The Judas According to the Gospels

I offer this message for sermon fodder for pastors as Holy Week is upon us, but also to all of the Body-of-Christ-at-large for their edification from this most unusual and surprising source: Judas. But does Judas have anything to teach us from Scripture? Do the thirty shekels and the insincere kiss of diabolical betrayal have any lessons from the Lord for the people of God? Open your Bibles and read on.

The Judas According to the Gospels: A Maundy Thursday Message from Matthew 10.1-4; Matthew 26.6-16; John 12.4-6; Luke 22.1-6; Matthew 26.20-25; Mark 14.43-46

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D., President and The James M. Baird, Jr. Professor of Pastoral Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina; Interim President, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, Florida

The Maundy in Maundy Thursday refers to the “mandate” to love one another and to remember our Lord’s sacrifice for our sins on the Cross, as we go to the Lord’s Supper. But we all know that in the Passion story of our Lord, there was one who did not love, who did not honor that Supper or that Savior. And that one was Judas. We now have the Gospel According to Judas giving us a report of what happened in that time, but tonight let us learn from the Judas According to the Gospel. Let us consider the lessons for our lives tonight from the very Word of God.

Matthew 10.1-4

And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Matthew 26.6-16

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. 7 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

John 12.4-6

Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 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.

Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people.

Luke 22.1-6

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them.  And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.

Matthew 26.20-25

When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”

Mark 14.43-46

And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Mark 14.43 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.” 44 And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 45 And they laid hands on him and seized him. 46

Matthew 27.3-5

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.

The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.

Introduction to the Message

The long days of winter are ending. It is time for the children to wave palms in the Palm Sunday processional. And then Holy Week. We will gather for Maundy Thursday.  But this season, this Holy Week, will undoubtedly give rise to front-page articles about “The Real Jesus,” which, of course, will be a feature on some liberal professor from a dying seminary talking about a false, mythological Christ, not the Jesus of Scripture. Or, we will be “enlightened” to learn there has been a new discovery of literary “evidence” that will finally, once and for all, disproves the Gospel of the resurrection. It seems to happen every year. Then it is over until the next year, unless it gets some “legs” and makes it through a few news cycles. Then it will, like some newly bred insect, make it for 48 hours or so. These things come and go. But Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday will never go away until the seasons of the Church finally give way to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Let me give you an example that helps us to focus on the Scripture reading for this evening. The Gospel According to Judas was all the rage just a few years ago. It came just in time for the release of the DaVinci Code film (and let’s not forget The Jesus Papers in this new genre of anti Christian literature). Of course, it came just in time for Easter.  One might assume a conspiracy. I suspect rather a consensus: these people do not particularly respect Biblical Christianity!

The truth is that The Gospel According to Judas, and other writings like it, is a Gnostic writing from the early centuries after the resurrection of Jesus. It was neither written by Judas Iscariot (long since dead from suicide), nor is it a “Gospel.” The document was a common anti Christian propaganda tract, to oppose the teachings in the Bible, and promote a sort of ancient new age movement.  The movement, Gnosticism, from the Greek word for knowledge, was actually present before Christ. Both Paul and John addressed it specifically in several places in Scripture (1 Tim. 4.1-5; 1 John 2.18-27). By the fourth century the false teachers and their Gnostic writings were condemned as heresy in 325 AD. These latest findings are interesting—perhaps entertaining, —but let’s be honest: they are not and never were the teachings of the Church.

Our second response should be: read your Bible. If you like, read The Gospel of Judas and then read The Gospel of John. The former possibly makes an interesting read. The latter has the power to give you eternal life.

We should be on guard against false teaching that seeks to attack the truth of God’s Word and lead people astray. Remember the words of Peter:

“But in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1Peter 3.15 ESV).

Well, what does the Bible tell us about Judas? Can this most infamous betrayer of the Lord Jesus be studied for the building up of the faith and life of the Body of Christ? I think so. On this Maundy Thursday, consider the Judas of the Gospels and the message of the Lord for our lives and this very community of believers. The lessons are vitally important and they are literally matters of life and death for true faith in the Church.

The Judas according to the Gospels teaches us:

1.   A person can be called but not converted to Jesus Christ

We read in Matthew 10.1-4 that Jesus called His disciples, and in that list we read of Judas Iscariot. How is it that Jesus called a man who would betray Him?

This is a very important point. The church invisible contains those, known to God, who are His and who are genuine followers of the Lord. The church visible contains saints and unbelievers who are called on the outside but not converted on the inside.

Tonight, as we come to the Table, let our hearts be convinced. Let us heed the call to bring our lives before the Lord and ask if the people we are in private, when no one is looking, is the real you.

