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The Night of Betrayal


Luke 22:39-62


I: — “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”  Simply to hear the words is to shudder.         “He would have been better off if he had never seen the light of day.” Who said it?  Jesus did. As a matter of fact, scripture says the most chilling things about Judas, things that ought to make our blood run cold.  “Judas went out,” John says, “and it was night.”   Judas stumbled out into a darkness whose irretrievable bleakness and impenetrable blackness had nothing to do with a moonless evening.  Following the death of Judas, Luke says with commendable brevity and restraint, “Judas went to his own place.”

No doubt Judas felt somewhat awkward in the apostolic band. The other eleven fellows, plus Jesus, came from Galilee, in north Palestine . Galileans spoke with their own accent (as a servant girl was later to remind Peter.)         In addition, Galileans were known as “people of the land.”   They were earthy, unsophisticated (even crude, by some standards). Judas, on the other hand, came from Judea, in south Palestine . Judeans weren’t “people of the land.” Judeans were more urbane, more polished, more accustomed to finding their way among the cultivated and the power-brokers and the financially aware.

At the same time, Jesus called Judas to be a disciple in exactly the same way, and for exactly the same purpose, that he called others to be disciples. Since the Kingdom Jesus came to inaugurate would include people of every sort, his band anticipated the Kingdom as it gathered together Matthew, a tax-collector (and therefore a collaborator with the Roman occupation) as well as a “zealot” who had sworn to knife any unwary Roman occupier. If the apostolic band was to anticipate the Kingdom then it was only fitting that both Galilean and Judean be found in it.  We shouldn’t think that Jesus called the eleven for a positive purpose (to school them for the coming Kingdom-ministry) but called Judas merely for a negative purpose (to get himself betrayed.)   To think this is to cast aspersion on our Lord.         Jesus was sincere when he called Judas along with the rest.


II: — Then why does Judas appear so very different from the rest?   Judas is said to have betrayed Jesus while Peter is said to have denied him. At the end of the day, is there a difference? There is. Peter denied our Lord in a moment of panic. Peter would have been aware that a shadow (Calvin later called it, in hindsight, ‘the shadow of the cross’) fell across the life and ministry of Jesus from the first. Peter knew of the slaughter of the innocents at the news of the birth of Jesus. Peter was aware of the imprisonment and beheading of Jesus’ cousin, John the Dipper.  Peter was aware numerous times in the earthly ministry of Jesus when authorities bristled at the audacity of someone who said, “Moses has said; now I say….”   Peter was present when Jesus healed on the Sabbath, provoking the rage of those whose Sabbath-keeping was exercised differently.  And of course Peter would have heard Jesus say to his detractors, “You are 100% correct: only God can forgive sin – and I’m forgiving this sinner whose alienation from God has already lasted too long.” And when Jesus was subsequently denounced as blasphemer, Peter knew that the vitriol spat upon his Lord spattered onto him, Peter, as well.  Peter knew that wherever Jesus went in his earthly ministry there was trouble.

Then did Peter expect to live in the company of the trouble-maker yet remain trouble-free himself?  Of course not. But there’s a difference between trouble and death.  Until Jesus was killed he hadn’t been killed.  The trouble Jesus landed in he could land in only because he was alive to occasion it.

Then one day in a courtyard Peter saw that the trouble Jesus was about to land in again would be the end of all trouble just because it was going to be the end. At this point Peter knew that if he were publicly identified with Jesus, the same end-of-trouble end would come to him.  While he was trying to warm himself at a charcoal fire a fifteen-year old girl said to him, “Your accent; you don’t come from Jerusalem. You’re from Galilee – like the Galilean in there who is on trial for his life.”   In a panic-fuelled instant Peter swore loudly that he was no friend of the Galilean even as his love for his Lord contradicted his utterance. Shamed by his cowardice, Peter broke wept bitterly.

