Monday, March 23, 2009

Psalms 23 - Part VII

Psalms 23 verse 5: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”

One of the most distressing truths for many modern Christians to come to terms with is the idea that God has enemies. But as we reflect on Psalms 23 verse five as a prophecy of Jesus’ life, one event clearly jumps out: The Last Supper; a table prepared by the Father for the Son; a table eaten in the presence of His enemy: Judas, the son of perdition. (John 17:12)

Judas: The Enemy of God

Judas was one of the twelve Apostles. He was chosen by Jesus and served side by side with Peter, James, John and the others. He saw Jesus walk on water, heal the sick and raise the dead. But for all of that he either never really got it—or didn’t really want to get it. Apparently nobody, beside Jesus himself, ever caught on that Judas was of a different spirit than the rest.

Did Judas know he was Judas?

Did Judas know who he was? Did he imagine himself as the most infamous traitor in human history and the betrayer of God’s only begotten Son? What was going on inside of his head? Did he secretly think that Jesus was just another phony holy man, putting on a dog-and-pony show, or did he just not get the gravity of who Jesus really was? It certainly seems that Jesus was very clear in explaining Himself. So the question remains: Did Judas know that he was Judas?

I do not think he did. As a matter of fact, because of his remorse and resulting suicide, I am positive that Judas never had a clue how serious his betrayal was until after Jesus was crucified. I think he reacted to the events around him based on faulty values and carnal hidden ambitions, like many Christians do today.

How do I know if I am a Judas?

Therefore, if Judas did not know he was Judas, if he believed himself to be a ‘normal’ guy—perhaps a guy who was not really into all the hocus pocus or someone just holding back a little—the question every Christian deserves to ask ourselves is: How do I know I’m not a Judas?

Are there enemies at our table?

If the Lord prepares a table before His sheep in the very presence of their enemies; if Judas walked with comfort and ease beside Jesus and the disciples undetected by all but Jesus Himself; if the sacrament of Communion is the Lord’s Table for the Body of Christ today; is it possible, or probable, or even a promise of God, that God’s enemies are at the table (in the church) undetected today? If so, how can I tell who Judas is? And most importantly, how would I know if I were a Judas?

In looking up the Scriptures relating to Judas, a number of traits become apparent. Although there may not be an absolute litmus test, the best way to do an examination and take the edge off a bit for detecting the Judas bug is using a tool borrowed from comedian, Jeff Foxworthy.

You Might be a Judas, If…

Foxworthy is famous for his line of jokes, “You might be a redneck if...” For our purposes, let us slightly alter the wording and offer insights that believers can use to detect Judas-like tendencies in our own lives. Therefore, citing the Scripture references, consider the following series of observations indicating that, ‘You might be a Judas, if…

Be forewarned – seeing Judas in one’s own life can be disconcerting, but knowing the truth will make us free. As long as we have the humility to repent, there is every reason to hope.
  1. You might be a Judas if you really love money.

    There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. Then one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, who would betray Him, said, "Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it. (John 12:2-6)

    Now jumping over to Matthew’s telling of this same story, it records the disciples accusing the woman of wasting money, and Jesus defending the woman’s act of extravagant kindness. As John’s Gospel just showed, it was Judas in particular who voiced his displeasure. Next, Matthew says, Judas immediately seeks out the chief priests: Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?" And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver. So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him. (Matthew 26:14-16)

    You might be a Judas if you really love money.

    This incident exposes the love of money in Judas. He ‘kept the money box’, meaning he was clearly the ministry treasurer. He was a thief, taking money all along. He was so upset about this much money, in his mind, being wasted on the preacher’s personal use, that he became infuriated and literally betrayed Jesus for money.

    Righteous outrage is not always what it seems.

    Judas’ money-hungry heart was furious because he craved getting his hands on the funds from the sale of this perfume and saw it slip through his hands, so he put up a smoke-screen of phony sanctimonious outrage, pretending to care for the poor. Secretly, he was only mad because of the lost money for himself. Judas was not that deep in his evil; just shallow and greedy.

    When selfish sinful flesh is offended it squeals and screams for retribution, craving an excuse to lash out. And if it discovers an unrelated moral point to protest, it will boldly rise up and demand satisfaction like Johnny Cochran defending a million dollar client. This is a decoy tactic used to divert attention from the true sinful issue of the heart and retaliate against the one who denied the lustful desire.

