First Midweek Advent Service
February 25-26, 2009
Redemption/Lynnwood and Ascension/Tacoma
"I WAS THERE!"
Grace and Lenten peace be multiplied unto you, Amen. This day's text is found in the 27th chapter of Matthew, verses 3-5, as follows:
Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, 4 saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." And they said, "What is that to us? You see to it!" 5 Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself. Here ends our text.
In the Name of Christ, the Lamb of God for sinners slain, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Nothing is more powerful and convincing than an eyewitness to an event. This week, as we begin our meditation on Jesus' Passion, we've decided to enlist the aid of one of those who was most involved in the events that led up to Jesus' death. This week we bring one of the main players in Christ's Passion directly onto the stage to speak to us. Everything you will hear about him is based on Bible fact. It's our prayer that the Lord will work powerfully through His Word as we consider the words of:
I. My life is a dire warning!
II. My death was a needless tragedy!
Yes, my name is Judas Iscariot, and I was there. The story I have to tell you is a deeply tragic one. I was a man who lived close to heaven, but ended up in hell. Mine was a life of fantastic opportunity, that somehow ended in horrible disaster. Countless generations of Christians have cursed my name, and will continue to do so till the end of time. My very name, in fact, has become synonymous with betrayal and deceit.
I'm not asking for your forgiveness, just your understanding. For a moment, try and forget about that dark closing chapter of my life, and remember that I was human, like you. I acted like a human being. What I did any human is capable of doing, even you. And that's what makes my life such a dire warning for you!
I was born in the town of Kerioth. My parents had great hopes for my life, as witnessed by the name that they gave me. Judas means "Praise of God." As my mother and father stooped over my infant cradle, it would have broken their hearts if they could have heard the words Jesus would one day speak concerning me, "It had been better for that man if he had not been born."
I was raised like other boys in Judea. From an early age my parents taught me to know and believe in Jehovah, the God of our ancestors. By the time I became an adult, I had developed a deep interest in spiritual matters. Then came the greatest day of my life, the day on which that prophet from Nazareth extended His hand to me and said, "Come, follow Me." Now, that may puzzle you a bit. Why, you ask, would the Master choose someone like me to be His disciple? Well you'll pardon me for asking, but why would he choose someone like you? Did you ever think of that? We're both sinners. But "God would have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." With the best intentions, I left everything behind and followed Jesus.
What a time that was! For more than two years I lived with Jesus, traveled with Him, and took my meals with Him. The other disciples and I received extensive personal instruction from Him. Can you imagine having Jesus Christ Himself conduct a Bible class for you every day of the week? That's the privilege I had. With my own ears I heard His matchless sermons. With my own eyes I witnessed His incredible miracles. But when they killed Jesus and He left earth for heaven...I killed myself and went to hell.
Let me tell you how it happened. Pay attention, and you'll learn how a single sin can destroy a person's soul. It didn't happen quickly, like a bolt of lightning might strike down a huge oak tree in an instant. No, this sin took control of me slowly, gradually, almost imperceptibly, like a parasitic vine might wrap itself around that same oak tree and finally kill it over a long period of time. My downfall didn't come about suddenly on Maundy Thursday evening. Oh, no! It had already been taking place long before that.
My master passion? The single sin that led to my undoing? Yes, it was greed. And since I was the treasurer for our small group, temptation was there all the time. We didn't have much in the till, but one day some of it stuck to my fingers and fell into my pocket. As you count sin in your world, it was a small sin. I told myself you couldn't even really call it sin. Some day I was going to pay it back. Even if I didn't, the trifling amount I took was much less than I deserved for shouldering the duties of treasurer. Take my life as a dire warning! When you want to commit a sin, the devil will give you a thousand excuses - a thousand ways to conceal its wrongness and its danger even from yourself.
Looking back on it, I really wish I'd been caught the first time I took money. If I had, maybe there could have been a different outcome to my story. I'll give you some advice: when you get caught at a sin, thank God for it! Because it's the sins you get away with that can harden you and curse your life for years to come...and possibly for eternity! Those are the sins you try again, and again.
As time went on, of course, this pet sin of mine grew like...well, like cancer, just as the Bible says. The amounts I stole became larger and larger. Also, I noticed it bothered me a lot less. I think it's true what they say: we human beings live on an incline - a slanted surface where it is much easier to fall than to rise. The hypocrisy became easier and easier for me. One night I even had the nerve to protest indignantly when Mary anointed Jesus with some expensive perfume. "What a waste!" I said. "This should have been sold and the money given to the poor!" As if I really cared about the poor. As if Jesus couldn't tell that what I really wanted to line my own pockets with the money! It wasn't long after that that I went to the priests and made my despicable contract with them. They'd give me money - thirty pieces of silver. In exchange, I would betray Jesus into their hands.
