Lenten Service for February 17, 2021 — Hands of Betrayal
Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 59:12-20:
12For our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: 13rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God, inciting revolt and oppression, uttering lies our hearts have conceived. 14So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. 15Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.
The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. 16He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm achieved salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him. 17He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak. 18According to what they have done, so will he repay wrath to his enemies and retribution to his foes; he will repay the islands their due. 19From the west, people will fear the name of the Lord, and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory. For he will come like a pent-up flood that the breath of the Lord drives along.
20“The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,” declares the Lord.
Psalm 14 in Christian Worship Supplement
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.
The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men
to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.
All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt;
there is no one who does good, not even one.
Will evildoers never learn—
those who devour my people and do not call on the Lord?
You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor,
but the Lord is their refuge.
Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people, let Israel rejoice and be glad!
Glory be to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen.
2 Corinthians 5:20b—6:2:
20bWe implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
6:1As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 2For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.
9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
21 After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”
22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”
25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”
26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.
So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” 28 But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. 30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.
Hands of Betrayal (Judas)
King David of Israel knew a thing about betrayal. Ahithophel was a member of David’s cabinet. He was a close friend and trusted confidant, a man who dined at David’s family table, a man whose counsel David trusted, whose advice was blessed by God and who contributed to the outward success of David’s kingdom. Yet when David’s son Absalom attempted a coup, Ahithophel betrayed David and joined Absalom’s cause. For David, that betrayal must have been particularly biting.
The only man with whom a king would work more closely than his cabinet member is his general. David’s general was Joab, and the two of them had seen a lot of life together. Who can forget Joab’s fierce loyalty when David asked him to be an accessory to Uriah’s murder? “Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead” (2 Sa 11:24). Joab’s loyalty to David eventually ran out when he backed Adonijah instead of Solomon to succeed David as king.
From the time he dropped Goliath until his dying breath, David’s life was filled with more drama than Game of Thrones. Saul tried to kill him, his sons schemed to steal his throne, his friends betrayed him; he was constantly on the run from enemies. Although it’s unclear whether he was talking about Ahithophel or Joab, David lamented his betrayal in the prophetic psalm, “Even my close friend, someone I trusted, who shared my bread, has turned against me” (Ps 41:9).
Is there anything more biting than betrayal? We expect unbelievers to persecute us. We’re not surprised when a neighbor slams the door on a canvass. We know that corporate life brings office politics. Yet we expect our friends to be loyal. When we’re close with someone, when we share our deepest secrets and trust him or her completely, and then he or she betrays that trust, that is intensely painful. Betrayal burns with the intensity of the sun; it scalds the soul.
David certainly wasn’t the first person to have been betrayed, and he wasn’t the last either. Neither was his lamenting psalm isolated to his own situation, because Jesus invokes David’s words in this text from John to predict his own betrayal by Judas. Like Joab, Judas was close with Jesus. Like Ahithophel, Judas was part of the inner circle, one of the Twelve. He was a trusted friend who broke bread at Jesus’ table. And like them both, Judas had lifted up his hands in betrayal.
Since the 1940s, nobody names their kid Adolf. And since Bible times, nobody names their kid Judas. The name Judas is so synonymous with “betrayer” that many wonder if he was distinctively evil or especially wicked from the womb. Why would anyone do something like this to Jesus? It’s true that Judas was sinful when he came out of the womb, but in the same way everyone is born sinful. Judas was just as sinful as Andrew or Philip, just like you or me. And just like those other sinners Andrew or Philip, Jesus called Judas to be a disciple. He heeded to Jesus’ invitation to follow, went on missionary trips with the Twelve and the 72, and served alongside the others. Earlier in this chapter, Jesus washed his feet, and now he was present on that Holy Thursday as the disciples gathered to celebrate the Passover with Jesus one last time.
The Bible also makes it clear that Judas had a greedy heart that he brought along with him to the Passover table. Do you remember when Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume? Mary’s nard was expensive—worth a year’s wages! Judas argued Mary’s deed was a waste of money. The perfume should have been sold to help the poor. The Holy Spirit lets us in on Judas’ real motives. “He did not say this 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” (Jn 12:6).
The love of money was a terrible temptation for Judas, and the devil knew it. Satan was determined to wave that sin in Judas’ face like a flag. When you’ve already sold out to dipping your dirty hands into the disciples’ petty cash to use as your personal piggy bank, it’s a pretty easy sell for the devil to suggest, “And what exactly would you be willing to do for 30 pieces of silver?” Judas didn’t predetermine his betrayal; he didn’t flip a switch. Garden variety greed, unrepented and unchecked, was the sin that corroded his soul over time, and eventually put Judas’ betraying hands at the table. “The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus” (Jn 13:2).
