Disciples: Godly Sorrow Brings Life
I am about to retell the story of Judas’ sorrow and suicide, and I have some tough questions:
- How is it that Judas—who walked with Jesus in His inner circle for three years—was unable to find restoration after he betrayed Jesus?
- How is it that his grief over sin led to death instead of life? And how do we guard ourselves against the same thing?
- How do we access the radical grace of God and find freedom from the crushing weight of guilt, sin, and shame?
I want to explore these questions through the lens of II Corinthians 7:10, commit this to memory: Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
Where do we begin to talk about Judas’ betrayal of Jesus? Strangely enough, the story of Judas’ betrayal starts at an unexpected place. It seemed that the final straw that broke Judas’ allegiance to Jesus was during the very act of worship by the woman who anointed Jesus in Matthew 26:6-16.
You might remember Ingrid saying, “We worship God authentically when we know him truly”, and this woman did; she knew Him and worshipped Him which begs the question, didn’t Judas know Jesus?
You may remember that Jesus describes the woman’s act of worship as “something beautiful”. Astonishingly, while one person is worshipping Jesus in beauty Judas is about to do something that is ugly (Matthew 26:14-16), for immediately after, “Judas went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver [Jesus] over to you?’ So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.”
The betrayal of Jesus didn’t start in the Garden of Gethsemane and it probably didn’t even start at this act of worship. As Cormac McCarty said, “It is always himself the coward abandons first […] after that all other betrayals come easily.”
I don’t mean to just name-call Judas but I do want us to look in the mirror.
I appreciate Dan talking last week about our own series of micro-denials. This week I want us to face our own micro-abandonments of ourselves well before a betrayal of someone else.
How had Judas abandoned himself, abandoned hope of the Messiah, abandoned friendships with the other Disciples? You see, I don’t think this betrayal comes out of no where.
In preparing and praying about this passage, I have to say that this was the first time I allowed myself to humanize Judas, not to give him a pass but to put myself in those very uncomfortable shoes. It is a shocking betrayal because Judas is a friend of Jesus. As the chorus of a Michael Card song goes, “Only a friend can betray a friend – a stranger has nothing to gain; And only a friend comes close enough to ever cause so much pain.”
Judas betrays Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Do you know the significance of 30 pieces of silver? It’s the price of slave (Exodus 21:32; Zechariah 11:12). Is this the price for Jesus, or is this the value of Judas? Who’s worth is being reduced to a slave?
It’s hard to understand what broke for Judas. Judas was more than a follower with the crowds, he was chosen by Jesus to be an Apostle. He was in Jesus’ inner circle. He saw the miracles. He heard the teaching. He knew Jesus, didn’t he? It’s too easy to write him off as some fringe double agent.
Let me ask you: How much different is Judas to you? Expecting Jesus to be something or to do something you want. I suspect that Judas wanted the Messiah to save Israel from the Romans. He wanted his will to be done—You know, “may my will be done on earth as it is in my imagination.”
When Judas could no longer see Jesus meeting his expectations, being his kind of revolutionary leader he wanted, is when he gave up; when he abandoned Jesus being Messiah.
What did Jesus come to do? Remember when we started teaching through Matthew way back in January of 2020? In the very first chapter of Matthew (1:21) God’s message to Mary, the mother of Jesus, is, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Judas never grasped this. “Save us from our sin?! No, let’s get a political solution to our spiritual problem. Let’s get the Romans out. That’s the issue, isn’t it?” Judas didn’t get it and he couldn’t grasp this when it counted most, when he could not deal with his own sin, his own betrayal.
Judas makes this plan to betray Jesus just days before the Festival that leads into the Passover week. When we come to Matthew 27 it is now about a week later; let me bring us up to speed on the last 24 hours:
- Jesus celebrates the Passover with His 12 closest friends, including Judas. At one point during the passover celebration Judas leaves to go to a pre-arranged meeting he had with the chief priests to carry out a scheme to get Jesus into their hands without many witnesses or any public protest.
- Jesus brings the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray; a place Jesus often went to when they were in Jerusalem. This is where Judas anticipates Jesus to be and where he leads the temple guard to arrest Jesus. Jesus is brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish judicial group who put Him on trial.
- While Jesus is being tried and beaten up—sometime at the edge of night and morning—in the courtyard near the assembly of the chief priests Peter is confronted as being a follower of Jesus. Peter denies even knowing Jesus (as you heard Dan tell us last week). The rooster crows, and Peter realizes what he has done, he remembers this is exactly what Jesus had said would happen. He realizes he has betrayed his friendship to Jesus and he weeps bitterly.
Now we are at early Friday morning, Matthew 27:1: “Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the [Roman] governor” [over Palestine].
Now Judas realizes Jesus is being condemned and it says: “[Judas] was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’ ‘What is that to us? That’s your responsibility.’”
Yes it is. You paid me off; you were looking for a way to arrest Jesus since the end of Matthew 21 but, yes, this is my responsibility. And what was Judas to do with his responsibility? What would you have done if you were in Judas’ situation? Knowing what you know about Jesus, what would you do?
“Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.”
Judas knew now that the money meant nothing; it was “blood money” since he says, “I have betrayed innocent blood.” The chief priests wouldn’t take it back; they didn’t betray Jesus and, besides, it was now dirty money and they knew it. Judas throws the money into the temple courts almost as if he doesn’t feel worthy to enter the temple court anymore.
And then what? What’s the next move? What does he do with his guilt? With knowing what he knows about Jesus he hangs himself? It is bewildering. Didn’t he know Jesus? Hadn’t he come to know Jesus by being with Him all this time?
When I began do you remember I asked: How is it that Judas—who walked with Jesus in His inner circle for three years—was unable to find restoration after he betrayed Jesus? How is it that his grief over sin led to death instead of life?
