The Britannica Dictionary defines betrayal as giving information about (a person, group, country, etc.) to an enemy; hurting someone who trusts you (such as a friend or relative) by not giving help or by doing something to them that is morally wrong.
God’s Word has much to say about betrayal (e.g. Josh 9:22; Judg 16:18–20; 1 Sam 28:9–12; 2 Sam 3:27; Ps 41:9; Ps 55:12–14), and yet it remains a subject that is not often talked about within evangelical churches. The sentimentalist mantra of “do better” has left very little, if any, room for broaching such a depressing yet necessary topic.
At the risk of sounding uncouth to some, the matter of betrayal has intrigued me for quite some time. For many years now, perhaps in part because of my own personal experiences, I’ve been curious to know how—and why—our hearts can be so intentionally and, often, unrepentantly treacherous toward those we profess to love (or used to love). Then again, I guess it would depend on how one defines love, wouldn’t it (1 John 4:7-8)?
Nineteenth-century Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, and rather pointedly, I might add,
None are such real enemies as false friends. Reproaches from those who have been intimate with us, and trusted by us, cut us to the quick; and they are usually so well acquainted with our peculiar weaknesses that they know how to touch us where we are most sensitive, and to speak so as to do us the most damage.
Spurgeon, sadly, is right.
Yet such is the condition of the human heart, which Scripture unambiguously declares in Jeremiah 17:9 is “sick and desperately wicked.” The wickedness of which the prophet Jeremiah speaks was no less applicable to the disciples of Jesus just prior to his being betrayed by Judas (Matt 26:47–50) and denied by Peter (Matt 26:69–75). Consider that in light of the fact that Matthew 26:22 says that “each one” of the disciples began to say to Jesus, “Surely not I, Lord?”
But before we come down too hard on the disciples, let us consider that their behavior provides a very valuable lesson for Christians like you and me (Prov 1:5).
That lesson is captured in this single question: How is it that those men, each of whom walked so closely with Jesus as to witness first-hand one miracle after another at his hands—the deaf made to hear, the lame made to walk, the blind made to see, and the dead made to live—how is it that they could regard themselves even remotely capable of betraying him? I’ll tell you why. It’s because they knew in their hearts that Jesus was the only innately righteous person in the room (Luke 5:8).
In commenting on Matthew 26:22, the seventeenth-century British evangelist and author Matthew Henry says,
It is possible for a hypocrite to go through the world, not only undiscovered, but unsuspected; like bad money so ingeniously counterfeited that nobody questions it . . . We know not how strongly we may be tempted, nor how far God may leave us to ourselves, therefore we have reason not to be high-minded, but to fear.
I can only imagine, as the disciples posed that penetrating inquiry to Jesus and to themselves, that their eyes alternated from looking intently at their omniscient Lord for fear of being revealed as the betrayer of him for whom they had left all to follow (Matt 19:27), to looking with suspicion, perhaps accusatively, at one another. But when you think about it biblically, such a reaction was completely appropriate for sinners like the disciples.
Sin doesn’t care how closely you walk with Christ. Sin doesn’t care that you read your Bible consistently or that you memorize Scripture proficiently or that you attend church regularly. Sin couldn’t care less that you pray earnestly or that you give your money generously. Sin doesn’t care that you’ve been faithful to your spouse or that you’re rearing godly children or that you serve on the mission field.
Sin doesn’t care about any of that because sin never sleeps!
If sin were not an ugly thing, would it wear a mask? If it did not have evil designs, would it walk in disguise and change its name? Truth is not ashamed of its name or nakedness; it can walk openly and boldly. Sin, on the contrary, is a cheat, a lie, and therefore lurks privily and puts on false names and colors; for if it were to appear like itself—as it sooner or later will do to all, either for conversion or confusion—it would frighten men into dying fits . . . and when they come to themselves they would abhor and hate it.
In Matthew 26:41 are found some of the most disregarded yet important words spoken by the Lord Jesus in the entire New Testament: “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The word “weak” is the Greek adjective that translates to mean that, in our flesh, you and I are morally strengthless, impotent, and feeble to obey God and remain faithful to him. In other words, even in our spiritually regenerate state, the remaining sin that dwells within us renders us subject to the very same interrogatory as that of the disciples: “Is it I, Lord?”
You see, my friend, the disciples are you. They’re me. They’re us.
I invite you to reflect on that weighty reality against the backdrop of these words from the noted Puritan, John Owen (1616-1683), who wrote in in his classic work, The Mortification of Sin,
If, then, sin will be always acting, if we be not always mortifying, we are lost creatures. He that stands still and suffers his enemies to double blows upon him without resistance, will undoubtedly be conquered in the issue. If sin be subtle, watchful, strong, and always at work in the business of killing our souls, and we be slothful, negligent, foolish, in proceeding to the ruin thereof, can we expect a comfortable event? There is not a day but sin foils or is foiled, prevails or is prevailed on; and it will be so whilst we live in this world.
One of my favorite verses in terms of my own personal sanctification is Luke 4:13. In that text, the apostle Luke tells us that subsequent to Satan having finished his tempting of Jesus in the wilderness, he left Jesus alone—but only “until an opportune time.”
What we have to remember, brothers and sisters, is that as Christians, the “opportune time” for you and me to fall into temptation and sin is right now—today—even this very moment. That is why it is incumbent upon us to be diligent to not be “high-minded,” as Matthew Henry warned, but, in a spirit of humility and dependence upon God’s grace, to always be watching and praying.
Sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it. — Genesis 4:7
Soli Deo Gloria!
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