How God Uses Bad People to Do His Will: Another Look at God's Providence
Acts 1:15-26Two questions confront us as we consider the story of Judas:
1. Why did he do it?
2. Why did God allow it?
Last week’s sermon dealt with the first question. We concluded that the Bible doesn’t give us a final answer regarding why Judas betrayed Jesus Christ. This week we’re looking at the other side of the equation. Why would God allow his Son to suffer such indignity at the hands of one who claimed to be his friend? As a place to begin, consider three verses dealing with Judas.
In Acts 1:16 Peter declared that “the Scripture had to be fulfilled.” He meant that the Old Testament predictions (he cites Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8) regarding Judas were bound to come true. When Judas actually betrayed Jesus in the Garden, Peter immediately sprang to his defense. Jesus waved him off by declaring, “All this was done that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled” (Matthew 26:56). The phrase “all this” refers to the betrayal, the circumstances surrounding it, and the circumstances flowing from it. All of it happened according to God’s plan. Jesus says much the same thing in his famous prayer just before Judas arrives: “None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that the Scripture would be fulfilled” (John17:12b). Other examples could be added to this list. I find it remarkable how consistently the New Testament writers see the hand of God in the events surrounding the death of Christ. Although Judas appears to be acting solely on his own initiative, it is clear that his betrayal fits into a larger pattern of events—one that is orchestrated by the unseen hand of the Living God.
A Mystery, Not a Contradiction
To put the matter that way raises several other questions:
Was Judas predestined by God to betray Jesus? I answer yes.
If so, did he have a choice? I also answer yes.
Is that a contradiction? No, it’s a mystery.
The fact that we can’t conceive of free choice coexisting with God’s predestination simply reminds us once again that he is God and we are not. This is a true mystery, which we may explain in various ways but will never fully understand.
This brings us face to face with the doctrine of God’s providence, which means
A) God has a plan that includes everything that happens in the universe, and
B) God’s plan extends to the tiniest details of life, and
C) God uses all events—good and bad—to accomplish his purposes.
Providence means that God is in charge of the entire universe at all times and nothing happens outside his control.
Two Great Texts
Here are the two great texts to keep in mind regarding God’s providence and our own personal experience: The first is the famous statement by Joseph to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.” The second comes from the familiar words of Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” These verses teach us that God is able to take the worst things that happen in life and turn them for our good and his glory. This doesn’t erase tragedy or transform heartache, but it gives us a divine perspective on the hard times of life that enables us to keep on going when we’d rather give up and quit.
How does this truth apply to Judas? In the providence of God, the betrayal by Judas actually advanced God’s purpose in the world. He betrayed the Lord but ended up vindicating him. By his treachery he established the very cause he set out to destroy.
We turn now to consider how the sin of Judas served many good purposes—none of which were seen that night and none of which diminish his true moral guilt. These lessons simply teach us that God can take that which is evil and use it for his own good purposes.
I. It demonstrated the evil motives of the Jewish leaders.
From the earliest days of Jesus’ life we find the Jewish leaders conspiring against him. Herod the Great tried to kill him in Bethlehem. During his ministry his greatest opposition came from the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the scribes and the teachers of the Law. It can be fairly said that the common people by and large respected Jesus and responded positively to his message. While not all became believers, many felt a strong attraction to his message. But among the leaders of the nation, only a few followed Christ—and they became “secret” believers for fear of persecution by their brethren.
Matthew 26:3-5 informs us that the leaders of the Jews were looking for an opportunity to arrest Jesus and put him to death. But they feared to do it during the Feast of Unleavened Bread because of the crowds that thronged Jerusalem. They were evil cowards who hated the Son of God but feared a popular uprising if they tried to arrest him. Judas solved their problem by volunteering to betray the Lord. When they offered him 30 pieces of silver, he readily accepted even though that was the going price for a slave.
His betrayal proved that the Jewish leaders were far from innocent bystanders in the death of Christ. They wanted him dead and used Judas as a convenient means to that ugly end.
