Begin by playing Dylan's song, "You are going to have to serve somebody". Strictly speaking you already are. Its either the devil or its the Lord, but you're serving somebody. If you think you are serving yourself or your country or the company, or if you think your all consuming passion is to make it in business or be a success, or be famous or be number one, then you're in for a surprise. This polarisation runs right through the Bible - Jesus tells us there are two Masters - God and Satan. There are two kinds of people - 'sons of the evil one' and 'sons of the kingdom' There are two ways, the broad road that leads to destruction and the narrow gate that leads to eternal life. There are two destinations - heaven and hell. These choices and these masters and destinations are crystalised in the story of our friend Judas. Judas has not had a particularly good press in history. His name has never been in the top twenty list of popular names for baby boys. You won't find management books advocating the 'Judas Principle' or self-help psychology books on 'Seven steps to discovering the Judas inside. You won't find churches dedicated to his memory, but perhaps there should be. Before we sit in judgement on Judas and write him off, remember how Jesus describes Judas. 'Friend'.
More than once Jesus refers to Judas as his friend, and demonstrated it at the Last Supper, washing his feet, passing him the choice morsel of food. Then later that night Jesus welcomes Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane, as 'Friend' allowing Judas to kiss him repeatedly. Making friends with Judas will help us understand ourselves better. And as we try and understand how Judas came to betray Jesus lets remember we are looking at ourselves in the mirror. I want to begin by examining the steps to betrayal, then the pattern of betrayal, and then finally the answer to betrayal.
1. Seven Easy Steps to Betrayal
The first reference to Judas comes in the story of Mary who poured costly perfume over Jesus.
What observations can we make? Judas was....
1. Selfish and Heartless toward the poor.
2. Deceived those who trusted him as the treasurer.
3. Greedy. Stole money from the disciples' common fund.
4. Unbelief - thought he could get away with it in front of Jesus
5. Open to Satanic influence, like Peter when he too opposed Jesus.
What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?" So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. (Matthew 26:14-16)
6. Bribery that is cold and calculated.
7. Heartless betrayal of a friend. Note the repeated kissing.
This then is the path of betrayal. Its a slippery path downhill all the way to hell. (draw the spiral) The Steps to Betrayal.
2. The Pattern of Betrayal
How did it all begin? What was his Achilles heel? Money. He was a friend of Jesus to whom money mattered too much. He tried to serve two masters. He had access to the common purse, he abused his position, he helped himself and it became addictive. Greed and self centredness began to consume him until he was willing to accept a bribe to betray his Lord. Materialism can be defined as an anxiety for lack of money or things; the effort to get money or things; the compulsion to hoard; meanness; the compulsion to spend. Its an ugly picture, as we saw on some of the recent press cuttings. But lets ask ourselves whether in our friendship with Jesus we too ever betray him for materialistic consideration? To answer this, lets look back at some of those verses again.
2.1 Materialism Is Secretive (John 12:4-8)
It may be unknown to others but Jesus sees. Has it ever struck you that the disciples were completely and utterly taken by surprise at what Judas did? When Jesus assumed that one would betray him, the disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. No one at the table knew why he said this to Judas. It was only afterwards that they knew. They didn't know about his pilfering the petty cash. They didn't know that he had been to the authorities. Judas was able to masquerade as one of them. Their friends were his friends, while all the time personal gain controlled him. Judas completely deceived the eleven by his friendliness. He pretended to be a disciple when he was a devil, to think of the poor when he cared not for the poor, to be interested in economy when his interest was in dishonesty, to be ignorant'Lord, is it I?'when he had already made the pact with the devil. He pretended to be intimate with Jesus, taking the food from him as the privileged gesture at the meal, while in fact, in mind, and in intention he was already the betrayer. He had the behaviour of a saint but the heart of a miser. Materialism is always hidden, secretive. Jesus said, 'If then the light within you is dark, how great is that darkness!' (Matt. 6:23). Jesus was speaking about finance, about self deception concerning materialism. Materialism is Secretive.
2.2 Materialism Rationalises (John 12:4-8)
We always look for ways to explain our greed, but Jesus is not taken in. To rationalise is to find reasons for what you want to do anyway. We see this in Judas when Mary anointed Jesus with her expensive perfume. Judas wanted the money to go through his bag so that he could take his rake-off.
If there was to be generosity then Judas approved as long as the money went through his purse so like Annas from last week, he could take his percentage. It was as simple as that, but Judas rationalised his behaviour under the guise of caring for the poor. 'Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a years wage." Or again it was presented as waste. 'Why this waste?' says Matthew. Certainly, it is also a worthy practice to avoid waste. Jesus had said so when he ordered the fragments to be gathered up after feeding the five thousand. Judas' argument was plausible and carried the others along with it.
So this is how materialistic motivation works: it always has a few good reasons handy to justify what we want to do anyway. We have our families to think of; we must lay up for a rainy day; we need to keep up our status; people must be taught to work for anything they get... And the secretive behaviour leads to rationalised behaviour. If we examine ourselves to detect materialism we don't need to look for blatant greed, just the rationalisations and excuses we use for our life style.
Jesus knew what this man was like, though nobody else did. Materialism is secretive. Materialism rationalises.
2.3 Materialism Defiles (John 13:10-11)
While Jesus wants to cleanse, materialism keeps us dirty. 'And you are clean, though not every one of you,' he said to them when he was washing their feet. 'For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean' (John 13:10, 11). When Jesus comes into any of our gatherings, if there is materialism there, he has to say, 'You are not all clean.' Outward washing does nothing, unless the heart is cleansed, and that cannot as long as it is gripped by covetousness. Jesus had already said the same thing through other pictures. Treasures on earth become the moth and rust that corrupt the heart that cherishes them. The parable of the rich fool, the parable of the unmerciful servant. What we do with money does something to us. Every penny we get and every penny we spend does something to us. It corrupts us or ennobles us. Materialism is secretive. Materialism rationalises. Materialism Defiles.
