We’ve all been there before. The sting of disappointment or disapproval of someone or something that has let us down. I felt that way the other night when I walked out of the theater. I was expecting a great movie. I was expecting a rollercoaster of emotions, a monsoon of inspiration, a tidal wave of ecstasy, but instead I got ten dollar belly ache from the large popcorn and oversized soda, subpar acting, predictable plot, and laughable one liners. I wanted my money back because I thought the movie theater and I had an unspoken agreement…I would give you my twelve dollars and fifty cents and you would provide me something that I would enjoy, but that was not what I received. I felt bamboozled. I felt swindled. I felt betrayed.
I understand that my opening introduction is a bit facetious given our subject matter this time around. The word betrayal comes with a lot of baggage and we tend to attach it to heavier subject matters. Marriage and divorce, the infidelity of a spouse, abuse from the hand of a father, the knife in the back from a best friend (y tu brutus?); we usually reserve the word betrayal for matters like these, but it matters not because we have felt these feelings even from the most trivial of circumstances, like the story above.
I’ve been finishing up the book of Mark in my devotional time and coincidentally Easter is around the corner as well, so revisiting the death and resurrection of Christ seemed appropriate. Im glad I did because God helped me understand something about the human heart that has helped all the relationships that I harbor in my life. It has helped me become a better leader, a better follower, a better husband, a better father, a better friend, a better consumer and even, a better movie goer.
In Mark chapter 14, we see the story of Judas Iscariot and his road to betraying the Son of Man. I’ve asked the question, “why did Judas do it?” many times and felt pretty satisfied by the answers that I’ve learned. Yes, Judas played a part in God’s sovereign plan. Yes, it is possible that Judas was a corrupt individual. We see evidence of this when Mary pours the alabaster jar on Jesus’ feet and Judas objects (John 12:1-6). He was corrupt so that is why he betrayed Jesus. Yes, Judas betrayed Jesus because he truly believed Jesus was here to bring freedom to the Jews and wanted Jesus to take Jerusalem back from the Romans, by force if necessary; giving Jesus up to the Romans would force the Son of David to act, which the narrative tells us, Jesus did not. These are all viable answers but I would like to expand on that last point. I believe Judas betrayed Jesus, because Jesus betrayed Judas first.
I’ll say that again.
Jesus betrayed Judas first.
Let me explain.
Lets do some quick history and give a little context.
Judas was a member of the zealot party, so he may have expected that Jesus had come to overthrow the Roman government. He didn't expect Jesus to surrender to the Romans. He expected fire from Heaven to ignite the Roman crosses that littered the ditches of the Jerusalem roadways. He didn't expect his salvation to die on one.
Christ rode into Jerusalem on a lowly donkey and the Israelites greeted him by laying down palm branches at this feet (Mark 11:1-10). Thats where we get the term Palm Sunday. Have you ever asked yourself, why the palm branches? If you have, good….because Im about to tell you. If you haven’t, ask now…because…I’m about to tell you.
The palm branch was the sign of Judas Maccabaeus.
Judas Maccabaeus was the leader of a Jewish revolt in Judaea against Antiochus IV Epiphanes from around 167, he recovered Jerusalem and rededicated the Temple. He is the hero of the two books of the Maccabees in the Apocrypha. So when Judas purified the Temple, the Jews celebrated it with palm branches re-commemorating the Feast of Tabernacles. Palm branches were a key part in the Feast of Tabernacles, a feast which celebrated the dedication of the Temple. When Solomon dedicates the Temple he does it on the Feast of Tabernacles (1 Kings 8).
So when we see Jesus enter Jerusalem and the people lay the palm branches at Jesus feet, they are looking and hoping that Jesus will be the next Jewish freedom fighter. They are expecting Jesus to bring political freedom to the Jews and Judas was there to witness it all. As a zealot, Judas Iscariot’s expectations must have gone through the roof. Finally his people would be free from the tyrannical reign of the Romans. Judas was lucky enough to have been chosen by the next national hero. Jesus could do it too. This was the man that could heal the blind and make the lame walk. This guy could drive out demons with a single word. Jesus could make the winds and waves obey his very will. He even had the power over death. The Jews would be free, if only Jesus would take up the sword and lead his people. But he doesn’t. Instead Jesus chooses pacifism. He teaches, but avoids fighting. He speaks in riddles and parables, not inspirational, military speeches. Judas had an expectation that never gets met and that’s where his betrayal began.
Because thats what betrayal is: betrayal begins in our hearts when our expectations betray us.
Judas betrays Jesus because Jesus never lived up to what Judas wanted Jesus to be. He saw Jesus as he wanted Jesus to be, not how Jesus was.
Aren’t we the same? We feel betrayed by our spouses, parents, friends, pastors, coworkers, even our own kids for crying out loud, because we have an expectation about them that never gets met. Some betrayals are inconsequential, walking out of a meeting and feeling like nothing got done. One might say, “I expected the meeting to yield some decisions, but no action was taken.” They expected something, and that expectation wasn’t met, so they feel betrayed. Other betrayals are more prevalent. I gave this lecture recently and afterwards, one person approached me and this is what they told me. “I expected my wife to be faithful. I expected her to support my decisions. She questions everything I do, so I felt betrayed. I felt betrayed, so I will betrayed her expectations of sexual fidelity.”
Often we are angry and mad at someone or some situation and can’t identify why we feel let down or betrayed and thats because we don’t understand the nature of betrayal. But now that we have identified that emotion and what causes it, we can use it in our favor. As a leader, this teaches me to communicate to my team, what they should expect. I don’t want to under deliver or let them assume what will happen. Matter of fact, I let them expect one outcome and then over deliver and blow their expectations out of the water. As a husband, I have learn to communicate and learn what my wife expects from me, so I can met her expectations. As a father, I communicate what I expect from my children so as to not feel betrayed by them. This helps me keep disapproval and disappointment at bay. This helps me practically do Proverbs 4:23. Now I know how to guard my heart.
This also helps me doctor betrayals that have already taken root in my heart or the heart of others. Betrayal begins from an offense and offense is birthed from a wound. Trying to bring healing to the offense can be a waste of time. I have to treat the wound. If a colleague is upset by something I said within a meeting, then I wonder if something happened that morning that made them so touchy. Maybe a wound opened up from something else that morning like an argument with a brother or sister, an unjustified ticket issued by a police officer, maybe an email from a toxic congregation member. Or maybe I feel betrayed because my mentor has been ignoring me, but that wound was created by the lack of a father figure in my life. So as a leader, I ask questions and offer grace. As someone wounded, I self reflect and try to treat my injury. Recovery can be painful, but absolutely necessary.
The heart is a fickle muscle and it’s funny how much we don’t understand about it even though we live with it everyday, but at least some mysteries leave us some clues.