(from our midweek Lenten Series: Three Words of Truth)
The FBI finally closed their investigation in the Stephen Paddock case. Now, in case you do not remember, Stephen Paddock had checked into his hotel room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Casino and Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada. He brought along 23 assault rifles, one pistol, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. His hotel room overlooked the Las Vegas strip, where over 22,000 country music fans crowded for a Jason Aldean concert. Paddock barricaded his room door, broke out his window, and rained thousands of rounds on the crowds below. In just 11-minutes, he murdered 58 people, injured over 400, and shattered secure comfort for millions.
Police never captured him; Paddock took his own life— taking along any motive for this massacre, meaning speculation ran rampant. Some reported significant gambling losses fueled the shooting. Others thought an argument with his girlfriend pushed him over the edge. Still others assumed he faced bankruptcy from failed real estate investments. Yet, all those theories proved to be just baseless guesses. On January 30th of this year, the FBI found no “single or clear motivating factor” for the shooting. Aaron Rouse, the agent in charge of the FBI’s Las Vegas office, told The Associated Press:
“It wasn’t about MGM, Mandalay Bay or a specific casino or venue. It was all about doing the maximum amount of damage and him obtaining some form of infamy… If he wanted to leave a message, he would have left a message. Bottom line is he didn’t want people to know.” (https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/apnewsbreak-fbi-finds-no-specific-motive-in-vegas-shooting/ar-BBSUtPV?OCID=ansmsnnews11)
That might be a very unsatisfying answer. Many consider the human heart ‘good’ by nature, that is, people automatically do ‘good,’ but deliberately choose ‘evil.’ So, when such unspeakable evil breaks airwaves, many are left speechless. It seems impossible that anyone could commit such a crime. Yet, Jesus’ words reveal the depths to which our hearts will sink just to serve its own self-interests. It leaves us pondering what horror our hearts are capable of unleashing. Is It I? Yes, you are the one with a sinful heart. Yes, you are the one for whom the Savior goes.
The reading for our meditation this evening comes from Matthew 26:20-25:
When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.”
They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely not I, Lord?”
Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?”
Jesus answered, “Yes, it is you.”
This is Maundy Thursday evening; this is the night before Good Friday. The Twelve disciples gather in an upper room to celebrate the Passover meal with Jesus. Why would they not? After all, just consider why these twelve men follow Jesus. They witnessed Jesus strengthen the legs of the crippled, give sight to the blind, and loosen the tongues of the mute. These men gathered into baskets the pieces left over from two small fish and five loaves. These men marveled as his Word silences self-righteous religious scholars and change many hearts. These are twelve men who take what they see and hear and reach the conclusion: Jesus is God’s Christ (Matthew 16:16). So, they worship Jesus as God (Matthew 14:33). They trust Jesus will make them right with God. They even swear to protect Jesus to the death (Matthew 26:35). Then Jesus looks each one in the eye and drops this bombshell: “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” One close friend has in his heart the desire to intentionally put Jesus in physical harm.
They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely not I, Lord?” What a strange question! After all, what answer does each disciple expect? “Surely not I, Lord?” They expect “No”- answers. “No, not you, Peter. Not you, Bartholomew. Not you, Simon.” If they expect to hear ‘No,’ then why do they ask the question at all? I mean, each disciple already knows the intentions of his heart; each one can determine if he will betray Jesus. So, why do they ask? Because they understand Jesus knows their hearts better than they do.
No wonder Jesus says what he does to Judas! Judas asks, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” Here is one of the inner Twelve! Judas witnessed Jesus drive out demons, walk on the water, calm winds and waves. He hears the Word of God, the Word that caused faith to blossom in his heart. Yet, Jesus peers into that heart and sees a love that has grown cold. It all began with an ounce of greed, and that greed ballooned into treasuring wealth more than treasuring Jesus. Greed even pushed Judas to suppress what was right so that he could do what is wrong. Jesus warns Judas one last time: “Yes, it is you.”
