Think of two men mentioned in Scripture. They knew each other well. They travelled together with Jesus day after day for over two years. Their names were Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot. Both were chosen by Jesus to become one of the apostles, which means that out of all the disciples following Jesus, these men were seen by Jesus as potential leaders, who could be sent as His ambassadors through the world with the gospel. Both had the blessing of seeing Jesus perform mighty miracles and hearing the most amazing sermons ever delivered. Both saw him hold little children in his arms and take broken people to bring new life to them. They were there when he cast the seven demons from Mary Magdalene and saw her become one of the faithful followers of Jesus. Both had felt the sting of Jesus rebuke on occasions. Both had been given miraculous powers themselves so that even the demons were subject to them when they were sent out on the limited commission to preach the coming kingdom to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Both of these men messed up royally in their discipleship of Jesus. In John 12 when Jesus and the twelve were in the home of Simon the Leper, eating with Lazarus whom Jesus had raised from the dead, they observed as Mary came near Jesus as they reclined at the table. She had about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. The whole house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. Judas took offense at what she had done and criticized her strongly for it. He declared this could have been sold for a year’s wages and given to the poor. John said that his complaint wasn’t because he cared for the poor but because he was their treasurer and he sometimes stole from the bag. When Jesus heard the criticism of Mary he rebuked Judas and said, “Leave her alone, it was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” After this rebuke of Judas, knowing the chief priest were looking for a way to murder Jesus, he went to them and made a deal for 30 pieces of silver he would deliver Jesus to them.
It was after the plan had entered Judas mind and he had made his deal for the devil that Jesus gathered with the twelve, including Judas to take of the last supper with them. As they reclined around the table, Jesus arose from the table, laid aside his outer garments and wrapped a towel around his waist. He took a basin of water and began going from one man to the next washing their feet. It was a servants job. But there was no hired servant there and none of the disciples were about to put themselves in the place of servant to the rest. Jesus did. He came to Simon Peter and Peter objected. He wasn’t going to allow Jesus to wash his feet until Jesus said, “Unless I wash your feet you have no part with me.” Then his cry was, “Not just my feet, but my hands and head also.” Can you imagine what it must have been like when Jesus came to Judas and bowed before him to wash his feet? I suspect that Jesus was especially tender on Judas feet. He knew what was going on in Judas’ heart. He would shortly say to the group that one of them was about to betray him. But Jesus washed his feet. Afterward he said to the whole group, “Do you understand what I have done for you?” “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” “Now if you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
Jesus said to Judas, “What you are doing, do quickly.” Judas left and went away to arrange the meeting where he would lead the mob to arrest Jesus. Later that same evening Jesus said to the eleven that all of them would forsake him when he was arrested and taken by the mob. Peter declared the others might, but not him. Jesus told him, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”
Jesus and the eleven traveled out to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed the agonizing prayer of submission to the Father’s will, “Not my will but yours be done.” Sure enough Judas led the mob to Jesus and betrayed him with a kiss. Peter took his stand with Jesus with a sword and was ready to fight and die for him. He took a swing with the sword and sliced off the ear of a man named Malchus. Jesus told him to put his sword up, that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. He reached down to pick up the ear of Malchus and put it back on like putting a new ear on a clay doll. When the mob led Jesus away to the high priest home, Peter followed from a distance. It was there as he warmed around the fire with others, that a servant girl asked him, “Aren’t you one of his disciples?” His downfall started. He denied Jesus, one, two and then three times. The rooster crowed, Jesus turned and looked Peter in the eyes, and Peter’s heart broke. He went out from the crowd in bitter tears, crying out to God for forgiveness. He knew his sin. He felt the agony of letting down his very best friend and savior at the very time he needed him. Peter repented and God forgave him.
Judas also had that time of remorse. He realized what he done. He went to the high priest to return the money and say he was wrong. They offered no regrets. There was no refund and no change in the course of things with Jesus. In his agony he went out into a deserted field and hanged himself. It was Peter who spoke of his fate in Acts 1 when he said that Judas, had by transgression fell and had gone to his own place.
Question: Was the sin of Judas any worse than the sin of Peter? I don’t think so! Why then was there such a major difference in what happened to them? Forgiveness was available to both of them. Jesus on the cross would cry out even for his murderers, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” Judas died a broken man and the implication of Peter’s words seem to be that he went to hell as the result. Yet Peter who had gone through so many of the same things that Judas did and had suffered even stronger rebukes from Jesus, even having been called “Satan” by Jesus on one occasion, was not only forgiven, but was the spokesman for Jesus on the Day of Pentecost when the church began in Acts 2, less than two months after denying him. He was certainly a leader among the leaders of Jesus disciples. Why was he forgiven and given a new start when Judas lost it all? It wasn’t the size of their sin that mattered, but the response they had to their own sins. Judas was broken about it but instead of seeking forgiveness he killed himself. Peter was broken and went to Jesus for forgiveness, where the forgiveness was freely given.
It isn’t about the nature of one’s sins or the horror of what we have done that matters. It is about what we do then. When Jesus died on our behalf on the cross, he paid the price for sin. “He who knew no sin became sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
I think of the girl or woman who in a time of weakness decided she couldn’t handle having a baby and went to some godless place to have the child aborted. Now the guilt haunts them and they wonder what the child would be like today if she had allowed them to be born. But I want to tell you, that while I believe abortion for our convenience is a horrible sin, let me plead with every woman who wrestles with guilt over what they did, turn to Jesus. He paid the price for you to be fully, completely, totally forgiven. He won’t forgive and put you on probation, but forgive and put you in the place of the pure in heart and life.
I think of the person who got high on some kind of drugs and committed some crime, perhaps that cost another person their life and now they struggle for a way to feel right about themselves or anything else. You did wrong. God is merciful. His throne is a throne of grace. Come to the God of love for forgiveness and a new start.
There is not a one of us who can’t look back on their life and see things that they wish before God had never happened. There isn’t a one of us that doesn’t deserve to go to hell for our wrongs. But Jesus took our place on Calvary because He wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of his truth. There is no reason today for any of us to struggle in guilt and shame. Turn to the Lord who loves you more than your mother, your dad or your best friend and through faith in him find forgiveness for all sins. Imagine that day when Ananias was sent to the house where Saul of Tarsus was staying. He was afraid of this man who was known for his terroristic acts against Christians. Yet Jesus told him to go and so he went. He found a broken man, blind, hurting, hungry and deeply penitent for his sins. Ananias laid his hands on him and gave him his sight back. He said to him, “Now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins calling on the name of the Lord.” It didn’t matter that among the sins was the blood of Stephen the gospel preacher. It didn’t matter that he had arrested and mistreated men and women who were believers in Jesus. It didn’t matter that he was injurious to the cause of Christ or that he was a blasphemer. It didn’t even matter that he was chief of sinners. Through Jesus every sin could be washed away and he could be as clean as that new born baby that never, never sinned and is totally innocent before God.
God’s plan is a plan for the redemption of fallen people, not a plan to see how many he can send to hell for not getting every detail right.