This is the highest of holy days for the Christian church. This is the day where not only do we remember that Jesus died and he was buried, but on the third day he walked out of the tomb and that makes all the difference in the world. That’s why we’re here. God has drawn near and if we want to know him we can draw near to him.
(Read Matthew 27:1-5)
This is God’s Word. May it always fill our minds, flow from our lips, and find a home in our very hearts.
Who Is Judas?
Judas was chosen by Jesus. When Jesus was putting together his inner circle, when he stayed up all night praying, asking the Father who should the twelve be, Judas was amongst those original disciples.
Judas was trusted by Jesus. As they traveled around, preaching the good news that the kingdom of heaven has arrived, it was Judas that was elected to be treasurer; he’s the one who watched after the money.
Judas was loved by Jesus. When Jesus looked at Judas, he saw somebody that he knit together in his mother’s womb, somebody that he knew the number of hairs on his head, and he had designs and plans for his life.
Yet, despite all of that, that he was chosen by, loved by, trusted by Jesus, Judas betrayed Jesus. Oh, he could have had one of those names that will go down in history and everybody would think about naming their son after him. Think about the other disciples. We name our sons Matthew, Mark, John, or Andrew. Their names are good names. So was Judas’ name. Do you know what Judas means? "Praise be to God." Such a good name that we would want to give to one of our children. But nobody names their child Judas. Because Judas betrayed Jesus.
How is that possible? How do you spend three years with Jesus? How do you meet with him face-to-face? How do you hear with your own ears him teach? How do you see and witness the miracles and then after all of that turn around and betray Jesus? How does that happen? Why, Judas? Why would Judas betray Jesus?
Why Did Judas Betray Jesus?
Well, the obvious answer is Satan. Satan had a role in this. We’re told this in John 13. It says, “As soon as Judas took the breath, Satan entered him.” Satan was at work in the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus. We have to factor that in.
But Satan only has as much power as we give him. Satan preys upon our weaknesses, Satan looks for opportunity and the advantages that we give him. So, while Satan was involved, there must have been something about Judas that opened the door and allowed for him to be susceptible to the wiles of the enemy.
So Satan was involved, but what else? Why did Judas betray Jesus? Greed.
Greed is one of these doorway sins that when you commit greed it opens the door for a whole number of things to come into your life. Do you remember that time when Jesus' feet were being anointed with expensive perfume? It was Judas who said, "What a waste of money, we could have spent that money on the poor." And what does it say in Scripture about Judas? “He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief.” As the keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. Greed was a part of his life. So when they offered him thirty pieces of silver, that’s like eight months’ worth of wages. He saw that and he thought, That’s the perfect price for me to betray Jesus.
Satan was involved, greed was involved. What about disappointment? Ever been disappointed with God? Ever look at your life and think, I’ve been following all the rules, I’ve been doing the right things, so how come things aren’t working out the way I want them to? Ever have a moment where you got on your knees and you prayed? You begged God: Would you just give me this one thing, but then you were met with the silence of heaven. Ever have a moment where you’re there at the bedside of a loved one, watching them suffer, and think to yourself, What kind of God allows this? Ever been disappointed with God?
Then maybe you can identify with Judas. Because not only did Jesus choose Judas, Judas chose Jesus. He gave up everything to follow him for three years. Judas probably thought, This is the guy, and if I just prop him up, if I just give everything I can to him, he will be the one who will solve all of my problems, all the problems of the world. He’s the Messiah, he’ll be the One who will bring victory and conquer.
Yet what does Jesus do? He starts talking about suffering, dying, and sacrifice, and Judas didn’t sign up for that. So maybe Judas betrayed Jesus because he felt like Jesus betrayed him.
Whatever the case, what we do know is this. One night Judas walked into a garden. He found Jesus who had just sweat drops of blood. Judas kissed him on the cheek. The signal has been given. The soldiers rush in. They arrest Jesus, they bind him, they take him off, they punch him in his blindfolded face, they flog his back, and he is now guilty as charged.
