The Repentance of Judas
Francis Bourdillon, 1881
"When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders.
"I have sinned," he said, "for I have betrayed innocent blood."
"What is that to us?" they replied. "That's your responsibility."
So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself." Matthew 27:3-5
We read of two kinds of sorrow for sin: godly sorrow and the sorrow of the world. We are told that godly sorrow, "produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly sorrow produces death" (2 Corinthians 7:10). Now it is said here that Judas "repented" — but it is plain that his repentance was not repentance unto salvation (indeed the word in the original is quite different), but on the contrary — it was the sorrow of the world. It was sorrow, not so much for sin — as for the consequences of sin; for it was only when he saw that Jesus was condemned that he repented. And it worked death in his case. A bitter remorse took hold of him — an insupportable load of despair pressed upon his mind. Yet this did not lead him to God — but rather drove him to destruction. His heart was still unchanged. "He departed, and he went and hanged himself."
An unchanged heart often feels remorse — but it never feels godly sorrow. A great crime weighing on the conscience has often clouded all the after life of the criminal, and has sometimes driven him to give himself up to justice. And many have passed a sad old age — by reason of youth wasted, the best years of life misspent, opportunities gone forever, and perhaps the consequences of sin still felt in ruined health and blighted prospects. All this may be — and yet no godly sorrow, no true repentance, no change of heart.
True repentance is the gift of God, and comes only when the heart is changed by grace. Then is there a true sorrow for sin itself. Then the sinner comes to Christ. Then does he draw near to God. With trembling step perhaps and downcast look, like the publican in the temple — yet still he draws near. For godly sorrow leads to God — while the sorrow of the world only drives the heart from Him.
If repentance is the gift of God, then we may pray for it. Jesus Christ is exalted "as Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins" (Acts 5:31) — true repentance, a change of heart. We may seek this precious gift therefore from Him. How earnestly should we seek it! Some say, "I cannot go to Jesus until I repent." Nay, rather, you cannot repent until you go to Jesus. If repentance is His to give — then how can we have it but by going to Him for it?
Now observe how little help this miserable man got from his companions in sin. They proved but false friends in the hour of need. But a little while ago Judas and the chief priests and elders were plotting together with one object. Their motives, indeed, were different: his motive was mere gain; their motive was the destruction of Jesus. But they were joining together for one end; they were partners and associates. One might have thought them fast friends.
A few hours only have passed, and see them now. In his deep remorse and despair, Judas comes to the chief priests and elders. "I have sinned," says he, "by betraying innocent blood!" How do his partners receive him? They have no word of pity for him in his misery — no help, no comfort, no sympathy. Though every tone and look must have spoken the anguish of his heart — Judas meets with nothing but hard-hearted indifference and mocking scorn. "What is that to us? You have done our work, and we have paid the price — the business is finished. Your sorrow and His innocence — what do they matter to us? What is that to us? See to it yourself."
Ah, there is nothing sure in a friendship or companionship based on sinful, or even on mere worldly principles.
How often in trials at law, do we read of companions in crime betraying one another! Sometimes in order to save themselves, but quite as often from the hope of reward.
How often do old companions, friends as they called themselves — fail in the hour of need! They seemed firm friends indeed. They were blessing companions, perhaps. They laughed, they sang, they drank. Many a merry evening did they pass together.
But let one of their number be brought into trouble — and how often do such friends as these forsake him entirely! Some fever seizes him perhaps, some contagious fever — and they flee from his house as from the plague! Or he comes to poverty and want; he can no longer feast them; he stands in need of the very necessities of life. Often in such a case, he seeks help in vain from these old friends.
Did not the prodigal find it so? Though there was a mighty famine in the land — yet all were not brought to destitution, for we know that there was one citizen of that country who still kept his property, and if one, there were probably more. Yet "no one gave him anything." Of all those with whom he had wasted his substance with riotous living — there was not one to help him in his need.
How different is true Christian friendship. It is based on the love of God. It is kind, generous, unselfish. It leads men to regard one another as brethren — brethren in the Lord. Even where this bond is lacking on one side, the Christian himself is kind and loving to all. Often, when one who has kept company with the worldly and ungodly and shunned, and even scoffed at the servants of God, is brought into some sore trouble — he finds at last who are his true friends. While old companions come not near him — he finds at his bedside some kind Christian person, whom once perhaps he disliked and despised, and hears from his lips the words of truth and of prayer and receives from his hand those comforts which the sick man needs.
Seek such friends. Be such friends. We should all be helpers to one another — helping each other with kindness, with comfort, with sympathy, with gifts. We should be companions, not in sin, not in folly; at times, it may be, in tribulation; but always in godliness, fellow-travelers towards the heavenly city, cheering one another along the way.