If you like spy stories or enjoy watching detective programmes on TV you’ll be well aware of the importance of routines and perhaps more importantly of not following them. A man who is worried about a kidnapping threat will make sure that he doesn’t drive exactly the same route to work two days running and he’ll arrange for his family to vary their journeys too. The underlying idea being that if you’re going to keep yourself safe then you’ve got to make life as difficult as possible for your enemy, you’ve got to keep him constantly guessing.
Well Jesus didn’t act in that way at all! He had not come into the world at his Father’s behest to promote his own safety and security but to save sinners and, as his hour drew near, he wasn’t about to allow the threats of his enemies make him change course now.
Ever since he had come into the world he had been about his Father’s business and now, with the end fast approaching, he continued to reach out to others. Jesus knew why he had come and he knew he could trust his Heavenly Father and so he didn’t try to hide away even though he knew rejection, betrayal, suffering and death were waiting for him. And so, day after day, he went into the Temple and continued to teach all those who wanted to listen to him. And night after night he went out to spend the night on the flanks of Mount Olivet.
Later in the week when the Jewish authorities sent to effect a potentially complicated night-time arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of Mount Olivet Jesus would ask them why they hadn’t arrested him as he had daily taught in the Temple – it had been evident to all where he was and what he was doing.
While Jesus was continuing to teach in the Temple, beginning early in the morning when already crowds would gather to him to hear what he had to say, the Jewish leadership was holding an altogether different type of meeting. And these leaders didn’t want people to know what they were about at all.
The Plot Thickens
Jesus had long been a thorn in the flesh of the official Jewish leadership. Right from the earliest days of his public ministry they had set themselves against him resisting his teaching and making plans to kill him. If they could eradicate him they thought their problems would be over. But the time had never been right and they had never been able to put their plans into action.
Forced for a time to shelve those plans the Jewish religious leadership tried other means of combating him. They tried to pick holes in what he said and to make his teaching look ridiculous but time after time their efforts back-fired on them. Not one of them had been able to reduce him to silence by argument and instead they had seen his influence grow until some of the Pharisees could say to themselves:
Jn.12:19 "You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him."
As far as they were concerned things were getting out of control and it was time at last to act. But how were they to proceed? The problem was that they feared what the reaction of the people might be. But how could they lay their hands upon him without provoking a serious incident?
You see, it was the time of the year when the feast of the Passover and the feast of unleavened bread were to be celebrated. This was one of the most important times in the Jewish religious calendar and thousands of pilgrims flocked to Jerusalem in order to do celebrate it all. At such times with the city overflowing with visitors it was easy for a dispute to develop quickly and spill over into an important public disturbance – it had happened in previous years and they feared it happening again.
During the Passover feelings too ran high against Roman rule – after all the Passover did celebrate deliverance from foreign rule. And now here was that man from Nazareth causing quite a stir as a Messianic pretender – who knows what his supporters from Galilee might do if they were to arrest Jesus openly?
So the Jewish leadership met in private to try to work out what to do. How could they take him without risking provoking a possible public catastrophe?
Satan gets involved
There are plenty of people who pooh-pooh the idea of a personal devil but if you take the Bible seriously you will not want to be numbered amongst them.
Jesus had already encountered and overcome him in the wilderness. There Satan had tried to derail Jesus right at the very outset of his ministry. Satan failed on that occasion but he didn’t give up. He made a tactical withdrawal, bided his time, and waited for another opportunity. And this was the opportunity he had been waiting for! Satan would become very active that week.
The Jewish leaders had their plans but were struggling to know how they might proceed so Satan turned one of Jesus’ own disciples. We read:
v.3 "Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve."
We are not to imagine that Judas was so completely taken over by Satan that he was not a free-agent or that he had no responsibility for what he was about to do. Rather we are to understand Satan exploiting weaknesses that Judas had and about which he had taken no steps. We’re not to imagine that Satan forced Judas to act out of character – he didn’t need to do that because all he needed to do was to appeal to Judas’ besetting sin – avarice.
Judas liked money – it was as simple as that. He had been given the responsibility for handling the finances for Jesus and his followers but sadly he wasn’t averse to putting his hand into the common purse to satisfy his own desires (Jn.12:6).
Matthew tells us of an incident that immediately preceded Judas offering to betray Jesus to the Jewish leadership. Pretending to be concerned about the poor, he had spoken out critically against what he considered to be the wasteful extravagance of a woman who wanted to honour Jesus. His advice was not followed and instead it was his assessment of the whole situation that needed criticising according to Jesus not the woman’s.
"Beware, Judas, your sin will find you out!" But it was too late.
Jesus had recently been warning his followers of their need to watch themselves, to stay spiritually awake, to pray. All this would be necessary if they were to prove themselves steadfast. But Judas took none of this to heart and when Satan came calling to fan the lusts of his heart into a flame Judas was in no position to resist – nor did he want to!
v.4 "He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them."
The Jewish leadership couldn’t believe their luck! At one stroke the problem of how to arrest Jesus away from the public gaze had been solved. They had their fifth column, for here was one of Jesus’ own intimate circle and he was prepared to blow the whistle and lead them to him. It is no surprise then that we read:
v.5 "And they were glad, and agreed to give him money."