Greed! How it has ruined me! And don't think I wasn't warned, either. I was. And often. Thinking back, the many admonitions of Jesus sound as clear to me as the blast of a trumpet on a still summer night. For instance, there was the time he said to us, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. ...Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses." Lk 12:1-2, 15. Another time Jesus asked, "What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" It felt like His warnings were all aimed directly at me, and everybody else knew about it. Never say God doesn't warn you in your sin. You may ignore the warnings, but the warnings are always there. I just hope you never have to look back on those tragic, unheeded warnings the way I must now do for the rest of eternity!
I recall the meal in the upper room that Maundy Thursday evening. I was there. I, and the black plans I kept hidden in my heart. Still Jesus was warning me: "One of you who are eating with Me will betray Me," He said. The other disciples were immediately concerned. "Is it I?" they asked, one after another. And of course, I chimed in with a hypocritical "Is it I?" And still Jesus was loving and considerate. He didn't point an accusing finger. He didn't shout a harsh rebuke. He replied, "It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it." He dipped the bread, and handed it to me. My fellow-disciple John wrote, He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night. John 13:30.
It was indeed night. Nighttime for my soul, too, for in my heart lay a plan of blackest treachery. As you know, I played my part quickly. I led the squad of soldiers to the Garden of Gethsemane. I knew very well that Jesus would be there. Then I identified Him - I shudder to think! - with a kiss. I betrayed the Son of God with a kiss. He was arrested and taken away prisoner.
With that, my world crashed. A horror swept over me that I pray you may never know. The enormity of my sin confronted me in all its hideous blackness. I was in such despair that I - yes I! Greedy Judas! - tried to give back the thirty pieces of silver. I should have known better. My friends, be warned: you can't take back a sin once you've committed it! You can't cast it from you, and you can't make up for it.
Obviously, my story - the story of Judas Iscariot - will always serve chiefly as a warning about how thoroughly sin can overpower a person and destroy his soul. But if you look closely, you may also find a strange encouragement for you in my story. True, my death was a tragedy...but mark well it was a needless tragedy! I needn't have gone to hell.
1 Peter didn't! In two weeks you'll hear my fellow-disciple's story from his own lips. Peter's was a sin nearly as black as mine. You'll hear how he denied Jesus in the courtyard of the High Priest, and how he went out and wept bitter tears over his sin. Well, what about me? You think I didn't cry? I cried an ocean! Like Peter I was truly sorry for what I'd done. Unfortunately, that's where the similarity ends because, unlike Peter, I never went back to ask Jesus for pardon. Peter returned to His Savior and found the peace of forgiveness. I didn't find it. Not because God refused me, but because I didn't ask for it. I didn't believe in it. Peter turned back to Jesus, I turned away. His road led to peace, mine led to a tree in the valley - a hanging tree. There I took my own life, and with that last unrepented sin of murder on my soul, I delivered myself to Satan's doorstep in hell.
I'm here today to tell you one thing: you need not follow me there. Rejoice that, for you, the time of grace has not run out! You still have time to identify those pet sins you've been nursing in your life. Eradicate them before they gain control of you. You still have the privilege - blessed privilege I'll never know again! - of returning to your Savior to seek His pardon. See with what loving words he calls you - "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." Mat 11:28-30. Listen to me: answer that call! Heed that blessed invitation. For me the invitation no longer applies.
Yes, my death was a needless tragedy. Jesus loved me, sought me to the end. But like a fool, I threw away my chance at eternal life, like a drowning man who refuses to grab onto a rope. You be smart! You take the rope! No matter how great your sin is, the Lord Jesus has promised you pardon. How foolish I was not to trust Him! What a different outcome there might have been if I had only trusted the eternal Word of God! Doesn't the Bible say, "Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool."? Isa 1:18. I didn't believe those words; with Spirit-inspired faith you still can. On the cross of Calvary - that cursed cross to which I, Judas, betrayed Him - the Lord Jesus atoned for your sins. His broad shoulders bore the weight of each of your transgressions, each of your deceits, each of your betrayals. Wonderful Good News - that although you have been unfaithful to your Lord time and again, He remains faithful to you. His blood covers your sin completely. He has forgiven you for everything in your past, and will continue to forgive you in the future. His mercy really does endure forever. Because I doubted that, my torment here in hell will endure forever.
My friends, be not faithless, but believing. Trust in the forgiving heart of your Savior. Trust the love that drove Him even to the cross...for you. Cast off - while you still can - the filthy garment of your own righteousness, and take on the robe of righteousness purchased with His blood. The offer is there, and I advise you to take it. I didn't, and I'll spend an eternity of condemnation regretting it. Heed God's Word, place all your confidence in Christ, and you'll spend your eternity in heaven with Him. AMEN.