Down for the Count

The following post addresses the topic of suicide. If you’d like listen to the audio recording, the Spotify player is at the end of this post. I read the comments on this page and I want to know, have you been close to someone who’s attempted suicide or had thoughts about that? How has it affected you?

We started last week on a journey through stories of people in the bible. I know, right? Real shocker! A sermon about people in the bible. But this is not just any sermon series. The focus of the “What if I stumble?” series is to uncover and understand times where people who seemed so close to God fell out of relationship with him for one reason or another. My hope is that by examining these stories and the real people with real motives, we can learn how to brace ourselves from falling into the same stumbling area. Also, I think we will be better equipped to help others back up out of their particular pit that they stumbled and fell into. Last week we looked at the story of Peter. [Missed that post? CLICK HERE to listen or read it.] Peter had flip flopped so hard and so quickly and denied he even knew Jesus. Did he do it to save his neck? Perhaps. But the end of the story is that Peter returns to Jesus, to the fellowship of the disciples. He fell, but he didn’t stay down for the count. Not everyone has a redemptive ending like Peter. With that in mind I want to present for you a dramatic retelling, inside the mind of Judas Iscariot on the night he betrayed Jesus.

The Betrayal – A Dramatic Interpretation

“Here Judas,” I hear Him say to me. Jesus hands me a bit of bread he had just dipped into some oil. I was hungry so I took it. I didn’t say anything to him, I just gave him the nod of appreciation.

I didn’t mean it of course. We could have been eating much better, in better accommodations. But alas, bread is bread…so I took it and ate it. At that moment, something changed in me. I’m not completely sure what was happening, but I felt compelled to do what my heart really desired. No filter. No little “Angel on my shoulder” saying don’t do that, that’s not nice. If he were there, I would have taken my fingers and catapulted him to next sabbath. 

Getting up from my spot at the table, I started for the door. 

“What you are going to do,” Jesus said to me, “do quickly.” 

Oh don’t worry, I thought. Nothing is going to stop me from getting paid tonight.

I had already made an agreement with the chief priests

“What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” (Matt 26:15a NIV)

They counted out 30 pieces of silver for me. They had cash in hand! I had to come through and look for an opportunity so they could arrest Jesus. 

I left the upper room where Jesus and the other disciples were still carrying on, probably arguing about which set of brothers is best in Jesus’ kingdom…or some such nonsense. I headed to the chief priests and elders and let them in on the plan. 

“You want to arrest Jesus from underneath the people’s noses? You got to do it when he’s all alone. No crowds fawning over him. And the disciples will either be absent or be groggy from sleep. They haven’t had much lately, getting ready for the Passover festival. Jesus won’t stand a chance.”

The chief priests and elders thought up a shrewd idea. They whipped up a small mob of people, people motivated either by anger or money. Either way, we all came stamping into the Garden of Gethsemane…at the very right moment. Jesus was bleeding…or was he just very sweaty? I couldn’t tell. I stepped ahead of the gang as they stayed partially covered in shadow. “Rabbi!” I proclaimed. Then I kissed him. This greeting is very much like people would share in their home or with their closest friends. I wanted it very clear, this was the man they were to take.


Just him saying my name shook my chest cavity something awful. Like when you shake a container to see if there is anything left in it. His eyes never wavered off of mine.

“Judas, you would betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”

I didn’t have to answer back. We both knew the answer was “yes.”

Little did I know how much that choice would affect me and the direction my life would take next.

If you’re trying to figure me out, good luck. But I’m not too sure about this betrayal thing. I keep picturing a rope in my future.

Judas Who? – Identifying the Betrayer

We don’t know much from scripture about Judas. 