And it’s just a few hours after that that we read verses 3 through 4. “When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 'I have sinned,' he said, 'for I have betrayed innocent blood.' 'What is that to us?' they replied. 'That’s your responsibility.'"
Judas Felt Remorse
Remorse. Remorse. Judas felt remorse. There was this moment where he saw everything that was happening and what he caused, and something seismic began to shake deep down inside.
But remorse is different than repentance. Repentance is a 180 and instead of choosing your way you choose the way of God. That’s repentance.
Judas didn’t repent, but had deep remorse. It’s more like a 90-degree turn. He turns this way—"I can’t believe it, I regret, maybe I could fix this, maybe I could unravel what I started." He goes and he gets the 30 pieces of silver, takes it back to those that paid him. Here, you take this back, we rip up the contract, everything is going to be alright. They’re like, No. They said to him: “This is your responsibility.” Feel the weight of those words. Judas, everything happening to Jesus right now, the torture he is going through and his crucifixion, that is on you, that is on your shoulders. You did this. And Judas takes that, I made my bed, now I need to lie in it. And so he’s like, I’ll pay the price. I’ll pay the price. So Judas goes out and he finds a tree, and verse 5 says, “He hung himself.”
What If Judas Waited Three Days?
Oh, if Judas just would have waited. Judas, if you just would have waited three days, because as you were finding your tree, Jesus was carrying his tree. Judas, if you just would have waited, as you were climbing out on your branch, Jesus was falling beneath the weight of the cross and he was lying back, pierced for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. By his stripes we are healed. Judas, as your body was decomposing on the third day, Jesus’ body was recomposing at a cellular level. He was being regenerated and reengineered, and the Holy Spirit resuscitated him and brought him back to life. And on the third day, Jesus walked out of the grave. Judas, if you just would have waited three days.
A Mission of Restoration
The resurrection makes all the difference. Do you remember what Jesus did after be rose from the dead? He went on a mission of restoration. Judas was not the only one who betrayed Jesus. All of those disciples turned their back on Jesus and Jesus is all about grace—the incredible grace of God.
Grace means that God loves you, and there is nothing you can do about it. Grace means that you get not just a second chance but a third, fourth, and so on. How many chances do you need? Grace means God’s going to give it to you.
So what does Jesus do? He begins seeking, hunting down all of those disciples who betrayed him and left him by himself. He finds most of them huddled in the Upper Room in fear. He appears in the room, "Peace be with you," Jesus says. "Thomas is not here, I’ll come back again." "Thomas, peace be with you, see where the nails were and where the spear went in my side. Now you can believe. Peter, you denied me not once, not twice, but three times, so I’m going to spend some extra time with you," Jesus says. "Do you love me, do you love me, do you love me?" And He restored each one of them.
So when you see Jesus doing that, you have to think that if Judas just would have waited, Jesus would have found him too. Peter betrayed him three times; Judas, 30 pieces of silver. I think Jesus would have said to Judas 30 times, "Do you love me, do you love me, do you love me, do you love me." By the time Jesus got to 30, Judas would have been living out his name, Praise be to God, I love you, I love you, I love you." If he had just waited three days.
A Tale of Two Trees
A tale of two trees. The Judas tree, the Jesus tree. Which tree do you choose? The Judas tree, that is an attractive option. The idea that somehow we can clean up our own messes, that when we break something we can fix it ourselves. There is something attractive about maybe I can just take care of this myself. I can do it myself. That’s the Judas tree.
Reminds me of a story I heard a couple of weeks ago about Dr. Leonid Rogozov. He was assigned to Antarctica, that’s the South Pole. He flew all the way to the South Pole, got there, a small, little community. He was the only doctor there so when he became sick and he wasn’t getting better, he self-diagnosed himself. He had appendicitis. He was within days of his appendix bursting. What do you do when you’re snowed in, you can’t get out of the South Pole, and you’re the only doctor there? He decided to operate on himself.
