Alfred Place Baptist Church

22:1-6 The Great Conspirators

Luke 22:1-6 “Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.”

We come to the final three chapters of the gospel of Luke and the great climax of Jesus’ ministry, his trial, sufferings and death on Golgotha; his resurrection on the third day.

SEE HOW SINNERS WERE CONSPIRING AGAINST JESUS.

There was not a man in Jerusalem who did not know personally some people, or know about some folk, or even entire communities whose lives had been affected by Jesus of Nazareth. They all had acquaintances, and some had family members, whose lives had been transformed by him. They had been seriously ill and Jesus had completely healed them. Men in the know were now conspiring against him to kill him. He had preached the sermon on the mount and his parables were quoted at every city gate and village well. They lived on in the minds of the people. Men in power, knowing these truths, were intent on his destruction.

It was the holiest time of the year, the greatest of all the feasts, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover. Hundreds of thousands of extra people crammed Jerusalem. They were celebrating a mighty act of God 1,400 years earlier in delivering a million of their forefathers from captivity in Egypt. After pleading with Pharaoh for months, and God chastising him and the people of the land with many plagues, the final plague fell on them in which the first born of the land died in his sleep, from the crown prince of Pharaoh to the firstborn of a beggar sleeping in a desert shack. In those homes alone, set in Goshen, where a lamb had been killed and its blood sprinkled on the doorposts, were the firstborn spared. What an awesome God to distinguish in his judgments in that way! That sovereign act of his had brought them from annihilation by absorption into Egypt to becoming a separate nation and had taken them to the land which God had promised to Abraham. Each year they gathered together in Jerusalem, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread called the Passover, to celebrate that event. There the whole nation praised the greatness of Jehovah and his miraculous redeeming power. I say, it was at that time that “the chief priests of Israel and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus” (v.2). The reality of God acting and saving them from death was far from their minds. We ‘get rid of’ rubbish; each week the men come along our street picking up our bins and dumping the unwanted trash in the truck. They were rubbishing Jesus Christ; they were planning death for the firstborn of God at an occasion when the city was celebrating the deliverance of their own firstborn!

Then you will notice this, that they were plotting to get rid of him at a time of mighty blessing on the preaching of Jesus. They were spending their nights planning how to destroy him, and they were doing this behind locked doors because they were afraid of the people hearing what they were trying to do [v.2]. Meanwhile Jesus was spending his nights on the hillside of the Mount of Olives (Lk:21:37), seeking God’s help and strength for the labours of the day ahead and for the trial and the sufferings that lay before him. Then early in the morning from all over the city and from the surrounding villages people got out of bed, washed, had a bite to eat and hurried off to Jerusalem to the courts of the Temple in order to hear Jesus preaching. They wanted to get there at the break of day to be near Jesus in order to hear what he had to say. We are told that “all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple” (Lk. 21:38), not to see him performing signs and miracles but to hear him tell them of who God was, and who they were, and what they had to do to be saved. It was while this great awakening ministry was going on, I say, and thousands of people were being helped by Jesus’ preaching, that these sinful men and women plotted to get rid of Christ. They knew by heart the words of the Scriptures and about the Temple rituals and sacrifices, but they knew nothing of the beauty of the Son of God who had come into the world to seek and save that which was lost. He had come in order to give his life for the world. They were coming together to take his life away from him. These men had a religion they would kill for; Jesus had a gospel he would die for. My point is this, that whenever there is a great work of God that centres on our Lord and thousands are touched by it then you can guarantee that there will be furious opposition to it and plotting against the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Again, aren’t you impressed with the initiative and organizational skills these men were displaying in their attempts to destroy the Christian message? These were not men saying. “Que sera, sera, whatever will be will be, if Jesus’ teaching and influence is going to prevail, so be it. If it’s of God we can’t stop it and if it isn’t it will come to nought.” No! They were determined that his movement would come to nought, and they talked with one another, and planned meetings, and interviewed a number of liars who were prepared at a price to speak under oath and falsely accuse Jesus of blaspheming. All their energy and intelligence they were employing to strangle this movement in its crib by killing gentle Jesus, meek and mild. They weren’t fatalists; they were activists.

