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The Beacon
September, 2023
Jesus, Judas, and the Journey to the Cross

Have you ever considered that Jesus chose Judas Iscariot to be an apostle? Judas, “who became a traitor” (Luke 6:16), was personally selected from among the disciples to be an apostle (Matt 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:13-16; John 6:71).  “Of course,” you think, “Jesus chose Judas knowing full well he would betray him.” That’s right — but have you considered the weight of this choice? Have you ever considered what it was like to choose him?

We cannot forget that Jesus, though without sin (Heb 4:15), became a man with flesh, thoughts, and emotions like us. Jesus, the God-man, chose Judas to be one of his twelve apostles. They labored closely together for three years. That’s three years of ministry. Three years of teaching. Three years of travel. Three years of meals. Three years of friendship. All the while knowing that this man would sell him at the price of a slave (Matt 26:15).

The evil of Judas was ordained by the Father before the world was made (Acts 2:23). His betrayal was foretold by the prophets (Ps 41:9, 55:12-14, 109:6-8), confirmed by the apostles (Acts 1:15-20), and prophesied by Jesus himself (Matt 26:20-25; Mark 14:17-21, 41-42; Luke 22:22-23; John 6:70-71, 13:18, 21-30). But even with this knowledge, there still came the day when Jesus had to choose to name Judas and welcome him with honor. No matter the knowledge, betrayal is still a bitter deed.

And yet, I don’t think betrayal was the most difficult part of this choice. The deepest difficulty was that choosing Judas was really choosing the cross.

I wonder if this is why Jesus prayed all night before naming the apostles. I don’t know — it’s not spelled out in the text. But it’s worth considering, as this is the only place in Scripture where we are told that “all night he continued in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12). Out of the many places in the New Testament where this decision could be discussed, Luke 6 may be the best place to meditate on the not-easy-but-good obedience of our Lord.

In his humanity, did Jesus wrestle with the choice of Judas? Was this choice a particularly poignant step on the journey to the cross? Maybe. In choosing Judas, Jesus was once again saying “yes” to the will of God the Father and to the cross. Selecting his betrayer was another instance of Jesus declaring “your will be done.” This decision is one of the many choices that led to the cross. Considering the divine knowledge of Jesus, we can begin to see that every choice was one of obedience unto death. Everything Jesus did in the will of God was leading to the cross. The choice of Judas was one decisive step in the long march from Bethlehem to Golgotha. For Jesus, his earthly ministry was what Eugene Peterson might call a “long obedience in the same direction”; an obedience leading to the cross. This is the journey that Jesus commands us to take with him as we deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him (Luke 9:23).

Just like our Lord, the long obedience is our call. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a brother faithful unto death, reminds us, “when Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” Jesus’ not-easy-but-good choice of Judas reminds us that this choice is made in our everyday decisions. We must decide each day if we will take another step in the obedience of faith. The good news is that we may take that step knowing that the joy set before us is eternally better than standing still.