by John Perritt
Desiring God, September 12, 2017
I have distinct memories of holding each of my five children for the first time. My wife and I never found out the sex of our children prior to their birth, so holding them and naming them in that moment always brought about waves of emotion that were too strong to overcome. Although each of my children were light and fragile in my adult hands — some lighter than others — I knew the weight of this new life required strength I did not have.
In considering the birth of a child, it’s sobering to consider the point in history when a man and woman held their child for the first time and said, “We will call him Judas.”
What were their hopes and dreams for him? What were the moments of laughter they shared with this young boy, the memories they repeatedly shared at the table? Consider the moments of pride the Iscariots shared as their boy learned to speak and took his first steps. Surely they felt similar emotions to most parents as they witnessed the maturation process of a boy becoming a man.
The name Judas is one that’s familiar to most ears. Like Hitler, Stalin, or bin Laden, it conjures up many feelings of disdain and disgust. It leaves a haunting notion of betrayal, that seems more grave than that of Brutus and Benedict Arnold. Other traitors pale by comparison.
When it comes to notorious names, Judas is the name below all names, and appropriately so. While the aforementioned names deserve to be names that remain despised throughout the annals of history, Judas remains in a league of its own. Each of the men listed committed atrocities, some large-scale, others smaller. But Judas committed the most grievous act in the history of the world: the betrayal of the second person of the Trinity. The firstborn of all creation. The One by whom, and through whom, all things were created (Colossians 1:15–16).
In the words of John MacArthur, “Judas is the most colossal failure in all of human history. He committed the most horrible, heinous act of any individual, ever. He betrayed the perfect, sinless, holy Son of God for a handful of money.”
The name Judas is forever tarnished because of his egregious sin. But it’s not the only one.
Judas and Me
Whether it’s Judas, John, or Jennifer, all of our names have been tarnished by the sin that poisons every human heart. It may not have traded for thirty pieces of silver, or earned historical notoriety, but I too have betrayed the Son of God. There are times I’ve denied knowing him, like Peter. There have been moments of adultery, like David. I’ve murdered. Gossiped. Lied. Stolen. I’m unable to love God with my heart, soul, mind, and strength.
For Christians to grasp the weight of our sin, we must stop looking down on the name Judas as though we are on higher ground. The same temptations, cares, lusts, and greeds of Judas’s heart are in yours and mine. I get the sense that Christians often think of Judas like some character from a myth or fable. He’s just a villain, perhaps. In doing so, we separate ourselves from him, and when we do that, we are in danger of the same mistakes of Judas.
As J.C. Ryle once said, “A right knowledge of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity.” Or Christ himself, “The tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (Luke 18:13). Only those who know their sin are justified (Luke 18:14).
As John Piper has preached,
If we are ever to grasp the gospel, we must grasp the ugliness of our sin. If we never admit that we don’t just do bad things — we are bad — the gospel will never land in power. Our sins will always be healed lightly. I need to crawl into the cesspool of my heart and claw my way to the bottom, believing there’s Jesus’s blood down there, not hell. But it’s at the bottom of our sin, not only part way down.
Those who know the saving work of Jesus Christ look at the life of Judas and see themselves. Instead of seeing a person they scoff at, they look upon Judas with sobriety and even a kind of empathy, knowing that the only thing that separates them from Judas is grace.
A New Name
The life of Judas should foster thoughts of humility and discernment. We are not above this man in the sense that our hearts are just as broken as his at the most basic level. Nevertheless, Christians are not Judas. We have been given a name that clothes us in righteous robes that will never fade. Even now, though broken sinners, we are heirs to an eternal throne of riches beyond our comprehension.
While we find many commonalities shared between the world’s greatest traitor, we have the name “child of God” placed upon us. Just as our birth name was placed upon us apart from our doing, the name given to us at our new birth was also given apart from our doing. The name of “enemy” was removed, and “child” was bestowed. It has been fixed upon our hearts and “no power of hell, no scheme of man” can remove it.
We have been given this name because that one with the name above all names, Jesus Christ, left his throne, came to earth, lived a perfect life, and died an atoning death in the place of his children. He has conquered sin, he has conquered death, and he has secured a place for those children who still act a bit like Judas at times.
Christians are sobered by the sin that remains in our hearts. We feel sorrow from the price our Savior paid to remove our stained garments. But we also rejoice in the finished work of Jesus Christ and know that, one day soon, we will feel his embrace and thank the God-man who gave us a new name