Don’t Read Your Bible Like Judas

In the first chapter of Acts, the apostles decide to replace Christ’s betrayer, Judas Iscariot. They did so because they understood Psalm 109 as a prophecy about Judas’ betrayal. Specifically, Luke quotes Ps. 109:8, “Let another take his office.” As I read Psalm 109 today, I wondered what Judas thought when he read it. Did he know it was about himself? Did he see his sin? Did he misunderstand it? Let’s read part of Psalm 109 and consider those questions,

[1] Be not silent, O God of my praise!
[2] For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me,
speaking against me with lying tongues.
[3] They encircle me with words of hate,
and attack me without cause.
[4] In return for my love they accuse me,
but I give myself to prayer.
[5] So they reward me evil for good,
and hatred for my love. 

[6] Appoint a wicked man against him;
let an accuser stand at his right hand.
[7] When he is tried, let him come forth guilty;
let his prayer be counted as sin!
[8] May his days be few;
may another take his office! […]
[16] For he did not remember to show kindness,
but pursued the poor and needy
and the brokenhearted, to put them to death.
[17] He loved to curse; let curses come upon him!
He did not delight in blessing; may it be far from him! (Psalm 109:1-9, 16,17)

It’s easy to see Judas in this passage today. In it we meet two characters. First, the Christlike Righteous Speaker, who was hurt and betrayed. Second character, the Judas-like Nameless Betrayer who returns evil for love.

So back to our original question: when Judas read Psalm 109, how did he interpret it? Which character did he identify with? I’m speculating, but I’d guess the Righteous Speaker. He ostensibly had good reason to do so. As an apostle he was cursed by Jewish authorities. As he followed Christ was wronged by outside Nameless Betrayers. He probably even saw himself as the defender of the poor and needy and the brokenhearted (v. 16) as he oversaw the apostles’ financial relief program!

In fact, I wonder if his self-righteous identification led him to betray of Christ. As the years passed, Jesus lovingly rebuked and encouraged Judas to repent of his sins. But self-righteous people don’t confess, instead they grow bitter. Judas probably felt that Christ’s criticisms were unwarranted. Didn’t Jesus appreciate all the flack he took for following him? When Jesus called Judas the betrayer, Judas probably felt incensed and justified in betraying Christ.

Do we see the great irony? If Judas had let the word humble him, he would’ve seen himself as the Nameless Betrayer, and Christ as the Righteous Speaker. Had he repented after hearing Psalm 109, Christ would’ve forgiven. If Judas saw his wretchedness in the mirror of God’s word, he might’ve found salvation in Christ. But Judas ignored the conviction of the Bible. Instead he puffed up his ego.

So what about us? How often do we identify ourselves with the righteous one in the Bible? I’m like David fighting Goliath! I’m like Moses leading wretched idolaters! I’m like Stephen, martyred for his faithfulness! How often do we read the Bible’s moral commandments and smugly think about all our friends who need to hear this verse, or  pray “Thank you, God, that I’m not that sort of person!”

When we do, we’re reading the Bible like Judas.

Another apostle betrayed Jesus on the day of his crucifixion. Peter denied Christ three times, but he saw his sin and repented in tears. Peter knew from that day forward that he was not the Righteous Speaker. He was like the faithless Israelites, worshipping idols at the foot of Sinai. He was like the coward Saul, hiding behind a shepherd boy. He was like the proud pharisees, casting stones at Stephen.

Peter was a needy sinner, and I bet he read his Bible that way. On that day, he saw his need for righteous savior to represent him before God, like Moses. He saw his need for a righteous warrior to defeat his inner-giants, like David. He saw that we are all like the Nameless Betrayer, heaping curses on God by disobeying him. Yet, the Righteous Speaker who deserves to judge us, took our judgment. Jesus was cursed in our place, so that we Nameless Betrayers could receive his mercy.

Do we see that when we read Psalm 109? Do we read our Bibles in a lowly frame, identifying with the needy ones, the idolaters, and the deceivers? We must let the word convict us of our sin. We must let the word bring us before the righteous one, Jesus Christ, who alone saves us and makes us new.

So during your quiet times as you read the Bible, try asking these questions:

  1. What sins did this passage address for it’s original readers?
  2. What sins does this passage address for me today? How do I need to confess?
  3. How does Christ’s work on the cross redeem me from the consequences of this sin?
  4. How does Christ’s work on the cross empower me to resist the powers of this sin?

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