “I belong to Jesus, and I belong forever.” We ask this in His blessed name, Amen.