Lenten Midweek I: “Eyes on Jesus: Betraying Eyes”
March 4, 2020
Text: Mark 14:10-21, 32, 41-46
What a despicable wretch! What a miserable excuse for a human being! I’m speaking of Judas, of course. His name is synonymous with betrayal. And honestly, what a duplicitous traitor! Such a plunge from such lofty heights! So Almighty God comes down into flesh and blood and chooses you, Judas, to be one of His closest friends, even trusts you with His money. He takes you with Him everywhere He goes. He confides in you. You’re a part of all His business. You share His bread, His cup. He numbers you among the holders of the most sacred office in God’s Kingdom, Apostle. And what do you do? You lift your heel against Him. You sell Him out for thirty pieces of silver. You concoct a secret scheme with the chief priests to hand Him over in the dead of sacred Passover night, under cloak of darkness, in a secluded place, Jesus’ favorite, the Garden of Gethsemane. You lead a mob with swords and clubs to the spot. You give the secret code. You approach in mock loyalty. “Rabbi,” you address Him. Teacher. Literally, “My Great One.” And then you kiss Him. And the bloodthirsty crowd does what they came to do. They lay hands on Him and seize Him.
It’s no wonder the evangelists express so much pain and disappointment with every mention of Judas’ name. They can’t get over the shock and the hurt of the infidelity. We, also, enjoy getting our licks in when it comes to the turncoat. There is a sense of poetic justice when we read Peter’s sermon in Acts, how Judas bought a field with the reward for his wickedness and fell headlong, bursting open in the middle, so that his bowels gushed out (Acts 1:18). St. Luke’s account is vivid as he describes Judas’ demise on the Field of Blood (v. 19). But not so fast. Don’t enjoy this. This is tragedy in the full sense of the word. And whatever you do, don’t let Judas become the springboard for your own quest for self-justification and exaltation. Look at this pathetic figure and recognize: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
Isn’t it interesting when Jesus announces in the Upper Room that one of the disciples would betray Him, as they all react with a grief-stricken and terrified “Is it I?” (Mark 14:19; ESV), Jesus doesn’t say to a one of them, “No, it isn’t you”? Why doesn’t He put at least some of their consciences at rest? Because they will all betray Him! Strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered. They all flee in the heat of the moment, at His arrest in the Garden. Peter and John follow at a safe distance, but when the questions around the fire get hot, Peter denies Him. After the deed is done, all of the Apostles, without exception, hide. In fear and in shame. They hide. Of course, Jesus was indicating Judas with His prophecy of betrayal, but not only Judas. And not only the Apostles. Beloved in the Lord, He’s talking about you.
Almighty God has come down into flesh and blood, and He’s chosen you to be His own. He calls you friend. He trusts you, not just with money, but with His Kingdom and all His gifts. He is with you wherever you go, not just in some spiritual sense, but bodily, with you and in you as one who takes Him in through your ears and by mouth in the eating and drinking of His body and blood. You’re a part of all His business. You share His bread, His cup. He numbers you among the holders of a most sacred office, the priesthood of the redeemed. And what do you do? You lift your heel against Him. You sell Him out for your own safety and prosperity. You keep your Christian mouth shut when you should speak. You hide Jesus when He’s politically incorrect and embarrassing. You pretend He doesn’t exist when you do things He tells you not to do. You ignore His voice and your own conscience when you don’t do things He tells you you should do. “Rabbi,” you call Him, my Teacher, my Great One, as you greet Him with a kiss. But you also kiss the silver in your pocket, in which you trust for daily bread and the necessities and luxuries of life. Don’t be so hard on Judas. Every time you sin, you follow His anti-apostolic example. “Is it I, Lord?” Jesus is not saying no. “Is it I?” You know the answer. Repent.
Yes, repent. That is the difference between Judas and Peter, between Judas and the other eleven. Judas was sorry, of course. So sorry, He went out and hanged himself. And even that didn’t go so well, as we heard from Luke in Acts. He died in despair over his sins. But that isn’t what we mean by repentance. Repentance is not only sorrow for sin, it is faith. It is faith in the very Lord Jesus whom we have betrayed. For the death into which Judas handed Him over, the death our sins caused… that death is for Judas, for you, for me, and for us all, for the forgiveness of those very sins! And, as it happens, this was God’s plan all along. Now, don’t get me wrong, this does not excuse Judas from responsibility for his actions. Nor does it excuse you for yours. No, it forgives you for yours. The Gospel does not excuse. It forgives. God took this great evil, Judas’ betrayal, the arrest, the trial, the crucifixion of our Lord, and turned it into the ultimate good, the salvation of the world, forgiveness and eternal life for you and for all believers in Christ. The great tragedy is that this was for Judas, too. If only he had received it. Judas was not beyond the pale of our Lord’s saving work. He was not out of reach of our Lord’s love. And if that is true of Judas, then it is true of you. Whatever you’ve done. Wherever you’ve been. Whoever you are. Jesus died for you. For the forgiveness of your sins. For your salvation and eternal life. Judas would not have it. But you have it right here and now in Christ’s absolving Word and in the fruits of His cross, His body given for you, His blood shed for you, at His Table to which He still invites you. Your betrayal is forgiven, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son +, and of the Holy Spirit.
The Greek word for “betray” can also be translated “to hand over” to “to deliver.” The same word used to indicate Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, St. Paul uses for the handing over, the delivery, of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper. “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered,” handed over, “to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed,” delivered, handed over, “took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you… this cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:23-25). Jesus was handed over by Judas, by God, into death for the forgiveness of our sins. Now the crucified and risen Jesus hands Himself over for us poor sinners to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of our sins. We’re delivered from our betrayal and given once again to share the Lord’s bread, the Bread of Life. That is how deep and wide the grace of God, His mercy, His love, is for us in Christ Jesus. Do not despair. Rejoice. Jesus, the Crucified, is handed over for you! Our Lord restored Peter and the eleven. By the Word of Life and the Bread from Heaven, He restores you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 The theme and many of the ideas in this sermon are taken from Eyes on Jesus (St. Louis: Concordia, 2019).