This morning’s Psalm spoke of those who have “flattering lips and [with] a double heart they speak.” Of all the characters in Our Lord’s Passion, this sends the mind immediately to Judas Iscariot, the betrayer. He ranks with Pontius Pilate as one of the pitiable men in the Passion. While our minds are inclined to think, “If only they had thought twice, this wouldn’t have happened,” that’s not a salutary thought. The Jews, Pilate, and Judas get a lot of the blame, but to focus on them that way is to miss a key fact of the Passion. Remember what Jesus said: “The Son of Man indeed goes just as it has been written of Him.” Yes, there were people who bore specific guilt in the death of Jesus, but He was not a victim of their treachery and deceit. He was a lamb who went silently and willingly to its execution.
What Judas does for us as we hear the Passion accounts is drive us to prayer. The devil enters into Judas, as St. Luke records. And as we learn from the Catechism’s explanation of the Sixth Petition, the devil leads us into “false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.” This is a perfect description of Judas in his last days, and a reminder for us to pray frequently, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Though our minds instantly go to Judas as a bad guy, he wasn’t always. He responded to Jesus’ call, “Follow Me.” He witnessed miracles, heard the preaching, participated in the feeding of the 5,000 and the 4,000, saw Jesus calm the storm and walk on the sea. He was partnered with another disciple when Jesus sent them out in pairs with the authority to heal the sick and cast out demons. He was trusted by the other eleven and for that reason served as the group’s treasurer. There’s nothing to indicate that Judas was “less than” or shunned by the other disciples in any way.
So, what happens? We don’t know exactly. Scripture doesn’t record anything more than what St. Luke says about Satan entering him. Was his belief already not on solid footing? Was he a Jewish rebel who was unhappy with how Jesus was handling things, expecting a military Messiah who would smite the Romans? We can speculate, but that doesn’t do us much good. It’s best for us to focus on what Scripture does tell us. Satan entered into Judas, and he betrayed Jesus, handing Him over to the chief priests. What Judas meant for evil, God used for good to bring it about as it is this day, that those who believe in Him have eternal life.
Judas serves as a warning for us. Even in pious, churchgoing Christians, Satan is working. Satan wants to lead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. He wants to trick us the same way he tricked our first parents with the lie that resulted in the crucifixion of the sinless Son of God. He wants us to look at this week as of little importance. He wants us to look at our life and conduct, and, instead of saying “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner!” We say, “I thank You, Lord, that I am not like other men.”
The most lamentable part of Judas’s life is his determination to sin and his lack of repentance. At the Last Supper, Jesus announces that “He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray me.” We know that this refers to Judas, and Judas himself even asks “Rabbi, is it I?” and Jesus answers “You have said it.” Jesus knows what Judas is about to do, and calls him to repentance, but Judas continues on with his betrayal. And even when he realizes that he sentenced an innocent man to death, he doesn’t repent. Peter denies Jesus three times. But he repents and is restored. The sin of Peter and Judas is equal. Judas could have been forgiven. But he refused to repent.
So, Judas is an example to us. First, we pray that we would be spared the temptations of the evil one. Especially when life is in chaos, Satan works hard to lure us into sin and unbelief. So, we pray that we may finally overcome this temptation and win the victory when we are delivered from evil, that is, when we are taken from this valley of sorrow and to Our Lord in heaven. Second, we learn to repent of our sin, to acknowledge the hold it has on us. We are all like Judas at times. Even when we know what we have set about to do is a sin, we go anyways. So, we pray that we would repent of the evil we plan to do, and that we would always repent of our sins when we become aware of them. That is why we always have on our lips, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
And as often as we repent, as often as we confess we are reminded: “Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.” By the death of Jesus, by His Blood we are forgiven. This is sure and certain, and the one covering for every sin.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.