In Judas’s notorious betrayal and Peter’s equally notorious denial in Luke 22, you have two case studies of people who fail and abandon Jesus. And you see in both cases that they aren’t along for the tough times. They may be chosen disciples, but when times get hard, you see why they are really following Jesus. And both of them have an unspoken expectation of Jesus that he doesn’t fulfill. Neither had joined up to accompany him to a cross. They’d seen great things, they’d done great things, but they weren’t up for suffering and death. It turned out they loved Jesus for what he gave them and not truly for himself.
Lots of people say they want to follow Jesus. Chances are that if you’re reading this, you want to follow Jesus. But the reasons why you want to follow Jesus will only become clear in the hard times.
After all, it’s easy to follow Jesus when things are good. Everyone likes God when life is going along as you had hoped. But when you’re not getting the things you want, will you still follow him? When it looks as if following him is going to bring you benefit, it’s fine. But when it becomes obvious that faith will cost you, what will you do?
In the end, it boils down to this: do we love God, or do we love the things that he does for us? It’s worth asking ourselves:
- What happens to my relationship with God when he isn’t giving me the things I think I need in order to be happy?
- Have I ever complained to God that I’ve got it a lot worse than people who aren’t Christians, or people I feel are less mature or servant-hearted Christians?
If the answer’s yes, then you’ve got something in common with me—and you’ve got a little Judas and Peter in you. It’s so easy to betray Jesus in the ordinary course of life. If you choose to believe the lie that Jesus isn’t enough, or if you believe that he isn’t living up to your expectations, it’s a subtle but real form of betrayal. It’s so easy to make big promises to God on Sunday, only to see them crumble when you are with your co-workers on Monday morning, or meeting up with friends on Tuesday evening.
But the call to follow Jesus is a call to endure and even suffer for his sake. It’s a call to deny what’s easiest for you, and give up earthly comfort; a call to follow him and trust the course that he sets even when it seems that it’s not “working” (Luke 9 v 23-24).
Two disciples betray Jesus. Yet one has gone down in history as the ultimate villain, while the other went on to become a hero. Why?
What they did next made the difference. Matthew’s Gospel tells us the next and final part of Judas’s life:
When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5)
Too late, Judas changed his mind. He may well have shed tears, just like Peter. Certainly he felt great guilt. He regretted what he had done and the consequences. But that was it. We never see him ask for forgiveness or turn to live for God. He just felt remorse, and it sent him to his death.
Peter, on the other hand, repented. He wept bitter tears for his sins, but he didn’t just weep. You can tell that he repented for his sins because his life changed after that moment. He became bold and courageous for Christ. After the crucifixion, he joined with the other disciples for prayer. He was the first disciple to enter the empty tomb. After Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, Peter was reconciled to him and received forgiveness from him, just as Jesus had predicted (Luke 22 v 32).
And so later on in his life, Peter could testify to the way that Jesus’ death had secured forgiveness for people far from God: “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
4 Ways to Respond
Judas and Peter’s guilt were the same: their responses were very different. When you stumble—whether it’s an obvious moral failure you can’t hope to hide, or a subtle pattern of pride that you don’t want to admit—how do you respond?
Judas and Peter show us there are four options:
- Like the religious leaders, you can focus all your energies on the things you don’t like about other people. Instead of dealing with their own issues, they obsessed over getting Jesus.
- You can try to make up for your mistakes, like Judas giving back the money he had received. The problem is, of course, that you can’t un-ring a bell, and you can’t undo your sins.
- You can give in to despair, stew in your guilt, and let it eat you alive, as Judas did.
- Or you can repent, as Peter did. You can bring your sin before God for mercy and put things in place that will help you change the way you live.
Only the last of these paths leads to life. And it only leads to life because of the One who loved the betrayer even as he betrayed him; who looked at the denier even as he denied him; and then went to the cross to die the death of a guilty man. Stop and think about this: Jesus loved Peter enough to die for him. And he loves you just as much, no matter how many times you stumble and fall and weep and turn back. He takes your guilt and makes it so that in God’s sight you never sinned. That’s the kind of friend you and I need, but can never deserve. Yet in Jesus, that is the kind of friend we have.