Peter and Judas

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I want to talk to you this morning about how you respond to a wake up call. You know what a wake up call is, when you really need to get up in the morning and an alarm just isn’t enough you organise someone to call you to make sure you get out of bed. But we also use it mean a warning, don’t we, a shock that drags us out of complacency and gives us a new focus.

I’ve had a couple of wake up calls in my life that fit both categories. Twice I’ve been woken by house fires. The first time I was about 11 and we were visiting friends in Wilcannia, the remote outback town we lived in till I was four. On our second night there someone set fire to the derelict house next door. It went up like a match and the house we were in caught fire too. It would have burnt down if firemen hadn’t risked their lives on the roof putting it all out. Somehow I slept through the danger and in the confusion with two families and 9 kids I was left asleep in the house when everyone else got out. Mum and Dad had to come back inside to search for me. I suspect they were rather pleased when they found me and led me out. I had no idea what was going on till we got outside, but I’ll never forget coming out to see that house burning – it was like a singe flame, like a candle or a match, but 50 foot high.

A couple of years later when I was in high school the house across the street burnt down. We heard them screaming and woke up to see flames coming out of the roof. They hadn’t called the fire brigade, they were too busy trying to get their boat out of the garage, meanwhile the house next door was in danger of catching fire. If my sister hadn’t heard them and woke the street up their elderly neighbours could have been killed. Again I don’t think I’ll ever forget watching the ceiling beams fall down into the lounge room while we hosed down the house next door and waited for the fire brigade.

In both those cases lives were at risk and a house was lost. When it comes to a wake up call, how we respond is vital.

In our passage this morning we see three sets of people who are given a very clear wake up call, and three very different responses.

They are Peter, Judas, and the Chief Priests and Elders.

We’ll look at each one in turn before pulling the threads together to draw some conclusions.

So firstly Peter gets a wake up call

Have a look with me,(Matt 26: 69)

Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. "You also were with Jesus of Galilee," she said. 70 But he denied it before them all. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said. 71 Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, "This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth." 72 He denied it again, with an oath: "I don't know the man!" 73 After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, "Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away." 74 Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, "I don't know the man!" Immediately a cock crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: "Before the cock crows, you will disown me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly.

Peter literally got a wake up call – before telephones roosters were alarm clocks. And didn’t he need a wake up call. What a situation he’d put himself in. Here’s Peter, the most gung-ho of all the disciples; Peter who was the first to acknowledge that Jesus was the Christ, who walked on the water and who saw the glory of the transfigured Christ; Peter who lived and ate and travelled with Jesus for three years; Peter who pledged to die before disowning his Lord; here’s Peter swearing blind that he doesn’t know Jesus from Adam. Meanwhile, just a few yards away, Jesus is on trial for his life. Peter finds himself letting Jesus down, even calling down curses to establish that he isn’t one of Jesus disciples.

And what brought him to this point? Let’s have a closer look at the details, have a look there at verse 69. The first denial is prompted when a servant girl comes forward and says ‘you were with Jesus of Galilee’. Peter avoids the accusation with ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’. Verse 71 he’s pointed out by another servant girl. Verse 72 again he denies it, this time directly and for good measure he adds an oath. Verse 73 a third time someone suggests that he must be one of Jesus disciples, because his regional accent marks him out as a northerner. Verse 74, A third time he denies it, now calling down curses on himself ‘I don’t know the man’.

Peter has completely crumbled. As Jesus makes the good confession, Peter turns his back and denies any association with him. And then comes the wake up call – end of verse 74:

74‘Immediately a cock crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: ‘Before the cock crows, you will disown me three times.’

What a wake up call. Jesus had predicted this very thing would happen. Look back to 26:31 Jesus says:

31 "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.' 32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee." 33 Peter replied, "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will." 34 "I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "this very night, before the cock crows, you will disown me three times." 35 But Peter declared, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." And all the other disciples said the same.

