I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Short Is Time
Christina Rossetti (1830–1894)
Short is time, and only time is bleak;
Gauge the exceeding height thou hast to climb:
Long eternity is nigh to seek:
Short is time.
Time is shortening with the wintry rime:
Pray and watch and pray, girt up and meek;
Praying, watching, praying, chime by chime.
Pray by silence if thou canst not speak:
Time is shortening; pray in till the prime:
Time is shortening; soul, fulfill thy week:
Short is time.
—Christina Rossetti, Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 1993).
When Jesus had said this, He became troubled in spirit, and testified and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will betray Me.” 22 The disciples began looking at one another, at a loss to know of which one He was speaking. 23 There was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. 24 So Simon Peter gestured to him, and said to him, “Tell us who it is of whom He is speaking.” 25 He, leaning back thus on Jesus’ bosom, said to Him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus then answered, “That is the one for whom I shall dip the morsel and give it to him.” So when He had dipped the morsel, He took and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 After the morsel, Satan then entered into him. Therefore Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly.” 28 Now no one of those reclining at the table knew for what purpose He had said this to him. 29 For some were supposing, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus was saying to him, “Buy the things we have need of for the feast”; or else, that he should give something to the poor. 30 So after receiving the morsel he went out immediately; and it was night.
The subject of the verses before us is a very painful one. They describe the last scene between our Lord Jesus Christ and the false Apostle Judas Iscariot. They contain the last words which passed between them before they parted forever in this world. They never seem to have met again on earth, excepting in the garden when our Lord was taken prisoner. Within a short time both the holy Master and the treacherous servant were dead. They will never meet again in the body until the trumpet sounds, and the dead are raised, and the judgment is set, and the books are opened. What an awful meeting will that be!
Let us mark, firstly, in this passage, what trouble our Lord Jesus went through for the sake of our souls. We are told that shortly after washing the disciples’ feet, He “was troubled in spirit, and said, One of you shall betray Me.”
The whole length and breadth and depth of our Master’s troubles during His earthly ministry are far beyond the conception of most people. His death and suffering on the cross were only the heading up and completion of His sorrows. But all throughout His life,—partly from the general unbelief of the Jews,—partly from the special hatred of the Pharisees and Sadducees,—partly from the weakness and infirmity of His few followers,—He must have been in a peculiar degree “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isa. liii. 3.)
But the trouble before us was a singular and exceptional one. It was the bitter sorrow of seeing a chosen Apostle deliberately becoming an apostate, a backslider, and an ungrateful traitor. That it was a foreseen sorrow from the beginning we need not doubt; but sorrow is not less acute because long foreseen. That it was a peculiarly cutting sorrow is very evident. Nothing is found so hard for flesh and blood to bear as ingratitude. Even a poet of our own has said that it is “sharper than a serpent’s tooth to have a thankless child.” Absalom’s rebellion seems to have been David’s heaviest trouble, and Judas Iscariot’s treachery seems to have been one of the heaviest trials of the Son of David. When He saw it drawing near He was “troubled in spirit.” Passages like these should make us see the amazing love of Christ to sinners. How many cups of sorrow He drained to the dregs in working out our salvation, beside the mighty cup of bearing our sins. They show us how little reason we have for complaining when friends fail us, and men disappoint us. If we share our Master’s lot we have no cause to be surprised. Above all, they show us the perfect suitableness of Christ to be our Saviour. He can sympathize with us. He has suffered Himself, and can feel for those who are ill-used and forsaken.
Let us mark, secondly, in these verses, the power and malignity of our great enemy the devil. We are told in the beginning of the chapter that he “put it into the heart” of Judas to betray our Lord. We are told here that he “entered into” him. First he suggests: then he commands. First he knocks at the door and asks permission to come in: then, once admitted, he takes complete possession, and rules the whole inward man like a tyrant.
Let us take heed that we are not “ignorant of Satan’s devices.” He is still going to and fro in the earth, seeking whom he may devour. He is about our path, and about our bed, and spies out all our ways. Our only safety lies in resisting him at the first, and not listening to his first advances. For this we are all responsible. Strong as he is, he has no power to do us harm, if we cry to the stronger One in heaven, and use the means which He has appointed. It is a standing principle of Christianity, and will ever be found true. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James iv. 7.)
Once let a man begin tampering with the devil, and he never knows how far he may fall. Trifling with the first thoughts of sin,—making light of evil ideas when first offered to our hearts,—allowing Satan to talk to us, and flatter us, and put bad notions into our hearts,—all this may seem a small matter to many. It is precisely at this point that the road to ruin often begins. He that allows Satan to sow wicked thoughts will soon find within his heart a crop of wicked habits. Happy is he who really believes that there is a devil, and believing, watches and prays daily that he may be kept from his temptations.
Let us mark, lastly, in these verses, the extreme hardness which comes over the heart of a backsliding professor of religion. This is a thing which is most painfully brought out in the case of Judas Iscariot. One might have thought that the sight of our Lord’s trouble, and the solemn warning, “One of you shall betray Me,” would have stirred the conscience of this unhappy man. But it did not do so. One might have thought that the solemn words, “what thou doest, do quickly,” would have arrested him, and made him ashamed of his intended sin. But nothing seems to have moved him. Like one whose conscience was dead, buried, and gone, he rises and goes out to do his wicked work, and parts with his Lord forever.
The extent to which we may harden ourselves by resisting light and knowledge is one of the most fearful facts in our nature. We may become past feeling, like those whose limbs are mortified before they die. We may lose entirely all sense of fear, or shame, or remorse, and have a heart as hard as the nether millstone, blind to every warning, and deaf to every appeal. It is a painful disease, but one which unhappily is not uncommon among professing Christians. None seem so liable to it as those who, having great light and privilege, deliberately turn their backs on Christ, and return to the world. Nothing seems likely to touch such people, but the voice of the archangel and the trump of God.
Let us watch jealously over our hearts, and beware of giving way to the beginnings of sin. Happy is he who feareth always, and walks humbly with his God. The strongest Christian is the one who feels his weakness most, and cries most frequently, “Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe.” (Psalm cxix. 117; Prov. xxviii. 14.)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.