Return from Betrayal
March 3, 2021 Lenten Worship Sermon John 18:1-11
Of all the egregious misconduct against one anothk,er is betrayal. “Trust is earned,” we are told. “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me,” goes another expression about our disdain for betrayal.
I’m sure most of you can account when someone you trust deeply has betrayed you. Perhaps you told this person something in confidence, and she shared it with someone else. Maybe this person pretended to be your supporter, and it turned out that he was manipulating you for personal gain.
Some of us are still dealing with the deep wound of betrayal that we doubt it could ever be healed.
Our theme for tonight is centered around betrayal within our over-arching theme this Lent based on God’s call for us to return to Him. We’re looking at different events that occurred during Jesus’ Passion and thinking about the sins committed. The purpose of this Lenten sermons is for to recognizes the ways that our own sins pull us away from God, and that we will hear His call to return to Him because He offers reconciliation and forgiveness.
Tonight, I wish to present to you three noted events of great betrayal. The betrayal of Ahithophel in the Old Testament, the betrayal of Judas and the betrayal of Peter from the Gospels.
In our Gospel, is a familiar account of the betrayal by Judas Iscariot. He makes a deal with the chief priests and scribes to turn Jesus over to them, knowing full well that their intention is to have Him killed. He betrays Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Judas’s actions are hard to comprehend; they are dark and painful and self-serving.
The betrayal of Peter, better known as “Peter denies Jesus” is another familiar account that we hear each year. Peter is on the record of promising Jesus he would never betray him, in fact John’s Gospel quotes Peter, “I will lay my life down for you!” But, alas, just as Jesus predicted, Peter, out of fear, denies Jesus three times before the rooster crowed.
We have no problem recognizing the sin in what these two disciples of Jesus did, but it may be harder for us to see the sin when we betray Jesus through our own actions.
We will come back to that in a moment, but I first want to take you to the Old Testament. Jesus said all of the Old Testament is about Him. Sometimes we forget that an get caught up into the history but not the prophetic aspects of Scripture. More times than not we see things in the Hebrew Scripture that portrays type and shadow of Christ Jesus and an old account of betrayal is powerful example for us tonight. I speak of the betrayal of of King David by his own son Absalom but more about David’s most trusted adviser, Ahithophel.
This is a story of betrayal, but it is also a story of how one sin begets many others and how the consequences of sin ripple out to impact many more people than we might expect. It starts with the adultery of King David and Bathsheba. You know that story. David sees her bathing on the rooftop, leverages his power over her; she becomes pregnant; David tries to find a way to cover up his wretched sin, but his plan goes awry, so he ups the ante and basically makes arrangements to ensure that her husband, Uriah, will be killed in battle. Once Uriah is killed in battle, David demonstrates his spectacular tribute to a fallen war hero by taking the poor widow into his home to be his wife.
But David is called out for his sin by the God’s prophet, Nathan. David is cut to the heart by the Word of God and he repents. This is where we get Psalm 51. However, in spite of true repentance, there are horrible consequences of David’s sin; King David and Bathsheba’s baby dies, and a huge rift is created within David’s own family with a prophetic word that “the sword will never depart from your house.”
But the consequence of sin ripples through House David. One of David’s son, Absalom, kills his stepbrother for raping Absalom’s sister, Tamar and he holds David accountable. In rebellion, Absalom undertakes a campaign to unseat his father and take over the throne. One of the people that supports Absalom’s coup is Ahithophel, a trusted adviser to David, who also happened to be . . . Ready? . . . Bathsheba’s grandfather. Bathsheba’s father, Aliam is the son of Ahithophel and her murdered husband, Uriah. Both men, Aliam and Uriah were part of the 30 trusted mighty warriors of David. Can you see how Ahithophel must have felt betrayed by his king?
As the story unfolds, Ahithophel outlines a plot to Absalom by which he would quickly raise up an army of 1200 men to hunt down the king on the lam while he is still weary and Ahithophel would kill David with his own hand. Absalom liked the plan. But another adviser, who was faithful to David, proposed different plan involving a lot more men, more of a shock and awe campaign, and Absalom chose to go with that plan instead. King David was warned about the attack and the plan failed.
