3/24/02, Palm Sunday

The Great Betrayal”
Matthew 26: 14-24

ur Palm Sunday motif focuses on the great betrayal. You already know the main character well: Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve Apostles, their treasurer, one in whom the others had put their trust, perhaps the most enigmatic person in the gospels. Jesus no doubt chose Judas for his potential leadership ability and usefulness. Judas must have responded, in the beginning, with great enthusiasm. Perhaps he lost his trust in Christ as Messiah. Perhaps he was expecting Jesus to proclaim himself the new military ruler of Palestine and overthrow the Roman occupying military. For whatever reason, toward the end, he turned on Jesus.

Judas is portrayed as covetous and dishonest. According to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, greed made him betray Jesus to the chief priest for 30 pieces of silver. The Books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke represent Jesus as conscious of the meditated treachery, which he foretold. When Judas saw the consequences of his betrayal, he was filled with despair and killed himself. The New Testament contains two different accounts of his suicide. (Matthew 27:3-5; Acts 1:16-20).

Judas chose to betray Jesus and to take his own life no matter what circumstances led him to commit the act of betrayal. In the final analysis his was a conscious decision all along. Acts 1:25 says that "Judas turned aside (willingly chose) to go his own way." Over the years some have made Judas' treason as being from one who was acting as a robot in fulfilling the pre-determined script that had been chosen for him. But we all know that this is not the way life's choices work. We have all been presented opportunities to fall away from our loyalty to Christ but we recall that we also had a choice to remain loyal. Likewise, when Satan tempted Judas, he willingly yielded and became the most despised traitor of all time.

We first see Judas' evil side when he was sitting at a meal with Jesus in Bethany at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, the man that he had seen Jesus raise from the dead. Judas expressed concern about the waste of Mary pouring expensive oil on Jesus' feet and wiping them with her hair. "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denari and the money given to the poor?" John the Beloved adds this explanation, "Judas said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it." (John 12: 4-6, NRSV).

Soon after that Luke records that Satan tempted Judas to betray Jesus to the chief priests for thirty pieces of silver. (Luke 22: 1-6). Even though he had done business with those who had set their plans to kill Jesus, Judas went ahead and attended the Last Supper in the famous Upper Room. Jesus was aware of his friend's treachery in that during the meal he said, "Truly I tell you, that one of you will betray me." Judas sarcastically replied, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" and Jesus responded, "You have said so." (Matt. 26: 21&25). Later in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus felt his greatest agony, Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. "But Jesus said to him, 'Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?" (Lk. 22:48). Although Jesus could have called on an army of ten thousand angels to set him free, he submitted to the arrest. (Matt. 26: 53). Perhaps Judas realized that Jesus was indeed the Christ and then attempted to return the silver coins.

We can see some of the elements of Judas' betrayal in the treason of the decorated Colonial American Major General Benedict Arnold. History records that he became jealous that junior officers had been promoted over him. He was also living an extravagant life in Philadelphia and got into debt. For whatever reasons, only known to him, he began a correspondence with British General Sir Henry Clinton which ended in Benedict's surrendering the West Point fort in 1780. His treason was soon exposed and Arnold was given a commission of brigadier in the British Army. He later led troops in raiding his former neighbors in Connecticut. As the British appeared certain to lose the Revolutionary War, Benedict Arnold sailed for England with his family in 1781. He was never trusted by the British and was only paid about one third of the ransom he had agreed to. After years of scorn by the British he died in London in 1801.

Nobody respects a traitor. The movie actor Rip Torn found it difficult to get an acting role after playing the part of Judas in the epic motion picture, "King of Kings." It is common practice in the militaries of the world that traitors are never trusted and are not allowed into the armies of those for whom they have secretively worked.

Now let us bring home the lesson we should have applied from Judas Iscariot to our own lives. It is obviously a scandalous thing to profess loyalty to Christ and to then go to work for the other side. However, we have all known fellow church members, or church leaders, who have seemingly done just that. Haven't we all sometimes wanted to ask troublesome folks in church groups, "Whose side are you on anyway?"

And we must ask ourselves, "Whose side am I on?" Few, if any, of us would ever intentionally do anything to derail our church, much less willingly choose to betray Christ. Few of us would because few of us would ever have an opportunity, yet do we betray Christ whenever our lives are not worthy examples of Christ life alive in us? Perhaps our betrayal is more like a denial of the Spirit's power to transform our lives. The good news becomes bad news through the lives of negative witnesses.

Our resurgence has come because of the good news that is in our folks. Indeed, Christ in you has become our hope of glory!

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

3/24/02, Palm Sunday