A cultural aspect of African life that I didn’t enjoy at first but enjoy now is bargaining. After 8-years I’ve become good at it. So good that some of my local friends are surprised that I can get a deal just about as good as they can. The basics of bargaining is that the seller seeks to make a profit and the buyer seeks to strike a deal with both getting what they want. Both win.
Have you ever tried to bargain God? That question may offend you, but be honest. Universally, anyone from kids to adults have tried to make deals with God. You may have said or thought, “God, if you do this, then I will (never/always/give)…” Bargaining God tries to get God in on your thing—trying to leverage God for your gain. You may do it with good reason. For example, you or a loved one may have a medical issue, you’re desperate, there’s no hope things will change and you say to God, “I will do anything to see it better or healed.”
We subtly bargain with God. We bargain him with our prayers, our church attendance (I go don’t I?), our giving (I give 10%. See my generosity?), our promises (I’ll stop __ if you…), and our obedience (See what I’ve done?). Everyday we are tempted to use God to get our way. We will do what God wants us to do, so that he will do what we want him to do. In bargaining with God we ask: What do I need to do to get God to do what I want him to do? We think we can maneuver God because we think God owes us, yet none of the deals we make cause God to pay up because that’s not how our relationship with God works. God needs nothing from us, but we need him for everything. Bargaining God isn’t a win-win, rather it’s lose-lose. Bargaining with God only short changes, if not forfeits, your relationship with God.
Dennis Prager, a Jewish talk show host addressed the issue of deal-making with God in his book Think a Second Time:
“I have come to realize that many religious people, of all faiths, believe that they should be able to avoid the calamities that afflict the less pious. They believe, in effect, that they can make a deal with God—‘I’ll do what You want so that You do what I want. The problem is not merely that of reconciling the terrible injustices of this world with a just Creator—a problem that I and many others have. For countless religious people, this issue is compounded by their belief that God has reneged on a deal with them.”
Maybe you’ve tried bargaining with God in the past and it didn’t work out well for you. So you said forget it to God. You became disappointed or frustrated with him. He failed to act or behave like you thought he should. You lost trust in him. (Not the Palm Sunday you expected?)
When we dive into the Gospels and discover Jesus—God in the flesh—we can see how God acts and behaves. Sadly, we can miss Jesus in the story. Like a Where’s Waldo book we find Jesus in the story, we find our story is in Jesus, and we even find ourselves in the characters surrounding Jesus.
When you think of a character that missed Jesus in the story who do you think of? I think of Judas. You might be thinking, how do I to find myself in the character of Judas? That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think? If we’re honest, there is a little bit of Judas in all of us. Like Judas we feel the tension of bargaining with God to get our way.
Judas tried to get Jesus to do what he wanted without any regard for Jesus’ life, ministry, or authority. He was willing to trade his relationship with Jesus for something else. For Judas it was about ‘what’s in it for me’. Jesus was a means to an end. That seems so silly, yet how often do you find yourself thinking the same thing? Let’s not be too critical of Judas. All of Jesus’ disciples struggled with what they wanted Jesus to be for them.
Remember the story of the Rich Young Ruler? He wanted Jesus to be someone different than he was,
“And as [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “…You know the commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”(Mark 10:17-22)
Jesus then turned to his disciples and taught them that people with a lot have a lot to lose. Yet people with nothing have everything to gain with Jesus (Mt. 5:3; 2 Cor. 8:9).
Peter responded in a way that many of us might respond,
“See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” (or “What’s in it for us?”) (Matthew 19:27)
Judas was there. He heard what Jesus said to the rich young ruler. He heard Peter’s question. He’d soon have his turn to ask Jesus, “What’s in it for me?”
Have you ever thought that? Have you ever wondering what’s in it for you?
Let’s get into Judas’ thinking. He had Old Covenant thinking. He thought God would send the Jews a Messiah (Savior). Judas like most Jews thought he would be a military leader, a political power player, someone who would bring Israel back to the good old days of King David and Solomon. He like all Jews hated living under Roman oppression. A Messiah could change that!
