Thursday, April 13, 2006
Two months ago, I picked the topic for this Maundy Thursday sermon: was Judas there at the Last Supper? Did Jesus institute, begin, establish the Lord’s Supper with Judas still at the table? Did Judas eat the body and drink the blood of the Lord?
Little did I know two months ago that the media buzz this week would be all about Judas and how the National Geographic Society has published the long-lost Gospel of Judas. While it is called The Gospel of Judas as if Judas wrote it, most scholars agree that it was actually written in the year 180, which is around 150 years after Judas committed suicide. This long-lost text says that Judas received secret knowledge from Jesus, Judas was the only disciple qualified to receive such knowledge, and that Jesus actually asked Judas to help the Romans arrest Him.
Well, in case you’ve been hearing about this in the media, thankfully even a news magazine like Newsweek (April 17, 2006) went back to see that the early Church father, Irenaeus, said the Gospel of Judas was fiction. Irenaeus is a trusted Christian writer, and if he called the Gospel of Judas fiction, we should listen to what he said. Newsweek also quotes James Robinson, an expert on the Gospel of Judas. Robinson says, “[The Gospel of Judas] tells us nothing about the historical Jesus, nothing about the historical Judas. It only tells what, 100 years later, Gnostics were doing with the story in the Gospels.” Robinson thinks it’s an important document for scholars, but it doesn’t change what true Christian teaching is. The Gospel of Judas tells us about Gnostics, a heresy, a false teaching based on Christianity but one which stresses the importance of receiving a secret, mystical knowledge of God through the spirit.
The Gospel of Judas is not the truth of God’s Word; this is not something that will come along and radically change our teaching. Even if the media continue to talk about the Gospel of Judas, don’t worry. Judas didn’t get special knowledge, and Jesus didn’t help plan His own betrayal.
But that’s the thing: Judas betraying Jesus—it’s an intriguing story, a mystery, something that confuses us. How could Judas betray Jesus? And how could Jesus let Himself be betrayed by His own disciple? And with those questions we have about Judas, then we again come to the question I started with: was Judas there? When Jesus gave the disciples the bread saying, “This is My body,” and when He gave them the wine saying, “This is My blood,” was Judas there? Did He eat and drink the body and blood of our Lord?
Both the Gospel of Mark which we read tonight and the Gospel of Matthew show Jesus at the table in the Upper Room with His disciples, saying that one of the Twelve will betray Him. However, that conversation flows right into the institution of the Lord’s Supper. There’s no mention of Judas leaving the table before Jesus gives the disciples the bread and cup.
But it’s bothersome if you think about it. It seems so strange to think that Jesus would share this wonderful gift, this incredibly intimate meal with Judas who was going to betray Him just a few hours later. Would Jesus really allow Judas to eat His body and drink His blood, this gift that brings forgiveness for sins? Wouldn’t that be wasted on Judas? If Jesus knew what Judas was planning on doing, Jesus wasn’t going to offer Judas forgiveness, was He?
Of course, just like with the Gospel of Judas, we could just let this be a question for the scholars, just an academic discussion, an interesting research project, something to ponder. However, if you look at the questions surrounding that idea that Judas was there and did participate in the Last Supper, if you look at those questions honestly, you realize this question very quickly turns personal.
It seems strange tonight to think that Jesus would share the wonderful gift of the Lord’s Supper, this incredibly intimate meal with us, you and me, who will betray Him with our actions, our words, our lack of words, our lack of action. Will Jesus really allow us to eat His body and drink His blood, this gift that brings forgiveness for our sins? Won’t that be wasted on us who will continue to sin? If Jesus knows what I am planning on doing later tonight or tomorrow, if Jesus knows that I will sin against Him and others, Jesus isn’t going to offer me forgiveness for my sins, is He?
If we’re going to be disturbed to think that Jesus shared the Lord’s Supper with Judas, then I think we need to honestly realize we should be disturbed that Jesus would share the Lord’s Supper with us—poor, miserable sinners.
I think somewhere in my Seminary training a professor once said to be really careful about saying that the congregation is like Judas. However, if we never think about how similar we are to Judas, then it’s easy to just think of Judas as completely evil, as someone who was so selfish, Satanic, and blind that we couldn’t possibly ever be as bad as him.
It’s not that simple. We need to remember that Judas was no slouch. He wasn’t a disciple who only showed up for some of the meetings, only got part of the teaching, never had any duties. Judas was there with Jesus the whole time. Judas was sent out with the rest of the Twelve to preach, teach, and perform miracles. Judas heard the public sermons and shared in those private talks Jesus had with the Twelve.
We can’t think of Judas as being like a Christian who barely shows up for church, never reads the Bible, and just shows up to mess things up. No, Judas was an extremely dedicated disciple.
And in that way, seeing Judas as an extremely dedicated disciple, we realize how we’re like Judas. We’re here, we’re worshipping the Lord, we’re learning the Bible, we’ve serving God with our lives, and yet, like Judas, our own ideas can get the best of us, our own sinfulness can trump what we know about Jesus. Like Judas, we’re close to Jesus, but left to our own sinfulness, we could quickly turn away.
So again, if we’re disturbed with the thought that Judas was at the Last Supper, we’ve got to be equally disturbed that we are allowed to be at the Lord’s Supper. We’re just as likely to sin and speak false teachings and turn against Jesus in our actions. We’re just as likely to think we know better than Jesus, that we’ve got it all figured out. And if we can sin against God in terrible ways—both big and small, if we can sin against God by denying Him, speaking against Him, then we shouldn’t be at the Lord’s Supper eating and drinking the body and blood of the Lord.
