Matthew 27:1–5 (NIV)
1 Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. 2 So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor. 3 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. 4 “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” 5 So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.
(Role play Judas. Throw down the bag of coins) “I thought that would ease my guilty conscience that was driving me up a wall. I still can’t believe it. I thought the Jewish leaders would at most beat him a bit and then let him go. After all he was innocent of all the charges brought against him. Innocent! So innocent, in fact that in the three years I followed him I never saw him do anything wrong. That is what is so agonizing, I betrayed innocent blood. And I had such opportunity. I saw him heal, raise people from the dead and heard his wonderful news he had come to seek and save the lost. Then just last night in the upper room he lovingly warned me that I was the one who was going to betray him, hand him over to those who wanted him dead. In a final attempt of love for me to wake me up when I lead the mob to Gethsemane to capture him, he called me, “friend”. That is what makes this all so much more unbearable. Don’t’ look at me with such better than thou eyes. You have never succumbed to greed? I should have seen it coming. I was the treasurer for the disciples of Jesus. They all trusted me so it was quite easy to take some of the money and buy for me. No one knew. I felt good about myself when I criticized Mary when she poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet, preparing for his burial. It sounded pretty good when I said the money could have given to the poor. But I really wanted more in the treasury to embezzle. Now he stands before Pilate and they are insisting he be crucified. All because of me. There is no way he can love me. There is no way I can be forgiven. I’ll grab a rope…” Read Matthew 27:1-5.
Most tragedies of history or fiction involve suicide, the climax of despair and hopelessness. None more so than Judas Iscariot the betrayer of Jesus. He turned away from his Savior instead of repenting and turning to him for forgiveness, and he despaired in hopelessness. So learn this evening from JUDAS-THE TRAGEDY OF TURNING AWAY FROM JESUS WHICH LEADS TO A DEAD END.
John the Baptizer, the forerunner of the Christ, came with the message, “Repent…be sorry for your sins…and look to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Jesus himself often encouraged, “Repent, be contrite regarding your sin and look to me as the One who came to pay for your every sin.” “He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be damned.” Therein is Judas’ problem. The betrayal was forgivable. But unbelief is not. Judas very much was sorry for his sin against Jesus. He was the contrite of the contrite. But that is where it stopped. Over the years he had turned his back on Jesus and his betrayal was the climax. What he lacked was the second and most important part of repentance, looking to Jesus for the forgiveness he won for all sins of all sinners with his innocent life and death. Does God want that repentance and reach out for it? Absolutely. Recall last Sunday how we heard he went searching for it from Adam and Eve in the garden. Through the prophet Ezekiel God offered his rebellious people Israel, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their sinful ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways!” And through the prophet Isaiah, “Turn to me and be saved.” This was still offered to Judas Iscariot. But he turned his back on his Savior. It is offered to you in your Savior. Don’t make the Judas mistake.
What do we learn from the cause of Judas betrayal which lead to the dead end of despair, hopelessness and death? Clearly it was greed. He had heard Jesus say, “You cannot serve God and money.” Maybe he thought he could. Maybe he didn’t care. Both led to the same dead end. As Paul said, “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wondered from the faith.” Surely Judas had, if he ever had any. What about me? Never. Oh, then why when I turned on my computer to write this message did my eyes immediately drift to the Wall Street report instead of the Word program? You fill in what greed or filth or person or whatever else could get you to turn your back on Jesus which will always and only lead to a dead end, even the death of hell forever.
We can learn from Judas mistakes and sin of turning his back on his Savior, but it is far more beneficial to turn to the one merely mentioned in the opening verses of the Word of God before us the evening. That is where we should turn far more. Why was he condemned? That we would not be even though that is what we deserve. Why was he before Pilate? So that he could become a curse for us so we would not be cursed in hell forever. Why, as we are told elsewhere, did he look at Peter with a look of sorrow and love when he was being transferred from court to court? So Peter, unlike Judas, would not despair after his sin of denying Jesus three times. That is how, as we hear at the close of most of our worship services, Jesus’ face shines on us. He doesn’t turn his back on us, but looks on us with his look of love. When we have our back turned to someone we can’t hear them and they can’t hear us. Just try it sometime. But when we are turned toward each other we can hear Jesus’ words of love and forgiveness, and he will hear our repentance and pleas for mercy. The Holy Spirit does that turning as Peter himself wrote, “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have been returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Don’t make the Judas error and turn away from him. Turn to him and live.