Unhealed Shame: Judas

Unhealed Shame: Judas

Unhealed Shame: Judas.

“Then Jesus replied, ‘Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!’ He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray Him.’”  (John 6:70-71).

Could there be a more tragic figure in Scripture than Judas Iscariot? We don’t know anything about his background. We don’t even know for sure what Iscariot means. He could have been on the extreme edge of the Zealot group, he could have been a locksmith, or he could have been from the town of Kerioth. We just don’t know for sure. We do know that he was responsible for the worst act of betrayal in human history. Let us explore what we do know of Judas.

(1.) Guilt and Shame. Judas did all the right things, then he did all the wrong things, when dealing with his guilt and shame. He did express true remorse after his dirty deed, and he really did regret what he did. He then returned the bribe money, and he went to the priests and admitted that he had sinned (Matt. 27). But then Judas did everything wrong imaginable. He removed himself from the forgiving presence of Jesus. And he also removed himself from the disciples, the one community that could have been a healing group of friends, a community that would have helped him process his deep shame at what he did. He went to the exact wrong group of people, the priests. He stated to them that he had sinned, a statement of fact not repentance. But the priests didn’t do their job of directing Judas to God in the process of repentance and forgiveness. In a sense, Judas went to them and stated… I have sinned. What do I do now? No help there. And then, continuing in his self-absorbed way, he continued his hopeless solitary march to his death at his own hands. He forgot all those teachings of Jesus he must have heard about love and forgiveness. He denied a relationship with Jesus that would surely have gone far in his possible redemption. And he walked away from a community who could have helped as well. Judas lost all hope because he was all by himself in facing his guilt and shame. His remorse didn’t lead him to repentance. It did lead him to a tragic and lonely end. Remember when Creator God said that it was not good for man to be alone? (Gen. 2:18). It is still true.

(2.)  Unholy Stubbornness. Back in the beginning, Judas was handpicked in good faith after a long night of prayer on the part of Jesus, and he was thus in the inner circle of the twelve disciples of Christ. He was with Jesus and His Twelve for three years. Judas saw all those miracles, the blind given sight, the lame given new legs and hands, the lepers given a new life, the demon-possessed their old life back. He saw the sick made well through a touch of His hand or through a touch of His cloak. Judas saw the dead rise back to life at least twice. Judas saw all those miracles and more. He heard all the wisdom that the Son of God offered to the people, pearls of wisdom never uttered before. Judas heard the off-beat stories Jesus would tell the crowds, parables about common things in life, but with unexpected twists to keep people thinking, about things like yeast and birds and seed and fertile ground. Stories about renegade sons and lost sheep and rich fools. Parables about forgiveness and mercy and courage. Judas was on hand to listen to more truth than has ever come out of one Man, and yet Christ’s seeds never seemed to fall on fertile ground. Judas never called Jesus “Lord.” He never called Him “Son of God” or “the Holy One.” Judas must have had a stubborn streak a mile long for him to witness His character, see all the miracles, hear all the teachings, and enjoy all the campfire conversations, and still stubbornly stick to his opinion that Jesus was not the Christ. The truest thing Judas ever came to describing Jesus was when he called Jesus “rabbi,” but that was the extent of Judas’ understanding of Jesus. Wasn’t it fairly obvious, Judas? Why did you cling to the ideas that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah? How stubborn can one man get? How can you go through the motions of following Jesus without actually believing in Him, without letting Him into your life?

(3.)  Greed. Judas was selected to be the treasurer of the common purse of the Twelve as they traveled from one place to the next. Perhaps they chose Judas because he liked to handle money. It wasn’t long before Judas’ greed found a dishonest outlet, and he started pilfering from the purse. When he wanted money, he simply stole it. (John 12). In his greed, Judas starred spinning a small web of dishonesty until it became a giant web of betrayal. Jesus knew from the start that Judas was stealing from the purse. And He knew Judas was not about to change. There are no secrets from Jesus, because no one can peer straight into the heart quite like Him. “Jesus knew from the beginning which ones didn’t believe, and He knew who would betray Him.” (John 6:64). Jesus knew of Judas’ thievery, but He didn’t do anything about it. Jesus’ kindness and patience towards Judas was intended to give Judas a chance at defeating his fate, a chance to turn his life around. But Judas continued hardening his heart, so repentance was not going to happen. Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, the cost of purchasing a slave, of betraying a friend. Simple, naked greed.

(4.)  Disloyal Friendship. Jesus knew what was going on in Judas’ heart, and yet He continued to offer Judas acceptance and friendship. Jesus never wavered in His commitment to Judas. On the one hand, early in His ministry He called Judas “the devil.” (John 6:70). But on the other hand, Jesus remained faithful to Judas throughout their years together in ministry. Just before His betrayal, Jesus actually washed the feet of Judas! (John 13). How could Judas have allowed that to happen in good conscience? By that time, Judas had no conscience. Shortly later at the Last Supper, Jesus dipped a piece of bread into a bowl and offered it to Judas. This was an extraordinary gesture in this situation, because in their culture to perform that simple act in particular was a display of intimate friendship. It was at this point that Satan entered Judas’ heart for good. (John 13:26). And finally, when Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus addressed Judas with, “Friend, go ahead and do what you have come for.” (Matthew 26:50). There are two Greek words for friend. One word, philos, means true friend and intimate companion. The other Greek word is hetairos, which means false friend, someone who attaches himself to a one-sided friendship for selfish reasons. Aware of all the dynamics in this complex situation, Jesus called Judas hetairos. Jesus acknowledged that with Judas He indeed had a one-sided friendship.

