Do you ever have times when you’re tootling along, minding your own business and doing just fine, feeling content and okay about everything, only for your thought-life to go totally wonky? Where suddenly you’re questioning your decisions, maybe even how others feel about you (despite knowing they feel favorably and nothing has happened to change that)? For whatever reason, this is where I’ve lived lately, right smack on the corner of Insecure Circle and Self-Doubt Drive.
Here’s the deal. I guess because of age and experience, these days when feelings like these hit, I recognize them for exactly what they are: Satan’s attempts to thwart the vision God’s given me or to distract me enough, shifting my focus inward toward self so that I’m less effective in my job of sharing Jesus.
A few days ago, while in the midst of these less-than-uplifting feelings, I happened across guys from the Bible who definitely felt the weight and torment of the schemes of Satan. In truth, I’d previously judged these two rather harshly. One of them is likely in the top ten of most recognizable characters in the whole Bible; his name is Judas. The other guy, Peter, is fairly infamous himself. Continuing my full disclosure, I have always felt so scornful toward Judas (for obvious reasons) when reading his story, and toward Peter, too, to some degree, even though I do mostly understand why he chose to deny Jesus in the moments when he did.
This particular day, however, I read these stories with new eyes, I guess, because suddenly I realized that, although I love Jesus like these two fellas, I, too, have sold Him out and denied who He is. Breaking News: Judas, Peter….and I can be real jerks.
To better explain my newfound attitude, let’s focus on Matthew 26, and let’s look specifically at verse 15. Speaking to Jesus’s persecutors, Judas says, “What are you willing to give me if I hand Him over to you?” Their answer: 30 pieces of silver, which, shockingly, is the equivalent of approximately $21.60 today. Let me type that again just in case you missed it. Jesus Christ was sold out by someone who claimed to love and honor Him for a measly $21.60. I can’t even make this compute in my broken brain.
My knee-jerk, gut reaction here is judgement and scorn. (Loathing, perhaps?) How dare you, Judas!! It’s not like any amount would be okay, but seriously, that puny sum?! I judge Judas’s choices, question his character, and reserve ZERO understanding or compassion toward this traitor. And just when I’ve gotten my own sense of self-righteousness good and inflated, God pokes a stick-pin in it, and I suddenly realize Judas and I aren’t so polar opposite after all.
You see, Friends, I, too, have sold Jesus out for a small price…and I’ve done it more than once. I mean, of course no one has ever paid me money to literally hand Jesus over, but I have turned my back on Him in an effort to gain other, worldly things:
*human recognition or praise
*likes on social media
And the list continues. I’ve even sold Him out because I wasn’t brave enough, because I let fear speak louder than He did. Can you identify with any of these yourself?
Jesus addresses this sort of behavior in Matthew 26:24. His words apply not only to Judas, but also to those of us who consider ourselves Christians while attempting to gain the things of this world. Jesus warns us, “Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better (more profitable and wholesome) for that man if he had never been born!” Yikes! Hard truths followed by exclamation points, so you know it was something about which Jesus felt very strongly.
Judas sold out Jesus with false devotion for a pathetic price. Turning Jesus over, Judas “embraced Him and kissed Him with [pretended] warmth and devotion” (Matthew 26:49). Sounds awful, right? Sounds horrendous and hurtful and unimaginable. But, y’all, we do this. We go to church (many of us even go twice a week! And all the good Christians said, Amen.). We raise our hands in worship, we serve, we attend small groups or Sunday school classes, and we wear our devotion to Jesus externally, making sure everyone knows. Then, we go home, and the rest of our lives and our behavior–at work, within our marriages, within our households–is void of Jesus and His love. You and me and Judas…we’re all sell-outs.
And let’s not forget our other comrade, Peter. Most of us are probably pretty familiar with his story. Convinced of his own unwavering loyalty to Jesus, he openly scoffed when Jesus predicted he would deny knowing Him, not just once but three times. And because it’s a familiar story and because (spoiler alert!) everything Jesus says is right, we know that’s precisely what Peter did. Upon Jesus’s apprehension, the Bible tells us that Peter was so eager to distance (and save) himself, he denied Jesus simply (verse 70), he adamantly denied knowing Jesus (verse 72), and he even threw in a few swears and curses to make it abundantly clear he was in no way associated with that King of the Jews guy (verse 74).