The Enormity of the Betrayal
For some reason a number of writers have tried to excuse Judas for what he did. His actions were not sinful they say, they were well-intentioned, just misguided. Perhaps they want to suggest that the failure to heed Jesus’ clear warnings is not that bad, that betrayal is no big deal. How the human heart loves to diminish the importance and the significance of sin!
But there really is no justification for what Judas did. Again and again in Scripture Judas is described in two ways – he was one of the 12 and he betrayed his Master.
Just think for a moment about the privileges Judas had. Judas was a member of the 12! This meant:
He had close and intimate contact with Jesus for 3 years
He knew how he lived
He saw him at prayer
He heard his teaching
He witnessed his miracles
He observed his compassion
He saw his godly integrity
He was granted responsibilities, experiencing his power
He was well-treated (the other apostles could detect nothing that would set Judas apart from the rest of them
And it was this one who betrayed his Master.
His betrayal was a grave and serious sin against the light.
And he sold his Master for a pittance! The Jewish leaders must have been thrilled – they had got the betrayal they wanted and it hardly cost them anything, just a few silver coins – 30 pieces of silver Matthew tells us, the cost of a slave - that was the price that Judas put on the head of the man who had gone about doing good, healing the sick, casting out evil spirits, raising the dead.
What is your price I wonder? What Satanic payment is sufficient to separate you from Christ?
Judas was one of the 12, indistinguishable from the rest but his actions show that his heart had never been touched by the Saviour. Oh yes, he looked like the others, could talk like them, go with them, sing the same songs, but when push came to shove the god of his heart had nothing to do with Jesus.
Judas looked like the others but he was a false friend and he is further evidence, if you really need any, of the truthfulness of that earlier statement Jesus had made when he said that you cannot serve "God and mammon". Judas valued his silver and was prepared to plan in cold-blood to betray the best man who has ever walked on the face of the earth!
Oh yes, the Jewish leadership had a job vacancy to advertise: Wanted One Betrayer. Qualifications: Must have good contacts. And Judas was a ready candidate – nobody forced him – he simply sold his soul for what would never bring him satisfaction only regret and remorse and everlasting doom.
Judas responded to the job offer and having sealed the deal went away to work out just what had to be done:
v.6 "So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd."
Twice in just a few words the word betrayal figures in regard to the action of Judas – it was a serious matter and we should never think otherwise.
Yes, I know that this betrayal was an integral part of God’s great plan of salvation as the means whereby the Messiah would be arrested and subsequently handed over to the Gentiles for him to be crucified. But this does not in any way excuse the personal responsibility of Judas. He acted in sinful selfishness and had not the slightest regard for the plan and purpose of God. If he had possessed such a regard he would have pleaded with Jesus for help to overcome his love of money, he would have pleaded to be changed on the inside, he would have set himself to watch and pray but the only thing he did set himself to watch for was an opportunity of delivering his Master to his enemies!
What are some of the Lessons for us to learn from all this?
Just because someone is a religious leader doesn’t make all their actions right.The Jewish leaders were intent on getting rid of Jesus and were quite prepared to stoop very low to get what they wanted. They organised the betrayal and secret arrest of an innocent man. They paid bribes to get their way – later events showed that they understood the payment to represent not something honest and above board, it was blood money.
Just being found often in association with Jesus doesn’t ensure a person is right with God. Judas could pass for a disciple of Jesus but the reality was something very different.
Don’t assume that being in the company of genuine disciples automatically makes you one too – a change of heart is necessary and God is the only one who can bring that about.
Beware of sins particularly besetting sins.
Take Jesus’ teaching to heart, all of it. The injunction to watch and pray is for you and not just for the person you’re sat next to.
How wonderful Jesus is!
Teaching right up to the end – early about it too
No desperate efforts made at self-preservation now that the end has drawn near
Willingness to carry out his Father’s plan and purpose
Who are we most like?
The religious leaders who wanted to shut Jesus up and get him out of their lives once and for all
Judas who pretended for a time to walk with Jesus but who never was a true or a genuine friend
Those crowds who longed to hear him teach
The other 11 disciples who would be sorely tried by all that was about to happen. They certainly didn’t understand everything, they all to make some big mistakes, but at heart they were true followers.
My friends the person who follows Jesus Christ truly doesn’t pretend to be something he isn’t. He is a person who has come to see his own need as a sinner to be saved and has applied to Christ for forgiveness and cleansing. He wants to show his love for the Saviour by acts of obedience and longs to honour his Saviour in doing what Jesus teaches him to do. And yet he fails over and over again. But he doesn’t give up, he doesn’t throw in the towel, he doesn’t go over to the enemy camp saying it’s hopeless. Instead every time he realises afresh his own sinful weakness he simply goes back to God confessing his sin and his need all over again. And as he does so he receives the forgiveness, the cleansing and the strength he needs to get up and to go on.
Have I just described you? If you don’t see yourself in this description it may well be that you are not yet a Christian at all in anything other than a cultural or a social way and if that is the case then you must be born again. Don’t be content with an imitation Christianity – that was all Judas had and see where it got him – believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.