I always pictured Judas as the classic veiled villain.  Holding back as Jesus revealed His miracles to the world, Judas scowling and lurking all the while.  Sitting at the edge of the table, hood over his head, a shadow of evil over his eyes.  Surely this is the kind of person who would betray Jesus.

I always pictured Judas as the classic veiled villain.

But I don’t think so now.

When it was evening, Jesus sat down at the table with the twelve disciples. While they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.”

Greatly distressed, each one asked in turn, “Am I the one, Lord?” (Matthew 26:20-22, NLT)

What we see here is either theatrics or the reality that not one of the other eleven knew who on earth Jesus was talking about.

Human nature is very good at outcasting others and picking up on others’ faults.  If Judas stood out as a rogue, or an imposter, or a traitor, I believe whole-heartedly that, rather than ask who it was, the disciples would have been saying, “Is it Judas?”  Surely outspoken Peter would have, at least.

The disciples aren’t playing a game with Jesus, trying to pretend they don’t know who it is.  They really don’t know who it is.  In fact, later, when Judas leaves the table, they have no idea why, even after Jesus’ warning about a traitor.

As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

“What you are about to do, do quickly,” Jesus told him, but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night. (John 13:27-30, NIV)

The only person at the table who might have known Judas was the betrayer, other than Jesus, was John.  John, who is next to Jesus at the table and Jesus’ most trusted earthly friend, asks who will betray Jesus.

Leaning back against Jesus, he [John] asked him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. (John 13:25-26, NIV)

Even though John probably knew what Jesus meant, I don’t think John had any idea the extent of the betrayal.  If he had, he would almost certainly have taken action right away.

But the only action he could have taken that would have worked in stopping Judas would have been to take his free will away, and this is exactly what Jesus did not want.  Though Jesus could easily have locked Judas away or struck him dead on the spot, Judas was given to choice to betray the very Jesus he had seen heal the sight of beggars and the bones of the crippled . . . just as are we.  Judas walked away from the very Gatekeeper willing to pay for His entrance to Heaven so he could buy a quicker ticket to Hell than the one he already had.

Would I know Judas if I saw him?
If I don’t know God, then I am him.

There can’t be any greater betrayal of the Son of God than to deny the free gift of His sacrifice that can save us from our sins.

“Am I the one, Lord?” (Matthew 26:22b, NLT)

Published in: on April 18, 2012 at 10:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Why “don’t give up on yourself” is not such a very encouraging thought to me.

I had it all planned out.  Really.

Olympic ice skating was in my future.

Not to be boastful or anything, but I was planning on being the youngest ice skater ever.  To compete.  And to earn perfect 10’s.  And to have all stuffed animals thrown out on the rink, no roses.  Because I would tell all my fans before I won that I wanted stuffed animals for gifts.  With tails.  They had to have tails.

I would be exactly 14 years 0 days–the youngest age anyone could compete–when I ice skated with probably a dozen triple jumps and maybe a few quadruple ones thrown in for good measure.  Not that the summer Olympics ever fell on my birthday.  But they would the year I turned 14.  I hoped.

My plan?  Impeccable.  I would practice skating around the house on my socks until somebody built an ice skating rink in our region.

And then came the fateful day I turned 14-and-one-day-old.  And I realized I was not going to be the 14-and-zero-day-old ice skater I had always planned.


Back to the drawing board.

I had it all planned out.  Again.

I was going to make baskets of exquisitefully intricate origami animals for seniors in nursing homes.  I would go by every week with a basket of gorgeously folded paper, probably with enough to share among two or three nursing homes.  I had even bought an origami kit, with enough paper to make my first 60 critters or so.  Ah, it would be start anyway.  Enough to hold me over for the first few days.

I gave up on Paper Origami Frog #1.

I could not fold Paper Origami Frog #1.  I could not make Paper Origami Frog #1 look ANYTHING like the picture even if I tried to use scissors and paper wads.

Goodbye, Paper Origami Octopus #68.  Goodbye, Paper Origami Peacock #707.  Goodbye Paper Origami Sea Horse #2,090,809.

Back to the drawing board.

I had it all planned out this time.  Really.

I was going to make a trillion or so dollars.  Waitressing.  I was clearly loved by most customers, especially the man who ordered the salad every week and tipped 35 cents.  He hadn’t tipped anything before I had come to work there.  It was a great start.

