Mourning for Judas Iscariot
Enduring betrayal and lies in ministry
Judas Iscariot is a name synonymous with betrayal and deception. His narrative highlights a disgruntled and dissatisfied member of Jesus' inner circle.
Judas's traitorous actions draw a stark contrast between Jesus's devoted followers and the discontented disciple. The name Judas stirs up feelings of disgust and loathing among most Christians. But are those feelings warranted?
As a leader, the story of Judas gives me hope. Jesus, who was perfect in every way and had no sin, was betrayed by someone He discipled and poured into. Judas' betrayal was not a reflection of Jesus' leadership or character.
There is good news and bad news for us.
The bad news: If you are a Christian leader or discipler, someone you love and have deeply invested in will eventually betray you.
The good news: That does not always mean that you are a terrible leader. It does not mean the things they said about you are true.
After almost 30 years in ministry, I am still gutted by betrayal. It has become a great motivator while still a constant source of pain. I have learned that the most productive and least harmful way to deal with betrayal is to release my feelings onto the page.
Otherwise, words spoken out of an inflicted wound could cause infection within my heart and even more pain in others. So I bite my tongue and carefully loose my pen.
I have learned that I must forgive (even those who don't deserve it), and I must forgive quickly before bitterness sets in and causes my focus to shift from worthy endeavors to unworthy obsessions. Fixating on the wrong visited upon you will not change the outcome. It will only distract you from more worthy investments.
But I must confess, I am weary. Not of forgiveness, for in forgiving others, I find a deeper connection with Christ. My weariness comes from being betrayed again and again by people I am trying to help. I have lost count of the people I have personally invested in who have spread rumors, gossiped, or even lied about me, but why? Why do they do it?
I've asked myself again and again, is it me? Are the things they say about me true? After taking their complaints before the One who knows the inner workings of my heart and bearing my soul to his correction, I have come away with a clean conscience. So, I have looked in the scriptures for guidance.
I have found inspiration and guidance in Jesus' response to betrayal.
In the case of Judas, Jesus resigned himself to the path Judas chose to walk, and he endured the pain that followed. You can literally feel the agony in his voice as he says in the garden, "Friend, why have you come?"
I have learned that there is no harnessing the tongue and the destructive force of a bitter person. Sometimes you have to endure the abuse and lies. You have to be the bigger person and let God sort out the truth and protect your reputation. Any attempt to do that yourself will only make things worse.
Put your reputation in God's hands
Before Judas' fateful kiss, Jesus addressed his future betrayal publicly. He revealed to the disciples at the Last Supper that Judas would betray him, giving his betrayer a chance to change his mind and preparing the disciples for what was to come.
Unfortunately, the damage done by someone determined to destroy your life will not only affect you. It will affect your spouse, family, and whole team if you are in the ministry. It could even affect the people you are ministering to.
Jesus prepared his disciples for what was about to happen. They didn't see it coming, but Jesus did his best to soften the blow. He modeled for his followers a Christ-like response to betrayal. He was training them to respond like their master when faced with similar circumstances. Jesus did not lash out or defend himself. He even rebuked Peter for defending him in the heat of the moment.
Jesus put his life, his reputation, and his future in his father's hands. This is the greatest lesson I have learned from betrayal.
When I find myself surrounded by lies, slander, and gossip, I follow two simple steps.
First, examine your heart. See if you have done wrong, need to repent and ask for forgiveness. If so, humble yourself and seek reconciliation. If your conscience is clear, then move on to step two.
Step two is, Keep your mouth shut and trust God. He may clear your name, or he may start you down a path of hardship that will develop character and perseverance. Either way, it is for your good. Trust Him and let Him do His work in you.
Forgiveness and mourning
Finally, while nailed to a cross, humiliated and dehumanized, Jesus faced a whole multitude of betrayers. The same citizens that welcomed him with palm leaves were now witnesses of his crucifixion.
He could have called down vengeance from heaven. Sometimes you will wish you could do that too; thank God we have no such power. Instead, Jesus said, "Father, forgive them. They don't know what they are doing."
Following Christ's example, we must forgive.
Along with forgiveness is the recognition that they do not fully understand what they are doing. Maybe your betrayer is responding out of past traumas.
Perhaps they are just young and emotionally unhealthy. Please don't hold it against them. Pray for them. Mourn the hasty and unwise decisions they are making. Allow God to redeem even the most painful experiences, both in their lives and yours.
Betrayal makes us want to give up on discipleship and focus on our own personal walk and family. But we must not give up on the command to make disciples.
We grow weary of being hurt again and again. These feelings will pass, God will heal these wounds in time.
Be encouraged that because of Judas, we can be assured that Jesus fully understands the depth of our pain. Right now, it hurts. And that is okay.
In the meantime: Keep your mouth shut, trust God, and forgive.