Thursday, April 13, 2006

Maudy Thursday--The Betrayal of Judas, part one

With all the hype about the Gospel of Judas, we might think he was a hero. Scripture tells another story.

It’s called ‘betrayal’ for a reason. Judas was one of the Twelve. Judas was an insider, not an outsider. He was "in the know" and "on the team." He was entrusted with sensitive information. Often the greatest harm done to the cause of Christ is from within. I can handle the name-calling and sneers at the coffee shop, but when it comes from my Sunday School class—well, that hurts. The snickering at my weaknesses from the fella across the street is nothing compared to the snickering from the fella across the aisle.

Consider for a moment Jesus's opposition in Israel. You may recall the four major groups that opposed Him--the Temple priests, the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Herodians. Throughout His ministry, Jesus was barraged by their theological and political traps but had always successfully outmaneuvered and outwitted them. Matthew's 22nd chapter bears light on this public conflict. The outsiders are once again banging away at Jesus. The Pharisees and Herodians form an alliance and ask Jesus if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. (This tax question is particularly interesting to us at this time of year). You understand this question is a catch 22. If Jesus says it is lawful, then He appears to be supporting Rome and will lose the support of the people. If He says it is not lawful, He would probably be arrested for insurrection against Rome. But Jesus says clearly to give Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God the things which are God's. After that attack from external forces, the Sadducees come asking about the resurrection of the dead. Immediately after that, the Pharisees are back in Jesus's face laying a trap about the greatest law. (And you think you've had a hard day!). At the end of chapter 22, Matthew says "and no man was able to answer Him, neither did anyone dare from that day on to ask him any more questions."

Get this picture! For the past three years, Jesus has been battling political groups. Finally, three of them have surrendered and hoisted the white flag; they've given up! Jesus can relax a bit, or can He? The only group remaining to oppose Jesus is the priests and elders of Israel. Verses 3-4 of Matthew 22 make clear the intention of the chief priests and elders of Israel--they wanted to secretly arrest Jesus and kill Him. Their hatred is still strong and their resolve is still robust. But as the passion drama unfolds, the danger comes not from without, but from within.

We would do well to meditate on this passage. The ravenous wolves are easy to recognize--those who argue against Jesus being God, those who advocate homosexuality as an acceptable alternative to a man/woman relationship, those who trust in their goodness and benevolent works for salvation, those who chant "eat, drink and be merry"--these are easily recognizable as a threat to our faith. Often, the danger is not from outside our walls but from among our pews. The church has great trouble in recognizing wolves that eat like sheep, sound like sheep, look like sheep and smell like sheep. Judas was one of the Twelve! He was a professing sheep outwardly, but he was a despicable wolf inwardly. The wolves among us profess the same. They pretend and profess to serve the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. But inwardly they are selfish, fleshly, and deadly. These people would never say the Bible is just an ordinary book; they simply ignore the Bible. These folks would never say abandon the church; they however, give as little of themselves as is necessary to keep pretending they are true disciples. They would never assert that God is not worthy of our praise and worship; they simply sing His praises lackadaisically--without passion, without volume, without conviction. You'll never hear these people say prayer is irrelevant; you will, however, hear these persons use vain repetitions in their insincere recitations. And ever so gradually, their thoughts and their actions begin to rub off on true disciples and the Church is pulled into their vicious net of superficial and meaningless faith. Judas was one of the Twelve.

The greatest threat to your living a life totally for God may lie within--within the Church or within yourself. As we reflect on the Betrayal, may we recommit ourselves tonight, to total loyalty to Christ, sincere devotion and steadfast faith. May we guard ourselves against the Judases in our lives and even more importantly may we guard ourselves against becoming a Judas. May we abandon mediocrity and reach for greatest heights. May we not be satisfied with just another church meeting, but may we long for an encounter with the Holy One.

No comments: