We come to today’s passage to find that Jesus is no stranger to betrayal. In fact, two of his disciples, Judas and Peter, have betrayed him in different ways within hours of each other.
We’ll see human sin in their actions, how they respond to that and how ultimately the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is at play even amidst bitter betrayal.
1. Two Betrayals
Judas : As Jesus was speaking to his disciples, a crowd came led by Judas Iscariot. We’ve looked a bit more in depth at Judas’ betrayal of Jesus a few weeks ago, at the beginning of Luke 22 so I won’t go into it all. However, it’s worth highlighting again, this was one of Jesus’ disciples who had followed him everywhere he went, heard his teachings, saw his miracles, yet in the great betrayal, he betrayed Jesus to the religious leaders.
Judas comes up to Jesus and gives him a kiss. A greeting which is normally full of respect, affection, and love is used to signal to the religious leaders which one was Jesus that they might arrest him. We know that particular detail because of how Matthew records the whole thing. Matthew adds an editorial note that Judas had agreed he would kiss the one that was Jesus. (See Matthew 26:48)
‘When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, ‘Lord, should we strike with our swords?’ And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.’ (Luke 22:49-50)
Jesus’ disciples jump straight to his defence and Peter cuts off the ear of one of the crowd. Though it doesn’t say Peter in this passage, we know it is Peter because it says so in John’s gospel (John 18:10). And it comes from a good place, it comes from a love for Jesus which doesn’t want to see him harmed or arrested. It comes from a zeal to protect the honour of Jesus.
Yet this is not what Jesus is after and Jesus’ response shows his remarkable grace.
‘But Jesus answered, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.’ (Luke 22;51)
If you were betrayed, how would you respond in that moment? Especially by a friend. You ate together, you lived together, you did everything together. And they betray you. What would you do? Really, what would you do? Most of us would take revenge, we might join in with the disciples and have a big fight, very few would respond the way Jesus did. Not only did Jesus stop the fight, he healed the damage caused to his enemy in the fight.
Now, I’m not trying to say by any stretch that Jesus isn’t a God of justice, wrath, and righteousness and that he just says, ‘Hey, don’t worry about it.’ – like a divine cuddly teddy. You look at the images of Jesus painted in the Book of Revelation, Judas will get what is coming to him as will everyone who does not put their trust in Jesus alone for salvation. But, what we see in the story of Judas is Jesus picking him to be one of his friends, one of his followers, one of his disciples knowing full well ahead of time that Judas was going to betray him. Did he not share food with Judas? Did he not live with Jesus?
Imagine if you knew someone was going to betray you, would you go to the lengths Jesus went to? I don’t think you would. I think you’d be planning a counter offensive!
Not just with Judas but with the man whose ear was cut off. Jesus didn’t have to do that, it’s not as if that man – as far as we know – went on to become a follower of the Lord, yet he was met with kindness by Jesus. Jesus could have stopped the fight and left it at that, but he stops the fight and then he heals the man’s ear.
And that is his general kindness and goodness to us all. Whether we’re believers or not, whether we love Jesus or we just aren’t that bothered about Jesus, none of us deserve his kindness, yet he shows us it, even to those who betray him, who deny his name.
Peter : Peter has been so defiant and so strong, his own promise to the Lord was, ‘I will never deny you!. As we saw in Luke’s account, Peter says ‘I’ll even die for you.’ (Luke 22:23) Yet for all the chat of debating who is the greatest, for all the vows of faithfulness, we have here Peter denying Jesus three times. The servant girl by the fire asks, ‘You’re one of Jesus’ disciples, aren’t you?’ Then someone else asks, then yet another asks and Peter each time denies knowing Jesus.
“Peter’s sheer humanity makes him everyone’s teacher.” (R Kent Hughes)
His ability to get it so right sometimes whilst also managing to get it so wrong at other times is someone we can relate to. Though he has heard the precious promises of Jesus, though he has watched his miracles, though he confesses in John’s Gospel, ‘Where else would we go? You alone have the words of eternal life?’ (John 6:68) His actions send a different message.
How often have we been in that situation? You know the promises of God, you know the joys of the gospel but your actions may betray that. Maybe speaking to a non-Christian and you kind of want to share the gospel but you’re also afraid of what will happen. You nervously fidget, you kick the gospel into the long grass and talk about other things, and then your friend ends the conversation and goes and you haven’t shared the gospel, Why? Because of fear.
So Peter, out of fear, denies Jesus and as he denied Jesus for the third time, just as Jesus said would happen, the cock crowed. And ‘the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.’ (Luke 22:61) What a gut wrenching moment. To deny your friend, your master, and then to see him look right at you. You have been found out, you’ve betrayed the confidence and trust of a friend. Imagine you were in that situation and you’re Peter. Your insides doing somersaults because you’ve denied Jesus and you know it and Jesus knows it, and now Jesus is looking right into your eyes.
And at that Peter remembered the words of Jesus, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will disown me three times.’ (Luke 22:34) We’ve all been there. ‘Jesus, I’ll never do this again.’ ‘Lord, I promise I’ll always do this.” When rubber hits the road, how we fall short. How our words come back to haunt us, we make a great vow of promise to the Lord, as Peter did and we end up with egg in our faces.