But that’s when we have to go back to the Gospel of Mark and see how Jesus handled the situation. How did Jesus handle the fact that His betrayer was sitting and eating at the table? Jesus handles it with more patience than we can imagine.
The early Church father, Cyprian, explains it this way: “[The Lord’s] wonderful patience is seen in the way He dealt with His disciples. He was even able to tolerate Judas to the end with enduring patience. He could eat calmly with His betrayer. He could patiently be aware of His enemy at His own table and not let on. He did not even refuse the kiss of the traitor,” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT Vol. II, 203).
If Jesus showed that patience with Judas, then certainly He also shows this kind of patience with us. Jesus knows that we have sinned against Him, that we will sin against Him even more later tonight. Jesus knows what kind of poor, miserable sinners we are, but He still invites us to His table to eat His body and drink His blood for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus shows extreme patience with us in our sins, inviting us over and over again to His table to receive His wonderful gift.
Jesus is patient with Judas for the same reason that He’s patient with us: He wants to give us time to repent, to turn away from our sins, to receive forgiveness, to continue in faith. Jesus was patient with Judas at the Last Supper. The words of Jesus might have convicted Judas and turned Him away from the plot. Jesus was patient, giving Judas a chance to repent.
Judas didn’t repent until after the fact. In the Gospel of Matthew, we learn that after Judas realized what he had done, he returns the money to the chief priests and elders and says, “I have sinned for I have betrayed innocent blood.” It’s clear that Judas was convicted by the patient words of Jesus from the Last Supper. Judas was like us, because many times we don’t even realize that we’ve sinned until after we do it. Even if someone points out the sin in our plan, still we don’t always get it until after, until we see just what our sin has caused. After Judas betrays Jesus and sees Him arrested, then Judas repents, tells the chief priests and elders that this was a sin.
That’s the other reason we have trouble thinking that we’re similar to Judas: we forget that Judas repented. We remember that Judas betrayed Jesus, but we forget that Judas was an extremely committed disciple. We remember that Judas hanged himself, but we forget that Judas repented, was sorry for his sin, tried to return the money, was looking for forgiveness, may have even hoped that the chief priests and elders would change their plan. We don’t like to think of ourselves as being like Judas, because we think of Judas as all evil, all the time.
Yet, there’s a band called Gooding with a song that uses the phrase “angel/devil” to describe Judas. What an accurate description of Judas—angelic in his devotion to Jesus, but devilish in his sinful betrayal. Judas acts as both angel and devil, as both saint and sinner.
We’re all angel/devils, angelic in our faith and devilish in our sins. We act like the angels when we raise our voices to praise God, but we act like devils when we turn against God.
However, if we are angel/devils like Judas, if we are like Judas in our ability to sin against Jesus, then we’re also like Judas—receiving the Lord’s patience, with the Lord hoping that we will turn away from our sins. If Jesus spoke about being betrayed in the hope that Judas would repent—as Judas later did—then tonight God’s Word points out our sin in the hope that we will also repent, turn away from our sins. I am not asking you to think of how you’re like Judas just so that you can feel condemned. I am asking you to see how you’re like Judas so that you will see your sins, repent, and believe in the forgiveness offered by Jesus.
But there’s an important difference between you and Judas—your ability to hear the forgiveness of Jesus. You are here tonight, and forgiveness is being offered to you for all of your sins. Stay here, and you will hear those words spoken to you in the Lord’s Supper—“This is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” You have sinned in many ways, but now you can hear the forgiveness that comes through Jesus.
After Judas sinned, he had trouble hearing the words of forgiveness. When Judas repented, he went to the chief priests and elders; they didn’t offer forgiveness. Then in his remorse and anguish and guilt over his sin, Judas apparently forgot the words of Jesus that promised forgiveness of sins through His death. Judas forgot those words, and couldn’t go to Jesus to ask for forgiveness because Jesus was on trial. Judas forgot about forgiveness and hope in those moments and so Judas despaired and committed suicide.
Notice that we don’t necessarily know that Judas died without faith. In that moment of despair and lack of faith, Judas killed himself. We don’t know what was in his heart, but the last recorded words of Judas sound like the words of a man who is repenting, turning away from his sin, “I have sinned for I have betrayed innocent blood.”
If you have seen how you are like Judas, if you have seen how you have betrayed Jesus with your words or actions, if you are a saint/sinner, an angel/devil like Judas, if you can see how you are committed to Jesus but still sometimes go against His Word, then you can see how the words of Judas can be your words: “I have sinned for I have betrayed innocent blood.” We have betrayed Jesus with our lives of sin.
Yet, unlike Judas, please don’t walk away in despair. If you walk away, you won’t hear the words of forgiveness that are spoken in the Lord’s Supper. Yes, like Judas, we have betrayed Jesus. Yes, like Judas, we are guilty of condemning Jesus to death.
But yes, the death of Jesus brings forgiveness for our sins. Yes, the Lord’s Supper offers us that forgiveness, connecting us to the death and resurrection through the eating and drinking of the body and blood of Jesus. Yes, we have all sinned against the Lord, but yes, we are all forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ.
Judas didn’t wait long enough to hear that reassurance of forgiveness; Judas gave up and hanged himself. Please don’t walk away, don’t give up, don’t close your ears, don’t feel hopeless because of your sins. Listen tonight! Hear the words of Jesus as they reveal to us that we have caused His death by our sins, but that His death also gives us forgiveness for those sins. Listen tonight as you receive the body and the blood. Listen to hear how He died for you, He died in your place, He died to offer you life, He died to forgive you.