King Frederick II, an eighteenth-century king of Prussia, was visiting a prison in Berlin. While there, the inmates tried to prove to him how they had been unjustly imprisoned. All except one.
That one sat quietly in a corner, while all the rest protested their innocence. Seeing him sitting there oblivious to the commotion, the king asked him what he was convicted of. “Armed robbery, Your Honor.” The king asked, “Were you guilty?” “Yes, Sir,” he answered. “I entirely deserve my punishment.” The king then gave an order to the guard: “Release this guilty man. I don’t want him corrupting all these innocent people.”
Today, as we continue to look at the witnesses of the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord, I would like for us to consider the Apostle Peter, but I would like to begin by recalling the few episodes we have of Judas Iscariot during this same timeframe.
There is widespread speculation as to why Judas betrayed Jesus. Some say that he did not believe Jesus was the Messiah, while others believe that by turning him in, it would force Jesus to assert himself as the true King of the Jews and begin a war with the Romans. In fact, there is even a Gnostic (translate that “heretical”) Gospel of Judas, written around 180 a.d. that portrays Judas as Jesus’ closest apostle and friend, and that Jesus commanded Judas to betray him so that Jesus’ earthly ministry could be completed. Whatever the case, scripture is clear on certain points, Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver and with a kiss. However, Matthew’s Gospel tells us, “When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood. But they said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself.’” (Matthew 27:3-4)
For the longest time, I had it in my head that the sin of Judas was his betrayal of Jesus. It was a terrible sin, but the scripture says, “he repented” and that he confessed, “I have sinned.” This may come as big of a surprise to you as it did to me, but many scholars agree, God did not condemn Judas for the betrayal of Jesus. Instead, Judas condemned himself through despair and hopelessness, which drove him, not to Jesus, but to a death by his own hand. (cf. Matthew 27:5)
Now consider Peter. Just days before Jesus’ arrest, Peter declares that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 18:16) In return, Jesus says to Peter, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it,” (Matthew 18:18) yet, on the night before Jesus’ crucifixion Peter denies the Lord. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” (Matthew 26:70) “I don’t know the man!” (Matthew 26:72 and 74) In order to save his own skin, Peter demotes Jesus from “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” to “the man.” What had Jesus taught the Apostles earlier? “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33) Peter’s denial is similar to Judas’ betrayal, but where Judas was condemned, Peter was restored. Just a few days after the resurrection, Jesus appeared to Peter and the other disciples, and three times Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” (cf. John 21:15-25) and restored Peter to himself and to God. So, what was the difference between Judas and Peter?
Judas, sinned, repented and confessed, but instead of returning to Jesus, he went out and hung himself. Peter we are told sinned, but after the cock crowed out Peter’s judgment, scripture says that Peter remembered that Jesus had foretold his denial, and he “went out and wept bitterly.” (Matthew 26:75) His tears were his repentance, but instead of remaining in his despair, on the morning that Jesus appeared to them on shores of the lake, when Peter heard that Jesus was there, he ran to him. He returned to the Lord. The difference between the sin of Judas and the sin of Peter, is that Peter returned to God. Peter knew and believed the words of the Psalmist:
[The Lord] does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion for his children,
so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
For he knows how we were made;
he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:10-14)
Repentance includes turning from our sin and confession, but in the act of turning, we do not turn to ourselves and self condemnation, instead, we turn from our sin to Jesus, the only source of our forgiveness and healing. Yes, there is remorse, there are the tears of repentance, but to complete the act of repentance, we must allow ourselves to be touched by God and to be healed by him.
The man in the prison cell that King Frederick questioned, he confessed his guilt and the King declared him free. Do you think the man responded, “You know, I’m good. Think I’ll just stay right here where I belong.” When Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” — come to me and I will free you of the weight of your sins, why would you even consider saying something similar? “You know, I’m good. Think I’ll just stay right here in despair and hopelessness.”
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17) Jesus did not come into the world to condemn Judas anymore than he came into the world to condemn you. He came into the world to save – as the scripture says – “everyone,” but in order for that salvation to occur, in order for the true healing of our souls to take place, when we turn from our sin, we must turn to Jesus and allow ourselves to be touched by Him.
The cross proves to what extent that Jesus will go for our salvation, yet there was one young girl who thought he would go even further to save those he loves. The young girl was in the sixth grade, when her Sunday school class was visited by Bishop Jack Nicholls, the Bishop of Sheffield. He asked the class what they thought Jesus was doing between the time of his burial and his resurrection. There was silence in the class for a bit, then the young girl spoke up, “I think he was in deepest darkest hell looking for his good friend Judas.”
The King does not condemn you, why do you persist in condemning yourself. You have been set free, not to turn on yourself, but to turn to him and be healed. Love – God – will never stop desiring you. Complete the act of repentance, return to Him and be restored.
Let us pray: Almighty Father, who didst inspire Simon Peter, first among the apostles, to confess Jesus as Messiah and Son of the living God: Keep thy Church steadfast upon the rock of this faith, that in unity and peace we may proclaim the one truth and follow the one Lord, our Saviour Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.