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A Tale of Two Traitors and the Resurrection
By S.K. Sam Witherup PC

          This is a story about two traitors and what happened to them after the resurrection of Jesus.  But first let us define what we mean by the word traitor.   The dictionary definition of traitor is one who commits treason or betrays his friends. The thesaurus lists some of the following synonyms:  betrayer, deceiver, turncoat, and deserter.
What the dictionary doesn’t inform us is how traitors work.  They are usually family members, friends or close acquaintances that have earned our trust.  They use our trust as a tool to perform their intentions, which generally run counter to our interest. 
          Have you ever been the victim of a traitor or betrayer?  I have and I would like to share these experiences with you for a moment.  I had an extended family member who was a troubled, rebellious young lady that dated a felon.  She sought opportunity to steal cash, credit cards and expensive jewelry from us.   She stole from us over a long period of time, but when we got the bill for the credit cards, we reported the theft and sent for the copies of the receipts.  We immediately identified her handwriting.
          That was about three years ago and we have long since forgiven her, but we do not trust her nor will we let her into our home.  We may be forgiving, but we are not stupid.  When we first found out about the theft, we first were in denial.  How could someone we love and a close family member steal from us?  There must be some mistake.  Then there were feelings of anger, but most of all feelings of deep hurt.
          Now some of your may say, Sam, I’ve got to take your word for it for I’ve never have been betrayed. But what about the betrayal of your body by some infirmity?  Some times a cancer or other serious illness makes you think your body has betrayed you and your go through the whole range of feelings.
          Who were these two traitors or betrayers of Christ?  Well the first one comes as no surprise since the thesaurus lists one synonym as Judas.  We all are quite familiar with the story of Judas Iscariot selling out Christ for thirty pieces of silver.
          What do we know about this man and the story of the betrayal?  First it is ironic that he shares the same first letter of his first name along with our Savior.  Both Jesus and Judas start with a J and both have five letters.  The gospel of John gives us some insight to Judas:

John 12:1  Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.
John 12:2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.
John 12:3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
John 12:4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said,
John 12:5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”
John 12:6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)
John 12:7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.
John 12:8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

          John informs us that Judas was the treasurer of the apostles.  We don’t know why he was given that position, since Matt: 10: verse 3 informs us that Matthew was a tax collector and could have easily managed the money of the disciples.  We can also surmise that Judas may have had greater skill with the finances and since tax collectors had a past history of skimming off the top, then it makes sense that the Apostles trusted Judas more than Matthew.  In the Gospel of John, the scripture that was read, Judas rebuked the wastefulness of the expense of the perfume by saying that the money could have fed many of the poor.  Was he really concerned about the poor or just wanted the money for himself?
          When we try to investigate the motive for Judas to betray Christ, the original theologians described him as a willing pawn in God’s plan for the Passion of Christ.   Earlier theologians inform us that Judas actively sought this position because of his greed.  The New American Version of the Bible footnotes and up holds this tradition.   They paint him as a greedy, money hungry man who took control of the apostles’ purse for selfish gain.  In fact the side note in the gospel that was read indicates this.  However, a new train of thought was the Judas was not any of these.  The theory states that he was conscientious and passionate man and also was a zealot.  The Zealots were a group of Jews who actively planned the overthrow of the Roman Occupation of Israel.  These theologians believe that Judas was passionate in his belief that Jesus was the promised Messiah and wanted to force his hand.  He may have believed (as this theory goes) that when Christ was arrested, it would spark the revolution.   Christ would order his band of angels to descend and throw out the Romans.  Thus the Jewish Nation and Faith would be reestablished.  What Judas did according to this theory, he did passionately.  
          The only problem with this theory is that he was not the only Zealot.  Luke 6, verse 15 lists the Apostles and calls Simon (not Peter) the Zealot.  I am convinced that Judas would have dragged Simon into his plot for betrayal or would have at least discussed it with him.
 John 13:21  After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.”
John 13:22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking.
John 13:23 One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him;
John 13:24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking.
John 13:25 So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”
John 13:26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot.
John 13:27 After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.”
John 13:28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him.
John 13:29 Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor.
John 13:30 So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

          Who knows, according to this verbal exchange he may have felt that Christ approved of his plan. 
          It is not my intention to be an apologist for Judas, but what I want to illustrate what happened to him after Christ was arrested and tried.  Matthew states:

Matt. 27:3  When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders.
Matt. 27:4 He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.”
Matt. 27:5 Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.
Matt. 27:6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.”
Matt. 27:7 After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners.
Matt. 27:8 For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.
Matt. 27:9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price,
Matt. 27:10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”

          Matthew shows that Judas had remorse and wanted to recant by returning the money. John states that Judas was so full remorse that he committed suicide.
         I love the Rock Opera:  Jesus Christ Superstar and during the scene where Judas returns the money, the background singers are singing “Poor old Judas”.

         Now who could be the other traitor? It was Peter.  Peter?  Sam you’ve got to be crazy because Peter was a traitor.  However be patient while I build my case.  Listen to this scripture reading:

Luke 22:54  Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance.
Luke 22:55 But when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them.
Luke 22:56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.”
Luke 22:57  But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.
Luke 22:58  A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”  “Man, I am not!” Peter replied.
Luke 22:59  About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”
Luke 22:60  Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed.
Luke 22:61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.”
Luke 22:62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.