When Absalom rejected Ahithophel advice, I suspect that Ahithophel in his amazing wisdom, knew the favored plan was going to fail, that Absalom would fail in his coup and there was no hope that King David would forgive Ahithophel’s treason. So, Scripture records that Ahithophel returned home and “he put his house in order and then hanged himself” (2 Samuel 17:23). In following the advice of a loyalist to David, Absalom was defeated and was killed due his rebellion (2 Samuel 18:6–15) by Joab, one of David’s general.
The betrayal must have haunted David. In fact, it even came out in one of his psalms. Specifically, Psalm 41, where David says, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9). David’s broken heart lamented that a trusted adviser, has betrayed him, has turned against him and taken steps to try and kill him in order to place someone else on the throne. The story of betrayal is old and it repeats, itself over and over again.
Because of Ahithophel’s betrayal of David, many scholars see him as a prototype of Judas Iscariot. Just as David’s counselor betrayed him, so also did Jesus’ disciple Judas betray Him. Similarities between Ahithophel and Judas include the following: • they both were trusted friends who betrayed their Lord (2 Samuel 15:31; Matthew 26:14–16). • they both sided with the enemy to plot their Lord’s death (2 Samuel 17:1–4; Luke 22:2–6). • they both hanged themselves once the betrayal was complete (2 Samuel 17:23; Matthew 27:5).
So, what is the difference between Ahithophel’s and Judas’ betrayals that lead to these men taken their lives and Peter’s betrayal in his denial of Jesus? I think the answer is found in tonight’s reading from Acts that we heard just a moment ago. The restored and forgiven Peter proclaimed, “You denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 3:14–15). But Peter’s words end with a familiar encouragement: “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19).
Ahithophel and Judas believed they were beyond hope. In the despair of their betrayal, they believed their actions were beyond forgiveness and thus they turned to their own means and ended their lives in the same way (which is no coincidence). Peter on the other hand, by the power of God’s Spirit, repented and knew that there was nowhere else he could go but to the resurrected Jesus Christ, who restored His betraying friend to be one of His greatest apostles.
Ahithophel betrayed David perhaps for vengeance, Judas and Peter betrayed Jesus for their own reasons and you and I have done exactly the same thing. But we don’t always consider the way our actions amount to a betrayal of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You and I have betrayed Jesus in order to put ourselves on the throne and we are so good at justifying this.
We have denied His lordship before others. We have ignored God’s Commandments and sought to do things our own way. We have treated others thoughtlessly and elevated ourselves over them, directly contradicting the biblical encouragement to “count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Or, believing we have something to offer for our redemption, thinking that our pious actions must count for something in our redemption, we betray and deny Jesus that it was not necessary for Him to suffer and die for our sins.
God urges us to be bold in our proclamation of the Gospel. Jesus Himself said that we were to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), and yet our actions are exactly the opposite. They are a betrayal that avoids discipling by avoiding the sharing of the Good News. A betrayal that seeks to make Jesus secondary to our own ambitions and desires to sinfully elevate ourselves.
And the result of our betrayal? The Gospel message is blunted. The Good News is blocked. People don’t hear or see the amazing love of Christ, because we have pushed Jesus into the background or denied His importance in our own lives.
God says, “Return to Me! I want you to be true to Me, but even when you fail at that, I have already stepped in to provide blessings!” He offers us His Spirit to cause us to repent of our betrayal. He offers forgiveness. He offers peace, the peace that only He can give. And He offers the strength to turn back and receive His blessings.
When we return to the Lord, He restores us and we receive all that He has promised. We are washed in the blood of the Lamb, and our sins are taken away from us. We are strengthened in Word and Sacrament, which offers us comfort, but also gives us words to speak and stories to tell to others that they also may turn back to God. In Him, all are made right. All are made clean. All are forgiven. All are reconciled.
May you be encouraged to share this Good News the Gospel, to turn from betrayal, and to return to the Lord. May you be blessed and strengthened in all that you do, that it may bring glory to Him. In the name of Jesus. Amen.