For the Love of Christ

I wish Judas hadn’t killed himself.

Judas Iscariot
Image from: http://ubdavid.org/bible/characters3/characters3-11.html

You know the Judas I am talking about. Judas Iscariot. The disciple who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

The Bible tells us he killed himself. Every time I read through the accounts of Jesus’ betrayal, crucifixion, and resurrection,  I always find myself wishing that Judas hadn’t made the choice to end his own life.

But he did … and it bothers me.

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Recently I read through Matthew 26 during my morning devotional.  This portion of Scripture gives quite a bit of insight into Judas.

For many years, I thought of Judas as some bumbling sort of soul, the kind of person who could easily be duped. In regards to his betrayal of Jesus, I assumed perhaps he was manipulated by the Jewish leaders for purposes much greater than anything he could aspire to do on his own.

Maybe he was a loser looking for friends in high places.

Perhaps he was a people-pleaser who couldn’t figure out a way to say no.

I wondered if he might be a young guy just looking for validation.

Whatever his personality type, I always figured Judas sort of just “fell” into an unintended role as part of the Pharisee’s plan to get rid of Jesus.

According to Matthew 26, nothing could be further from the truth.

Image found at Image Gallery: Miercoles Santo

Turns out, it was Judas who went to the chief priests.

Then one of the Twelve – the one called Judas Iscariot – went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you.” ~Matthew 26:14-15

It wasn’t the priests who were actively looking for an insider willing to betray Jesus. Rather, Judas was the one who took the first step. He set the betrayal in motion himself.

For the love of Christ, why did Judas do that?

Some people might use that phrase flippantly, but I’m serious.

Judas had just spent three years of his life walking all over Judea with Jesus. He had seen all of those miracles. He was there when the lame man walked, when Lazarus was raised from the dead, and when Jesus walked on the water. He had seen the miraculous healings. From the Sermon on the Mount to the feeding of the 5000, Judas heard and saw it all.

Didn’t he grow to love Jesus during that time? If so, then why would Judas betray Him?

Maybe it was …

For the love of money.

There’s no other reason that makes sense. Especially when you consider everything the Bible has to say about Judas and money.

You don’t have to dig around in the Gospels very far to figure out that money must have been extremely important to Judas. He was, after all, the treasurer for Jesus and the disciples, which meant he was in charge of the money bag.

We also know from Scripture that Judas was prone to helping himself to the money that was in that treasury. (John 12: 6) I can’t imagine that Jesus and his disciples had a lot of money to begin with, but Judas was sneaking out small amounts of it here and there for his own use. I’m sure he thought what he took would never be missed, but it appears that the others were aware of his tendency to take that which wasn’t rightfully his.

It seems that Judas had a problem money.

So money-loving Judas decided to go see the chief priests to barter for Jesus. The chief priests offered Judas 30 pieces of silver in exchange for Jesus’ betrayal. I have always assumed those coins must have been worth quite a large sum. But (as we have already seen), my assumptions aren’t always correct.

I did some research because I was curious just how much money Judas earned as Jesus’ betrayer.  And what I learned is that Judas was most likely paid with Tyrian shekels, which was the type of currency used to pay the Temple taxes. In those days, every Jewish male over the age of 20 paid a Temple tax, which was the equivalent of two days wages or 1/2 shekel.

So if 1/2 shekel was worth two days wages, then 1 shekel would be worth four days wages. Do the math and 30 shekels of silver would be worth 120 days wages. Therefore the coins Judas received in exchange for the betrayal of Christ would be worth approximately one third of a year’s salary.

Not too shabby.

Unless you read the previous passage in Matthew 26 … .

Start reading in Matthew 26:6 and you’ll come across the story of the woman who anointed Jesus with the fragrant oil. It’s another very familiar passage. According to the Gospels, Mary (sister of Lazarus and Martha) came into a dinner party and poured out an entire alabaster jar of oil on Jesus’ head.

