An insightful student of our culture, Francis Schaeffer wrote this observation on Americans just before he passed away, "It is my observation that Americans are driven by two things. [That] we are driven by affluence and personal peace." Or, to put it in common terms, that we're driven by cash and comfort.
Now I hear some of you saying, "All right, Stowell. So you got something against cash and comfort?" I'm glad you asked the question. I have to say back to you, "Compared to what?" Compared to poverty and pain, I'm obsessed with the commodities. But then I have to ask, "Compared to Christ?" That's a very important question, because life has a way of putting us in a bind, doesn't it? Life has a way of pushing us to the point of deciding whether or not the pursuit of cash and comfort will be more important to us, of greater value to us, than the pursuit of all that Christ wants us to do. The problem is that when we permit cash and comfort to begin to eclipse our commitment to Christ, we become vulnerable to stand among those who have betrayed Christ.
Cash, comfort, or Christ?
This summer I was talking to a lady who introduced me to her eleven-year-old son, and then he ran off so we could talk privately. She said to me, "I've been a single parent for eleven years. The agony of my heart has been that God would bring a man into my life, a man who would bring me the comfort of companionship and the joy of intimacy. For years I prayed, 'Lord, make it your man. I will not step away from my commitment to you to make it happen.'" And then she paused, and said, "But recently that commitment has faded away." She told me that men had come in and out of her life as though her life was a revolving door, and as tears rolled down her cheeks she said, "Joe, I am so ashamed. I'm so ashamed."
Dan came to me one Sunday. I was his pastor; Dan was an upwardly mobile corporate executive in our area. He worked for a national cable company. In fact, he managed all the regional outlets for the cable company in our town and the area around it. He came to me and said, "Pastor, I just have to ask you a question because I've got something that's really troubling me. I've committed my life to serve Christ without reservation. But, every day that I work, part of my job is the purveying of pornography and outlets from this cable company that I know don't honor Jesus Christ. So, Pastor, what should I do?" To say that he would leave his job meant that he would put Christ before cash, affluence, upward mobility, and all that that would mean for him. And so we said to each other that we needed to take some time and to pray about it.
Sometimes it's not that blatant, isn't it? Sometimes it's a little more subtle. It's just cheating around the edges here and cheating around the edges there, just opening those doors a crack. But if and when cash and comfort eclipse Christ in your life, you and I get counted with those who betray Christ. In fact, we share company with Judas.
Immediately, you want to say, Whoa, let's not bring him up, because Judas is not necessarily our favorite guy, right? He is the scoundrel of Scripture. He is the one who turned our Lord over to the treacherous hands of those who would crucify him. No, he's not our hero. I've been around a lot of people who have been naming their kids, and I'm sure you have, too. "What are you going to name your boy?" They say, "Well, we thought about it. We thought maybe we'd name him Peter or Thomas or James. John is a real nice name. We didn't like Paul a whole lot. But we've decided to name our boy Judas. I mean, we kind of like it. It's cute. It's got a cute little ring to it. When he grows up, we hope he'll be just like Judas." No, we never hear that because Judas is not our guy. Judas is the big time bad guy. For some reason, we tend to distance ourselves from Judas as though we could never walk in his way. But if you think tonight that you could never share space with Judas, then I want you to think again.
In John 13, the apostle John writes about Judas and the dynamics of Judas' betrayal of Jesus Christ. John 13 is about the end of Christ's three-year ministry with his twelve intimate disciples, with whom he has developed a deep friendship. He comes to the end of his ministry and decides that he wants to be alone with these twelve. He says to them, "I have longed to eat the Passover with you." He sends John and Peter to find a room and to prepare the Passover. They're all walking down the streets, and the crowds would have been pushing around Christ and the disciples, and they come to a door. They all walk through the door, and as they shut the door behind them, suddenly the crush of the crowds and the sounds of the street disappear. All you can hear is the shuffling of sandals as they go up the stairs, into what we know as the upper room.
Seated to the right of Jesus Christ was John, the beloved disciple who was leaning back on the bosom of Christ. But, interestingly, most scholars think that Judas was the one seated to the left of Christ—which, by the way, was the place of highest honor. I want you to think about that: Christ intentionally invited Judas to sit at the place of highest honor for the evening. And here they are, gathered in this most intimate last meal together, away from the crowd, just them.