Peter has promised time and again not to deny Jesus, yet three times he does.
2. Two outcomes
And we ask, what are we to make of these two? Judas and Peter. Both betrayed Jesus to different degrees, they both experience a degree of remorse and sadness after their wrongdoing. Peter went outside and wept bitterly (John 22:62), and Judas was seized with remorse (Matthew 27:3). So, what’s the difference? We tend to join the dots and see there is a difference between Peter and Judas and I think for good reason.
Jesus : A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the wonderful verse, ‘Simon, Simon, Satan has demanded to sift you like wheat but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.’ (Luke 22:31) Jesus never prayed such a prayer for Judas. Judas never was prayed for in this light. When you truly are a disciple, your faith is secure, not because of you, but because of Jesus holding us close to himself.
Satan : Similarly, Satan is at play in the difference. We’re told in Luke 22:3 that Satan entered Judas which led to him conspiring with the religious leaders in the first place. But not so with Peter. Though Satan is at play, Satan never entered Peter like he did with Judas.
Judas : It’s not as if Judas was an innocent bystander who was victim to the supernatural realm. He consented for an opportunity to betray Jesus. (Luke 22:6) Or we read in John 12 of Judas dipping into the disciples’ money bag to line his pockets.
We don’t view Peter of a saint of course, especially in view of what he has just done, but there is so much to Judas’ character which is dubious. And of course we know from Matthew’s account that Judas is ‘seized with remorse’ but it’s interesting in Luke’s portrayal. It’s almost like a dead man walking, he mechanically walks up to his friend and betrays him and then there is no more information given about Judas. It’s as if he’s betraying his friend and he is unmoved by it.
This gives clarity about the difference between him being seized with remorse in Matthew’s account and Peter weeping bitterly. There is the bitter weeping by Peter which is his only and natural response because he loves the Lord and these feelings of sadness and guilt are not there just because he’s done something he shouldn’t, but he’s done something he shouldn’t to Jesus. For all of the feeling of remorse, Judas is stuck there merely in guilt knowing he shouldn’t have done what he done.
What about you? What characterises your response to sin? And I don’t mean the simplistic idea ‘Do you literally weep for your sin?’
If your grief stops at simply feeling bad for having done wrong, not necessarily because you’ve wronged God, consider that your sin has bigger consequences than just you and how you feel, it led to Jesus’ crucifixion. Your sin and mine pierced the Son of God. Nail in each hand, crown of thorns on his head, spear in his side, wrath of God poured out fully.
God made Jesus who knew no sin to become sin for us on the cross. Our wrongdoing, our mistakes, our messes aren’t independent of Jesus, but our sins were placed on Jesus. Each and every hidden sin that only you know about, every thought, every intention, every public action, every one of your sins were placed on Jesus. He took the blame, he took your place, taking the punishment due to you and me for our sins. Why? That we might go free. Consider Jesus, consider your sin, these aren’t two words that are unrelated, they are incredibly interlinked. Jesus took your sin, he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquity. If you are here and you aren’t trusting Christ for your salvation, look to him, Jesus took it all upon himself that we might have forgiveness, peace, and reconciliation with God through faith in what he has done. So put your faith in him, trust in his finished work, and be saved.
3. One promise
What holds Peter close to Jesus in the middle of his betraying Jesus is more than his tears, more than the quality of his repentance, but it is the promise of his Lord that we saw two weeks ago… ‘turn again and strengthen your brothers.’ (Luke 22:32) Mingled in with his tears of grief is surely the hope in the promises of Jesus.
What an incredible comfort it is as a believer. Jesus knew Peter was going to betray him three times, yet he prays for Peter that his faith may not fail and says ‘when you turn back, strengthen your brothers.’
For as often as we get it wrong, for as often as we fail to speak up for Jesus, for often as we seem to mess up, for as often as we feel like we can’t quite get our lives together, for as often as we have betrayed Jesus in our words and actions, we have Jesus who doesn’t give up on us but calls us to serve him with our lives.
You might have barely dragged yourself here this morning, such was the weight of your sin that you felt, such was the deflated feeling of ‘I’ve done it again.’ As believers, like Peter, we’re all in the same boat, seemingly unable to get it together, yet held in the arms of grace, where Jesus is sustaining our souls even right this very minute and he says to you in the midst of your tears, in the midst of your sin, ‘I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail, now go and strengthen your brothers.’
In your tears for sin, there is hope. Not hope that you’ll sort yourself out, but hope that even in your failings and your faltering faith, there is one who holds you, one who has not given up on you, one who calls you to live for him.
Your Monday-Friday might be the home, it might be the office, it might be school or university, wherever you are, you might feel deflated because of your sin, but take hope as you go out into the week, into your 9-5, because Christ has his hold of you and he calls you to live for him.
We’re going to sing Psalm 51 in its entirety in response to this sermon. As you sing, confess your sins to the Lord, confess the times you’ve fallen short, but look out too for God’s assurances of his pardon for our sin.
‘If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ (1 John 1:9)