Easter devotions: The difference between Peter and Judas.
By Rosie Moore.
Both Judas and Peter were handpicked as disciples by Jesus. Both watched Jesus heal the sick, deliver demoniacs, feed the crowds and raise the dead. Both listened to his teachings on God’s Kingdom and heard him foretell his impending death. Both were part of Jesus’s trusted circle who proclaimed the gospel and did miracles in his name (Mark 6:12-13). Both men struggled with sin and temptation. Both misunderstood Christ’s mission. Both betrayed Jesus on the night before his crucifixion. Yet, there were crucial differences between Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot which led them along different trajectories, to vastly different outcomes.
Join us for the next two weeks to look at why the lives of Peter and Judas Iscariot ended so differently, and what lessons we can learn from them. Thereafter, we’ll resume our devotions in Peter’s letters.
Thirty pieces of silver
Many have speculated on what motivated Judas to betray Jesus. Was it greed? Was it resentment that Jesus was not the political leader he had hoped for? Was Judas a pawn of Satan or God, with no choice in the matter (Luke 22:3)? Did he try to force Jesus’ hand to rebel against Rome and set up a new political government?
What we do know is that the gospel writers highlight Judas’s greed and dishonesty. Greed was Judas Iscariot’s besetting sin. He handed Jesus over to the Jewish leaders for just 30 pieces of silver, the average price to buy a slave in the first century.
Essentially, Judas sold the Son of God in exchange for four month’s salary. Loyalty, friendship, integrity, justice, truth, innocence—None of this mattered to Judas as much as his financial interests. He used the mission of Christ for personal advancement, and he was shrewd and deliberate in his plotting:
“He (Judas) went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.”
“Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.”
Judas, who was trusted to take care of the moneybag and give money to the poor (John 13:29-30), was a pretender right up to the moment when he came up to Jesus and kissed him (Matt 26:48-50). He wore the mask of a friend, but treated Jesus as an enemy.
Twin embryos of betrayal.
But Judas’s betrayal didn’t come out of nowhere. It was conceived from the twin embryos of greed and hypocrisy that he’d incubated in his heart for some time. The apostle John, who knew Judas as a brother, gives us insight into this progression of sin in chapter 12 and 13:
It was at a dinner in Lazarus’s home in Bethany shortly before Jesus’s arrest. Mary, motivated by pure devotion, anointed Jesus with an entire bottle of expensive nard. When Mary poured the perfume lavishly over Christ’s feet and wiped his feet with her hair, Judas was highly offended, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He was indignant at the waste of money (John 12:5).
Perhaps he valued money more than Jesus. Perhaps he was jealous of Mary. Perhaps he failed to see his own theft and lies as sin, because he was enslaved to the evil desire of greed and self promotion (James 1:14; 2 Peter 2:19).
Judas’s pretense to care for the poor was sheer hypocrisy, as John exposes his true motives, “He did not say this because he cared for the poor but because he was a thief. As keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” C.H Spurgeon makes an interesting comment about Judas’s hypocrisy:
“The kisses of an enemy are deceitful…Whenever a man is about to stab religion, he usually professes very great reverence of it. Let us beware of sleek-faced hypocrisy, which is assistant to heresy and infidelity.”
Judas’s progression into sin is a shocking warning for each of us. It is a remarkable real life illustration of James’s metaphor describing how sin grows from conception to a stillborn baby:
“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death (James 1:13-15).
Judas’s despair and death is horrible to imagine (Acts 1:18; Matt 27:5). That’s why James warns us to take our heart desires seriously and not to deceive ourselves (James 1:16). They are potentially lethal.
“Satan entered into him” (John 13:27).
Judas’s greed and love of ill-gotten gain was fertile ground for Satan’s seeds of betrayal. The Bible is clear that the devil prompted Judas’s betrayal (John 13:2; 27), which was all part of God’s sovereign plan (Ps 41:9; Matt 20:18; 26:20-25; Acts 1:16, 20).
However, the Bible is equally clear that Judas was not just a pawn of Satan or God. None of us can blame others or make excuses for our evil thoughts and wrong actions, because they are ours alone (James 1:13-14). Judas’s unchecked desires left him like putty in the devil’s hands.
Jesus himself confronted Judas with his ‘sleek-faced hypocrisy’ on the night of his arrest:
“Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48). There’s almost a pleading in Jesus’s question, and no doubt that Judas was an active agent in his betrayal. But by the time Judas realized he didn’t like the way things were turning out, it was too late. The wheels of God’s sovereign plan had begun to turn (John 13:2; 10-11).