    In the mind of the offended sinner, they can even go so far as to eventually deceive themselves, swearing on all that is holy that this objection is based on only the most pure of motives.

    In today’s church, this Judas spirit might sound like this:

    “We should keep the pastor poor so he doesn’t get a big head. If he’s too successful, we should knock him down. We’ll be doing God a favor by keeping him humble”

    “Why did they buy the pastor a new motorcycle for his fifteenth anniversary at the Church? That money should have gone for the needy! I mean, I go to that church but I can’t really blame my family members who don’t. Sometimes I think that all they care about is money.”

    “How much did that new church building cost? Shouldn’t we just meet from house to house like the early church and use all that money for the poor? What do we need pastors for anyway? Nobody is closer to God than anyone else. We’re all kings and priests.”
  2. You might be a Judas if you are a spiritual chameleon.

    While He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and elders of the people.” Matthew 26:47

    When you can change loyalty due to the crowd that you’re with you might be a Judas. When you’re with your church friends, you have a presence of mind of being one of God’s people but when you’re at home, work or away from Christians you blend in and mix easily with those who despise and criticize God’s family, you might be a Judas.

    Judas’ courage to betray Jesus was reinforced by the numbers, weapons and violent attitude of the crowd. Besides, how could he possibly turn back now with all these people watching? People who are chameleons seek strength in numbers.

    This is the coward’s way of overriding righteous authority through the power of the mob—it is very common human fare. It is humans voting Jesus out of power. It is democratically led morality using brutal human intimidation. It is sheep teaching the shepherd a lesson. It is the essence of most church splits. It is Korah’s rebellion (Numbers 16).

    This is the devil’s favorite disguise—a weak angry human, a chameleon—one who can look like a Christian among Christians but reveals his true nature at the perfect time to do the most destruction.
  3. You might be a Judas even though you are one of the main disciples and a member of Jesus’ ministry team.

    Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, 15 and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons: 16 Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter; 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, that is, "Sons of Thunder"; 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananite; 19 and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.” Mark 3:14-19

    Being in ministry doesn’t guarantee anyone an exemption from being Judas. If any person is not personally committed to Jesus the head and the visible Body of Christ—the Church, though you be an inner circle disciple does not guarantee you that you’re not a Judas. Character weaknesses and sin issues not dealt with are sure warning signs.
  4. You might be a Judas if you succumb to an evil presence of mind.

    Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called Passover. 2 And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might kill Him, for they feared the people. 3 Then Satan entered Judas, surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve. 4 So he went his way and conferred with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray Him to them. 5 And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. 6 So he promised and sought opportunity to betray Him to them in the absence of the multitude.
    Luke 22:1-6 (NKJV)

    Judas was a thief, stealing money all along (John 12). The sin ‘nest’ inside him gave Satan permission to enter and mastermind the betrayal of Jesus. This shows if anyone continues in sin, even though a church member, he is inviting the devil to come in. Eventually, Satan will exploit that sin weakness to enter and strike. When Satan does enter him through the open door of the sin practice, the host human’s mind is darkened and reasoning becomes clouded resulting in an evil presence of mind.

    Satan is a spirit and when he enters, he brings an irresistible resolve to lash out in a vengeful or spiteful way. The sinful person now becomes single minded in his determination to fulfill his evil intention. Any inner voice of conscience is, at least temporarily, completely silenced because of the overwhelming evil presence of mind. The catalyst for Satan entering is usually through a perceived offence like the spikenard incident.

    The Bible says that the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost (Romans 14:17). That is the presence of mind when one is filled with the Holy Spirit. That’s where the Holy Spirit dwells. On the other hand, when your mind is outside of holy counsel, if you succumb and give yourself over to an evil presence of mind, Satan enters in and results in a Judas mindset. I’m not saying that you are a Judas, but you might be.
  5. You might be a Judas if you love Jesus on the outside, when your heart is turned to darkness on the inside.

    And while He was still speaking, behold, a multitude; and he who was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them and drew near to Jesus to kiss Him. But Jesus said to him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?"
    Luke 22:47-48

    If you continue to serve Jesus on the outside, when your heart is turned to darkness on the inside, you might be a Judas. If you go to church but inwardly resent the pastor, his wife, the church people, the preaching, the music, the church in general, you might be a Judas.

