Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Most Tragic Figure of History

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Monday, February 10, 2014:  Matthew 26:47-68

47 While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” 49 And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.  Matthew 26:47-50 (ESV)

Who is the most tragic figure of history?  We might think of Julius Caesar, assassinated by his own senate.  Or Hannibal, who miraculously crossed the Alps on elephants taking Rome, only to ultimately fail and commit suicide.  History is filled with figures of great stature or potential whose lives fell to shame rather than rising to glory.  

In recent history, we think of Richard Nixon, of John DeLorean, and of O.J. Simpson.  The list multiplies. All of these were at the pinnacle of their world, but because of character flaws or bad choices find their legacies tarnished.

The most tragic figure of history is Judas Iscariot.  He was chosen as one of the 12 apostles.  He sat at the feet of the Master -- the Son of God.  Jesus had told him along with the others that he was destined to rule in the Kingdom of God (Matt. 19:28).  Yet, for some reason, he threw it all away.  He treacherously betrayed Jesus, then regretted it and killed himself (Matt. 27:3-5).  Today, his name is synonymous with betrayal.  No one names their little boy Judas.

He is a picture of man at his worst.  In fact, Judas may have been a man of great ability.  He kept the money bag of the disciples (John 13:29).  Consider that Matthew had been a tax collector and certainly had accounting ability.  Yet Judas was chosen over Matthew for the job.

Despite favored position and fabulous future, Jesus said of Judas, "It would have been better for that man if he had never been born" (Matt. 26:24).  Judas is a picture of huge promise but disappointing pay-off. There was another man in Scripture who did similarly.  His name was Adam.  

The way of man always turns bad.  No matter how good it looks, "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). But, here's the good news: the way of God always turns good.  "The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus."

Particularly poignant is the WAY Judas betrayed Jesus.  A kiss speaks of love, endearment, and affection.  Betrayal speaks of hatred, anger, and rejection.  Our overly sexualized culture today does not pick up on the significance of the New Testament kiss of friendship.  We cannot know what was going through Judas' mind as he gave the kiss of betrayal to Jesus.  We do know that it is the height of treachery.

Few hurts are as bad as the rejection of a true friend -- one who once was close but now does you harm.  Judas represents all those who SAY they love Jesus, but who in fact have their own stubborn plans that are unyielded.  

There is a small bit of Judas in each of us.  It was of this that the hymnist wrote:  

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;

Because of this I close with this prayer -- the rest of that verse:

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

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