A Tale of Two Sinners
This week of all weeks is a time for Christians to come together in order to worship. This week marks the time when we remember the death, burial, and resurrection of our King. This week marks a time in history when God-incarnate gave Himself as our substitute and received the wrath of God for our sin. He gave His life in exchange for ours. He placed His righteousness upon us. He defeated the curse of death through His own resurrection and thus paved the way for our future resurrection. He is even now at the right hand of the Father until such a time that the Father makes all of His enemies a footstool for His feet. He is coming again for His bride, the church, and to vanquish all of His foes. This week makes the other 51 weeks of the year pale in comparison. This is a week for Christ’s church to gather and worship. Unfortunately, most churches will refuse to gather this week. I will refrain from commenting further because I want to focus on the task at hand. It is my hope that even as the saints confine themselves to their homes and sever themselves from the communion of Christ’s body, they will be reflecting upon the events that transpired in and around Jerusalem some 2000 years ago.
Many families will be reading the gospel accounts of Jesus’ passion, the week of ministry before His arrest and execution. My own family has been reading through this material as we worship together during the week. As I have been reading these passages, I was struck by two key characters: Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot. Two men who had so much in common yet differ so drastically.
What They Had in Common
Both of these men were around for most of Jesus’ ministry. Matthew 10:2-4 contains a list of the 12 disciples and we will find both Peter and Judas on that list. Even here we notice a contrast though, as Simon begins the list and Judas concludes it. But the fact remains that both men were sent out by Jesus to proclaim that the kingdom of God was at hand (Mat. 10:5-42), both witnessed Jesus’ confrontations with the religious leaders (Mat. 12:1-8), and witnessed miraculous healings (Mat. 12:9-13; 15:21-28; 20:29-34) as well as many other miracles (Mat. 14:15-21, 22-33; 15:32-38). Both men heard Jesus’ parables with their explanations (Mat. 13) and sat under the best preaching from the best Preacher ever to grace this earth, yet we remember them very differently.
Both men caught Satan’s eye. Most people will remember that on two separate occasions Satan entered the heart of Judas. Once when he was determined to betray Jesus (Luke 22:3) and again as he set out to carry out his betrayal (John. 13:27). But Peter was also the object of Satan’s attention, for we learn in Luke 22:31 that Satan had requested to sift Peter as one would sift wheat. What do you suppose made the difference?
Both men took matters into their own hands. We can speculate that Judas’ motives were more political than spiritual, but what we know is that he took action of his own initiative to complete his own plan (Mat. 26:14-16). Peter likewise attempted to bring about his own will by fighting his way out of the garden (John 18:10-11).
Both men were told that they would betray Jesus. Jesus made it very clear to Peter that he would deny his Lord 3 times that very night (Mat. 26:34). Likewise, Jesus made it clear to Judas that he was the one who would betray the Christ (Mat. 26:25).
Both men ran a convincing bluff. Jesus told Peter that he would deny Him in response to Peter’s claim that he would follow Jesus even to death (Mat. 26:35). But in Mark’s gospel, we see that Peter kept this claim up even after Jesus told him that he was going to deny Him (Mark 14:29-31). Judas likewise ran a good bluff. He was the designated treasurer, even though he was pilfering from it (John 12:6). Even as he departed to gather the mob his fellow disciples assumed that he was on some official business (John 13:21-30).
Both men betrayed their God. Peter betrayed Jesus when he denied he even knew Him (Mat. 26:69-74) while Judas betrayed Jesus by feigning intimacy (Mat. 26:49).
Both men knew that Jesus knew. Not only did Jesus lock eyes with Judas from across the table and call him out (Mat. 26:25), but Jesus also calls him by name in the dark garden (Luke 22:48). When the cock crowed, all the gospel writers tell us the Peter remembered what Jesus had said, but Luke tells us (22:61) that Peter also locked eyes with his God whom he had thricely denied.
Both men felt remorse. Maybe Judas did not want things to go as far as they did or maybe he suddenly became aware of the magnitude of his sin, but after the deed was done, he was filled with remorse and even tried to return his blood money (Mat. 27:3-5). Peter likewise ran off into the night, weeping bitterly over his failure (Mat. 26:75).
This is quite a list of similarities and I’m sure that we could add more if we chose. With so much in common why do we remember these two men so differently? Sometimes all the difference in the world is established not in common ground, but in contrasts.
