The Tale of Two Betrayers – What Is True Repentance?

There were two men. These two men were both part of Jesus’ core group. Both of them witnessed Jesus’ miracles and heard Jesus’ teaching. For years, they accompanied Him on His travels, walking hundreds or thousands of miles with him.

Even after all of that, they betrayed Jesus. Afterward, both of them felt extreme sorrow and shame. With all of their similarities, one of them is in heaven and one of them is in hell.

Of course, you probably know by now that I am talking about Judas and Peter, disciples of Jesus. Why is it that even with their similar profiles, one is condemned and the other has eternal life?

We will look at the choices they made that led them into sin, and how they responded after they sinned. Most importantly, we will learn about the meaning of true repentance.

I. The path of sin –

Judas – Willful and Premeditated

Luke 22:4-6 – He [Judas] went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd. So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

Although both Judas’ and Peter’s actions were an act of betrayal against Jesus, their mindsets were very different even before the action of betrayal.

Judas’ sin was willful and pre-meditated.

Most countries have laws which acknowledge that the heart motivations are important.

India, for example, makes distinction between “crimes of passion” and premeditated crimes. A crime of passion is not planned or intentional, but happens in the heat of the moment in an emotional response to something. Premeditated crimes are punished more harshly because it indicates a hard heart and a willful choice.

Judas planned this betrayal out ahead of time. He had ample time and opportunity to discard his plan, but he kept going down that road. Even when Jesus shared bread with him and told Him that He knew the plan, Judas decided to go through with it.

Judas’ example is a reminder that willful sin hardens the heart. Often it hardens the heart to the point of no return.

Hebrews 6:4-6 – For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

Judas was a lot like the person described in Hebrews 6. He had seen Jesus’ teaching. He had seen Jesus’ miracles. He had partaken of them. He had experienced the goodness of the word of God. And he had shared in the blessings of Jesus’ ministry. Yet he willfully chose to cast all of that aside betray the very one who would save him.

Every day Judas kept the plot in his heart alive, his heart hardened a little more.

Allowing sin a foothold in our minds is very dangerous. We might think, “I can stop anytime.” “I can turn back. Just one more. Just a little longer.” “It doesn’t control me.” Meanwhile, each decision to engage in it (or even to engage in thinking about it) makes the chains binding us thicker.

In last week’s sermon, we learned that we must kill it before it kills you. Judas did not kill it. And it would end up killing him.

The real battle is fought in the mind. Judas lost that battle. He sinned far before the action of betraying Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Application – Proverbs 6:27 – Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned?

Be quick to put sinful thoughts to death in your mind. Do not give the devil a foothold. When the mosquitoes (sinful thoughts) buzz around, slap them quickly.

Peter –

Matthew 26:33-35 – Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.

While Judas planned to betray Jesus, Peter was a different story. He intended to follow Jesus to the end. He intended to even die for Jesus if necessary. Judas was not a true follower of Jesus while Peter was.

Should we be like Judas or Peter?

The correct answer is, “neither!”

Peter’s sin was pride. He believes that he is the most spiritual, the most faithful, and the most committed disciple. Therefore, he boastfully declares his willingness to face any kind of punishment, even death, for his Lord.

The willingness to suffer with Jesus is commendable. Peter has great confidence and indeed seems to really love the Lord.

The problem is that his confidence is greatly misplaced. He has loads of confidence, but his confidence seems to be in himself. Jesus made a statement that Peter was going to deny Jesus. In essence, Peter says, “You are lying. I won’t. I am strong enough to handle it.” It doesn’t get much more prideful than that.

What should Peter have done? Should have just resigned himself to the fact that denying Jesus was unavoidable?

I believe the correct response was for Peter to humble himself and throw himself on Jesus’ mercy. He should have realized that he was weak and his faith was frail. He should have realized that he could not avoid this temptation without God’s help. Instead of saying, “No problem, I can handle it,” he should have said something like “Lord, I desperately want to serve you until the end, but I am so weak and so afraid, help me!”

