February 21, 2018
“A Sermon Dialog with Judas”
Rev. Chris Matthis & Michael Zehnder
Ascension Lutheran Church, Littleton Colorado
The Sermon Dialog with Judas is delivered by Pastor Chris Matthis (P) and Michael Zehnder (R) in the role of Judas:
Crossroads. They are there for all of us. We may move along from day to day easily, walking in the sunshine, enjoying the view, feeling at peace. And then it comes. A crossroad. A choice point. There we stand, frozen to the spot. Which way now. Right? Left? Straight? What waits down each of those choices? Which way does our heart call us to go? Which makes sense? Which is God’s way?
The answers aren’t easy. A crossroad can bring daunting spiritual pain. And it can bring us to our knees. It can even bring us to destruction.
Tonight we have an expert on the crossroad of temptation. We are going to interview the one who has become identified with the sin of betrayal. His name is a watchword for the failure of loyalty, failure of will, failure itself. We are going to interview Judas Iscariot.
(Judas appears. He is disheveled in appearance. He may be in biblical garb. He appears stressed and troubled.)
P Welcome, Judas. I know this must be difficult for you, but we hope to understand you better. Can you tell us something about yourself?
R Tell you? Why should I tell you? You all know about me. Everyone knows about me. My name is spoken often, too often, and it always is with condemnation.
P We know. We know the story. But we want to understand. It seems amazing to us that you would betray Jesus for a few pieces of silver, even when you were warned. How could that have happened?
R You know, when I look back on that night in the upper room and in the garden I ask myself the same question. But by then I had already decided to take the money and betray Jesus. I had already gotten to the crossroad and made the choice. And the choice turned out to be a disaster.
P But didn’t you know it would turn out that way? Didn’t you know that betraying Jesus would lead to his arrest and even his death? If you knew that, how could you do it?
R It all seems to easy to you, cut and dried when you read the story. But there was more to it. I really didn’t know it would turn out that way. I made the choice to accept the money. I needed the money. And Jesus kept promising that he was going to set up a kingdom and that we would be rewarded. I wanted to be there when the rewards came. But it was taking so long. And he kept talking about suffering and dying. I didn’t need that. I needed money.
P But how could you make that choice?
R I had convinced myself, or Satan had convinced me, that it wouldn’t be so bad. After all, Jesus wasn’t exactly hiding. He rode into Jerusalem in a grand procession, appeared in the temple and on the streets. What would my marking him do? He could escape easily. He had done it before. My act was nothing. I thought he would just disappear through the crowd as he had in the past.
P Buy why? Was the money so important?
R It seemed like it at the time. All that silver. That’s a lot of money. And I thought I might be doing Jesus a favor and getting him in a place where he could begin the revolution that would overcome the Romans and start his new kingdom. I thought I was doing the right thing. At least that is what Satan was whispering to me.
P You thought that the betrayal would turn out for the good?
R That is what I convinced myself. Listen. Everyone thinks that they understand how Satan works, that he is kind of there trying to get us to do bad things. Not true. Much more, he is trying to make us believe that the evil that lies before us at the crossroad is actually good, that it will all work out for the good. He is not just trying to make us do wrong, but to think wrong.
P We thought temptation was to sin. What are you telling us?
R Every sin starts with a twisted thought. Look at Jesus when he was tempted by Satan, those things that Satan was trying to get Jesus to do were not wrong in themselves. Jesus could have turned stones to bread and not have sinned, but Satan was tempting him like he tempts us: If you are the Son of God, if you really are, you can use your power for yourself. Sin starts in the mind, in the will, in the choice.
P But we are not like Jesus or even like you. Our choices are simpler, more day to day. We don’t betray Jesus.
R No? A business man faces a choice to cut the quality on his products. No one will be hurt, he thinks. He is just doing good business. And he makes the choice. He convinces himself that what he is doing is not wrong. Or someone says that getting back at another person who has caused hurt is a good thing to do. It will teach them a lesson, we think. The sin begins in the thoughts that lead us to excuse our bad choices, to justify what we are doing. And then we find ourselves down the wrong road—in the middle of the terrible outcome of our choice. And then …
P And then?
R Well, for me it was too late. When I realized what the outcome of my choice was, when I saw Jesus arrested and condemned, I could not face myself, my future, my God. But for you, when you find yourselves down the wrong road, facing the consequences of your choice, then is the time to turn back. Repent. Turn around. Turn away from the bad choice. Turn to the one whom you have betrayed.
P Why didn’t you do that?
R I thought my sin was unforgiveable. I had betrayed the chosen one of God. I thought it was too late for me. But it is never too late—never too late to turn. If you learn anything from me, it should be this: No matter what the sin, no matter the terrible outcome of your choice, no matter how great the disaster, it is never too late. It is never too late to come to the cross, come to the broken Savior, come to the empty tomb and be made whole.
P Even when the sin is a mountain?
R Even when the pain is so deep it cannot be spoken, even when the separation from God seems too far, when the damage seems too severe, it is never too late. You can be assured that these words are true: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). That’s all. All of it. Everything. I wish I had turned.
P Thank you, Judas, for your good words. We did not expect them from you, but we have learned from you that we can always turn to our Lord and receive his forgiveness.
(From At the Crossroads: A Series of Service for Lent”)