By Brandon Lemons
At the beginning of the current sermon series (Who Do You Say I Am?), I said that I enjoy reading – especially history and biographies. I love knowing why things happened the way they did and why people did what they did. Biographies provide a window into people’s soul, allowing us to see how they develop, what motivates them, and why they relate to others the way they do.
When I started developing Who Do You Say I Am?, I expected it to be a highly biographical series as we look at Jesus through the eyes of people who played key roles in His death and resurrection. What I didn’t expect, however, is how relevant this series is to our lives. It’s not merely a historical study; it is a study in human psychology (interpreted through a biblical framework), which is universally applicable and, at times, convicting.
This relevance has been underscored to me after each worship service, when conversations have highlighted that the psychological realities were hitting home as people listened. It’s been an enlightening and convicting series for me, too. As we study historical characters like the Jewish leaders and Judas Iscariot, it’s like holding up a mirror and seeing what is happening in our own soul.
Jewish Leaders: A Lesson In Feeling Threatened
As I studied why the Jewish leaders had such animosity toward Jesus, I realized there is a super-common reaction that people have when their position of leadership and influence is threatened, or when their popularity or well-being is threatened. We naturally react against whomever or whatever is threatening us.
As I pointed out in the sermon, it is common to feel threatened when someone new gains influence and recognition.
We see this in churches when people have been in leadership for years, maybe decades. New leaders arise, maybe a new pastor, and some of the long-time leaders feel threatened. A power struggle ensues.
We see the same dynamic in business. The “old guard” feels threatened when new people bring fresh ideas. The status quo gets disrupted. When this happens, the old guard becomes territorial and focuses on protecting their position.
It also occurs in schools and sports teams. What happens when there is a popular group of kids who loves being seen as popular or athletic, but then someone moves to town who is prettier or more athletic? It upsets the status quo, and those who feel threatened shun the new person.
The Jewish leaders also demonstrate that jealousy and fear put us on edge, making us easily offended. Some people are relatively difficult to offend; they are humble, have a secure sense of identity, and don’t take themselves too seriously. However, when people are easily offended, they take everything personally and store up bitterness and grudges.
These dynamics explain why the Jewish leaders had such a strong, even deadly, reaction against Jesus. He threatened their way of life, their notoriety, and their financial well-being. So they wrote Him off and wanted to destroy Him.
Judas: A Lesson In Disillusionment
For two thousand years, people have wondered why Judas betrayed Jesus. Judas was, after all, part of the inner circle of Jesus’ followers.
In the sermon this past Sunday, I offered seven biblical facts that point to a hypothesis. Here is my hypothesis for why Judas betrayed Jesus: I believe Judas became disillusioned with Jesus. When Jesus talked about His burial (in Matthew 26:12), that was the final straw. It was time to jump ship and benefit however he could.
Here’s a longer version of my hypothesis: Judas became Jesus’ follower expecting Him to be a political Messiah who would set up an earthly kingdom. Judas expected that he would benefit from being in Jesus’ inner circle. As the months and years passed, Judas realized this wasn’t the type of movement Jesus was leading. What was most troubling was that Jesus talked so much about dying. The Messiah can’t die! He must be Superman who will save the day! Judas didn’t like where this was going. He felt like he was on a runaway train careening toward a cliff. Perhaps he even worried that Jesus was going to do something that would damage Israel. So Judas was bailing out, was having Jesus arrested to put an end to this nightmare, and he figured he could make some money in the process.
Disappointment and disillusionment are powerful. As I described in the sermon, I experienced this when I was on vacation in Mexico a couple weeks ago. My wife and I were at a resort for the sixth time, because we really like the resort. However, on one evening, a series of events conspired to sour my perspective on the resort. Disillusionment was setting in quickly. Frankly, I was shocked by the power of disillusionment. I was angry. I was disoriented. I felt trapped. During the next 24 hours, I reflected a lot on the power of disillusionment. It can happen toward another person, toward a store, toward a school or a church. Sometimes the disillusionment is legitimate; sometimes it’s an overreaction. Sometimes we recover from it, like I did with the resort in the following days. Sometimes the disillusionment lodges in our heart in the form of lasting bitterness, which is what Judas experienced.
Many people become disillusioned with God, because He doesn’t meet their expectations. Have you experienced disappointment or disillusionment with God? Many people believe in Jesus just like Judas did: they believe in a Jesus who will fix their messes and solve their problems. And when He doesn't come through in the way they want, they get angry. They get disappointed. They get disillusioned and bitter. And they walk away from Jesus.
Applying These Lessons
In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, the apostle Paul wrote: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man or woman of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” As we study these biographical sketches of the key players in Jesus’ death and resurrection, I pray we will allow ourselves to be taught, rebuked, corrected, and trained by God’s Word and His Spirit.
Here are a few ways to apply the lessons we have learned thus far in Who Do You Say I Am?.
It is easy to have a higher view of ourselves than we ought. First Corinthians 10:12-13 says: “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
The temptations faced by the Jewish leaders and Judas are similar to everyone’s temptations. One of the things that has struck me is how, if I were a Jewish leader or a disciple of Jesus back then, I probably would have responded in similar ways as the Jewish leaders and Judas.
If I enjoyed prestige and position like the Jewish leaders, I probably would have responded to Jesus with the same fear, jealousy, and anger that they did. I probably would have felt threatened by Him and would have been likely to dismiss Him without serious consideration, or even try to sideline or eliminate Him.
If I were one of Jesus’ disciples, I’m not sure I would have betrayed Jesus, but I think I would have been disappointed and disillusioned by Him, especially if I was expecting a political Messiah. In that disillusionment, I’m not certain what I would have done, but I am quite sure my commitment to Him would have been compromised.
We need the humility to recognize that we are prone to unhealthy reactions when we feel threatened or disillusioned. We are prone to hurting others, deceiving ourselves, and even to dishonoring or forsaking Jesus. We are all susceptible to these temptations, so humility is important.
With humility comes a readiness to understand and acknowledge what is happening inside of us. Here are a few questions to prayerfully consider:
Where do I feel threatened right now? How am I handling this threat? Am I ignoring or hurting someone in how I am responding to this threat? Am I trusting God with it?
Am I feeling disappointment or disillusionment toward a person, a place, a role I have, or even God? If so, is it growing (or has grown) into bitterness or a grudge? Is the disillusionment truly legitimate, or is it an overreaction? As appropriate, have I sought reconciliation and am I releasing this situation to God?
3. Receive the Gospel
All unhealthy reactions to threats and disappointments are rooted in our sinful nature. The good news, however, is that when we turn to Jesus, sin doesn’t have the final word. Jesus died and was resurrected to release us from sin’s eternal consequences and from sin’s power. As we receive the Gospel afresh each day and internalize Jesus’ love and grace, we can experience a renewed sense of identity that is secure – not because of who we are and what we do, but because Jesus’ love and grace have become the foundation of our identity, meaning, and security. This makes an immense difference – especially when people or circumstances threaten us or let us down.