A God Betrayed

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21After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in His spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.” 22The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom He spoke. 23One of His disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table close to Jesus, 24so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom He was speaking. 25So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to Him, “Lord, who is it?” 26Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when He had dipped the morsel, He gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” (John 13:21-27)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Have you ever been betrayed? Betrayal, at its heart, is a break of trust, particularly a break of trust from someone close to you, someone you should most be able to trust, a family member, a friend, a colleague, an ally. The deepest hurts that I’ve experienced have been the result of the betrayal by someone close to me. Someone who should have had my back but who stabbed me in the back instead. “Et tu, Brute?”

The effects of betrayal can be brutal. You can’t eat. You can’t sleep. And when you do sleep, your mind keeps playing over and over again how it all might have been different. In the worst cases, it manifests itself in a kind of PTSD. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising—the deepest wounds leave the worst scars. If you’ve been betrayed, it can make it difficult to trust others, even years down the road. It’s especially difficult to trust the one who betrayed you—and, in many cases, it probably would be foolish to let down your guard. There’s only one cure for the hurt of betrayal—the forgiveness of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So, let’s go to the night when He was betrayed.

Jesus tells His disciples He’s going to wash their feet. Peter refuses, “Lord, You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus tells him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me.” Peter goes overboard in the other direction. “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus has to correct him again, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean.” Then He adds, “And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For He knew who was to betray Him; that is why He said, “Not all of you are clean.”

Not everyone shares the blessings that Jesus offers, because not everyone believes in Jesus. One of Jesus’ disciples has pushed Jesus from his heart and is about to betray Him. The Lord knows that. He had alluded to it another time (John 6:70-71). He knew it would come to this when He chose the Twelve. Therefore, He announces that His words of guidance and blessing do not refer to all of them.

But if Jesus knows it, why does He let it happen? Now, it is always dangerous to speculate about the mind of God, but in this case, He tells us why in Matthew 26:24. Jesus chose one disciple even though that one would eventually reject and betray Him because it fulfilled Scripture. Jesus didn’t choose this disciple to betray Him. That was his own doing in sin and unbelief. Jesus chose him because when he would carry out his betrayal, He would fulfill Scripture. Psalm 41:9 had recorded words that applied to the Messiah: “Even My close friend in whom I trusted, who ate My bread, has lifted his heel against Me.” That friend would deliver Jesus to His enemies. The time has come for those words to be fulfilled in Christ’s life. In all He does, Christ steadfastly obeys the Word of His Father and fulfills all messianic prophecies.

Jesus tells the disciples about it now as another sign to build their faith. When the betrayal happens, it will not change Jesus’ relationship with the rest of them, nor His mission for the world. He gives them His solemn words that whoever receives anyone He sends will actually receive Him. And whoever receives Jesus receives the Father who sent Him. He had told them that another time (Matthew 10:40), and now He reassures them on the eve of His crucifixion.

Who can imagine the grief Jesus feels in His heart as He thinks of the betrayal, the crucifixion, and the effect the next day’s events will have on the disciples? He is “troubled in His spirit.” “Truly, truly,” He stresses, “one of you will betray Me.” He says it plainly. They cannot mistake His meaning. They stare at one another, wondering which one of them He means. Not believing it could possibly be true of one of their brothers, each one praying to God it was not was not he.

How was it possible? One of those the Lord had chosen? One who had walked with Him and heard Him and seen His divinity and power with his own eyes? If this can happen, then anything can happen to any one of them.

The disciples understand this. They don’t profess their innocence. They know that if their Master says it, it is so. They are confronted with the unfathomable mystery of evil. No one can be sure of himself in this case. Everyone has to stand the test. They are willing to do it. They begin taking turns asking: “Is it I, Lord?” (Matthew 26:22).

“Is it I, Lord?” This is the first question a disciple asks his Master when he hears talk of betrayal, even in the inner circle. He knows that only one thing is certain—the only one way to salvation is to hold on firmly to the Lord.

But Peter wants to know more. He whispers to John, who is closest to Jesus at the table. John leans back and asks Jesus about whom He is talking. Jesus tells him, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” Apparently only John and Jesus share this exchange.

Then Jesus breaks a piece of unleavened bread and folds it, as was the custom, and dips it into the dish to pick up a piece of meat. Then He holds it out to Judas, a sign of respect. The host would do this when he wanted to honor a guest.

Judas must understand the meaning of this. Jesus is offering him forgiveness, friendship, and fellowship. Everything can be as it was before. But Judas decides to go his own evil way. He takes the bread but not the outstretched hand. Judas looks away from Jesus and rejects His last offer of forgiveness. Satan enters him in that moment. Judas forfeits his last opportunity for reconciliation.

Jesus knows this but doesn’t draw attention to it. He says only, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” He says it so naturally that the others think He is having Judas go out to buy something for the festival or to given something to the poor from their little community purse.

So Judas leaves. The door opened for just a moment. “And it was night,” John says. He is alluding to something more than just the time of day. Judas goes out into the darkness, the outermost darkness that is eternally separated from God. This can happen even to those who are close to Jesus. They can turn down His last offer. They can harden their hearts to His final attempt to win them back.

This event teaches us what it means to receive Holy Communion in an unworthy manner. The Bible doesn’t speak about worthy and unworthy communicants. None of us is worthy enough to receive Christ and His gifts, but we can receive them in an unworthy manner. That means to do what Judas does: to sit with Him at His Table with a firm conviction in your heart not to obey Him, to go your own way—at least at some particular point. That’s when a person goes to Communion in unbelief and defiance or possibly in total indifference.

To receive it in the right way means doing what the other disciples do. They want to follow Jesus. They trust Him. There is a lot they don’t understand, but they know the truth is in Him. They have their share of infidelities. They will all fail in all their good intentions that same evening. But they know He is right, and they can go to Him for help. Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night of His betrayal, institutes His Supper for people like them.

People like you and me. People who have betrayed our Lord on more than one occasion. Each time we’ve failed to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Each time we’ve misused God’s name or failed to call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. Each time we’ve despised God’s preaching and His Word, failed to hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Each time we failed to honor our parents and other authorities. Each time we’ve hurt our neighbor or failed to help him when we could. Each time we’ve failed to lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do. Each time we’ve sought to take our neighbor’s money or possessions or failed to help him improve and protect his possessions and income. Each time we have damaged or not protected our neighbor’s reputation. Each time we’ve coveted someone or something that God has not seen fit to give us. We’ve betrayed our Lord countless times, often for much less than thirty pieces of silver.

Judas would soon come to regret his little deal. But we must do more than regret; we are called to repent. To recognize that Jesus came for sinners like us. That this plan was God’s. And the price He paid would be so much more than thirty pieces of silver. He would be betrayed and denied by His disciples, forsaken by His heavenly Father, His blood shed for the sins of the world, even for the likes of you and me.  

Jesus, in His great mercy and love, keeps reaching out to us. Reminding us that He has redeemed us, lost and condemned sinners, purchased and won us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that we may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.

This is most certainly true.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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