If like Judas we say we are not sinful, we lie and do know the truth. If like the elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we feel righteous enough to judge our brothers, we are still estranged from the Father. However, if we see and confess our sin, Jesus is faithful to forgive and cleanse us from all our iniquity. In addition, like the Father in the Prodigal Son and like Son after his resurrection, Jesus is also eager to dine with us who are holy-looking, grossly sinful disciples. We are not worthy to come to his table, but by grace alone we are welcome.
Jesus was in the upper room at the table with his disciples. They were keeping the the Annual Passover, the Last Supper, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, or Holy Communion. On that evening, Jesus had welcomed his disciples, honored them by washing their feet, ate and drank with them, and engaged in theological discourse. It was a sacred, sweet, and enjoyable meal, at least for the Twelve, and at least for a time. However, soon the demeanor and dialogue of Jesus changed:
After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” (John 13:21-25)
Jesus troubled his guests by promising an anonymous betrayer was in their midst. The Apostle John then tells us the disciples began looking about trying to ascertain the identity of the turncoat. Quizzical glances were darting here and there. Perhaps there was a whisper or two from one man to his neighbor. However, during this time of uncertainty, it is certain no one focused on Judas. No one looked his way, pointed their finger at him and said, “He is the fraud. He is the betrayer! It’s Judas, isn’t it?”
You see, Judas was not a sadistic monster. He was not half-man and half-Satan. To the contrary, he was a child of the covenant, raised in the worshiping community, matured in the Master’s seminary, fallen upon by the Holy Spirit, and spiritually beneficial to his lost and hurting world. He was a deacon of sorts as he kept the Lord’s money. He was an elder of sorts as he assisted Christ in finding and tending sheep. His work ethic appeared to be good, and his reputation was strong. Judas was an exemplary minister in the Master’s service, and by those who knew him best he was not noted for having self-serving interests, an abusive demeanor, or a hedonistic lifestyle. Like all of Christ’s Apostles, Judas seemed holy. He appeared to be a worthy individual sitting at the table of the Lord.
However, sacred Scripture has given us a glimpse into his wretched soul. Despite Judas’ holy demeanor, sin was very prevalent in his heart. He was a disciple who lacked faith; he was consumed with fear. He postured and fought for the chief seats in the Lord’s kingdom. He was a disciple who pushed aside little children coming to the Lord. Later, he harshly criticized female worshipers who were too wild and charismatic in their affection for Jesus. We also know he stole from Jesus’ purse, and in the end he stood not with his Lord. Yes, on the outside, Judas looked holy, but on the inside he was plagued by sin. Judas was not a worthy individual sitting at the table of the Lord.
But let us pause for just a moment. Could not the same be said of all Jesus’ disciples who were at his table? Were not all the men at the table holy in demeanor and yet filled with sin? They all doubted and lacked faith. They all argued over who was to be greatest in the kingdom. They were all rebuked by Jesus for turning away the little children and legalistically judging the women who anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume. None of them were good stewards of the all gifts given them by Jesus. All of them fled and forsook their friend. Yes, on the outside, all the disciples looked holy, but on the inside they were all plagued with sin. There was not a worthy one amongst them. None of the disciples were worthy worshipers sitting at the table of the Lord.
Could not the same be said of us today? Isn’t this true of all Jesus’ worshipers who gather in his house and at his table this weekend? Are we not church members struggling with sin? Don’t we all have a faith deficiency? Aren’t we prone to fear and doubt? Is there a one of us who does not daily struggle with self-serving and self-promoting pride? Aren’t we all too quick and too errant in our condemnation and judging of others? Haven’t we all misused the Lord’s talents and improperly stewarded the Lord’s wealth? Don’t we regularly deny Jesus in our thoughts, affections, words, and deeds? Yes, sadly, all of us look religious and holy on the outside, but on the inside we are wretched worshipers plagued by sin. There is not a worthy one reading this devotional piece. On Sunday, none of us can say we are worthy worshipers sitting at the table of the Lord.
However, there is a distinction between the holy looking, grossly sinful, and hell-bound Judas and the holy-looking, grossly sinful, and paradise-bound Peter.
And, more practically, there is a distinction between holy looking, grossly sinful, and hell-bound churchman and those who are holy-looking, grossly sinful, and paradise-bound Christians?
So, what is the distinction? The only difference between the wheat and the tares, the sheep and the wolves in sheep’s clothing, the eleven and Judas is repentance.
Let us recognize that none of us are worthy of being admitted to the table of the Lord. We are all like Judas and Peter. We are all holy-looking, grossly sinful disciples. However, let us respond as did Peter and the eleven. Let us run into the arms of the crucified and risen Christ. Let us hear the good news from him again that all our transgressions have been covered by his blood. Let us hear that though we are adulterous to the core, we are his beloved bride. If like Judas we say we are not sinful, we lie and do know the truth. If like the elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we feel righteous enough to judge our brothers, we are still estranged from the Father. However, if we see and confess our sin, Jesus is faithful to forgive and cleanse us from all our iniquity. In addition, like the Father in the Prodigal Son and like Son after his resurrection, Jesus is also eager to dine with us who are holy-looking, grossly sinful disciples. We are not worthy to come to his table, but by grace alone we are welcome.
Joseph A. Franks IV is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Palmetto Hills Presbyterian Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina. This article first appeared on his blog, and is used with permission.