Application –1 Corinthians 10:13 is a famous verse and says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

Do you know what the verse before this says?

1 Corinthians 10:12 – Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

Pride goes before the fall. When we think we are doing well, when we are experiencing victory, we tend to let our guard down. That is often when temptation strikes. Don’t be overconfident. Don’t trust in yourself or your own spirituality. Thinking that you are immune to some sin and will never fall can be the quickest way to a devastating defeat.

Our confidence should be placed in the flesh. The “way of escape” in verse 13 is not anything in us. It is coming to the Lord, throwing ourselves upon His mercy, and asking for His help.

II. The Aftermath of sin – Judas’ sorrow and regret and Peter sorrow, regret, plus turning back

Judas –

You know the story of the betrayal. Judas took payment from the Jewish rulers. In exchange, he led them to Jesus in a non-public place away from the crowds so that Jesus’ arrest would not cause any riots or protests.

Matthew 27:3-5 – Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.

Judas had set his mind on betraying Jesus. But the money he was paid did not satisfy him. Temptation always makes big promises it can’t fulfill.

Judas realized that what he had done was wrong. He said “I have sinned.” He even specifically stated the sin he committed as “betraying innocent blood.” It is clear that Judas felt remorse and guilt. It wasn’t just a passing sorrow either. He was drowning in it.

He had some connection to Jesus. Many speculate that he did not want to see Jesus condemned. A person may have layers of motivations. But in the end, we will be judged by our actions. Actions cannot be undone.

Knowing that you sinned is not enough. Feeling guilty or sorry is not enough. Judas was not repentant. A person may feel genuinely sorry about what they have done without repenting.

Being sorry or even saying, “I am sorry” is not equal to repentance. Suicide was the coward’s way out.

Peter –

• Brief verbal review of Peter’s betrayal.

Peter’s initial reaction was similar.

Luke 22:62 – And he went out and wept bitterly.

It’s fair to say that they both felt remorse, sorrow, and guilt. Make no mistake. Repentance is not possible without them. A person who feels no guilt has been completely hardened by sin. Someone who is not sorry, cannot repent.

An English bishop named Stephen Gardiner died in 1555. His last words were, “Like Peter, I have erred, unlike Peter, I have not wept.”

Weeping was a good first step. But something more is necessary.

It’s interesting that if you want to study how Peter repented, you can’t really find it. The Bible doesn’t record any prayer Peter made to the Lord. It doesn’t record any specific apology that Peter said to Jesus. What it does record is Peter’s life after that point. We do know Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him and then commanded Peter to “feed my sheep.”

The exact words Peter may have said in his confession are not the main point. I believe the key ingredient of repentance is turning. And Jesus implied that when he predicted that Peter would fall away (and also predicted that he would turn back).

Luke 22:32 – But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Repentance = turning.

Jesus gave Peter an opportunity to demonstrate repentance by asking him to feed His sheep. Jesus did not abandon him. Peter was not cast out for his sin, serious though it was.

Peter turned back to the Lord. In the following days, he surrounded himself with believers. And eventually, tradition tells us that he gave his life as a martyr for Christ.

The fruit of Peter’s repentance was seen in his life after that devastating sin. It was also seen in his death. While Judas selfishly killed himself in a vain attempt to avoid his problems, Peter gave his life and died in service to Christ.

Peter’s story reminds us that actions speak louder than words. Repentance is evidenced by turning, by a changed life.

III. What is true repentance?

First, it may be helpful to look at a few Biblical examples.

Examples of non-repentance

• Simon the magician – When confronted with his sin, Simon told Peter, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” (Acts 8:24) Repentance is something personal. It is not something anyone can do for you. He did not cast himself upon the Lord and ask Him for mercy.
• Saul – Saul says the right words. 1 Samuel 15:24 – Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” But they are empty. He is confessing, saying “sorry,” without any real repentance. He didn’t seek God, but wanted to act the same as before. Before the confession, he made excuses and minimized his sin. Repentance is not just saying quick apology and hoping to move on.
• Cain – Cain was unhappy with the consequences of his sin. Genesis 4:13 – “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” Repentance is not just sorrow over the consequences of sin.

