Judas, The Opportunist

Mark 14:1-11 Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him. 2 “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or the people may riot.” 3 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. 4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. 6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9 I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” 10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. 11 They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

It used to be cool to name your son Judas. Wow has that changed! In 2014, the top baby names for boys were Liam, Noah, Ethan, and Mason according to babycenter.com. On the other hand, the name Judas was used only 3 times for every 1 million baby boys that were born. It is the 403rd most popular name – one of the least popular names for boys used today. This wasn’t always true. Back around year 2 B.C., everybody and their brother was naming their  kid Judas. For good reason too. Judas in Jewish history is like George Washington to us. In the Apocrypha you can read accounts of more than one Judas leading Israel in revolt against oppressors. That all happened a little after 167 B.C. And that’s why by the time Jesus was born everyone was naming their kid Judas. It was a hot, hot name. Until it wasn’t anymore. Sometime after Jesus’ death that trend suffered a nasty reversal. It’s never made a comeback. Not once. Not even secular folks want to call their kids Judas anymore. I’ll bet you can guess why.

None of us want to get associated with the dark, traitorous activity of Judas. Not only do we not want to be associated with it, I’m not even sure we want to think too much about it. It’s tough stuff! And, yet, there it is. It stares out at us here from the Gospel of Mark in all too much detail. It’s worth asking why. Why is it there? What is it saying to us? How does it help us understand ourselves? And, more importantly, how does it help us understand Jesus better?

We don’t know boatloads about Judas, but we do know some key details. We know it was him who got upset about this perfume-pouring incident. And we know why he got upset. He saw it as cash flow. As keeper of the moneybags, we can almost picture him taking coins and taking, “Two for me. One for Jesus and the rest of the disciples. Two for me. And one for…” You get the picture. At any rate, he had some status among the disciples because he kept the money and he became their spokesman on this occasion. We have a pretty good guess as to why he did. He probably wasn’t from backwater, hickville Galilee like the rest of the disciples. He was probably from Jerusalem. That’s why he got such a trendy, important name like Judas. He was richer, better educated, and more culturally refined than the rest of the disciples. Here’s the point of me telling you this. As far as people go, Judas seems to have been a pretty decent guy. He had a good upbringing. He was well respected among his peers and capable of responsibility.

And then somehow a switch flips at Simon the Leper’s house – a guy Jesus had healed. Lazarus is there too – a guy Jesus recently raised from the dead. And then there’s Mary. She understands Jesus is heading to the cross. She’s so blown away by Jesus’ resurrection of her brother, Lazarus, and so overwhelmed by Jesus’ coming sacrifice that she does the unthinkable. She “…came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.” (v. 3) Immediately everyone in the room reacts. Judas leads and speaks from his gut. He says, Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” (v. 4-5) You can just see his gears turning. He smells that awesome, expensive perfume and seethes to himself, “She just sent $60,000 up in smoke. Ridiculous.” And he blurts out his frustrations even as that beautiful, incredible smells fills the room.

But John lets us in on Judas’ nasty little secret. He wasn’t upset that the money was being spent. He was lying when he said, “I want the poor to get it.” He wasn’t upset that the money was being spent. He was upset that the money wasn’t spent on him. He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” (John 12:6) Do you see it? Judas was an opportunist. Judas had latched onto Jesus for all the wrong reasons – for the opportunities he thought Jesus could provide. He had likely latched onto him for the political liberation he hoped for and the financial rewards he believed would come. And then this happened. He saw $60,000 go up in smoke. It was the final straw for him. He couldn’t wait anymore. He wasn’t going to dilly dally around waiting for Jesus to deal with the Romans. He wasn’t going to watch Jesus burn through money like that. Jesus’ usefulness had run out. It was time to cut ties and get out of the relationship what he could.

So Judas goes and he hammers out a contract. That’s literally the word used in the original language. Judas contracted out his services of handing over Jesus privately to Jesus’ enemies. Sad stuff. What was that conversation like? “I’ll do it for 50 silver coins,” Judas says. He thinks to himself, “I should at least get a solid payday for handing over someone I consider to be a friend.” They counter, “25 coins. We’re not made of money here.” They finally settle on the biblical price you pay for a Hebrew slave, 30 silver coins. Here’s how the history reports it, “Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.” (v. 10-11)

So, why did he do it? Judas had wrong belief about Jesus. Judas mistakenly thought Jesus was sort of like a coke machine. You put coins into the machine. You get a coke. You put something into Jesus and you get back out what you want. “Jesus, I’ll follow you and you remove the Romans from my homeland.” “Jesus, I’ll follow you and you give me a sweet house overlooking the Mount of Olives.” Judas hoped that following Jesus means political victory and financial success. It’s when it doesn’t play out like that… it’s when Judas’ dreams get dashed that he flips on Jesus and sells him for the price of a slave.

