8. The Judas of Today
Though Judas Iscariot lived over two thousand years ago, his actions still have repercussions today. To believers, while his actions and betrayal are repugnant, they are the inciting incidents that lead to Jesus' ultimate sacrifice and the act of substitutionary atonement that we rely on in grace.
Even removed from that context, Judas still remains a powerful figure in our lives today. I think we can see the actions of Judas being repeated among believers. True, none of us will be the prophesied betrayer of the Messiah, fulfilling that specific role in that time and place. Each of us, though, does find ourselves betraying Jesus in a variety of ways. All ways we are following in Judas' footsteps in our walk as disciples.
When looking at the survey of Judas' life, we see a disciple who seems to have initially been a devoted follower, but whose motivations may have been called into question. We then see point where he has begun to question Jesus' actions and teaching in the incident with Mary and the nard. We then see this thread follow through to his betrayal and to his remorse.
I do feel it important to mention the motives of possession and predetermination, though I will not be exploring them further in this blog. Both remind us that there are forces far greater than our control, and the involvement of possession in Judas' life reminds us to be on guard spiritually. Both also are topics far greater than I am qualified to discuss and would be much longer entries themselves. The other potential motivations that have been revealed through the various interpretations explored in this series provide a through line that we can see in our lives.
Over this exploration, the theme that has emerged is one of Judas following Jesus for what Judas could get out of Jesus' ministry. Put another way, Judas had another version in his head of what his following Jesus would look like and where it would bring him. This would cover the motivations of greed, of zealotry, of caution, and of extremism. It would explain how someone so close to Jesus would be so far off the mark in his actions. How someone could see and hear Jesus' ministry and not follow his teaching.
It's because he was not truly following Jesus in the first place.
He was following his own version of Jesus. The Jesus he had designed in his mind. A Jesus that would be an earthly king. A Jesus that would be an important religious figure. That would put Judas in a place of prominence due to his proximity. That would make Judas wealthy after entrusting him with the purse.
This is something we are each guilty of.
We can think of the truly egregious ways. Like the profiteers and schemers trying to use Jesus' teachings for their own gain. The "faith" healers, with the call in donation lines. Found in many places on television and the internet with many, many different spiritual leaders who will provide divine healing or the removal of evil spirits for a "slight" (and increasing) monetary fee. I believe much of the appeal, as it is, to Scientology is found in this idea. Followers pay for audits or continuing mental health and emotional health treatments. How many "religious leaders" are using Jesus for pure monetary gain? Does Creflo Dollar's ministry really need a Gulfstream Jet? How much wealth accumulation is enough?
How many politicians are using Jesus and their "faith" as a badge for political gain, to get that set of voters? Does one political party truly have a monopoly on being acceptable?
I think further of the tale of father and son owners of a car dealership in a small town who purposefully split their families' attendance to the first and second largest churches in town to increase their potential customer base. After all, if you're going to be attending church anyway, might as well get a benefit out of it in addition, right?!?
This is nothing new. Paul wrote of it in his letter to the Ephesians referring to the sons of Sceva.
God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirts went out. But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. This became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified. Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.
Acts 19:11-20 (NASB)
The passage starts with the successes and blessings of Paul's work in Ephesus, the power of God being displayed mightily in this city. So much so, that you can see it is truly the work of God and nothing Paul could do. It's such the power of God pouring out of Paul, even into handkerchiefs and aprons that he is carrying, transferring that healing power of God to those in need.
And what we see next are the hangers on. The profiteers. The schemers that are finding ways to bring benefit to themselves from the real, genuine miracles that they are observing around them. Here, they are Jewish healers or exorcists who believe they can use the magic words "in the name of Jesus" to their own gain, despite having no belief in Jesus themselves. They are copying Paul's actions without having the personal faith and relationship that he has. And we see how it turns out for them.
These sons of Sceva are very similar to Judas. Following Jesus for their own personal gain or for the idea in their own head, rather than for the purpose of His glory.
How often do we treat our faith as rabbit's foot or bargaining chip for our personal development?
How many of us wear our faith when it is beneficial for us or can bring us something? We only communicate with God when we are asking Him for things, but at no other times. "Slot-machine" prayers. We only share our faith when it makes us look good or lets us voice our opinion and insight. We attend a particular church to "network" or for the services that it offers us.
How many of us think that as long as we follow God and do the things expected of us, we will have a good life? Who believe we are entitled to a certain level of comfort and good things in our life because we are "good people?"
If we get down to it, how many of us are sitting in church on Sunday morning because of obligation or a checklist mentality, instead of to lift the name of God high?
We know the verses, we know God looks inward at our motivations instead of just of actions, but how many of us actually live it?
"All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, But the Lord weighs the motives."
"But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as a man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.'"
1 Samuel 16:7
We know that Jesus knew Judas' motivations. He knew Judas' reasons for following Him. And He continued to invest in Judas. Whether only for the role Judas needed to play or for hope for Judas' remorse, Jesus continued to develop Judas and kept him in His fold.
"After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, 'Do you want to go away as well?' Simon Peter answered him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.' Jesus answered them, 'Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.' He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him."
The hope for us would be in the opportunity to course correct. To repent. To turn and truly follow Jesus for what He has planned. Judas' remorse seems to indicate that possibility in his life. It seems to reveal that moment when Judas finally understood how far off he truly was. Where he recognized the disconnect between his vision of the future and what Jesus truly represented. Where Jesus' ministry was truly headed.
The question, is whether we are able to recognize who we are following in our own lives. Are we truly following Jesus' teachings? Or are we following in Judas' footsteps? And if so, then what do we do about it?