Matthew 27:1-5 (TLB)
When it was morning, the chief priests and Jewish leaders met again to discuss how to induce the Roman government to sentence Jesus to death. Then they sent him in chains to Pilate, the Roman governor.
About that time Judas, who betrayed him, when he saw that Jesus had been condemned to die, changed his mind and deeply regretted what he had done, and brought back the money to the chief priests and other Jewish leaders.
“I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.”
“That’s your problem,” they retorted.
Then he threw the money onto the floor of the Temple and went out and hanged himself.
Judas hit a pretty deep low…he betrayed Jesus…for whatever reason…because he was greedy? Because he doubted Jesus would do what he said he would? Because he was tempted? Who knows…what we do know is that Judas betrayed Jesus and would forever be known as a traitor of the worst kind. And after he did it…the reality kicked in. He did the wrong thing and he knew it. He wanted to take it back, to fix it, to un do what he had done, but at that point, Jesus had been arrested and was condemned to death…what was done was done. There was no changing it. He couldn’t undo the past and he likely knew he wouldn’t easily be forgiven. And even if he moved to tim-buk-no-where to form a new life where no one knew him, this remained true: he knew what he had done. He would have that knowledge for life. So, he did what he knew to do, he went to repent. He offered the money back. He acknowledged his sin and he tried to make it right. And the high priests told him, “sorry, can’t help you.”
And the pain and shame of it all was too much for him to bear. Judas couldn’t take it. So he threw the money at their feet and he took his own life. Judas was overcome with guilt, and shame, and darkness. And the saddest part is he never got to see or hear the end of the story. Judas never heard the good news—his actions, even his sins, didn’t have the final word. Yes, Jesus died, but he also resurrected. Even his worst action wasn’t able to overcome God’s action in the world. Do you ever imagine how things might have been different for Judas if he had waited, if he could have seen that God was greater than the worst that anyone had to offer. God wasn’t just greater than Judas and his betrayal, but Peter and his denial, Pilate and his complacency, the Sadduccees and Pharisees and their hypocrisy and lies, the people and their mob mentality, the beatings, the mocking, the humiliation…God overcame all of that.
But Judas never knew. Judas never heard the good news.
Judas is the name we know. Even if we don’t know the Bible story, we often know the name of Judas and know he wasn’t a good guy. But apart from the individual man, there are a whole lot of people who are like Judas. There are a whole lot of sinners—and generally, we, too, stand among them. Any sinners in the room today? Ok, so maybe you didn’t betray Jesus…but maybe you have lied, you’ve been greedy, you’ve lusted, you’ve been selfish, you’ve turned away from those in need, you’ve judged others…anyone?
Yeah, confession isn’t much fun, is it? It’s always easier to look at someone else’s sin than to look at our own, so let’s talk about someone else for another minute.
How many of you follow basketball? And how many of you heard about what happened with D'angelo Russell & Nick Young? Well, in case you didn't, both men play for the Lakers. D'angelo is an up & coming player and he's young. And, he decided it’d be a good idea to video a conversation with Nick Young about Nick’s scandals and secrets and "somehow" the video got out. It's been all over the news and if you've been watching you know things are not good for Russell...his teammates don't want to play with him, they don't want to share the locker room, they don't want to pass him the ball...by some accounts his disloyalty, immaturity, and lack of integrity indicate he should just turn in his jersey because there is no redeeming his situation--ever.
Now you might consider it a stretch because Young isn't the Messiah, but the weight of Russell's situation and Judas' are not far off. They were both part of a tight knit team, they both broke the rules of acceptability for their own personal gain, they did something they couldn't undo, others told them they are stuck to live with their consequences, and by most accounts they should just throw in the towel. Now Russell hasn’t hit the darkness like Judas did, at least not in a way that’s been reported. But I’m sure this week has been pretty rough.
Now the danger doesn't just lie for the D'angelo Russells or the Judases of the world. The danger lurks for each of us because the threat of darkness comes not just when we sin but when life happens--when it turns us on our heads. ..when we get the dreaded diagnosis, when we can't eek out any more love in our marriage, when we come to loathe our work, when our kids break our hearts, when we fall into old bad habits, when we can't pay the rent, when there's not enough money for the month, when the abusers and manipulators in our lives keep getting their way. ..all kinds of circumstances can threaten to overtake us. They tell us it'll never get better. They tell us there's no hope. There's no redemption. There's no chance. Why bother? Just throw in the towel. Give up!
That's what THEY say. But that’s the verdict before the cross. But here's the thing. ..none of those things get the final word. ..you know who does? Jesus! Because he lived and died and rose again. Jesus faced the worst. He lived through all the horrible rotten things that happen in this world and he came out on the other side victorious. And he did all that, not for his own sake, but for ours. So that when we face all the horrible awful things life has to offer—by our hand or by someone else’s—we can still find hope and redemption.
That's the power of the Gospel. ..that's why we need the Easter story...because life and struggles and sins all threaten to do us in but God interrupts, God intervenes and says "I have the last word and the last word is life! It's victory! It's hope!"
Let’s listen to Romans 5 again.
When we were utterly helpless, with no way of escape, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners who had no use for him. Even if we were good, we really wouldn’t expect anyone to die for us, though, of course, that might be barely possible. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since by his blood he did all this for us as sinners, how much more will he do for us now that he has declared us not guilty? Now he will save us from all of God’s wrath to come. And since, when we were his enemies, we were brought back to God by the death of his Son, what blessings he must have for us now that we are his friends and he is living within us!
Now we rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God—all because of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done in dying for our sins—making us friends of God.
Do you hear it? The truth? The promise? The hope? While we were still sinners…still stuck in OUR ways, not doing it God’s way, Christ died for us. While we were still getting it wrong, not even close to getting it right, Christ died for us. Most people would question whether or not they were willing to die for a good person…a faithful person, a righteous person who has helped them, but Jesus went and died for all the fools, the folks who jumped ship, the folks who beat him and hurt him unjustly. He died for the ones who betrayed him. And he died for all of us. And since he did that for us when we didn’t even deserve it and through him we are absolved of our sin. We get a new beginning. We get a second chance. We get forgiveness and grace and mercy. AND we get even greater blessings. And those blessings can blow our minds, because they come to us not as Christ’s enemies, but as his friends. If he was willing to die for us while we were acting like enemies, imagine how much more he would do for us as his friends.
I don't know D'Angelo, or any Laker for that matter, but I wish I could talk to him and tell him, "This may have been a stupid thing, a foolish thing to do, but it doesn't have to define you forever. It doesn't have to have the final word. Because of Christ and his victory over sin and death, HE gets the final word. He calls us forgiven, redeemed and worthy. Sure, the world will try and hold onto this. The people around you will call you names and tell you a different story, but you don't have to let them define you. You can choose to claim your identity in Christ instead.
And the reality is, we all have that chance, we all have the opportunity to push back on the labels and stigmas of the world and instead say we are defined by something and someone much greater. We are defined by the Risen Christ. And that is news worth sharing.