Christianity 201

April 13, 2022

The Days of Holy Week Have Names: This is Spy Wednesday

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:37 pm
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NLT. Matt.24.14 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests 15 and asked, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” And they gave him thirty pieces of silver. 16 From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.

Ten years ago, at the start of Lent, we ran an excerpt from a very detailed article at Wikipedia (again, not always the best go-to source for the budding theologian) on the subject of the particular days of the 40-day observance. The content varies a decade later, but here’s how we presented it then:

  • Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in Western Christianity
  • Clean Monday (or “Ash Monday”) is the first day in Eastern Orthodox Christianity
  • The fourth Lenten Sunday, which marks the halfway point between Ash Wednesday and Easter, is sometimes referred to as Laetare Sunday, particularly by Roman Catholics, and Mothering Sunday, which has become synonymous with Mother’s Day in the United Kingdom. However, its origin is a sixteenth century celebration of the Mother Church. On Laetare Sunday, the priest has the option of wearing vestments of rose (pink) instead of violet.
  • The fifth Lenten Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday (however, that term is also applied to Palm Sunday) marks the beginning of Passiontide
  • The sixth Lenten Sunday, commonly called Palm Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week, the final week of Lent immediately preceding Easter
  • Wednesday of Holy Week is known as Spy Wednesday to commemorate the days on which Judas spied on Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane before betraying him
  • Thursday is known as Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, and is a day Christians commemorate the Last Supper shared by Christ with his disciples
  • Good Friday follows the next day, on which Christians remember Jesus’ crucifixion and burial

At the time, not as many Evangelicals were as conscious of Lent as they are today. In looking at this years later, I also noticed that there is no mention of the day which follows Good Friday, which I had learned was Holy Saturday. However, the article places this differently:

In the Anglican, Lutheran, Old Catholic, Roman Catholic, and many other traditions, the Easter Triduum is a three-day event that begins Maundy Thursday evening, with the entrance hymn of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. After this celebration, the consecrated Hosts are taken solemnly from the altar to a place of reposition, where the faithful are invited to meditate in the presence of the consecrated Hosts.This is the Church’s response to Jesus’ question to the disciples sleeping in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Could you not watch with me one hour?” On the next day, the liturgical commemoration of the Passion of Jesus Christ is celebrated at 3 pm, unless a later time is chosen due to work schedules.

If your observance of Holy Week (and Lent in general) is far less complicated, I have two reactions to that. On the one hand, it asks people to carry a lot of extra information around in their heads as to where they are on the liturgical calendar. (In an Anglican or Catholic service, when the priest or rector speaks of these things, I’m sure some of it goes over the heads of parishioners, or simply bores them as something irrelevant.) On the other hand, there is a beauty to all this organization that I believe everyone who is interested in the capital “C” Church should at least have some conversational familiarity with. We need to follow along with Jesus and the disciples on the road to Jerusalem and the road to the cross.

Which brings us back to the title of today’s devotional. When I posted the original bullet-point list above, I must have been in a hurry, because “Spy Wednesday” did not immediately register.

We don’t know how far in advance Judas had been building a relationship with those who, after the resurrection of Lazarus, wanted Jesus out of the way. He would have needed to earn their trust, and a component of that trust was the “intelligence” information that Jesus frequented Gethsemane.

Judas was a necessary evil in the completion of God’s master plan, and I promise you, you’ll never see a more accurate use of the term “necessary evil.” Luke writes,

NRSV.Acts.1.16 “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.”

It’s difficult for us to understand how anyone could have spent up to 3 years with Jesus and not had his heart melted by what he had heard (teaching) and seen (miracles) but somehow self-interest was a big component of his thinking, and when he saw the tide turning after the Jerusalem entry, he made his move.

None of this comes as a surprise to Jesus. He has known what was in the heart of Judas all along, going back to the day he “chose twelve,” even to the point that the group gives Judas control of the petty cash (which I suspect involved sums required to keep thirteen itinerant men on the road.) And in the upper room meal, he lets Judas know that he knows.

CSB.Mark.14.18 While they were reclining and eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”

19 They began to be distressed and to say to him one by one, “Surely not I?”

20 He said to them, “It is one of the Twelve—the one who is dipping bread in the bowl with me. 21 For the Son of Man will go just as it is written about him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for him if he had not been born.”

Even before events unfold, Jesus has also foreshadowed the things to follow in his garden prayer, which is somehow overheard and recorded in John’s gospel for us to examine. Speaking to the Father he says,

NLT.John.17.12 During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me, I guarded them so that not one was lost, except the one headed for destruction, as the Scriptures foretold.

For Judas of course, his self-intentioned course of actions means that no matter how the religious leaders and Roman peacekeepers come after Jesus and the other eleven disciples, he will be on the safe side of history. But the betrayal comes with a cash bonus! At that point, it’s a business transaction, but one which Judas immediately regrets, going so far as to offer a complete refund.

NIV.Matt.27.3 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. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”

This leaves Judas without a place to turn. He can’t go back to being part of the disciples. At this juncture, they know the role he played too well. He’s also lost the standing with the chief priests he worked so hard to earn. He’s even ruined his future career as a spy since no one will know for sure whose side he’s on.

As a spy story, it’s a bit of a disaster. And perhaps hardly deserving of its own special mention on the Holy Week calendar.

Years later, compiling what we know as The Gospel of Matthew, we realize that Jesus had very plainly foretold it all. Perhaps they heard the words he spoke that day, but they didn’t really hear it.

NIV.Matt.20.17 Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”

Jesus knew, and Jesus submitted and surrendered himself to the process. Judas the traitor was really just a pawn, not in this Holy Week story, but in a master plan that had been carved out in the mind of God long before “In the beginning.”


Further consideration: While we said above that Jesus is clearly letting Judas know that he knows, the idea seems so implausible to the other disciples that — in the moment — they all question their loyalty out loud.

 

 

April 7, 2022

When Bad Character Meets Bad Thinking

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through John 12:1-11

by Clarke Dixon

Who do you think is the better Christian; Judas, or Mary?

Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.
But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.”

John 12:1-5 (NLT)

Let’s be honest, does not the use of perfume worth about a year’s wages in one single moment seem like a bad idea, a terrible use of resources? Judas was concerned for the poor. We might even say that he was more “Christlike” than Mary. Yet Judas was not commended:

Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself.
Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

John 12:6-8 (NLT)

Judas does not have a good character. He is deceitful, greedy, a thief, and will go on to betray Jesus for money.

Is there anything to learn here? Yes,

Spending time with good people does not automatically fix bad character.

Being one of the twelve disciples Jesus chose to draw close, Judas spent a lot of time with Jesus. Yet despite all the teaching he heard, likely repeatedly as Jesus would have taught similar things in different towns, and despite all the miracles he witnessed, Judas was unchanged. Judas could not have found a better mentor than Jesus. Yet he was unchanged.

Are we spending time with good people yet we are unchanged? Are we spending time with God yet are unchanged? We can invest time in reading the Bible or in prayer yet not experience any kind of discernible change in character. We may not be any more loving than we were ten years ago, or joyful, peaceful, patient, or kind.

Devotion to good religion does not automatically fix bad character.

Judas was a Jew, and his concern for the poor was baked right into the Jewish faith. Yet not stealing was also baked right in! Judas perhaps gave the impression that he was a good Bible believing Jew with his suggestion regarding relief for the poor. Yet he was not a good Jew, his character was unchanged. His religion did not change him.

Are we devoted to Christianity, yet we are not changed? Perhaps we say a lot of good Christian sounding things, yet we are not more generous than we were ten years ago, or more faithful, gentle, or self-controlled.

Before we go on to talk about the solution, let’s recognize that things get worse as we read further:

When all the people heard of Jesus’ arrival, they flocked to see him and also to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead. Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too, for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted them and believed in Jesus.

John 12:9-11 (NLT)

The leading priests were supposed to be the cream of the crop, the ones who set the best example of what it looks like to be faithful to God. Yet from them we learn that not only does devotion to good religion not automatically fix bad character,

Devotion to good religion does not automatically fix bad thinking.

John Stonestreet often says, “bad ideas have bad consequences.” We see that played out here. The priests have the wrong idea about how to express their faith, and they have the wrong idea about who Jesus is. From these bad ideas spring their desire to kill both Jesus and Lazarus.

You might have expected the chief priests to treat the raising of Lazarus as a wake up call, to start rethinking their view of Jesus, to start listening to the teaching of Jesus. Their thinking went unchanged.

We can become destructive when we stick with bad thinking. That can be true when we are new to Christianity, failing to rethink areas of our lives that Christ shines a new light on. It can also be true for those of us who have been Christians for a long time. Our devotion to Christianity does not automatically fix our bad thinking.

Are we like Judas and the chief priests, or like Mary?

Mary’s generous character as demonstrated with the “waste” of perfume stands in contrast to the greed of Judas. Mary’s right thinking about Jesus, knowing that Jesus is worthy of an extreme act of devotion, stands in contrast with leading priests who want him dead.

So what’s the fix?

If devotion to Christianity does not automatically fix bad character or bad thinking, what will?

Jesus tells us:

“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law.

Matthew 7:24-29 (NLT)

Our character and ideas mature as we build upon Jesus.

It begins with being intentional. Builders choose to build. They also choose where to build. We can be intentional in our desire to build our lives on the teaching and example of Jesus.

This is different than saying we choose to build on our particular expression of the Christian faith. While most Christian traditions attempt to get the thinking right, there is no guarantee that they do. We want to keep going back to Jesus. We don’t want to let someone else dictate all the ideas to us. That happens in cults. Controlling people’s behaviour and thinking does not guarantee good character or good thinking. Helping people walk with Jesus and focus on Jesus ensures that we will at least be growing in both.

The builders choose to build, but at some point they need to grab the needed tools and get to work. The intention to build is not enough, there also needs to be action. “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise.”

My wife and I decided sometime ago that we wanted to live a more healthy kind of lifestyle. Gluttony is the one sin we pastors can get away with. Good intentions for a healthier lifestyle needed to become actions, like walking past the snack cupboard, and lacing up the running shoes. Nike’s tagline of “Just Do It” is a brilliant tagline for a running shoe. It is also good advice to us as Christians, to get actively involved in our relationship with God.


Good intentions are not enough!

Though exercise has always been something I’ve dreaded, by just getting to it I have gone from “I have to get some exercise” to “I get to workout this morning.” We can go from saying “I have got to become a person of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” to saying “I get to become a person growing in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (See Galatians 5:22-23). We can go from saying “I’ve got to read my Bible more, and pray more,” to saying “I get to have my mind renewed and challenged by thinking through Scripture, I get to live life in the presence of God.”

Jesus himself models good intention and follow through by his intention to express love in the face of hatred. That good intention became action in his deliberate journey to the cross. When Mary poured out the perfume on Jesus, she unwittingly pointed out where that journey Jesus had chosen led; to his death, the full expression of God’s love. “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial.”

If Judas had listened to Jesus, rethinking life and putting his words into practice, then the kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane would have been one of true friendship and not betrayal. If the chief priests had listened to Jesus, rethinking life and putting his words into practice, then they would have welcomed him into Jerusalem as king and friend, and not as a fraud and enemy.

The cross is a reminder of what happens when bad character meets bad ideas. God came to us in Jesus and we killed him. When the bad character of Judas met up with the bad thinking of the leading priests, the execution of Jesus became a real possibility.

The cross is also a reminder of what happens when good character meets good ideas. Though God came to us in Jesus and we killed him, God loved us anyway. As we pick up our cross and follow in that way of love we will be changed, both in our character, and in our thinking.


August 17, 2020

The Surprising Question the Disciples Asked Jesus

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Now as they were eating, He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.” And they were exceedingly sorrowful, and each of them began to say to Him, “Lord, is it I?” He answered and said, “He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me. The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” Then Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, “Rabbi, is it I?” He said to him, “You have said it.” – Matthew 26: 21-25

Following up from two weeks ago, I had hoped to return to one additional brief quotation from Scott Sauls‘ book A Gentle Answer and as I wrapped up reading the book I found this excerpt especially powerful. This exposes an interesting irony in this part of the conversation at that Last Supper, and it whetted my appetite for more, so below this you’ll see some additional notes.

The Judas Within Us

Shortly before his death, Jesus prepared and served the annual Passover meal for himself and his twelve disciples in the Upper Room. As the twelve were reclining at the table eating their meal, Jesus announced to them, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” When he said these words, Jesus did not single out the disciple Judas as the betrayer or as the infamous “son of perdition” (John 17:12 NKJV). Instead, he used the second-person plural, indicating that any of the twelve could feasibly betray him.

Knowing this to be true–knowing that the line dividing good and evil cuts through every human heart–none of the disciples responded with an accusation toward another. None said, “Lord, we’ve all been suspecting this for some time and we’re glad you are finally confirming our suspicion. It is Judas, of course! It’s so obvious!” Instead, each disciple became sorrowful and introspective, and each one took his turn asking Jesus, “Is it I?” (Mark 14:19).

This “Is it I?” response to the Lord, as opposed to an “It is he!” response, is a key indicator of a healthy, self-aware, non-presumptuous gentle posture of faith. Sorrow mixed with introspection is, even for the most faithful disciples among us, the most appropriate response when the subject of evil and betrayal is raised. For none of us has measured up to the standard of true faithfulness. And all of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). The more we realize these truths, the less accusatory we will become toward others, and the gentler we will become as well.  (pp 165-166)

Taken from A Gentle Answer: Our ‘Secret Weapon’ in an Age of Us Against Them by Scott Sauls Copyright © 2020 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. http://www.thomasnelson.com.


At mentioned I was wanting to spend more time on this passage, and at the commentary EnduringWord.com, some additional insights appear on this section. I was going to just focus on the “Is it I?” question, but decided to run the entire section which appears under the header,

Jesus gives Judas a last opportunity to repent

a. Assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me: In the midst of their Passover meal, Jesus made a startling announcement. He told His disciples that one of their own – these twelve who had lived and heard and learned from Jesus for three years – would betray Him.

i. If we are familiar with this story it is easy not to appreciate its impact. It’s easy to lose appreciation for how terrible it was for one of Jesus’ own to betray Him. For good reason Dante’s great poem about heaven and hell places Judas in the lowest place of hell.

ii. “This was a most unpleasant thought to bring to a feast, yet it was most appropriate to the Passover, for God’s commandment to Moses concerning the first paschal lamb was, ‘With bitter herbs they shall eat it.’” (Spurgeon)

b. He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me: Jesus said this not to point out a specific disciple, because they all dipped with Him. Instead, Jesus identified the betrayer as a friend, someone who ate at the same table with Him.

i. This idea is drawn from Psalm 41:9: “Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.“ “My fellow-commoner, my familiar friend, … This greatly aggravates the indignity of the matter.” (Trapp)

c. Rabbi, is it I? It was noble for the 11 other disciples to ask this question (Lord, is it I?); it was terrible hypocrisy for Judas to ask it. For Judas to ask, “Rabbi, is it I?” while knowing he had already arranged the arrest of Jesus was the height of treachery.

i. “It is a beautiful trait in the character of the disciples that they did not suspect one another, but every one of them inquired, almost incredulously, as the form of the question implies, ‘Lord, is it I?’ No one said, ‘Lord is it Judas?’” (Spurgeon)

d. You have said it: Jesus did not say this to condemn Judas, but to call him to repentance. It is fair to assume that He said it with love in His eyes, and Jesus showed Judas that He loved him, even knowing his treachery.

 

 

 

February 17, 2020

When Did Judas Go (Really) Bad?

He [Judas] did not say this because he cared about 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.
(John 12:6)

As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.”
(John 13:27)

Judas is an interesting character, to say the very least. Like the thief on the cross, he is one of a number of exceptions to the rule, and many speculate as to what might have been if his betrayal had worked out like Peter’s denial and he had been restored. One writer suggests:

I do think that Judas was one of the very few in the Bible who did not have a free will, and was destined to betray Jesus actually from before the foundation of the world.

Another writes,

To summarize, be careful where you place Judas. He did the will of the Father and fulfilled the Scriptures. Peter, who we all love, tried to prevent Jesus’ crucifixion and was called “Satan” by our Lord. Peter, who was not mindful of the will of God, was restored. Was it not Jesus who said, “”For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:50) Be careful about placing Jesus’s brother, Judas, in Christendom’s “hell.” One day you may have to look up to Judas, instead of looking down on him. Peter denied him three times in one night while Judas declared Jesus innocent in front of the High Priesthood. Judas had a very important job in the Kingdom of God. For three and one half years, as a Priest he inspected the Lamb of God as an unbiased man. He was not “one of them” a Galilean. He was the outsider. He did his job perfectly. If Judas really wanted to mess things up, he could have agreed with the High Priesthood and called Him a “blasphemer” who claimed to be the Son of God when He really wasn’t. But Judas declared the Lamb spotless and unblemished*, the Perfect Passover.

*“I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” (Matthew 27:4a)

Where I wanted us to look today however is when did Judas go bad? The second of our opening verses suggests a particular time when “Satan entered into him.” It’s interesting that there is absolutely no variance on this phrase in any English Bible translations, though the AMP adds, “and took possession.”

The first verse however shows him to be embezzling money from the funds used to support Jesus and The Twelve in their ministry. (We know that many of the contributors and supporters were women, along with men.)

So if we look at a continuum of Jesus ministry, with one end beginning with the calling of the disciples, the scripture reading in the temple, and the turning of water into wine; and the other end consisting of the Passover meal, the arrest and betrayal; we see some rather bad behavior on Judas’ part long before Satan ‘entered’ him. There is evidence of something wrong before we would place an “X” on that continuum to mark what happened in the upper room.

Question: If it was found that the treasurer of your church was helping himself to money from the offerings or church bank account, would you necessarily say that Satan had entered into him?

Judas’ petty thievery is used to show that he was bad from the beginning, and is used to justify the position that he was never fully committed to Christ, but the scripture indicates that something especially significant happened as he exited that Passover meal to carry out his plan.

Again, it’s pointed out that:

[Acts 1] affirms that Judas was one of theirs in number and fellowship with ministration.* In other words, Judas worked cooperatively and in concert with the other disciples. There is no mention of his not being a good and faithful member of the group.

*v. 17 “…he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.

I John 2:19 paints a broader picture of people who ‘share in the ministry’ but then do not continue in the faith:

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

The Reformation Study Bible says of this:

Paul too warns against false teachers who will arise from among the believers (Acts 20:29–31). As in the case of Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:9–24), visible membership in the church does not guarantee salvation. Inward apathy or hostility to the gospel may be masked by outward conformity. The false teachers revealed their hostility not just by leaving, but by the way they left. Because they went out to oppose the word of the gospel, their departure was as much a renunciation of the church and its message as was Judas’s departure from the Last Supper (John 13:30).

Some say this is also a picture of the Antichrist.

What is the point of studying Judas in such detail and what can we learn? This is just my opinion, but I believe that even though the Biblical picture is of a more dramatic turn taking place during that Last Supper meal, the events in Judas’ life compounded, one on top of the other.

Another commentator puts it this way:

Somewhere in Judas’ life, he took an evil turn that eventually resulted in rejection of Jesus Christ as His Lord and Savior and eventual suicide. One bad attitude toward Jesus led to another, and a pattern of rejection and bitterness must have led to the ultimate rejection of Jesus.

and later writes,

Judas confessed his sin without repentance. There was no radical change in his mind that resulted in a change from spiritual death to spiritual life through faith in Jesus Christ. True repentance would have turned him to Jesus for forgiveness.

Does any of this resonate with you because of a person or situation you know? Let’s end with some encouragement from Galatians 6: 1

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.


I want to again acknowledge Michael Card’s book, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement, for getting me thinking about this topic.


Go Deeper: Here’s The Message translation of I John 5:16-17 to get you thinking further along this topic. Use online Bible resources to help unpack this passage:

16-17 For instance, if we see a Christian believer sinning (clearly I’m not talking about those who make a practice of sin in a way that is “fatal,” leading to eternal death), we ask for God’s help and he gladly gives it, gives life to the sinner whose sin is not fatal. There is such a thing as a fatal sin, and I’m not urging you to pray about that. Everything we do wrong is sin, but not all sin is fatal.

Go Deeper Still: Some of today’s passages bear on issues dealing with free will and predestination, as well as the eternal security of the believer (perseverance of the saints). The verse in I John often is used to support the semantic idea that such people were “never saved in the first place.” How do you see that verse fitting in?

April 2, 2018

Judas!

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles
– Luke 6: 12-13 NIV

The name Judas is certainly evocative to Christians. Nobody names their kid that. Surely it would make a better swear word than that of Jesus, wouldn’t it?

But as Philip Yancey points out in The Jesus I Never Knew, in terms of the twelve disciples, Judas was incredibly ordinary.

Chosen by Jesus – Scripture tells us (see above) that Jesus chose his disciples after a long night of prayer. This wasn’t a random act. It was divine providence. At The Christian Courier, Wayne Jackson writes:

The book of Zechariah divides itself into two major portions. Chapters 1-8 deal principally with events contemporary with the prophet, while chapters 9-14 sweep across the centuries, and have a decidedly “messianic” thrust. With this brief word of explanation, we now focus on a most remarkable prophecy in chapter 11 of the prophet’s composition.

The chapter begins with an ominous prophecy of a coming destruction that would vanquish the nation of Israel. This devastation would be a judgment from God because of the Jewish people’s rejection of Jehovah’s royal King. The description previews the Roman invasion that would culminate in A.D. 70 (cf. Matthew 22:1-7).

Out of this background comes the following prophecy.

“And I said unto them, If you think good, give me my hire; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my hire thirty pieces of silver. And Jehovah said unto me, Cast it unto the potter, the goodly price that I was prized at by them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them unto the potter, in the house of Jehovah” (Zechariah 11:12-13).

This is a stunning text; indeed, it is a powerful example of the minute details that characterize the prophetic literature of the Bible. Zechariah, speaking on behalf of the promised Messiah, makes the following points.

(To discover the detail of seven things predicted here, click this link.)

Trusted by all – At Desiring God, Jon Bloom writes:

Jesus could have given the moneybag to Nathaniel, “an Israelite indeed, in whom there [was] no deceit” (John 1:47), or to John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:20), or to Levi, who had extensive financial experience (Luke 5:27). But he didn’t. Jesus chose Judas to be the treasurer of his itinerant nonprofit.

One is tempted to offer the Lord some consulting on good stewardship. Donors were supporting this ministry financially (Luke 8:3), and Jesus appointed the one guy he knew was a “devil” (John 6:70) to manage the money. But this was not poor judgment on Jesus’s part. It was deliberate; Jesus knew Judas was pilfering. Why did Jesus allow it?

(For his answer to that question, click here.)

Honored by Jesus – In a world where “sitting on someone’s right” or “sitting on someone’s left” was a place of prominence, Judas was sitting near Jesus. Ann Naffziger fills in some details including a prophetic word from the Psalms:

Throughout human history, the act of sharing food together has suggested a level of bondedness between the people sharing the meal. Some of the significance has been lost in this day and age of American drive-throughs and eating on the run, but certainly in the Jewish culture of the Middle East at the time of Jesus, a shared meal connoted a level of intimacy between eaters. (For this reason Jesus was consistently criticized for sharing food and drink with tax collectors and sinners.) The Passover ritual that Jesus celebrated as his Last Supper included the practice of sharing food from common bowls, not unlike in various cultures and ethnic restaurants still today. In this sense, Judas can be accused of betraying not just the bond of people who eat together but a bond which should have been stronger between those who celebrated a religious feast together. The text in Matthew which identifies Judas as the one who dipped his hand into the bowl with Jesus (Mt 26:23) might also be an allusion to Psalm 41:9: “Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted his heel against me.

John’s gospel is slightly different in that it indicates that Jesus dipped his bread in the bowl and then gave it to Judas. There is a tradition that the host gave the dipped bread to an honored guest as a sign of affection. So perhaps John highlights this detail to even further heighten the act of Judas’ betrayal.

So then why did he do it?

Why did he betray Jesus? In Chapter 10 of the book, Yancey offers five possibilities:

  1. He would do anything for money.
  2. He was looking out for himself, knowing Jesus enemies were closing in.
  3. He was disillusioned; Jesus should be taking on Rome not clearing the temple.
  4. He had “no patience for a slow, nonviolent revolution.”
  5. He was doing all this “to force Jesus’ hand. If Judas arranged an arrest, surely that would prompt Jesus to declare himself and install his kingdom.”

Yancey points out that the difference between Peter and Judas. Their responses are the same in kind but not the same in degree.

Have you or I ever betrayed a church leader? As someone who spends time each week documenting some of the transgressions of Christian pastors and authors as part of my tracking of news events in the Christian community (on my other blog) I am acutely aware of the responsibility of not stooping to gossip or reporting on events in an irresponsible way that could bring damage to the cause of Christ. If I do, I am betraying Jesus.

Furthermore, as we consider the Passion Week narrative, we need to keep in mind that Christ offered up his life. While his flesh had misgivings at one point, Jesus was in charge and in control of all that was unfolding.

February 26, 2015

The Judas Effect

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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 He [Judas] did not say this because he cared about 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.
 (John 12:6)

As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.”
 (John 13:27)

Judas is an interesting character, to say the very least. Like the thief on the cross, he is one of a number of exceptions to the rule, and many speculate as to what might have been if his betrayal had worked out like Peter’s denial and he had been restored. One writer suggests:

I do think that Judas was one of the very few in the Bible who did not have a free will, and was destined to betray Jesus actually from before the foundation of the world.

Another writes,

To summarize, be careful where you place Judas. He did the will of the Father and fulfilled the Scriptures. Peter, who we all love, tried to prevent Jesus’ crucifixion and was called “Satan” by our Lord. Peter, who was not mindful of the will of God, was restored. Was it not Jesus who said, “”For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:50) Be careful about placing Jesus’s brother, Judas, in Christendom’s “hell.” One day you may have to look up to Judas, instead of looking down on him. Peter denied him three times in one night while Judas declared Jesus innocent in front of the High Priesthood. Judas had a very important job in the Kingdom of God. For three and one half years, as a Priest he inspected the Lamb of God as an unbiased man. He was not “one of them” a Galilean. He was the outsider. He did his job perfectly. If Judas really wanted to mess things up, he could have agreed with the High Priesthood and called Him a “blasphemer” who claimed to be the Son of God when He really wasn’t. But Judas declared the Lamb spotless and unblemished*, the Perfect Passover.

*“I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” (Matthew 27:4a)

Where I wanted us to look today however is when did Judas go bad? The second of our opening verses suggests a particular time when “Satan entered into him.” It’s interesting that there is absolutely no variance on this phrase in any English Bible translations, though the AMP adds, “and took possession.”

The first verse however shows him to be embezzling money from the funds used to support Jesus and The Twelve in their ministry. (We know that many of the contributors and supporters were women, along with men.)

So if we look at a continuum of Jesus ministry, with one end beginning with the calling of the disciples, the scripture reading in the temple, and the turning of water into wine; and the other end consisting of the Passover meal, the arrest and betrayal; we see some rather bad behavior on Judas’ part long before Satan ‘entered’ him. There is evidence of something wrong before we would place an “X” on that continuum to mark what happened in the upper room.

Question: If it was found that the treasurer of your church was helping himself to money from the offerings or church bank account, would you necessarily say that Satan had entered into him?

Judas’ petty thievery is used to show that he was bad from the beginning, and is used to justify the position that he was never fully committed to Christ, but the scripture indicates that something especially significant happened as he exited that Passover meal to carry out his plan.

Again, it’s pointed out that:

[Acts 1] affirms that Judas was one of theirs in number and fellowship with ministration.* In other words, Judas worked cooperatively and in concert with the other disciples. There is no mention of his not being a good and faithful member of the group.

*v. 17 “…he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.”

I John 2:19 paints a broader picture of people who ‘share in the ministry’ but then do not continue in the faith:

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

The Reformation Study Bible says of this:

Paul too warns against false teachers who will arise from among the believers (Acts 20:29–31). As in the case of Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:9–24), visible membership in the church does not guarantee salvation. Inward apathy or hostility to the gospel may be masked by outward conformity. The false teachers revealed their hostility not just by leaving, but by the way they left. Because they went out to oppose the word of the gospel, their departure was as much a renunciation of the church and its message as was Judas’s departure from the Last Supper (John 13:30).

Some say this is also a picture of the Antichrist.

What is the point of studying Judas in such detail and what can we learn? This is just my opinion, but I believe that even though the Biblical picture is of a more dramatic turn taking place during that Last Supper meal, the events in Judas’ life compounded, one on top of the other.

Another commentator puts it this way:

Somewhere in Judas’ life, he took an evil turn that eventually resulted in rejection of Jesus Christ as His Lord and Savior and eventual suicide. One bad attitude toward Jesus led to another, and a pattern of rejection and bitterness must have led to the ultimate rejection of Jesus.

and later writes,

Judas confessed his sin without repentance. There was no radical change in his mind that resulted in a change from spiritual death to spiritual life through faith in Jesus Christ. True repentance would have turned him to Jesus for forgiveness.

Does any of this resonate with you because of a person or situation you know? Let’s end with some encouragement from Galatians 6: 1

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.


I want to acknowledge Michael Card’s book, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement, for getting me thinking about this topic.


Go Deeper: Here’s The Message translation of I John 5:16-17 to get you thinking further along this topic. Use online Bible resources to help unpack this passage:

16-17 For instance, if we see a Christian believer sinning (clearly I’m not talking about those who make a practice of sin in a way that is “fatal,” leading to eternal death), we ask for God’s help and he gladly gives it, gives life to the sinner whose sin is not fatal. There is such a thing as a fatal sin, and I’m not urging you to pray about that. Everything we do wrong is sin, but not all sin is fatal.

Go Deeper Still: Some of today’s passages bear on issues dealing with free will and predestination, as well as the eternal security of the believer (perseverance of the saints). The verse in I John often is used to support the semantic idea that such people were “never saved in the first place.”  How do you see that verse fitting in?

 

May 1, 2013

Jesus Answer Knocks Them Off Their Feet

 

“…they drew back and fell to the ground.” ~John 18:6

The quotation above is from John’s account of Jesus’ arrest. Judas leads a group of soldiers and Pharisees to a grove of olives and Jesus steps out from his group and asks who they are seeking. They said, “Jesus of Nazareth;” and he answered, “I am he.” And then John tells us that at the words, ‘I am he;’ they fell to the ground. I’ve quoted the NIV (or ESV) above; The Message version adds a different dimension, “He said, “That’s me.” The soldiers recoiled, totally taken aback. Judas, his betrayer, stood out like a sore thumb.”

This detail about the soldiers is singular to John’s gospel. (He doesn’t mention the betrayal with a kiss at all.) I’ve often wondered what caused this particular reaction.

  • The Life Application Bible suggests that they were startled by the boldness of his question
  • The Wycliffe Bible Commentary suggests he unnerved his captors, some of whom may have been the ones previously unable to lay hands on him (John 7:43-46);
  • Though the Pharisees had seen Jesus teaching in the temple, it’s possible the soldiers had never seen him up close and personal. As they came into proximity with him he was either not what they expected, or they sensed something “wholly other” about him. (Matthew Henry adds that the term ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ was used derisively, and that Jesus could have simply answered “No” for technically he was ‘Jesus of Bethlehem.’)
  • The Life App. and various other commentaries tell us that his “I am he” answer used the “I AM” form of God’s name; it indicated his claim of divinity. There are many pivotal turning points in John’s text, but this is one where we often miss the full impact;
  • The above, combined with what they where about to do; they suddenly felt the impact of their own actions. Were they arresting an innocent man? Were they arresting God?
  • If the full force of his answer registered at all; Matthew Henry points out they would realize that he could simply strike them dead at that point. Was there any limit to his potential response?

Without taking away from any of these explanations, I want to introduce a new dimension to the narrative that had never struck me before in this context. I picked this up reading Michael Card writing in an older issue of the Our Journey devotional booklet.

“When Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, He was already bloody before anyone laid a hand on him. He had been fighting a battle that would make certain the final outcome on Calvary. The blood and water that flowed from his wounds on the cross were preceded by bloody sweat that poured from His pores as He suffered the agony of a death more painful than the physical death of the cross, the death of the will... The painful crushing began appropriately enough, in the garden…” ~ Michael Card (Italics added)

What do you do if you are the soldiers, sent to arrest someone, who looks more like a victim than a criminal? What do you do if the plan calls for flogging or torture and the person seems to be already spent? Could that be part of what caused them to draw back and fall to the ground?

August 29, 2010

Have Hurting People Estranged From the Church Left The Faith?

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:52 pm
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A piece I wrote at Thinking Out Loud about the need for confession and forgiveness used, as a springboard for discussion, a post from a ‘confessional’ website where a reader stated that they’ve actually left their faith, but are staying on the church’s e-mail prayer chain list so they can continue to be in on all the church gossip.

If you’re interested, here is the item I wrote.

A reader responded with this comment which expresses a rather comment sentiment which you’ve probably heard come up in any discussion of someone leaving the faith.

The obvious scripture about christians who are no longer christians is that they went out from us because they were never part of us. What’s terribly sad is that they really do think they were once a christian. Though they mislead a few. It’s not possible for those people to make a dent in the reality of Christians anymore than a drop of dew on a shingle. Thanks for the blog.

I fully understand that there are a number of people who feel that way.   However, I also recognize that this reader does not speak for many others who would be reading that particular blog post; so I responded:

I’m sorry, but the “They were never Christians to begin with” flow of argument just doesn’t work for the many, many readers of this blog who disagree with your dogmatic eternal security position.   Since this was a post about the need for confession and forgiveness, and not about other doctrinal matters, I won’t pursue it beyond suggesting that the Bible makes very clear the possibility of being “a partaker of the Holy Spirit” and then “falling away.”

The idea that if someone was truly “in Christ” they would never walk away is good positionally, and there is an extent to which I can embrace that; but then you run into people who have endured a great deal of brokenness in their post-conversion situation, and have elected to walk away.

But the simple rejoinder to your statement might be, if a Christian can’t truly ‘leave,’ then they haven’t actually left; they are just going through a period of extreme hurt, extreme pain or extreme rejection.   Some seed in the parable of the sower actually did “take root” and “sprang up” before it was scorched by the sun.

There’s a lot of scorched people out there.

(Actually, I’m amazed at the level of “belief” among so called committed atheists.  They say they’ve left the Church, but they hold on to an interesting mix of doctrines.)

It’s funny how you can coin a phrase in the middle of writing something.   Scorched people is one of those.   But they are legion and and I’m sure you know some.

How do you respond to the “they were never one of us” argument? Judas walked with Jesus for three years.   I believe he was as in as in can be.   Perhaps he had a predilection to some kinds of temptation.   Perhaps he was jealous of the inner-circle relationship enjoyed by Peter, James and John.   Perhaps he just felt the whole crusade wasn’t making enough of a political dent in Galilee.  But was his sin any different from the many distractions which carry away people in Christian leadership today?   If Satan had truly blinded him 100%, he never would have recognized his transgression; he would have continued to believe his cause was just.

I believe the teachings of Jesus “took root” with Judas as much (or more) as with anyone else.

But he got scorched.