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Eyes on Jesus: Betraying Eyes

March 04, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation tonight comes from our gospel text where Mark writes, Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray Him to them.  Here ends our text; dear Christian friends …

Marcus Brutus. Guy Fawkes. Benedict Arnold. Robert Hanssen. Some names are infamous for good reasons; these aforementioned, however, are noted for their treachery. However, the assassination of Julius Caesar or even betraying U.S. secrets to Soviet Russia pale in comparison with history’s most infamous traitor. Judas Iscariot will forever be a name associated with betrayal, handing over the innocent Jesus to sinful men who would see to His death. We know this part of the story well, but tonight, we’re going to slow down and consider the sheer betrayal we see through Judas’s eyes.

Mark mentions that Judas was “one of the twelve,” highlighting the deeply personal nature of his treachery and the brazenness of his betrayal. Judas had been chosen out of countless Jewish men to be one of the twelve apostles, a select group who had the privilege of being in Jesus’s inner circle for three years. Judas knew firsthand the love and mercy of Jesus, and had witnessed His powerful miracles. He had heard the Beatitudes again and again; he had had the parable of the rich fool and warnings about greed drummed into his ears; he had gone out and preached in Jesus’s name; he had heard the warnings about those who preached in the Lord’s name but are shocked on Judgment Day to find out that their faithlessness has landed them in hell. He’d heard everything, been exposed to all the right teachings, and in spite of this, Judas still rebelled.

Judas had sought out the chief priests with an offer to hand Jesus over to them, And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. The Jewish leaders were seeking an inconspicuous location to arrest Jesus, and Judas would provide them with an ideal opportunity, in the middle of the night in an isolated garden. In spite of how some modern movies have attempted to soften his disposition, we know from the other gospels that Judas was a greedy man, even a thief, so he must have looked at this betrayal as an opportunity to line his pockets.

Judas’s plan was in place, but first he had to wait through the preparation for the Passover meal and the meal itself. At dinner, Jesus drops this bomb on the twelve apostles: As they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” Imagine that. Put yourselves in the place of the apostles. Jesus seems to be calmly looking around, knowing exactly who it is but not giving anything away. Mark says that they began to be sorrowful and to say to [Jesus] one after another, “Is it I?” Picture them looking around the room with suspicion, wondering, “Who must it be?” Imagine the tears streaming down some of the faces to express their grief at what Jesus was predicting.

What were Judas’s eyes doing? Did he look down in shame? Did he nervously glance around to see if he was suspected? Did he put on a good show and act like the rest of them? We can’t know for sure, though I’m willing to guess the latter. But why would Jesus make this proclamation in the first place? Was He wanting to subtly out Judas? Or was He wanting the Twelve to examine themselves, to help them each see that they had the capability to betray innocent blood, to commit treason against his Lord? Again, I think the latter is more probable.

J. S. Bach wrote a piece in his “St. Matthew’s Passion” that depicts this fateful scene at the Last Supper. When we hear Jesus announce that the betrayer is at the table, part of the chorus sings the words of each of the disciples, asking if he is the traitor. In German, it reads, “Herr, bin ichs?” “Lord, is it I?” Then comes a confession to Jesus in the form of a chorale, sung by the whole chorus. It begins: Ich bin’s. “It is I.”

Bach gets the Judas story right, highlighting that all of us have participated in the sin of Judas. Difficult as it may be to hear, we all have committed treason, turning against our Lord. That’s what our sin is: our treachery against the king of grace. Surely, when we examine ourselves, we see that each of us is a traitor, and certainly deserve to die a traitor’s death.

But then … we hear Jesus say in the Upper Room, The Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, and then in the garden, The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Jesus came specifically for this purpose, to be betrayed, to pour out His holy, precious blood and suffer an innocent death to atone for your sin, my sin, Judas’s sin, for the sin of the whole world. The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.

There are deep mysteries here which none of us will understand in this life. Judas was morally culpable for betraying Jesus and he justly paid the price for his sin and impenitence, yet the Scriptures foretold it would happen. God did not force Judas to do anything – it was Judas’s sinful will, along with the devil’s prompting, that led him to act thusly, but nevertheless, it needed to happen. The Father wanted, needed, to punish His Son for our sake; He wanted to hand over His Son to this death; and the Son went willingly, out of love all us sinners.

My fellow traitors and Judases … I’ve good news for you: in the waters of Holy Baptism you were washed clean in the blood of the Lamb, the same One we regularly betray. Don’t try to hide your crimes; confess them. Jesus isn’t surprised that you’re a sinner; He knew that as He went to the cross, and He knows that now, forgiving the sins of all who repent and trust His Word of forgiveness. For every time that you have betrayed Him, for every time that you have made promises to Him you couldn’t keep, for every commitment to Him that you’ve failed to fulfill, remember this: there is forgiveness for you. As the words of absolution drum into your ears, as the grace given to you in baptism is recollected, as you taste your salvation in the Supper of Christ’s true Body and Blood, there is forgiveness for you!

The verb translated as “betray” in this text can also be translated as “hand over” or “deliver.” In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes that faith will be counted as righteousness to us who believe in Him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. God the Father handed Jesus over to death in our place, and because of His sacrifice, we have forgiveness of our sins and the promise of life and salvation. So fix your eyes on the One who became a curse for you; in Him, you find your salvation.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.