You have probably experienced this yourself. I have been to a number of funerals and what is sad about the funeral is what people remember about the person. Their whole life is remembered because of some hobby they had in their life. It is interesting to think about how you will be remembered. What will be your story? What will people say about your life? One of the saddest stories that is recorded for us in the scriptures is Judas. His name is well-known even among people who do not know anything about God. His name is truly infamous. If you speak about someone being a “Judas,” what you mean is that person is a betrayer. But that did not have to be his story. That did not have to be the legacy by which he was remembered. Let us notice the story Judas left in Acts 1:12-26.
What About Judas?
About 120 disciples gather and Peter talks to them about Judas. You can imagine that the topic of Judas had to be a sore subject among the disciples. The apostles witnessed Judas lead a mob to arrest Jesus. They had seen Judas come up to Jesus and kiss him on the cheek to indicate that this is the one to arrest. But notice what Peter says about Judas and what he did as we look at Acts 1:16. Peter says that the scripture had to be fulfilled concerning Judas, which the Holy Spirit spoke about beforehand through David. Peter’s first point is that this betrayal, this wretched act of Judas, was not a surprise to God. This was declared in the scriptures as part of God’s plan long ago through the mouth of David. It is an important starting point. Nothing that happens is something that surprises God. Nothing happens in this world where God steps back and says, “I didn’t see that coming.” That never happens. Peter is declaring that what happened between Judas and Jesus really was part of God’s plan and spoken about one thousand years prior.
Now in verses 18-19 we are given these graphic details about the fate of Judas. We are told in the gospel account that Judas hung himself. But Peter tells us the details of that event. Judas took the money that he used to betray Jesus, bought a field, and hung himself. After his death, his body fell headlong and his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. This caused people to name that field, “Field of Blood.” Have you ever read this and asked why we needed to know this? Why do we need these gory details? Can’t we just say that Judas killed himself and move on? The answer is no because what happened to Judas is part of his story and part of God’s story concerning him.
The gory story of Judas fits what the scriptures said about Judas. In verse 20 Peter quotes from Psalm 69:25, “Let his dwelling become desolate; let no one live in it.” Now we know that we cannot simply lift the quotation and think that we understand what Peter is saying. New Testament speakers quote pieces of scripture with the assumption that you know the context and surrounding message. So we need to go to Psalm 69 to understand what Peter is saying about Judas. When you read Psalm 69 you will see that this is a psalm that has many places that are quoted and applied to Jesus and what will happen after Jesus’ arrival (cf. Psalm 69:4,9,21,22). Psalm 69 is a song about a righteous sufferer praying for God’s deliverance. The context of the quotation, Psalm 69:22-28, is a call for God’s wrath and judgment on the wicked.
22 Let their table set before them be a snare, and let it be a trap for their allies. 23 Let their eyes grow too dim to see, and let their hips continually quake. 24 Pour out your rage on them, and let your burning anger overtake them. 25 Make their fortification desolate; may no one live in their tents. 26 For they persecute the one you struck and talk about the pain of those you wounded. 27 Charge them with crime on top of crime; do not let them share in your righteousness. 28 Let them be erased from the book of life and not be recorded with the righteous. (Psalm 69:22–28 CSB)
Notice that the prophecy in Psalm 69 is not directly about Judas but can be directly applied to him. Judas experienced the judgment that falls on those who are enemies of the righteous sufferer. The reason for the graphic ending for Judas is to show that this is what happens to those who turn against God and his people. Judas turned his back on Jesus, and his outcome was what God said would happen to those who do such. God’s wrath comes on them and they are erased from the book of life.
The second quote in Acts 1:20 comes from Psalm 109:8 and functions in the same way. The context is that the days of the wicked would be cut off and another would replace that wicked person. Let another person enjoy the blessing that the wicked person has forfeited. With this, Peter calls for another person to take the place of Judas as an apostle of Jesus. A true apostle of Jesus is someone who was with Jesus from his baptism and was a witness to his resurrection (1:22).
The Message of Judas
We should consider the life of Judas to be a frightening story. Judas shows us that it is possible to follow Jesus, personally see him, listen to his teachings, be among with disciples, witness his miracles, and yet still betray him. Sometimes we might think that faith would be easier if we had only been there. But we are lying to ourselves if we think this. Judas was part of the inner circle for he was one of the twelve. He was not an outsider. There was nothing unusual about Judas. In Acts 1:17 Peter says that he was numbered among them and was given a share in this ministry. No one thought that there was something different about Jesus. When Jesus says that one of them would betray him, none of the disciples exclaimed that it must be Judas. Even when Jesus tells Judas to go what he is going to do quickly, the disciples did not know that Judas was the betrayer (cf. John 13:27-29). They thought Jesus was telling him to get more food for the Passover feast. So Judas is a frightening story. It is possible to be false while looking like a follower of Jesus. Judas experienced everything as an apostle of Jesus and yet betrayed and rejected Jesus.
If Judas’ heart had not been this darkened, do you think God would have taken Judas back? If Judas had gone to the Lord in repentance rather than killing himself, do you think the Lord would have taken him back? I believe the answer is a resounding yes for a number of reasons. First, we know that God always takes back those who turn back to him from their sins. Second, we see Peter do this very thing. Peter also denied and rejected the Lord that same night. But rather than take his life, he drew closer to the Lord. Peter remains with the other disciples and Jesus restores him (cf. John 21:15-19). Remember that all the disciples abandoned Jesus and ran that night. No one stayed with Jesus like they said that they would. But Jesus restored those disciples while Judas quit. There is no sin that we commit that automatically must exclude us from the grace of God. The only way we can be excluded from God’s grace is by excluding ourselves. Judas’ story did not have to be the story we have today. This did not have to be the end for Judas but could have been a new beginning if he had simply returned to the Lord. But Judas proved that he was part of the wicked because of what he did with his sin. No one is perfect. But what you do when you sin matters.
This is why we serve an amazing God. What we learn through Judas, and all the people of the scriptures, is that God uses our sins to do his will. Even Judas was part of God’s overarching purpose. God is able to work with our messes. We are not messing God up when we make a mess of our lives. God is still greater than the world and its sinning. God is still at work even when things in life seem dark and difficult. God can use sin for his glory. This does not mean that we should want to sin or that we have permission to sin. That is not God’s point to us at all. Rather, God wants us to see that even though we can have spectacular sins in our lives, God is greater than those sins. God can still accomplish good and carry out his will in our lives even when we have sin in catastrophic fashion. As Peter declared in verse 24, God knows the hearts of all people.
What Will Be Your Story?
So what do you want your story to be? How do you want people to remember you? More importantly, how do you want God to see your life and record your story? Your decisions lead to outcomes in your life which determines what your life story is. Every decision you make becomes part of your story. So what do you want your story to be? Do you want people to remember how you loved sports, loved money, wrecked your family, destroyed your marriage, or some other physical, worldly metric? Or do you want to be remembered as a follower of Jesus, saved by grace? Even though you have made life messy, God can take that messy life and accomplish his will through you. He can transform you to be a different person, overcoming the sins of your past.
Do you want to be remembered for trading Jesus for money like Judas is remembered? Do you want to be remembered for the worst sin you committed in your life like Judas? Do you want to be remembered as a true follower of Jesus whose sin is covered over by grace? Do you want a story like Peter or a story like Judas? Your decisions lead to certain results in your life which determine what your story will be.