  1. His claim to fame is his betrayal of Jesus. 

So much that anytime someone else was mentioned by the name of Judas, the author feels it necessary to say… “no wait…not THAT Judas. Judas Thaddaeus, or maybe Judas (a.k.a. Jude brother of James)” Though it was long after the gospels, there was also a guy named Judas from Galilee who led a rebellion then got himself killed. The New Testament writers want to be perfectly clear who Judas Iscariot was and not confuse their audience by tossing around the equivalent of “John Smith” when they mean John Smith “the betrayer of Jesus.”

  1. Judas or Jude was a very common name, like John Smith.

Calling of Judas

As with Peter, it’s a good idea to look back on the first time we hear about this Judas Iscariot guy. And since the bible isn’t about his back story…there aren’t many details to go on. Luke gives his audience a bit of context concerning who the 12 disciples were, listing them off for all to know of the men Jesus traveled with in the coming chapters and verses of his gospel account.

“12 In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. 13 And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: 14 Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15 and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.”

Luke 6:12-16 ESV

Unlike Peter’s calling, there is no starting point of Judas’ call. The bible doesn’t record that Jesus found Judas in some seedy place, or in the middle of a scheme and called him to follow him. The Bible doesn’t record that he found Judas in the synagogue praying. He just was one of the Twelve. Just like Luke’s, Matthew’s version of this listing of the disciples, Judas Iscariot is at the end. Matthew’s heavy-handed foreshadowing leaves nothing to the imagination: “and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.” (Matt 4:10b NIV)

This one choice, this one decision marked his life throughout history. We don’t know if he was married. Scripture doesn’t tell us where his hometown was. Besides his betrayal, the only other pieces of information we have about him is: 

  1. His father’s name was Simon Iscariot and that 
  2. Judas had a specific role in the Twelve. 

He held the purse with all the funds used to support their ministry. 

Sticky Fingers – Motives of the Betrayer (John 12:4-6)

If there ever was evidence for the need of financial accountability in ministry, Judas would be the best example by far. Forget Matthew/Levi. What he did pales in comparison to Judas’ little scheme. 

  1. I do wonder, which came first? Judas’ desire for money or the role of purse holder? 

Sometimes people seem trustworthy and benevolent. But deep down they just want to get closer to the cash. It’s a harsh way to put it, but it’s true. On the flip side, a person can be easily seduced when managing an organization’s money with little or no accountability. So the other disciples can’t change Judas’ heart or his intentions, but they can protect themselves and him from falling to temptation by creating opportunities for accountability. Well at least they could have. Let’s look at a prime example of Judas’ character on display.

In John 12, we see that Jesus and his disciples are guests of Lazarus, Mary and Martha. They enjoy a meal together and suddenly Mary does something that Judas finds appalling. 

“3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” ”

  1. Judas is disgusted with this lavish use of oil.

Have you ever walked into a room and a perfume or essential oil just wafts off you? I know I have. I love that people smell good but I don’t need to choke on that smell. The scent could have pushed Judas over the edge, but the gospel writers clearly note his motives: He liked to help himself to the money he kept for the group.

So Mary opens up this container to pour it on Jesus’ feet. It says a “pint” or about ½ liter. That last number is important. I love to help give us a concept of the costliness of this gift she lavished on Jesus. If we were to find “spikenard” today, one place it is sourced is in Nepal. It’s made from the spikenard root and is harvested by hand in the hills and mountain sides there. One particular oil company charges $66 for a 5 milliliter (5ml) bottle. I did some math and it turns out there is about 500ml in a pint. So picture if you will, 100 – 5ml bottles of this oil being poured out on Jesus’ feet. One 5ml would probably be enough to knock you off your feet! 

Not accounting for a bulk order discount deal, the cost of a pint of Spikenard oil would be $6,600!

What could you do with $6,600? We’d most likely finish paying off my student loan and start saving for a newer vehicle. What else could you do? You could start an endowment with The Olivet Foundation to help provide scholarships to college students. You could support one of the local community programs like Door of Hope, Bethel Butikk or Living Faith Food Pantry. You could help sponsor a child through Nazarene Compassionate Ministries. With that $6,600 at $30 a month, you can support a child for 18 years!

