When the gospel writers give us their accounts of Jesus’ final days, two men take center stage: Peter and Judas. In every New Testament list of the twelve apostles, Peter is always first, Judas always last. They are forever joined together by the fact that they both failed grievously and in very public ways.
But only one man was restored.
The other man went to hell.
Let’s focus for a moment on Judas. Consider his experience leading up to his betrayal:
He was personally chosen to be an apostle by Jesus Christ. He forsook all to follow the Lord. He spent 3 1/2 years traveling the length and breadth of Israel with Christ. He saw all the miracles of Christ in person. He heard Christ give his famous discourses. He watched as Christ healed the sick, raised the dead, and cast out demons. He was sent out to preach the gospel along with the other apostles. He was one of the leaders of the apostolic band. No one ever suspected him of treason.
In terms of experience, whatever you can say about James, Peter and John, you can say also about Judas. Everywhere they went, he also went. He was right there, always by the side of Jesus. He heard it all, saw it all, experienced it all. However you explain his defection, you cannot say he was less experienced than the other apostles.
It is now A.D. 65. Thirty years and more have passed since the crucifixion of Jesus. Matthew sits down to write his gospel. When he comes to list the names of the apostles, he begins "Peter, James, John" and then the others. Judas is last, always. But never just "Judas" but "Judas who betrayed him." When Mark writes his gospel it is the same: "Judas who betrayed him." When Luke writes his gospel, it is the same: "Judas who betrayed him." Then 30 years after that, John—by now in his 80s or 90s—writes his gospel. He called him "Judas who was later to betray him."
They never got over what happened. The passage of time did not dim the enormity of his crime. It was as heinous to them in their old age as it had been when they were young.
When you get right down to it, Judas should have been a better man or a worse man. If he had been better, he would not have done such an evil thing. If he had been worse, he would not have felt such remorse. As it was, he was bad enough to do the deed and good enough to be unable to bear the guilt of it.
What would it take for you to sell out the Son of God?
Would you betray him for money?
Would you betray him for a better job?
Would you betray him to keep the job you have?
Would you betray him to save your own skin?
Would you betray him because he didn't live up to your expectations?
Would you betray him because you thought he let you down?
Would you betray him if you thought you could win the favor of important people?
These are searching questions that may be easier to ask than to answer. I ask you not to take them lightly. The one main lesson from Judas' life is lost unless we at least ask ourselves the questions.
My Lord, I pray for a faith so real and so deep that it cannot be bought or sold for any price. Amen.