II. It proved that Christ is a man of peace.
When Judas kissed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter impulsively grabbed his sword and started swinging. He was ready to die for his Master and intended to take a few of the bad guys with him. One swing of his sword whacked off the ear of Malchus, servant to the High Priest. Jesus immediately restored the ear and told Peter to put down his sword. He reminded Peter that he could call for 12 legions of angels—72,000 highly trained, heavily armed members of the Angelic Defense League—to come to his rescue at any moment. But he chose instead to allow himself to be arrested, knowing that this would fulfill God’s plan.
Through one man’s treachery, Jesus proves himself a man of peace—not a man of war.
III. It established that Christ was truly innocent.
If you’d like an interesting Bible study, take a look at the trials of Jesus. It appears that between 11 PM Thursday night and 7:30 AM Friday morning, Jesus underwent six different hearings—one before Annas, two before Caiaphas, one before the Sanhedrin, and two before Pontius Pilate. The gospels writers emphasize that although the Jewish leaders earnestly sought for witnesses who could testify against Christ, they found no one willing to come forward. Finally, they suborned perjury by putting forward false witnesses who produced contradictory testimony. Jesus responded to the false testimony by saying nothing at all. “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). His silence spoke more loudly than the foolish claims of his lying accusers.
When he went before Pilate, the Roman governor received an urgent message from his wife: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him” (Matthew 27:19). All four gospel writers agree that three times Pilate rendered the same verdict regarding Jesus: “I find no fault in him” (John 19:6 NKJV). That literally means, “I find no basis for any of the charges brought against this man.” In modern terms, you might call it a Summary Judgment in favor of Jesus.
Later Pilate gave in to pressure and ordered Jesus crucified. But this much is clear: He never believed that Jesus was guilty of any crime. As far as Pilate was concerned, he was ordering an innocent man put to death—which is why he tried to wash his hands of the whole affair.
Jesus is truly the “lamb without blemish” who died for the sins of the world (John 1:29). The trials that were meant to establish his guilt ended up establishing his innocence for all the world to see. In such a manner Judas served God’s purposes through his wicked act of betrayal.
IV. It fulfilled Bible prophecy to the letter.
The gospel writers record many Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The total number of prophecies is well over 100. Here are five specific prophecies that were fulfilled when Judas betrayed Jesus:
Psalm 41:9—Close friend will betray Christ (see John 13:18).
Zechariah 11:12—30 pieces of silver (see Matthew 26:15).
Zechariah 11:13—Judas would give the money back. (see Matthew 27:5).
Psalm 69:25—Reputation destroyed forever. (see Acts 1:20).
Psalm 109:8—Replaced by another man—Matthias (see Acts 1:20).
Judas didn’t know it—and doesn’t get any credit for it—but his dastardly deed actually fulfilled predictions given by the Holy Spirit hundreds of years before he was born.
V. It teaches us that God ordains both the means and the ends.
We all understand that God intended that Jesus would die for the sins of the world. But sometimes we forget that when God ordains a particular end, he also ordains the means to that end. Nothing is ever left to chance with God. We see this clearly in the life of Christ. God himself had foreordained every detail surrounding the death of his Son. Even his enemies played into God’s hand—though they did not know it at the time.
God’s plan included the time of Jesus’ death—Passover, the place—Jerusalem, the opposition by the Jewish leaders, and the betrayal by Judas. It even included the price Judas would receive for his act of treachery—30 pieces of silver. Everything else in the story fits into God’s plan: The crown of thorns, the scourging, the trials, Pilate’s testimony, his verdict of death, a man to help carry the cross, the place of death—Golgotha, and the moment of death—3 PM, the time when the Passover lambs were sacrificed at the Temple. God’s plan even extended to having Jesus buried in a borrowed tomb (see Isaiah 53:9).
The fact that God ordains both the means and the ends should surely encourage us as we face our own trials. Often in the confusion of life, we can’t see the ends, much less the means God intends for us. The story of Judas teaches us that nothing happens by accident. Everything fits into God’s plan. When God determines where we will end up, he also determines how we will get there.
VI. It shows the difference between professing Christ and truly possessing Him.
The sad story of Judas stands as a warning to religious people not to trust in their religion. He is the preeminent “insider” who knew Jesus as well as anyone has ever known him—yet in the end never really knew him at all.