    If you kiss Jesus publicly but hate His church privately, you might be a Judas.

    I’ve heard people say things like, “I love Jesus but hate the church.” That is what Judas did. In his mind I’m sure he believed that he loved God in heaven but was offended at Christ’s wasteful use of money. If you love Jesus on the outside and your heart is dark on the inside, you might be a Judas.
  6. If you think that being chosen by Jesus guarantees that you are saved, you might be a Judas.

    Jesus answered them, "Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?" 71 He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve. John 6:70-71

    If you think an experience in the past means you are righteous today, you might be a Judas. Salvation is a marathon race and just because Jesus chose you and you answered a call once doesn’t mean that you’re living in the light today.

    “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,”
    Hebrews 12:1
  7. You might be a Judas if you rob God.

    Then one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, who would betray Him, said, "Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.
    John 12:4-6

    Judas robbed God by taking the money from the box. The main way many Christians rob God today is by withholding tithes and offerings:

    "Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, 'In what way have we robbed You?' In tithes and offerings." Malachi 3:8

    People rob God by belonging to the church and refusing to pay their way. When someone has this knowledge but their heart continues to resist over time, they are no different than Judas. They are God robbers. People who begrudge God His portion and think they are equal with the other disciples are self-deceived.
    Salvation is a free gift but when someone answers Jesus’ call, they are, like Judas, given the job holding the money box. The modern money box is the tenth part of our income that belongs to God. It is Jesus’ ministry fund and we do not have a right to take it for our own use. It is given to the local church—the storehouse.

    It is uncanny that the people who complain the most about how church money is spent are overwhelmingly non-tithers. Judas was robbing God and his thievery poisoned his heart, causing him to protest the apparent wasteful use of the expensive ointment. Unless one tithes to his local church, like Judas, he cannot fully understand Jesus words.

    Therefore, if you get upset frequently, thinking that more of the church money ought to be given to the poor, you might be a Judas. If you angrily rationalize in your mind that the church is wasting expensive ointment and you are just a poor person so how can they expect you to tithe… you might be a Judas. If you think you make too much money for your church to handle, you might be a Judas.
  8. You might be a Judas if you are waiting and biding your time to get somebody back.

    And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray Him. John 13:2

    If you’ve already made a decision in your heart to put someone down or if you are holding an offence and simply looking for an opportunity to pay someone back for what they did to you, you might be a Judas.

    If you keep an account of wrongs and have the capacity to plan to hurt someone or to settle a score, you might be a Judas.
  9. If you rationalize ungodly decisions with “God told me to,” you might be a Judas.

    Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered him. Then Jesus said to him, "What you do, do quickly." John 13:27

    Jesus said to Judas, “What you do, do quickly.” Does that mean that Jesus occasionally tells His disciples to do evil? Absolutely not! However, when someone mulls over evil in their heart long enough, Jesus will eventually release them to their evil heart. He will release them and sometimes even seem to provide a Scripture to confirm.

    Does that mean it was right for him to betray Jesus? No. In ministry, it is common to hear someone say “God told me” to do this or that, but many times it is how people justify decisions they have made on their own and do not want anyone’s interference. At times the Holy Spirit will try to resist through conscience but will eventually release a person to their plans.

    This, ‘God told me’ device can be really dangerous when these plans are originally born, like with Judas, through a sin door in the person. This gives way for the devil himself to enter and mastermind the idea. These are events when people who think they are Christians become pawns of the devil and ultimately bring about God’s plan but by playing for the bad guys. Ouch! Sometimes Jesus will simply say, “Well, go ahead and do what you’ve got to do.”
  10. You might be a Judas if you shut off your conscience and stick your fingers in your ears and do wrong.

    Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Him to them. 11 And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. So he sought how he might conveniently betray Him. Mark 14:10-11
  11. You might be a Judas if you want to be near the money.

    For some thought, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus had said to him...” (John 13:29).
  12. You might be a Judas if you look for a group to agree with your rebellious attitude against legitimate authority.

    Then Judas, having received a detachment of troops, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons. (John 18:3)
  13. You might be a Judas if you give phony Christian hugs and affection.