“Surely not I, Rabbi?”
Judas’s story should leave us feeling sad and troubled, as Jesus was (John 13:21). I can hardly imagine a sadder meal than the Last Supper, when Jesus told his disciples, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.” (John 13:22; Matt 26:21).
An inside job always leaves us feeling perplexed. How could a member of this loyal band of brothers betray Jesus? But in Matthew’s gospel, we see that Judas’s response is different to the response of Peter and the other disciples:
Each of Jesus’s disciples was deeply worried that he might be the traitor. Their consciences were tender and concerned. Matthew recalls that night: “They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely not I, Lord?” (Matt 26:22). But there is a stark contrast in the tone of Judas’s question: “Surely not I, Rabbi?” he asks, formally (Matt 26:25).
The other disciples addressed Jesus as “Lord,” but for Judas, he was just “Rabbi”. Of course, Rabbi is a Jewish title of honour that conveys respect for a wise teacher, but it belied a deeper issue in Judas’s heart. Judas acknowledged Jesus as a man, but never as his Lord, the Son of God, with the right to rule his thoughts, desires and actions. He’d never accepted responsibility for his sins, confessed them and bowed the knee to Christ as his Saviour, as Peter had (Luke 5:8). Judas had no personal relationship with Jesus.
A tragic trajectory
Judas was a real man who, in real space, time and history, betrayed Jesus for thirty sheckels of silver. It’s a shocking and tragic story. But Judas is also a picture of anyone who ultimately rejects Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Although he was closely associated with Jesus and looked just like the other disciples, he failed to follow Christ as Lord of his life. Tragically, he committed suicide without faith and without hope.
But, no matter how great Judas’s sin was, betrayal is not the unforgivable sin. Nor is greed, theft, lying or suicide. No sin is an obstacle to Christ’s forgiveness. As Thomas Brookes explained many centuries ago:
“The least sin should humble the soul, but certainly the greatest sin should never discourage the soul, much less should it work the soul to despair. Despairing Judas perished, whereas the murderers of Christ, believing on him, were saved.”
But Judas had worn the mask of hypocrisy too long. When he realized what he had done and wanted to recant and return the money, he couldn’t humble himself to repent or even say Jesus’s name. He could only admit to the chief priests that he had betrayed “innocent blood” (Matt 27:3-10).
But Jesus’s verdict on Judas is even more tragic than his suicide: “Woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born” (Matt 26:24). Judas is called “doomed to destruction,” because he was never saved (John 17:12).
Our own trajectory
Judas’s story is not some remote cautionary tale, for we are all by nature traitors and rebels, ‘doomed to destruction’ unless we’re made right with God through Jesus. No matter what our church association or Christian pedigree, we’re either true followers of Christ or pretenders. It’s not enough to feel guilty and remorseful for sin and the havoc it causes in our lives. Even Judas did that. We need to surrender, turn back to Jesus, ask forgiveness and put our trust in him. And then we need to act on the truth that we are no longer enslaved to sin (Rom 6:6; John 8:34).
Judas shows us that Christ is more than a wise teacher who teaches us to love our neighbour and live good lives. He is Lord of all, or not Lord at all.
And, as Christians, we’re also tempted to sell out Jesus’s unpopular teachings; to use the church and the gospel for our personal advancement; to try to force Jesus’s hand to suit our own agenda. Like Judas, we’re tempted to lie, steal, covet, envy and worship money and the things it buys.
Judas’s life is a big red flag to those ‘small’ invisible sins of the heart, like greed, resentment, pride and hypocrisy, which grow into dangerous habits and always end in terrible tragedy—now and/or in eternity. “The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them” (1 Tim 5:24).
But, thanks to the gospel, we do not need to follow Judas’s tragic trajectory. We can choose to follow Christ, for “Stronger than darkness, New every morn, Our sins they are many, But his mercy is more” (Keith and Kirstyn Getty).
This is the difference between the two disciples who betrayed Jesus—Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter.
Join us on Easter Friday, as we contrast Peter’s trajectory. The devotion is titled, “It is the Lord!”
Lord, Judas’s shocking story reminds us that the human heart is deceitful above all things. Show us our invisible sins before they take root. Above all, do not let us become pretenders. Rule over every aspect of our lives and help us to be like Mary, who valued you more than anything else. Do not let us sell out the truth of your word for the sake of popularity, personal promotion or security. And though our sins are many and great, help us to remember that your mercy is more. Amen.