October 18, 2006

Judas Up Close

2006 1529 page22 cap DETEST THE UTTER SELFISHNESS OF JUDAS Iscariot. But it’s good to find a man like him sitting on the original church board, working as the Christian church’s very first treasurer. A coworker, a fellow missionary, an elder, a church father, a trusted colleague, an influential administrator, an ordained pastor.
This imposing, handsome, swaggering, confident, clever, proud, opinionated dude considered himself a terrific executive, one even able to manage Jesus! If it weren’t for Judas, we’d never know how Jesus would treat a grasping, conniving, selfish, ladder-climbing, greedy, covetous, critical, corrupt, opportunistic colleague. Without Judas we’d have no clue how to deal with such tacks in our own souls, such nasty grace-builders.

One of the Twelve

A tall distinguished-looking man, as I picture him, presented himself to Jesus one day. “I will follow You wherever You go,” he said. Anyone looking on would have advised Jesus in the affirmative: “This man has great leadership ability and a bright mind. He will definitely be an asset to the work!”

2006 1529 page22But Jesus sadly replied to Judas: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20).1 Jesus knew that Judas was seeking earthly position, honor, and riches; and that He had none to offer.
Jesus did not turn him away, however. Jesus accepted Judas as His personal assignment, so to speak, and gave him a chance to learn of Him. When Jesus drew His disciples close to ordain them for the gospel ministry, Judas was there. During Jesus’ entire ministry, Judas remained by His side, a partially converted man whose heart straddled both the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world!
Is it any wonder, then, that we too will find ourselves working with people who struggle with conflict of interest? Is it any wonder that church officers will manipulate church policies and politics to their personal benefit? Should it surprise us that fellow workers will not only see their coworkers as team members in the “work of God,” but also as “a deep pocket,” “a stepping stone,” a resource for improving their own personal lives? But like Jesus, we can accept our “assignment,” knowing we work with One who has the necessary experience and wisdom to help us.
The Treasurer
Not only did our Example accept Judas into His circle of disciples, but, as with the others, Jesus entrusted him with the power to heal and cast out demons (Matt. 10:1). More than that, Jesus even allowed Judas to mind the money box!
Isn’t it ironic that Judas, the devil’s all-time best helper, was given power to cast out evil spirits? Apparently Jesus uses some dubious tools to advance His work! Does that give us perspective on some of “the workers” we know?
And about that money box. . . . It surely must puzzle church auditors that Jesus, who knew that Judas had magnetic fingers for silver and gold, would allow this arrangement to continue. John clearly says that Judas did not oppose the alabaster box anointment “because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:6). Apparently, Jesus was more concerned about the person than the petty cash.
It appears that before confrontation, Jesus chose to appeal to Judas’s mind by careful teaching, goodly example, and life experiences. In our own lives we learn how Jesus works: He offers evidence; He comes close enough so we can reach out and touch Him; He knocks; He appeals; He warns. But He never forces. Judas heard firsthand the same gospel we know and love. He had the same opportunities as John and the other disciples. But Judas, step by step, chose a different path. In Christ’s love for us, He offers choice. But then He respects our decisions—even bad ones. Here we’re given the model: to those we think have erred, we endeavor to make the issues clear. We cast our vote. We try godly persuasion and warning; but once we’ve said our piece, we hold our peace. Ultimately, a person’s decision is their own.
Heart of a Devil
John 6 records the feeding of the 5,000, followed by a movement to proclaim Jesus as king. Then there’s the storm at sea, and not long afterward a point when many disciples turned from Jesus. At the end of the chapter, Jesus said: “‘Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!’ (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though being one of the Twelve, was later to betray him)” (John 6:70, 71).
We gather that Judas must have been the “star” of that occasion. Can’t you just picture this large man grinning from sideburn to sideburn as he sees the crowds swell! When the sick and maimed arrive, it’s Judas (as I imagine it) who opens a path for them. When the loaves and fish are multiplied, Judas presents them to people with comments about how this is a good day to coronate their new king. Judas, organized and confident, would be just the kind of man to set the plans in motion.
“[But] Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself” (John 6:15). Jesus somehow had missed Judas’s script; and we can imagine that Judas’s swollen hopes burst into bitter, sullen anger when Jesus “made His disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to Bethsaida” (Mark 6:45).
The story concludes in Capernaum where Jesus tried to help the people enlarge their vision and not be satisfied with merely being “bread-of-barley Christians,” but becoming “Bread-of-Life Christians”! But when He told them He had a bigger mission than just setting up an earthly kingdom, He was met with murmuring—even from His disciples. And I suspect the grumpiest grumbler that day was Judas.
Oh Judas! You reek with selfishness! You seek honor, not service. You pursue friendship, not to enrich another, but for personal gain. You linger only for the benefits. You want the missionary’s money, but not his Lord. On the outside you look so pious, while on the inside you contrive plots for private benefit. The Good Book described you right. You are a devil. But in spite of your demonic selfishness, Jesus has room in His life for you.
Simon’s Feast
As best I can determine, the price Mary paid for her spikenard gift (300 denarii) was roughly three times the price Judas asked for betraying Jesus (30 pieces of silver).2 Here we see two people showing the value they placed on Jesus. The contrast is striking, and it sets the stage for conflict.