In the first verse of John 13, John makes a marvelous statement. He said, "Before the feast of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that his hour had come that he should depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world." Look at John's impression. He says, "He loved them to the end." I love this about Jesus Christ—he was about to move into the agony of his season on earth. But John says, through all of his pain, he never stopped loving us. As the text says literally, he loved us to the ultimate, obviously to the cross. Having made that marvelous statement of the love of Jesus Christ, the text suddenly takes a real nasty turn. John intersects and interrupts the flow of that wonderful thought with verse 2, where he says, "And during supper the devil, having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon to betray Christ."
Then he goes on to talk about Christ. Luke tells us that as they gathered in the upper room, very sanctimoniously, these twelve guys were discussing an important theological issue. You know what it is, don't you? They were sitting around saying, "Which one of us will be the greatest when Christ comes into the kingdom?" Who's going to have the big shot spots in the kingdom? And so, in a beautiful picture in John 13, Christ gets up from the table and takes off his robes and washes their feet. Think of this. God takes the form of a servant. And, humbly as a servant, washes all of their feet, as if to say The Kingdom is not about who's the big shot; the Kingdom is about which one of us will be willing to serve.
Then we get to verse 20, and John takes us back to Judas again. Verse 21 we read that "When Jesus had said this, he became troubled in his spirit and testified and said, 'Truly, truly I say unto you that one of you will betray me.' The disciples began looking at one another." Literally the text says, "they began staring at each other." Can you think of what a riveting moment this is? What a shocking statement this is? Here they are, all faithfully following. Christ says, "One of you is going to betray me," and they start staring at each other, probably looking for body language. I can hear Peter saying to Andrew, "Did you see when Christ said that Thomas' eyes twitched? Did you see that?" They began staring at each other wondering who this could possibly be.
Verse 23, "And there was reclining on Jesus' breast one of his disciples whom Jesus loved." And Simon Peter, sitting somewhere at the table, said, Hey, John, ask the Lord who he's talking about. "And leaning back thus on Jesus' breast, John said to him, 'Lord, who is it?' And Jesus therefore answered, 'This one for whom I shall dip the morsel and give it to him.'" Now we have to assume that this is a rather quiet conversation between John and Christ. Christ hasn't necessarily made a public announcement to all the rest of the guys.
Now one reason the scholars believe Judas is seated immediately to the left of Christ is because that would be the only way Christ could pull off what he does next. He takes this morsel of bread, and dips it into a very special mixture of raisins, dates, and sour wine. He takes a chunk of the bread and puts it in there, dips it, and hands it to Judas. What you need to know is that, when a host would do this, he was making a statement of honor and love. In that culture to receive this morsel dipped in that sauce was to be highly honored at the dinner. And so, not only has Christ seated him in the place of honor, but Christ has extended honor to this Judas who will betray him. And we read,
So then when he dipped the morsel, he took and gave it to Judas the son of Simon Iscariot. And after the morsel, Satan then entered into him. And Jesus said, "Therefore, what you do, do quickly." Now, no one of those reclining at the table knew for what purpose he had said this to Judas. For some were supposing that because Judas had the money that Jesus as saying to him "Go out and by the things we have need, for the feast" or else, that he should give something to the poor. And so after receiving the morsel he went out immediately; [And John adds this note] and it was night.
Now the writings of the apostle John reveal that he's infatuated with the metaphors of light and dark. The light is always about Jesus Christ, who is indeed the Son. The Son is the sun of this world. He is the light. And the kingdom of Satan is, according to John, always in terms of the darkness of the night. And I really believe that John added this part, "And Judas went out and it was night" as a reference to Judas' entrance into the dark kingdom of the adversary.
It's my guess that all of us know the rest of the story. We get familiar with these kinds of stories; and I find when I try to read this and make it not so familiar, I find my heart saying How could it be? How could it possibly be that you could walk with God for three years on this planet, that you could see the miracles, that you could be the object of his intimate affection and love, that you could have felt his touch, that you could have listened to the depths of his wisdom, that you could have seen his compassion for even the worst of sinners, that you could have been so impressed with a person like Jesus, and in a moment you could betray him and hand him over to the authorities who would crucify him? Do you count that strange? I do. It's an amazing thing.
We have to ask ourselves why. What would ever drive Judas to do this? But before we answer that question, there are some dynamics about betrayals that we need to know, at least three that Judas reflects.
The three dynamics of betrayal.
