If there is one name that is universally recognized for betrayal and evil it is Judas Iscariot. The name of Judas is infamous in the minds of people around the world and throughout history.
Something went wrong with Judas and his understanding of Jesus and why He came into the world. Judas wanted another Jesus. He didn’t value and love the real Jesus. Judas wanted Jesus to fulfill his ideas of ministry, so when the Cross came near, Judas sold our Lord over for 30 pieces of silver to the religious leaders. Many books have been written and sermons given on why Judas betrayed our Lord. While we may never know the real reason with precision, an excellent case can be made for what Judas was thinking. The reason I say that is because the same thinking is going on today in the Church world.
You see, Judas’s real focus was on this life. Like many of the Jews of his day, he looked for an earthly salvation. He wanted a conquering king like David of old, who could empower Israel and restore her to greatness over enemies like the Romans. Judas did not want the Cross. He wasn’t concerned about sin or the spiritual solution to that problem. He was more interested in earthly solutions that met his needs. In the end, Judas created his own “gospel.”
We see this profound confusion in Judas’s thinking in the story of our Lord’s anointing at the house of Mary and Martha in John 12, just before the Crucifixion. Mary poured an expensive perfume over our Lord’s feet and the fragrance filled the house. Judas was upset about Mary’s gift and wanted to give the money to the poor, even though the Bible mentioned that Judas didn’t really care about the poor because he was a thief.
It seems clear that Judas never had any real interest in the Cross or why Jesus really came…..to save sinners. Instead, Judas feigned a love for the poor. He missed the real Jesus who came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) and give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). The “gospel” that Judas created in his own mind served no one’s real interests but his own.
As we survey the Church world today, it seems the Gospel and the Cross is easily lost at times. The Church world seems preoccupied with good works, social justice and helping out the poor. There seems to be no end to the programs and ministries started by churches to help people. But somewhere the Gospel message is lost or confused and Jesus' salvation is hard to find. Surely all of those other ministries have an important place, but they are not the central work of the Church or the heart of the Gospel message. It is sometimes forgotten that we can’t change people’s circumstances without changing them first with the real Gospel.
Our Lord didn’t primarily come into this world to help the poor or do a lot of good deeds. Our Lord didn’t primarily come to teach us how to live better and love our neighbor. Our Lord came to die for our sins. Our Lord came to pay the penalty for our sins and allow us a new relationship with God. If we don’t get that message right it is possible to betray our Lord. We can end up valuing the poor or some cause more than Him. If that happens, we will fail to pour ointment at our Lord’s feet as our first love, and replace it with our “gospel” for something else.
In recent years, Christian leaders from the Pope to other major figures around the world seem to be centering more and more on social justice, caring for the poor and those on the margins of society as the embodiment of the Christian Faith. Such concern is noble in its place. However, the one thing we can never forget is the Lord Jesus’ death for our sins and why Jesus came into the world….to save sinners like us. Sometimes the simple truths are the hardest to maintain. Sometimes the hardest part of running the Church is keeping it Christian. May Jesus always remain our Savior first and foremost. May the simple message of the Gospel never be compromised or lost in a confusing world.