Judas Iscariot’s attitude and choices determined his destiny, yet God was able to use his sin – even his betrayal of Jesus – to achieve His purposes. In this study of Mark 14:10, we learn that God fulfills His sovereign plan without interfering with the individual’s freedom of choice. Alistair Begg reminds us that the treachery of Judas is a warning to the Church against the “profession of Christ without the possession of Christ.”
Sermon Transcript: Print
“Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.
“On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, ‘Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?’
“So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, ‘Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, “The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.’
“The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.
“When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.’
“They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, ‘Surely not I?’
“‘It[’s] one of the Twelve,’ he replied, ‘one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.’”
Thanks be to God for his Word.
Father, what we know not, teach us. What we have not, give us. What we are not, make us. For your Son’s sake, amen.
Well, we said on Monday morning that the light that shines out from the scene in the home of Simon the Leper is in direct contrast to the darkness that surrounds it. And we’ve moved now from the light of that occasion—an occasion that we said was an illustration of wholehearted devotion—to the darkness that is represented in these surrounding verses and in this ensuing scene, which we might realistically refer to as an illustration of deep-seated corruption. Jesus has explained that wherever the gospel is proclaimed, the memory of this lady will be in the minds of men and women. And it is equally true that whenever the sacrament is served, the name of Judas Iscariot will be in the minds of men and women. And all the way through the New Testament—for example, when Paul references it in 1 Corinthians 11, he says, “On the night that the Lord Jesus was betrayed, he took bread,” anchoring the awful reality of what is described for us in the verses that we’ve just read.
Mark is recording for his readers the steps that are leading to the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. You have this amazing juxtaposition which runs throughout, intersecting what God has purposed from all of eternity with the way in which his sovereign purpose in eternity is worked out in time: how he, without interfering in any way with the freedom of the individual—in this case, Judas—nevertheless uses even his sin, even his betrayal, in order to achieve his purpose.
And in case we never fully get this clear in our minds, let us just put it out there right now: Judas is a chilling reminder that some who profess to follow Jesus Christ do not continue to the end and are not saved. Judas is a chilling reminder that some who profess to follow Jesus Christ do not continue to the end and are not saved. Every word in that is important. You will notice that the verb is “profess.” It is not “who have possessed Jesus Christ,” but “who have professed Jesus Christ.” If we had no other parable from Jesus to underscore that emphasis than the parable of the sower, it would be sufficient for us. The seed is the word of God. The word of God is sown. As soon as it is sown, some of it is snatched away. Some of it instantly blooms, and then the bloom fades. Some of it is squeezed out by the anxieties of life and the cares of the riches of the world, and these individuals never come to maturity.
It’s a chilling, chilling thing. And it is a vital reminder to us that the balance of Scripture is there in order to bring us safely to the end—that it takes a whole Bible to make a whole Christian. It is not sufficient for us simply to cozy up, as it were, to the promises of God’s Word, which are there for our encouragement, but it is absolutely vital for us to face dead-on the warnings of God’s Word, which are there to keep us on track. And there is nowhere that does it better than the book of Hebrews. Constantly, the writer to the Hebrews is saying, “Come on, now. We are not those who shrink back and are destroyed, are we? But we are those who continue to the end and are saved.”
Judas had a tipping point in his life, and the tipping point was the incident that we considered on Monday. The woman’s action was more than he could stand. His expressed concern for the poor, as we saw, was hypocritical. John states it clearest of all; he says, baldly, Judas “was a thief.” He did not become a thief on that occasion; he was a thief. And because his mind was consumed with what he could get, any time that somebody did something like this was more than he could possibly handle. And Matthew’s record tells us that he takes the initiative in going to the Pharisees, going to the chief priests, and asking them, “What will you give me for him? What can I sell him for?” How unlike this lady, who’s taking all that her future represents and sacrificing it in the cause of Christ. And here is one of the Twelve, who is going to betray this Jesus, asking for what he can get out of it.
Hers was an example of extravagant generosity; his is an illustration of cold, calculated selfishness. She has passed up the equivalent of a year’s wages; he is prepared to sell his Master out for barely a third of that amount. And it is this action on her part that becomes the catalyst that brings the two of them together.
Let me just say a word to you about money, in passing. The Bible has so much to say about money. Paul says—quite dramatically, doesn’t he?—in 1 Timothy 6 that “the love of money is [the] root of all … evil.” If you think about that, if somebody said, “You know, where do you think the real problem with evil lies?” I’m not sure that many of us would actually respond in the way that is accurate. But that’s what he says. Because it is a form of idolatry—a form of the way in which we are consumed with the now rather than the then, with the me rather than the him, and so on. And when you read the story of the Bible, you find that it is throughout. That the bothers of Joseph sold him to the Ishmaelites for cash. That Sampson was betrayed to the Philistines for money. Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, chased after Naaman and lied to him for money. Ananias and Sapphira, at the very threshold of the burgeoning church in the first century, seek to lie to the Holy Spirit, seek to lie to Peter, for the sake of money.
