JUDAS: So Close, Yet So Far Away

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  • JUDAS: So Close, Yet So Far Away
  •  It was the Passover, the annual celebration of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. It was the Last Supper Jesus would have with his disciples before his death on the cross. During dinner, Jesus announced, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The sorrowful disciples asked, “Is it I, Lord.” In Matthew 26:23-24, Jesus 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.” 

    Jesus demonstrates the cost of faithfulness by going by what is written of him in scripture. Judas demonstrates the cost of unfaithfulness by betraying the Son of Man for thirty pieces of silver. In Matthew 26:25, Judas asked, “Is it I, Rabbi?” Jesus answered, “You have said so.” Hours later, Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. 

    The Bible presents the betrayal of Judas as a divinely ordained act. John 6:70 asks, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” John 6:71 explains: “He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.” 

    John 13:10 says, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” John 13:11 explains: “For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” 

    Yet there is a sense in which things did not have to be this way. Judas was a disciple and apostle. His sincerity, integrity, and consistency allowed him to remain in the band of disciples throughout Jesus’ three-year ministry. Judas was sent out to preach, do miracles, and cast out demons with the others. He was even trusted to hold the moneybag. It seems Judas did not have to waste his life, ministry, and opportunity. But he did. 

    Why did Judas do it?

    • It may have been the love of money. 
    • It may have been hateful treachery.
    • It may have been radical devotional.  

    We do not know. 

    S. Pearce Carey wrote, “More is told of Judas in the Gospels than any other disciple except Peter. Yet he is little known; indeed he is wrapped in mystery.” Yet the outcome of his life is a warning: You can be close to the Lord in religious devotion but far in personal relationship. 

    Leonardo da Vinci painted The Last Supper in the late fifteenth century. Da Vinci started by painting Jesus. Years later, he finished by painting Judas. As he painted, the man who sat as Judas wept as he remembered he had sat as Jesus years ago. This story may be an urban legend. But it can happen to you. 1 Corinthians 10:12 says, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” 

    The fourth verse of Lord, I Want to Be a Christian says, “I don’t want to be like Judas in my heart.” May that be your prayer today! There are five lessons from the tragic life of Judas Iscariot. 

    Being in the company of the disciples does not mean you are saved. 

    • You can be unsaved and unchurch. 
    • You can be churched but unsaved. 
    • You cannot be saved and unchurched. 

    “Unchurched Christian” is not a biblical category. Ask the New Testament, “What do you say to Christians who are not a part of the church?” The New Testament will answer, “Why do you call them Christians if they are not part of the church?”  You cannot have genuine assurance of salvation without fellowship with the church. 1 John 3:14 says: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.” 

    Fellowship with the church alone is not an assurance of salvation. Judas was numbered among the Twelve. But his name was not in the Lamb’s Book of Life. In John 17:2, Jesus calls him “the son of destruction.” Warren Wiersbe wrote: “If you are not born again, the day will come when you will wish you had never been born at all.” 

    In Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan wrote: “Then I saw that there was a way to hell, even from the gates of heaven…” You can go to hell from a church pew as easily as a bar stool. Matthew 7:21-23 says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers or lawlessness.” 

    Worship attendance, church membership, moral behavior, generous giving, charitable acts, ministry participation, and spiritual leadership do not make you right with God. Salvation does not come through religious activity. John 14:6 says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

    Divided loyalties will harden your heart against Jesus. 

    Luke 22:1-2 reports: “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.” The religious leaders were done playing with Jesus. They determined to silence him permanently. But they needed to arrest Jesus secretly, lest they further enflame the messianic passions of the Passover crowd. 

    Luke 22:3 says, “Then Satan entered into Judas 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.” Judas was a devoted disciple. But Satan manipulated the unsurrendered areas of his heart to betray Jesus. Charles Spurgeon wrote: “The raw material of the devil is an angel bereft of holiness. You cannot make Judas except out of an apostle.” Two divided loyalties hardened Judas’s heart against Jesus. 

    The Love of Money. John 13:29 says Judas “had the moneybag” and functioned as the CFO of the non-profit ministry of Jesus. John 12:6 says Judas “was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put in it.” A sinful love of money caused Judas to betray Jesus. Matthew 26:14-16 says, “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.” 