That’s the story of Judas. What should we say about it? Should we say, “Too bad so sad?” Should we think, “Let’s just forget the poor soul?” Should we refuse to name our kids after him and get on with life? What, if anything, is there to learn from Judas? Don’t you think it’d be nice if we could look down our noses at him, shake a disapproving finger at him and think, “I never in a million years would’ve done that. Not me.” But can we really do that? Is that honest? Can we say that unlike Judas money has never had too much power in our lives? Can we say that when it comes to Jesus we’re ready to pour $60,000 out on his feet just because he’s there? Or if we were in that room, would we have had the same feeling as Judas? “Mary, what in the world?” Can we go even farther than that? Can we say that we’ve never been disappointed when we find out that Jesus isn’t the coke machine that we imagined? “Jesus, why don’t you get on board with my agenda for my life?!”If you’re ok so far (I’m not!), then can we still pass the final test and say, “I’m not a big, bad sinner. I’m truly different.” Here’s the deal. We need to be honest about Judas. It’s too easy to make him the scapegoat. It’s too easy to say, “It’s all and only Judas’ fault that Jesus died.” The uncomfortable truth is that we caused Jesus’ death just as much as Judas did. Or so say it another way, our sins nailed Jesus to the cross just as much as Judas’ did.

Judas came around to understand his sin. He really did. It gripped him. You know what he did about it? He ran to the religious authorities and blurted out his sins. He said, “I have sinned. For I have betrayed innocent blood.” (Matt. 27:4) You know what those religious leaders said to him about that? It still haunts me to this day. They said, “What is that to us? That’s your responsibility.” (Matt. 27:4) Those words just haunt me. I want to tell you why. That right there is one of the greatest missed opportunities in history. It was just missed. Here was a guy who understood his sin. He got it. And wanted to know what to do with it. He wanted to know how guilt gets gone. He wanted to know how to arrive to a clean conscience. He wanted to know how sins get forgiven. He truly did. That’s why he was there. And nobody told him.

Nobody told him that it wasn’t his job. Nobody told him that was Jesus’ job. Nobody told him it wasn’t his responsibility. Nobody told him it was Jesus’ responsibility. I wish I could have been there, don’t you? I wish I could have told him the truth. I wish I could’ve pulled the lead weight off his shoulders. I wish I could’ve spoken truth to his torn-up soul saying, “Jesus was betrayed so he could go on and win you forgiveness.” I wish I could have taken him literally to the foot of the cross and said, “Do you see it? Jesus paid and ransomed you. You’re safe, clean, and forgiven. That’s true for you right here and right now. That’s what Jesus is doing up there.”

I didn’t have that chance with Judas, but I do with you and I’m not going to miss it. If there’s a big, bad, Judas-level sinner in this church today, then listen to what I’m saying. Look up at Jesus’ cross. Understand why he’s up there. He’s up there to give grace. He’s up there to win forgiveness. He’s up there to make you safe, and clean, and new. Understand something. There is nothing in your life that is so evil, so deeply wrong, or so guilt producing that it’s not covered by the death of the Son of God. Nothing. Here’s what that means. It’s time to quit harboring guilt. It’s time to stop torturing the conscience. It’s time to see and believe that forgiveness is yours in Christ. It’s time to see that big, bad sinners have a real, live, big, huge Savior. That’s gospel truth.

In fact, don’t you see that this was God’s plan for Jesus to die right on this particular timeline, right in this particular way? It actually didn’t happen the way the religious leaders planned it. Did you notice that? They said, “But not during the Feast…” (v. 2) They didn’t want to upset the people too much. They didn’t want to get out of the religious routine. They wanted to kill Jesus without any fuss. But God had a different idea. Jesus would die during the Feast. And why? Because God wanted all those people on pilgrimage to Jerusalem to see it. Because God wanted all those people to get stirred up and to believe what was happening there. Because God wasn’t concerned with letting them keep their little religious routine of killing an innocent, perfect lamb on the Passover. God was concerned with replacing that lamb with a better one. He wanted to give them a Lamb for the sins of the world.

That’s what this is all about. One of the things that I’m hoping that you’re beginning to see at Peace is that when the Holy Spirit talks to us he doesn’t talk to us about a lot of different things, he talks to us about the same things in a lot of different ways. And he does this so that in a lot of different ways and at a lot of different places we are confronted with the sin and grace, law and gospel, ourselves and Jesus. That’s what the Bible is all about. And that’s what you’re going to see in this sermon series called People of the Passion. You’re going to see real people who are really saved through Jesus and you’ll grow in faith through it.

Judas the Opportunist is just step one. Here he is – arguably the biggest, badest sinner in world history. He is, after all, the guy who betrayed the Lord. Tough to top that one. And, yet, Jesus loved that man. Jesus made him one of his disciples – spent years with the guy. And Jesus went to the cross not just because of him, but also for him. Jesus had a huge heart and he bought grace for that big, bad sinner. That’s the lesson of Judas. Big, bad sinners exist. Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you’re one of them. If you are, then I’ve got great news. We’re why Jesus came. Jesus came to be an even bigger Savior. Amen.

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