Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Modern Disenchanted: Hey, Jesus--Wassup?

Judas Iscariot is a hard one to figure.
He had to have been fairly smart and, at some point, to have inspired some measure of confidence. The apostles let him handle the group's money, after all. We tend to think of him as evil, but he couldn't have been, not completely, not at the beginning.

What happened to Judas?
Maybe he fell victim to the same weakness that some popular pastors do--the allure of intelligence, the confidence of skill. He sure went wrong somewhere, that's for sure, becoming at best, the cartoon thief who shakes your hand while picking your pocket. At worst, well, we saw his worst. He betrayed the Son of God. And people still do--by desertion, by betrayal, by ignoring the promise He made regarding His church.

I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.--Matthew 16:18

Judas' most revealing discourse with Jesus comes in the upper room after Judas had already concluded negotiations with the Pharisees and agreed to hand Jesus over for thirty pieces of silver, a paltry sum for such an act. All the apostles are sitting down to supper and Jesus tells them all that He knows what's coming--that He's been betrayed and Judas looks right at Him and asks along with the others,
Surely not I, Lord?--Matthew 26:22

Who does he think he's kidding? He sounds like a gangster who, thumbs hitched in his drooping jeans, saunters into his rival's hangout slurring, "Wassup?" As if he doesn't know. He's not fooling anyone, at least not for long.

Tertullian, a theologian who lived around 200AD, had something to say about what plagued Judas and so many others:
At the height of a man's sin is his refusal to recognize Him of whom man cannot be ignorant.*

Judas refused to recognize Jesus for who He was. Disappointed, unable or unwilling to understand, and eventually marginalized because of it, Judas blamed not just Jesus, but the whole bunch. He turned his back on all twelve of them.

Judas' rejection of Jesus is the same as modern men rejecting the organized church founded by the same Christ because it fails to live up to their expectations.  Judas went off the reservation so completely that even when he realized he was wrong, it didn't save him. He sealed his fate not because he'd sinned but by what he did next.
Then he went away and hanged himself--Matthew 27:5

Had he asked forgiveness, had he added repentance to his conviction, he could have shared heaven. But it didn't happen. And, as modern men do the same, they end in the same place.

This is the hard reality. Churches will behave badly. They all do it at one time or another. But the good ones recognize their wrong, admit it openly, ask forgiveness of those they have wronged, and change. The process of forgiveness and restoration is the same for groups as it is for individuals and some make it. Some don't.

We may have to change friends or change churches when things go bad, but we do not get to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We are not smarter than the church God left us. We are not better or more clever than the Body of Christ.

We all share Judas' basic failing. We all have the potential to do exactly as he did. The test is what we do when we're tempted to think we are too smart for God, when we are so sure of ourselves. It is that moment when we stand in the shadow of the hanging tree, where even Judas discovered what he should have done.

*Apologeticus 17

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  1. "Churches will behave badly. They all do it at one time or another. But the good ones recognize their wrong, admit it openly, ask forgiveness of those they have wronged, and change." -YES

    1. Thanks for the thumbs up. Sounds like you may have seen this up close. Guess most of us have at one time or another.

  2. I am seeing it up close right now. Very sad when it happens. Great post.

    1. I am blown away by the number of people who have experienced this, but we can't "stop meeting together". In the end, God is bigger than the church.

  3. Visiting from Fellowship Friday. This is why it's so important we remain in Christian community - for support and accountability. To have fellow believers to confess to when we err, to learn from when we need a lesson, and to support us as we find our way back. Judas didn't remain in community and I think that's the lesson for all of us.

    1. You are so right Kathryn. I have a number of friends who have been derailed by a bad experience in their local church and now just kind of hanging out there alone. We have to remember, though, that we are not meant only to receive from the church, but to give to it.