April 21, 2009

Ordinary Joes, Part 12 - Judas, the Betrayer

What can we say about Judas, the most infamous (but short-lived) of Jesus’ original twelve disciples? A lot actually. The New Testament gives us more insight on the betrayer than on almost any of the other eleven. So there are many avenues we can take when thinking about the sad story of the ill-fated son of Simon Iscariot. We could think about the deceitfulness of riches (John 12.1-6 and Luke 22.3ff). We could talk about Judas’s own deceitfulness (pretending to be a disciple even while he was plotting betrayal). We could even consider (as we watch Judas come apart at the emotional seams and hang himself, Matthew 27.3ff) the deranging effects of unforgiven sin and piled up guilt.

But in this brief space, I’d like to consider perhaps the greatest lesson of all to be gleaned from the life of Judas Iscariot – namely, the frightening reality of how close one can be to Jesus without ever being saved. Isn’t Judas a perfect case-study for those of us who have grown up (or are growing up) religious? Judas, like us, was at all the services. He saw the healing of deaf and lame, the blind and leprous. He probably saw Lazarus raised from the tomb. He was present at the most intimate gathering of Jesus’ disciples, the last supper (John 13). He was even the treasurer for the Nazarene Mission Society! That is, every shekel that was donated to Jesus and the disciples’ cause, and every drachma that was spent by and for the cause, passed through his fingers. He was like a deacon among the disciples!

In fact, even in his betrayal, we see how close to Jesus Judas really was. John 18.2 tells us that Judas knew Jesus so well that he was able to take the priests and Roman soldiers to exactly the spot where Jesus would likely be spending such an evening. And He was comfortable enough with Jesus to be able to walk right up and kiss Him on the cheek (a sign of ancient companionship). Humanly speaking, then, Judas knew Jesus as well, and was as comfortable with Him as almost anyone. And yet he was also His betrayer!

And the lesson is plain isn’t it? Physical or religious nearness to Jesus doesn’t always equate with love for Jesus. Service in the name Jesus doesn’t always equate with faith in the name of Jesus. For Judas was always nearby, and always serving … but for his own selfish motives. He got to skim a little money off the top (John 12). And maybe, along the way, he thought he’d get to ride the coat-tails of Jesus into fame and political clout.

Now we could point to lots of people who are ‘following Jesus’ today because they think He will make them well-to-do, or healthy, or powerful, or a better athlete, or whatever. But that’s too easy, isn’t it? So let’s dig a little deeper … and closer to home. What about the folks who are ‘following Jesus’ because it is the acceptable thing to do in their family (strike a chord, young people?)? And what about the people who are ‘following Jesus’ simply because they don’t want to burn in hell? What about those people who are at all the services … even fulfilling some servant role in the church, and yet, in their heart of hearts, they know that none of it is real?

O, how easy it is to be so close to Jesus, and yet so far away! How easy it is to be as phony as Judas was! And yet, what an opportunity you have that he has lost. You haven’t yet finished your course. Your corpse hasn’t yet decayed as his did (Acts 1.18). And your soul hasn’t yet burned in everlasting destruction. So there is yet hope! The hope of repentance! The hope that your eyes would be opened to the beauty and mercy of Jesus; and that you would begin to follow Him simply because He is worthy … not just because you’re supposed to; and not just because you’re going to get something out of it! O, to be close to Jesus in heart and soul … not just in location! That is what an ordinary disciple looks like!

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