That occasion was a feast sponsored by Simon. Simon wanted to honor Jesus because He had cured him of leprosy. Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, was there. She’d heard Jesus talk of His upcoming death, so she’d sacrificed to buy a box of expensive spikenard ointment to anoint His body. She decided to honor Jesus with her perfume, not thinking anything about what would result when she opened the box. Suddenly, to her surprise and embarrassment, she found herself the center of attention.
“Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages,” Judas sniped. But the poor person he really wanted to help was poor, poor Judas.
The time had now come for Jesus to openly rebuke him. Judas had publicly stated his position; so would Jesus: “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me” (John 12:5-8).
The reproof seared Judas’s heart, and he slipped away to cinch his deal with the priests.
Oh Judas, surely we pity you! It may seem like a waste to sacrifice your time and life for Jesus; but Jesus is worth much more than one could ever spend on honoring Him.
The Last Supper
Repeatedly, I’ve pondered how Jesus could have a meaningful relationship with Judas when He could basically not trust the man. We do know that Judas was not chosen as one of Jesus’ three closest disciples. But what was it that bound Him to Judas at all? How Jesus—daily, hourly—could relate constructively to one whom He well knew was a thief and would finally betray Him is a total mystery to me. Clues to Jesus’ feelings about Judas are found in The Desire of Ages’ narrative on the Last Supper—from which I take the following:
2006 1529 page22“Before the Passover Judas had met a second time with the priests and scribes, and had closed the contract to deliver Jesus into their hands. . . . Jesus alone could read his secret. Yet He did not expose him. Jesus hungered for his soul. He felt for him such a burden as for Jerusalem when He wept over the doomed city. His heart was crying, How can I give thee up?”3
The key to the relationship seems to be that “Jesus hungered for his soul.” I confess I don’t think I would have cared one corpuscle for Judas’s soul if I had been there. My tongue would have prayed for the man’s destruction. But I perceive a deficit in my attitude. Yes, God help me strive for that kind of love! Somehow, some way, I believe it is a godly possibility. Might not my Creator be able to reprogram new patterns of thinking in His creature?
It’s notable that Jesus personally served Judas. I see the hands that Judas would soon pierce with nails washing feet that would soon hurry off on their hellish errand. In following Jesus’ example, our hands, too, must serve those who disappoint us.
Scripture inserts a curious little verse into this chapter about Judas: “‘What you are about to do, do quickly,’ Jesus told him, but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him” (John 13:27, 28). Evidence supports the idea that Jesus indulged no gossip, no talking in the shadows, no criticism, only a closed mouth about Judas’s faults. We take note. And if our Judas someday offers us as merchandise for betrayal, should we feel surprised or honored?
To Gethsemane and the Courtyard
Leading a pack of jealous, bloodthirsty men to Gethsemane, Judas eased close to Jesus and took His hand saying, “Greetings, Rabbi!” Then he kissed Jesus. Said Jesus, “Friend, do what you came for” (Matt. 26:49, 50).
Friend! Humph! But Jesus was too much of a gentleman to stoop to sarcasm. Graciously, He accepted Judas’s kisses. Is this an example for us on how to meet those “whited sepulchers” who offer us public handshakes and oily words?
Said Ellen White: “As the trial drew to a close, Judas could endure the torture of his guilty conscience no longer. Suddenly a hoarse voice rang through the hall, sending a thrill of terror to all hearts: He is innocent; spare Him, O Caiaphas!
“The tall form of Judas was now seen pressing through the startled throng. His face was pale and haggard, and great drops of sweat stood on his forehead. Rushing to the throne of judgment, he threw down before the high priest the pieces of silver that had been the price of his Lord’s betrayal. . . . ‘I have sinned,’ again cried Judas. . . .
“Judas now cast himself at the feet of Jesus, acknowledging Him to be the Son of God, and entreating Him to deliver Himself. The Savior did not reproach His betrayer. He knew that Judas did not repent; his confession was forced from his guilty soul by an awful sense of condemnation. . . . Yet Jesus spoke no word of condemnation. He looked pityingly upon Judas, and said, ‘For this hour came I into the world.’”4
See how our wounded Savior responded to the one who was causing Him such pain! It’s one of the most sacred moments in Scripture. One can hardly comprehend such grace. But by contemplating Jesus’ example, we can believe that His holiness will mold us into the same image.
On Calvary’s Path
Jesus’ journey with Judas ended on crucifixion day. As Jesus was led out to Calvary from Pilate’s judgment hall, the parade passed an old tree on the way, and many in the crowd saw the remains of Judas, who’d committed suicide by hanging. “Falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out” (Acts 1:18, NKJV).* Dogs were devouring his corpse.
We leave the story of Judas, sobered by the seriousness of his choices and humbled by the patient, loving way Jesus handled this wicked follower.
My heart, kneeling, prays: “Oh Jesus, Master of relationships, remove my selfishness. Give me Your kind of hungering for souls, and help me bear with others as You bore with Judas.”
*Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1Ellen G. White applies this text to Judas (The Desire of Ages, pp. 293, 294). In chapters 30 and 76 of the same book she presents excellent commentaries on the life of Judas.
2A denarii was a day’s wage and a silver coin (an “arguria”) was about four days’ wages.
3Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 645.
4Ibid., pp. 721, 722.
Carolyn Byers is a freelance writer and housewife working in West Africa.