When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday he looked a lot like the Messiah (Matthew 21:1-11). Judas was there. He likely put his cloak on Jesus’ donkey. He must have been thrilled. Judas thought this was Jesus’ moment. However, there were just a few things that made Judas question whether Jesus as really the Messiah. First, Jesus didn’t hate the Romans. When the Jewish leaders tried to stir up conflict between Jesus and the Romans, Jesus didn’t take the bait (Matthew 22:21). Second, Jesus wasn’t in good standing with the Jewish leaders. They weren’t ever on Jesus’ side nor was Jesus on theirs. Third, Jesus was too passive and not aggressive enough when it came to a Messiah’s agenda. He gave away too much of their money. It wasn’t enough to create a movement against the Romans. Anytime the money chest got any size, Jesus would shave off a chunk and give it to the poor.
Judas as the team treasurer may have thought that Jesus didn’t have the energy, plan or focus to be a Messiah like he imagined. Judas lost patience and faith in Jesus. The last straw for him was an extraordinary act of generosity on Jesus behalf that he thought was ridiculous.
The Straw that broke Judas’ trust in Jesus happened in Bethany, an eastern suburb of Jerusalem. Jesus was invited to a meal. It is an extravagant moment, a beautiful moment, also a moment of hushed disgust for Jesus’ disciples.
“Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment (a years salary), and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table (Can you see it? smell it? feel the tension?). And when the disciples saw it (John 12:4-6 singles out Judas for the stir), they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” (Jesus’ normal practice) But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? (“It’s her perfume/choice.”) For she has done a beautiful thing to Me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.”(Matthew 26:6-12) Italics are my thoughts.
What Jesus said would have been disturbing and emotionally devastating to the disciples. They would have forgot about the perfume and the woman. All ears turned to Jesus’ reference to his burial. If he was to be buried then he’d have to die! They’d have thought, “No, Jesus you can’t die. You’re the Messiah. Messiah’s don’t die! Do you know how long we’ve waited for you? Since our father, Abraham! Do you see how bad this Rome thing is? Do you realize we’ve followed you? We believed you are the One the prophets spoke about! Do you realize we placed all hope in you? What’s this talk about burial and funeral? If you die what about us?”
What Jesus said next was amazing. He took the attention off himself and put it back on the woman,
“Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:13)
Jesus points to the fact that they are part of something big here. Bigger than this moment. They might be in this small place, at a small table, with a small group of people, but what is happening is big. They are making history. This moment will be shared around the world. It will go global in thousands of languages, nations and generations. It’s big! Have you heard this story before? That’s proof, it’s big!
Judas only thought about the perfume—a stench rather than the fragrance of life. He thought it was a waste. He thought it was a little too much about Jesus. He thought Jesus wasn’t doing what he should do. He thought there wasn’t much in Jesus for him. He thought maybe he had wasted time following Jesus. He wanted to be reimbursement for his time with Jesus. He wanted his part of the deal.
We don’t know if Judas was angry, impatient, discouraged, or disappointed with Jesus, but he did excuse him from the table. He walked away from the deal,
“Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went (1.5 miles away) to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.” (Matthew 26:14-16)
According to Judas and the Jewish leaders it was a win-win deal. Judas got his payment and the priests got Jesus. There was one problem. The crowds, which kept the priests from capturing Jesus. Everywhere Jesus went the crowds went. The crowds loved him. Judas knew where Jesus would be away from the crowd.
Think about this. Judas sailed on a boat with Jesus. He walked Israel’s countryside with Jesus. He ate meals with Jesus. He saw Jesus’ do miracles. He heard Jesus’ speak. He was with God in the flesh, yet he could not get Jesus to do what he wanted him to do. He willingly traded his relationship with Jesus for 30 pieces of silver—the going rate for a slave.
What have you been tempted to sell your relationship with Jesus for? Doesn’t it seem cheap like 30 pieces of silver? But in the moment, it seems like the best option.
