By Ryan Rasmussen
You might be surprised that the name Judas means “let God be praised.”
I find it incredibly ironic that the man who betrayed Jesus would carry a name of such reverence. Sometimes, though, things aren’t what they seem.
For example, the fact that Judas Iscariot was a disciple at all must have baffled those who spent time with Jesus. While Jesus welcomed misfits and the marginalized into his friend group, Judas must have seemed “next level” in this regard. The Gospels documented that Judas, the band’s treasurer, would regularly skim money from the group’s funds (John 12:6).
A theology degree isn’t required to recognize a separation, of sorts, between Judas and the other disciples. The Gospel writers always include his name last when listing the Twelve, which seems to imply they’d rather leave him off the list altogether.
In last April’s Christian Standard, Bob Russell surmised that Judas’s impatience with the pace of Jesus’ ministry ultimately may have led to his downfall.
I think the source of Judas’s betrayal was a gradual corruption of his heart. His catastrophe began with greed, which led to stealing. He perhaps initially just “borrowed from the petty cash.” Then he rationalized that he deserved some personal reimbursement for extra time spent handling the funds.
Slowly his attitude toward Jesus changed because of his secret sin. Instead of a teachable spirit, Judas became cynical. Instead of enjoying fellowship with the disciples, he became distant. Instead of loving Jesus, he began to resent him.
When Jesus rebuked him for his criticism of Mary’s extravagance, Judas had enough. “Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?’” (Matthew 26:14-15). Judas had become arrogant as well as bitter and decided to lash back.
Maybe Judas assumed Jesus would be a political leader and had finally realized that wasn’t happening. Perhaps Judas wanted to witness Jesus’ power on display, but Jesus mainly exhibited service and humility. Maybe Judas thought he might gain financial prosperity as a disciple but finally recognized Jesus wasn’t interested in that.
Jesus sometimes isn’t who we want him to be.
The Costs of Following—and Serving—Jesus
Years ago, while serving at a church near Boulder, Colorado, I preached a sermon about the cost of following Jesus. I remember feeling pretty good about the message. I looked forward to standing in the lobby after the service to receive attaboys, high-fives, and handshakes to stroke my ego a bit.
But I wasn’t prepared for the middle-aged man who approached me. Without a clue of the socially awkward position he was placing me in, he asked what following Jesus had cost me. I remember others who had gathered around being thrown off by his blunt question. I’m sure from what he could gather, I sort of had my cake and was eating it, too. I had a home in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, a beautiful young family, and I worked at a megachurch. To his point, it didn’t seem like following Jesus was costing me much.
I stuttered and tripped over my words as I responded to him. I left the church that day feeling like maybe he had a point.
Fast-forward about 10 years. I wish I could revisit the conversation with that man.
I entered ministry because I wanted to help people. A few student pastors invested in me as a young person and I wanted to pay it forward. That was a long time ago. Things were different then. In retrospect, the times seemed simple.
In the early years of my career, I recall telling people what I did for a living and folks would respond with respect or reverence. It always made me uncomfortable, so I’d sometimes try to lighten the mood with a mild cussword or something.
Back then pastors were viewed as good people, I think. Yeah, there were some bad apples here and there: TV evangelists and scam artists, Bible thumpers and hellfire preachers. But generally, the local reverend made hospital calls, counseled struggling couples, and took phone calls in the middle of night. That’s why I accepted this calling, I wanted to be that guy.
Now, a decade later, when I think of what following Jesus has cost me, my stomach starts to hurt a little.
My family looks different now. I know Jesus didn’t take my marriage from me, but sometimes I wonder how much weight ministry put on that relationship.
I’ve had to let go of staff people I loved like family. Now, I’m sometimes awkward with people I work with. I struggle with knowing where to draw the line between boss and friend.
I wrestle every day with whom I can trust. Can I be friends with people who go to my church? Can I really let people in? If people really knew me—if they knew my issues—would they still let me be their pastor?
I’ve battled bouts of depression, and my greatest fear, other than being alone, is failure. I am terrified of disappointing people.
Ministry is different for me—and, really, for all ministers—these days. Now I’m a face. Now I have a platform and I have to have “takes” on things politicians say or don’t say. I have to condemn or support people or causes that I sometimes don’t fully understand or that I wrestle with theologically. Now everyone seems to have wedged their Jesus into whatever political preference they walk in. Sometimes I just want to shake people and say, “Jesus isn’t who you think he is.”
I guess it boils down to this: I’m tired. I’m tired of having to appease people. I’m tired of having to be what people want me to be. And I am often convinced there is no more unqualified person in a role like mine than me.
But I’m still here. And I’m not going anywhere.
Our Expectations of Jesus
I’m still here because I believe in Jesus, the power of the local church, and that in the end the things I’ve laid down for the sake of kingdom work will not compare to the fruit that will come from those sacrifices.
The apostle Paul wrote, “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (Romans 8:18, New Living Translation).
I can’t help but wonder if things would have turned out differently if Judas had been willing to lay down his expectations of Jesus. That’s a theological wormhole we don’t have time to explore here.
So let’s ask the more important question: Are there expectations you have of Jesus that are keeping you from knowing or seeing him in his fullness? Are you bitter because he hasn’t given you the life you think you deserve? Has obedience to him cost you in ways that sometimes make your stomach hurt?
Jesus sometimes isn’t who we want him to be.
But . . . whatever it is you want him to be, remember this . . . he’s better. His will for your life is anchored in a profound love for you.
Be patient. Stay the course. Trust Jesus.
Ryan Rasmussen serves as lead pastor with First Christian Church in Canton, Ohio.