So we’ve addressed this perfume oil was expensive back then and still is today. The price today alone could do a lot of good, just as it may have done back before Mary drenched Jesus in it. But Jesus still looks at this offering and knows that Mary did the best thing with her gift. 

He defends her and her worship of Him. 

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.”

John 12:7 NIV
  1. Jesus knew Mary’s heart was full of worship and appreciation for him. He knew Judas’ heart as well. 

It seemed to care only about money, about wealth. This scene gives us this very important insight into the mind of Judas. John writes:

“[Judas] did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” 

If it wasn’t obvious to the disciples before Judas met his untimely demise, it certainly came to light once they opened up the books and shook the money bag. Judas was embezzling and that’s a big no no. 

Judas was known for his sticky fingers. 

  1. His main motivation was money.

He desired money so much, he’d take from the offering plate and didn’t tell anyone.

He’d also take it to betray Jesus.

14 Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests 15 and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. 16 From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

Matt 26:14-16 NIV

Just a few verses earlier we read that the chief priests were trying to find some way to arrest Jesus, but they needed to be sneaky or the people of the city may start a riot. Judas must have been aware of this and he comes to them with the proposition. Jesus on a silver platter…for some silver. Seems like a fair trade. Both parties would get what they wanted. 

Jesus is praying in the garden. Judas steps out of the shadows just as Jesus says to the disciples with him, “Here comes my betrayer!” Following a bit behind Judas was a “large crowd armed with swords and clubs.” Judas walks toward Jesus and greets him according to their custom. “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.

I’ve read this part already today! What else goes on with Judas?! The next time we hear anything about Judas, it’s in Matthew 27. This is where it seems like the betrayer has some buyer’s regret. He looks into his pocket book and realizes it’s full of blood money.

Blood Money – Remorse of the Betrayer

3 When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” (Matt 27:3-4)

First off…let’s stop right there. 

  1. Judas had remorse.

WOW. Most of the time we spend reading the bible with Judas in it and think “Oh I don’t want to be like that guy” or “Oh I hate his guts, how he sold out Jesus!” But here he has a genuine, relatable feeling. He is grieved with regret for his actions or at least the outcome of his actions. Jesus would be condemned. 

So not only is he stricken with remorse, but it leads him to try and return the money he got for betraying Jesus. 

  1. By giving the money back, he tries to make amends, undo what he did.
  2. He also recognizes what he did was sin.

But he turns to the wrong people for help in that area. Those chief priests and elders who wanted Jesus dead. And now Judas has to face the Consequences of his actions.

Death and Consequences – Hopelessness of the Betrayer

They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5 And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.

In Matthew’s gospel that’s the last we hear from Judas. 

  1. He simply gives up. 

He goes to those he conspires with, he tries to at least return his blood money and he doesn’t find any redemption. The religious leaders give him no hope for justification.

And so, with no hope of recovering from being the instrument of betrayal, Judas finds some rope and hangs himself. This last part of Judas’ story I find the saddest. Have you ever thought of this: Judas could have had a story similar to Peter.

Peter, as we looked at last week, denied Christ 3 times, but yet he was forgiven…welcomed back. If Judas, with all his remorse had truly allowed it to motivate him to be repentant he could have been saved. His story could have been one we all looked to and thought “If Judas can find redemption, so can I.” But alas, he stumbles and falls like the song says. 

So he wasn’t repentant and he put his hope for redemption in the wrong people. 

  1. He trusted the religious people to absolve him, not Jesus. 

Seeing no other options, he does one last thing: takes his own life. 

I want to just talk briefly about hopelessness and suicide. I believe that’s what led to Judas taking his own life, but for many people there are a few causes that lead people to attempt ending their life. The CDC list the following as Risk factors for suicide:

  • Mental illness, such as depression
  • Social isolation
  • Criminal problems
  • Financial problems
  • Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
  • Job problems or loss
  • Legal problems
  • Serious illness
  • Substance use disorder

Much of these risk factors tie back into the idea of losing hope. A person might lack hope to overcome any of these challenges. They can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. If that’s the case, why keep going?