To be sure, panic contradicted his love for his Lord; contradicted it and eclipsed it.  To say that panic eclipsed his love for his Lord is to say that his panic rendered it invisible, nowhere evident.  But his love for Jesus wasn’t destroyed, any more than a solar eclipse de-creates the sun.

Judas, on the other hand, didn’t panic.  Judas calculated. Judas had always calculated. If he could get thirty pieces of silver for Jesus, at least it was better than nothing. To be sure, it wasn’t much better than nothing, since thirty pieces of silver was the price of a slave, and slaves have always been cheap.   Then did Judas regard Jesus as no better than a slave?   If so, why had he acceded to Christ’s invitation in the first place? Surely Judas had joined himself to Jesus and the others because he believed himself to be joining a promising Messianic movement.

Messianic movements have come and gone throughout Israel ’s history. They are most likely to proliferate when the people are oppressed.  In first century Palestine the people had been oppressed for hundreds of years.         Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Syrians, Greeks, and finally Romans had overrun Israel in turn. The oppression perdured agonizingly, and would end only at the appearance of the long-awaited Messiah.

There finally appeared one Messianic movement that seemed better than most.  Judas was invited to join the group that gathered around the Nazarene. He did so.  We shouldn’t assume any insincerity on his part at all.  Then why did Judas derail? Where did it all go wrong?

The gospel of John tells us that during the Last Supper the devil, Satan, “had already put it into the heart of Judas to betray Jesus.” Satan had already put it into the heart of Judas. In other words, the Last Supper wasn’t the first time it occurred to Judas to betray; neither was the Last Supper the moment Judas decided to betray.

Then is Satan the difference between Judas and Peter? Was Judas Satanically inspired while Peter was not?         Scarcely. Months earlier Jesus had told the twelve that he, the Son of Man no less, must suffer many things and finally be crucified.  The twelve were aghast. Speaking for the entire band Peter had remonstrated with Jesus, rebuked him even, told him off. “Shut up, Satan” Jesus had shot back; “You, Peter, are Satanic, nothing less than Satanic.”

Jesus pronounces Peter Satanic because Satan has inspired Peter’s utterance.  Satan would later put it into Judas’ heart to betray Jesus.  It would appear, therefore, that Peter and Judas are Satanic in equal measure.


III: — But appearances deceive. When Jesus rebuked Peter (and with him the entire band of disciples) he did so because Peter and the band repudiated how God was going to inaugurate the Kingdom of his Son. They regarded as preposterous God’s plan to inaugurate the Messianic Age through the death of the Messiah. They scorned the notion that the Kingdom commences when the King himself becomes a servant, and not just any servant but the servant-slave who does the most menial work of washing feet.  The Kingdom of Righteousness arrives when the Righteous One is numbered with unrighteous sinners and is executed alongside unrighteous brigands at the city garbage dump.  The Messiah’s people are exalted when the Messiah is humiliated.

David had been Israel ’s greatest king, yet David would pale alongside David’s Son, the Messiah of Israel. And now the One who made implicit Messianic claims for himself (“Moses said; I say….”); the one who didn’t silence the Messianic adulation of the crowd (What else would the triumphal entry be?); now David’s greater Son insisted that the Shepherd of Israel could truly shepherd his people only as the shepherd was sacrificial lamb.  This King could be victorious (a victory-less king is no king at all) only as a victim.

Kings expect to be glorified.  Anyone who fails to recognize the king’s glory is obtuse; anyone who fails to acknowledge the king’s glory is perverse.  Yet this King’s glory would be recognized in a cross of degradation and humiliation. And this King’s glory would be acknowledged by subjects who lived in the shadow of his cross and who shouldered their cross in the wake of his.

To deny any of this is to call forth our Lord’s vehement “Satanic.” When Peter is rebuked, and the other eleven along with him, Judas is part of the group. Then where does Judas differ from Peter?

