There is so much in the Gospel of the days leading to the Crucifixion that makes me squirm. When I read it, and I put myself in the scene, I wonder what I would have done. Would I have stayed awake in the Garden of Gethsamane? I’d like to think so, but I know well all the times I’ve fallen asleep, both figuratively and literally. At every turn, in the account of those last hours, there is the betrayal of Jesus’ closest friends.
Judas is the ultimate betrayer. With a kiss, he handed his friend over to the enemy. He knew how his betrayal would hurt Jesus. He gave his assent to that kind of pain. Still he did it. Christ knew that Judas would betray Him, and He chose to be betrayed. With Judas’ kiss, Jesus allowed Himself to enter into the pain of every one of us who has ever been betrayed by a dear and trusted friend. Where to turn when someone we love betrays a promise or a vow or our trust? Turn to Christ, who knows the anguish of that particular pain. See Him walk unflinchingly in its reality.
Christ had the power to have the earth open up beneath Judas and his conspirators and make it all go away. He chose to stand and be delivered unto them instead. Moreover, He used Judas as an instrument to complete the work He’d come to do. God redeems betrayal. God can use the times we are betrayed to bring about His greatest good.
Then there’s Peter. When I read the account of Peter’s denial of Jesus, I literally feel that awful feeling in my stomach that creeps up into my throat and makes my face flush with shame. He was so close to Christ. He had just promised never to deny Him. And there he stood in the busy crowd, protesting that he didn’t know Jesus—not just once, but three times.
Three different times, Jesus’ best friend claimed he didn’t even know Him. The placement of this event in the Gospel and the literary drama surrounding those moments of emphatic disassociation lead me to believe that God thinks this moment is very important for us 2000 years later. It is pivotal, enduring Biblical literature, to be underlined and starred and pondered in our hearts. When we do that, we find that Christ is particularly tender toward those who have been betrayed. Clearly, He is also poignantly merciful toward those who betray.
Perhaps you are scanning your own memory now, thinking of any time you could have stood with Peter, lurking outside the courtyard, cowering behind a pillar and lying straight up about a friend. Nothing? What about the crowd that called for Barabbas? Were you in it? One day, were you faithfully walking alongside a friend as did all those people as Jesus entered Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna,” only to find yourself shouting “Barabbas” just a few days later? Perhaps you didn’t shout it. Maybe you were swept along in an online discussion and you just quietly clicked “Like,” nodding your assent as the crowd said things they’d likely never say in person. Or perhaps there was no crowd at all. Instead, there was just a fleeting comment to only one other person — a betrayal of a confidence, an offhand whispered bit of gossip. We betray one another. And every time we do it, we betray Christ.
Betrayal requires intimacy. We cannot be betrayed by someone unless we have made ourselves vulnerable by drawing near to them. Christ models for us the intimacy and the betrayal. He lets us see how much He loved His disciples, even though He knew they would deny Him. Peter was so faithful when he was close to Christ. When he separated himself, just a little bit, and believed himself to be anonymous in the crowd, he sinned. We know that his sin deeply grieved him. And we know that Christ forgave Peter and trusted him again.
To get to Easter, we walk through the grim reality of betrayal. We see there that God calls us to repent of our own sins of betrayal and to forgive those who have betrayed us. Even as we forgive, we know that only Christ is the perfect friend. Only He is without blemish or blame in a relationship. He beckons us beyond the darkness of human failing to the hope and promise of Easter and to true friendship in Him.