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Acts

Betrayal

Acts  1:15-26

One of the most difficult characters of the New Testament is Judas Iscariot. He has left his name in the English language as a synonym for the word, "traitor." Americans will always have Benedict Arnold; veterans of World War II will recall Quisling - but for two thousand years the name Judas means one who betrays. To this day the name arouses emotions among those who believe. We see the end of his story here.

(Acts 1:15-26 NIV) In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) {16} and said, "Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus-- {17} he was one of our number and shared in this ministry." {18} (With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. {19} Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) {20} "For," said Peter, "it is written in the book of Psalms, "'May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,' and, "'May another take his place of leadership.' {21} Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, {22} beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection." {23} So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. {24} Then they prayed, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen {25} to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs." {26} Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

Betrayal

As interesting as Judas' betrayal might be, it will help us grow not at all unless we look at it with intention. Let us examine it in this light: what might have motivated this betrayal - and what might we do to prevent such things in our own time.

Bitterness

Judas was the only disciple of the twelve who was not from Galilee. As such, he was an outsider. In all the lists of the disciples, he is always listed with the "last third." These lists are consistent in grouping the twelve disciples into three groups: the inner, middle and outer groups. The order within the groups changes, but the groups don't - and Judas is always in the last group. Perhaps this sense of being the last man in grew into bitterness in him.

Can we see something like this today? I think so. Consider that there is no salvation outside the church; there is no "solo" Christianity. Therefore anyone who wants to be saved must come to the church. But suppose the church (that's us) finds him so unlovely that we do not accept him as brother? Do we reject others because they are new? Or based on race, or age, or physical appearance, or criminal record? Or any other such criterion? It is not for nothing that James commands us to be impartial!

Fear

It has also been suggested that things were getting hot in Jerusalem, and that Judas feared for his own skin. This may be. We must remember that courage is the root of all virtue, and perhaps under Judas that root had dried up and died. For this reason, we are called to "en-courage" one another.

Did you think of it that way? By encouraging, we also "en-courage." How? Perfect love casts out fear! When someone is loved and supported, it becomes easier to do that which requires courage. Therefore, we should encourage one another.

Shame

We know that Judas had his hand in the till - he was skimming money from the community purse. It may be that he feared exposure, and who more likely to know that he was such a secret sinner than the Lord himself? The skeleton in the closet may look dry and dusty, but it (like Ezekiel's bones) may rise up and be mighty.

Sometimes we give the skeleton its power. By our censorious attitudes ("I could forgive anything but…") we say to the sinner, "Better keep that skeleton in the closet where it belongs." In short, we are discouraging confession and repentance! If the church visible (that's us) will not forgive, then how can the sinner conceive that the church invisible will? Or, for that matter, that the Father will? Far better that we encourage all to repent - by the acts of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Pride

It has been suggested that Judas may have been trying to force Christ into bringing in his earthly kingdom. There is an air here of man giving advice to God. After all, could not Christ bring down twelve legions of angels to conquer the earth? Why won't the man see the obvious - that the authorities will kill him if he doesn't! Perhaps this is the jealousy of those who are merely bright against the truly great. It is thought that Saltieri poisoned Mozart out of jealousy. I cannot say - but the story is possible.

There is a cure for this too. Do we teach the omnipotence of God - but not the omniscience? Do we say "God can do anything" and mean, "all you need to know is how to manipulate the Almighty?" We must also teach and believe the omniscience of God. More than that, we must in Christian charity learn and teach that pride is a dreadful sin - not, as our world proclaims, a sign of greatness. Thus we must also grapple with it, and correct our brothers who have fallen into it.

Satan

The New Testament has little to say about motives. It simply states[1] that "Satan entered into him." The same word (Greek diabolos) is translated "devil" when Christ says (about a year before this) that "one of you is a devil."[2] The word in the original means an accuser, particularly a false accuser. Perhaps we shall never know.

In all this we must remember one thing. It is not the case that Judas is not responsible for his own sin. Satan enters only where invited; the Spirit bars all other entrance. Faust had to ask for damnation; indeed, to pursue it diligently. We are not proclaiming that another person's betrayal is the victim's fault. Rather, this is a case of snatching a brother from the flames.

Steps in the Return

It is not sufficient to "blame." God wants us to return the sinner to him. This, in the case of betrayal, begins with anguish.

Anguish

Some have the conception that a real Christian would not be upset at being betrayed. After all, we know that we will have trouble in this world. But consider: it is normal to be in anguish when you have been betrayed.

·         It is normal because you have a sense of personal loss. Perhaps God has removed the relationship because it needs to be removed - but the sense of betrayal is based upon the loss of what we thought was a good thing.

