This week’s reading: Matthew 26:69 – 27:10
This week, let’s talk about the major difference between Peter and Judas. Both sinned. Both turned against Jesus. Both looked inward instead of upward, and reacted to the situation instead of trusting God. Yet the destinies of these very human men are complete opposites! What did Peter do that ended up saving his soul, as opposed to Judas who lost his life forevermore? (see Jn 17:12) As I always say, the heart of the matter is always a matter of the heart. Let’s discuss it today. We are in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 26 verse 69 and will go through to chapter 27 verse 10. (You can also find these events concerning Peter in Mk 14:66-72; Lk 22:54-62: Jn 18:16-18, 25-27 and concerning Judas in Ac 1:15-19) But as always, let’s hear the words of the Bible first, listen to this sad ending:
“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, ‘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.” Mt 27:3-5 NIV
Judas betrays Jesus and Peter denies Jesus. I think we are all so familiar with these stories that I will not spell them out here. If you need a refresher on the details, won’t you please spend some time pouring over these verses: Mt 26:69-75 for Peter’s denial and Mt 27:1-10 for the demise of Judas and what the Pharisees did with the blood money he tried to return. I will only highlight some of the points here. One of the most heart wrenching verses is, after Peter has disowned Jesus three times, “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.” (Lk 22:61) But not in condemnation. Jesus was concerned for Peter’s heart. He looked at Peter with loving eyes of forgiveness already, trying to encourage Peter to hold on tight to his Faith. As mentioned last week, I cannot help but visualize the amazing movie, “The Passion of The Christ” as I read through these sorrowful verses. I love that film and have made it my Good Friday ritual to watch it through each year. Not because of the pain, blood and suffering of my Lord, but because it clearly displays how deep the Father’s Love is for us, how completely obedient our Jesus is for us, and how much the Holy Spirit longs to help us go through our own trials, which are so, sooo much less than what Jesus had to endure. It keeps me humble. It keeps me repentant. It keeps me wanting to run into the arms of my King, in full sprint. Again, if you have never watched this production, won’t you humbly submit to it? Reading the Biblical testimonies of the Passion of our Lord becomes so much more vivid and impactful when we can envision the depth of this suffering. Again, not for the sake of the suffering, but for the great Love of God towards each of us. Peter watches only the beginning mock trials Jesus would go through. He denies Jesus before it goes any further. There is no mention of him at the Cross. Probably because his agony over his renouncement of Jesus, burned him to the core and left him debilitated. Which, of course, God worked together for his good…and our good, as well. Peter became a bold and fearless proponent for Jesus his Christ, and became instrumental in spreading the Good News and building this New Church, we can now belong to. Some falls only propel us into new heights, that we could never have achieved on our own. Yet again, some falls only lead to our end. Judas tries to give back the funds he was paid to betray Jesus, but what he should have given back was his heart to Jesus. More on that in a minute. Once again, I point you to this awesome movie. The scenes with Judas are both scary, and so very sad. With both these Apostles, there are many vital lessons we can learn to enhance our own lives.
Peter. See the symbolism here because, again, it can be very helpful in our own walk with Jesus. First, Peter followed at a distance. Please understand, we cannot fully or efficiently follow someone if we are lagging behind them. Whenever we begin to feel like God is distant, it is, of course, that we have put some space between Him and ourselves. God never leaves not forsakes us, but sadly, we leave and forsake Him way too often. This will always lead to further problems. Second, Peter sat down with the guards to warm himself. Sitting, or hanging out with those who are not following Jesus always presents a high risk factor for us. Yes, there are correct moments to seek to be a godly influence to the lost or immature, but certainly not when we are facing our own serious challenge as Peter is here. We must surround ourselves with Bible believing, maturing Christian bothers and sisters, or we can more quickly and easily fall into the temptation of self-preservation. This leads to trying to defend ourselves out of fear, rather than trusting God to protect us out of Faith. This is why the great Peter ends up denying the one he most admired and loved. Peter began trying to save himself from the same fate that Jesus appeared to be receiving. Peter began to worry about Peter’s own life and forgot all about his Messiah’s Life. When you or I being to move away from Jesus, when we turn to those not following Him in our time of need, when we place the focus on ourselves instead of keeping our eyes fixed on Him, inevitably we will fall. Praise God, Peter’s story does not end with such sorrowful and grievous failure though! Jesus already told Peter what would happen as He said, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Lk 22:31-32 my emphasis) You see, Jesus knows that we will all stumble, but He prays that we will not fall away forever. It is one thing to fall into temptation to deny Jesus, it is another altogether to distrust Him so much you take your own life when you fall!
