Editor’s note: It’s hard to believe, but the Easter season is right around the corner—Ash Wednesday is March 1. Just like in the past, CTA is offering seven FREE sermon outlines to help you prepare your worshipers for Resurrection Day. This year, the theme is A Love That Never Dies, based on Jeremiah 31:3. You’ll find the fourth sermon below and be sure to download the entire packet of sermons in CTA’s Resource & Idea Center.
The torture, mocking, and cruelty Jesus endured display his love for us in stark intensity. His body would eventually succumb to death, but his love can never die. What Jesus went through during the dark hours of Thursday and Friday in Holy Week would have been more than enough for anyone else. Someone with lesser love might sooner or later have said, “I’m done; I’ve had it! Let the world die in its own sinful, shameful misery.” Such surrender would have been readily understandable.
But, not so Jesus. He persevered in infinite love through unimaginable suffering and sorrow, through physical, emotional, and mental anguish. This sermon and the next in this Easter preparation series show the dramatic lengths to which Jesus was willing to go in order to fulfill his and his Father’s mission to save the world from sin and to show us his everlasting love.
Jesus persevered in love despite abandonment and betrayal.
Over centuries, people have speculated about Judas’s motives. We may never understand the betrayer. What is beyond dispute is the fact that Jesus saw it coming. On Thursday evening, the night before our Lord’s suffering and death, the disciples and Jesus reclined around the Passover table for the final time before the horrific events of Calvary would unfold. Judas was there.
As they ate, Jesus announced the surprise, called out the “elephant in the room,” so to speak: “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me” (Matthew 26:21 ESV).
In that culture and time, to eat with a person was tantamount to saying, “I am your friend, and I will not hurt you.” Sharing a meal was an intimate act; it is one reason Jesus’ enemies criticized him for eating with tax collectors and prostitutes. How ironic then that Judas, who in hours—or minutes—would betray Jesus, now shared a table with him.
Jesus’ announcement only added to the drama everyone present already felt. Like a knife driven through flesh, the Lord’s words must have pierced through any tranquility that remained in the Upper Room.
“Is it I?” the disciples asked, one after the other. Until, feebly, Judas echoed, “Is it I, Rabbi?” And Jesus answered, “You have said so” (Matthew 26:25 ESV).
There is depravity in betrayal—absolute, abject depravity. To betray is to live a lie. To betray is to violate trust. To betray is to stoop to the lowest level of dishonesty.
It was not the first time Judas had betrayed Jesus and the rest of the disciples. The Gospel of John actually calls Judas a thief. As treasurer for the band of Christ’s disciples, Judas was stealthily putting his hand into the account that provided much of their sustenance (John 12:4–6 ESV).
But not even that was as heinous as what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before Jesus died. With a kiss, Judas began the series of events that would end in the gory execution of his Master and Friend. For thirty pieces of silver, Judas had sold his soul to Satan.
Thirty pieces of silver was more than pocket change, mind you. It amounted to four months’ wages for the common laborer. But even at that, was it worth it? Did Judas really believe that the high priest and his cohorts would let Jesus go with merely a tongue-lashing? Was Judas so naïve as to believe that the plot against Jesus would not lead to bloodshed?
Early the next morning, was Judas in Pilate’s courtyard, watching events unfold? And, if so, what was he thinking when he heard the cries of the mob, “His blood be on us and on our children!”(Matthew 27:25 ESV)? “No,” the betrayer might have murmured, “this man’s blood is on my hands, and it cannot ever be washed clean.”
The words of Jesus in that Upper Room surely haunted Judas all the way to his self-inflicted death: “Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24 ESV).
To whom would you apply words like that? To a hardened criminal on death row? To a serial rapist? To a suicide bomber who murders dozens and maims hundreds? To someone who kills innocent children in a drive-by act of violence?
Each of us lives with the hope that during our lifetimes here on earth we will have made a positive difference in someone’s life. Or perhaps we even aspire to impact our society in a positive way. Who here can imagine facing death with a sense that our life has been wasted, that we have done absolutely nothing worthwhile, have contributed nothing of lasting value?
So, imagine Judas—so despicable and depraved, now so desperate and so disillusioned as to carry out the resolve to kill himself. His life had not been all that bad, had it? He had walked alongside Jesus for three years. Surely in all that time he had learned something. Judas had been a zealot for the independence of Israel; that had to count for something, right? Judas had been the only one of the twelve who was not a Galilean. It must have been lonely at times. Couldn’t that somehow excuse his actions? At least in part? Whatever else Judas did in his lifetime, he has been remembered throughout the centuries as the one who crudely, callously betrayed Jesus.
“It would be better for him if he had not been born,” Jesus said of him.
I don’t believe Jesus was cursing Judas, but rather, that he was vicariously experiencing the pain that Judas would shortly feel within the depth of his soul—the regret, the remorse, and the despair, the longing for a Savior who had been with him all the while, but whose love he ultimately rejected.
Did Jesus love Judas? Absolutely, for Jesus’ love never dies. To Judas, as to us, the Lord said and keeps on saying:
I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. (Jeremiah 31:3 ESV)
Would Jesus have forgiven Judas? Surely, just as he forgave Peter—the disciple who denied him. Does Jesus love you despite those things of which you are ashamed? Absolutely! Will he forgive you? Will he forgive that sin you can’t bear to remember, the sin you have spent years trying to forget? Without question! He is your Savior. Come to him. Tell him about your pain. Ask for his pardon. Here is the Lord’s promise to each and every one of us:
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:7 ESV)
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
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