Lenten Midweek Preaching Exchange February 19th, 2013
“Friend, Why Have You Come?”
The text for my message this evening is found in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 26. I’m reading verses 47 to 50:
47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd, armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” 49 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. 50 Jesus replied, “Friend, why have you come?”
New International Version
Our Lenten midweek services this year are based on a series of questions, taken from the Passion Narratives of our Lord. I pray that God would bless our consideration of His Holy Word this evening!
Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 26, describes events that took place in the Garden of Gethsemane on a Thursday night – the night we now call Maundy Thursday. The story is familiar. Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane with three of his disciples – Peter, James, and John. Jesus asked them to wait for Him while he went aside to pray. Knowing that His time of great suffering was now beginning, Jesus was very troubled. He knew that the cross was near.
Jesus wanted to know, from His Heavenly Father, if there was any other way to save humanity. But, in the end, He vowed that, if His Heavenly father couldn’t take the cup of suffering from him, he was certainly willing to do his Father’s will. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus looked to his disciples for support, but, unfortunately, they let him down. They were not able to do what he asked of them. As Jesus Himself said, the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. Twice more, Jesus left the disciples and, again, when He returned, He found them sleeping. At that point, Judas arrived. And Jesus said, “Here comes my betrayer!”
There’s no doubt about it. Judas is the most enigmatic person in the Passion narratives. His name, Judas Iscariot, probably means “Judas, the man of Kerioth,” indicating where he came from. Biblical names often have meanings attached. And, ironically, the name “Judas” actually means “worthy to be praised.” Unfortunately, that meaning – and the use of a perfectly good name! – has now been lost – ruined – because of actions of one man.
Some Bible scholars are of the opinion that Judas was, at least at first, an important, respected disciple. The list of disciples in the New Testament Gospels always puts his name last, obviously because of the betrayal, but the fact that he was the disciples’ treasurer seems to indicate that he was, at least for a while, a respected disciple of Jesus.
There was a crowd accompanying Judas that night. The crowd included the high priest’s servants as well as some temple guards. They had been sent from the chief priests and the elders to arrest Jesus. Many people in the crowd that night were armed with swords and clubs. It seems that they expected Jesus, or his disciples, to resort to violence. It seems that they regarded Jesus as a revolutionary, a man who, when threatened, would resist arrest. His captors wished to take no chances because mistakes can easily be made at night, particularly if a struggle occurs.
Judas greeted Jesus with a pre-arranged signal – a kiss. A kiss would have been a normal greeting for a disciple meeting his master – in any other context. But this greeting was different. It was ominous. Judas had arranged that the soldiers should arrest the man he greeted in this way. It’s here, at this point, that we encounter the question we’re considering tonight. Jesus asked Judas,
“Friend, why have you come?” (Matthew 26:40)
At this point, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, and struck off the ear of the high priest’s servant. So, it seems that the precautions against violence that the soldiers had taken were not altogether unjustified. Jesus then said that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. In other words, those who consistently use violence, will often be on the receiving end of it, as well.
In Matthew chapter 26, verse 55, Jesus asked the crowd if they thought he was leading a rebellion. It’s obvious to us, with the benefit of hindsight, that he wasn’t doing that. But that’s what some people, perhaps including Judas, expected Jesus to do. Jesus was a teacher, a rabbi, a man of God. His Kingdom, he said, was not of this world. The word that Jesus used here was used in His day for revolutionaries who were willing to achieve their political ends through violence. But Jesus was not like a revolutionary. He could have been arrested peaceably at any time.
In Palestine, back in Jesus’ day, there was a group of radical Jewish nationalists – they were called “zealots” – who wanted to overthrow the Romans by force. Judas may have been influenced by them. And had Jesus been willing to lead a military revolution, disciples like Peter had said that they would be willing to die with him. Judas, it seems, was a partisan. He was a politically-motivated individual. His betrayal of Jesus may have been motivated by patriotism. It seems that, when Judas learned that Jesus was not going to lead a military revolt against the Romans, he became deeply disillusioned.
It’s quite likely that Judas want through a transformation in his estimation of Jesus. It seems that Judas came to believe that Jesus was a false Messiah, one who was deceiving the people. So Judas parted company with Jesus, and then, as a disillusioned disciple, he retaliated against His Master by turning him over to the authorities, not so much because he loved money but because he loved his country and thought that Jesus was delaying the movement that would free Palestine from the Romans.
There is another, alternative interpretation, of Judas and his motivation. Some Christians are of the opinion that Judas was convinced that Jesus really was the Messiah, but that he was impatient with Jesus. Some Christians are of the opinion that Judas acted as he did, in an attempt to force Jesus to take action. Perhaps, by his actions, Judas wanted to force Jesus to show the world His true messianic power. After all, if Jesus was the Messiah, he could call upon God to send legions of angels to deliver him – and them, too!
