Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.
Traitor!” they cried, “Traitor!” With that word a man’s life is marked forever; it’s a label that never loses its stickiness. Recorded in the annals of history are the names of those whose entire life is summed up with such words, regardless of what other good or evil they may have done. It is not surprising that Shakespeare put into the mouth of Julius Caesar those now infamous words that have become synonymous with betrayal: “Et tu, Brute?” Whether or not Caesar ever actually uttered those words on that fateful day of March 15, 44 BC is not important. The fact that Caesar was betrayed by such a close friend on the Ides of March is all that matters, and Marcus Brutus will be forever remembered as one who betrayed his close friend. Many who are familiar with Dante’s Inferno will remember that the writer imagines nine levels of hell where each descending level reaches deeper and deeper down and increases in the degree of punishment. Below the levels of Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Wrath, Heresy, Violence, and Fraud there is the deepest circle of hell reserved for all who are Traitors, including Satan and Brutus, along with men like Ahithophel and Judas who are mentioned in the verses quoted above. While the Bible knows nothing of Dante’s imagination, it highlights the point that to be labeled a “Traitor!” is one of the worst ways to be remembered and is deserving of the greater judgment. While historians can examine the various historical figures bearing that dreadful title, it is good for us here to consider the two men the Bible tells us were separated by a thousand years and yet stand as one in the history of redemption.
We know enough of the life of Judas from the Scriptures to know that he was the one chosen by God before the foundation of the world who would, in the fullness of time, freely and without compulsion, betray with a kiss his Master and Teacher, the Lord Jesus Christ. His name is so synonymous with the treachery of betrayal, that to my knowledge no one has ever chosen Judas as a fitting name for a new born child. To be a traitor is to be a Judas. All four gospels tell us of the moment when it was made known by Jesus that it would be Judas, one who shared the table of fellowship with Jesus, a place of trust and intimacy. Judas was no stranger, but a friend, a companion. By definition, betrayal can only happen when one who is our close companion “lifts up his heel against us.” Betrayal is connected to deceit and it often comes at the hands of one we would least expect. It always happens between those who have built a relationship of trust and mutual love—that is what makes it so shocking and so painful.
David knew of such pain in a time when he needed his friend more than ever. David’s own son, Absalom, was plotting against his father to take over the kingdom. David surely knew that such trials were directly related to his own sin and were the consequences God promised through the prophet Nathan. Yet, when Ahithophel was willing to become the advisor to Absalom and to work for David’s destruction, he likely wrote about that betrayal in at least two psalms (Psalm 41 and 55). One can easily hear the deep pain of betrayal in the words the Spirit inspired David to write. But we need to remember that these two men are forever connected because the greater Son of David, our Lord Jesus Christ, took up the essence of these words on the night of His betrayal. “The hand of My betrayer is with Me on the table” of intimacy and fellowship.
As we come to the Lord’s Table this coming Lord’s Day (His Table and His Day!), we would do ourselves a great disservice if all we remember about this lesson is that these two men each betrayed their close friend, and how really bad that was! Sadly, that is all many people will ever see. But there is more… much more. Every day we live as traitors. We betray the perfect love of our Beloved Who gave Himself for us when we willingly and without much thought walk in the way of our own sinful desires. He comes as our dearest Friend and by our sins we lift up our heel against Him. The great preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, wrestled with these things as he meditated upon his own struggles against prevailing sins. He considered Judas and his own state; he questioned and he prayed as he wrote:
But what if I should be guilty of the same accursed sin as Judas, that son of perdition? I have been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus; I am a member of his visible Church; I sit at the communion table: all these are so many kisses of my lips. Am I sincere in them? If not, I am a base traitor. Do I live in the world as carelessly as others do, and yet make a profession of being a follower of Jesus? Then I must expose religion to ridicule, and lead men to speak evil of the holy name by which I am called. Surely if I act thus inconsistently I am a Judas, and it were better for me that I had never been born. Dare I hope that I am clear in this matter? Then, O Lord, keep me so. O Lord, make me sincere and true. Preserve me from every false way. Never let me betray my Savior. I do love thee, Jesus, and though I often grieve thee, yet I would desire to abide faithful even unto death. O God, forbid that I should be a high soaring professor, and then fall at last into the lake of fire, because I betrayed my Master with a kiss.
Spurgeon did not question such things to stay in a place of despair and torment of soul. Instead he did what I would ask of us all to do as we come this Lord’s Day to His Table—he lifted his eyes to Christ, our Faithful Friend. Here is One Who will never betray His own; One Who could write over the whole of my life, “Traitor!” But instead, He has in His grace written, “My Beloved.” As you prepare to come to the Table this Lord’s Day, come looking unto the One Who is your faithful Friend; One Who will never betray His love to you and has called you to be His own special possession to the praise of His glorious grace. Come singing and rejoicing in Him. Will you sing with joy the songs of deliverance?
In the Name of Christ, our Faithful Savior,
Pastor Ted Trefsgar