How They Differed
What did they call Jesus? How did these men identify the person who they had been following for so many years? Matthew 16:16 contains Peter’s confession par-excellence. After asking His disciples who the people thought He was, and receiving no cohesive reply, Jesus asked His disciples who they thought He was. “Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’” That is the confession of every believer. That is the confession upon which Christ promised to fashion His church (Mat. 16:18). While it is true that one can recognize Jesus as God’s Anointed one and even affirm His divine nature without being redeemed (for even the demons believe – James 2:19), it is also true that there is no believer who does not believe Jesus to be God’s Christ and His only begotten Son. Judas, on the other hand, is not so flattering. When he approached God-incarnate in the garden to betray Him, Judas simply greets Him as “Rabbi” or “teacher” (Mat. 26:49). He did not recognize Jesus’ divinity nor even His authority. To him, Jesus was only a teacher and nothing more.
What did Jesus call them? How did Jesus refer to these two men as individuals? After Judas’ belittling greeting, Jesus simply replies “Friend, do what you have come for” (Mat. 26:50). The Greek word behind friend here (ἑταῖρος) is not a term of endearment. The word simply means associate or colleague. There is nothing within this term that would suggest any relationship that would extend beyond proximity and/or casual interaction. If we read John’s gospel closely, we’ll notice that the mood in the upper room changes dramatically between 13:30 and 13:31. After Judas leaves to commit the highest of all betrayals, Jesus turns His attention to the remaining faithful disciples of whom Peter is one. To these faithful followers Jesus attributes many endearments. He calls them branches (John 15:5), growth and life that stem from Him who is the vine. He refers to them as His friends (John 15:14). This term (φίλος) is used for someone you love and think kindly of. A φίλος is someone you have a close and intimate relationship with. He calls Peter and the rest of the disciples His slaves (John 15:18-25), His personal possessions who are marked by their close association with Him. He calls those who remain believers who are beloved by God (John 16:26-27). And finally, Jesus states in the plainest of terms that Peter, along with the rest who remain, are those who obey (John 17:6). In short, Peter is counted among those who Jesus gives life to, has close and intimate relationship with, owns, believes in Him, is loved by God, and obeys Him. Judas is simply one who had a casual interaction with Jesus.
What did Jesus do for them? Jesus personally went to bat for Peter. When Satan requested to sift Peter like wheat, Jesus personally prayed that he would persevere, repent, and be a blessing to the other disciples (Luke 22:32). The 17th chapter of John records Jesus’ prayer for those faithful 11 who remained, to include Peter. Jesus prays that they would never fall away from the faith (vv. 9-12), for their joy (v. 13), for their perseverance (vv. 14-16), for their sanctification and growth in holiness (v. 17), and that they would have perfect unity (v. 23). Even after all of Peter’s failings we see the grace of our Lord Jesus continue as He personally restores Peter by allowing him to swear fealty 3 times to match his 3 denials (John 21:15-19). As for Judas, Jesus releases and dismisses him (John 13:27).
How did they respond to their failures? Judas was truly grieved and felt genuine remorse for his actions (Mat. 27:3-5). But we must understand that remorse is not a holy response. The word remorse (μεταμέλομαι) means to feel sorry or regret about something but it falls drastically short of action. To put it differently, Judas felt guilty about what he had done but never to the point of confessing his sin to the One whom he had sinned against and turning from his wickedness. Instead of facing his sin, confessing his sin, and humbly seeking grace and mercy he hanged himself. Peter too felt remorse. After looking the God whom he had denied in the eye, he ran away weeping bitterly (Luke 22:62). But that is not where Peter’s story ends. Peter did not only feel sorry for what he had done, he repented! Peter was the first one out the door (even if he wasn’t the first one to the tomb) upon hearing the news of the risen Christ (John 20:1-3) and the first one off the boat upon seeing Jesus on the beach (John 21:7). So overcome was he to once again be in Jesus’ presence that he threw himself into the sea because the boat just wasn’t going fast enough. It was Peter who humbly confessed “Lord, you know all things; You know that I love You” (John 21:17) and it was Peter who obeyed Jesus’ final command to him (“Follow me!”) right up until the day of his death (John 21:19, 22). Judas certainly felt remorse, but Peter repented.
Every church is a collection of Peters and Judases. All of us have sat under the preaching of God’s Word, said the right things, made the right connections, and done the appropriate deeds. From 100 yards away we all seem to look alike. But sometimes the things that are different mean more than the things that are the same. We have all denied our God. All of us are like sheep that have gone astray. None of us are righteous, no not one. All of us have blasphemed the God who has created us. Most of us are genuinely sorry for our sin and filled with remorse. And yet many simply hang on to that remorse and refuse to confess our sin to the One whom we have sinned against and beg for His pardon. To be sorry over sin is not a mark of a Christian. To repent from sin and cling to Christ is what identifies a Christian. So as we gather to worship this week, genuinely ask yourself: Am I a Judas who feels remorse or am I a Peter who repents?