Peter was so passionate he would rather die than disown his Lord, but now as the cock crows he wakes up to himself and it finds that it’s all happened, just as Jesus said it would. For all that he was sure he would die before denying Jesus, in fact he turned against him at the merest hint of danger. To be fair to Peter he was undoubtedly vulnerable, he was isolated among a group of guards, probably the same guards who had just arrested Jesus. He could have been locked up too, he could have found himself on trial with Jesus. Nonetheless, for a man who declared himself ready to die before disowning Jesus he proves remarkably ready to disown Jesus.

So Peter turns out to be just like the chairman of the football club who issues a statement of support hours before sacking the manager. Or like the Hollywood actor who denies he’s having an affair and then moves in with his new lover. He’s like the mother who reported her child missing when really she’d arranged for a friend to keep her hidden in the hope they can share in a reward. Peter is guilty of a profound betrayal of his friendship with Jesus, and until the cock crowed he was set to continue in his betrayal, until he heard that wake up call.

We’ll come back to the wake up call shortly, but there are a couple of immediate lessons we can learn from Peter here. We need to see that when it comes to sin and temptation, we need to pray for God’s help. Only hours before this scene Jesus said to Peter (and James and John): ‘Watch and pray for the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’. Peter was sure that he would never fall away, but Jesus knew that he needed God’s help. Jesus prayed for strengthening, Peter did not. If Jesus had to pray then none of us can afford to be without it. And I’m not just saying we should all get along to the central prayer meeting and have a quiet time. Jesus earnestly sought God in prayer, he knew without it he could never stand. We need to learn that we are far more vulnerable to sin than we’d like to admit. And we need to come before God consistently and earnestly knowing that we’re in serious trouble if we don’t.

For the same reason we ought to watch out so that we don’t put ourselves in the way of temptation. Peter was convinced that he was strong enough to stand in the time of testing, not even Jesus could convince him different. But when he was sitting there in front of that fire, he found his resolve wasn’t quite as strong as he had expected.

We often do the same thing. We put ourselves in situations where we’ll meet temptation, and then we’re surprised when we fall into sin. Channel flicking on the TV late at night when there’s sure to be something dodgy on; going out with friends who love to party or what ever it is for you. We need to be serious about avoiding temptation.

So what did Peter do when he heard the wakeup call? Look at verse 75 again:

Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: ‘Before the cock crows, you will disown me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly’.

Do you see what he did. He woke up. He was suddenly very aware of where he was and what he was doing and he got himself right out of there, and then he wept over his sin. Peter repented and he learnt his lesson. He heard the wake up call and he listened and stopped going astray. In Acts we see a whole different Peter, not just a man of prayer, but a man with no fear, boldly confessing Jesus even before the Sanhedrin, no longer afraid of anyone.

So that’s Peter. He denied the Lord out of fear, but when he heard the wake up call he came to his senses and got out of there. But Peter’s not the only one who heard a wake up call from God that morning. For Judas, the news that Jesus was condemned came to him as a wake up call, so let’s turn our attention to him and see how he reacted to the wake up call. Turn with me to Chapter 27, verse 3:

3 When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. 4 "I have sinned," he said, "for I have betrayed innocent blood." "What is that to us?" they replied. "That's your responsibility." 5 So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.

We may never know why Judas chose to betray Jesus. It could be that Judas simply loved money or it may have been a moment of jealousy or anger. Whatever it was, we see here that he thought better of it when he realised what he’d done. When he saw that Jesus was condemned it was his own wake up call and he was seized with remorse. He had been the instrument for the arrest of an innocent man and now Jesus is going to be killed. He personally handed Jesus over to be arrested. He’d been the one to approach the chief priests and suggest they give him money to betray Jesus. He’d wanted to bring this situation into being. But now that it’s all happening he realises that it’s not what he wants at all.

So how does Judas respond to his wake up call? At first glance he appears to respond pretty well. He recognises that he’s done the wrong thing and he makes a public confession of it. Have a look at verse four; he says to the chief priests and the elders: ‘I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood.’ More than that he recognises that he can’t keep the money that he received for his wrong doing: look at verse 3:

‘he was seized with remorse and returned the 30 silver coins to the chief priests and the elders.’