Examples of true repentance

• David – David sought the Lord and asked for mercy from Him (Psalm 51). He realized his sin was against God (and was therefore relational, not just doing the wrong thing). Repentance is throwing yourself upon God’s mercy.
• Zacchaeus – When confronted with his sin, he made restitution.
• Prodigal son – He acknowledged his sin and returned to the father, leaving behind the ways of the world. He said, “I have sinned against heaven and before you.” He was willing to accept whatever consequences the father decided on.

Ingredients of true repentance.

A. Recognition of wrong –

We can view sin as a failure of performance rather than a failure of intimacy. The only grief we experience is disappointment in our inability to do what is right, and not that we have “despised” the living God. (2 Samuel 12:9)

– Matt Erbaugh – True Repentance – https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-heart-of-true-repentance

We should be like David who realized that against “you and you only have I sinned.” (Psalm 51:4)

B. Godly sorrow –

A broken spirit and contrite heart (Psalms 51:17). (2 Corinthians 7:10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.). This attitude is also shown in Matthew 5:4 – Blessed are those who mourn; for they shall be comforted.

C. Genuine confession –

Confession does not equal repentance. It is possible to say “sorry” and not repent. However, real repentance will include sincere confession of sins.

True confession

• Begins with humility
• Acknowledges sin
• Takes personal responsibility
• Doesn’t blame others
• Doesn’t offer excuses
• Doesn’t minimize sin
• Includes specific areas of failure (no vague, “sorry if I offended you.”
• Takes sin seriously
• Realizes that sin comes with consequences
• Recognizes God’s holiness

See study on Ezra 9 for more – https://studyandobey.com/inductive-bible-study/ezra-studies/ezra-9/

D. Turning from sin to the Lord.

The Hebrew word in the Old Testament for “repent” is “Teshuvah” – תשובה .

It means to “return” or “turn back to God.”

Joel 2:12-13 “Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster. (Has root word for turn שוב)

It is not just stopping down the road we are going. But it is turning back to the Lord. A ship that is not going anywhere will simply drift with the current. Scripture tells us there is a negative thing to avoid and a positive thing to go toward. We need to flee sin pursue Christ (2 Timothy 2:22).

Repentance itself is an inward act. It is a change of our heart attitude toward the sin and toward God. We need to be careful that we don’t confuse repentance with works.

On this, Oswald Chambers said, “The danger is to put the emphasis on the effect instead of on the cause. Is it my obedience that puts me right with God? Never! I am put right with God because prior to all else, Christ died.”

In simple terms, repentance happens when we turn to the Lord in our hearts.

E. This results in life change.

Life change is evidence of the repentance. When we have the right heart and turn to the Lord, we cannot help but live a changed life. Included in this life change is making restitution toward the offended party if it is possible.

IV. Jesus’ compassion (He is ready to forgive)

We need to remember what kind of God we serve. God is not capricious. He is not a like a slaved-driver who eagerly waits for a slipup so that he can deliver a beating. He is not like an abusive parent who jumps on us when we make mistakes.

Jesus’ compassion is shown both to Judas and Peter.

Toward Judas –

From the beginning, Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray Him (John 6:64). Yet He did not cast Judas out. Nor did He treat him differently than He did the other disciples.

In John 13, Jesus rose from supper and washed the disciples’ feet. It appears that He also washed Judas’ feet, as He said in verse ten, “you are clean, but not all of you.”

Jesus did not hate Judas. He was not in a hurry to cast him out. Rather, we see His love and kindness toward Judas. Until the very end, Jesus gave him opportunities.

Even when Jesus outed him at the dinner He only said, “what you are going to do, do quickly.”

Later in the Garden, Judas escorted a contingent of soldiers to apprehend Jesus.

Matthew 26:50 – Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.”

Jesus called him “friend.” Jesus was still willing to be his friend. Jesus had not changed the relationship from His side. It was Judas’ choice.

Jesus showed kindness even to who had now decided to be His enemy.