It lasted a summer.

What with being cussed out by another waitress, competing for customers, and having the boss yell at me for not replenishing the all-you-can-eat salad buffet and not saying even one little word to the waiter who worked with me . . well, you get the idea.  I quit-oed.  And got myself enrolled in college.  So late, in fact, that I had to take classes at crazy hours.  But it was a zillion times better than working at that pizza parlor.

Back to the drawing board.

No, but this time I had it really planned out.  Really.  I mean, this was a total for sure thing.

I would invest in stock.

Those of you who know me and have already started hysterically laughing, stop it.  It’s rude.

Fortunately–very fortunately–extremely, very fortunately–I never got past the reading directions part.

You know, I could spend my life never giving up on myself . . but it’d be at the expense of ever admitting the nature I know I have inside me.  The truth is, I am worth giving up on.  On my own, I don’t have it together.  No matter how many times I try, I’m never going to get to be perfect or good at anything.

“No one is good except God alone.” (Jesus, quoted in Mark 10:18b, ESV)

I am so okay with giving up on myself.  I know I don’t have it in me to do anything right.  But that doesn’t mean I want to throw in the towel.

Instead, I want God to give me a little of His strength, and I can do anything then.  Not anything I want to do, but anything He wants me to do.  It don’t look like it’s going to be making billions of dollars waitressing or winning medals by landing flying spins.  It’s way better than that.  It’s reaching people for Christ, and getting closer to the heartbeat of God.

“What is impossible for people is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27b, NLT)

The Battle

The ending to Lord of the Rings is magnificent.  All the orcs vanish forever as the earth falls out underneath them.  The nazgul are ripped apart and the dragons fall from the sky.

Oh, yeah.  Victory dance time.

In my life, I try to get that same rush of exhilaration as I try to cast evil out of my life forever.

But I don’t get that rush, not for long.  Because the evil keeps coming back with fight still left in it.  And coming back.  And coming back.  And coming back.  And coming back.

I can tell you the unmistakable pattern in my life is this:

Oh, that was an awful fight with sin.  But that was the last time I have to deal with that.  Look at me.  I battled it, I conquered it, I asked forgiveness for it–and now it’s no more.  That sin is all over.  I will never be tempted by that again; I’ll never go back through that valley again; that part of my walk is over.  Check that training off; I’ve climbed that mountain; I’ve crossed that river, I’ve hiked that trail.  No more.  Goodbye.  It’s over.  Yes.  Now peace.

That’s the first part.

Here’s the second part:

Now how did that come back again?  I said I conquered that already!  I defeated that sin!  I put a flag on that mountain!  I know I rowed through this very river and I’m sure that was the trail I went down yesterday.  What am I doing here again?  WHY ISN’T THERE ANY CLOSURE?

I feel abandoned by God.  I feel like a worse failure than before.  I hate myself, I’m mad, and I feel like God slighted me.  Where is my moment of orcs falling through crumbled earth?  Where is my chance to see the nazgul rip apart?  Where is my time in the spotlight, doing my super cool victory dance?  Where is the epic moment where I get to be the winner and all my sins know it?

I actually got to a point where I would watch the last scenes in Lord of the Rings with secret sighing.  I felt like God’s plan was so . . confounding.  Why couldn’t I deal the death blow to my problems–or at least one of my problems?  Why did Christianity seem so unglamorous compared to the final battles in blockbuster movies?

. . . . . . . Oh my.  Looking back, it’s hard for me to express how little I understood about anything.  It makes me wonder, in eight more years, how much more will I realize I didn’t get?  (Or eight days.)

This was more, though, than a problem of a greenhorn status in God’s kingdom.  This was a problem of inexperience with God.  I did not understand who God was, and so I didn’t understand what His kingdom was like.  Oh, I could talk in Christian-ese, but that sometimes no more than if I’d memorized programming jargon so I could sling it around to impress my friends.

Now that I have awakened to the nature of God, I would want to go back to my old self, grab me by the shoulders, and say, “Hey, this is what you don’t understand, for starters . . .”

1.  The focus of a believer’s victory is not Armageddon or spiritual warfare between a believer and the world.  The focus of a believer’s victory is the choice of Christ.