Judas. The symbolism for the story of Judas is very clear, is it not? When we only “say” we are the followers of Jesus, but do not sincerely surrender our lives to Him, something will always be more important than Jesus in our lives. Still leaning on that corrupt MMI nature, Judas chose to do things his way. Maybe Judas was angry that Jesus rebuked him after that whole “woman pouring perfume on Jesus instead of them selling it so he could help himself to the profits” thing? (Jn 12:5-6) Maybe Judas thought he could make up the difference and make a quick buck by literally selling Jesus out? Maybe Judas really wanted Jesus to destroy Rome and take over the Throne of David already? Was it anger, greed or impatience? We don’t know. But we can easily stop and examine our own heart with the help of the Holy Spirit, can’t we? We also can learn not to try to fix our own messes without consulting God first! Does Judas really think that if he just returns the money he took, those religious would back down…really!?! He had to know that they did not care a whip if Jesus was guilty or not. They just wanted Him out of their way. And so when Judas goes back to them, they just shoo Judas away. Now what? When our “fixes” don’t work, what do we do? Do we feel bad, but then add more bad choices to the ones we already made? OR do we humbly return to God and fall down at His Merciful feet? There is a life and death difference here, do you know that? Remorse is ok. But without repentance, is means nothing.
Remorse vs repent. The problem with Judas is not that he did not feel bad for what he had done to Jesus. He knew very well it was wrong. Again, we do not know his real motivation for his actions, but we know he did not trust Jesus nor His plan, way or timing. If he did, he would have acted very differently. To feel remorse means to experience a “deep regret or guilt for a wrong committed.” But had Judas truly trusting Jesus and His Love, He would have gone back to Jesus and asked for forgiveness…which Jesus would have given him. But we see the self-reliant attitude of Judas here because he still takes matters into his own hands. And what was his solution? Much like that of all humans, “I just want to die!” Instead of taking responsibility, instead of confessing and dealing with the consequences, instead of humbling himself, Judas ends his life. Repentance, on the other hand, does not give up on God. Repentance also means to “feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin,” but true repentance runs to God with this sorrow. (note the word “sincere”) We humbly confess our shortfall and place ourselves in His mighty hands to do whatever He deems fit. Praise God that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1Jn 1:9) God Who sees our heart, will not only forgive us, but He will cleanse us, just as if we never sinned in the first place. This is another of the endless gifts Jesus granted us when we sincerely surrendered our lives to Him as Savior and Lord. He justifies us…“just as if I never sinned.” True repentance leads to true Freedom. We sense such regret and remorse that we want to run as far away from that sin as we possibly can get. And there is only One Way to do this, to have it forgiven and separated from us. The Bible says, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Ps 103:12) You can’t get any further away than that, my Friends! To repent means to turn around and away from the sin…now it would be wonderful if we were all mature enough to repent once for every sin and be done with it, but the truth is that is not our reality. Sometimes we must repent 70 x 7 times! (Mt 18: 22) I will continue to remind us that we are children of God. Children are still learning how to live this New Creation Life we have been given. We will still struggle with temptations, tantrums, and trials. This is one of the many reasons why we are not carried off to Heaven the moment we become born again. We must grow to be WHO we will be forevermore. This takes time, effort and lots and lots of trust in God! We cannot do this on our own, mostly because we were never meant to do it on our own. We were created BY God, FOR God. That means we were always meant to walk this journey with, in and through Him. This intimate, personal relationship is the only way you or I can become holy, and then actually begin to ACT holy. We need Jesus. We always have, and we always will. Repentance draws us to His side. Remorse alone only moves us further into MMI and away from Jesus. Judas did feel remorse, but turned inward and killed himself. Peter, on the other hand, was devastated when he realized what he had done, and he wept wholeheartedly, understanding more than ever how much He needed Jesus desperately. And Jesus did not forsake him.