Betrayal hurts intensely because it’s personal. But another part of what makes betrayal so brutal is that it’s done in secret. Judas was living a double life, promoting himself as a disciple but letting his greed run amok in his soul. The rest of the disciples were fooled; they thought of Judas as a friend and ally. They didn’t see the greedy darkness in Judas’ heart. But Jesus knew. Jesus chose the Passover meal, before the institution of the Lord’s Supper to reveal his betrayer. “After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, ‘Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me’” (v. 21).
When you sidle up to your seat at the Thanksgiving table, there is an understanding that you check your baggage at the door. Husbands and wives don’t throw barbs at one another, at least not there. The kids are banned from snark and fighting. You’re expected to be civil; it’s a celebration after all! But here is Jesus celebrating with thanksgiving God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery with his disciples for last time. His accusation brings instant tension to the room. The disciples react the same way everyone reacts when accused. They are defensive. They deny. They deflect. “His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant” (v. 22). “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?” (Mt 26:22).
There is more in the disciples’ words than defensiveness and denial. Jesus hadn’t identified the betrayer by name. He said, “One of you will betray me” (v. 21), and that sent the disciples’ minds spinning into introspection. Was there a disciple who argued in self-righteousness that he’d never, ever do such a thing? Remember, Peter said he’d never deny Jesus—and we know how that turned out. Was there a disciple who went soul searching in self-doubt? “Is he talking about me? Could he be talking about me? I know he’s God; he knows everything and can see my soul. He sees something in one of our hearts that nobody else sees. What does he see in my heart? Am I capable of this?”
Well, are you? What secret sins do you have hiding in your heart? Have you ever sold God out for money? Have your secret sins gone unrepented and unchecked for so long that they eat away at your faith and corrode your soul? Is greed the sin that is crouching at your door? What is the secret sin that you fight to hide from everyone else, but the devil waves it in front of your face like a flag because he knows it brings you to your knees? Ask yourself honestly, because this devotion will do you no good if all you take away is that Judas was a bad guy. Nobody wakes up in the morning determined to fail God—but we better know that we are all sinners, and sinners sin. Anyone is capable of any sin, especially if left unchecked and unaddressed. What does the all-knowing Jesus see when he looks in your heart? Will you still answer, “Surely not I, Lord?”
As the accusation hung in the air and the disciples scrambled to avoid blame, Peter signaled to John who was sitting next to Jesus. “Ask him who’s he talking about!” “Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, ‘What you are about to do, do quickly’” (vv. 26,27).
The Bible teaches how to deal with someone caught in a sin. “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently” (Gal 6:1). Jesus taught that gentle restoration first requires a private conversation. “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you” (Mt 18:15). Throughout the years that Judas was a disciple, Jesus exercised pastoral care for Judas with a gentle touch. At this advanced hour, Jesus was trying to jar his conscience and dislodge the greedy grip sin had on his soul by calling Judas out publicly. At least three times Jesus confronted Judas in the hearing of Twelve. At the end of his Bread of Life discourse, Jesus said, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (Jn 6:70,71). When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he said, “You are clean, though not every one of you” (Jn 13:10). Now at the Passover table, Jesus dips his hands into the bowl with Judas’ betraying hands. Jesus was reaching out to Judas. He was telling him, “Resist Satan. Don’t do it.” Even to his own betrayer, Jesus showed love and pastoral concern for Judas’ soul right to the end.
Judas went ahead with his betrayal by identifying Jesus with a kiss. Jesus went ahead down a path that led to another “betrayal” even more surreal. Jesus went to the cross, where in painful anguish he called out to a faithful friend who had abandoned him. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mk 15:34 CSB). God treated Christ as though he had committed Judas’ betrayal, as though he had turned traitor like Ahithophel and Joab. God banished Christ to suffer hell’s punishment for our sins of greed, for our idolatrous love of money, for our obtuse self-righteousness, and for every embarrassing secret sin we insist on hiding. They’ve been punished in full, and they’ve been paid in full. And as Isaiah says, “By his wounds we are healed” (53:5).
How could Jesus love and forgive traitors like Ahithophel or Joab or Judas? Jesus did love them, and he did forgive them, but at least a couple of those stories have unhappy endings. Ahithophel and Judas were so distraught over their own betrayals that they reasoned God’s only move was to treat them in kind; they were certain God would betray them in return. In an act of unbelieving despair, both men took their own lives. But the gospel teaches us that God doesn’t betray sinners; instead he turned his back on his own Son. He forsook Christ! He reconciled the world! Banish the thought that God will banish us for our sins, and don’t let Satan or anyone convince you otherwise. God made peace with man in Christ. Ask not then how God could love and forgive a traitor like Judas. Ask “How could God love and forgive a traitor like me?” In Christ alone. Amen.