Been talking about repentance at The River the past few weeks. The following are some thoughts I had on my heart this past Sunday. Sorry New River-ites, you’ve already seen this, though it has been retooled into a much more readable fashion…
Both sinned against the Lord on the exact same night.
Both betrayed Christ.
Only one was justified.
The other penitent soul went straight to hell.
Yikes. Are you listening?
Of course we are talking about Judas Iscariot and his fellow disciple, Simon who was called Peter. Judas betrayed Christ for some coins, striking the necessary spark for Christ’s crucifixion. One gospeler says of the devilish disciple (John 6:70)—the only disciple from Judah—that satan entered into him, so we know this follower of Christ (at least geographically) was possessed by satan himself on that fateful night (John 13:27). Under cover of night, of both the natural and supernatural kind, Judas went out at the direction of Christ (John 13:27) and set in motion the night of all nights.
Judas’ betrayal was sealed with a kiss.
Sifted Simon had his part in the cosmic drama as well. After Jesus had been taken, he followed the retinue of soldiers and the shackled Messiah to the home of the high priest where the Christ was bloodied and bullied all night long. Outside, in the courtyard, Simon was confronted three different times, twice by two different “girls” (Matthew 26:69,71) who were able to expose his weak-kneed faith.
You remember Peter, don’t you? Upstairs? In the Hall of the Last Supper? Yeah, that’s him: loudly heralding his undying commitment and willingness to die alongside Jesus if called upon to do so. And see all the disciples around him? Well, Judas had already fled into the night, but the rest were adding their amens and hallelujahs, each stepping forward and volunteering for the King’s Army of Martyrdom.
Now some scant hours later, Peter-the-spokesman, is tragically and pathetically calling down curses on himself and others if he had had as much as a passing relationship with this Man who called Himself Messiah. The final betrayal, a string of words that would make any salty fisherman proud, was met with the loud and soulful wail of a rooster as it crowed. Or perhaps it was a soldier’s bugle, sounding out “cock-crow.” It didn’t matter. Whether from metal or animal, as far as the future Apostle was concerned, it was surely his death-knell. He must have covered his ears, squeezed his eyes shut and fallen to the earth waiting for the inevitable lightning strike.
I like what Adam Clarke says about this alarming detail:
This animal becomes, in the hand of God, the instrument of awaking the fallen apostle, at last, to a sense of his fall, danger, and duty. When abandoned of God, the smallest thing may become the occasion of a fall; and, when in the hand of God, the smallest matter may become the instrument of our restoration. Let us never think lightly of what are termed little sins: the smallest one has the seed of eternal ruin in it. Let us never think contemptibly of the feeblest means of grace: each may have the seed of eternal salvation in it. Let us ever remember that the great Apostle Peter fell through fear of a servant maid, and rose through the crowing of a cock.
While Judas’ betrayal was sealed with a kiss, Peter’s was sealed with something much more potent: the eyes of Jesus.
That’s right. No sooner were the self-damning words out of his mouth, was Peter caught by the sight of His Lord, beaten bloody, black and blue, shuffling down the courtyard steps between two burly, irascible soldiers. Although the event was witnessed by a growing crowd, the Savior’s swollen, tear-stained eyes locked onto the backwater fisherman from Galilee.
And Peter wept. Bitterly.
Let me explain what those words mean. The English makes it sound like he quietly cried into his hands off in a corner somewhere, but the Greek paints a far different picture. The words Matthew used are literally translated “wailed violently.” He convulsed. Spasms of sorrow sent shudders through his being. The dude was broken to bits! His cry alerted the entire crowd he belonged to Messiah and he didn’t care whether they took and tortured him or not.
No, Peter was so broken by his sin his guttural, throat-shredding cry was a vote for Jesus. I don’t care what you do to me, it said, I just cannot break my Lord’s heart!
What was Judas’ response? Yes, he repented (Matthew 27:3), but the word used to describe his condition three verses after Peter’s public display was “to feel remorse.” That’s a bit different from “wept bitterly” don’t you think? Judas, no doubt, cried and felt horrible about his sin of betrayal, but it only took him so far. He wanted the godforsaken process to stop which is why he returned to the Temple to give the money back, but it was too late.
Judas even confessed his sin (v4). Publicly! So, what’s the deal? Why is Judas in hell today and why did Jesus refer to him as the “son of perdition”? (John 17:12) According to Paul’s teaching about repentance, there must be remorse but only when it is “godly” (re: toward God) will it LEAD to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). Judas did not repent to God or, more specifically, go back to Jesus (God!) and express his sorrow and seek His forgiveness, but he felt an inner regret, a hopeless destiny, and right to the very end, called the shots of his own life by choosing to kill himself.
He had a serious case of “worldly sorrow” of which the fruits are hardness, despair, bitterness and death. Godly sorrow leading to repentance brings life, peace, hope and renewal. Fast-forward now and take a look at the flip-side disciple. Peter’s got the floor now, preaching his heart out on Pentecost Sunday, and thousands are repenting.
Less than two months earlier he was wailing, trembling, shaking and shouting violently. Look at him now: peaceful as a lamb, full of joy and the Spirit of God. Totally transformed.
Two men. Two choices. Two destinies.
Now how important do you think this matter of repentance really is?