How terrifying is that?! One single enticing temptation led a follower of Jesus into unbelief. If temptation can penetrate the ranks of the Twelve, then temptation has the same power to consume our hearts.
Understand, Judas is not the first, nor will he be the last Christian to let temptation destroy faith. Many Christians (on their Confirmation Day) have promised to remain faithful to God until death. Yet, she lays aside God’s commandments so that her friends consider her popular. He finds more excitement outside of church than in it. What about you? Is temptation exchange your wedding vows for adultery and divorce? Is anger steering you away from patient forgiveness and into grudges and revenge? Have you fallen in love with money, that you steal and withhold generous giving to God? Do you believe the lie that you have the Bible so well memorized that you do not need to hear it in worship, read it in devotions, or apply it to life? Little by little temptation urges us to take a step further away from God’s Word, to take a step closer to whatever desire we crave, to step a little further away from our God. If you think that is an overstatement or that I am sounding a false alarm, then the devil has already gained a foothold.
That’s the reason Jesus announces such heart-stopping words: One of you will betray me. He could have pulled Judas aside, whispered in his ear: “You will betray me.” He could have asked the Twelve: “Will someone betray me?” He does neither. Instead, he predicts the future. Jesus speaks these words in the hearing of all of his disciples— including the eleven innocent ones— so that each one could examine the cravings of the heart, consider what the heart is capable of doing, and then turn to Jesus.
So ask yourself: Is It I? Have I betrayed my Lord? Have I sold him for fiery outbursts? Have I exchanged him for pleasure that really did not satisfy? Have I dumped him so that I am not identified as “Christian?” Is It I? Honestly? Yes, you are the one with a sinful heart, but you are the one for whom the Savior goes.
And Jesus goes willingly. I mean, Jesus uncovers the future: One of you will betray me. Yet, he does not slip out the back door. He does not detour from the Mount of Olives. Instead, he tells each disciple—you and me included: The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. He will allow Judas to slink out the back door. He will pray in Gethsemane as the armed mob jostles towards him. He will watch his creation kill him— kill him instead of killing their wicked unbelief. He will go to Mount Calvary where our ‘Woe’ will devour him.
Yes, you are the one for whom the Savior goes. His suffers to such an extent that it would be better if he had never been born! Yet, he suffers so that our lives are changed from ‘better off dead’ to ‘better off because of Jesus.’
Jesus, who goes into death for us, also goes out of death for us. He will go out of the tomb without the eternal woe of death. He will go out of the tomb with a new word for you: “Blessed.” You are ‘blessed’ because are you that you are the one for whom the Savior goes.
You will always live as one for whom the Savior goes. Each day you rise as a forgiven child of God. It is in the Word that you see Jesus evaluate and judge your hearts: not guilty!” What joy! Judas, who turned from faith, had nowhere to run. The devil duped him into believing that 30-pieces of silver would give him greater satisfaction than Jesus ever could. Yet, when the money actually hit his hands, Judas realized how great of a lie he believed. Worse yet, he failed even to turn to a Savior in his great despair. Without faith in a Savior, he had nowhere else to run.
You (and I) will continue battling temptation. The battle will be fierce. The battle will be exhausting. Yet, you have a place to run for strength and victory. You can race to Jesus. His nail-pierced hands gently lift up your chin. His nail-pieced hands point at the altar of the cross, where he removed our woe with his blood. There, in his pierced hands, you find the open, outstretched embrace of forgiveness. There, in his pierced hands, you receive the tender embrace of a dear Savior. There, at the cross, you marvel: Is It I? Jesus goes for me? Yes, you are the one for whom the Savior goes.
The human heart is capable of unleashing the most horrific of evils. Recognizing that takes the first step to treasuring the life of Jesus. You are the one with the sinful heart. A heart which still serves its own self-interests. A heart which would push Jesus away if it has the chance. Yet, you are the one for whom the Savior goes. He goes to bring your heart to himself. He goes to align the desires of your heart to his. Is It I? Yes, you are the one with a sinful heart. Yes, you are the one for whom the Savior goes.