We can say that obviously they took Jesus Christ very seriously. I don’t see books written by excited university lecturers in the USA and UK attacking the doctrine that the earth is flat because nobody believes it, but I see many books and websites promoting the view that there is no living God, no Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and that the Bible is mistaken. What activity is planned and dedication shown by people agitated by the life and claims and teaching of Jesus Christ.

Then you notice how all this clandestine activity confirms our conviction that the worst of sins begins secretly. Here were the leaders who were afraid that the crowds who loved the Lord Jesus would hear of their hatred of him, that they actually wanted to kill him. The plotters kept their planning to themselves. The worst of sins is always secret. A husband will hide from everyone the fact that he is seeing another woman. A son will keep from his parents what websites he is visiting on his computer. An employer will hide from his employed that he is siphoning off money from the accounts, or that he is leaving an hour before he should most days. A criminal will wear gloves and cover his tracks. He will go out in the night under the cover of darkness because his deeds are evil. So these men kept everything hidden from the eyes of the people. Judas was most concerned that the best moment be chosen to lead the soldiers to Jesus, and that time would be when there wouldn’t be a crowd running to his rescue. It was the great public declaration of the early church that what had happened was not done secretly in a corner but was open to investigation and examination; “We have nothing to hide.” How different were the chief priests and teachers of the law; they were looking over their shoulders all the time to see if their plans were being spied on and their activities monitored by anyone outside their circle. Let us aim to be transparent Christian men and women, unashamed of anything that our husbands, wives, parents, ministers know about us – but especially of what the Lord Jesus sees and hears. So, sinners were conspiring against Jesus, but they were working according to God’s set purpose and foreknowledge. What God sovereignly decrees in eternity men will always demand in time, and God decreed that his son become the Lamb of God and die on a cross, and that is exactly what the chief priests, the teachers of the law, Judas and Satan all determined should be done.

SEE HOW JUDAS WAS CONSPIRING AGAINST JESUS.

Luke tells us that, “Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus” (v.4). Judas, one of the twelve apostles, betrayed Jesus. Think of it! Consider the religious privileges which Judas has enjoyed. In the days of Jesus there were just a few people in the world hoping for the appearance of the Messiah. The knowledge of God was confined to a little leaven; the land was dominated by Pharisaic religion; the Temple was corrupt; the chief priests were evil men. The greater part of the children of Israel were living in darkness, ignorance and legalism. Not one in a million perhaps had had such good example, spiritual company, clear knowledge, signs and wonders, profound preaching, pastoral counsel and plain warnings as Judas. Compared with millions of his fellow-creatures in his time, he was a favoured man.

He had the loving care of the Good Shepherd, Jesus himself. He had eleven fine companions. He heard the Sermon on the Mount preached; he saw Lazarus raised from the dead. He was in the boat in the storm and felt the winds abate and the waves obeying Jesus. The life of Christ was no secret to him. It would have been impossible for Judas to have watched Jesus for three years without knowing of whom he was and whom he served. Judas had seen a perfect example of all that Jesus taught for three years. When the Lord said, “Blessed are the meek,” Judas had the enfleshment of meekness there before his eyes. When our Lord said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” he saw there the perfect peacemaker. When the Lord commanded, “Be holy, even as your father in heaven is holy,” he saw that holiness in bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. Above all, Jesus was filled with the love of God. Judas not only saw that, he tasted that spiritual gift. This was no small privilege. Isn’t that an important lesson – even if you learned no other from this message? The higher the previous privileges the more solemn and grievous the subsequent fall.

When the teachers of the law came with their trick questions Judas heard Jesus’ answers. When the funeral corsage in Nain was going to the cemetery and Jesus stopped it and raised the little boy from the dead returning him alive to his widowed mother Judas was there. He was one of the twelve who took food as Jesus divided it, seeing him multiply five loaves and two fishes to feed five thousand men. When the fig tree was cursed Judas saw it wilt. When a man blind from his birth received his sight he looked at Judas. Once more I say to you, these were no small privileges.