This oil was very costly. In fact, in another Gospel’s version of this same event, Judas himself tells us exactly how much this oil was worth:

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarius, and given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” ~John 12:4-5

Later in the passage, we learn that Judas wasn’t known for being a man who cared about the poor and needy. His life of sneaking and stealing that which didn’t belong to him was known by those in Jesus’ inner circle. They recognized in this situation that Judas wasn’t concerned about money being used to help others.

So what was Judas concerned about? Why did he protest?

To Judas, anointing Jesus with an entire alabaster jar of fragrant oil was a nothing more than pointless extravagance. He didn’t see the oil being used in a sacrificial act of worship from a loving heart. When the precious oil was poured over Jesus, Judas could only see a frivolous waste of money. Money that could have lined the bag in which he freely dipped his hand.

It’s interesting to me that these two passages can be found side-by-side in the same chapter of Matthew.

Worship and betrayal.

Sacrifice and greed.

A humble heart seeking to worship the Messiah, and a prideful heart seeking after self-gain.

Mary anointed Jesus with oil. As she broke the bottle, out flowed the precious oil which could have been sold for an entire year’s salary. Yet, she knew the worth of the oil couldn’t begin to compare to the worth of Jesus Christ.

But to Judas, Jesus Himself was worth only about one third of a year’s salary.

Perhaps more accurately … a third of a year’s salary and his own soul.

Image result for judas betrays jesus
An illustration from a mid-19th century print showing Judas bestowing the betrayer’s kiss on Jesus while Roman soldiers look on.                             © STEFANO BIANCHETTI/CORBIS

Most Christians are familiar with how Jesus sent Judas away from the Passover table. Later, Judas led the Roman soldiers to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he betrayed Jesus with a kiss.  Jesus was bound by Roman guards and led away like a criminal.

I wonder what Judas was expecting as he stood in the garden and watched Jesus being led away. Did he have any idea that Jesus would be condemned to die?

The gospel of Matthew (chapter 27, verses 3-5) tells us the once Jesus was sentenced to crucify, Judas was “seized with remorse.” He actually went to the chief priests to return the money.

“I’ve have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” ~Matthew 27:4

The priests didn’t care about Judas’ admission of guilt or confession of Jesus’ innocence.

And Matthew’s gospels says that Judas threw the money into the temple and went away to hang himself.

And this is what boggles my mind … if Judas knew he had done something terribly wrong, why didn’t he confess it to Jesus? Why didn’t he seek forgiveness from the one he wronged? After three years, didn’t he know the heart of Jesus? Didn’t he know he could pray to God and receive mercy?

So what kept him from seeking out forgiveness?

Pride?

Probably. It’s what keeps most of us from going to God and seeking forgiveness. At least, pride is what most often keeps me from admitting my sin.

This is why I wish Judas didn’t hang himself, because feeling remorse for our sins doesn’t do us any good. It never has. Back in Genesis in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve sinned. The very first thing they experienced was remorse for their actions.  They tried to hide their sin from God by sewing clothes from fig leaves.

Only their remorseful actions didn’t work then.

It didn’t work for Judas.

It doesn’t work for us now either.

So the lesson from Judas is to recognize that remorse for our wrongs doesn’t solve the problem. There needs to be more than just regret over our sins.

We need forgiveness, which comes through the confession of our sins to God.

We need repentance, which is simply the act of turning away from the wrongs we have done as we commit to live our life according to God’s way. It doesn’t mean we never sin again. Far from it! It just means we look to Jesus as our example as we strive to live our life according to God’s way.

I believe if Judas had confessed to Jesus and asked for it, he would have been forgiven. There would have been no need to hang himself in shame.  He would have received grace and mercy. He would have the promise of everlasting life.

Because that’s what the cross is all about.

For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. ~Romans 6:7-11

So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. ~John 8:36

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Death Cubed

Jon says his vows to me ... second later, I promised to love him in sickness and health. The guests laughed with us, for we were all filled with joy over a wedding we thought might not ever happen.

True story: On the very last day of 2010, I married a half-dead man.