    But Jesus said to him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?" (Luke 22:48)
  14. You might be a Judas if you stir up trouble in the Church.

    Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. 4 Then one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, who would betray Him, said, 5 "Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" John 12:3-5

    And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table. 8 But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, "Why this waste? 9 "For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor." Matthew 26:6-9

    And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. 4 But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, "Why was this fragrant oil wasted? 5 "For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor." Mark 14:3-5

    John records that it was specifically Judas, the son of perdition, who vocalized opposition to the anointing oil being used for Jesus personal use. But because the other accounts mention that a number of disciples disagreed, it is a fair conclusion that Judas stirred up the problem. The Bible has much to say about the danger of poisoning someone else’s heart. As a matter of fact, Proverbs 16:19 says that God hates one who sows discord among brethren.
  15. You might be a Judas if you come to the point where you give up on the hope and love of Jesus—the hope of His forgiveness.

    Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, 4 saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." And they said, "What is that to us? You see to it!" 5 Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5)

    The Word of God is clear when it says: And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.' Acts 2:21

    I am always convinced that Jesus is willing to forgive. Jesus’ forgiveness is eternal. His Word is truth. No matter how far we stray; how evil we act; how vicious we can be to one another; He is able to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness if we will repent and confess our sins.


    The comparison of Judas to Peter in the few days after the last supper is remarkable. Judas led an angry mob and identified Jesus with a kiss and Peter in the midst of a mob denied Jesus with cursing (Matt. 26:74). Judas’ spirit was never right from the beginning so the devil swallowed him up with despair. Peter’s spirit was resilient and his heart was pure so when he heard of the empty tomb he sprinted toward Jesus.

    You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. The sure way to know that we are not Judas is to confront and confess our own sin and mortify the deeds of the flesh by the Holy Spirit—it is to be transformed by the renewing of our mind by the Word of God and to desperately depend on His grace.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Psalms 23 - Part VI

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Psalms 23:4

The rod and staff are extensions of the shepherd. They are symbols of his position and tools of his trade. As a sheep passing through the valley of the shadow of death, I am not afraid because my shepherd is with me. I have seen him use his rod and staff, time and time again, to handle danger, correct me and the other sheep, keeping us all safe and together.

I am not an undisciplined sheep. I recognize the shepherd’s authority and I take comfort in knowing that when I begin to stray, my shepherd loves me enough to chastise me. I know the power of that rod and staff because I’ve seen him handle wolves with it. I also know that all I have to do is follow that staff and I will always be cared for, well fed, watered and protected from harm. His strength and authority comfort me.

My Dad was a Shepherd… sort of

As a child, my Dad loved his children enough to discipline us. I remember a time when I was a first grader my two older brothers and I got into trouble on the school bus. The driver, Mrs. Conrad, was so upset by our poor behavior that she made the three of us sit in the front seat as punishment and called my parents to report. We dreaded what would happen when Dad got home from work later that evening. But the shepherd is wiser than his sheep!

As we sat together that day, quarantined on the death row cell-block of that front seat, the bus crested the hill at Hotaling’s farm and began the final half mile down the country road to our house. As we got closer, I realized that something was out of place. There was something, no, someone, standing where our bus stopped. Slowly, like a magic-eye picture coming into focus, it became terrifyingly clear—it’s Dad… and he’s holding a strap in his hand. You see, Dad was never home from work this early… never!

The entire bus filled with local kids of all ages became eerily silent as the wheels screeched to a halt and we ‘sheepishly’ exited. The wise shepherd, rod in hand, marched us into the house and we lined up to take our ‘lickins.’ Chuck, the oldest, went first and took his medicine like a real trooper. Donald next—he was a great crier, beggar and screamer… no holding back for him.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this mayhem I had a brilliant desperate idea—my daily chore (which I usually fought) was walking three doors down to the Post Office to retrieve the mail.

“Mom,” I said already moving for the door, “I’ve got to go and get the mail.”

Miracle of miracles, it worked! I was out the door as I heard Mom say, “You’ll get your medicine when you get back.”

But the moment was over and I dodged the bullet. Now just lay low for a few days and avoid Dad and its clear sailing.

Truth be told, as the youngest of the three sheep, I was spared this time, although Chuck and Don—not so lucky—sorry guys.

