When I was a kid, I was obsessed with the musical Jesus Christ, Superstar. My family used to sing through the whole show on road trips. My dad would sing the low parts while my sister’s and I belted out the higher notes.
I didn’t know Jesus in those days. To me, Judas was the focus of the show. I felt sorry for him. I remembered that emotion this morning as I was reading Matthew 27:
…when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5 ESV)
I think of Judas as this guy who is arrogantly unaware of his sin; doesn’t get the innocence of Christ and has no conviction over his betrayal. While that version makes me feel better, it’s just not the picture the Bible paints.
Turn a couple of pages and you’ll see an equally disturbing account. Less than a day after Judas’ betrayal, there’s a criminal hanging next to Jesus on a cross who spends his last breath appealing to Jesus saying : you’re God! Save yourself and us! Sounds good, but he’s another guy who misses the Gospel. (Luke 23:39).
Eek. If we listen to the Word of God we will see two really hard truths in these accounts:
1. Belief that Jesus is God doesn’t make you a Christian. The criminal on the Cross knew that Jesus had the ability to save him and so he called out and asked for deliverance. Isn’t that the heart of salvation? What did the thief do wrong?
- He wanted to use Jesus. It wasn’t reconciliation with God that the thief wanted. He just wanted to save his life. If we are interested in Jesus primarily for what we can get from Him (even if that’s Heaven) we have missed what Good Friday is all about.
- He didn’t understand his sin. The thief’s heart was filled with entitlement; there is no real awareness in his heart that he is exactly where he deserves to be.
2. Shame over sin doesn’t make you are a Christian. Judas knew that he had sinned. He knew that Christ was innocent. He even took action that looks a lot like what some of us would call repentance. Here’s the problem:
- Repentance is not penance. Judas tries to repair the damage of his sin. He tries to turn away from his sin, but true repentance is about turning toward Jesus. We cannot save ourselves from our sin by confessing to other people or trying to repair what we have done. Those actions are not repentance. Any reconciliation that happens with one another must be an overflow of a heart that has already reconciled with God by repentance and faith.
- Repentance is not heartbreak. Judas is sad over his sin. In fact, he’s so sad that he kills himself, but true repentance isn’t just about being sorrowful over sin, it’s about what we do with that sorrow. Will we turn to God and ask Him to bear it for us? Or will we carry the weight of it on our shoulders like Judas?
True repentance is personified for us by another criminal hanging on the other side of Jesus. He, like Judas, understand his sin and, like the thief, he understands that Jesus is fully God. But he doesn’t stop with these two things. He casts himself on the mercy of Jesus, seeking to be with God for eternity, and Jesus responds immediately with a promise of salvation.
Today, I keep thinking about one specific night where I, like Judas, had betrayed my sweet Jesus. I remember that night, planning how I would take my own life. Like Judas, I didn’t know how to bear the weight of my sin.
But, unlike Judas, I was restrained that night by a grace that was purchased for me 2000 years ago, today. On Good Friday, the blood of Jesus and the will of the Father purchased for me the Spirit who would live inside me and persevere me.
Honestly, there are a lot of days when I still look like Judas; there are a lot of days when my heart is like the entitled criminal. But the mark of being His is upon me, because today – when I see those pieces of my heart I am led to -once again – lift up my hands to Heaven and say: Jesus – remember me. Jesus – save me. Jesus – you are my only hope.
Join me in that cry and hear your sweet Savior tell you the truth: you will indeed be with Him for eternity.