Satan always knows what to tempt us with.  He is not clueless.  He knows that nothing excites us so much as channeling our arrogance to get power and superiority.  Why else would Eve have ever accepted the forbidden fruit, treason against God?  She wanted power and superiority equal to God, and in her arrogance she thought she could get there.

The part in me that looks with longing at epic movies and thinks, “Oh, man, I want to be that guy that kills the evil king” or “I want to be that kid who flips the switch and saves the planet” or “I want to be that hobbit who throws the ring into the molten lava and saves Middle Earth from Mount Doom” . . . that is the arrogance in me that wants to usurp what Christ has already done.

This is a fatally serious offense.  It’s something like going into the Battle for Bunker Hill as a squid.

The squid is not going to win the Battle for Bunker Hill.  The squid can’t even pick up a sword or gun.  Can you imagine a squid being plopped down in front of an army of advancing soldiers?  What is going to happen?  Sushi, that’s what.

This is how stupid I am when I think I can do something to cinch the victory for God’s Kingdom.  ME?  I haven’t even lived a day of my life without sin.  I haven’t even lived an hour of my life without sin.  How in the world do I think I could fight the father of all evil himself, when I am still, in the flesh, drawn to evil and, if not saved by God’s Spirit, hypnotized by evil, trapped by evil, destroyed by evil, and damned by evil?


It is Christ’s choice to save me that is the focus of attention.  It is Him who has the victory.  I’m the one who’s rescued.  How abominably selfish, how utterly deluded, how horrifically arrogant for me to think that I should be saved by Christ from everlasting Hell and then I should be the one who gets the credit.

2.  My sin nature isn’t going to die until I die.

As much as I want to prematurely see the end to sin, it is only when my flesh dies that the sin nature in me dies.  This is a great mystery.  Paul talks about how we are saturated in evil from our sin nature, like a donut soaked in arsenic.  We might get by with looking okay on the outside, but we are poison to ourselves and others.  If God’s image were not stamped on us, we would have no good whatsoever.  But we are guilty of poisoning the image of God!  And it’s not just our body that is poisoned.  It’s our mind, and our soul, too.  We are totally saturated with destruction.

But when a person believes in Jesus, something radical happens.  The Holy Spirit fills the person’s soul and irradiates sin.  The sin nature that was rooted in our soul shrivels up and vanishes–poof.  Like orcs in bright sunlight, sin flees from God.

The soul of a believer is clean, a perfect sanctuary washed by God with His blood so that no trace of sin can ever be found.

The body–the flesh–is still haunted by a sin nature.  This isn’t just my skin and bones, but this is the essence of my existence on earth.  My carnality.  This life on earth, where I chose, along with Adam and Eve, to disobey God forever, is doomed.  Wrecked.  Forever ruined.  There is no way to live in Eden as me, as I am here.  This part of me is trashed.

It sure would seem convenient if, as soon a person believed in Christ, (s)he would instantly die and go to Heaven.  Convenient, maybe, but what would happen to the part where we live out our faith?  What would happen to faith?  What would happen to the part where we show the world that Jesus really has changed us, that we really can fight our sin nature and, through God’s power, win?  What would happen to all the other people who would have heard about Christ through that believer?

My mission here is to do battle.  I do battle with me.

Don’t you know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run like that, that you may win. Every man who strives in the games exercises self-control in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. I therefore run like that, as not uncertainly. I fight like that, as not beating the air, but I beat my body and bring it into submission (1 Corinthians 9:24-27a, WEB)

I do battle with me and I do battle with

evil rulers

authorities of the unseen world

mighty  powers in the dark world

evil spirits in the heavenly places

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12, NLT)

It isn’t the final battle; it isn’t the epic battle.  It’s the battle after the war is won–yes, the battle after the war is won–where I have the chance to show just how much I care about the hero who won the war.

When everyone realizes what Jesus did on the cross . . . . . there will be no drawn swords, no raised shields, no hidden weapons that can stand a chance.  When the very breath of Jesus is breathed on evil, that’ll be it.  Jesus is the Word who has told us what He has done for us; we are without excuse.  If we refuse to hear His words, then His very breath will in the snap of an instant break all arrogance.  Then everyone–everyone–will fall on their knees before Him and acknowledge that He is Lord.

Then the man of lawlessness will be revealed, but the Lord Jesus will kill him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendor of his coming. (2 Thessalonians 2:8, NLT)

It will be a scene that will make Lord of the Rings look podunk.