But oddly enough that event had a profound effect on my soul. Here’s how:

  1. I never got into trouble on the bus again. I didn’t get the strap that time but my earthly shepherd effectively communicated to me that he would go to any ends to ensure my conformity to the standards of the fold. Having the name Engelhardt demanded that we conduct our lives above public disgrace. Likewise, to God’s sheep it is written, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” 1 Peter 2:9
  2. The fact that I had a real father, who took his role in my life very seriously, was scary but at the same time made me feel very secure as a kid. The boundaries he set were enforced.
    In the same way, the rod and the staff of the Good Shepherd comfort me today. The Word of God says, “For whom the LORD loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights.” Proverbs 3:12
  3. As a kid, when my buddies got stupid attacks and wanted to do something really bad, I could always use the excuse, “I can’t do that, my father will kill me,” and the guys believed me. They had seen for themselves the commitment my shepherd had to his sheep.
    Today, when people want to do ungodly things, most times they do not even let me know about it. They know that the Lord is my shepherd and that I follow the family standard. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Romans 11:22
  4. Another advantage I received as a kid was that my friends were at times jealous because we had an old-school disciplinarian father. And believe it or not many of them looked at us in awe after that infamous day. It gave us a bit of a swagger simply because we had a higher standard than they.
    As a child of God under the Good Shepherd, I am proud to be associated with the highest, toughest, strongest, coolest and wisest Father in the universe. He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly. Proverbs 13:24

The Cross

Another way to think of the rod and staff of the Good Shepherd is as the Cross—the wooden tool of the Good Shepherd’s trade used to defeat the enemy and save His sheep from death. The rod and/or staff are what the shepherd lifts up and the sheep follow. No matter where you are, eating your grass or frolicking around—whatever sheep do—out of the corner of their eye, you can always see that staff. You just know you are safe and secure. Such is the cross of Jesus Christ.

I was in Kenya, Africa many years ago, out in the bush, walking along with Bishop Julius Wafula, and we happened upon a shepherd out in the middle of nowhere. He was sitting on a rock, and he had his sheep around him. Those sheep were just as content as could be and this man had his staff in his hand and his full time job was the care of those couple dozen sheep.

The single most important element in all of our lives is the Cross of the Good Shepherd. If you don’t have your heart set on the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ as your salvation, if you don’t know for sure that He died for your sins, that everything’s going to be okay... If you don’t know positively that that Cross is the place where you transition into eternity, you will absolutely get lost.

Correction not Rejection

As we’ve seen, the shepherd sometimes uses his rod for correction. Modern people, however, frequently confuse correction with rejection and resent the prodding of the Good Shepherd. I have learned over many years to praise God that we have a shepherd who will correct us when we do wrong. For example, if I were a serious athlete, I would not want a coach who only told me how perfectly I played my sport, especially if I keep losing games. Elite coaches make huge salaries just to show people what they are doing wrong!

In the same way, I do not want a shepherd to tell me how good I am when my heart can hold so much darkness. If we are honest we know that what is inside of us is not always good. You see, there is only one thing in life that truly terrifies me. Losing Jesus.

Fearing God is the Beginning of Wisdom

Imagine waking up one day and feeling mixed up, disoriented and separated from the Good Shepherd. You look inside but cannot find Him anymore. Lee Strobel, in his book, The Case for Faith, tells of an old man who was a preacher in his youth and became disillusioned and left God. He eventually became an atheist and even wrote books against God.

And then, as a dying man with a terminal disease and with Alzheimer’s setting in, Strobel interviewed him and asked him what he thought about Jesus now that he had spent many decades away from God. The man began to cry, he said, “Oh, I miss Him terribly.”

You see, if you don’t know why we celebrate Christmas, if you don’t know why we celebrate Easter, if you don’t have a love affair with Jesus Christ, Himself, you don’t know the Good Shepherd.

My prayer: Please, Jesus, never let me stray from You, so that I don’t know where You are anymore. Please, let me keep that Cross in focus, where you paid for my sins. Please, Jesus, keep me close to You always!

Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. The wonderful Cross of Jesus Christ is a comfort to me. I am a sinner. I need a savior. There is an ‘X’ on the timeline of history where my savior, the Good Shepherd, conquered death, hell and the grave and now He lives for evermore and waits for me beyond death’s door. I will fear no evil!