Truthfully, I haven’t had the insight or inspiration to write anything in several weeks. Maybe months! Recently however, I came across something that was worth noting. My Friday morning men’s group finished up a study series on the book, “Twelve Ordinary Men” by John MacArthur. For several men it was the second time reading the book. We’ve had a handful of “newbies” join the group so it was worth bringing the book around for a second showing.
The basic premise of the book is to chronicle the backgrounds of each of the twelve disciples who were called by Jesus to “follow” him. Between the lines of the book is an under-current that might lead readers to think, “If this band of misfits could put it all together, then there’s hope for us today….”.
The book is nicely organized in order of importance and knowledge on specific disciples. Peter, for obvious reasons, is profiled first. Then comes Andrew, James, and John. These first four of the twelve represent Jesus’ tightest inner circle.
The book continues to describe the stories of the next seven men who became disciples of Jesus. Finally, the book comes to a close with the story the final disciple, Judas (the Traitor), who as most of us know, was the one who ultimately betrayed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
I’ve read story after story about Judas but for some reason, this time the message for me personally was of a different tone.
Why did Judas do what he did after following Jesus for all that time?
Why “Judas” and why not any of the other disciples?
How did Judas get it “all wrong” when he was exposed to just as much teaching from Jesus as the others?
Jesus knew everything about every disciple….yet, still, He allowed Judas to ultimately deliver him up for cruxification.
When my men’s group started the study this time, I asked each of them to write down the name of a disciple each closely identified with before reading the book. I promised to also ask the same question once we finished the book. I thought it might be interesting to see if there were any differences between the before and after readings.
And their certainly were some striking differences!
One additional twist was that I had them also identify which disciple they aspired to be like in the future.
So, three disciples was the ask: One, who you identified with before the book. Two, who after reading the book. And, three, who longer term you aspired to follow.
As the group gathered for our final lesson last Friday, the chapter about Judas, I gave each person gathered three flat, disc cones: red, yellow and green. Next, I put twelve index cards on the carpet with the names of each of the twelve disciples.
“Okay, now I want you to place your markers down by the name of specific disciples. Red is who you aligned with before the book. Yellow after reading the book. And green for who you aspire to be.”
For some, the exercise was pretty simple. One individual even put all three colors on the same disciple. We were just about finished when the group noticed that I was stalling. Then, I placed my yellow cone next to Judas.
“What do you mean, choosing Judas? Are you nuts?”
Remember that I said I’ve read about Judas all my life. However, this time Judas’ story spoke to me completely upside-down.
If we look closely at Judas, he was arguably just as devoted to Jesus as all the others. Some might even say he was more devoted than many. He was into every word spoken by Jesus. There’s even mention of Judas preaching the Gospel. Really?
One author describes four things we can learn that are often overlooked from the story of Judas — the traitor.
First, Judas was committed to following Jesus. And this was evident to Jesus as well. The Gospel of Luke tells the story of Jesus calling all twelve together (including Judas), giving them power over demons, the ability to cure diseases, and insight into preaching the “good news”. There was no wavering between any of the disciples, including Judas, when it came to their commitment to their callings.
Next, despite all the opportunities he was given, Judas still comes up short. He walked with Jesus for three years, saw countless miracles, and heard personal teachings by Him. Imagine the things Judas was able to see with his own eyes. Still, his story reminds us that despite all the opportunities we are given, the environments we are raised, and the people we surround ourselves, those events alone cannot prevent the human heart from going astray.
Third, many believe that Judas welcomed an assault into his heart by Satan. Judas was committing sins, smaller ones at first, then larger ones. Yet, while sitting at the table with the other disciples, Judas never confessed his faults. He was the ideal disciple when in the presence of Jesus and the others. But the lesson here is that unconfessed sins open the door for further mischief by Satan himself. Confessing our sins frees us from Satan’s hold….Satan cannot get a foothold on the lives of those who are walking with Jesus.
Finally, the story of Judas reminds us that nothing good can come from abandoning Jesus. I’m always reminded of a saying: “I’d rather go through life believing that God exists, and find out He doesn’t, then to not believe God exists and find out that He does.” This story not only reminds us to guard our own hearts from drifting, but to also watch out for others who could drift as well.
Now, back to the story of my men’s group. You see, the reason I said I’m more like “Judas” is not to say I’m a bad person. Rather, like Judas, when I’m with my men’s group, with my church, with the “Word”, then I am “all in” and the promise of salvation for me is endless. But like Judas, who drifted when he was not in the presence of the other disciples, I know that at times, my walk with Christ in words and in deeds is less in step with His. Truthfully, perhaps, all of us can admit to a little bit of “Judas” in our lives too.
What I love about my church, my men’s group, etc. is the accountability that comes along with those like-minded individuals and organizations. My prayer today is that my and our accountability is strengthened well beyond being “in the moment”. I am thankful for the story of Judas….and the reminders that it gives as we aspire to be more Christ-like in all aspects and hours of our lives. As we lean forward into the season of Advent, won’t you join me in being more intentional about following Christ’s example?