But . . here’s the kind of God we serve.  Rather than show Himself through war against us, He would rather show Himself through love for us.  We have the choice to fall on our faces before Him now, so that He will fight for us, not against us.  We can join the ranks of the Lord’s army, justified not by our heroism, but by His.  For God would rather shelter us in His peace than destroy us in His wrath.  But He leaves the choice to us.
The power of darkness comes in like a flood

The battle belongs to the Lord

He’s raised up a standard, the power of His blood

The battle belongs to the Lord

When your enemy presses in hard do not fear

The battle belongs to the Lord

Take courage my friend, your redemption is near

The battle belongs to the Lord

–“The Battle Belongs to the Lord” by Jamie Owens-Collins
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11, ESV)

Was Judas forced to betray Jesus?

“I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.’

“I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”

After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.”

His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”

Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

“What you are about to do, do quickly,” Jesus told him, but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night. (John 13:27-30, NIV)

Some people think that Jesus fated Judas to betray him, and that Jesus deliberately sets the event up so he won’t be protected.

I think sometimes we’re afraid to ask the really hard questions of God, afraid we’ll find out He is tricking us.  But when I began to walk with God, hearing His heartbeat–when I committed my life to Him–I began to see the distortions in my thinking, like one coming to sight.

The twisted way of looking at this event is that Judas was helpless, Jesus was conniving, and Jesus had a sort of sickness that caused Him to want to die.  None of this could be further from the truth, which is exactly why Satan pours his resources into supporting it.

First, Judas was not helpless.  The Bible tells us that Satan entered him–a terrifying thought.  And Judas was overpowered by Satan.  But this is not something that just suddenly happened one day to a devoted follower of Christ.  Judas was a faker.  He probably didn’t know it at first, but Jesus knew it, and no one else did.  I think as Judas spent more time with the Son of God, the Light of the World, he could see his own darkness more clearly.  Instead of coming to terms with who he was, or that he needed to be rescued, Judas made the decision to turn on Christ.  If Christ was taken out of the ministry, Judas wouldn’t have to face the truth about his own identity anymore.

In the part of what he was doing that he admitted to himself, I don’t think Judas meant for Jesus to be killed.  But he did want the Light to be put out, and the only way could be by Jesus’ death.  So Judas had gotten his heart ready for Satan to enter.  When I have a moment in my life where I feel like I lose control, or things happened I didn’t mean to happen by my selfish decision, I still have to realize I am responsible.  Judas was responsible for killing Christ because his betrayal opened the door to the path of suffering Christ would take.

When Jesus tells Judas,

“What you are about to do, do quickly”

He is not giving Judas permission to sin.  There are three really important keys in what Jesus says I’ll bring up here, though much more could be said.

The first is that Jesus never says what it is Judas will be doing.  Only a corrupt and evil heart would know that Jesus meant Judas’ choice to betray Him.  If Judas’ heart had been pure, if he had been loyal to Jesus, he would have had no idea what Jesus was talking about.  (He did not know about the communication between John and Jesus regarding who the betrayer was; that was a secret conversation.)

Second, Jesus knew Judas’ heart was set on betraying Him.  Could Jesus have stopped him?  Yes, and Jesus could have stopped Pilate, the soldiers, and temple guards, and so on.  But He didn’t, much the same way that He doesn’t always stop the bad that happens to us.  There was a reason Jesus allowed Himself to be betrayed.  He was identifying Himself with the suffering of mankind, and He was working even within the evil of the world for an opportunity to lay down His life to pay for that very evil–something Satan could never have predicted.

God could have chosen to sacrifice His life without anyone inflicting suffering directly on Him (though indirectly, through sin, all of us brought His suffering).  Because Jesus is God, He could have laid down His life without any other persons involved.  He did not need anyone to betray Him or hurt Him.  In the foreshadowing of Jesus’ sacrifice in the sacrifice Abraham is willing to make of Isaac, there is no betrayer, and no one eager to cause Isaac suffering.  Jesus could have chosen to give His life in the same kind of way.

But because Jesus was living among humanity, He was naturally going to be hated.  The very sin nature He was fighting to destroy was at its greatest strength in the history of the world.  Satan was using all his power and force to fight against Jesus.  Jesus chose to let Satan’s forces of evil do their worst to Him to show the world that Satan’s power is nothing compared to the power of God.