Dynamic number one of betrayal is that betrayal is always an inside out matter. Judas was the last guy you would have ever expected to betray Christ. Number one, he was the treasurer. He had been trusted with all the funds of the kingdom. So obviously he is a man who is held in high esteem and high trust. Also, the rest of the disciples have such respect for him that, having watched him closely for three years, when Christ handed him the morsel at Passover and he left, none of him said, "That figures. I mean, we figured Judas would go out and do this." They were clueless. In fact, they don't even think about it, or wonder why he left. Well, maybe Christ told him to go buy something or maybe he's going to go give some money to the poor.
I don't know what your external faÇade is. I don't know what position you hold. I have no idea what other people think of you, or how they applaud you and look up to you, or how they might respect you or how they might respect me. Betrayal is an inside out thing. It's what we're cultivating on the inside.
I'll never forget taking my first charge in the ministry as a young pastor. In the state where I was pastoring, there was a man about fifteen years older than I within our denomination who had a big, growing church. He was the name to know and to drop, he was on all the big committees and spoke at all the big conferences, and everybody always looked up to him. He was straighter than an arrow. This was back when guys wore long hair, which was maybe a problem for him. I remember one time, as I sat in a meeting, he looked at my hair. He said, "Joe, you realize, don't you, that with that hair you couldn't sing in our choir?" I felt like saying, "There are a lot of other reasons I can't sing in your choir." But … this guy was straight as an arrow.
I'll never forget my shock when I heard the news that he had bailed on his pastorate. He simply didn't show up one Sunday morning, because he'd run off to Texas to live with a woman he'd been counseling. Betrayed his kids. Betrayed his wife. Betrayed his flock. Betrayed the name and the glory of Jesus Christ for the comfort of someone who had satisfied his ego and brought him the pleasures he desired.
Not only is betrayal an inside out thing; betrayal is also always done in the face of Christ's love. Think about this. First of all, Christ has loved Judas for three years. Judas has never been loved like this before. And now Christ intentionally has given him a seat of honor and Christ intentionally, in love, has shared a gift with him, this morsel of honor. And I find myself saying, How, Judas? How? I mean, if Christ had been bad to you I could see maybe you'd want to betray him. But how could you betray in the face of such phenomenal love?
You and I need to think about that. Tempted to betray Christ? Look at his face. He's loved you like no one has ever loved you before or will ever love you since. Look at the nail scars in his hands. It was all for you. Look at the grace every day. Look at the provision every day. Look at the mercy he continues to extend to you. When you and I betray Christ we have to do it in the face of his amazing love for us. That's what makes it so wrong and so off the screen. And if you and I betray him, we betray him in the face of his faultless love for us. And you have to think about that.
The third dynamic is that this kind of betrayal is supported by a real stubborn will. If you read through the Gospels, by the time they get to the upper room Judas has already cut the deal. He's already made up his mind. He's been to the authorities. He's negotiated the price. But just think about being Judas, at that last supper in the upper room. You come in and sit next to Christ. Christ honors you. And then Christ washes your feet and honors you with a morsel. If I were Judas I would have been wilting on the spot. I would have said, "I can't do this. I've been such a jerk. How did I …? I can't do this. Lord, I can't." But do you notice how stubborn he is about this? Even when Christ predicts his actions, and in essence says Judas, I know what you're going to do, he gets up and he leaves to do the deed.
I can't believe how stubborn he could be about this betrayal, until I read my own heart and look at the hearts of a lot of us. For we walk into a service like this and we say, I don't care what he says. I don't care what God says. I don't care what my wife says. I don't care what my kids say. I don't care what it means for my job. I don't care. I'm going to do this. Sin can be a real stubborn thing.
Some of you are probably thinking, Aw, Stowell, you got to look at the text. It says in verse 2 that Satan has put this into Judas' heart. And toward the end that Satan has now entered Judas. So let's face it. Judas is a victim. I mean, he's kind of like a pawn in some cosmic sting and he got stuck with the rotten role.
Sin and salvation are matters of choice.
We need to be reminded of what God's Word says about our choices to sin. James tells us that we sin when we are led away by our own fallen desires. And when we are led away by those desires, then sin happens; and when sin starts to happen, then death starts to happen. God is very clear about the fact that all of our sin is a matter of choice with us. What has happened with Judas is that he has made choices that had cultivated the ground where Satan could plant the seed and enter his heart and seduce him. He was seduced based on the cultivation of his life by his choices.
