I have a confession to make, but it takes some explaining. Something many of you know about me is that I love to play board and card games. When it comes to playing games with me there is a rule. The people at the weekly game night attend follow this rule, my wife follows this rule, and I think most of the youth groups I have worked with follow this rule. The rule is “Don’t trust Sean.” My confession, is that I have probably earned that being a rule. Some of my favorite types of games to play are social deduction games. These are games that have secret teams and one team wins by completing objectives, and the other team wins by preventing this. However, since the teams are secret the people on the bad team seek to sabotage the other side by earning trust and then betraying the good team at just the right moment. One of these games, The Resistance, is one of my favorite games ever. In the weekly game group we have played this a lot, and early on even though the teams are random I tended to be on the betraying team a lot. I also tended to win more than I lost, which is why now when we play those games, everyone instantly assumes I am bad and trying to sabotage the objective. One of the reasons why I love playing games like this is because the rules are structured as such to create a magic circle where being sneaky and betrayal is actively encouraged. I sincerely believe that integrity is important and in my normal interactions I strive to let my “yes be yes”, my “no be no”, and be honest in all I do. Despite that I have to confess that I find it a lot of fun to play games that encourage a little deception. From playing these kind of social deduction games I feel like I have a better understanding of Judas. Just like I earned a reputation in the Resistance, Judas has certainly earned a reputation. The name of Judas is synonymous with traitor. He has been immortalized in history as the ultimate betrayer. As we continue lent, we continue to look at the example of Jesus’ disciples. Our own faith can be enhanced as we learn from the examples of disciples. Including Judas. It may be uncomfortable to face, but all of us are more like Judas than we care to admit.
When I read the gospels, especially scriptures this morning, I find myself wondering what happened. Why did Judas betray Jesus? Typically all remember about Judas is his act of betrayal, when he took thirty pieces of silver to turn Jesus over to the high priest. We forget that Judas was with Jesus for almost three years. He traveled with him. He saw the miracles. When Jesus fed the 5,000 Judas was there. When Jesus walked on water Judas was there. When Jesus healed the sick, made the lame to walk, and the blind to see- Judas was there. Twice in the gospels, Jesus sends out his disciples to preach and perform miracles on his behalf. Jesus entrusted his ministry to his disciples, and Judas was among them. Judas was there, he heard Jesus words, he saw Jesus miracle. Given that, we have to throw our hands up in amazement and ask what went wrong. Given all that Judas saw and experienced, how could he have possibly been driven to betray Jesus? On the surface, it just does not make sense to us. It is easy to write Judas off as irredeemably evil, but that is too simple and not fair to him. Judas was human, and we have a great capacity to find justification for our actions. Judas did not betray Jesus to be evil. He probably thought that he had a good reason for the actions he took.
Now we cannot know exactly what motivated Judas to betray Jesus the way he did. However, we can make some guesses as to the reason why, and I think we will find we can relate to these reasons. Perhaps, Jesus did not provide what Judas signed up for. First century Israel was a time and place that was full of messianic expectation. The Jews were waiting with great anticipation for the messiah to come and deliver them. We mentioned last week that many people of this time expected the messiah to be a political and military savior. Perhaps Judas was in this group. He might have seen Jesus as a potential messiah worth following. Perhaps he thought that Jesus had the power and charisma to unite the Israelites, lead a successful rebellion, and restore Israel as a major player on the world stage. Perhaps, Judas signed on with Jesus because he wanted to get in on the ground floor. He wanted hitch his wagon to the star and ride it all the way to the top. However, three years later Judas’ kingdom still had not come. The revolution had not begun, and worse the Jewish leaders were actively opposed to Jesus. Perhaps Judas had wanted wealth, power, and recognition but Jesus did not deliver it. Perhaps Judas saw an exit strategy from what he viewed as a losing situation. If Jesus was not going to be the messiah he wanted, then Judas was able to cash out. Thirty pieces of silver was worth about five weeks’ worth of work, or it would be about $3,000 to $3,900 in today’s money. That is not a lot, but perhaps Judas saw it as better than nothing. In this theoretical scenario, Judas did not see his personal objectives fulfilled so he sold out Jesus as a way to further his own cause.