2.4 Materialism Enslaves (Luke 22:1-6)
Luke and John both tell us that when Judas decided to hand Jesus over, Satan entered into him so that his action was inevitable. Now this is true to character not only of greed but also of sin in general. The more often we commit sins, the stronger hold they have over us. Jesus compares this to slavery. You can't serve God and money - Mammon. Why? It's impossible because of the hold that each maintains over you. As materialism advances, as materialism becomes more important than other considerations, more important than any other consideration - we imagine that we will work or we will cheat until we have made enough money or until we have built up some security. Then, we imagine, things will be different. Then we can relax and give time to other things. It doesn't happen. What's the most addictive thing in your life? Is it alcohol? Is it drugs? I don't believe so. The most addictive thing in life is money. It enslaves and we don't see it. It works like a drug. We get hooked, and there is never a time when we don't want more. Materialism is secretive. Materialism rationalises. Materialism defiles. Materialism enslaves.
2.5 Materialism Twists Values (Matthew 26:14-16)
Materialism also warps values. Jesus gives us the right values. 30 pieces of silver = compensation required for the loss of as slave (Exodus 21:32). The religious leaders valued Jesus as worth the price of a slave, and Judas the one enslaved to Satan thought the price of a slave was a good deal for Jesus. Compare, on the other hand, the expense of perfume worth 300 denarii, a year's wages for a working man, that Mary spent in one loving act just to honour and please her friend.
That loving act Jesus commended, but to Judas money and getting more was more important than people. He was ready to sacrifice the innocent, even his friend, to get where he wanted. What about us? What about our values? Where do people and money fit in? We may not be ready to betray our best friends for 30 pieces of silver, but whom else and what else might we be willing to sacrifice if the price were right? The warping of our values happens so imperceptibly that we do not realise how like Judas we have become. The steps to betrayal and the pattern of betrayal.
3. The Answer to Betrayal (Matthew 27:3-10)
The story of Judas, however sad, is not wholly bleak. He saw his sin. His conscience was not completely insensitive, and when it gave him no rest, he tried to do something about it. He tried to get out. He went back. He admitted his sin. 'I have sinned,' he said, 'for I have betrayed innocent blood' (Matt. 27:4). But he found a stony response. It is always difficult to get out of a bribe, for there are two parties involved. The confession of one is a threat to the other. He exposes himself to be devoured by others. I heard of a person recently who was once described by my predecessor as one of those people in life who derived pleasure from hurting other people. There are people both in private and public life who, if they followed their consciences, would resign. They have often thought about it, but if they were to move, they would involve other people. It is very difficult. Some of them are worse than Judas: they still have the money; they are still in the position and have the favour that goes with it. Judas did two tremendous things:
3.1 He admitted his crime - He confessed his sin
3.2 He returned the money - He repented of his action
Although the authorities would not cooperate and take it, he would not keep it. Instead, he threw it down and went away and took his own life. Tragic. That need never have happened. Suicide is never the only last option. Jesus did everything to draw Judas the other way. Jesus called him 'friend' and he meant it. Jesus made him one of the Twelve, called him 'chosen' although he knew what he was capable of from the beginning. Jesus gave him a position of trust and responsibility, made him treasurer of the party. Jesus washed his feet as he washed the others' feet; he gave him the place of honour on his left in the Last Supper and gave him the morsel as an indication of friendship. All the time he was trying to draw this man Judas. 'Come out of where you are and come to me. Judas, my friend, I love you. I accept you. You can be different'. Instead, Judas went out into the night of his own making, a night of loneliness and isolation. The tragedy is that Judas never saw the Cross. He only heard that it was going to take place and did not think it was a good idea. He didn't see it; he didn't understand it; and he took his own life before he knew about the atonement. What a tragedy! The dying thief on the cross - just as bad as Judas - heard Jesus say, 'Today you will be with me in paradise.' Peter after the Cross - just as bad as Judas - heard Jesus say, 'Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep.' But this man Judas took his life before the Cross was used, before he understood its meaning, and died in isolation and remorse.
What about us? How materialistic are we? How vulnerable are we to the same spiral of temptation that led Judas from greed to betrayal. We need to ask ourselves the same question asked by our friend Judas, 'Lord, is it I?' Jesus was wounded in the house of his materialistic friends, but Jesus died for Judas his friend, for all of his disciples, his friends, indeed for his enemies too. And to know forgiveness, we need to add one thing that Judas did not. He confessed, he restored, but he never came to believe and accept forgiveness and the reconciliation that forgiveness brings. Let us pray that we may. Don't play games with Jesus. Don't imagine as Judas did that he could get away with it or that Jesus didn't know what he was doing. Don't ever fool yourself into thinking that what we possess is ours, otherwise it will possess us. We are stewards of God's world not the owners. He will want it all back with interest.
Four simple steps to remembering whom you are serving.
1. Learn contentment by putting God first.
2. Determine to fight materialism. Learn to say "I cannot afford it" or "I don't need it"
3. Practice integrity in all your financial dealings.
4. Be a generous giver to God.
The late Bishop Edwin Hughes once delivered a rousing sermon on "God's ownership". But it put a certain parishioner's nose out of joint. The man took the Bishop off for lunch, and then walked him through his elaborate gardens, woodlands and farm. "Now are you going to tell me", he demanded, "that all this land does not belong to me?" Bishop Hughes smiled and replied, "Ask me that same question in a hundred years...." You are going to have to serve somebody. You already are. Who? Lets pray.
I am grateful to Tom Houston and his book 'Characters around the Cross' for inspiration and content for this sermon.