Yet what good effect had all these privileges on the heart of Judas? None at all. Notwithstanding all his opportunities and means of grace—notwithstanding all his special warnings and messages from heaven, he left the faith, and betrayed his Lord and died graceless, godless, im­penitent, and unbelieving. The eyes of his understanding had never been opened; his conscience was never really aroused and quick­ened; his will was never really brought into a state of obedience to God; his affections were never really set upon things above. The form of religion which he had was powerful; he himself preached and he healed and he cast out demons. He did all of that, but what value did he give it? He had never outwardly argued with or opposed Jesus: there was no hint given of the darkness and hatred in his heart; he simply allowed himself to be passively towed along in Jesus’ wake: but all the time his heart was wrong in the sight of God. The world was in his heart, and his heart was in the world. It was in this state that he died.

In all this there is much to be learned: I see a lesson here which is of the deepest importance in the present day. We live in times when there are many persons just like Judas: come and hear the lessons which the betrayal of Judas is meant to teach. Learn that the mere possession of religious privileges will save no one’s soul. You may have spiritual advantages of every descrip­tion; you may live in the full sunshine of the richest opportunities and means of grace; you may enjoy the best of preaching and the choicest instruction; in your congregation you may be surrounded by light, know­ledge, holiness, and good company. All this may be, and yet you yourself may remain unconverted, and at last be lost for ever. You need more than gospel privileges; you need a personal Saviour.

I dare say this doctrine sounds hard to some of you. I know that many fancy they want nothing but religious privileges in order to become decided Christians. They are not what they ought to be at present, they agree; but their position is so hard, they plead, and their difficulties are so many. Let them have a godly husband, or a spiritual wife—give them wise companions, or a holy boss — give them the preaching of the Gospel—give them privileges, then what a difference – they would walk with God.

It is all a mistake. It is an entire delusion. It requires something more than privileges to save souls. Joab was David’s captain; Gehazi was Elisha’s servant; Demas was Paul’s companion; Lot’s wife had a righteous husband, and companions and family members who lived with God and for God. Judas shared a room with Jesus for three years. Yet these people all died in their sins. They went down to the pit in spite of knowledge, warnings, and opportunities; they all teach us that it is not only privileges that men need. They need the grace of the Holy Ghost. Initial usefulness in the kingdom of God is no guarantee of persevering grace.

Let us value religious privileges, but let us not rest entirely upon them. Let’s desire to benefit from them in all our activities, but let’s not put them in the place of Christ. Let’s use them thankfully, if God grants them to us, but let’s take care that they produce some fruit in our heart and life. If they don’t do good, they often do positive harm: they can sear the conscience, they increase responsibility, they aggravate condemnation. The same fire which melts the wax hardens the clay; the same sun which makes the living tree grow, dries up the dead tree, and prepares it for burning. Nothing so hardens the heart of man as a barren familiarity with sacred things. Once more I say to you, it’s not privileges alone which make people Christians, but the grace of the Holy Ghost. Without that no man will ever be saved.

You may come here each Sunday and you judge me to be a good preacher and you have learned many things since you attended the ministry. You even consider it a great privilege to be in this congregation. All this is very good. It is a privilege. But after all, what have you got in your heart? Have you yet received the Holy Ghost? If not, you are no better than Judas.

I ask the children of religious parents to mark well what I am saying. It is the highest privilege to be the child of a godly father and mother, and to be brought up in the midst of many prayers. It is a blessed thing indeed to be taught the Gospel from our earliest infancy, and to hear of sin, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and holiness, and heaven, from the first moment we can remember anything. But, oh please take heed that you don’t remain barren and unfruitful in the sunshine of all these privileges: beware lest your heart remains hard, impenitent and worldly, even with the many advantages you enjoy. You can’t enter the kingdom of God on the credit of your parents’ religion. You must eat the bread of life for yourself, and have the witness of the Spirit in your own heart. You must have repentance of your own, faith of your own, and sanctification of your own. If not, you are no better than Judas

I want you all to lay these things to heart. May we never forget that privileges alone can’t save us. Light, and knowledge, and faithful preaching, and abundant means of grace, and the company of holy people are all great blessings and advantages. Happy are those who have them! But, after all, there is one thing without which privileges are useless: that one thing is the grace of the Holy Ghost. Judas had many more privileges than anyone in the world today, but Judas had no grace.

Privileges are not enough. Even the example of the Lord Jesus Christ is not enough. If we think that men and women are going to be converted by the way we live, we are going to be disappointed. If we think that they’re going to be converted by bringing them into our congregations and exposing them to the teachings of Scripture and allowing them to see who Jesus Christ is and what he did, we are going to be disappointed. It’s not enough. They need two things; a new heart so that these things become real to them and they need the Lord Jesus Christ as their prophet and priest and king. He must become their Saviour.

