Posts Tagged ‘doing all the right things’

Matthew 10:1-4
These Guys Changed the World? Part 12 (Judas Iscariot)

There is a survey that comes out every of what the most popular baby names are. Over time, these names change. For example, fifty years ago in 1965, the top three baby names for boys were Michael, John, and David while the most baby names for girls were Lisa, Mary, and Karen. Fast forward to 2015, this year, the most popular baby names were Liam, Noah, and Mason for boys and Emma, Olivia, and Sophia for girls. You don’t hear of too many Michaels or Lisas anymore. One thing that is for sure that either now or back fifty years ago or even before that, Judas was nowhere on the most popular names list. Even those who are not familiar with the Bible know of the shame associated with the name Judas. It is synonymous with betrayal, particularly in western cultures, because of significant influence of Christianity over the centuries. If you are call someone a “Judas”, you are calling them a betrayer, a back-stabber, one who has their own agenda and operates it in secret. It is equating someone with a hypocrite, a person that smiles to your face and then works to destroy you behind your back. Nothing good is ever associated with Judas. Every mention of him in the Bible is followed by a comma or a parenthesis and then a statement that he was the one who betrayed Jesus.

Judas was one of Jesus’ twelve original disciples. He was the treasurer for the group (John 13:29), but was known as a miser and a thief (John 12:4-6). Some have supposed that he was a well-connected scribe within the Jewish religious elite because of his access to the High Priest and other officials of the Sanhedrin, the Roman allowed Jewish religious ruling council. This may well have been the case though it is not known for sure. This would explain his ability to make deals with Jewish authorities. Some suppose as well that though he was part of the Jewish ruling establishment that he detested Roman rule and saw Jesus as that charismatic political figure who could unify the common man with the Jewish elite in defiance of Rome. This would make sense too for him to want to become part of Jesus group of direct disciples. These points make a lot of sense to me and paints a more whole picture of Judas that we can talk about today. However, and ultimately, regardless of motives or his remorse afterwards, Judas is best remembered for his betrayal of Jesus to those who sought to harm Him (Matthew 26:14-47; Mark 14:10-46; Luke 22:3-48; John 18:2-5). After this betrayal, Judas felt remorse and tried unsuccessfully to return the thirty pieces of silver he had been paid to betray Jesus (Matthew 27:3-4). Judas then went and hung himself (Matthew 27:5; Acts 1:18). It is a bitter end and a warning to us all.

There are two things that we learn from Judas that are applicable to us today or to any era in which we live. First, we learn that salvation does not come from playing the game but rather from a heart that is submitted to Christ. Second, we learn that God can turn anything bad into something useful for the kingdom for those who repent.

The first thing that we learn from Judas is that true salvation comes from the heart not from playing Christian. Earlier, we said that some believe that Judas was maybe a scribe at the Temple in Jerusalem because of the way he had easy access to the High Priest and other power figures in the religious ruling authorities. It would make sense that he was maybe a scribe there. It also would make sense if he had quiet nationalistic leanings that he could use his unique position inside the halls of power to want to use Jesus as a populist figure that would unite the kingdom against Rome. Jesus was popular. He was charismatic. The common people loved him. They distrusted the religious establishment for they were perceived to be puppets of Rome trying to hold on to their power – which of course was true. For Judas, as part of the establishment but wanting to unite the kingdom, Jesus was the perfect combination of high biblical knowledge and charisma. He could certainly unite the kingdom. As we see in the Bible, when Jesus enters Jerusalem a week before He was killed, many others saw him that way too. So, it is not too far fetched to paint this picture of Judas. Smart, politically savvy, and a do whatever it takes to achieve goals attitude would be a good characterization. The fact that he was greedy (stealing from the disciples’ treasury box or bag) is another example of this all about me attitude. Judas may have even seen being on the inside of this band of charismatic and popular, new wave group of Jesus and his disciples was a way to be at the right place at the right time with his help to make Jesus a uniting and new leader of the Jewish nation. He would be there on the inside of this new power structure. Is this not a picture of maybe you or me? Maybe, we are using our so-called Christianity as a way to get what we want. Maybe we use church to our political advantage – to make connections, to be seen, etc. Maybe, we wiggle our way into the inner circle of the elders so we can wear it as a badge. Maybe, we just go to church because it is the right thing to do in our society. Maybe, we say all the right things. Maybe, we do all the right things. Maybe, we use all the right churchy terminology. Maybe, we go to the trendy church and everybody says wow, what’s that like. Maybe, we read all the right popular Christian books. Maybe, we go to all the right Christian leadership conferences or church-planting conferences. Maybe, we are deeply involved at our church in a laymember leadership position. Maybe, you are even tithing. Maybe, all the maybes you can think of. But no real life change. Maybe, we have done all the right things but never truly accepted Christ as our Savior. Maybe, we see Jesus as a self-improvement guru and neve accepted Him as the ruler of our lives. Like Judas, we can do all the seemingly right things on the outside, use the right lingo, but be dead bones on the inside. Judas is a warning to us that to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ we must have let Him into our heart, admitted that we are hopeless sinners in need of a cleansing intervention from the one and only Savior, and turn away from our sins. We must allow the Holy Spirit to begin immediately on the process of making us more like Christ daily. Salvation is not outwardly doing the right thing. It is real change on the inside by submission to the One and Only Savior!

