The plot, the fear and the betrayal

Sermon: Sunday, 29th January, 2022 Video
Speaker: Geoff Murray
Scripture: Luke 22:1-6

Now we come to the Feast of Unleavened Bread called the Passover. The Feasts of the Passover and Unleavened Bread was an annual celebration, remembering the sparing of Israel’s firstborn and their release from slavery in Egypt. The entire celebration remembered how Israel was ‘passed over’ by the angel of death and redeemed. It was a time of remembering their rescue and praising God for that.

‘Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people.’ (Luke 22:1-2)

But in order to get there we need to first take that journey there and that starts first of all with a desperate plot.

1. A desperate plot

The first thing to note is that the wording in the NIV isn’t anywhere as strong as the original Greek text. It says that they wanted ‘to get rid of Jesus’. Now that could potentially mean a variety of things, it doesn’t have to mean killing. But the original Greek clearly means execute or destroy.

Jesus was challenging everything about them, he was exposing their toxic religion and by extension, them. And the second he challenged them, they turned. He didn’t just challenge them, but he also totally blew up their expectations of what it meant to be accepted by God. The religious leaders were holding on so tightly to their religious performance and good deeds as the means to be accepted by God but Jesus says ‘Your good deeds won’t do you any good!’

So they tried to catch Jesus out on numerous occasions but they fail to be able to catch him out, in fact, they just end up slightly stunned at the wisdom of Jesus. Their anger is kindled all the more because they’re unable to stop him. They can’t catch him in his words because he outwits them every time. He’s too clever for them.

So they resort to pursuing his death. And this really goes to show the toxicity of their religion. The religious leaders have been letting this stew for a long time. All the way back in Luke chapter 6 we read, ‘… and they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do with Jesus.’ (Luke 6:11)

And so, we must understand that the religious leaders pursuing Jesus are intentional. As Christians we can be heartened that rejection of Jesus in our world is to be expected, that what is going on around us isn’t a mistake. God isn’t caught off guard going ‘Wow! I never expected this!’ He is still ruling.

It’s as Peter tells us not to be ‘… surprised when the fiery trial comes upon you as if something strange were happening.‘ (1 Peter 4:12) Opposition, it’s almost to be expected in this life. The signs of opposition are not signs of God abandoning his people or of him losing control, but this is very much part of the plan.

If you’re not a Christian, it might be quite easy to take the self-righteous stance right now. ‘Well, I wouldn’t murder Jesus, that’s a bit strong.’ Maybe you wouldn’t. But at the root of the religious leaders’ actions is a rejection of Jesus and his gospel. If you are rejecting Jesus, if you are not choosing him as your saviour, king, master, and Lord, you are rejecting Jesus.

So do you accept or reject Jesus today? You might not reject Jesus so violently or aggressively as this mob in our text, but that doesn’t mean you don’t reject Jesus. Without trusting in his saving work, without following him, that is rejection. The Bible doesn’t call us to reject Christ but to trust in him. So do you accept Jesus or reject Jesus today?

2. A gripping fear

‘… they were afraid of the people.’ (Luke 22:2)

We get to why they want to put Jesus to death and it is interesting that the language is not of fearing Jesus but of the people, why were the religious leaders fearing the people?

I think a clue as to why they are fearing the people is in Luke chapter 19. ‘Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.’ (Luke 19:47-48)

They don’t want Jesus to gain ascendancy because they know if people go after Jesus, they will lose their influence. They are religious leaders. They are well respected and people fear them. If, however, Jesus gains credit, respect, and a following, people who follow Jesus won’t follow the Pharisees. If Jesus gets a hearing with the crowd, all of a sudden, the religious leaders lose that crowd.

And that is a nightmare for the religious leaders. It’s all about this public persona that they put on and how they’re perceived. Jesus says of them in Matthew 23 ‘… they do all their deeds to be seen by others… ‘they love the place of honour at feasts, the best seats in the synagogue.’

They don’t so much fear Jesus, but they fear the crowd because the crowd gives them their value and worth as individuals and as a group. And that’s why they want to take Jesus down because he threatens that. If Jesus goes, the risk to their street cred is lost and they can get on happy as Larry with business as usual. Being revered and respected by the community, being seen and praised by others for their good deeds, happy days.

And so this is a desperate plot on the part of the religious leaders to murder Jesus just to save their own skin, to keep their reputation intact.

A bitter betrayal

‘Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.’ (Luke 22:3)
Here we have these troubling words ‘Satan entered into Judas.’ Not so much demon possession but demonic influence.

Satan is real, he is in the world and he seeks to influence as many as he can away from Jesus. We see it all over the scriptures almost from the get-go. We see it in Genesis 3 and the book of Job. (see also Matthew 4:1-11, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Ephesians 6)

He is the great enemy of God, he hates God. He is the one who wants to thwart God’s purposes, he doesn’t hear God’s judgement towards him in Genesis 3 and shrugs his shoulders like, ‘Oh well, I guess that’s me.’ He says, ‘Bring it on, God.’ And this is another one of his ‘Bring it on God.’moments where he enters one of the disciples.

