Are you really born again? I am convinced that there are many pastors who are not born again. One of the great sermons in America, perhaps second only to Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” was preached here in Philadelphia by the Presbyterian minister named Gilbert Tennent. It was preached under the title, “The Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry.” Tennent attacked the ministers of his day claiming that they occupied the pulpits and they preached spiritual things, but they were not born again. And it was in part as a result of that sermon that we had aspects of the Great Awakening in this city and elsewhere on the Eastern seaboard.
You see, if you had in Judas a man who spent all this time with Jesus and yet was not saved, are you certain that you are saved? No wonder you find so many encouragements in Scripture to make those things certain. “Make your calling and election sure” is what the New Testament says. Don’t rest until you know that your life was hid with Christ in God and that your sins are forgiven, because of the death of Jesus Christ on your behalf.
There’s a third point I want to make on the basis of the story of Judas, and that is the patience of Jesus. Jesus did understand hearts, while we don’t. We look on the outward appearance. It takes God to know the heart, but Jesus was God and he did know the heart. And he knew that Judas was unsaved. Speaking in general terms he said that one is going to betray me. He knew it on the basis of Old Testament prophecy, and because he saw the heart he knew the one it was.
This is the first time in the story when the intentions of Judas become clear to the disciples. Judas, of course, was known to Jesus all along, and yet Jesus did not turn him out of the apostolic band. Jesus did not say to him, “What are you doing here, Judas? You’re going to betray me. I can’t spend any time with you. You go over there somewhere. You can’t hang around here. These are private things that I’m teaching my disciples.” He didn’t treat him that way at all. Jesus was very, very patient with Judas.
And even here at the very end, when he could have been harsh to him, he seems, as it were, to be giving him one last chance. When Jesus announces at the Last Supper that one of them is going to betray him, the others all say in genuine humility and dismay, “Lord, Lord is it I? Is it I?” Judas couldn’t sit there and say nothing. He had to say something. It would be evident that he wasn’t entering into this. He had to say it, too. He said, “Is it I?” He didn’t call Jesus “Lord,” I notice. He called him “Rabbi.” “Rabbi,” he said, “surely not I.” Hypocrite to the end, you see. And it’s at that point Jesus said, no doubt looking in his eye, yes, you are the one. And Jesus saw him go out, as John says, “into the night.” And it was not just the physical night. It was the dark night for his soul.
The fourth lesson is that of the hopeless condition of those who die unconverted. We like to be kind and to think hopefully and optimistically of people. There is a great tendency in our time toward what theologians call universalism. Because God is love, somehow in the end everybody certainly will be saved. God is not going to send anyone to hell. You see the lesson of Judas stands against that. Jesus himself is speaking in verse 23: “The one who had dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.” And then verse 24: “The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him but woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man. It would be better for him if he had not been born.” What is clearer than that? Jesus is saying that rather than die unconverted and suffer eternally in hell it would be better not to have been born at all, to have no existence.
Now that is true for you and for me also. If you are not born again, if you are not converted, it would be better for you if you had never been born. So I urge upon you to think deeply of these things and to pray, seek for mercy, that God would send enlightenment to your heart and regeneration to your soul and save you from your sin. See, I can’t help but notice that when Jesus said of him “It would be better for him if he had never been born,” that the death of this man and the fulfillment of the dreadful things that Jesus was speaking of was only days away. We’re told in chapter 27 that “when he had realized what he had done, he went and he returned the money to the priests and he went out in sorrow.” Tragically, it was not a repentant sorrow, but a sorrow of despair and guilt. Judas went and hanged himself and so perished, as Jesus said he would.
There are things in Scripture that are very encouraging, and I like to preach on those. Peter’s story, for example, is such an encouragement. Peter fell as well when he denied the Lord. But he didn’t fall away permanently because Peter was saved and Jesus prayed for him. Later on he was strengthened and he helped the brethren. That is a pleasant thing, and we can be encouraged by that. But we have to preach all of Scripture. Here is the story of Judas, and Judas is most certainly a warning. Make your calling and election sure. Seek the Lord while he may be found. Today is the day of salvation. Call upon him while he is near. The days that you have to live may not be long, indeed.