The In-Between Years - Part 7

Series: The In-Between Years

June 14, 2020
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

The In-Between Years - Part 7

I enjoy listening to podcasts when I walk the dog or drive somewhere (kind of retro like texting). The best podcasts tell someone’s story. This may utterly shock you but one of my all-time favorite podcasts tells the story of Pop Warner and the Carlisle Indian School and how their football team changed the game forever with the forward pass, setting the stage for what football is today.

Some stories are uplifting like that, and others are tragic, like the podcast about a man named Curtis Flowers who has been tried six times for the same crime, even though the evidence for his innocence and the unfairness of the prosecutors vendetta against him are clear.

The Bible is God telling his story through peoples’ stories. The story of Adam and Eve. The story of Abraham. The story of Moses and the Israelites. The story of Jesus.

As Luke sets us up for the birth of the church he reminds us of Peter’s redemption story and how the most unlikely and unworthy among the disciples becomes the rock Jesus called him to be, how Peter gives us undeniable proof Jesus uses broken, imperfect people to accomplish his will, how you can fail miserably and still be on the path God has set for you. Peter’s story shows us the church wasn’t built by superheroes but people just like you and me.

As we come back to the final verses of chapter one (all of which are preparing us for what comes in chapter two), Peter stands up among the brothers to perform his first act of leadership as the rock on which the church will be built…

 15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the Book of Psalms, “ ‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and “ ‘Let another take his office.’  Acts 1:15–20 (ESV)

I could have skimmed over this odd and seemingly out-of-place section as I mentioned last week. But it’s these kinds of things in God’s Word you do well to dig into. And if we do that here we discover that before we can move on to the much anticipated birth of church, we must wrestle with the tragic story of another disciple, one we don’t hear a lot about and yet everyone knows.

Now, some people are famous known for their accomplishments or teachings. Jesus would certainly fit in that category — top of the list! — as would Abraham Lincoln or Shakespeare. Others are infamous, known for their wickedness or failure such as Adolph Hitler. The disciple Peter mentions in our text today is in the infamous category, in fact he may be the most infamous person of all time: Judas. 

In the last 2,000 years his name has become synonymous with treachery and rightly so. The Oxford Dictionary defines a Judas as “a person who betrays a friend.”[1]

Even in ancient times he was so reviled people put this curse on their graves: "If anyone violates this tomb may he die badly, may he be cast out unburied, may he not rise, and may he share the lot of Judas."

He’s so infamous, so reviled, we treat him like the one-who-who-must-not-be-named in the Harry Potter books. But if his story is in the Bible and Peter refers to it, maybe we need to look at it.

Judas’ story began when he, like Peter, was hand-picked by Jesus to join the band of twelve men who would follow him closely. These men received special teaching and attention because they would one day become the apostles and pillars of the early church. He is mentioned among the list of twelve in Matthew, Mark, and Luke as Judas the betrayer, the traitor, to distinguish him from other disciples with the same name.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke were able to make that distinction in their gospels because they wrote them after the fact, but at the time of the events, none of Jesus’ followers had a clue. Jesus often referred to a devil, a betrayer among them but none suspected Judas. He was so trusted, he was even put in charge of the moneybag.

For three years Judas and the other disciples sat under Jesus’ teaching, saw him perform miracles, and watched his fame and renown grow among the people. This did not go unnoticed by the Jewish religious leaders who hated Jesus from the beginning not only because the people followed him but because he fearlessly exposed their hypocrisy.

At the height of his ministry, those same Jewish leaders conspired to wipe out Jesus of Nazareth. 

3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, 4 and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. 5 But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.”  Matthew 26:3–5 (ESV)

They couldn’t apprehend him out in the open among the crowds because they feared the people. But if they had someone on the inside to help carry out their plans, that would give them the advantage they needed. Here’s where Judas’ story turns ugly.

Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.  Matthew 26:14-16 (ESV)

Judas — one of Jesus’ own disciples — looks for an opportunity to betray the man who did all things well. Judas found that opportunity the night Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. It was dark, most folks were in the bed, so there were no crowds.

47 While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” 49 And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.  Matthew 26:47–50 (ESV)

That awful betrayal led to the arrest of Jesus which led to his beatings and ultimately his crucifixion. Here’s where Judas’ story tragically ends.

3 Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” 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. 6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” 7 So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. 8 Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”  Matthew 27:3–10 (ESV)

Now you understand why there are only eleven disciples. Now you see the connection with what Peter said about Judas’ death and the field of blood. And know you know why folks don’t like to talk about him, why preachers don’t preach on him. His story is just so awful and uncomfortable. It brings up troubling questions historically and theologically. 

One day we might tackle those questions — I’m certainly not afraid to — but for us, as we look at the church in the book of Acts, as we journey through Luke’s account of the in-between years we have to ask… why is Judas’ story mentioned here? Why does Luke include it? Why not just skim over it? What does purpose does it serve? 

The answer, or at least one of the answers, is found by digging deeper into Judas’ story looking for the reason why he betrayed Jesus.

On one level it was disillusionment. Jesus didn’t turn out to be the Messiah Judas wanted him to be. But on another level it was much more sinister. Luke gives us another perspective on what led up to Jesus’ betrayal…

1 Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. 2 And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people. 3 Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. 4 He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. 5 And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. 6 So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.  Luke 22:1–6 (ESV)

Judas was behind Jesus’ betrayal but the devil himself was behind Judas. Dark and evil forces were at work trying to snuff out the Light of the World.

I think Judas is mentioned here in Acts 1, just before the glorious account of the birth of the church in Acts 2, to remind us, to warn us, evil forces were at work when Jesus walked this earth, and those same forces are at work in the in-between years. We’ll come across their dark workings throughout the book of Acts. 

Yes, people do evil things and are responsible for them, just like Judas, because we live in a fallen world, but behind those people and that fallenness are powers of darkness. This is why Paul wrote…

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  Ephesians 6:10–12 (ESV) 

We don’t take this seriously enough. I’m not talking about looking for demons in our closets and pentagrams in the woods. I’m talking about realizing that behind all the injustice, the racism, the hatred, the strife, the pain, the suffering in this world is an evil empire set on creating a kingdom in opposition to everything God is, everything his church represents as his heavenly kingdom citizens on this earth. 

Conclusion: Thankfully, there’s another layer to this that carries us into Acts 2 and all the way to the end of the in-between years. Peter made mention of how Judas’ being replaced had been foretold thousand years before in the Psalms. So had his betrayal.

9 Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.  Psalm 41:9 (ESV)

This means nothing that happened with Judas, the devil, and the religious leaders caught God by surprise. He had been preparing for it from before time began. 

Judas was behind Jesus’ betrayal and the devil was behind him. But God was behind it all ordering things exactly according to his plan.

When Peter stands up to preach his first sermon as the city of Jerusalem is full of people he declares this…

23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.  Acts 2:23 (ESV) 

The devil and all the forces of darkness thought they had won when Judas betrayed Jesus into the hands of those who crucified, but in reality they all had played right into his hand! 

As we move into the events surrounding the birth of the church, Judas reminds us how dark the in-between years are. If you study the Bible you realize one of the ways you know you’re getting near the end of those years is things get even darker. But we are also encouraged by the overarching, undefinable providence of God who orders all things, even evil, according to his will.

That’s is the hopeful, powerful, underlying theme of the in-between years as presented in Acts.

God wants to work his providence in your life, taking all your failures, your hangups, your bad habits and turn them out for good. But you’ve got to come to him, taking him up on his offer to save all those who call on his name.

[1] Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (Eds.). (2004). Concise Oxford English dictionary (11th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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