David Benner wrote:

“A complete knowing of our self in relation to God includes knowing three things: our self as deeply loved, our self as deeply sinful, and our self as in a process of being redeemed and restored. Facing these deep truths about ourselves make it possible for us to accept and know ourselves as we are accepted and known to God.”[1]

Judas knew of love but did not know love. Judas did not know his own sin until it was much too late. And so Judas did not really know the redeeming grace of God in Christ.

As we come to this table, let your heart be open to the love of God, to the deep work of the Holy Spirit in showing us our sin, and then give us a holy dissatisfaction with our sin, that we may celebrate redemption in this Sacrament.

The Judas according to the Gospels teaches us:

2.    A Person can be close to the Man but miss the message of Jesus Christ

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to Him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on His head as He was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to Me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have Me. When she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Matthew 26.6-13).

“But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray Him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12.4-6).

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them.  And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd” (Luke 22.1-6)

The event at Bethany was the turning point. Judas, though close to Jesus, could not comprehend the ministry of Jesus. Judas was, very simply, and according to John, a thief. And when the Lord accepted the extravagant worship of this woman, Judas would have preferred the money in his own pocket. It is not without sad irony that it was at this very event, the rejection of the worship of this woman, that Satan entered Judas.

Jesus was so close to Judas. But greed was closer still.

On December 17, 1903 Orville and Wilbur Wright kept their hand-built airplane up in the air for 59 seconds. This was truly an amazing feat. The excited brothers sent a telegram to their sister in Dayton, Ohio which read: “FIRST SUSTAINED FLIGHT TODAY 59 SECONDS. HOPE TO BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS.” The excited sister took the incredible news to the local newspaper editor. The next morning to her shock and dismay, the headline read in bold letters:  “POPULAR LOCAL BICYCLE MERCHANTS TO BE HOME FOR HOLIDAYS.” They were so close to the headlines of the century, but the true message was missed.[2]

Judas missed the message of Jesus due to his sin.

Let us not miss His message. A person can be around the things of Christ, in the membership of the Church, and even in the pulpit of a church, and yet have his heart far from God because of resident, unconfessed sin. When sin is present the will of God—His moral will and His best for us—is kept outside. But this keeping away from God opens the door to Satan.

The Judas according to the Gospels teaches us:

3.    A Person can be filled with regret, and yet fail to repent of sin against Jesus Christ

“When Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.”   “What is that to us?’ they replied. ‘That’s your responsibility.’ So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself” (Matthew 27.3-5).

Judas’ sin, in the end, left him alone and guilty. When he went to his former friends, he saw that they were not friends at all. He made his confession to his fellow conspirators. But they put the responsibility on Judas. And so it should be. One commentator wrote of this moment when the thief Judas was rejected by his fellow conspirators:

“The prodigal found no companionship among the swine, let alone with the bartender, who likely tossed him in the street for an unpaid tab…The loneliest and most foolish person in the world is the man who, ruined by sin, turns to the sin that caused his downfall only to find a ‘Not Wanted’ sign on the door.”[3]

His deed led to despair of the worst kind. All regret but no repentance.

Brothers and sisters, this is the tragic end to those who seek self, follow the lies of Satan, and come to their end. Without Jesus it is total condemnation, total despair, and final judgment.  Judas stands as a sign in the Bible for sinners to see the end of their sin.

Tonight we must see that we are all sinners. This is why Jesus came. And He calls us to confess our sins, to seek His face, to turn from our wicked ways, and to find forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

Beloved, we are not interested in the Gospel of Judas, but rather the Judas of the Gospel leads us to see the tragic end of sin. We must examine ourselves, see our own sin, but not to despair. We are to look in hope to Jesus Christ and to find His grace for forgiveness.

John Stott wrote:

“…The Lord’s Supper is a means of faith because it sets forth in dramatic visual symbolism the good news that Christ died for our sins in order that we might be forgiven.”[4]

And that is how we must come tonight.

I end with the words of the Book of Common Prayer:

“We do not presume to come to this Thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in Thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy Table. But Thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy…”

Tonight as you eat the elements of the Lord’s Supper, remember that it is, as Luther said, “The Word of God eaten.” Eat and Drink the Mercy of God in remembrance of the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners.

Endnotes


[1] Personal quotation collection.

[2] Illustration provided by James W. Moore and his sermon, “Journey To The Cross IV: Jesus and Judas, from his series, Lenten Series on Mark.

[3] John R. Bisagno, Principle Preaching: How to Create and Deliver Purpose Driven Sermons for Life Applications (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman, 2002), 162.

[4] The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations, Compiled by Mark Water, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000).

References

Bisagno, John R. Principle Preaching: How to Create and Deliver Purpose Driven Sermons for Life Applications. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman, 2002.

The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations, Compiled by Mark Water. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000.

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About Michael Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (University of Wales, Trinity Saint David's College), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author. He is, also, an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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