The final thing that we learn from Judas is that God can turn our evil ways into something beautiful. I mean this on two levels.

• One is that Judas betrayal was not a surprise to Jesus. It was part of God’s plan. Jesus had already identified Judas as a ‘devil’ (John 6:70-71). Jesus clearly knew beforehand what the future held for Him. Nevertheless, Jesus also made it clear that He had chosen Judas to be in His group of disciples just as He had chosen the other eleven. This goes to show that it was all part of God’s plan. Satan was not conspiring against Jesus without Jesus knowing. Quite the contrary, nothing happens at all unless God either causes it or allows it. Without the vehicle of Judas’ betrayal, we do not have the cross. God was angling everything to the cross. Judas’ betrayal was how God’s uses our free will to accomplish His goals. Without the cross, we have no salvation. Without the cross, we stand condemned with no way out of eternal damnation. God does not control us with puppet strings because he gave us free will but he does use all the variables of our actions to accomplish His goals. His goal was the cross. He used Judas’ actions to that end. Everything God has done from the beginning of time points to the cross and still does. It is the seminal moment in human history.

• The other is that even the worst of our actions can be redeemed. That is the tragedy of Judas. If he had only got down on his knees before God and begged forgiveness, he could have been redeemed. Just look at Paul, a murderer of Christians, becoming the greatest evangelist of the Christian faith outside of Jesus. Judas remained selfish and self-centered to the end. However, we can be redeemed and used by God if we repent of our sins and ask Jesus into our hearts. He can take the worst story and make it into something beautiful. He can make our bad past into our testimony about the power of Jesus Christ in a person’s life. He can turn water into wine. He can make the foulest clean. He can make a murder into an evangelist. He can make our ugly past into a beautiful testimony of redemption. Don’t be like Judas and shun Christ and hang yourself, either literally or figuratively. Swallow your pride and get down on your knees and beg Jesus to come into your heart. He will forgive you. He will cleanse. He will set you on your feet again…but you have to submit yourself to Him. No more…me, me, me! No more I am in control. Cry out to him now! He will take your hand and lead you into His promised land.

May we learn from Judas that salvation is not outward acts but real inward change. May we learn from Judas that Jesus can redeem the worst of sinners if we just submit to Him and ask Him to take over the leadership of our lives. Judas, a warning and a sad tale. Don’t let it be your story!

Amen and Amen.

Luke 18:9-14 — The timing of God is so completely awe-inspiring at times. I call it God’s synchronicity. He teaches me things in small windows of time with the same message from multiple different sources in many different ways.

Yesterday, I got to take part in honoring the life of a dear friend of mine, Marvin Williams. I was given the honor of speaking of Marvin’s life since I was his small group leader, not the main sermon but about a 5-6 minute speech about the man that I knew. The burden that was placed on my heart from the time that I knew I had to speak was the comparison of Marvin’s life to that of the Apostle Paul. The similarities are there. Paul was a highly religious man who knew Scripture frontwards and backwards. He was high up in the ranks of the Jewish religious power structure. He studied under the greatest biblical scholar of the day, Gamaliel. He knew everything there was to know about what we call the Old Testament. He was scholarly with much religious zeal. He was enamored with His own understanding of Scripture. But yet, he could not see the Messiah. He was so zealous in defense of his way of life, his power, his pride that he persecuted, literally, those who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. It took a watershed moment in his life. The Damascus Road Experience we call it. It was not until he had a vision from our Savior Jesus Christ that His life took a 180 degree turn.

