The Holy Week Difference: Judas vs. Peter

Rev. Mark Buetow

Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." And they said, "What is that to us? You see to it!" - Matthew 27:3-4

Consider Judas and Peter. What was so different about their sins? Judas plotted with the Jewish leaders to hand Jesus over for money. Peter denied that he knew Jesus not once but three times! Is there any difference between betraying Jesus and denying Him? Is there really any difference between betraying Him to get money and denying Him to save your own skin? The first thing we are to learn from Judas and Peter is that even though they were Apostles chosen by Jesus, they fell into great and terrible sins.

Such accounts were given to us to teach us that being a disciple of Jesus does not mean we won't sin. Far from it! In fact, sometimes God's people can do some real whoppers! Like turning in the Lord for money. Or out and out cussin' and hollerin' that you don't know the Man! Betrayal. Denial. Looking out for Number One! That's what Judas and Peter did. They just did it in two different ways. But not just Judas and Peter. You and I do it. By our sins. By our being ashamed of God's Word and denying our Lord. By always putting ourself first when it's us or the Lord. Or putting ourselves ahead of our neighbor; trampling on others to get what we want and what will make us comfortable. Judas' sin, Peter's sin, your sin—there's not any difference. These are the mortal sins that damn us. Looking out only for ourselves, we bring ourselves under the wrath and judgment of God.

So Jesus does what He does. He is the Friend of sinners by letting Himself be betrayed into the hands of evil men by a friendly kiss. He stands firm against accusation and condemnation by the religious men of the world even while the disciple who said he would never leave Jesus' side swears to God he doesn't even know the guy! The Shepherd is struck and the sheep don't stand firm; they run away faster than you can say “cock-a-doodle-do.” Jesus goes the way of suffering the weight of His Father's will that He drink the cup of God's wrath to save sinners. It is the way of betrayal, the way of arrest, the way of humiliation and abuse, the way of scourging and crucifixion, the way of mockery and being forsaken. It is, finally, the way of death on that cross.

No, it is not possible that the cup of God's wrath be taken from Jesus; He must drink it to the dregs for your salvation. Now, rejoice, dear Christian, because all that Jesus suffered, He suffered for you. His blood shed on the cross was shed for Judas' betrayal, for Peter's denial and for every sin you have done or will do, yes, even for the sin that has corrupted your nature and been a part of you since your conception—all this iniquity our Lord has carried to Calvary and blotted out by His holy passion. Have no doubt, dear Christian, that there is no sin so great it is not covered by the atoning sacrifice Jesus on the cross; there is nothing too wicked, too terrible, no betrayal too great, no denial too awful that it was not answered for by the death of Jesus. Believe it, dear Christians, that ALL of your sins have been paid for by your Savior's Passion.

So what then is the difference between Judas and Peter? There is no difference in their sins just as their sins are no different than ours. But there is a difference! The difference is in where they went to church! There is a difference in what preaching they heard when their sins overwhelmed them. Brothers and sisters in Christ, the preaching to which you give your ears will either save you or damn you. When Judas betrayed Jesus, was he sorry? Of course he was! When Peter betrayed Jesus, was he sorry? He wept bitterly. But where did Judas go with His burden of guilt and shame? To the church of the Pharisees and High Priest. There Judas cried out His bitter confession: “I can't take this money! I've sinned! I've betrayed innocent blood!” There it is: sorrow over his sins and confession of his sins. But hear the preaching he receives against his sins. “What is that to us? You see to it! That's not our problem. That's your problem. We can't help you. You'd better go and deal with it yourself.” In other words, when Judas despaired of himself, all they had to give him was more Judas. And since Judas couldn't save himself, he did the only thing he could: he perished.

Yes, Judas sinned terribly. He repented and was sorry. He confessed his sin. But these things don't save him. The “absolution” Judas receives is the preaching of all the world's religions: “Save yourself.” You have to pick yourself back up. If you've sinned, it's on you to work it out and make it right. Jesus said to His disciples at the Last Supper, “The Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, but woe to the one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It were better if he had not been born.” Jesus does NOT say this because Judas' betrayal is an unforgivable sin. Jesus does NOT say this because His death was not for Judas; it was! He says it because He knows how it is going to end: Judas will not hear the preaching that will forgive and save him. The preaching Judas hears casts him upon himself and damns him. The great tragedy of Judas is that all that took place after his betrayal was done for him, yet he never heard that preached to him because he went for comfort to the First Church of Save Yourself. But there was no comfort to be had. No forgiveness, only death. That's how it is in a church that is less worried that they killed an innocent man than that the blood money gets put into the right account at the bank!

Peter's sin was no different than Judas'. Our sins are not any different either. But Peter was in the church. He was among the disciples of Jesus. He was there when the announcement was made that the Lord was alive. He was there when Jesus appeared alive on Easter. He was there to hear Christ call him to repentance and three times restore him and send him to feed His sheep. In other words, Peter was where the crucified and risen Jesus was to forgive his sins and comfort him with that Good News of life and salvation. So it is with you. The Lord has put you in a church where what Jesus did for you is delivered to you. When you look in the mirror of God's Law and see that you are a Jesus-betrayer and a Jesus-denier and you sorrow over your sins and you confess them, you will not hear that you must work it our yourself and see to it yourself.

Rather, you will hear that all that Jesus did He did for you. You will be reminded in the preaching and teaching of the Gospel that you have NO sin too big that it cannot be taken away by Jesus blood. In Christ’s church you are put in mind of your Baptism in which you too have died and risen with Jesus and therefore have passed from death to eternal life. In His church, you are absolved and your sins are forgiven by the minister whose job it is to pronounce that forgiveness. Christ Himself is there, present, in His flesh and blood to join you to Himself and give you forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. In Christ's church, you need never despair of your salvation. Oh yes! Despair of yourself! Despair of your ability to fix what you've done! Weep and wail over the sins you have that have killed the Son of God. But then hear what Judas refused to hear by going to the wrong church: hear that exactly what happened to Jesus was done FOR YOU and is given to you in His gifts. Make sure that when you sin big, you get there quickly so that the preaching of Jesus will rescue and save you from such sin!

The Psalmist writes, “Weeping endures through the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Weep and wail for your sins! Mourn over your iniquities which have killed the Son of God. But do not weep with worldly sorrow that has no hope. Dry your eyes and rejoice that all that the Lord suffered He has suffered to take away your sins. Rejoice that He has sent His Spirit to call you into the church where this Good News is delivered at font, altar and pulpit so that you will not despair as Judas did, but be restored as Peter was. It is for this life that your Lord came to die. And He rose again that you too will rise and live with Him who with the Father and Holy Spirit is blessed forevermore. Amen.

Created: March 26th, 2013