·         There is also a sense of righteous indignation. Judas does not just sell Christ out; he betrays him with a kiss. It is the sense that something so right - the sign of love, a kiss - is used to do something so wrong. It is an outrage.

·         It is therefore a sign of the sickness of our time that we are so little anguished by betrayal. We tend now to greet it with an exasperated sigh. The story of Judas no longer angers anyone. We need to remember the reaction of Attila the Hun to hearing that the innocent Jesus had been crucified: "If I and my soldiers had been there, they would not have dared!"

Peter, in bringing up the subject of Judas' replacement, gives us (in passing) the Scriptural answer to our anguish: the Psalms. Why did God give us the Psalms in the Old Testament?

To say, "that's how I feel, God."

In a sense we are being given permission to say to God, "This is how I feel."

·         We are allowed to go to God and say, "I am so wretched and miserable about this." It is not a requirement that we are constantly possessed of a happy face.

·         We are allowed to go to God with our thoughts of anger and vengeance. We can say, "This is what I want you to do to him."

·         We can say to God, "Life is so unjust, so unfair. I don't like it, and I need to complain about it to someone who can do something about it!"

To hear God's correction

·         If we can complain, he can correct us - by reminding us that we are sinners too.

·         We also need to know who rules and reigns. The Psalms complain - but they also show the glory of God. We need to be reminded more than instructed.

·         And - perhaps most precious of all - we need to hear that despite our anguish and low position, despite all persecution and betrayal, God still loves us and cares for us.

Forgiveness

We can learn a great deal from Jesus' treatment of Judas.

·         Jesus foresaw the betrayal - and warned Judas that it would be better for that man not to have been born.

·         Even at the betrayal, Christ reminds Judas' of the authority of the man of God - note that Judas leaves to betray Jesus only when Jesus commands him to go.

·         And at the last, when Jesus is betrayed by a kiss, he greets his betrayer as "friend." What a stunning example for us!

Look at that example. We judge the depth of a crime by two things: first, the actual type of crime itself, and second, the innocence of the victim. We view (rightly) that robbery is worse than jaywalking. We are more upset when a gang member kills a baby than we are when the victim is another gang member. Is there any crime worse than murder? Is there any victim more innocent than the sinless Son of God? Yet despite this, Jesus greets him as "friend."

We can learn from this: there is no sin so great that God cannot forgive it - and that we should not be willing to do likewise, even against ourselves. This depends upon repentance, and unless suicide be repentance Judas never repented. But upon repentance God will forgive, and so should we.

Reconciliation

If forgiveness is ours, so is reconciliation. Forgiveness alone is not God's purpose; rather, he intends reconciliation. So important is this that he has made us the ambassadors of reconciliation:

(2 Corinthians 5:18-21 NIV) All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: {19} that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. {20} We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. {21} God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

We are to be the ambassadors of reconciliation.

·         We are to reconcile ourselves to each other - and quickly.[3]

·         We are to be mediators of reconciliation between other Christian brothers.

·         We are to be those who reconcile others to God, by bringing to them the grace of God.

Ours is the royal priesthood of Christ. We are to bring the grace of Christ to all - even those who have betrayed us. Consider this: what would you think of a doctor who told you that he did not want to treat your disease - because it was a frightful disease and he was afraid he might catch it himself? Apply the same standard to a minister (paid) for the Gospel - who was unwilling to preach the grace of God to someone because they were too great a sinner. Then carry the same principle forward to yourself - and ask if you are permitted to be selective about those to whom you will bring the grace of God. The minister of God - the royal priest - brings God's grace to all he meets - and he brings all he meets to God for grace.

God's reaction

No one is essential to God

Despite our pride of place, there is not one of us that God cannot do without. Consider: who is this Matthias? He is never mentioned in the Scripture in any other place. We know nothing about him. Yet he is considered one of the Apostles. God doesn’t need anyone; he desires everyone.

God's permanent attitude.

We may sum it up this way:

·         God is always willing to forgive the repentant sinner.

·         God understands our grief at betrayal.

·         God desires that we, like Him, forgive the repentant sinner, no matter what the sin might have been.

This is a part of God's eternal plan. Paul mentions this in passing:

(Colossians 1:20 NIV) and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Note that he is to reconcile "all things" to himself. We have the privilege of being a part of this work; we are the ambassadors of reconciliation. Let us prevent such sin as we can - bring such sinners as we can back to God - and forgive on every possible occasion.

[1] Luke 22:3

[2] John 6:70

[3] Matthew 5:23-26

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