Imagine a plane flying to New York from London crashing into the Atlantic a thousand miles from land. Three survivors are in an inflatable but it’s got a leak. One of the three is an Olympics gold medal marathon swimmer. Then there is an average swimmer. Finally there is someone who cannot swim at all. What happens? Imagine the gold medallist saying to the people who are with him as the boat sinks into the water, “Watch me; I’ll show you how to get out of this.” He begins to show them how to swim. They do their best and soon are heading off towards Galway, a thousand miles away. Well, it takes about thirty seconds for the non-swimmer to go down. It takes about another twenty minutes for the average swimmer to go down. I suppose it takes hours before the marathon champion goes down. But eventually they all go down. That is the point. Not one of them has a chance of reaching South America. Their need is not for an example. They need deliverance, a saviour to come in a boat or a helicopter to rescue them.

In spiritual terms the Lord Jesus Christ is that Saviour. He saves by becoming our teacher who tells us who and what we are and why we’re in the mess we are in and how we can be delivered from it. He saves by paying the penalty of our grievous offences against the holy God. He saves by protecting and keeping us day by day. He must become our Saviour. Before he can be our example he must be our Saviour. Judas had the prime example that stands before all mankind – what a privilege – but examples without redemption condemn us rather than save us.

You notice how Luke tells us that Judas was “one of the Twelve” (v.3), and it is absolutely clear that none of the other eleven suspected that Judas would do something like that. It never entered their minds. He appeared to be as knowledgeable and eager and prayerful and wise and zealous as any of them. When it came to who should look after the money people gave them to get food and to pay for shelter as they moved about Galilee the eleven all thought Judas a highly responsible man. He took care of the money. So it is such an error to imagine that we can know certainly who are God’s elect and those who are not. We cannot. The Scriptures tell us that man looks on the outward appearance but that God (and only God) looks on the heart.

The outward appearance of Judas was identical with that of Peter and John. It is little wonder that; they were equally humble followers of Jesus of Nazareth. We find ourselves to have often been mistaken, mixing up false professors of faith with genuine humble limping believers. We tend to pass judgment on a church-goer who behaves inconsistently, asking ourselves, “Is he really a Christian?” On the other hand, we see someone who cruises along with the rest of us, and we think, “He’s a Christian.” It ain’t necessarily so. A credible profession of trust in Christ the Saviour is vitally important, but it is not the last word on the state of grace in a heart. Jesus Christ is the alpha and the omega; he alone has the last word and he has not given us certainty about anyone else’s eternal state.

Consider the parable Jesus told of a farmer who planted a field of wheat. An enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat. After the enemy had sowed his tares, the servants, who knew about it, came to their master to ask what to do. “Shall we root up the tares and so get rid of the enemy’s work?” they asked. The master replied, “No, in case when you did that you tore up the wheat also. Let them grow up together. At the harvest time we will reap the entire field, winnow the wheat, and then cast the tares into the fire where they will be burned.”

It is telling us bleakly that some of God’s people are like tares and some of the devil’s people are like wheat, and we cannot tell the difference between them. All we can ask for is a credible profession of faith in word and life, not infallible knowledge, not even eminent perfection. We have to leave things in the hands of the Lord. Do e see here how sinners were conspiring against Jesus and how Judas was conspiring against Jesus, and . .

SEE HOW SATAN WAS CONSPIRING AGAINST JESUS.

We are told, “Then Satan entered Judas . . .” (v.3). The enormity of Judas’ sin can only be understood with reference to Satan’s activity. It had been referred to some time earlier when Jesus warned the twelve, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil” (Jn.6:70). It is also referred to in John 13:27, “As soon as Judas took the bread Satan entered into him.” Luke and John both tell us that Satan entered Judas. In other words Judas was not just subject to a temptation saying, “Sell him.” Receiving such a fleeting temptation would not have been in itself sinful. It was not that a fiery dart of temptation to betray him was thrown at Judas, but that Satan possessed him. In other words this thought obsessed him day and night for weeks; “I must betray him. I must go the authorities and negotiate with them about him. I must sell him. I must stop him. He can’t go on like this. I have to end this.” That is all he could think about. His dreams were full of that scenario in the night and every event that took place in the day were turned to the obsession with betrayal. That is what happens when Satan enters you. It is not that you foam at the mouth, or speak in a falsetto or horrid bass voice, or look very wicked. No. Then everyone would know that something is wrong. No one suspected that anything was wrong with Judas during the time that Satan had entered him. It was an inward obsession that Christ had to be got rid of. That was the mark.

