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The Betrayal
By Dr. Todd B. Jones

MARCH 25, 2012

The Betrayal
II Samuel 12:1-10
Mark 14:43-51

One of the richest blessings of Christian ministry is baptizing children and believers. But of the roughly one thousand baptisms I have performed, I have never baptized a child named Judas! We simply do not name our boys Judas. Andrew, Peter, James, John, Paul, even David, yes. But never Judas. The name is synonymous with betrayal. Even people who know only a little about the Bible know that to be a Judas is to be a betrayer.

The betrayal of Jesus is an important part of the Gospel story. And like so many of the events of Jesus' arrest and crucifixion, each of the Gospel writers remembers it in slightly different ways and from differing angles. But all of them agree that it was Judas who betrayed Jesus in the garden, and all of them report that he arrived with a crowd that was armed with swords and clubs to arrest the Prince of Peace.

Matthew, Mark and Luke all report that Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss, a sign ironically of friendship. And it is from this incident that the term "the kiss of death" emerged. "The kiss of death" has ever since meant an intimacy with something that has subsequently led to one's destruction. Yet Judas' problem was not that he was intimate with Jesus. Intimacy with Jesus is always the kiss of life. Judas' real problem was that he was intimate with swords and clubs, with betrayal and darkness, with subterfuge and secrecy. Judas' real kiss of death was that he had come to believe more in power and money and violence than he did in Jesus and the Kingdom of God He had come to inaugurate.

So Judas, surrounded by a crowd of armed men, approached Jesus by the cover of night in a secluded place and greeted Him with a kiss. He calls Jesus "Rabbi," and once again, Jesus will not stop teaching us who this God really is. Violence breaks out, as it often does when fear takes hold of people. All four Gospels report this act of violence by one of Jesus' own to draw his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest's servant. Matthew, Mark and Luke never tell us which of Jesus' followers did this, but John reveals to us that the one who wielded the sword was Peter. Luke adds that Jesus touched the man's ear and healed him, which is a lovely addition to the Gospel story. Even in the face of fear and violence and betrayal, Jesus brings peace and healing! Even in the face of evil and darkness, Jesus serves the kingdom of light and love.

Judas came expecting armed resistance. And Jesus acts to heal. It shows how little Judas, and if you take John at his word, Peter, really understood Jesus. There is a tradition in the Eastern Orthodox Church that Judas betrayed Jesus in a desperate act to get Him to lead an armed rebellion to overthrow the Roman occupiers of Jerusalem and Israel. It is a tradition embraced by William Barclay in his book on the twelve, The Master's Men, in his chapter on Judas. And when a group of us from First Presbyterian Church went to Oberammergau two summers ago, it was essentially the same argument they offered in their picture of Judas. Judas was the one Apostle who was not from Galilee, and Judas was distressed that Jesus would not lead the armed rebellion that he expected a real Messiah would lead. So the argument goes that he created this desperate moment of betrayal to force Jesus' hand to act to restore Israel. I don't dislike the argument, but how could we ever know what was in Judas' heart that dark night? What we do know is that Judas arrived with a crowd prepared to fight, and he came with a group that lacked the courage to arrest Jesus in broad daylight.

Most of the time this is how we betray our Lord. We rarely sin out in the open, and hardly ever do we sin boldly. No, we commit our sins in secret, when we think no one is watching or no one will see. And most often, I believe we sin out of fear, to protect our own flimsy sense of self-esteem. We find out who we are, often, by the things we do in secret.

Jesus calls Judas and his crowd on this. "Am I leading a rebellion," says the New International Version, "that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you teaching in the Temple courts, and you did not arrest me." In Luke He adds, "But this is your hour, and the power of darkness." In Mark and Matthew, Jesus says, "But let the scriptures be fulfilled." Jesus exposes the cowardice and shame of their actions for what they are, and while those around Him are losing their heads, Jesus remains in control of Himself, strengthened perhaps by His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Mark next puts it so starkly: "Then all of them deserted Him and fled." They all forsook Jesus. They all ran like cowards. Jesus was not simply betrayed by Judas. In a sense, He was betrayed by all His closest disciples. The great Roman Catholic New Testament theologian Raymond Brown, in his masterful work, The Death of the Messiah, says that "the biting irony of Jesus' death was that those who once left everything to follow Jesus must leave everything to escape arrest."

The world so quickly gives in to fear and violence, and Jesus never stops teaching us the way of peace. And when all of them deserted Him and fled, Jesus never changed. I love the detail only Mark leaves of the young man who flees with them in fear, leaving behind his linen garment, stripped naked. Could this be John Mark's way of telling us that he too was present, and he too ran away in fear, leaving Jesus to fend for Himself? If it is, give him credit for telling the truth about himself!

And if this is so, then we should not miss the point that we all would have fled with them, we all would have forsaken Jesus. We all have forsaken Jesus, and like everyone present but Jesus, given in to fear and resorted to violence, betrayal and the power of darkness, anything to save ourselves.

Please note that everyone fails in the garden that night in one way or another. And they all are left, like Adam and Eve in another garden, naked and ashamed. And we are with them in this, more like Jesus' so-called disciples than we care to admit. Only one man passes the test in this garden, this night. Only one man remains resolutely at peace and in control of Himself, "full of grace and truth." And that is Jesus. Jesus knows that the scriptures must be fulfilled, and that one must die for the sins of the world.

And this is what gets me the most about Jesus as we prepare to partake of the Lord's Supper in this week before Palm Sunday and Holy Week: Jesus knew at the table that Judas would betray Him. And Jesus knew, I believe, that all of His disciples, His closest followers would desert Him, run away and forsake Him. And yet, knowing this, Jesus still welcomed them at His table, and offered them the bread and the wine, His body and His blood. Don't you get it? Jesus welcomed even Judas, and gave Himself, His body and blood, for Judas. And here, today, in this place, knowing you better than you know yourself, Jesus offers Himself for you, and welcomes you at His table. This is the glory of Jesus' Gospel! Paul put it like this: "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."

Judas offered to Jesus the kiss of death. But Jesus kissed Judas with the kiss of life, with what the Bible calls elsewhere a "holy kiss." At least four times in the New Testament, Paul says, "Greet one another with a holy kiss." Often, after the 8:30 service, Arch MacNair would come out after church and do just that. He would greet me with a hug and more often than not kiss me on the cheek, tell me how much he loved me, and how grateful he was for my life and ministry. It was one of the best things about being the minister of this wonderful church! This man who was a saint, who reminded all of us who knew him during his one hundred years of life, of who Jesus calls us to be, would kiss me with a holy kiss. So the last time I visited Arch in the Vanderbilt University hospital, about two hours before he died, before I left, I leaned over and kissed Arch on the forehead. I smiled sheepishly and said to Steve McMullen, his son-in-law, "Arch would have kissed me!" That, I know, was a holy kiss. The kiss of life.

What will it be for you? The kiss of death? Or the kiss of life? Choose life, choose Jesus, choose peace!

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