Yesterday, in my story Cats, I shared how my husband Jon nearly died from a heart infection caused by the Bartonella bacteria, or Cat Scatch Fever. But today I want to share how Jon was not just spared from death only once, but actually three separate times during those early months of our marriage.

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The First Near-Death Experience

Three months before I started dating Jon, he had open-heart surgery to repair a leaky mitral valve. His recovery seemed slow from the start, and by the following summer (a year after that first surgery), Jon was experiencing a long list of strange symptoms. He was severely fatigued and pale. He constantly ran low-grade fevers, would wake up multiple times a night either soaking in sweat or shaking with severe chills. His muscle and joints ached, his spleen was swollen and tender, and he often felt so nauseous he couldn’t eat.  Jon’s weight plummeted, dropping from 250 lbs prior to the surgery to less than 200 lbs during the fall of 2010.

By the time of his official diagnosis on December 22, 2010, Jon was already in the process of dying.  His kidneys, liver and bone marrow were in the initial stages of beginning to shut down. Thankfully, a team of doctors and nurses were able to reverse that from continuing to happen, though several of his medical caregivers admitted to me in hushed tones that we got him there just in the nick of time.

“A few more hours and we may not have been able to stop the process from happening,” whispered one of our favorite nurses. Deep down, I knew she was being truthful with me. Jon truly was almost too far gone when we arrived at the hospital.

A medical test showed a vegetation of infection on his mitral valve that was approximately the size of my pinky finger. It flapped every time his mitral valve opened and closed, flinging bits and pieces of infection out into his blood stream. If the infection hadn’t managed to kill him, a stroke was literally just a heartbeat away from taking his life.

Later that evening, Jon’s cardiologist, sat down to chat with me. “Twenty-four to forty-eight hours … tops. Probably less, but for sure that’s all I would have given him to live had you not brought him in when you did. You really did get him here at the last minute.  Much later and we probably couldn’t have saved his life. In fact, even now, I can’t promise you he will survive this. Jon is one incredibly sick man.”

Nine days later, Jon and I stood before a small crowd of our family and friends, vowing to love each other in sickness and in health. I had high hopes that the sickness part was behind us.

I’ve written a much more detailed and longer post about the miracle of getting Jon’s diagnosis, so if you are interested in that part of the story, you can read it here.

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The Second Near Death Experience

Unfortunately, Jon’s medical story didn’t end with that first hospitalization. A month after our wedding, Jon ended up getting a second open-heart surgery because the heart infection wouldn’t clear up with antibiotics alone. His infected mitral valve was removed and he got a brand-new teflon version that clicks rhythmically with each beat of his heart.

After another three and a half weeks in the hospital, Jon came home. However, it was clear that other areas of his body besides his heart were not functioning correctly. One main area of concern was his kidneys. Doctors couldn’t be sure if his severely weakened kidney function was a side effect of the heart infection or if the kidneys themselves had become infected too. Therefore, it was determined that Jon needed to have a kidney biopsy.

The afternoon following the procedure, Jon looked tired. He said he felt like he needed to rest. Half an hour later, I heard Jon moaning and went to check on him. About the time I entered the bedroom, I saw him stagger from the bed and stumbled toward the bathroom, where he fell to the floor, vomiting. His color was a strange grey; his entire body was covered in a cold sweat. Immediately, I knew something was seriously wrong.

Looking back, I should have called for an ambulance. I didn’t. Instead, I opted to cart Jon to the Emergency Room myself. Several times on the way, I thought Jon was going to pass out. When the triage nurse took his blood pressure, it was something ridiculously low, like 60/40. She immediately put Jon on a gurney stationed in the hospital hallway, as all the rooms in the ER were already filled with patients. Within seconds, doctors and nurses were crowded around Jon, starting IV’s and doing who knows what else. I stood to the side and prayed.

Soon it was established that Jon was experiencing a massive kidney bleed. He lost enough blood to create a blood clot the size of a brick in his back. He needed six units of blood and spent four days in ICU waiting on the kidney to stop bleeding.  After another week in the hospital, Jon was finally able to return home.