So are we to look on Judas as a victim? Could he sigh and say, “Well, the devil made me do it”? In no way! Judas failed to resist the devil. Peter, who saw this horrible tragedy close up, later exhorted Christian men and women to resist the devil, promising them that if they did he would flee from them. Satan is not omnipotent. Jesus tells us that he who lives in our hearts, to whom we have illimitable access, is far greater than Satan or all the powers of the world. Let all the spirits from the pit gather together and assault us, he that is in us is greater. Let all the powers of the world, scientific, philosophical, popular and academic all gather together and besiege us. He who is in us is greater than them all. The gates of hell shall not prevail against us. We resist Satan in the name of the one who cast out demons, and raised the dead, the one who has all authority in heaven and earth. Angels and men before him fall and devils fear and fly.

Judas steadily yielded to Satan’s influence. You understand that we are not to think of Judas walking in the Spirit, fellowshipping with Jesus for three years, and then, all of a sudden, he was overwhelmed with the conviction that he would betray him to be crucified. It was not like that at all. We know that Judas was helping himself to the money that people were giving to Jesus and his disciples. He was a common thief, a crook, who stole from kind and needy people. The disciples were not able to help kind, poor and needy people as they might have done because there was not enough money left in the charity box. Judas had helped himself. There was a steady moral compromise and decline in Judas, hidden from everyone except Jesus and accelerated by Satan.

You might think that being under the influence of the most holy of men, captivated by his preaching, awed by his life, inspired and motivated by him month after month, that that would protect you from Satan, and certainly it would help you if you were surrounded by godly men. You are thinking you already have some strong walls surrounding you and that Satan is bound to keep his distance. But here are twelve men who have lived with Christ for three years. You might think that Satan would never dare to tempt one of these close friends of Jesus, let alone to penetrate them and get one to deny him and another to betray him. Yet here is Judas and Satan enters him, and here is Peter, and though Jesus warns him that Satan wants him, and is going to sieve him like wheat is sieved, they both fall.

Didn’t Satan tempt out Lord? Didn’t our Lord have to prepare himself for 40 days and nights for the great conflict in the wilderness when Satan came and used the Sword of the Spirit against Jesus, and offered him the world if he would fall down and worship him. If Satan were unafraid of a full-frontal attack on the one who is the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of his person then he is certainly not afraid of tempting one of his servants.

So there is not a Christian here who is not going to meet during his lifetime periods of Satanic activity when the devil wants to make us the most unhappy, bewildered and guilty people on the planet. He will want us to give in to ugly temptations, and deny our Lord, and behave in the most unwise and foolish way. He will bring the most cunning pressures to bear upon us. He will find assistance in people we admire and love, folk we are indebted to whose actions and words he will draw into his great task of destroying our assurance that we are disciples, and he is God the Son.

In any warfare the great asset is prior information. Know your enemy! Know that you battle with a cruel enemy, with principalities and powers, with the rulers of the darkness of this world, with spiritual wickedness in high places. He has declared war on you, and it is generally not on a battlefield but we are fighting against terrorists who will strike when we are not expecting them, who will use the disappointment we get from the lives of other Christians to make us resentful, softening up for the seeds of doubt and resentment to be sown in our hearts. Beware of secrecy! Beware of betrayal! Beware of relying on the blessings of your past! Beware of making other people sinners, blaming them. Beware of resentment and bitterness. Trust in Jesus and resist the evil one.

Our comfort from Satan’s activity is this, that as it was with Job so it is here with the Lord Jesus. God was in control saying to Satan, “So far, but no further;” Satan doing everything out of pure hatred for Jesus and yet God controlling and using that malice to further his own plan of redemption and the crushing of Satan’s head.

24th June 2012 GEOFF THOMAS