(5.) Satan. Judas was ripe for manipulation in the hands of the evil one. The enemy used Judas, plain and simple. Satan gleefully moved Judas from one square to another on his checkerboard. But while the devil was playing checkers, God was playing chess. Sure, Judas chose to become a pawn in Satan’s schemes, but God was way ahead of the devil. Judas used his free will to become a fulfillment of God’s sovereign plan. Judas’ betrayal was foreordained from centuries ago. “Even my ally, my friend, has turned against me. He was one I totally trusted with my life, sharing supper with him, and now he shows me nothing but betrayal and treachery. He has sold me as an enemy.” (Psalm 41:9). “It wasn’t an enemy who taunted me. If it was my enemy, filled with pride and hatred, then I could have endured it. But it was you, my intimate friend – one like a brother to me. It was you, my advisor, the companion I walked with and worked with! We once had sweet fellowship with each other. We worshiped in unity as one, celebrating together with God’s people. Now desolation and darkness has come upon you.” (Psalm 55:12-14) We don’t know if Satan literally possessed Judas or was oppressing him. We do know that Satan had a direct hand in the betrayal of Christ, and that Judas yielded to temptation.

(6.)  Unclear Agenda. Judas had some type of agenda for Jesus, and the Lord never followed it. Judas finally gave up on Him. Judas’ betrayal could have been for any number of reasons: maybe he wanted a political savior instead of a spiritual one; maybe he wanted a new government instead of the Kingdom; maybe he was disappointed that he wouldn’t be offered a plum position in Jesus’ new order; maybe he wanted status and favor from the religious establishment instead of being rejected around every corner with Jesus; maybe he simply rejected Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah; maybe it was just a matter of simple greed, a desire for money, 30 pieces of silver at that. We don’t know the initial motivation exactly, or the convoluted way he arrived at his treachery. But Judas committed the gravest sin in human history. He betrayed someone who loved him, he betrayed his friend and his Lord.

In the end, Judas was filled with remorse. He finally realized he had betrayed a pure and innocent man, who could be a divine Man. Instead of seeking forgiveness like Peter, he sought self-destruction in his guilt. He committed suicide and left no room for redemption. The true tale of Judas and his treachery is completely tragic. He was not a sympathetic figure in history. As Jesus said on that fateful night, “Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had never been born.” (Mark 14:21). Maybe St. Paul was wrong… Paul wasn’t the chief of sinners. That description belongs to Judas.

(7.) Forgiven? When Jesus was dying on the Cross, He gasped, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34). Who was Jesus thinking of when He said that? We do know that by praying that prayer on the cross, Jesus was echoing Isaiah 53:12, which declares that the Suffering Servant was “interceding for the rebellious.” But for whom was Jesus interceding as He suffered His torturous death, as He fulfilled His eternal role as the Great Intercessor? Jesus seems to be asking the Father not to charge certain people with the depravity involved with killing the very Son of God. Jesus is pleading with the Father to overlook the wrongs of these perpetrators, since they do not understand the profound role they play in this cosmic drama. These abusers and traitors simply can’t grasp this deep mystery, and how they are part of God’s grand scheme of prophecy fulfillment and eternal salvation. His prayer was profoundly merciful, mouthing those words as he gasped for air. His Spirit of grace simply overflowed as He convulsed in pain. Who did He want forgiven… all those who did Him harm, or only those who repented? Because of Jesus’ unlimited loving-kindness, it could be a mistake to draw too small a circle of those being forgiven.

Some Biblical scholars claim that the Greek text implies a repetitive action, that His prayer on the cross was not a one-time prayer. Jesus evidently continued praying this prayer of forgiveness. He kept asking the Father to forgive all those who had done Him wrong during His Passion.  One can easily imagine Jesus, in his depleted, exhausted mind, hanging on the cross, mentally going through an inventory of who needs to be forgiven. In his continuing prayer, Jesus considered everyone who had a hand in the sacrifice of the Innocent One.

Is Judas “headed for destruction” forever? Jesus may well have been thinking… Father, forgive Judas, for he didn’t know what he was doing. Perhaps He was even thinking of His words to the Twelve, “Love your enemies, and do something wonderful for them in return for their hatred. When someone curses you, bless that person in return. When you are mistreated and harassed by others, accept it as your mission to pray for them. To those who despise you, continue to serve them and minister to them. Love your enemies and continue to treat them well.” (Luke 6:27-35). Was the death of Judas divine judgment, as it appears? Did it have to go that far?