The opportunity Judas looked for had arrived. It was Passover. The disciples found a room above a home (Matthew 26:17-29). They gathered together. Jesus sets the tone. He took off his robe. He took a towel and washed the disciples feet. Again, they are indignant thinking ‘Why would a rabbi serve me?’ They missed who Jesus was. They ate bread and drank wine,
“When it was evening, [Jesus] reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” (Judas knew that Jesus knew. Jesus always knows, right?) He said to him, “You have said so.” (Matthew 26:20-25)
“Then after [Judas] had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” (Yes, Jesus knew!) 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. (They assumed the best!) So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.” (John 13:27-30)
This is shocking! Jesus gave Judas the out he needed and didn’t stop him. He didn’t resist. It seemed too easy. Or is it planned? It was.
“When [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” (John 13:31)
In other words, everything was working out exactly as planned! Jesus wasn’t surprised. God’s hand couldn’t be forced. God’s will cannot be thwarted.
After the meal, Jesus leads the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. It was late and dark. There was no one around. Jesus wanted to spend time praying. The disciples wanted to spend time sleeping. Jesus prayed three times After the third time (hitting the snooze button), he came to the disciples and said,
““Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.” (Matthew 26:45-50)
As Jesus was arrested, all his disciples fled (Matthew 26:56). They ran away. They were like bats in daylight.
Judas likely didn’t think the situation would get out of hand because when he found out that the Jewish leaders went to the Roman government he knew it wasn’t to slap Jesus’ hand but to seek permission for his death sentence,
“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.” (Feeling shame and disgust) They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” (That’s your responsibility!) And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:3-5)
What had great value in a moment didn’t have lasting value. What was worth trading in Jesus brought shame and regret. What was worth sacrificing the relationship, indeed forfeited it.
Perhaps this is where some of you are living today. It could have ended differently for Judas. It can be different for you too. There is no mistake that Judas and Peter’s stories are intertwined in Matthew’s gospel. Both Judas and Peter blew it on the same night, but only Peter returned to Jesus repentant and Jesus restored him. It was a new beginning for Peter. It can be a new beginning for you too if you surrender all to Jesus!
When you bargain with Jesus rather than surrender, you are responsible for the outcome. God won’t get in the way of you having your way. He won’t undermine your freedom even it it means you undermine him. That should put a little holy fear in you.
Bargaining is easier than surrendering. Resisting and arguing God is easier than trusting God. Judas’ greatest regret was trying to force God’s hand. His great bargain only led to a great betrayal. You may think it’s risky to surrender to Jesus, but it is far riskier to bargain with him. Remember, bargaining with God only short changes, if not forfeits, your relationship with God. Beware of bargaining with God. Like Judas, the moment you trade Jesus for whatever, the value of what you get begins to diminish. Like buying a car and driving it off the lot. It’s never as valuable as it was.
When you surrender to Jesus, he takes responsibility for the outcome. If you can’t bargain with Jesus and succeed that means you must accept his terms. When you surrender all to Jesus he has his best and your best in mind—a win win. When you bargain with God, you espouse a God who keeps score, rather than the God who loves you no matter what. God is not a cosmic scorekeeper who makes tallies and gives rewards, but as a Father who withholds no good gift. He gave you the inexpressible gift of Jesus. To have Jesus you need nothing, you may lose some things, but with him you gain everything (Mark 8:36-37)! Look to Jesus, not as a genie who grants wishes, but as a Savior who has paid the debt of your sin. Trust that Jesus never loses value and keeps his end of the deal. Jesus doesn’t negotiate a contract; he keeps a covenant sealed by his blood.
What have you been bargaining with God that you need to surrender instead? Are you willing to say, “Jesus have your way—your will? I am done trying to bargain (my relationships, my future, my decisions, my hopes, my career, my agenda) with you?” What do you need repent, so Jesus can restore?
Don’t miss Jesus in the story. Discover him, again!
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