So, what were the choices that led Judas to be the sort of person who could betray Christ? We don't get it in this text, but I'll briefly point to John 12, just one chapter earlier. Judas is in the house of Lazarus. Lazarus has been raised from the dead by Jesus Christ, and Mary, Lazarus's sister, is trying to figure out how to say thank you to Jesus. Words don't work in a situation like the one she's in; they don't express her gratitude for what Christ had done for her brother. So she goes into her bedroom and gets what would have been the most prized possession for a woman of that day, a pound of spikenard oil, the perfume of the richest kind. This oil would have been worth one year's wages; and she brings it out and anoints Christ with it. As she is anointing Christ, Judas is standing back with the disciples and saying something like, "Pity. Pity, pity. We could have taken this and sold it. We could have sold it, and given the money to the poor."
Beware when people sound too spiritual. Because then John adds a note to the story. Remember, he wrote this after the fact, and he's smarter now than he was in the upper room. So, he wrote a note that said, "Judas said this not because he cared for the poor, but he said this because he was a thief and held the treasury." The literal translation from the Greek meant that Judas stole from the treasury of the disciples on a regular basis; that he often lifted what was there.
It's clear to me that Judas had made a choice early on. He decided that he would not be in this thing for Christ and Christ alone, but that he would be in this thing for cash. Christ was a trip down Big Bucks Lane for him. And if Christ were to overthrow the Roman government and establish the kingdom on the earth, as they expected he would, guess who'd be Chancellor of the Exchequer? Judas. Guess who's going to get to embezzle tons of money? Judas. Because he had made a choice that cash would rule his life.
And then he finds out, as Christ taught them, that the kingdom was not going to come now. That Christ was going to the cross, and that he didn't have a future any more in his stealth enterprise among the disciples. Because his life was driven by cash, it's at that point that he figured, Well, the end game is that I can at least get thirty pieces of silver out of this.
Mark gives us another insight. In Mark 12, he tells us that Christ announces to the disciples that it's not going to be the kingdom but rather he is going to the cross. And after he goes to the cross, the disciples are in for a lot of trouble. They're going to be kicked out of the synagogues, their families are going to disown them, and some of them are going to die for the name of Jesus Christ. Then, in the chapter immediately after Christ has made that announcement, Mark notes that Judas then goes to the authorities, leaves the disciples, and cuts a deal behind closed doors. It makes me wonder if Judas is saying Not only am I in this for cash; I'm in it for comfort too. And if it's going to mean suffering and sacrifice, I'm out of here.
Those are the choices that drove Judas' betrayal. And so, he gets thirty pieces of silver. Initially, if you look at Judas he's a smashing success—he gets thirty pieces of silver out of the deal. There he is, sitting at Benny's Bistro in some posh neighborhood of Jerusalem, all of the lox and bagels that he wants, sipping a latte at the sidewalk café. He's thinking about this weekend, when he'll be able to go to his Tel Aviv penthouse condo overlooking the beaches; and then thinking about those poor eleven other guys who are groveling for their next meal and who are going to get kicked out of synagogues and whose parents have disowned them. The guy looks like a smashing success. If you just look at that you'd say, "Ah, betrayal pays!"
But you need to know the rest of the story—because in Matthew 25 we're told the last chapter of Judas's life. It says that Judas, standing far off, sees Jesus—hands bound, surrounded by Roman guards, being led to trial. When Judas sees him, his heart was struck with deep, penetrating sorrow.
You and I need to remember that someday we will see Jesus face to face. When Judas saw Jesus he probably though of how often he'd seen those hands still the sea, and touch the blind and the lame. How often those hands had touched Judas with the love of the Savior. And now, he sees that those hands are bound and the King of kings is surrounded by the army of an earthly king. And deep sorrow wells within Judas.
In fact, his sorrow is so deep that the thirty pieces of silver become a symbol of his sorrow and he ends up hating the cash. We read that he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the authorities and said, "I don't want this. You can have this." And they say, "We don't want it either." So he threw the thirty pieces of silver on the floor in front of them and fled. When I was a kid my dad used to always say to me, "Joe, the problem with you is that money burns a hole in your pocket." But these thirty pieces of silver burned a hole in Judas' heart, because they became symbols of his sorrow. And what he thought he would live for became the deep sorrow of his existence.
When you and I make choices to betray Christ for cash, comfort, or whatever we desire, we need to know that sooner or later the outcome of that betrayal will fill our lives with symbols of sorrow. When we will look at the things we have gained at the expense of Christ, in time we will see more clearly and our sorrow will be deep.
