During Lent I decided to reread a book that I first read 7 or 8 years ago called The Day Christ Died by Jim Bishop. I remember thinking it was a great book the first time I read it and wanted to see if I could discover anything new given the greater understanding I have of the Bible now. This book is an hour by hour account of the last supper through Christ’s crucifixion. It is based primarily on the Gospel accounts, but the author also draws on other historical information that is available to us. In addition to each chapter that covers an hour of time, there are three background chapters on “The Jewish World,” “Jesus,” and “The Roman World.” These background chapters are full of information that help bring the Gospel story to life for those of us so far removed from what life was like at that time. The author admits that he has taken some liberties with the narrative of the story, but has never written anything that contradicts the essential facts of the Gospels.
I was planning to read the whole book and then do a review, but I should know by now that never works for me. As I’m reading through a book, some part of it will get me thinking and inspire a blog post. That’s what happened with this book. I’m only a third of the way through and I already came across something I want to share my thoughts on.
The chapter that got me thinking was the one involving Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus. I’ve often thought about Judas and wondered how he could spend so much time with Jesus and then betray Him. I know his betrayal of Jesus was necessary to fulfill prophecy, but I am still fascinated by how someone can witness all that Jesus did and hear all that He said, living with Him day and night for almost 3 years, and clearly not understand who He truly was.
Bishop sheds some light on the state of mind of Judas:
A man devoid of faith, like Judas, needs something to sustain him, to nourish his emotional life, and most men in his position boast of their practical side. Judas was practical. As one of the original twelve, he had subscribed to Jesus as the Messiah as long as there was a good living in it. And for the money-keeper of this fervent enterprise it was a good living indeed, because hundreds and then thousands came to believe that this man Jesus was indeed he whom it had been predicted Yahweh would send to Israel. This being the case, the rich recruits to the cause not only knelt before him and wept or begged for forgiveness or kissed the hem of his dusty garment, but they would not be satisfied until they had contributed their wealth to the furtherance of the Messiah.
At times, in the presence of miracles such as the recent one of raising Lazarus up after he had been in the tomb four days, Judas must have half believed in Jesus. But then his practical side told him that such things were in the nature of Egyptian magic, as everyone knew, and Judas believed that there was collusion between Jesus and Lazarus and Jesus and the other beneficiaries of miracles. It was a good scheme to be allied with, as long as it flourished. And Judas remained with it exactly that long. The Day Christ Died, pg. 65.
I think there are people like Judas in the Christian church even today. They don’t fully believe in the divinity of Christ. They may not end up being traitors like Judas, but they are really only in it for the practical benefit it provides. When the going gets tough, when they have to sacrifice something in order to hold onto their faith, they will find they have no faith in anything but themselves. When it is no longer practical to remain a Christian, they are going to walk away.
In the parable of the sower that Jesus told as recorded in Matthew 13:1-23, people like Judas are those who are like seeds that fall among the thorns. “The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.” Matthew 13:22 (NIV).
Judas missed out on the joy that the other disciples felt at the resurrection because his practical nature wouldn’t allow him to accept the divine nature of Christ. He simply couldn’t trust that Jesus was who He said He was and that the plan that was to unfold concerning His death was the best possible course for the sake of humanity.
Are you missing out on the joy of knowing Christ’s love because you can’t accept His divinity? Is practicality preventing you from trusting that He was who He said He was and that His sacrifice for your sins is the best thing that ever happened? The end of the story with Judas was that he felt the weight of the guilt of his betrayal without ever knowing the forgiveness that Christ freely offered, and he hanged himself to be lost forever. Don’t let practicality cause your story end without knowing Christ’s love and forgiveness.