First Mennonite Church
March 22, 2020
Peter and Judas: Denial and Betrayal and Two Different Outcomes
Text: Matthew 26:14-25; 31-35
14 Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
17 On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.
20 When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; 21 and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” 25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”
31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written,
‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
32 But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” 33 Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.
There couldn’t be more opposite characters than Peter and Judas when it comes to failing Jesus. Yet, we know that they shared various things in common. They were called by Jesus to follow him. Both of them belonged to the group of the Twelve. They followed Jesus for the same period of time. They were firsthand witnesses of Jesus’ words and works of miracles. In the end, they were both served the bread and the wine by Jesus during the Last Supper. And as our text also reminds us, Jesus had a word for each of them prior to his arrest.
We all know that Peter denied Jesus and that Judas betrayed his Lord. We also know that Peter was restored but that Judas was lost forever. Peter became a prominent leader in the early Christian movement and even to this day there are many places that bear Peter’s name and even the largest religious institution claims Peter as its spiritual forefather. But as for Judas, he would have qualified for one of Dante’s painting of those who ended up in the jaws of Satan in Hell. Judas is identified as the most hated name of all.
As we follow Jesus in his journey to Golgotha and to Easter Sunday, let us pause for a moment and take a look at these two characters: Peter and Judas. What was it that they did after their failure that produced such different outcomes?
We have often heard that the way we start something determines the way it will finish. And that might have been what determined the greatest difference of outcomes between Peter’s denial and Judas’ betrayal. The gospel of John gives us a hint as to what was in Judas’ heart. John tells us that Judas was the only one who objected of Mary’s pouring the costly perfume on Jesus. Judas, despite being with Jesus and counted as one of his disciples, had a selfish heart. He loved money. Judas wanted money and the chief priest wanted Jesus in their hands. And so he went to make a bargain with the high priests. “What will you give me, if I betray him into your hands?” Judas asked them. Once they gave Judas the money, he actively sought for an opportunity to betray Jesus. Selfishness, greed, and collusion with Jesus’ enemies, led Judas to betray his Lord who loved him even to the very end. Judas lost his soul for the love of money. Judas lost his soul even before he committed suicide.
In chapter 27, verse three, Matthew tells us that when Judas saw Jesus being condemned to death, he repented and returned to the chief priests saying he had sinned by betraying innocent blood. Some scholars think Judas did not believe Jesus would be condemned to die. Therefore, when he realized that his actions had put Jesus’ life in serious danger, he repented of what he had done. But then, it was a point of no return for Jesus.
On the other hand we have Peter. When Jesus was at the table and he announced that one from among his disciples was going to betray him, Peter was ready to offer his very life for his Master. But Jesus told Peter he would deny Jesus three times that night. The Gospels tell us of the three times Peter denied knowing Jesus. The third time Peter denied Jesus the cock crowed and Peter remembered the words of Jesus to him about his denial. Matthew tells us that Peter “went out and wept bitterly” (26:75).
Judas betrayed Jesus and Peter denied Jesus. Judas repented of what he did when he saw Jesus being condemned to die. Peter wept bitterly when he realized he failed his Lord. And here is where each took a different route.
When Judas realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he went back to the enemies of Jesus and tried to undo his actions by returning the 30 pieces of silver. But the chief priests said to him, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And Judas stayed to himself. He did not make any attempt to reach out to Jesus to ask for forgiveness. He never sought the company of his fellow companions. I wonder, had Judas gone to them, would the eleven receive him back to the fold? If Judas would have returned to our church, would we be willing to forgive him? Judas stayed to himself and remorse led him to take his own life.
As for Peter, when he realized his failure, he wept bitterly. In Peter’s mind, the loving words of Jesus echoed clearly. Guilt burned his heart. Peter knew how much Jesus loved him. Peter sought the company of the other ten, who also failed to remain by the side of Jesus in his darkest hour.
Later in the Gospel of Matthew, we learn that Jesus restored Peter again by the lake that early morning. “Peter, do you love me,” Jesus asked Peter. Jesus asked this question three times. On the third time, Peter was very sad and broken that Jesus had to ask him three times the same question. Yet, every time Peter responded affirmatively, his heart and soul were being made whole once again.
My dear brothers and sisters, the story of Peter and Judas is a reminder to us that there is a very fine line between faithfulness and disloyalty. When our loyalty to the Lord, when following the way of Jesus becomes difficult, we are being confronted with Peter-situation, with a Judas-situation. Selflessness is the opposite of selfishness; that was Judas’ problem. Identifying with those who suffer violence, abuse, and with those who are at the mercy of the corrupt and powerful, that was the problem of Peter. Judas and Peter failed when their trust was most tested and the cost of discipleship was at its highest.
Often times we believe there is always opportunity for repentance. We believe that repentance is always possible for everyone who denies or betrays the Lord. This story shows us that indeed both Peter and Judas repented, but what they did after that determined either restoration or eternal perdition. Let us, therefore, never forget that just like Peter and Judas, we too can fail. But let us also remember that remaining in the fellowship is very important. Seeking God’s grace of forgiveness secures the continuation of our journey of faith. Judas stayed to himself, and besides not seeking forgiveness, he neither could forgive himself for what he did. Staying to ourselves in times of difficulty or even failure can be dangerous, not only for mental health, but also for our spiritual wellbeing. Jesus is the one who forgives. He alone is Savior. He is the one who can restore us to himself when we fail him. The apostle John says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1John 1:8, 9). Amen!
Let us pray:
Lord, you are faithful even when fail you. You never change. You, Lord, know our heart; you know when we need the grace of your forgiveness. Help us to seek your healing, restoration, and reestablishment in you. Help us to seek the company of your people when we need support and encouragement. Help us also to be gracious to one another, as each of us acknowledges our own weaknesses. In Christ, our Lord, we pray. Amen.