And then, after seeing Christ and feeling deep sorrow, Judas went out and committed suicide; which was also a choice. He didn't have to do that. At the moment when his eyes locked with Christ in his bondage, he could have said, Lord, I've failed you so deeply. I'm such a sinner. But could you find space in your mercy for me? He could have done that, and the answer would have been yes. Jesus consistently proved to us that he is indeed a friend of sinners, even the most desperate sinners who ever offended him. But Judas was so locked into his own little system that he felt he only had one option, and that was to go out and commit suicide.
Francis Schaeffer, whom I referenced earlier, has a profound notion about the text in 1 Corinthians 3. First Corinthians 3 says that, at the end of our lives, we will be led before Christ. And, in a very powerful metaphor, the text says that all we have built during our lives—wood, hay, stubble, gold, silver, precious stones—will be tried by fire. The wood, hay and stubble are not necessarily evil deeds, but just the worthless things, the things that don't count for eternity, maybe the cash and comfort items in your life. And when we come before Christ, the blazing fire of his glory will burn away everything in our lives that is wood, hay and stubble. Only those things of Christ and for Christ and for eternity will remain for us to present to him. Schaeffer says on that day there will be many whom he termed as ash heap Christians who will stand before the Lord, having all of life burned away, all the stuff—the cash, the comfort—that didn't count for eternity. And they will stand in a pile of knee-deep knee ashes with nothing to present to him.
With tears running down her cheeks that single parent for eleven years said to me, "Joe, I'm so ashamed. I'm so ashamed." She said, "But tonight I have decided that all the rest of the choices I make about the comfort of a companion in my life—that every choice—will be a choice for Christ."
Dan came to me the next Sunday. He said, "Pastor, I resigned from my job." And of course, I'm thinking Wow God's done a big miracle. You'll have to give a testimony next Sunday, because I'm sure a headhunter called you last Monday and you were offered a better job. You're going to make more money at a new company that you love. So I said to him, "You got to be kidding. Tell me about your new job." Dan said, "I don't have a new job." I said, "What? What are you going to do?" Dan said, "We don't know what we're going to do. I just know that I can't deny Christ in my life. Our immediate plans are to move back to Minneapolis where my wife's folks live, and move in with them till we can figure out what we're going to do." He had to make a choice, and he chose Christ. I saw him about eight years after that. He was fine; he said he would have gone back and made that choice a thousand times.
So if you have to make a choice, if you're presented with cash and comfort compared to Christ, if you have to make that choice … Ask a single parent. Ask Dan. Ask Judas. They will tell you Jesus Christ every time.
I was flying out to the West Coast several months ago when a guy came up to me and said, "You're Stowell from Moody, right?" I said, "Right." Thankfully, I hadn't publicly complained about my seat or said anything bad. He said, "Hi, I'm Keith Hadley." "Nice to meet you, Keith." He said, "I listen to Moody radio all the time. I just wanted to say hi. This is my wife and my little kid."
It looked to me like Keith was in his early thirties. So I said, "Tell me what you do, Keith." He said, "Well, I'm a consultant for a large firm that consults with Fortune 500 companies on things like strategic planning and corporate training." "No kidding, tell me more," I said. So he told me about the job and I said to him, "We're looking for a corporate trainer at Moody—could I have your card?" He said, "Yeah," and reached in his pocket and handed me his card. I'm thinking, Right. This guy works for Fortune 500 companies and I want him to come to our little not-for-profit, hardly-pay-anybody-anything organization down there.
I took his card back to our HR guy and handed it into him. "Call the guy," I said, "It's worth a call." Wouldn't you know, Keith Hadley ended up coming to work for us, starting August 15th of this summer. I saw him last week and asked if he remembered our chat in the airplane. He said yes, and I said, "I am so thankful that you've come to serve Christ at Moody. Keith, I have to say thanks for taking the big dip, because I know this was a huge sacrifice." Because, in the interview process I'd found out what he was getting paid. I knew what we paid. So I said, "I just want to thank you for coming on board at such great sacrifice." I want you to hear what Keith said to me. He said, "Well, it's not really a sacrifice. I've always told Jesus Christ that he could be first in my life. I finally had an opportunity to prove that to him." He chose Christ.
So what will it be for you? Cash? Comfort? Or Christ?
For Your Reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?
Joseph Stowell is president of Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and author of numerous books, including Jesus Nation (Tyndale).