He put together his own makeshift medical team. Got the meteorologist—you’re going to hold the clamps. Got the driver—you’re going to hold the mirror for me. And he put them together. He even taught them CPR in case he started to go out, they could bring him back to life so he could finish the surgery.
So on that day the doctor was also the patient, and he through weakness, through fever, two hours of navigating through the incision, found it, removed it, stitched himself back up, and guess what? He survived.
You hear a story like that and you can’t help but respect the courage to admire the incredible strength that that would take. There’s even a little bit of inspiration that happens, you hear about a guy like that: He had that kind of problem and he fixed it himself? Well, if he could do that, well, then surely I can fix my problems. We get lulled into this idea: If I’m just strong enough, if I’m just courageous enough, I can deal with the problems in my life.
No, we can’t. Because our problem is deeper than we ever imagined. When we realize that our problem is sin and that sin has been downloaded onto the hard drive of every single one of our hearts, and we can’t get in there and we can’t get it out. No matter what we try and do, we can’t remove it. We cannot do our own soul surgery. There is only one great physician; he’s the only One qualified to deal with what’s going on with us.
So we must reject the Judas way of life. I can do it myself, do it yourself. No, we must find the tree that says, "Done for you." That’s the cross, the Jesus tree.
Look at the Colossians 2:13-15. Here you have the apostle Paul, and he is explaining all the things that Jesus did for us on the cross.
(Read Colossians 2:13-15)
Do you see all the things done for you by Jesus on the cross? We were dead but he has made us alive. We have been forgiven. Our debts have been canceled, taken away, triumphed over on the cross. Done for you. That’s the Jesus tree.
If you go downtown Denver there is a judicial center. You have this tall building that’s the jail and right next to it you have the courthouse. If you look at the name on the courthouse, it is the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse. That first name Lindsey, Ben Lindsey. He became a judge in Denver in 1921, and as he began to serve as a judge he noticed that there was something extremely wrong with our court system in Denver—that you had adults, children, and youth all in the same system. The same laws for adults were being used for children, the same jails for adults were also being used for youth. He was like, "This has got to be fixed." So Judge Ben Lindsey pioneered juvenile justice in Denver, and it became a model for all the United States.
For 25 years, he became known as the kids’ judge. Different way of dealing with youth. After 25 years of that, you can imagine that he would have had a large set of files. 25 years’ worth of files and every file had somebody’s name, and inside the file had the crime they committed. And now he was leaving Denver. What would happen if somebody got ahold of those files. These youth are now grown up, they have families, they have jobs, and if somebody got ahold of them they could use them against those people.
Can you imagine if your worst moment from your youth was held against you and printed in the paper. He’s said, "I can’t let this happen." So he took the files. They didn’t have shredders in those days so he just began to rip them up and tear them up into as small of pieces as possible. Then he put them all in a box, all these files, and he drove just west of Denver—13th and Umatilla—invited the press to come out, and he threw all the files into a ditch. And as he poured them there, they took the pictures as he set it all on fire. He called it the shame bonfire, where he took the shame, regrets, and the past memories of all these people and he burned them up so there would be no record of what they had done. That’s the Jesus tree. That’s what Jesus has done.
When it says that he has canceled everything we have done, that means everything. My worst moment, your worst moment, as far as the east is from the west, will be remembered no more. That’s the Jesus tree.
So we have two trees. The Jesus tree, the Judas tree. Which one do you choose? Tree of remorse, tree of repentance? Tree of death, tree of life? For those who want grace, for those who want a new beginning, for those who want a second, third, or fourth chance, there is only one choice and that choice is Jesus.
And if you want to start over, and if you want him to bring that mission of restoration to you, he desires to do that. But not only does he desire it, he is capable of meeting with you just like he met with those early disciples who denied him.
The reason why, if you have heard, he is risen, he is risen indeed.
Robert Gelinas is the lead pastor of Colorado Community Church in Denver, CO.