IV: — Scripture says little about Judas’ inner life, his motivations.  Whenever scripture does speak an aside here or there about Judas it mentions money. For instance, when Mary of Bethany poured her perfume over the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair Judas protested, “The perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor.”   John tells us, however, that Judas didn’t care at all for the poor. He was a thief, and if the perfume had been sold, the money it brought Judas would have been able to pilfer before the money passed through the apostolic purse to the poor. The Greek text uses an iterative imperfect tense: Judas “kept on taking, customarily stole, the money from the apostolic purse.”  Never make light of the grip that money had on Judas.

Never make light of the grip that money can have on anyone. Jesus said “You cannot worship God and mammon.”         According to our Lord the “either-or” is stark.

I know what you are going to say.  Surely the two powers are God and Satan.  To be sure, John says in his first epistle, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”   The author of Hebrews insists that the Son of God appeared in order to “destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.” But there’s no contradiction: Satan, says Jesus, is a liar and a murderer.  Satan falsifies and Satan slays.  Money is the principal weapon that Satan yields as he falsifies and slays. Do you think my reading of scripture one-sided, even out-and-out incorrect?   Then you should recall that Jesus said more about money than about any other single thing. Jesus maintained that money is the gravest spiritual threat, alongside which “crystal meth” appears almost child’s play.  In the synoptic gospels Jesus discusses money in one verse out of ten; in Luke’s gospel, Jesus brings it up in one verse out of eight.  The apostle James, rightly apprehending our Lord in this matter, discusses it in one verse out of five. Money is the power that turns the universe.  Money talks, we are told. Money also silences. Money lubricates; money bribes; money perverts; money addicts.  People are deemed cynical if they say “Do you want to know what’s happening here, there or anywhere, on either larger scale or smaller scale? Follow the money; if you want to know what’s going on, just follow the money.”         Why do we label “cynical” people who speak like this?   They are speaking truth.

Jacques Ellul, French Protestant lawyer, historian, sociologist; Ellul maintained that Karl Marx couldn’t grasp the human condition, since the human condition is that we are rebel sinners before God, alienated from God on account of his judgement upon our disobedience, and alienated from our fellows and ourselves as well.  This is the human condition. Marx can’t discuss it. On the other hand Ellul said that Marx’s explanation of the human situation remains more accurate than any other.  The human situation is where we live politically, socially, economically, psychologically, communally.  And Marx’s explanation of how money insinuates itself into our private and public lives, our individual minds and our public institutions, our assessment of what’s wrong and how it’s to be put right; Marx’s explanation of the role of money in the human situation is more accurate and more useful than any other.         The more I ponder Ellul’s assessment in light of world occurrence the more profound I think him to be.


V: — During the eighteenth century awakening John Wesley’s frustration mounted as he watched Methodist converts gain sobriety and industry and thrift thanks to their gospel-quickened faith, only to have their spiritual ardour diminish as their new-found sobriety and industry and thrift elevated them socially. In his frustration Wesley wrote nine tracts on money.  In one such tract he confronts readers with his settled judgement, based on years of observing his people, as to what happens when people acquire more and more and still more.  He notes that as one’s bank account goes up one’s zeal for holiness goes down. What I call the ‘root’ command of scripture – “You shall be holy, as I the Lord your God am holy” – isn’t so much set aside as simply lost to sight. The root commandment of scripture, of course, is also the overarching, all-comprehending promise of scripture.  This grand promise of scripture gathers up all the ways and works and words of God as it declares that the God who is holy will not fail to render his people holy. And as his people are rendered holy they will be made fit to serve God and fit to see God. Wesley maintains that increasing money finds scripture’s grand promise no longer cherished and its fulfilment no longer hungered for.         It’s all forgotten as money ices one’s desire for holiness, hardens one’s heart concerning the command of God and distracts one’s mind concerning the promise of God.

Wesley says more.  He says that as our influence increases and our social position rises our heart is warped. The warped heart isn’t merely bent; it’s disfigured, ugly.  And it isn’t merely ugly; it’s lethal.  Do we think Wesley exaggerates?   Then we should listen to him as he writes his people in 1781.

