‘Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it— not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it— they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:22-25, NIV)
‘These are the names of the twelve disciples apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.’ (Matthew 10:2-4, NIV)
‘Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.
And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus.
They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.’ (Luke 22:1-6, NIV)
‘When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”
“What is that to us? they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”
So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5, NIV)
Should Have Known Better?
As I have mentioned elsewhere, in October 2009, my wife, Linda, and I agreed to take my elderly grandmother into our home to be her caretakers until her passing. She could no longer afford to stay in the board-and-care facility she had been living in for some time. In August 2010, grandmother became bedridden due to the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease and her inability to stand upon her own two feet. One of the stark reminders of the disease is her inability to remember almost everything in the immediate and, as of late, much of the past. And as her primary caregiver, I must constantly remind her about inappropriate behavior that, absent her disease, she should have known better, if not quite well.
My grandmother’s condition reminds me how many blessings there are in this life that may be taken for granted: Independence, mobility, relationships, caring for others and oneself, enjoying the taste of food, quiet and solitude, surprise and joy, and the God who makes all blessings possible. What Grandma once knew and enjoyed in her life is almost completely erased from her memory; now she lives in a moment-by-moment world, without realizing or enjoying the moment that had just passed by. She is not in any pain. However, one day she will forget how to eat, drink, and breathe and will pass from this life by default.
Alzheimer’s Disease, as I see it acted out in Grandma, has parallels to sin in its manifestations in mankind. The New Testament writer, James, uses the imagery of someone looking into a mirror, turning away, and forgetting what he or she looked like. In modern times we read stories and hear reports about leaders within our society being caught up in sex and corruption scandals, as if they had somehow forgotten themselves and why they were leading in the first place.
The indulgences of sin’s desire can turn one away from God and the truth of his goodness faster than floodwaters can swamp dry land. Perhaps that is why God set memorials in place for sinners to remember; reminders so that faith in God would not be completely lost to eyes blinded and ears deafened by sinfulness. Sadly, sin and selfish pursuit, once in full-swing, can erase the memory of the goodness of God completely from one’s mind. And once deeply trapped in the throes of sin, the results can be disastrous.
I have spoken elsewhere about Jesus’ fallen disciple, Judas Iscariot. Next to the inner circle of Peter, James, and John, Judas Iscariot is one of the better remembered of Jesus’ original twelve disciples. Unfortunately, Judas was remembered not for what good he did as a disciple, but for the betrayal of Jesus leading to his arrest, condemnation and death on a cross. One of the more fascinating debates about Judas focuses on him being chosen by Jesus as a disciple. The debate is framed something like this:
Judas was chosen by Jesus to become a disciple. If Jesus was God and knew Judas would betray him (before calling him as a disciple) did Judas have free will exercised in the matter? In other words, did God create Judas in order to fulfill all He had ordained about Jesus’ death? Was Judas a prophesy pawn on the chessboard of God’s will? If Jesus had called Judas, could Judas have exercised his free will and refused the request to become a disciple? Would someone other than Judas have betrayed Jesus, if not Judas?
The answer to all these questions is found in the man called Judas Iscariot. A review of the gospel record according to the Apostle John gives some insight into the character of Judas. In John 13:29, we learn that Judas was in charge of the money, a treasurer of sorts, for Jesus and the rest of the disciples. John referred to Judas as a thief in John 12:3-6, when Judas complained about a woman named Mary pouring expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet, instead for selling it for its value. John identified Judas Iscariot as a greedy man who lined his own pockets at the expensive of the group. The gospel accounts also indicate that Judas Iscariot negotiated the deal to betray Jesus for the price of thirty pieces of silver.
So it is probable that the answers to the debate can be found in the behaviors and actions of the famous ignoramus, known as Judas Iscariot. Did God create Judas? Yes, obviously. Did Jesus, being God, discern the heart of Judas and select him as an apostle, knowing Judas would betray him? Yes. Did Jesus empower Judas to perform miracles and cast out demons as he had with the other eleven apostles? Yes. Did Judas formulate his own free-will scheme to betray Jesus? Yes. Did God allow Judas to exercise free will? Yes. Did Judas have a choice in the matter from the very beginning? Yes.
However, unlike the other eleven disciples, Judas Iscariot had focused on personal gain, rather than spiritual enlightenment. Perhaps Judas accepted Jesus’ call to be a disciple to bolster his own reputation. The gospel record is less clear in that regard, but Judas apparently profited financially, according to John. The clearest indication of Judas’ exercise of free will occurred after he realized what he had done in betraying Jesus. In a futile attempt to undo the undoable, Judas made an admission of his sin to his fellow conspirators.
Judas confessed he had sinned by condemning an innocent man to death. But it was worse than that. In that moment of confession, Judas finally recognized the image in the mirror— the image of a backstabber— and Judas did not like what he saw. Judas knew that he should have known better than to hand Jesus over to the chief priests because Jesus was the Messiah, the Chosen One and Son of God. Judas went against all he knew about Jesus; all he had seen and heard in the miraculous and supernatural power; all that Judas knew from the Law of Moses and the prophets of old. In the final analysis, Judas’ blasphemy against God was more than he could bear. So he threw the money back at the priests, then went out and hanged himself.
What can be learned in this tragic story of Judas Iscariot? Don’t fool yourself as Judas did. Judas walked with the Son of the Living God for three years while carrying a deep and abiding burden of sin in his life. The sin of greed is pervasive and devastating to the human heart. Judas Iscariot’s unrepentant sin and impure motives led him down a very dark path indeed.
Is there a sin you are trying to keep secret from God? Take it from Judas, God already knows your sin. The question is: Are you going to be bound to it (as Judas was) or will you allow God to free you from it through His Son, Jesus? The choice, as always, is yours.
Please choose wisely.
(copyright 2011, Gregory Allen Doyle)