Third, I think we forget sometimes the humanity of Jesus.  If you could know somebody was going to do something bad to you that you would not stop, would you want to delay it or speed it up?  I’d rather get it over with.  I remember learning about the power (and cruelty) of delayed punishment.  It is a waiting room of fear and despair and can end up in suicide.

Jesus was not going to commit suicide, or fall in despair, but the Bible reveals to us He was in anguish so acute He was to the point of death.  I think He wanted the suffering to come quickly because, in faith, He knew there would be an ending to it, however impossibly far away that ending must have seemed.

In summary, Jesus did not will or fate or trick Judas into betraying Him.  The opposite was true.  Jesus did not want Judas to betray Him.  We know this because God says that He does not delight or partake in evil.

Looking at good and evil from the plane of finiteness we live in, we can get all skewed about the nature of God.  God does not dabble in evil.  He doesn’t use evil acts like pawns on a chessboard to accomplish His will.  But He does choose to work even during evil.  What is so ridiculous is, God gets blamed for working even during evil!  We don’t (or I don’t, anyway) usually think about the flip-side.  What if God didn’t work even during evil times?  Well, He would be checked out of this world for sure.

But this, for sure, is not the case.

Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:9-12, NLT)

Little things

It’s funny how little things can just drive me nuts.  I was so mad about being forced to switch to timeline on facebook.  (By the time you read this, the format of facebook could have changed again.)  I was STEAMED when I got into my facebook account on Monday and, after all those warnings that the new format was coming, my profile page was suddenly changed over.  I don’t like to be “made” to do something by a website.  I actually had to pray about my anger over facebook!

The downside is that little things can drive me nuts . . but the upside is that little things can build me up.  I had a guy I comment on my posture at the fitness where I work out.  I’ve been going there to do simple walking laps on the track as I focus on my posture.  More than likely, I’ll remember his words all my life.  I’ve been working to reverse the curve in my back as much as possible.  Sometimes I feel bummed, because it’s difficult, and his kind words boosted me big time.

Isn’t it the little looks, the little words, the little repeated behaviors, that often start the giant changes in our lives?  I remember a school where the nurse gave every child who came to her a sticker.  She got a lot of sick calls!

My mom, just this morning, bringing me coffee and strawberry biscuits in bed.

A phone call from a friend.  As we talk, we sharpen our devotion to God.

Last year’s birthday, when a science author I met once as a teenager sent a birthday card to me.  It was the first card I got, and wouldn’t you know it was on a day I was really feeling down?

A friend who left a giant shopping bag of clothes on my chair at work.  A friend had given them to her and she couldn’t wear them.  With expenses as they are, I wasn’t sure whether to cry in joy or do the Snoopy happy dance.

The Bible talks about the little things, too.

So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11, NLT)

The church Paul wrote already worked to “encourage each other” and “build each other up“.  But would he write that to me?  Is that my MO: encourager and builder upper?

Our pastor challenged us to a throwdown mission this week: to outdo someone in their service to us.  He warned that this is no easy thing to do.  It’s not easy to be more of a servant than a waitress, the cashier at the gas station, or the clerk who files your taxes, sure . . but it’s more than that.  What about husbands, wives, children, mothers, fathers, friends?

The goal, according to Jesus,  is to work our way to the bottom.  That doesn’t mean we try to degrade ourselves or sprinkle dirt on our head.  It means we treat others better than ourselves.  Meaning, when I don’t feel like building someone up because I’m bummed that facebook switched to timeline, I build them up anyway.

Meaning, when the waiter serves my soup and it isn’t even hot and it is soup of all things, I don’t rip him apart.

Meaning, when the neighbors’ cats come and lay on my cushioned lawn chairs and leave beautiful trails of hair on the seat so that when I sit on them after work my nice clothes become furry, I don’t think bad thoughts about my neighbors.

Meaning, when I can’t find my cheese stick in the refrigerator at work and I am a hundred percent positive someone ate it, I don’t rant in the lunch room.  (Especially if I find out I was totally wrong later and it was hidden under the mayonnaise.)

My goal this week is to search for things that “encourage” & “build” and hold back from things that “discourage” and “destroy“–no matter of what “little importance” they might seem.

Little things have a way of growing into big things over time.

“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones.” (Luke 16:10a, NLT)

Published in: on April 18, 2012 at 7:09 am  Leave a Comment