What Judas's Death Teaches Us About the Spirit
In those days Peter stood up among the brethren (the company of persons was in all about a hundred and twenty), and said, "Brethren, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David, concerning Judas who was guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us, and was allotted his share in this ministry. (Now this man bought a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) For it is written in the book of Psalms, 'Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it'; and 'His office let another take.' So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection." And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, "Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside, to go to his own place." And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles.
Two Sides of Our Father That We Need to See
Let me take you back to last week's picture of the little child walking hand in hand with his father—a picture of the normal Christian life. God has you by the hand. He loves you. You trust him. Things are good between you because your sins are forgiven and there has been a wonderful reconciliation. There is a smile upon his face and a firm, caring grip in his hand. His face looks kind and tender and warm, like he really enjoys this moment with his little child.
And then coming toward you on the sidewalk there appears a very scary looking man. His hair is all wild, and his eyes are glazed and piercing, and he looks terribly angry and dangerous. You squeeze your daddy's hand a little more tightly. He feels it and responds with a firmer grip. The man stops about ten feet in front of you and stares into your face and says, "Hey stupid! You still like to hold hands with your mama?" As he glares at you, you feel terrified. And as you turn your face away from this terrible threat, you look up at your daddy's face.
Now let me ask you, what do you want to see when you look up? Let me answer it for myself. I don't want to see the same face that I was enjoying one minute ago. At this moment I don't want to see mainly kindness, tenderness, warmth. I want to see strength, indignation, and confidence. And I want to feel a new kind of grip, that is so tight it would be uncomfortable in ordinary circumstances, but now says, "You won't slip even if you faint, and no one can take you out of my hand."
And as you look up, your father steps between you and the man and says, "You better cool it mister. I'm his father." And then he shields you as he walks boldly right by the man and leaves him behind.
The point of this picture is simply this: we need to see the rugged, steep, granite cliffs of God's character as well as the soft, green, clover-covered grasslands. We need to see the tough features in the face of Christ as well as the tender ones. And specifically this morning in this text we need to see not only the sweet, quiet, gentle ministry of the Holy Spirit as a Comforter, but also the awesome invincibility of his purpose and his unflinching, unwavering zeal for the glory of the God-man, Jesus.
Let me say those last two things again because they are what I see in this morning's text and what I think God wants to say to us about his Spirit today. He wants us to see this morning the awesome invincibility the Spirit's purpose and the Spirit's unflinching, unwavering zeal for the glory of the God-man, Jesus.
Why Is This Passage About Judas Here?
Now let me try to show you why I think this is what Luke (writing under God's inspiration) wants us to see from this passage. I come to a passage like this (vv. 15–26) sandwiched in between the promise of the baptism of the Spirit (that we've been looking at) and the fulfillment of that promise at Pentecost (in chapter 2), and I ask, why is this here? Why all this concern with how Judas died and the field his blood-money bought and the way he got replaced as an apostle with Matthias?
The way I answer this question is to look at the structure of the paragraph and what makes it hang together. Let me show you what I mean, and how I come to the conclusion that God's word for us this morning is the invincibility of the Spirit's purpose and the Spirit's zeal for the glory of the God-man, Jesus.
The Fulfillment of Scripture
Notice first what Peter says in verse 16, "Brethren, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David, concerning Judas." That seems to me to be the key that unlocks the rest of this paragraph. So I ask, "What scripture had to be fulfilled?" And Peter tells me in verse 20. "For it is written in the book of Psalms, 'Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it'; and 'His office let another take.'"
Then I noticed that there are two different Old Testament quotes in this verse and that the fulfillment of each one is described in a different part of this paragraph.
The first half of verse 20 is a quote from Psalm 69:25, "Let his habitation become desolate and let there be no one to live in it." And that word is fulfilled in how Judas died and purchased a field by his blood-money that became a desolate field of blood (vv. 17–19).
The second half of verse 20 is a quote from Psalm 109:8, "His office let another take." And that word is fulfilled in the way Judas was replaced by Matthias, described in verses 21–26.
Looking at the Structure of the Whole Passage
Now step back and look at the whole thing. In the middle of this paragraph (v. 20) there are two quotations from Scripture. One has to do with the desolation of Judas's habitation, and the other has to do with the replacement of Judas among the 12 apostles. These two Scripture quotes govern the rest of what's in this paragraph, namely, the story of how each of them was fulfilled.
The fulfillment that has already happened is described first in verses 17–19—how Judas's blood-money came to buy a desolate field of blood. The fulfillment that is taking place as Peter speaks is described second in verses 21–26—how Judas's office was filled by another.
Over these four parts (the two Scripture quotes, and the two descriptions of fulfillment) we find the main point or the theme flag flying in verse 16, namely, "The scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David, concerning Judas."
The Invincible Purpose of the Holy Spirit
I hope it is obvious therefore where I get my first point, namely, that God wants us to see the invincible purpose of the Holy Spirit. God wants us to see this morning that when the Holy Spirit says something, it will be fulfilled, even if it takes a thousand years.