And for each of these risk factors, there is a strategy that the CDC suggests that may help prevent suicide. 

  • If people are socially isolated, intentional community engagement activities are provided to address that need. 
  • Treatment and counseling to prevent future attempts of those contemplating or have attempted suicide.
  • Maybe it’s just as simple as addressing the financial hardships and helping the individual stabilize their housing and financial needs. 

I’m thankful we have a church who is there for one another. I’m glad I have friends and other pastors I can talk to when things get rough.  Not everyone has that support and that’s why it’s important to be intentional and proactive in preventing suicide.

I wonder how the disciples felt after they got the news that Judas had hung himself? Were they distraught, confused, or worried? If it were me I’d be wondering what I could have done better before my friend Judas went down such a sketchy path. A path that ended at the end of a rope.

I’m sad to say that’s not a hypothetical. I wonder if I could have said something more, encouraged my friend more, prayed for him more, and he wouldn’t have ended his life. I guess I’ll never know. But what I do know is probably the same as the 11 disciples. Let’s not do this again! 

We’ve moved from storytelling to personal profiling of Judas. We’ve gotten in his head and heart. Found greed and then remorse, culminating in hopelessness. But “What If I Stumble” is a preventative question. It’s one that asks “Will forgiveness be there for me? Will someone help me get back up?”

These very questions should guide us as Christians to proactively answer before anyone falls. 

“Will the love continue when my walk becomes a crawl?”

“Yes” should be our response. 

Anything short of that gives birth to and nourishes hopelessness.

So what are some practical ways we can live out our beliefs when someone finds their self in such a state?

Application – what can you and I do to ward off another Judas scenario?

  • Identify the hopeless, help bring them hope
    • Don’t turn a blind eye to the hurting, wondering if they will ever be able to overcome their problems, their addictions, their circumstances. Identify them and help bring them hope. Pray that the Lord would burden your heart for them. That you would never be cold to their need for hope.
    • Be there for them to talk to. I know many of us, myself at the top of the list, would like to identify a person without hope and then tell them all the things they need to do to fix it. “Stop doing that! Start doing this and this!” But many times what people need is to be heard. It gives them hope that they are not alone. Helps them know they are known. And consistantly doing so can lead to questions as to why you or I care so much about them. There is the opportunity to present  redemption to them.

Not only do we need to look out for it in others, but we should also…

  • Identify your own hopelessness
    • We might not realize it, but there are things in our life that we have chosen not to talk about, not to think about. It brings pain. Maybe it brings temptation. These are the things we are hopeless about. It may not control us to the point of suicide, but to use a medically adjacent analogy: ignoring the symptoms of an illness does not mean the illness will go away. We need to Identify our own hopelessness.
  • Seek help for your hopelessness
    • Once we can identify what it is we are hopeless about, we can seek help. If there is something eating at your heart and anytime someone brings up that topic, a flood of painful memories you’ve never dealt with come to the surface, seek help processing those feelings, memories, emotions and desires instead of stuffing them back down and trying to forget them. 

Judas didn’t address his real problem, only his side effect. His real illness was greed and the side effect was that Jesus would be condemned. He tried all he could to fix the side effect but never addressed the illness of greed within him. Where were the other disciples? Many ran scared, hiding for “fear of the Jews” the scripture tells us. They were concerned about their own necks; they didn’t have much left to look out for Judas’ neck. And so his story tragically ends and serves as an example to us. We must answer the question: “Will the love continue?” with “yes.” Can redemption be had by even the worst betrayer? Yes. As we saw last week, redemption is available, you just have to accept it. Peter did but Judas did not. 

Let’s identify hopelessness in ourselves and in others and be there for one another when we stumble and fall.

One thought on “Down for the Count

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