‘And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus.’ (Luke 22;4)

We read in verse 3 that Satan entered Judas and we winder, ‘What’s going on here?’ and then verse 4 it hits. This is the moment of the narrative where the jaw drops and hits the floor, the mouth is wide open, the gasps are heard. Who was expecting that? It makes perfect sense that the religious leaders from the outset are dead against Jesus. They hate what Jesus stands for, they hate that he rejects them, they hate him full stop.

But Judas? Judas was one of the twelve. He was one of the disciples. The warning signs were there, but you would have never thought, it just seems out of the question. Note, he went to them. They didn’t come to him.

And so he colluded with the religious leaders to betray Jesus. In the most vile betrayal, he goes against Jesus’ back to team up with the religious leaders to bring Jesus down. So this is a really deliberate act on the part of Judas, they didn’t trick him in his words and somehow get him to reveal where Jesus was, this was a deliberate act which was carried out with intentionality.

‘They were delighted and agreed to give him money.’ (Luke 22:5)

And for the religious leaders, this is dynamite. Judas is an insider. He knows Jesus’ habits, his every move, his times of isolation and being away from the crowd. He knows all that. So for the religious leader, they have someone in the know.

They were actually happy that Judas had betrayed Jesus to them. For them their toxic religion does not just pursue wrongdoing but actually is happy about doing wrong. And that there is the height of evil, that you not only are doing wrong but are happy about it.

And they are happy why? Because they can see in sight that their goal is within reach. They can see that with Judas betraying Jesus they can get to him. They’ve been unable to catch him out in his words, they’ve been unable to pin Jesus down so far, but their opportunity is here and so they’re glad.

‘He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.’ (Luke 22:6)

In this moment of tragedy, Judas has agreed to betray Jesus, he has conspired with them in ways in which he can betray Jesus, he has taken the money. His loyalty has been bought. That is the tragedy of the Judas story. His loyalty has been bought. That must be the lowest of the low. That you’re so disloyal that you’ve been bought out, that you’ve been paid to forsake your loyalty. That money means more to him than his loyalty to his friend.

And we know money was something of an idol for Judas. He was furious that Mary would pour out her perfume on Jesus’ feet saying, ‘This money could have been given to the poor.’ (Mark 14:5) but the editorial comment from John helps us out; ‘He didn’t say this because he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief. He was in control of the money bag and would help himself to it.’ (John 12:6)

So taking his money, he seeks an opportunity to betray Jesus.

What things can we take away from this text

(a) Resist Satan
Sure, we know the story, Jesus wins. The language of Colossians is that Jesus has made a public spectacle out of him and all his minions. But he still isn’t content to lie down and be quiet. He is still fighting. Though he is fighting a losing battle, he is still fighting.

These words are a helpful reminder for us in the West of the Satanic powers at work in this world. Whilst we would be very cautious about speaking about demonic attack and we’d perhaps even give a wide berth to anyone who started speaking about demonic attack we have it plain and clear here in this passage.

Satan and the demonic realm are not to be thought lightly of or trifled with. This is serious because Satan certainly isn’t thinking lightly of it, he’s making it his mission to interfere as much with the good God is doing in the world as possible. 1 Peter 5 speaks of him as a prowling lion seeking anyone to devour.

So be on your guard against his attacks and stick close to Jesus. Satan entering Judas teaches us one thing that it doesn’t matter who you associate with outwardly, it doesn’t matter if we speak Christianese, it doesn’t matter if we pray, we could even be a part of the visible church as we all are this morning as Judas was, yet Satan could mess with us in serious ways. He could turn our hearts bitter or cold or indifferent towards God which could morph into full blown abandoning Jesus. We don’t know that. So be on guard against Satan and all his attacks.

(b) Stick close to Jesus
Of course, we are kept by Jesus but we are called to draw near to God. We might associate with the church as Judas did but we must stick close to Jesus.

‘Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.’ (James 4:7-8)

In the same way that we actively turn away from and resist Satan, so we also want to draw near to Jesus. He will provide rescue and refuge, he will provide shelter and a home.

Because of Jesus, this matter of resisting Satan needn’t lead us to fear because we are not defending ourselves alone. We aren’t like Kevin MacAlistair in Home Alone ‘This is my house, I have to defend it!’ as he does all by himself. If we are believers, we have the Lord Jesus on our side.

We will see in 2-3 weeks one of my favourite passage of Scripture where Jesus approaches Peter and says, ‘Satan has demanded to sift you like wheat but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.’ (Luke 22:31) Those who trust Jesus, we may come under spiritual attack, for which they must be on their guard, but ultimately we are kept by Jesus Christ; he has prayed for us that our faith may not fail. What a wonderful truth to rest in, and what an emboldening truth to receive that ultimately we are kept by Jesus. Therefore, as those who are kept by Jesus, we must be on guard, but we are on guard knowing that the one keeping us is ultimately Jesus so we must stay close to him.

As we feel our weakness and frailties and sins, we can go to Jesus who is a perfect saviour and who is one who perfectly keeps his people. As we fear Satan’s influence on us, stick close to Jesus and he will protect you, he will keep you.

As we bring things to a close, we have a really tragic story in Judas and the religious leaders. We have seen a desperate plot from the religious leaders in plotting to kill Jesus, we have seen a gripping fear as they are held captive by fear of people following Jesus rather than them and we have seen a biter betrayal in Judas turning his back on his saviour and friend. In light of these things, friends, lets resist satan and flee to Jesus.