As we become more affluent, says Wesley, we acquire greater self-importance. As we become more self-important we are more easily affronted.  Surely no one is going to disagree with Wesley.  Who, after all, are more ‘touchy’ than the self-important?   To be sure, the self-important never speak of themselves as ‘touchy.’ They prefer ‘sensitive.’   They’ve forgotten that genuinely sensitive people are distressed at the suffering of others. Touchiness, on the other hand; touchiness is narcissistic blindness to anyone else’s pain thanks to one’s self-absorption.

The ‘touchier’ we are, continues Wesley, the more prone we are to revenge.  Now the slightest affront will trigger our vindictiveness as we search out and destroy the person whose violation of us (as it were) is actually no more than a cat’s whisker alighting on us but which we now regard as excoriation.

In the course of his nine tracts on the dangers of money Wesley makes the following five points.

ONE: Money is the talent that gathers up all other talents. For instance, we acquire an education. What do we do with our education? Unless we are spiritually alert, before we know it our education simply follows the money. We do with our education whatever maximizes our financial gain.  Why does God always call us clergy (as it were) to congregations whose stipend is larger, never to a congregation whose stipend is smaller?

TWO: Money, said Wesley, is the temptation that fosters and foments all other temptations.  As a pastor I have heard the sad stories, scores of them, of people whose vow of marital fidelity seemed no burden at all when they had little left over of their pay cheque at the end of the month, yet whose vow of marital fidelity seemed harder to keep as surplus income mounted, and whose vow of marital fidelity appeared not so much hard to keep but simply pointless when they found themselves in the in the rarefied air of material privilege.

THREE: Wesley maintains that money is the snare, “a steel trap (he says) that crushes the bones.”   He has in mind the largest animal trap found in eighteenth century England , a bear trap. Once in a while a human being blundered onto a bear trap, only to find that its jaws not only held him fast but broke the bones in his lower leg.

FOUR: Money is the poison that kills discipleship.  Frustrated at seeing his people’s cavalier indifference to sacrifice as their material fortunes rose, Wesley ‘boiled over’ and shouted caustically, “What? Are you afraid of spoiling your silken coat?”   He reminded them that when they were newly born of the Spirit they would head out any time of the day or night, brave any kind of weather however inclement, in order to lend spiritual or material assistance to the suffering person who was suffering for any reason at all. Thanks to the gospel and the faith in penitent people that the gospel quickens, Wesley’s people had been newly rendered sober, industrious and thrifty.  People who are sober, industrious and thrifty will invariably accumulate mammon unless they are giving it away.  While Wesley declaimed ceaselessly, “Earn all you can; save all you can; give all you can”, his people, he noted, quickly became wonderfully adept at the first two and shamefully inert concerning the third. The result was that their social position rose. As their social position rose it made less and less ‘sense’ to inconvenience themselves for sufferers whom they now couldn’t so much as see. Whereas they had earlier headed out, heedless of wind and weather and cost to themselves, now they looked out the window first to see if it might rain.

“What?  Are you afraid of spoiling your silken coat?”  Prior to their conversion, when his people were gutter-gripped thanks to their habituations and impecuniousness, they had no coat of any kind. Now, thanks to their conversion, the attendant prosperity, and their social elevation, they had not only a coat but a silken coat – and their silken coat was much too valuable to get rained on or muddied or clung to by someone whose hand was grimy or greasy or bloody.

FIVE: The fifth point Wesley makes we’ve already heard. Money is the magnifier of a self-importance that renders us vindictive.

