Palm Sunday

By Henry Nelson | April 1, 2010

Christ’s BetrayalMatthew 26:31-35“Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same”:This week we celebrate the day a man rode a donkey into the capital city of Jerusalem. The people poured into the streets and cheered his arrival. They waved palm branches, spread garments on the road, and shouted, Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven! It seems that everybody loves a parade and it was no different when Jesus came to town. Palm Sunday is a day that we remember the parade that occurred when Jesus and his followers entered into Jerusalem.  {{more}}The cities were already packed with travelers entering the city from all directions, but for some reason the crowds responded differently as the group approaches the city. It is likely that many of the people walking in that morning knew Jesus pretty well. He and his disciple stayed in Bethpage during most of their visits at Lazarus, Martha and Mary’s home. On this journey to Passover Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. It had to be the talk of the town.Jesus and the disciples were on the top of the world. Can you imagine the smiles on their faces as they walked the parade route? But it changed quickly, by Monday things were going downhill. According to Matthew on Monday Jesus made many enemies by driving the animals out of the temple and turning over the tables of the money-changers and saying the priests had turned the temple into a “den of thieves.” But, while the crowds were big and responsive, He recruited no army. He gave no speeches to rally the people against Rome or the religious authorities.The people were ready. The people were waiting and were disappointed! They became angry. This man from Nazareth was supposed to be the Messiah, the Savior. By Thursday, his death warrant had been issued and He was arrested. On Friday the people were shouting, “Crucify Him!” He was forced to carry His cross to Golgotha and was crucified between two other prisoners. Man that happed so fast. For the disciples, three years of their lives went crashing to the rocks in broad daylight. They thought that following Jesus in the parade was leading to a life of importance, power and Glory. They were all disappointed because it looked like the end of something that had so much potential. This week we are looking at the betrayals of Jesus in his last days in Jerusalem. Matthew 27:3-5When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; he went and hanged himself. Amen!Matthew 26:69-75 says, “Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard”. A servant-girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before all of them, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. Amen!Judas had a 3 year relationship with Jesus and the other disciples. He was trusted as the treasurer. Judas is accused in several remarks as being a thief in different gospels written from hindsight. However this one betrayal is documented in detail. Also described is an almost immediately regret and even repentance of his action. He boldly marched back before the powerful, corrupt officials and proclaimed Jesus’ innocence to their faces. He threw their bribe money back at their feet. He made an attempt to stop the plot. All this before the first trial began. Judas has been named throughout history as the prime example of all that is contemptible, corrupt and deceitful in human nature. His very name is a synonym for betrayal. How many kids do you know named Judas?The second betrayer is Peter, the disciple that declared that he would never fail Jesus. And yet he betrayed and denied Jesus on three separate occasions. He hid in absolute fear of the officials and shame about his denial. Days passed before he approached the other disciples. He wept but, he did not go and stand with Jesus at the trial or the cross. On top of that He did not try to correct his failure in any way. Only after the crucifixion and after the tomb was sealed did he sneak back to be with the other disciples. Peter is honored as the father of the church. He is the leader of the church and is designated a “saint.” How many kids do you know named Peter? Why did such a difference of opinion about these two men occur? What distinguishes Judas’ action so dramatically from Peter’s? Perhaps the simplest way to understand is to look at their motives. We might say that Judas’ treachery was premeditated, calculated, even paid for. Amen!Peter’s act of betrayal, on the other hand, was a cowardly, spontaneous burst of emotion and simple a response mad out of fear for his life that profited him nothing except possibly his life. Looking at the simple facts, both men were in the inner circle. They were in a trust relationship with Jesus and yet both men betray Jesus. One sells him out and is directly responsible for Jesus’ capture and execution and the other abandons his friend and teacher when he is in need. Both are important parts of God’s plan; one facilitates the act of sacrifice, salvation and the other is the leader of what would quickly become the church. Amen!The only real difference between these two betrayers Judas and Peter was their perception of how Jesus must see them. Judas was overcome with guilt. Although he repented Judas could only envision a wrathful, judgmental Jesus declaring him cursed for what he had done, according to the law. In his despair, Judas blocked out what he had learned about Jesus’ forgiving nature and message. Judas cut himself off from the healing capabilities of God’s grace and, in despair hangs himself out of self-judgment. On the other side, I believe, Peter heard voices in his head condemning him. He felt extreme guild and shame. Undoubtedly he replayed his own three denials of Jesus over and over again. After leaving the courtyard Matthew says Peter “wept bitterly.” Peter probably also remembered himself promising Jesus he would never deny him, even if it meant facing death. But there were other conversations Peter had stored in his memory that gave him hope in his despair. Peter was the disciple who had come to Jesus to ask specifically about the act of forgiveness. How many times should we forgive? Peter asked. Jesus declared “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven.” Even more importantly, Jesus had singled Peter out when asking, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter could recall he had once boldly confessed, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. He had been so positive and sure.No matter how many positive thoughts he probably kept coming back to the thought that Jesus had believed in and trusted him and yet he had failed Jesus. He was weak and fearful. I think that He felt lower than dirt. Have you ever had that type of feeling? You did it; you knew you were wrong, the thoughts running through your mind made you feel bad all over. Maybe you have a feeling of guilt and shame that you cannot shake. It seems that Judas might have been along for the ride as a disciple, he was chosen by Christ. We do not know about his previous life although he is referred to as a revolutionary. There are hints that the other disciples thought he had other motives for being a member of the group. It seems to me that Judas was an accurate representation of the overall feelings of the people in the city. He was in the parade with Christ and expected at any moment to be asked to help in the uprising. He was ready to take up a weapon and join the messiah in overthrowing the Romans. In the end he realized that he failed to make the grade by betraying his teacher. We all fail to make the grade as well; we all fail to live by the terms of the law or the new covenant. We all have trouble believing that God could forgive a person like us. We all have trouble believing in God’s Grace. Judas died, stigmatized by his own heart as a betrayer. Why? Judas did not understand the gift of grace. He thought he was in control of his situation, he still trusted in his works and on his scales he was doomed. Breaking all tradition, he has the whole chorus instead sing that guilty question, “Is it I, Lord?” The chorus represents you, me, the whole world. Judas is within all of us, not ’out there’ or ’back in history’ somewhere comfortably remote. Judas is our brother.In many ways it is easy for us to be more like Judas than Peter. Judas accepted 30 pieces of silver to betray Christ. His betrayal was simply to find the right time and place for Jesus to be arrested, a time when there would be no crowds. How many of you have accepted something of value in exchange for betraying Jesus? Have you denied Jesus? At work, or with friends, just failed to share your faith? Have you been angry and hateful at or to someone when we know we should forgive? Have been less that sensitive to someone’s feelings or value in Christ kingdom? Have we felt disappointed in Jesus or God’s response to the problems in our lives? Have we ignored something that God is calling us to do? Have you boasted of your success and abilities leaving God and Christ out of the process? Have you taken from God time, money or talent, wasted by being bad stewards? Perhaps you have other betrayals that gained you pieces of silver, like Judas. Your friends like you more because you do not nag them about church. You have a better job because you are politically correct. Maybe your betrayal is because you are frightened and you cannot talk about your faith like Peter. We all fail Christ, some of us have the same view of the relationship with God that Judas had. You may believe that no matter what you do you will remain unforgiven or you may be like Peter and hope you can be forgiven but you are ashamed and unworthy. God will always look at you and know what you have done.How are you using God’s gifts to you, especially as they arrive through the hands of others this Palm Sunday? All Glory be to God!