And at the sake of being repetitive here, y’all, we do this, too! Like Peter, we are so eager to prove our likeness to those around us, to do whatever necessary to avoid being excluded or “unfriended” that we, too, adopt behaviors we might have once sworn we’d never do. Peter, like his friend Judas (and like us), sold out his Savior because he was caught in a desperate desire to separate himself from the taunting, the whispering, the persecution, the shunning that can sometimes come from being close-knit with Jesus. Peter wanted to stay free. Peter wanted to stay alive. Peter wanted to save himself in the face of the popular crowd, and he sold Jesus out in an effort to do so. Ouch. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Being a “Jesus freak” is all fine and good and cool…until it’s not.
But like Peter’s, our story doesn’t need to end at our sell-outs. Friends, Jesus knew what Peter was going to do ahead of time, remember? Notice how He kept Peter around, nurturing His relationship with him anyway. In fact, Jesus was so not mad at Peter that after rising from the dead, Jesus chose to meet one-on-one with Peter, taking time just for him. I once heard a pastor say that had Judas asked for (and accepted) forgiveness instead of killing himself out of shame, he, too, would have been welcomed back into the fold of Jesus. Because I know the character of Jesus, I truly believe that’s 100% accurate. And it probably would’ve happened with no questions asked.
My dears, our God is a God of compassion, a God of love, and because of those dominate traits, He’s also a God of forgiveness. By zero accident, if we rewind back before Judas’s betrayal, back before Peter’s denial, all the way to Matthew 18, we’ll happen upon a VERY interesting conversation (hindsight being 20/20 and all that). Our old buddy Peter asks Jesus about this topic, which he’ll come to experience so personally. “Lord, how many times will my brother sin against me and I forgive him and let it go? Up to seven times?” (verse 21)
Consider how much like Peter we are, even here. He’s interested in doing the right thing. He’s actually seeking Jesus for guidance, and he’s even stretching himself into forgiving this same repeat-offender of a friend seven whole times. I feel like he’s kind of expecting Jesus to say, “Wow, Peter, look how kind and forgiving and awesome you are!” but instead, Jesus replies, “I say to you, not up to seven times, but seventy times seven” (verse 22). Not that I don’t feel his pain, but I get kind of tickled picturing what must have been Peter’s speechless jaw-drop at Jesus’s exceedingly high expectation of forgiveness. This exchange between Peter and Jesus, however, served to teach Peter (and us) a much larger lesson than some simple multiplication.
Return now to Peter’s epic screw-up, his selling-out of Jesus. It’s obvious he’s aware of his sin, but it’s also clear by his actions afterward that Peter believed Jesus was a master of forgiveness. He had seen it, and he was now personally experiencing it in a magnificent way. Friends, you and I serve this same Jesus. He loves you! He is anxiously awaiting the chance to forgive whatever sin you and I have committed so as to eradicate ANYTHING standing between us and Him. Listen carefully: you have never done anything nor could you ever do anything bad enough that Jesus can’t/won’t forgive you. He wants desperately to spend time with you, just the two of you, because it’s so often during those purposeful moments that you’ll get the outer noise quieted down enough to hear Jesus’s love-filled whisper: It’s okay. You might have messed up, but I forgive you. I love you.
Dear Lord, thank You for sharing with me the stories of both Peter and Judas. Thank You, Father, that I can come to You, ask sincerely and with a repentant heart for Your forgiveness, and You will remember my screw-up no more. Thank You for loving me exactly as I am. Thank You that Your compassion never fails, and I am never too far gone for Your reach. I’m sorry for times, both intentional and unintentional, when, like Judas and Peter, I’ve sold You out for the things of this world. Help me, Father, to be more concerned about pleasing You than others. I love You, and I am so grateful to serve a God so full of second (and third and fourth and fifth) chances. May I never ever take Your forgiveness for granted. It’s in Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.