Then what’s to be done?  Give it all away as if we could save ourselves by impoverishing ourselves? No.  In the Middle Ages our mediaeval foreparents spoke much of the Seven Deadly Sins. One such sin was lust. Lust wasn’t a deadly sin merely when it issued in profligate, unprincipled sex without concern for God’s command or human good.         Lust was a deadly sin when sex became a preoccupation regardless of sexual expression or non-expression.         In other words, the person preoccupied with sexual avoidance was as much sex-preoccupied as the person constantly on the sexual prowl.  Gluttony too was one of the Seven Deadly Sins in the Middle Ages.  Gluttony, said our Mediaeval foreparents, wasn’t a matter of eating too much (the misunderstanding that shallow modernity clings to).         Gluttony was a matter of being preoccupied with food.  In other words, the person preoccupied with food avoidance is as much preoccupied with food as the person, already well fed, who can think only of what she’s going to eat next.

It’s no different with money. Money, scripture insists, is as much a threat – the same threat, in fact – when we have too much and when we have too little.  For this reason the writer of Proverbs pleads with God, “Give me neither poverty nor riches; not riches, lest my abundance render me spiritually indifferent, and not poverty, lest my scarcity render me spiritually insensitive.” No doubt prior to the Protestant Reformation, but certainly in light of it, it was plain that self-willed poverty did nothing for people spiritually. Self-willed poverty would only render someone a charity recipient of some kind; but self-willed poverty was never going to save anyone, if only because self-willed poverty was only one more gospel-denying attempt at self-salvation. What will save us – and would have saved Judas – isn’t self-willed poverty but release from a spiritually suffocating preoccupation.  And release from any preoccupation never occurs as we concentrate on finding release from it, since such a concentration merely intensifies the preoccupation. What’s needed, as the nineteenth century Scottish minister, Thomas Chalmers used to say; what’s needed is “the expulsive power of a new affection.” It’s only as we have a new love, a fitting love, that the power of the preoccupation is broken tangentially but broken profoundly just because it’s broken tangentially.         The fitting love of which Thomas Chalmers spoke was love for our Lord. At the end of the day, reducing our bank account to nothing is as spiritually useless (and therefore spiritually deleterious) as counting our ‘loonie’ stash every day is spiritually deleterious.  Both preoccupations (at bottom they are the same preoccupation) are an ‘affection’ that has a grip on us that reason can’t break.  The grip all such affections have on us can be broken only as the affection is expelled. And any affection is expelled only as it is unselfconsciously forgotten for the sake of a greater affection, grander affection, an affection worthy of someone made in the image of God.  And of course the only affection worthy of someone made in the image of God is love, self-forgetful, self-abandoning love for him who is the image of God, Christ Jesus our Lord.

Tonight we received an offering.  Because Knox Church needs money? Perhaps it does. But let’s imagine that the endowment funds of Knox Church were so very large as to require no supplementation from the offering plate. Would we still receive an offering? Should we? Yes.  The church doesn’t receive an offering in a service of worship primarily to pay for the church’s expenses.  The church receives an offering primarily to let you and me reconfirm a truth about ourselves that needs to be reinforced lest the light that is in us become dark.  The truth about Christians that always needs reinforcing is this: money is a broken power in our lives.  The issue isn’t how much we have or don’t have.  The issue is that it’s a broken power, and is broken not because we gritted our teeth and snapped it.         (Attempting to do this only strengthens the power.)   It’s a broken power just because we fell in love with someone whose attractiveness gave us a perspective on money we couldn’t have had until we had fallen in love with our Lord.


VI: — Wesley again.  In his tract, “The Almost Christian”, written in 1741, Wesley discusses the difference between the nominal Christian and the genuine Christian. (When he speaks of the “almost” Christian he means “nominal” or “merely seeming”.) He states that the nominal Christian is characterized by lack of faith.   What, then, characterizes the genuine Christian?   We’d expect him to say “faith”.   But instead he says “love”.[1] The unbeliever is marked by lack of faith, the believer by love.  Then does Wesley believe in justification by love?   Of course not. His point is this. There is no faith in Jesus Christ without love for him, and equally there is no love for our Lord without faith in him.