Reconciliation is so sweet. We will talk about this more in later articles, but let me give you the preview to the reconciliation of Jesus with Peter. First, at His Resurrection, when the women were at the empty tomb, an Angel told them, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” (Mk 16:7 my emphasis) Please note how this Angel purposely mentions Peter by name here. This is a sign that Jesus was already calling out to Peter, so he would receive forgiveness for his poor actions. Fear had separated him for Jesus, as is does with all of us, but this stirring of his Faith will bring him back to full restoration as a friend of Jesus. Second, we see that Peter is in the Upper Room with other disciples, showing that he did not abandon his Faith. Even though they found it hard to believe what these women reported about the empty tomb, “Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb.” (Lk 24:12) Again, see his Faith here. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Heb 11:6 my emphasis) Peter believed in our Lord, so much so, that he knew, if Peter would seek Him, Jesus would forgive him. Rewards are given in recognition to something we do. While none of us deserve forgiveness, reconciliation is given to us because God chooses to forgive us, and honor our repentant heart. Listen to this beautiful verse about our gracious God: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” (Ps 51:17) Again, we do not, nor can we, earn forgiveness, but reconciliation is granted to us in recognition of our humility. Think Prodigal Son here! All God, The Father, desires to see is our heart run towards Him, then He is the one Who runs to us and pours out His greatest blessings upon us. Peter trusted Jesus would do the same. And so he runs to see if Jesus has truly defeated death. Lastly, read about the lovely, personal conversation Jesus has with Peter before His Ascension. Jesus not only solidifies Peter’s forgiveness and reconciliation, but then He reinstates Peter as the Pillar of the New Church. You can read the whole story in the Gospel of John 21:15-19, but for now understand that Peter has to confess his undying loyalty to Jesus, not for the sake of Jesus, but for his own sake. Peter had to know, that he knew that he knew, he loved Jesus more than anything and anyone. Confession is good for the soul, our soul. When we turn to God with a repentant heart and speak, we are making what we think, feel and want real to us. Words are powerful and bring real life to their sounds. Even though Peter might have still been struggling with what he had done to Jesus, saying these words three times, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” (Jn 21:16), took away any doubt from his heart. Note the three-fold reinstatement because of the three-fold denial. I believe this coordinates with our human trinity: spirt, soul and body. This shows that Peter belonged to Jesus spirt, soul and body! And as Jesus warns, Peter would eventually lay down his own body, his life, for his Faith in Christ. (Jn 21:18-19) Giving everything for the One Who gave everything up for us. What a beautiful example of a believer and follower Peter is. We should feel some relief that he was far from perfect, yet perfectly loved by our Lord. Because of his example, we too can choose to repent as Peter did, and know that we know that we know, Jesus will forgives us and take us back into His loving arms, no matter how far we have strayed. This is why Grace is so amazing, my Friends! We don’t deserve it. We can’t earn it. All we have to do is come to Jesus and receive it. What a wonderful God we serve!
Our story. My Friends, no matter how many times we fall, no matter how often we push God away, no matter how immature we still may act, please know that you know, God loves YOU. Please never forget this. Don’t be like Judas and try to take things into your own hands. It will lead to death. Perhaps not physically, but certainly spiritually. You will continue to add bad choices to bad choices, and the worry and depression and confusion and frustration and…and just that lost feeling will kill your peace and joy and leave you dead inside. Don’t do it. Next time you sin, because you will, yes, sense remorse, but repent too! Run to that empty tomb, like Peter. Don’t give up our you Faith, like Peter. Allow Jesus to remind you how deep your own love for Him is becoming. This is the Abundant Life, my Friends. We will never be sinless this side of Heaven, but with Jesus, growing in His Love and Grace, we will sin…less. This certainly continues to be my experiences and I wouldn’t give it up, or Him, for the whole world. I will leave you with the words of the Psalmist Asaph, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Ps 73:25-26) Let’s make this our heart’s cry too…then, won’t you join me?
Until we meet again, keep lifting your eyes to God, He’s closer than you think.
<>< Peace, Diane