Toward Peter –

Jesus also showed compassion to Peter.

• He prayed for Peter (Luke 22:32 – But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.)
• Just at the moment when Peter denied Jesus for the third time, Jesus turned at looked at him. (Luke 22:61-62 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.) That look must have stricken Peter. Jesus knew. And Peter knew that Jesus knew. In Jesus’ hour of need, Peter failed to back up his boastful words and denied his Savior, his Messiah, his friend. Why did Jesus look at him at this moment?

  • Was it a look of compassion?
  • A look of love?
  • A look of rebuke?
  • We don’t know. I tend to think it was a look of love as that is consistent with Jesus’ character and the later interaction He would have with Peter after the resurrection. He would not hurt a bruised reed or put out a snuffing candle (Matthew 12:20). What we do know is that Jesus did not reject Peter. He didn’t say, “I warned you. You blew it. No more chances.” The look itself helped spur Peter to repent. Jesus would and did welcome him back and restored him. Application – We also should be reminded that the Lord sees us all the time, even in the midst of our sin.
  • He gave Peter the opportunity to repent and be fully restored. (John 21:15-19)

Jesus’ love accepts us. He pardons us. He heals us. He cleanses us. All who come to Him, He will never cast away.

Sometimes it can be guilt and self-loathing that keep us from coming to the Lord. We wallow in our sins, feeling too unworthy to come to Him. We think that if perhaps we can better ourselves, if we can just be worthy of Him, then we will come to Him.

Remember the parable of the prodigal son. He was at the very lowest of lows when he decided to go back to his father. He did not need to pay his debts first. He did not need to get a promotion to be manager of the farm so that he could return with a title or respect. He did not need to take a shower or buy new clothes first. There was nothing he could do to make himself worthy of the father he had treated so badly.

But he did not need to do anything. The only thing required was to turn away from the lifestyle he had pursued and turn to go back to his father. His father was waiting and ran to welcome him. The father accepted him, gave him better clothes, and threw him a party.

Our God is a compassionate God. He wants to heal us. He wants to restore us. He wants to welcome us into His arms. What is required of us is to be like a little child, jump into His arms and simply say, “Daddy, I am sorry.”

When we have the right view of God, it encourages us to come to Him, to trust Him. Repentance happens when we realize that God is infinitely more desirable than what the world has to offer. When we view God as a priceless treasure then, as Paul said, we can count the world as rubbish.

V. Conclusion – Turn to Him

So what? What is the key of repentance? What should we do with all of this information?

There is no checklist. There is no formula. It is not even really about “doing” something. The key is our view of Christ. We need to have an exalted view of Jesus.

Think about how Jesus looked at Peter. The compassion. The love. The holiness. When we behold Jesus (as Peter did), we will desire Him. We will want to have a relationship with Him. Our minds will be so filled with His goodness that the thought of our sin and grieving Him would be repugnant. If we do stray, when we think of Him hanging on the cross in our place, we will want to run back to Him. The closer we get to Him, the more our hatred for sin will grow.

Repentance is not about performance. It is not about being a good Christian. It is about evaluating the world and Jesus and concluding that He is better in every way. When we realize that, we will turn from our sin and to Him.

“If we put off repentance another day, we have a day more to repent of, and a day less to repent in.” – Source Unknown

Today is the day of repentance. As we close, I would invite you to pray. Consider if there is anything you need to repent of in your life. Consider if there is anything in this world which you are valuing more than Christ. Just bring it to Him. Ask Him to change your heart attitude. Ask Him to help you fully turn from your sin to Him. Ask Him to be the one who satisfies you. Confess anything the Spirit brings to mind. And thank Him for the forgiveness He gives.

Reflection Questions

1. Can real repentance be possible if you continue the cycle of sinning and then repenting and sinning and then repenting?

2. What would you say to someone who is stuck in this cycle? What would you to someone who says, “I will repent later?”

3. What is the relationship between God’s kindness and repentance (Read Romans 2:4)?

4. What can you learn from 2 Chronicles 7:14 about the attitudes and actions of repentance?

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