    You cannot love money and love Jesus at the same time. Matthew 6:21 says, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Judas personifies the warning of 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

      Self-Styled Religion. Judas believed Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah-King. He expected a military hero who would overthrow Rome, establish Jerusalem as his capital, and make Israel great again. The more time passed, the more obvious it was that none of this was on Jesus’s agenda. Jesus spent more time fighting the religious leaders than the Roman overlords. Judas refused to be a part of any movement that ended with its leader on a cross. So he joined the opposition party. 

      R. Richard Niebuhr described the liberal theology of his day: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” This is not the religion of Jesus. Christianity is not a theology of glory, where there is glory without suffering. It is a theology of the cross, where glory comes through suffering. Matthews 16:24 says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” It will cost you everything to follow Jesus. It’s worth what it costs!  

      The sinner will find no true friendship in his sin. 

      Matthews 27:3-4 reports: “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.” The sinister plan to betray Jesus fully succeeded. Then Judas changed his mind about the whole thing. He confessed to the religious leaders that he had sinned against Jesus. He even tried to return the thirty pieces of silver. His co-conspirators responded, “That’s your problem. Not ours.” 

      John Bisagno wrote: “The loneliest and most foolish person in the world is the one who, ruined by sin, turns to the sin that caused his downfall only to find a “Not Wanted” sign on the door.”

        Do not make friends with sin because sin will never be your friend. Sin is an enemy that is determined to destroy you. Galatians 6:7-8 warns: “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” If you sow to please your flesh, your flesh will cause you to reap corruption. Satan was clearly involved in Judas’s betrayal. But Judas was ultimately his own biggest enemy. So are you. 

        James 1:13-15 warns: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

        Repentance is the only way to deal with the guilt of sin. 

          When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, all the disciples deserted him. Peter and Judas specifically failed the Lord. 

          • Peter denied Jesus three times. 
          • Judas betrayed Jesus to his enemies. 

          Peter was restored to Jesus and led the early church. Judas was overcome with sorrow and committed suicide. The difference between these two stories can be summed in one word: Repentance. After Peter’s sin, he repented. Judas had regret and remorse for what he did, but he did not repent. He never took the matter to God. He never came back to Jesus. The real and right way to deal with sin is to repent. 1 John 1:9 says: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

          Max Lucado wrote about the hill of regret: “At the trail’s end, there are two trees. One is weathered and leafless. It is dead but still sturdy. Its bark is gone, leaving smooth wood bleached white by the years. The twigs and buds no longer sprout; only bare branches fork from the trunk. On the strongest of these branches is tied a hangman’s noose. It was here that Judas dealt with his failure. If only Judas had looked at the adjacent tree. It is also dead; its wood is also smooth. But there is no noose tied to its crossbeam. No more death on this tree. One was enough. One death for all.” 

          Because of the one who hung on a tree for you, your failure does not have to be final. But you must run to the cross, repent of your sins, and throw yourself on the mercy of God. Psalm 32:3-5 sings, “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgression to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”

          Far dearer than all that the world can impart,
          Was the message that came to my heart.
          How that Jesus alone for my sin did atone, 
          And Calvary covers it all.

                   Evil can never overthrow the purpose of God. 

          A man watched a group of boys playing baseball in a field. He asked an outfielder what the score was. “10-0,” the lad answered. “Who’s winning?” he asked. “They are,” said the boy with a grin. The man asked, “Why are you smiling if you are losing that badly?” The boy punched his glove and declared, “We haven’t got to bat yet.” 

          When you read the plot of the religious leaders, the betrayal of Judas, and the death of Jesus on the cross, it seems evil has won. But the plan of God always triumphs over the evil of man. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God can take what is meant for evil and turn it out for good. The overruling providence of God was clearly at work in the death of Jesus. The cross was man at his worst but God at his best.

          Acts 2:22-24 says, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” 

          God had the last word in the death of Jesus on the cross. In his sovereign grace, God chose to use the betrayal of Judas to provide forgiveness of sin by the blood of Jesus. Judas missed his opportunity to get right with God. But it is not too late for you! Romans 10:9-10 says: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”



          H.B. Charles Jr.

          Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.