        Who was Peter:  He was a fisherman.  Tradition informs us that he was large physically and strong.  He was crude but a natural leader of men.  Oh yes, he did have a temper.
        Now you ask, why do I consider Peter a traitor when all he did was get out of a tight spot?  Let me continue to present my case.
        First, did Peter really understand who Christ was?  Let’s let the scripture answer this:

Matt. 16:13  When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
Matt. 16:14  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Matt. 16:15  “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Matt. 16:16  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Matt. 16:17  Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.
Matt. 16:18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
Matt. 16:19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

        So Peter knew that Christ was the Son of God and who conferred upon him leadership of the church.  We also knew that Peter was fearless.  Listen to this account from John 18 verse 10:

John 18:3 So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.
John 18:4  Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”
John 18:5  “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.  “I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.)
John 18:6 When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
John 18:7  Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”  And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
John 18:8  “I told you that I am he,” Jesus answered. “If you are looking for me, then let these men go.”
John 18:9 This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”
John 18:10  Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)
John 18:11  Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

          When accompanying Christ and his fellow Apostles we find that Peter is brave enough to draw his sword in the presence of armed Jewish soldiers and offer resistance, although he is out numbered and the situation is hopeless.  Is this the response of a man that is afraid?
So why, three times in a courtyard of unarmed civilians does he deny that he was a follower of Christ, especially when he knew who Christ was and knew that Christ passed the mantel of leadership to him? 
My sister, the Rev. Corinna Nation has another take.  She claimed that Peter was actually afraid and to site this she quotes Matthew 14.

Matt. 14:22  Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
Matt. 14:23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,
Matt. 14:24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.
Matt. 14:25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.
Matt. 14:26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.
Matt. 14:27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Matt. 14:28  Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
Matt. 14:29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.
Matt. 14:30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Matt. 14:31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Matt. 14:32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
Matt. 14:33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

         So Peter was rough and tough, but afraid of the things he couldn’t understand. The Bible does indicate that he did deny Christ out of fear.
So Sam, what is the gravity of his denial?  Certainly you don’t expect to put it into the class of Judas do you?  Since when is denying knowing Christ the equivalent of betrayal?  My friends listen to this passage from the Bible where Christ was talking to the apostles, with Peter present:

Matt. 10:32  “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.
Matt. 10:33 But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

         So with Peter’s courage and knowledge, why did he betray Christ by denying him in the presence of unarmed witnesses?  Was it that he didn’t want to be arrested?  Who knows what was his motivation.  I find it strange that no other reference Peter’s denial is mentioned in the Book of Act’s or Peter’s letters.  All four gospels mentioned the incident.  Big brave Peter was afraid of being arrested?

          The parallel between these two traitorous acts is striking.  Both occurred during Passion Week.  In Both Christ foretold the betrayals and yet both men still went ahead with it.  Both men had remorse.  Judas tried to return the money and hung himself.  Peter wept with remorse.

         Now what happened to these to men holds the lesson for us in the message of Easter.  Judas committed the ultimate sin by hanging himself.  We can assume that by this act he condemned himself to an eternity in hell.  What happened to Peter?  Peter escaped and hid after the Crucifixion and when thinking Jesus dead and gone went into hiding.  Peter found the empty tomb on Sunday morning and returned to Galilee where he fished while waiting for Christ.  John informs us that shortly after he was reconciled with the risen Christ and who appointed him to become the leader of the Christian Church.  He was touched by the Holy Spirit. Under his influence, the Church grew.  Peter was crucified upside down on the cross (because he felt unworthy to be crucified like Christ) under Emperor Nero, in Rome. The Christians took his body and removed the feet, and put him in a burial vault, which has been located in the 1980s under the altar of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.

          The empty grave that the women found on the Sabbath illustrates this poignant truth:  The origin of the power of redemption is the resurrection. 

The Cross would be for Naught If in the Grave He still Lay

          Without the resurrection, all of the pain and suffering that Christ went through for us would have been pointless.  There is a song that is entitled; There is Power in the Blood.  But it was the Resurrection that gave the Blood Power.  It was the living Christ that forgave Peter and put him at the head of the Church on earth.  Just think if Judas could have only held on for several days more without committing suicide, what a powerful story of forgiveness and redemption the Bible would have to tell. 
          In the Order of Malta, during the closing, we are asked, what are we taught.  Now we ask, what lesson does this story have for us?  Just this. The Empty tomb is a symbol of a forgiving living Christ. No matter what sins we have committed in the past, the redemptive power of the resurrected Christ is there for the asking. 
          We also know that human nature is weak and susceptible to temptation.  Both Peter and Judas were told ahead of time by Jesus what they were going to do, but they did it anyway.  But the forgiving power of the living Jesus is a tremendous force.  When we compare what happened to the two traitors, one hung himself and in doing so loss the opportunity to be forgiven.  The other received the forgiveness from Christ himself and with the power of the Holy Spirit became the leader of Christ’s Church.
          What else are we taught by the resurrection?  Many Theologians point out that Easter coincides with the Spring Season, which is a renewal of the earth. A metamorphosis if you will which is symbolic of the transformation of our earthly existence into our heavenly bodies. 
          But I feel that the empty Tomb has another practical meaning for us.  We know that Christ was resurrected and left the tomb for a new beginning. We know that when Peter reconciled with the living Christ, he too made a new beginning.  The empty tomb now calls for us to make a new beginning.  I challenge every Knight among us, that when ever they are observing or participating in the sepulcher scene, that when they see the empty tomb, they at that moment ask Christ to forgive them of their trespasses and start anew, washed in the forgiveness of Christ.
          If Christ is willing to do that for someone who lived with him, knew him and was his right hand man but later denied even knowing him, can you imagine what he can do for you and me?

Let us pray: 

Heavenly Father, we are betrayers of the living Christ by our sin, our omissions and our denial of him in a temporal world.  This Easter we approach the empty tomb where we confess our sins and lay them at your feet.  We beg your forgiveness in the name of the living Christ and celebrate with joy Christ’s redemptive power and the new beginning symbolized by His tomb.  In Christ’s name we pray,


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