You Aren't Your Judge by Pastor Paul Becker
Is there anything we can learn from the tragic death of Judas? We know the story. The religious leaders in Jerusalem wanted to have Jesus put to death. Judas approached them and offered to deliver Jesus into their hands. They offered Judas 30 pieces of silver to do so. After observing the Passover Meal, Jesus took his disciples to Mount Olivet, where the Garden of Gethsemane is located. In the garden, Jesus prayed to God with great agony about the most loving thing they could ever do: God the Father and Jesus the Son conspired to atone for the sins of anyone whose faith was placed in Jesus. After Jesus prayed, Judas appeared with a mob to seize and deliver him to Jerusalem's chief priests, scribes, and elders. Jesus was put on trial and wrongfully convicted of blasphemy. The penalty for blasphemy was death. Then, the religious leaders delivered Jesus to the Roman governor to be executed.
Matthew tells us that Judas was overcome with remorse. He returned to the chief priests to give back the silver, saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." When the priests refused the silver, Judas threw it into the temple, departed, and hung himself.
Let's think about Judas's actions in light of Peter's denials of Jesus. While Jesus was on trial, Peter was identified as a follower of Jesus. This happened three times, and Peter denied having anything to do with Jesus. In essence, Peter betrayed Jesus, though differently than Judas. The other disciples did the same, but differently, by running and hiding.
Let's fast forward the story of Peter after the resurrection of Jesus. The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus appeared to the disciples after they had a failed night of fishing. Jesus stood on the shore of the lake and called out to the disciples in their boat. He told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, and the nets overflowed with fish! At that moment, Peter recognized Jesus, jumped out of the boat, and swam to the shore. Jesus had a fire and bread and cooked fish to feed the disciples. Peter stood before Jesus and was asked, "Peter, do you love me?" Each time, Peter said that he loved Jesus. In that moment of grace, Peter's shame for denying Jesus was increased and finally released. Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep. When we read the Book of Acts, we see Peter was faithful to Jesus by "feeding" people the Word of God. God's Word gives and sustains true and everlasting life. (Pastors who love Jesus are most faithful when their concern is to feed the flock under their care when they offer Christ in teaching, preaching, the sacraments and prayer.)
Let's also fast forward to the life of Saul in the Book of Acts. Saul was numbered among the Pharisees who hated Jesus and persecuted Jesus' followers. Jesus appeared to Saul on the Road to Damascus, asking, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Confronted by the risen Lord, Saul became a believer in the resurrection and Jesus. Saul’s name was changed to Paul, his life was redeemed, and he lived in service to the name of Jesus by proclaiming Christ to Gentiles.
Let's return to Judas. Overcome with remorse, he confessed his sin to the religious leaders and judged himself worthy of death by taking his own life. He didn't return to the disciples to face them. Consider this: What moral high ground did the disciples hold over Judas? And because Judas ended his life, he didn't have the opportunity to face the risen Jesus. Because Judas was his own judge, he was not restored like Peter nor redeemed like Paul. His lack of faith and action stands as a fulfillment of prophecy.
What can all of us learn from Judas? Though we may be overcome by guilt and shame for the sins we commit, we aren't our own judge. The good news is that judgment only belongs to Jesus, as does mercy, forgiveness, restoration to a right relationship with him, and redemption of a life that serves his name. So don't condemn yourself; go instead to Jesus, confess your sin, and trust his promises of forgiveness and new life.
Oh, and there's one more thing! If you have professed Jesus as Savior and Lord but have yet to commit your life to follow him fully, you may be acting as your own judge. You may be a good, moral person on the outside but secretly self-concerned and self-serving on the inside. Don't think that your goodness qualifies you before God. In James 2:10 we read: "Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it." True humility before God recognizes that judgment only belongs to Jesus, as does mercy, forgiveness, restoration to a right relationship with him, and redemption of a life that serves his name. So, let us all go to Jesus each day to confess our sins and trust his promises of forgiveness and instruction for new life. Every Sunday, corporate worship immerses us in these truths, as does reading scripture, praying, and serving the name of Jesus together. May we be found faithful when the Lord returns.