No, you see, there is a virus here that none of us can escape. I’ve known a lot of people with a lot of money that don’t love it; I’ve known a lot of people with no money who do love it. And I’ve known the other way around. So don’t fall into the trap of the whole “one percent” thing, whatever you believe about the “one percent” thing. You can love money with no money, and you can be hands off money with tons of money. It is whether you have the money or whether the money has you. And in this case, Judas was consumed with the thought of cash. So this lady drove him absolutely nuts.
And it was a perfect storm, because the chief priests and the scribes were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus. They could never have imagined in their fondest dreams that the answer to the dilemma would come from one of the Twelve. The word was out on the street: “If anybody finds Jesus of Nazareth, let us know so that we might arrest him.” It’s got a ring to it, that: “If anyone knows where he is, let us know.” What does that make you think of? What should it make you think of? Should make you think of Herod: “And I would like to know about where he is as well. And if you could find out where he is, let me know, so that I might come and worship him also.” Flat-out lie. By this point in the proceedings, as all hell is now enlisted in the cause of the death of Jesus of Nazareth, there’s no pretense left: “If you can find him, we want him; we’ll arrest him; we’ll kill him.”
At the heart of all the animosities of the world is the essence of Genesis 3:15. Every broken marriage, every war between the nations, every disruption between parents and children may ultimately be traced to the fact that at the heart of it all there is this colossal, colossal collision between the seed of the woman and the serpent. And here it comes, inexorably moving. And out of the beauty, and the light, and the engagement, and the enjoyment of this magnificent scene, where we might have expected that the disciples would have stood up and cheered at the end of the night, saying, “And let us just rejoice in this lady, Mary, who has given her all”—no, they go out moaning and complaining, carping and complaining. Nobody likes somebody who loves Jesus more than them. It’s very unsettling. You either have to join them, or you criticize them. And Judas decides, “I’ll just frankly take him out.”
It’s a reminder, incidentally—for those of you who are New Testament scholars—this little incident is a reminder to us of the unvarnished nature of the New Testament record itself. You don’t think for a moment that if this was an invention of two hundred years beyond, that they would have invented a story that included one of the Twelve disciples being the one that turned in Jesus. You don’t do that if you’re trying to make the thing look good. No, it’s very, very straightforward.
Now, let’s not overlook the fact, either, that the people that were involved were high- ranking religious leaders. We tend to think that anybody who turns his collar round the wrong way, or wears a robe, or is called a chaplain, or a parson, or a pastor, or a vicar, or a rector, or whatever it might be, that somehow or another they are exempt from error. Yeah, but, I mean, you only need half a brain to know that isn’t true. You only need to know a little bit about church history; you only need to have read the newspaper just about every single day of the week. No, the religious authorities are opposed to Jesus in this instance. They’re blind guides. Jesus has told them they’re blind guides. And who better to be their companion than another blind man—one who has been blinded by Satan himself?
Judas was a chosen apostle. He was a friend and companion of Jesus. He was an intimate. He heard Jesus’ sermons firsthand. He witnessed Jesus’ miracles in real time. He was so good on the outside stuff that not any of the Eleven suspected him. That’s how good he was. So, anyone that stood back and looked at the scene would never have picked him out—any more than anyone will pick you out from the group here at Westmont if you simply profess Christ but have never possessed Christ. As long as you live within the relative constituency of what is expected in the framework here, you will be able to get by. I can guarantee you. It’s done all the time.
But let me remind you what Calvin says in book three of his Institutes. He says, “All that Christ has done for us is of no value to us so long as we remain outside of Christ.” The knowledge of his work, the significance of his atonement, the reality of his resurrection—things that may have become interesting to us, perhaps significant to us, but have not brought us to the point of personal repentance and faith—will avail nothing. Simply to be caught up in the group, simply to get your card every time you come to the chapel, simply to go along with it within the framework that is here—this is a dangerous place to be. It’s a dangerous place to be as someone who is an unconverted believer. Because the buoyancy of the place may be sufficient to keep you going long enough. I say to you again: he who betrayed Christ was at the very heart of the operation.
It’s a reminder, isn’t it, that sin enslaves? That when we don’t deal with sin—when we respond as Judas had been doing all along—there may come a point in our lives where what we should have done, we now can’t do.
You see, Judas is actually the great example here of the person who says to himself or says to herself, “I can stop sinning when I want.” No, you can’t. He is an example here of the person who says, “I could never sin my way out of the grace of God—the influence of the grace of God.” I’m not suggesting to you for a moment that Judas was a genuine follower, disciple, converted man. He never was. Jesus knew that from the beginning—part of the mystery of it all. So I’m not here to say that we can lose our salvation. What we’re confronted by is the possibility that our profession may not be a reality. And Judas exists to warn us about that fact. The fact that God overrules the evil of bad people as he brings about his purpose doesn’t transmute the evil into good.