You know, when you think about it, Judas wasn’t the only disciple that expected Jesus to restore the kingdom to Israel. Do you remember how Peter rebuked Jesus when Jesus said that He was going up to Jerusalem to be killed? Do you remember how James and John had asked for official positions when Jesus became king? And the disciples had quarreled about their respective ranks and positions in Jesus’ kingdom, before the events of the Last Supper took place. And Jesus had promised that those who left all to follow him would be amply repaid. I don’t think it’s too difficult to see how these words could be misconstrued.
You know, a bitter ingredient in the bitter cup that Jesus drank that night was the fact that his disciples, those closest to him, failed to understand what He was doing, and they failed to understand the truth he was proclaiming. Jesus’ frustration shows through in Matthew, chapter 17, verse 17, when he says:
“How long am I to bear with you?”
We’re told, at the end of our text for tonight, that Jesus’ disciples – each and every one of them – deserted Him. Even Peter, the one who had protested that he would die rather than desert Jesus, did desert Him, and, in the most shameful way. But Jesus had predicted this. In the 16th chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus had said that the hour was coming when his disciples would be scattered. But why did Jesus’ disciples abandon Him? Were they cowards? Perhaps it was because, to them, Jesus’ cause seemed hopeless. Perhaps it was because it seemed that His enemies had truly overwhelmed him.
You know, a phrase we often hear in Matthew’s Gospel is this:
And thus was fulfilled…
Matthew wants us to know that these events were predicted in the Old Testament. It’s interesting that the events in the Garden of Gethsemane are very similar to events recorded in 2 Samuel, chapters 16 & 17. (16:15 – 17:2) There, a man by the name of Ahithophel, who just happened to be one of King David’s inner circle, betrayed King David at night, when David was weak and weary. Like Judas, Ahithophel hanged himself after his plot (2 Samuel 17:23; Matthew 27:3 – 5). Jewish people would have known that story. And they would have seen the parallels between what happened to King David and what happened to Jesus, the Messiah, the son of David.
Another Old Testament passage that’s part of the background for these events is Psalm 41. Psalm 41, verse 9 says:
“… for my close friend, whom I trusted, while eating my bread, raised up his heel against me.”
And in Acts, chapter 1, verse 16 we read:
“… men, brethren, it was necessary that the Scripture be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit prophesied through the mouth of David, concerning Judas who became a guide to those who seized Jesus.”
The end of Judas’s life is shrouded in mystery. After his betrayal of Jesus, and the payment of the 30 pieces of silver, Judas had second thoughts about what he had done. He offered to return the money to the priests. And when they refusal to accept it, he scattered the money in the Temple and took his own life. The priests, unwilling to put what they considered to be “blood money” into the temple treasury, purchased a plot of land called the “Potters Field,” which became known as “the field of blood.”
It’s interesting to take a moment to compare two of Jesus’ disciples – Peter and Judas – side-by-side. It’s interesting because both men betrayed Jesus. And, at first, both denied what they had done. But Peter eventually acknowledged his sin. With Judas, however, there was no genuine confession of his sin. There was sorrow over what he has done, sober second thoughts perhaps. But despair overtook him. And Jesus, his Savior, became Jesus, his Judge.
Many of you will remember the old T.V. show where three people sat in a row and all claimed to be the same person. And, in every episode, the same question was asked:
“Would the real _______ please stand up?
Tonight, we are asking,
“Would the real Judas Iscariot please stand up?”
So, let me ask you your opinion, who was the real Judas? Some people believe that Judas was avaricious and dishonest, a man who could not resist an opportunity for personal gain. But, there is a problem with that theory. As we’ve heard already tonight, Judas was the treasurer for the disciples, which means that, at least at first, he was considered a trustworthy and responsible person. And the sum of money he was paid wasn’t a huge sum. It seems instead that despair and disillusionment had overwhelmed him. His trust in Jesus faded away. It was replaced by resentment and anger and deep disappointment.
So Judas misunderstood Jesus. But, when you think about it, many people down through the ages, and many people today, have done the same thing. So let me ask you again. Just who is the real Judas? The answer, unfortunately, is shrouded in mystery. But here’s a better question for you. Who is the real Jesus? That’s a question that Judas didn’t answer correctly. And the wrong answer got him into serious trouble. We’ve seen tonight that Judas Iscariot fundamentally misunderstood Jesus. And so did many of his countrymen, along with the religious leaders in Israel.
Jesus wasn’t a robber. He wasn’t a false teacher. He wasn’t a political leader. He was – and He is! – a Savior from sin and death. The events we’ve been talking about tonight were part of the lead-up to the cross where Jesus died for our sins, and to the empty tomb where he was raised from the dead for our justification. The events we’ve been talking about tonight were part of God’s amazing plan for the salvation of humanity.
Jesus allowed himself to be arrested. He voluntarily took on the role of Savior. He voluntarily went to the cross to take on Himself the burden of our sins. Judas misunderstood Him and missed out on salvation. I pray tonight that God would enable us to understand exactly who Jesus is, and exactly what He’s done for us. In Him, our sins are truly forgiven. In Him, we do have the promise of eternal life. May all of His blessings – every single one! – be yours in abundance – now and forever! In Jesus’ name. Amen.