Marvin’s life was similar. He was in church all his life. He knew Scripture well. He could have biblical debates with the best of them. He even taught Sunday school. There were even young men who had been in his Sunday school class that went on to be pastors. Yet, for all his doing the right stuff. He could not see the Messiah. It took a watershed moment in his life to see that all the things that he had talked about all his life were real. He had to pull his car over on the side of the road to finally see Jesus. To finally see he needed Jesus. It was until this side of the road experience that he finally accepted Christ as his Savior at age 65.

Today, in this passage, I see Marvin pre-salvation and I see Marvin post-salvation. The Pharisee was Marvin before salvation. The Pharisee did not go to the Tempe to pray but to announce to all within earshot how good he was. He wanted people to see his puffery. The Pharisee was proud of who he was and how devout he was. Aren’t many of us like Marvin. Aren’t many of us like the Pharisee. We do all the right things. We say all the right things. We go to church. We serve at church. We participate in community events held by the church. We might even help a family in need. As many of you who read my blog may already know, my wife and I are the directors of the community outreach activities of our church. At one of our events, a person at our church got mad at me for having placed her in what basically amounted to an out of sight position at a community event. It was our Thanksgiving Meal Giveaway where we giveaway complete meals to the needy in our community. They come by and pick up a turkey and a full bag of groceries so that they can have a family Thanksgiving in their own home. Since this person had not participated in any of the planning or training meetings for the event and just showed up the day of the event, I assigned her the job of helping keep the bags of groceries stocked for the ones who actually gave the bags to the recipients. This person actually got mad at me because she was not put in a visible position basically. She wanted to be seen by others. A lot of us put on a show of religiosity but do not know the Messiah. Marvin was not alone in this. The Pharisee was not alone in this. We get so busy doing the right things we mistake this for salvation. It becomes all about earning brownie points. It becomes about the heavy burden of being better than the next guy. Do you do all the right things but yet do not know the Messiah? Do you think that this is salvation? Do you know the Messiah? Is he in your heart?

What does it take to know the Messiah? The hated tax collector knew. He went to the Temple recognizing that he was a sinner. He recognized that he needed mercy. There are none of us that can do enough good things to earn our salvation. We must throw ourselves at the mercy of God through Jesus Christ. Marvin arrived at this destination on the side of the road one day at age 65. For all his churchiness before this day, Marvin realized that day that he was a sinner in need of a Savior. He had been blind to the Messiah. Now, he saw Him on the side of the road. Like Paul’s Damascus Road Experience, Marvin had his Side of the Road Experience. Like the tax collector who saw himself honestly and humbly as unworthy of the Father in Heaven, Marvin laid it all bare inside that car that day. His pride, his bravado, like that of the Pharisee in this parable, were all laid to waste. He was transformed from the prideful Pharisee to the lowly, humble tax collector. Gone was the pride. Gone was the checklist of doing the right things. Gone was the Paul-like pre-salvation arrogance. Gone was the ambition and zeal for self-serving. The reality that Marvin met with that day was that he was destined for hell because of his sin-filled nature. There was nothing that he could do to change that. All he could do was, like the tax collector in this parable, was to beg for mercy. There is the moment that we see the Messiah.

The Messiah died for our sins so that we would not go to the fiery pit permanently separated from God forever. When we believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior, we are made clean. We are made a child of God. We are raised into new life. That was the joy of the remainder of Marvin’s life. It fueled his life. It changed his life. He lived a life of joy his last 7 years (even though the last couple of months were full of physical suffering to the point he was just ready to go home to his Father in heaven). He served in those last 7 years not because of duty but because it was the least he could for the Savior that saved him. Are you like old life Marvin, straining under the heavy burden of checklist religion. Are you straining under doing the right thing. Are you like pre-salvation Paul who knew Scripture and did all the checklist “right things”. Man, is that tiring trying to be the proud Pharisee. It is tiring trying to be good and making sure others see us being good even though we are sin-filled inside. We are in need. We have a need. We need a Savior. Do you know Him, really know Him?

We are all the tax collector. We need mercy. Marvin found his. He saw the Messiah that day on the side of the road. He was relieved of his burdens that day. He lived a life of joy that surpasses all understanding the rest of the way. He now rests in his mansion of glory with His Savior. Are you tired of trying to be a Pharisee when you are really a tax collector. Call out in humble honesty to Jesus that you are a sinner and no matter how good you try to be you are imperfect and always will be. Call out to Jesus and tell him that you know what your fate is without His help. Call out to Him to save you from your fate. Call out to him to take over your life and be your Lord. Call out to Him now! Marvin did, so can you!