But sadly Judas doesn’t turn back to God, go after Jesus and ask for forgiveness – he goes to the chief priests as if they were able to absolve him. Nor does he try and stop Jesus execution, he goes to the very people who condemned Jesus, but even as he proclaims Jesus innocent, his concern is for himself not for the innocent man that he’s betrayed. Of course he doesn’t get what he’s looking for from the priests, they brush him off without a second thought. But still he doesn’t think to seek forgiveness from God, and in despair he brings an end to his life.
Judas is like so many who find themselves caught up in terrible circumstances. Like the gambler faced with an ever increasing debt and the only way out is to gamble more, so he gets himself into more and more trouble until he’s got nothing left. Remember Nick Leeson? He was the rogue trader who bankrupted Baring’s bank. Apparently the trouble began when he tried to cover up a mistake which caused a £20, 000 loss. In covering up the mistake he lost more money, and then one thing led to another and instead of admitting his mistakes he gambled more and more of the banks money away, and then he gambled other people’s money away too. By the time he was found out he had generated losses of £827 million and bankrupted the bank.

Not many of us will loose like that, but lot’s of us know what it’s like to get ourselves into a situation that seems out of control. One mistake leads to another and we can’t see anyway out except to keep going along the same track. Judas fell in with a bad crowd. He allowed the chief priest and the elders to use him for their evil ends. And when it all blew up in his face he found his new friends wanted nothing to do with him, and he committed suicide because he saw no way out.

This leads us to the last characters in these chapters. Chapter 27 begins, not with the focus on Judas, but with the focus on the chief priests and the elders of the people. Have a look at verse one:

1 Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. 2 They bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor.

These guys are the real bad guys in these chapters. They’re the ones who decide Jesus has to go. They use Judas to get to him, preying on his love of money to incite him to betray his friend and master. They maintain a pretence of doing the right thing, of acting in accordance with rules and regulations. But they get their own wake up call when Judas brings back their money. Look again at verse 4, Judas comes to them and he says:

4 "I have sinned," he said, "for I have betrayed innocent blood." "What is that to us?" they replied. "That's your responsibility."

Judas admits that Jesus is innocent. Are they bothered that the man they’re taking off to be killed is innocent? Not in the least: ‘what is that to us? That’s your responsibility’. They’ve been scrupulous in sticking to the letter of the law, but they can’t see anything wrong with condemning an innocent man to death.

Well they say God’s got a sense of humour – look how he makes their error clear from verse 5:

5 So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. 6 The chief priests picked up the coins and said, "It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money." 7So they decided to use the money to buy the potter's field as a burial place for foreigners. 8 That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: "They took the thirty silver coins, the price set on him by the people of Israel, 10 and they used them to buy the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me."

Because they’re scrupulous in keeping rules they don’t want to associate blood money with the temple, so they use it for charitable good works. But word gets out where the money’s come from and the plot becomes a memorial to their treachery.

These guys have the politicians approach to doing good it’s not the content, but the form that’s important. So long as due process has been observed, no one can question the outcome. They get a wake up call and they don’t even notice. Judas says Jesus was innocent, but they’re really not interested. Bothered? Not really…

So there’s three different responses to a wake up call. What do we learn from them? None of us is immune to sin. All of us will find ourselves in situations where we need a wake up call from God. The important thing about a wake up call is how we respond to it. If we’re like the chief priests and the elders and we harden our hearts and pretend we’re doing nothing wrong, sooner or later we just stop hearing the call. If we’re like Judas and we don’t believe there is forgiveness, the wake up call will drive us to despair and we’ll be dragged down with guilt and fear. But if we wake up to ourselves and come back to God we find forgiveness. So if you’re hearing a wake up call this morning, don’t ignore it and continue in sin. And don’t just wallow in guilt and self pity. If you hear God’s wake up call, come back to him, confess your sin and find forgiveness in Jesus.

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