This week I ate lunch with a man who has recently become an acquaintance through an e-mail correspondence. His story is unique in that he claims to be a Christian even though he has chosen a way of life that God calls an abomination. During our conversation—which lasted two hours and was both cordial and very frank—I told him that his religion could not save him. He clings to his sin like a drowning man to an iron life preserver. The thing he values the most is dragging him down to eternal damnation. Lest he misunderstand, I also told him that going to Calvary Memorial Church cannot save anyone—or help save anyone. Until that man turns from his sin—which in his case means acknowledging his behavior as sin—and runs to the Cross of Christ he cannot be saved. Even Jesus cannot save a man who claims his sin is not really sinful.
Going to church won’t make you a Christian any more than sleeping in a garage makes you a car—or going to a donut shop makes you a cop. Christianity is not about religion, it’s about a life-changing relationship with the Son of God. We are saved by living faith in the Son of God—not by outward religious observance. The way to heaven is “only Jesus and Jesus only.”
That leads me to ask a simple question: Are you a professor or a possessor? Do you merely profess Christ and trust in your religious habits to save you, or do you possess Christ in your heart by faith? Judas professed Christ but he did not possess him, which is why he is in hell today.
The Original Question
We return now to the original question: Why did God allow Judas to betray Jesus? Here is my answer: He allowed Judas to betray Jesus so that Jesus could become the Savior of the world. There is no better example of God’s providence at work through the actions of a sinful man.
Was Judas wrong to do what he did? Yes
Is he guilty of betrayal? Yes
Is he in hell for what he did? Yes
Was his betrayal part of God’s plan? Yes
Judas served God’s purposes even though what he did was wrong and he ended up in hell. To say it another way, there is a man in hell today who has been there for 2000 years even though what he did advanced God’s plan to save the world.
This truth about Judas illustrates God’s control of every event in the universe. Peter told the early Christians that “the Scripture had to be fulfilled.” He meant that the betrayal had to happen the way it did. Everything was planned by God down to the tiniest detail. Judas didn’t know it, and neither did the disciples, but God’s fingerprints were all over his act of betrayal. That doesn’t lessen his guilt, but it does increase our appreciation of God’s sovereignty over the affairs of men.
Living in Friday, Waiting For Sunday
One final point is in order. Although God was at work in the betrayal, you couldn’t see it that night. Peter didn’t see it, he only saw the treachery of Judas. Nothing that happened to Jesus that night or later on Good Friday made sense when it happened. It only made sense on Sunday morning when Jesus rose from the dead.
That’s generally the way life is for all of us. The greater the pain, the harder it is to see God’s fingerprints. In those moments we often feel alone in the chaos of circumstances as life tumbles in around us. It is only as we look back that we see clearly that God was there all along, working behind the scenes for our good and his glory.
We live most of our days in Good Friday—enduring confusion, opposition, disappointment and the many tragedies of life. Now and then we advance to Easter morning where we discover God’s purpose in our pain. But most of the time we won’t see it fully until we finally arrive in heaven.
In the words of a 19th century writer, hatred, treachery and deceit will not prevail against the church of God. Every evil in the world must somehow serve God’s purpose.
What is our response to this truth?
A) We bow in submission before the mysterious ways of God.
B) We entrust our lives to the God who cares for us.
C) We place our confidence in God’s ultimate purpose for us.
Be encouraged, child of God. He has not brought us this far to cause us to fail. Those who read my words are in many different situations:
¨ Some are near to Christ—even at the door of salvation.
¨ Some are spiritually confused.
¨ Some are going through hard times.
¨ Some need encouragement.
¨ Some are praying for a loved one to be saved.
¨ Some face great difficulties in the days ahead.
¨ Some have very serious health problems.
¨ Some see no hope for the future.
¨ Some are estranged from family and friends.
¨ Some struggle with doubt and others with secret sins.
¨ All of us stand in need of the grace of God.
May I repeat what I just said: He has not brought us this far to cause us to fail. God ordains the means and the ends of life. He has but one end—to make us like Jesus. He has many means to accomplish that holy purpose—including some that are difficult to understand. But all of them come from the hand of the Lord. A God who can bring something good out of betrayal can be trusted to accomplish his work in your life. God is not finished with you yet, so don’t give up on him. Amen.
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