If we say we have faith in Jesus Christ we are saying that we trust the provision he has made for us in the cross.         But it’s always possible for me to trust the remedy he has fashioned for my sin while my heart remains cold.         (Every day trust the helpfulness of many people whom I find obnoxious.)

If, on the other hand, we say we love our Lord it’s always possible for us to love him and assume that our love for him is the basis of our acceptance with him.  It’s always possible to say we love him while denying we are condemned sinners who cannot remedy our own predicament and who must trust the provision he has made for us since we cannot make any provision for ourselves.

There is no genuine love for Jesus Christ without faith in him, said Wesley. And just surely, he insisted, there is no genuine faith in Jesus Christ without love for him.

When the apostle Paul (among others) championed “justification by grace through faith”, did he contradict himself when he exclaimed in the last verse of his Ephesian letter, “Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love undying”? Not at all.  The apostle knew that there is no genuine faith in Jesus Christ without love for him.

Lacking love for our Lord, Judas was devoid of faith in our Lord, and for this reason remained in his sins.

All of which brings us to the question that Jesus put to Peter in the wake of Peter’s denial: “Do you love me…?” The Greek word for love that Jesus uses here is strong: it’s love in the sense of total self-giving, total self-outpouring, thorough self-forgetfulness, utter self-abandonment. It’s the word used of God himself, for God so loved the world that he gave – himself, utterly, without reservation – in his Son.

“Do you love me like that,” the master says to Peter. Peter’s stomach convulses. He has already denied his Lord and everyone knows it. So shaken is Peter that he can’t answer the master’s question. He can only blurt, head down, “You know that I love you.”

The English translations of our bible hide something crucial: Peter doesn’t use the same word for love that Jesus has used. Peter uses a weaker word. Jesus has said, “Are you willing to sign yourself over to me, abandon yourself to me, never looking back?” Peter is nervous now about vowing anything this large, since the last time he vowed something large he disgraced himself. Now Peter can only reply cautiously, “You know that I’m fond of you; you know that I care for you.”

Jesus asks a second time, “Do you love me?”, using again the strongest word for love that there is. Now Peter is in pain. As if his pain weren’t enough, he’s asked a third time, “Do you love me?” – only this time Jesus uses the word of Peter’s earlier reply, Peter’s weaker word. “Simon, are you truly fond of me? Do you really care for me? If this is as much as you can say honestly, will you say this much?” Peter replies, “You know everything; you know that I care for you.” After each question and answer Jesus says to Peter, “Feed my sheep.”

“Feed my sheep”: it’s our Lord’s command and simultaneously his promise.  He will always use us on behalf of his people regardless of how compromised our discipleship has been.  What counts is our aspiration, not our achievement.  What counts is our love for our Lord, not supposed super-spirituality. “Feed my sheep.” It’s a command whose fulfilment his promise guarantees.  We can count on being used of him on behalf of his people.

Our Lord’s last word to Peter is “Follow me”. The Greek text uses an iterative imperative: “Keep on following me.         Continue to follow me. Dog my footsteps.” He means, “Come closer; keep on coming closer.”   As you and I do just that we shall find our love for our Lord swelling, for as we move closer to him we shall love him more, only to move closer to him, only to love him more, all of this spiralling up, and all of this in anticipation of that day when we shall love him without defect or deficit.

The time of betrayal is also the time of denial.  Both Judas and Peter are Satanically inspired.  The difference between Judas and Peter isn’t the proximity of Satan. The difference between Judas and Peter is love for our Lord.         Such love may be permeated with fear.  It may be disguised by cowardice.  It may be beclouded by misunderstanding.  But it’s love nonetheless.

In any era treachery is remedied by the expulsive power of a new affection as those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love undying are taken ever more deeply into God’s oceanic immensity, there to find themselves lost, says Charles Wesley; lost in wonder, love and praise.


                                                                                                            Victor Shepherd                                                                                           

August 2008


[1]That is, he first says ‘love’.   Needless to say he goes on to maintain, as expected, that lack of faith characterizes unbelievers.