I admit, I’ve often felt uneasy about the lot of Judas Iscariot.
Don’t get me wrong- I understand his betrayal was deep and his sin was real. It’s just that I sometimes wondered if Judas ever had a choice. Jesus knew he was going to betray him. And Satan entered Judas, and off he went to do his deed. And then he couldn’t live with himself, so he took his own life. It’s a tragic story, and I’ve always wondered if Judas was destined to be the greatest betrayer of all time, and had no alternate route.
But, in a way that it never has before, the story of Judas really jumped out at me this Lenten season. Because Jesus knew the heart of Judas, just as he knew the heart of Peter. He predicted Judas would betray him, but he also predicted Peter would deny him. And in both cases, Jesus was right. Peter did exactly what Jesus saw coming- three time he denied knowing Jesus on the night of his arrest. And yet, Peter’s story doesn’t end there. It doesn’t end in suicide and tragedy. Peter came back to Jesus! All day Friday, and all day Saturday, Peter sat in his failure and his shame and his regret. But on Sunday…glorious Sunday…Peter came back! Peter ran back to the God he had failed. Ultimately, Peter confessed and Jesus forgave him and commissioned him. He sent him out as an apostle. And Peter’s story becomes one of mission and impact and glorifying his Savior.
Jesus was right about Judas too. Judas did exactly what Jesus saw coming- he betrayed him to the religious leaders of the day for financial gain. He too, must have hid in shame and failure and regret. And Satan used that shame to lead him to death. But Judas still could have come back to Jesus! He too could have come to his risen Savior on Sunday and confessed and fallen into the embrace of Jesus. Judas could have been another forgiven sinner, much used by God to build His church. But instead he died in his shame. And therein lies the worst choice Judas ever made. Not his choice to betray Jesus. Not his initial failure. But his choice to not return. His choice to refuse forgiveness.
I’m reminded that we’re all faced with the same choice that was before Peter and before Judas. We all fall into sin. Jesus knows our hearts. There have been times when we’ve done exactly what Jesus saw coming. And we can hide in our shame and failure and regret. Or we can turn to our risen Savior, fall into his embrace, and go out into the world to fulfill his mission. He suffered and died and rose again so that we could make that choice.