Were You There When He Was Betrayed?
Matthew 26:1-5, 14-16, 47-56
Sermon by Pastor Josh Van Leeuwen
Introduction by Phyllis Yearick
Why did he do it? What was the last straw for Judas Iscariot? Although he had followed Jesus with the eleven other disciples for the past three years, listening to his teaching and witnessing the healings and other miracles, Judas is something of a mystery to us. We know that he was placed in charge of any money their group had, perhaps because he was overly focused on financial matters, and that he helped himself to the purse at times. When Mark wrote about the appointing of the twelve apostles, he named Judas as the betrayer. But we have no indication that this man, the only non-Galilean among the disciples, plotted against Jesus during their time together.
There are theories. The likeliest of them suggests that Judas, like most Jews, expected a certain kind of Messiah: a military leader who would expel the Romans from Israel and restore the Jewish people to their rightful place as God’s elect. During the three years of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Judas observed, looking for clues to how the Big Plan would be executed. Perhaps as Jesus preached a message of love, forgiveness, and mercy Judas became suspicious, but he still hoped that Jesus would eventually reveal his true mission and his war strategy.
However, after Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey, not a general’s stallion, and cleared the money changers out of the temple, perhaps Judas finally began to understand the truth about his Master. There would be no battle. No revolt against the Roman occupation. No regime change. No change of any kind that mattered. Disappointment, resentment, and anger building up inside him, Judas decided to take action. He would force Jesus’ hand: either Jesus would move against the Romans or he would be removed from the picture, opening the way for the true Messiah. So Judas went to the chief priests, who had for years tried (and failed) to trap Jesus into committing a serious enough crime to be arrested, and offered to make a deal. He would give them Jesus, but he wanted something in return. Something to make his part in this drama worthwhile. They counted out for him thirty pieces of silver, the price of a first century slave. He took the money and waited for the right time.
Did his ears burn when Jesus, eating the Passover meal with the disciples the next evening, told them, “One of you will betray me”? They all drew back in shock. “Surely not I?” each one said. Even Judas, to whom Jesus replied, “Yes, it is you.” Did the others not hear him? In any case, Jesus dismissed Judas to do as he had planned, and Judas took off into the night. Was he unnerved that Jesus knew what he was up to? Or was he so dedicated to his task that he had convinced himself this was the only way to force Jesus into action? Later that night, Judas led a large crowd, armed with swords and clubs, into Gethsemane and greeted his friend and teacher with a kiss. Only after Jesus was arrested and condemned did Judas regret what he had done. He tried to return the money, but the priests refused it. Blood money. And Judas, full of remorse, took his own life.
Is anything more damaging to a relationship than betrayal? More shocking? The events of this terrible night were no surprise to Jesus. Everything would unfold as the prophets had revealed centuries before, including the price for the betrayal of a friend (Zechariah 11:12-13), and as Jesus had explained to his disciples, though they had not understood or believed him. There was no turning back now. What Judas had set in motion was necessary for the salvation of all humanity. Bitter betrayal would lead to triumphant victory. But first, the cross.
You are welcome at Westview Church! Join us this Sunday morning at 9:30 for worship (Children’s Worship and nursery care available) and stay for Discovery Hour (all ages).