We may not betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, but we are guilty of putting our personal objectives and needs over following Jesus. It breaks my hearts how many times I have seen this with teenagers. There are several teens who I have interacted with in youth ministry who have turned away from faith. For some of them it was sports. They wanted to be the best, so the moved from traveling team to a number and it seems they spent 40 out 52 weekends a year playing their sport. On the weekends they were not playing they were too tired for church. For others, it was a job. Usually they wanted a job for a car. They did not want to give up Fridays and Saturdays with friends, so they would work all day Sunday. After a couple of years, they just got used to working on Sundays. Then for others it was a boyfriend or girlfriend. Their new date did not care much for the faith, and this slowly pulled them further and further from church, from faith, and from Jesus. You probably know people you who have met, who have gone through a similar experience. They did not outright reject their faith or deny Christ in a single act. Rather, they faded away. The band Casting Crowns has a song about this phenomenon. They sing: “It’s a slow fade when you give yourself away. It’s a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray. Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid when you give yourself away. People never crumble in a day, it’s a slow fade.” Perhaps it was a slow fade for Judas as well that culminated him eagerly accepted a small sum because getting something is better than nothing.
That is one possibility, but then again maybe it had not nothing to do with money. We know nothing about Judas before he became a disciple. Perhaps, Judas saw hope for a better life in following Jesus. He saw his chance for opportunity, his chance to make it, his chance for an easier life than that of a first century peasant. Perhaps the reason why Judas betrayed Jesus, is that Jesus disappointed him. In the time of Jesus and Judas there was a stark difference between the haves and the have nots. It seemed that the haves had it all, they did not want for anything, and they could have their every wish fulfilled. If Jesus really was messiah, then it stands to reason that he was on the fast track to be a somebody, to be one of those who have. Perhaps, this is what Judas wanted, the easy life, a life free of suffering. If this is the case, then with each passing week he probably got more and more disillusioned. When Jesus told stories like the parable of the good Samaritan, or when he said things like “the first shall be last and the last shall be first”, this might have deeply bothered Judas. He wanted a life on easy street, but it seemed that following Jesus was leading to a life of suffering, to a life of service, and to a life of putting others first. Perhaps, Judas sold Jesus out because he was mad at Jesus. He had wanted physical comfort, and Jesus was delivering the exact opposite. In this theoretical scenario, Judas allowed his own anger of not getting what he wanted to destroy his faith in Jesus.
We may not betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, but many people are guilty of turning their back on God out of anger. It may even be the most common reason why people walk away from the faith. People get angry at God because God does not do something they expect God to do. God did not stop the accident, heal the cancer, or provide that big break when we needed it the most. In these hard situations, we can turn our anger and our back towards God, because we bought into the lie that following God means that we will be blessed with an easy life. This is not what the scriptures say, and in fact it just might be the opposite. For instance, 1 Peter 4 records, “Dear friends do not be surprised at the painful trials you are suffering. But rejoice that you are participating in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” Being a Christian, following Jesus, is not a shield that protects us from all harm and guarantees continual blessings. Rather it guarantees that when the storm comes, we know we will not weather it alone. It means that we know no matter how much it pours, how much the wind howls, or how dark the sky gets we have a blessed assurance that there will be a sunrise again. It means our trust is in a God who is greater than any trial we can endure. In the midst of the pain and suffering though, we can forget this, we can give into despair. Perhaps like Judas did, we can even turn our back on God.
We have to confess that we are more like Judas than we want to be. We have to confess that we have not loved Jesus with our whole heart, and we have failed to be an obedient church. What we can learn from Judas though is what not to do. This morning’s scripture is about the moment when Judas crosses the line of no turning back in his decision to betray Jesus. Even at the last second though, Jesus offered the chance for Judas to turn away. Judas was offered the bread that was being given to the betrayer, and he did not have to take it. He could have joined the other disciples and say “it’s not I Lord.” Judas did not, he betrayed Jesus, and then in his guilt over thatmistake took his own life. However, I believe with all my heart that if Judas had not given into despair and guilt, even while he hung on the cross Jesus still would have forgiven Judas. There is nothing we can do to make ourselves unforgiveable.
We are also constantly offered the opportunity to turn back to Christ. Perhaps we have elevated our own objectives, our own success, our own finances above following Jesus. It is not too late to turn back to Jesus. Perhaps we have a lot of anger in our life because life has not gone according to our plans. It is not too late to turn back to Jesus. It does not matter what we have done or how far we have strayed, there is forgiveness offered at the foot of the cross. The band Rush of fools sings about this miracle of mercy. They sing about no matter how far we have strayed, no matter how low we have sunk, no matter how long our back has turned, our sin can be undone and we can turn back to our Lord and savior. Perhaps you can identify with this song as well.
We have all fallen short. In our own way, we have all betrayed Christ and not followed his command. Praise God, that our story does not end there. May we learn from the example of Judas by not following his example, but may we in humility with broken and contrite hearts confess our sins, repent, and run headlong back into the arms of Jesus. They are stretched out for us, and it is only there we will find love, grace, and forgiveness. May we remember the incredible mercy offered to us through Jesus, and may we claim that because of that great forgiveness we will one day be feasting at the heavenly banquet table.