You see this invincible purpose most clearly in the words "had to" in verse 16: "The scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke." How can Peter say, "It had to be"? Why did it have to be? Isn't life full of contingencies? Isn't the future open-ended? Aren't people free to make of life whatever they want so that even God has to adjust his plans? How can he say, "It had to be!"? I think there is only one answer: either Peter was wrong (and you must decide whom you will believe, the skeptics or the apostles)—either Peter was wrong in verse 16, or the purpose of the Holy Spirit, expressed in Scripture, is invincible—unconquerable, indomitable, supreme, omnipotent.
This is one of the things you want to see on the Father's face when you look up to him in a time of crisis and danger—and especially in a time when you are being betrayed. You want to see that his purpose is not crumbling; that he is not worried; there is no panic in his face; but only the confidence of an invincible purpose. He has spoken and it has to be.
Why Use the Story of Judas to Illustrate This?
Then I asked, why illustrate the invincible purpose of the Holy Spirit with the death of Judas? Why remind us that he sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver and threw the money back in the temple, and that the priests put their heads together and evidently said, "Well, this is not our money, it belongs to Judas. He's dead, so let's buy a field (probably the very field where he died) in Judas's name, and use it to bury people like that"? So in a sense Judas, the thief, leaves the blood-money of his inheritance behind to buy a desolate graveyard for his habitation. But why use this ugly, brutal, tragic story to illustrate the invincible purpose of the Holy Spirit?
I think the reason is that it is not hard to believe that God's purposes are invincible when things go well for God's anointed. But when things go bad, when there is lying, and mistrust and betrayal, and death, then you need all the help you can get to believe that the purposes of God are invincible. And that is what Luke gives us: not even Judas and Satan could undermine or escape the all-encompassing invincibility of God's purpose.
Imagine what it would have been like for Jesus if he had no way of fitting Judas into the invincible purposes of God.
There is a scene in one of Victor Hugo's novels of a great French warship 200 years ago with dozens of massive canons strapped into their portholes ready for battle. And suddenly a storm hits and the tossing and rolling is so bad that one of these 5,000 pound canons breaks loose from its straps and becomes like a living, wild bull on the lower deck. With every toss and turn of the ship it smashes back and forth crushing gunners and shattering the sides of the ship. It is utterly unpredictable and out of control.
What if Judas were like that? The point of this text is that none of the enemies of God is like that. John 6:64 says, "Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray him." And in John 17:12 Jesus prayed, "While I was with them, I kept them in thy name, which thou hast given me; I have guarded them, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition, that the scripture might be fulfilled." You can imagine him praying, "I have guarded my own, and I only lost one. I can't account for it—his treachery, his betrayal—he was like a loosed, wild canon, unpredictable, out of control, there is no explaining it. It's a glitch."
But Jesus did not pray that way. Because God is not that way. And let us be thankful and give him praise, because we will never look up into the face of our Father in a time of crisis and danger and betrayal, and see a puzzled and worried face. We will see what we want so much to see, the confidence of an invincible purpose.
Why Turn to Describe the Replacement of Judas?
But there is one other question: why is the second half of this passage devoted to the replacement of Judas? Why does Luke want us to see that the invincible purpose of the Holy Spirit, expressed in Scripture, includes the replacement of Judas—and specifically the replacement by one who had been with the 12 during the whole three years of Jesus public ministry? That is the important point of verse 21, "So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must"—notice the MUST, just like the "had to be fulfilled" in verse 16]—"one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection."
Why is this crucial in the purposes of the Holy Spirit? I believe the reason is this: the baptism with the Holy Spirit (that we've been talking about these last weeks)—the clothing with power from on high, the receiving of Pentecostal anointing—all this was not meant to send the apostles into a spiritual high that was disconnected from the flesh and blood reality of the Jesus they had known on earth for three years. What this text does for us this morning is balance out what we have been seeing. It shows us that the pursuit upward toward more spiritual power must never be disconnected from the pursuit backward toward the teaching and the work of the historical Jesus.
The Holy Spirit has an unwavering zeal for the glory of the God-man, Jesus. The Holy Spirit does not short-circuit this historical knowledge of this Jesus. He does not short-circuit what Jesus began to do and to teach. Everything the Spirit now does and says is oriented on and tested by the once for all revelation of God in Jesus Christ the God-man. John put it this way in his first letter, "By this you will know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God."
The Lesson for Us
The lesson for us is clear: if we as a church long to be baptized with the Holy Spirit, to be clothed with power from on high, then we will devote ourselves not merely to the upward work of prayer for this blessing, but we will also give ourselves to the backward work of knowing the Jesus of the gospels. Something in our experience will correspond to the importance of the memory of Jesus that Matthias preserved when he replaced Judas. For if our roots are not sunk deep into the words and deeds of Jesus (preserved for us by the apostles), then it is certain that our branches will not reach very high into the sky of God's power.
Take these two things this morning for your hope and for your strength: the purpose of the Holy Spirit is invincible and he has an unwavering zeal for the glory of the God-man, Jesus. Everything he does is measured by Jesus and glorifies Jesus.