After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. (John 13:21-30)
Judas Iscariot. From the beginning he is introduced to us as the one who would betray Jesus. In fact, in all four gospels, Judas is actually named as the betrayer at the same time he is named as the disciple (Matthew 10:4, Mark 3:19, Luke 6:16, and John 6:71). Talk about taking the guesswork out of who was going to betray our Lord!
Wouldn’t it be lovely if everyone we met came with such disclaimers? “Hi, I’m Sarah; I will share whatever secret you tell me with anyone else who will listen.” “Hi, I’m Jared. I’m going to act like I care about you until I get what I want. Then I’ll leave you.” Or, “Hi, I’m Susan. You can trust me. I’ll be your friend from this day forward. I will never betray you.” I’m sure such knowledge and foresight would greatly impact our relationship decisions. Unfortunately, however, reality doesn’t come with disclaimers. Only God knows the heart of every man.
We must remember this fact–God alone knows the heart of every man–as we read the above passage in John. For even though we as New Testament believers blessed with God’s Word are able to know the true Judas Iscariot from the beginning, at the time of the betrayal, Judas was not the obvious choice. His betrayal was actually a surprise to the other disciples. In the above passage, upon hearing Jesus share that one of those with Him would betray Him, the disciples did not instantly say, “Oh, it’s got to be that Judas Iscariot. He’s a filthy, rotten scoundrel who constantly steals from the moneybag already.” No. They began questioning who they thought it could be. Peter even motioned to John to try to get the inside scoop from Jesus. Even the dipping of the bread didn’t clue the disciples in that Judas was “the one.” Some of them actually assumed Judas was leaving to give money to the poor, not sell out the Savior!
The only one who knew Judas would betray Jesus was Jesus Himself. Why? Because Judas was a well-wrapped present–a fine-looking disciple–yet his heart was trash, tainted, filthy, and full of sin. And the only One who could smell the stench of sin within Judas was God. Judas was like the scribes and Pharisees whom Jesus rebuked by declaring, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).
Judas was outwardly righteous, but inwardly wretched. And it was only a matter of time before the inner filth broke through the outer façade.
The key word here I want to focus on is façade. We as humans tend to stop short with what we see. If it looks good on the outside, then we assume it is good on the inside. If the person appears righteous, then we assume she’s righteous. I recently read a Facebook post that suggested wrapping trash to look like Christmas presents and then leaving the false presents in an unlocked car. Such trickery would give robbers something unexpected and quite deserving. Imagine their surprise and disgust when they realize the “beautiful” items they thought they had successfully purloined were in reality and quite literally waste. Kind of funny at first when you think about it, but as I pondered such a bold prank, God reminded me of the not-s0-funny spiritual prank we tend to play with those around us. Yes, we as individuals tend to either take part in such shenanigans or find ourselves on the receiving end of such deception.
In what way?
Well, no, I have never opened a gift to discover stinky, nasty garbage (nor given someone such a monstrosity), but I have discovered people whose neatly polished exterior masked a filthy heart. I’ve welcomed them into my life only to be left with the stench of sin as the wrapping came off. Or I myself at various points in my life have actually presented myself with ribbons and bows when indeed there was nothing but emptiness and filth within. Even the disciples learned the hard way as they witnessed their fellow disciple Judas lead the soldiers to the Garden of Gethsemane, that what we see with our eyes may merely be garbage wrapped in shiny paper.
Time and time again God reminds us that what’s inside is far more important than what’s outside. In Luke 6:45 He reminds us it is out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. It’s not what is outside that makes us clean; it is what is inside (Mark 7:14). Actually, what’s within–good or bad–will always eventually reveal itself without. A trash can may be new and clean, but once it’s filled with rancid, rotting rubbish, the stench of what is in it overshadows the cleanliness of what is outside it.
In the same way Judas’ heart was dirty long before he chose to betray Jesus, what is within will always overshadow what is without.
Now I wish I could insert here a step-by-step guide on how to avoid being deceived by imposters, but I can’t. No one knows the heart of man except God. The disciples didn’t know one of their own would turn against them. And we as mere mortals do not have the ability to gauge the hearts of everyone we meet either.
The one heart we can gauge, however, is our own.
And this is what I’m going to ask you to do today.
No, you are not perfect. No one is. We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). So do not deceive yourself by thinking you have to be perfect. But I do encourage you to be true to yourself, true to others, and most importantly, true to God. Judas had an unclean heart bent toward selfishness. Yet he presented himself as a lover of Christ. He may have fooled man, but he never fooled God.
None of us can–not even you.
So I ask you this question: what is your heart like?
Does what is within match what is currently without? If someone were to “unwrap” you, would they find treasure or trash? riches or rubbish? We must remember no amount of paper, ribbon, and bows will ever fully mask the odor of unrighteousness. Any stocking–even a fancy one–is still capable of holding coal.
So when you look within, what do you see?
If what you see is sin, then repent. Turn from your wicked ways and seek your Savior. Allow Him to cleanse you from within. As you do–as you seek Him first with all your heart–you’ll soon see the stench of sin replaced with the aroma of righteousness. You’ll soon see that what is outside accurately reflects what is within. You’ll soon see the words of 1 Peter come alive in your life: your adornment won’t be merely outward–rather it will be “the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.” (1 Peter 3:4)
Finally, I leave you with this. It wasn’t the stable that made the Savior special; it was the Savior that made the stable shine. We don’t celebrate the Nativity because of the barn’s beauty; we celebrate the Nativity because the Savior was in it. Don’t spend your time adorning your appearance; fill your heart with Jesus. It is then you’ll see the true beauty of the Savior shining through.