Days later, we learned the good news that Jon’s kidneys were not infected.  As happy as I was, I couldn’t believe my husband had nearly died having a medical test just so we could find out nothing was wrong with his kidneys after all.

Surely now, I thought, Jon must be back on the road to good health.

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The Third Near Death Experience

It wasn’t even a month later before the third nearly fatal health crisis came to pass.

Jon had been encouraged to take daily walks in order to build back up his heart stamina. One afternoon during his walk, Jon experienced stabbing chest pains that radiated down his left arm. Once again, we found ourselves rushing off to the Emergency Room.

At the hospital, Jon’s cardiologist ordered an echocardiogram of his heart just to be sure things looked okay. And that’s when the technician doing the test noticed something in Jon’s heart that shouldn’t have been there.

“It looked like squid flapping around in my ventricle,” Jon told me afterward.

“Great,” I replied. “That’s all we need. Squid in your heart.”

Jon’s doctor was baffled by this new development. In the end, he decided to give Jon some antibiotics and do a repeat test 48 hours later. Instead of improvement, the mysterious thing floating in Jon’s heart appeared to have grown significantly.

I stood in the hallway, several of Jon’s doctors and nurses huddled around me, each of them wiping away their own tears. “I don’t know what to do,” his cardiologist confessed. “It appears to me that Jon has a fungal infection in his heart. I’ve never seen anything like this, and I feel it is beyond me to be able to continue to treat Jon. My best suggestion is to find another hospital with a fantastic cardiology department to take him.”

Twenty-four house later, Jon was headed Oscher’s in New Orleans.

That night, Jon and I were greeted by the resident doctor on call. “Mr. Hamilton,” he said. “You do not look like the man described in your charts. I would expected you to appear to be sicker. However, this isn’t unusual. Older people tend to make a slow and steady decline, while younger people do not appear to be succumbing to their illness. They just suddenly die.”

Jon and I stared wide-eyed at this doctor, astounded both by the words and by his terrible bedside manner. This was not the encouraging news I was hoping to hear. I already knew, even without bothering to google fungal heart infections, that the prognosis was not good. Now this intern had just confirmed my suspicions and took away all the hope in my heart. For the first time in this long health crisis, I felt completely defeated. I felt so alone, scared I was about to lose the man I loved.

Jon, despite the fact that his very life was again on the line, seemed to be filled with a courage and a peace that could only come from God. After the doctor left us alone, Jon held my hand and prayed, telling the Lord that no matter what happened, we would continue to believe that  His plans for us were good and that we would choose to trust Him to care for us.

The next day, we met the team of doctors who would be trying to treat the medical mystery Jon had become. Test after test was performed … and it turned out that the biggest mystery of all was that there was no infection of any sort in Jon’s heart.

In fact, the doctors could find nothing but a healthy heart with a mechanical valve ticking away perfectly. The only thing they could see in Jon’s ventricles was the tissues of the cords that used to open and close his mitral valve. The surgeon had forgotten to trim them back during the open heart surgery.

But surely his cardiologist would not confuse these tiny heart tissues for a fungal infection. So where had the infection gone? To this day, that’s the only part of the mystery that remains.

But to me it is no mystery. It is evidence that God once again miraculously healed my husband.

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It’s been four years since my husband fought for his life and nearly lost three times. But in the end God spared him each time.

If you saw Jon today, you would never believe he had ever been so desperately ill. Other than the double scar running the length of his chest and the fact that he can no longer digest gluten or dairy (a lasting result of months of treatments from high-powered antibiotics) he looks, acts and is completely healthy.

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I love to share Jon’s story and how God intervened. It’s testimony to the love and power of God.

The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad. ~Psalm 126:3

However, there’s another death that many will spend recalling this weekend … the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. But more than His death, it is His victory over death that provides a way for us to have life everlasting.

Happy Resurrection Weekend! 

Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here, but He has been resurrected! ~ Luke 24: 5-6