I think the clue is in the verse I shared as a kind of the cipher that solves the riddle: Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. II Corinthians 7:10
Godly sorrow and worldly sorrow; two very different outcomes.
What does Godly sorrow look like? American poet from the last century Edna Hong probably has the most timely thing to say about Godly sorrow when she writes this about the purpose of Lent:
The purpose of Lent is to arouse:
- To arouse the sense of sin.
- To arouse a sense of guilt for sin.
- To arouse the humble contrition for the guilt of sin that makes forgiveness possible.
- To arouse the sense of gratitude for the forgiveness of sins.
- To arouse or to motivate the works of love and the work for justice that one does out of gratitude for the forgiveness of one’s sins.
To say it again – this time backwards: there is no motivation for works of love without a sense of gratitude, no sense of gratitude without forgiveness, no forgiveness without contrition, no contrition without a sense of guilt, no sense of guilt without a sense of sin.
In other words, a guilty suffering spirit is more open to grace than an apathetic or smug soul. Therefore, an age without a sense of sin, in which people are not even sorry for not being sorry for their sins, is in a rather serious predicament. Likewise an age with a Christianity so eager to forgive that it denies the need for forgiveness. For such an age, therefore, Lent can scarcely be too long!
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret.
Chances are you have known Godly sorrow; that is, the kind of remorse that God the Holy Spirit gives you, that leads you to Him rather than repels you from Him.
Have you ever thought about how odd that is? When God the Holy Spirit comes on us—even though He comes to convince us of our separation from Him—He does it in such a way as to urge us, compel us to return to Him.
It is not the grief that comes from the accusation from another; it is a conviction by God’s own Spirit that convinces you that you need to repent. Chances are this Godly sorrow led you to admit, confess, and repent so that you were led to salvation; that is, you were led to be reconciled with God through Jesus.
In a way Godly sorrow is a form of kindness; I say that because as Dan reminded us last week, “God’s kindness leads us to repentance” (Romans 2:4). It is this Godly sorrow that now liberates you to live without regret for you have been reconciled to the One who made you for Himself. You are reconciled to relationship; you are not just legally pardoned, you are now able to enjoy relationship with God.
In contrast, worldly sorrow brings death, and we see this in Judas.
John Piper gives some insight on the difference between worldly regret from Godly sorrow:
- Worldly regret is when you feel sorry for something you did because it starts to backfire on you and leads to humiliation or punishment. Feeling sorry for something we have done is, in itself, no sign of virtue. But godly regret is the reflex of a conscience that has wounded God’s heart, not our own. The focus of godly sorrow is God.
- A second way to distinguish worldly regret from godly sorrow is that godly sorrow comes from God exposing sin in our lives. Worldly regret is not concerned with God but with the attitudes of people whose praise we don’t want to lose.
We might feel extremely sorry for something we have done if we feel we are going to suffer from “cancel culture”, or if we fear we’re out of step with “popular culture”. We often see this with pop stars and movies stars who are caught having said something in their distant past and their regret focusses on what others will say, not God.
When Judas realizes he has betrayed Jesus to be condemned to death he realizes it’s got all out of hand; it’s gone all too far. He is seized with remorse, yes, but it is worldly remorse. He tries to give the 30 pieces of silver back to the chief priests as if he could fix his own legal problem, “I’ll just pay it back and it’ll be okay.” When he realizes no one cares, and that he can’t make it right he throws the money into the temple courts and hangs himself.
How is it that his grief over sin led to death instead of life? I think we find the answer in how Judas deals with his sorrow. He tried, sincerely, in his own power, to pay up for his own sin.
Look, we can’t pay enough to cover the debt of our sin. Because sin isn’t so much a legal issue, it’s a relational one. In other words, Judas’ problem isn’t so much that he broke a commandment, it’s that he broke a trust with a person who loved him.
We might be more similar to Judas than we care to admit. “No, not me” you say. “I’m no Judas!” Well you might not betray Jesus to death like Judas but we often betray Jesus and ourselves by taking the payment for our sin into our own hands, just like Judas.
It might not seem obvious to us, but we betray Jesus every time we take the problem of our alienation from God on ourselves to fix. You may remember Jesus’ answer to those who come to Him and say, “but didn’t we do all this for you? We did this all in your name.” And Jesus will say the most horrifying thing a soul can ever hear: “I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:23) In a way, Judas didn’t know Jesus either.
When I began I asked, how do we access the radical grace of God and find freedom from the crushing weight of guilt, sin, and shame? I said that II Corinthians 7:10 is a kind of cipher that solves the riddle: Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret.
Let me encourage you to share your godly sorrow with a trusted friend, or your home group, or with a member of the Leadership Team. Allow yourself to be prayed over, to be prayed with, in our common need to have Jesus reconcile us.
Don’t try to pay for your sin by yourself, that only brings death.
For us as a church and what we’ve gone through in 2020, part of our frustration is that sometimes there is little we can do to undo the harm that was caused. Our temptation is to try to make things right on our own terms but we need Jesus—we need His Spirit to move in people, to move in us all, and to heal us in His time.
Dear Abba Father, lover and redeemer of our souls, we come to you to admit, confess, and repent. We come to return to you for we cannot cross the distance we created between us. We come to you through your son Jesus and recognize Your gift of Your Holy Spirit to give us life, to adopt us, and to express Your kindness by giving us the kind of sorrow that draws us to You now. We want to be reconciled with you, to know you, to enjoy the freedom of knowing you and living with you. We thank you that this is on Your heart and that even this prayer originated with You in the first place and we happily sing it to you now. Come fill us; come save us; come restore us to friendship with You, in Jesus name. Amen.