3 Ways We Are Like Judas
Most of us recognize the name “Judas.” We think of him as the bad guy in the Easter story, almost like Darth Vader (without the mask and cape). But Judas was a real person who existed in history, not a one-dimensional, cartoonish character or movie supervillain we can just dismiss.
No one wants to be a Judas. I would argue that even Judas didn’t set out to be a “Judas” – he wanted his life to count, not to end in tragedy or to become a pariah because of his betrayal of Jesus. In fact, I think there’s a deeper story about what happened to Judas that is worth paying attention to.
So, what can we learn from him? I think he dealt with three uncomfortable realities that we, too, need to grapple with.
1. The Power of Hidden Cracks
Judas’ story started off strong. He was chosen to be one of the twelve disciples, which meant he made a significant commitment to Jesus. He left everything and sacrificed a lot in order to be part of something bigger than himself. We even read about how he, along with the other eleven disciples, did significant ministry, including healing people and proclaiming the good news (Luke 9:1-3,6).
So, what happened? How did Judas get from here to a place where he would ultimately betray Jesus?
It’s hard to tell, but we get some clues.
One is found in John 12:1-6, where we read that Judas was not only a thief and stealing money from the ministry underneath the table, he was also projecting a “holier than thou” image in front of Jesus and the other disciples. In other words, his public face was not lining up with his inward reality, which is a really dangerous and unstable place to be. This story is just one glimpse into his heart… a heart that was showing signs of cracking. But no one else saw those signs because they were happening on the inside.
Judas illustrates something that is true for all big failures. A critical moment will often get all the attention, but it’s the little heart shifts, choices, and compromises over a long period of time that make it all possible.
We need to deal with this same reality. Let’s be honest: the last two years have been an assault on our hearts. And in a world where we all feel the pressure to look like we have it all together, is it possible we’re dealing with some heart instability too? I know it is for me. If Judas teaches us anything, it’s that these little cracks underneath and on the inside are powerful. They can lead somewhere big if we’re not careful.
2. The Speed of Regret
I think when we picture Judas agreeing to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, it happens in slow motion. That’s how the movies depict the scene. The bag of money floats through the air for a long time; Judas’ eyes grow bigger and bigger as he greedily dives for the coins. The Chief Priests laugh for what seems like an eternity. It’s all very dramatic… and incredibly unrealistic. This moment would have happened in the time it takes to snap your fingers.
Have you noticed that moments rarely feel all that critical in the moment? We may replay some of our biggest regrets in slow motion, but at the time it happened, it wouldn’t have seemed like that big of a deal.
This is just one example of how all of us, both Judas as well as you and I, are incredibly good at justifying something in the moment. Later on we may ask, “How did we think that was a good idea?” But in real time, it’s easy to be short-sighted.
That leads me to a scary thought: if Judas could justify betraying Jesus, then we can justify just about anything.
3. The Challenge of Dealing with Failure
Judas’ story is a tragedy, not just because he failed in a big way, but also in how he handled his failure.
After betraying Jesus, he must have replayed his mistake in his mind, over and over again. His deep remorse, regret, and shame eventually drove him to make another devastating choice: to take his own life.
Judas got stuck in shame. His mistake led to remorse, which isn’t bad, but he stayed there.
That’s easy for us to do too.
Shame is so destructive. If you are struggling with shame right now, please know you’re not the only one. I’m right there with you. As someone who struggles with seeking the approval of others, I feel it deeply when I make a mistake, or disappoint someone, or don’t live up to expectations. Shame is everywhere. And it’s like quicksand... it’s hard to escape once we’re in it.
I find it interesting that as we read about Judas’ failure in the Gospels, there’s another big crash-and-burn story being told at the same time. It’s about Peter, the disciple who denied Jesus three times. That denial at a critical moment was a massive regret in his life. But, instead of getting stuck in shame, he did something much different than Judas. He actually took it to Jesus.
John 21 recounts this sweet encounter between Peter and the risen Jesus. Keep in mind, Peter hadn’t addressed his failure with Jesus yet, and this was after Jesus had risen from the dead and started appearing to people. Think of the different emotions Peter must have felt. Certainly, relief that Jesus was alive. But probably a lot of shame, too. This makes his response to seeing Jesus all the more meaningful. He was on a boat and a companion recognized Jesus on the shore.
Here’s what Peter did.
"As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, 'It is the Lord,' he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped in the water." (John 21:7)
Peter couldn’t wait to get to Jesus. And when they met face-to-face, he received what all of us can receive from Jesus: grace, redemption, and restoration. And freedom from shame. From there, Jesus did what He always said He would do: He used Peter to build His Church. Peter was forever changed, with an incredible testimony to share.
Our biggest failures can lead to our clearest experience of God’s grace… if we come to Him. That’s the key.
One of the biggest “What if’s” from Judas' life is this: What if he hadn’t gotten stuck in his shame and instead sought Jesus out afterwards? Do we really believe he would have been outside of God’s grace? I don’t.
So, we are like Judas… at least I am.
There are hidden cracks in my heart I need to deal with because they can lead somewhere.
Regret can happen surprisingly quick and it’s easy for me to justify things.
And, I have a choice in what to do with my failures.
Let’s choose to bring those to God, who isn’t here to shame us, but is ready to meet us with His grace.