This last week in church, we studied Acts chapters 1-5 and a large amount of our discussion was focused on Peter who becomes a valiant prophet for Christ in these chapters. As I read about Peter, however, I couldn’t stop thinking about Judas and how both men were in similar situations but reacted very differently.
Back when I was a Freshmen in college, my Institute director told us of one of his impressions about Judas. My teacher thought that Judas didn’t betray Jesus because he no longer believed, but rather because he was so desperate for Jesus to throw out the Romans and establish a literal kingdom for Israel that he tried to force a confrontation. Until this point, when Jews tried to capture or trap Jesus, he always found a way out. They could not trap him; they could not touch him. Perhaps, Judas thought that if he forced a confrontation between Jesus and the Romans, such that his mortal life was in great peril, Jesus would finally do what Judas had been waiting for—declare himself beyond contestation and lead the oppressed Jews against the Romans. As we know, this plan did not work. Judas’ betrayal did bring about the end of Christ’s earthly mission as he finished the work the Father sent him to do, but it was not the work that Judas wanted.
Judas was not the only one that was confused about what Christ meant when he spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. In Acts 1:6 the apostles, after being with the resurrected Christ for 40 days, asked, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” They still wanted to be delivered from the Romans, to have their own nation, to be a people again.
I think this stuck with me so much this week because I have fought the will of the Lord multiple times. I have even tried to force the Lord to do my will and simply ignored His. He’s all powerful anyway, He doesn’t actually need me, right? I can do what I want to do and still get some blessings. But it’s never worked out the way I wanted it to.
I kept thinking of poor Judas. I think he did love Jesus and believed that Jesus was the Savior they had been waiting for, but he also believed he was right about what the Savior was supposed to do. His conviction was such that he was not content to watch and wait for the Savior to do his own work. Did he think fear held Jesus back? Did he think he was helping? Was he impatient? Was he fed up with being on the run and ridiculed by so many others?
Peter had this same confusion—I think it was common among the Jews at that time to believe their Savior was going to establish a kingdom of Israel and be a king, as his ancestral father David. Yet, Peter watched, waited, and listened. After Christ’s final ascension into heaven, Peter, with the apostles and other disciples, including the women, prayed, and Peter saw that even Judas’ betrayal was a part of the prophecy of Christ’s mission. The darkest and probably the hardest thing Peter had ever had to watch and suffer—the betrayal, trial, and crucifixion of his beloved Master—was part of the plan. When he remembered the words that the “Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas,” Peter saw his way forward and began to become the powerhouse prophet we now know him as.
Judas never saw that. I think his devastation at seeing Christ’s crucifixion was crushing to him because he was so focused on his own plan that he wasn’t able to see God’s. I think Judas also loved Christ and seeing Jesus’ death and blaming himself for it caused his collapse. Perhaps he thought he was responsible for destroying the plans of God and that it would never be the same again.
I think this way about Judas because I’ve been in this position. I have refused to do something the Lord wanted because it wasn’t what I wanted. When my plan didn’t really work out, I realized the Lord’s plan would have been much better, but I had ruined it and there was no going back. Now, I certainly don’t want to end my life as Judas did. I’d like to live as Peter did.
The first thing I learn by comparing Judas and Peter is that you are never going to ruin God’s plan. When you fail, sit back and you will find that you’re still a part of it. God is too powerful and smart for us to mess him up.
The trick, I think, is in learning how to see God’s plan. We are all familiar with the scripture from Isaiah 55, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” When I was stuck in anger, at myself and God, this scripture seemed to mock me. In my sorrow, I thought this meant I would never know the thoughts of God, I was too stupid so I might as well stop trying. I thought it meant the Lord didn’t care about my thoughts or desires; they were too insignificant for him to bother with. But, I have seen that this is not true. I think this scripture is more of an invitation for us to express our thoughts and desires to the Lord and then, learn from him. We can’t put our motivations onto God, we have to learn how to share in his. We may be lower now, but it is not God’s intention to leave us that way. He wants us to lift our sights higher.
Peter was able to do this. He stayed with the Lord. Even after he was, I’m sure, devastated after he denied Jesus three times, Peter went back. Even when he was confused, he prayed. I don’t think he saw the full end from the beginning, but he did see the next step and he got started.
Peter and Judas illustrate a battle that has been going on since before the world was. Will we fight or even force the will of the Lord because we want our own plan, or will we look for ourselves in God’s plan and find incredible power?