Now, let me just draw it to a close in thinking along these lines: Judas goes out from this scene in opposition to Jesus; the other disciples go out in obedience to Jesus. The context, as you can see, is the Passover. For fifteen hundred years, the people of God have been doing what they were asked to do: celebrating the deliverance of their forefathers from Egypt. At the heart of that was the death of an innocent lamb. The blood was sprinkled on the doorpost. You remember all of that story, and it is there for time immemorial.
And it is in that context, in that routine context, that Jesus drops the bombshell on his disciples—actually, two bombshells on the disciples. The first bombshell is this: “One of you is going to betray me.” And the second bombshell is, “This is my body.” In other words, “I am the Passover Lamb.” Making it all the more striking that in that context—in that room, in that celebration, in that holy place—one of the paws that goes in the bowl is the paws of a betrayer. A betrayer who is so bad that when he finally brings the dastardly dead to fruition, he does so not by pointing from a distance but by embracing him with a kiss: “The one that I kiss is the one you should kill.”
Who is this fiend? From whence does he come? From a far distant country? No, from the heart of the disciple band. From the core group. From the team that Jesus chose. And interestingly, and importantly, when Jesus makes this declaration, the response of the people individually is the same all round: “[And] while they were reclining … ‘I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.’” And “they were saddened, and one by one they said to him, ‘Surely not I?’”—in the NIV. In the ESV, “Is it I?” I don’t like the “surely.” No, I like the bald question, because it’s the right question. It’s the right question. “One of you will betray me.” You don’t immediately go and say, “Oh, well, I wouldn’t betray him.” How do you know you wouldn’t?
The story of the treachery of Judas serves as a warning to every visible member of the church of Jesus Christ, reminding us that there is always the dreadful possibility that there are some among us who apparently live in the closest communion with the Lord Jesus and yet are inwardly false and willing, in the end, to betray him. In a rush to affirm the truth of the security of the believer, we dare not avoid the warning about the danger of profession without possession.
Paul, in Ephesians 6, when he’s encouraging the believers to make sure that they’ve got all their armor on before they go out to battle, he says, “And if you do all of this, this will enable you to stand in the evil day.” It’s an interesting phrase, “in the evil day.” You can look it up in a concordance. But we were, some of us, thinking about it this morning, and we came to the conclusion that this may be how we should understand “the evil day”: “the evil day,” in terms of an onslaught of evil against us, is the day when desire and temptation and opportunity combine. Desire, temptation, and opportunity. If you have the opportunity but no desire, you’re okay. In fact, you can manage two out of the three. But three in a row is a killer punch.
Judas had the desire, ’cause he was a thief. He went to the chief priests, and they gave him a little temptation: “How does thirty pieces of silver sound?”
“I could use thirty pieces of silver.”
“Would you betray him for thirty pieces of silver?”
“Well, I’d like a little more, but if that’s as good as you can do…”
They said, “Hey, it’s the going price of a slave. Haven’t you read the Law of God? It’s in Exodus 21. You’re not gettin’ any more than that.”
“Fine. I’ll do it for thirty.”
And then he went out and sought for an opportunity to betray him. Desire, temptation, and opportunity.
The chilling warnings of the Bible are there in order to do just what we’re experiencing now: to make us sit up just a little more in the seat and say, “Lord Jesus, is it I?”
Father, thank you that your Word provides us not only with the encouragement of its promises but with the exhortation of its warnings. O Lord God, if Paul was prepared to take himself in hand and say, “The horrible prospect is before me that, having preached to others, I myself might be a castaway,” then help us, Lord, to add to our faith patience and goodness, and all the things that Peter mentions. Help us to make our calling and our election sure. Help us to be done with dabbling in sin, and fiddling around with stuff, and misinterpreting chunks of the Bible—misinterpreting your patience with us, as if you were granting us permission to do what we do. Save us from the erroneous notion that we will be able, of our own volition, to determine when and where we will turn to you in genuine repentance and in faith. Save us. Keep us. Fill us. Use us. For your great glory we pray.
And now unto him, the one who is able to keep us from falling, to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior be glory and majesty, dominion and power, world without end. Amen.
 1 Corinthians 11:23 (paraphrased).
 See Matthew 13:3–7, 18–22.
 Hebrews 10:39 (paraphrased).
 John 12:6 (NIV 1984).
 Matthew 26:15 (paraphrased).
 1 Timothy 6:10 (NIV 1984).
 Matthew 2:8 (paraphrased).
 See Matthew 15:14.
 John Calvin, Institutes 3.1.1. Paraphrased.
 See Exodus 12:7.
 Mark 14:22 (NIV 1984).
 Matthew 26:48 (paraphrased).
 Ephesians 6:13 (paraphrased).
 See Exodus 21:32.
 1 Corinthians 9:27 (paraphrased).
Copyright © 2022, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.