If all are sinners and none deserve the mercy of God, what is the difference between the fate of Peter and the fate of Judas? Both betrayed Jesus.
Peter’s betrayal was to protect his own skin. He was afraid of being put to death too, so when asked if he knew Jesus, he denied it, not once but three times. After doing this, he felt great guilt and remorse.
And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:75)
Judas’ betrayal was about money. He’d shown himself to be a greedy man, so when the idea occurred to him, he approached the chief priests and asked what was it worth if he delivered Jesus to them. They paid him thirty pieces of silver.
Exodus 21:32 says if an ox gored a neighbor’s slave to death, the owner of the ox was obligated to pay the owner of the slave the price of thirty pieces of silver. Historically, this became a symbol of contempt. That is, it was a great putdown to pay someone thirty pieces of silver. A modern example might be in tipping a waiter in a restaurant a penny for poor service. It shows more contempt than no tip at all.
Judas took the money. By doing so, he was shown contempt too. After the deed was done and Jesus was delivered to Pilate, Judas tried to return the money to the chief priests. He confessed to them his sin in betraying an innocent man, but they told him they didn’t care.
And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:5)
Both men had been with Jesus, listened to Him preach, saw Him heal the sick and raise the dead. Even in their betrayals, they both displayed remorse over what they had done. Yet the same night was fatal for Judas and a turning point for Peter. What made the difference?
God pardons sin. Their guilt was great, but mercy is greater. Today’s devotional says that the forgiveness of God “does not nicely calculate less or more.” Yet there is a difference in the recipient. When I look at my own life and my own sin, I see nothing to suggest that God should pardon me. Vanity and pride might whisper that I deserve it, but I know better.
Like these men, it is good to grieve over my sin, but if I spend too much time looking at myself and my failures, I wind up in despondency, overwhelmed with sorrow and crushed by inadequacy. Being a Christian isn’t about me or my performance. It is about faith in Jesus Christ and hope in His incredible promise for my future, a hope that turns its eyes from the past and fixes them on the Cross.
As long as I look at myself, as Judas did, the more appealing self-destruction becomes. Satan, the liar and destroyer, would have me diverted from faith and hope, forgetting that there is no sin too great for God to pardon. He would have me go the route of Judas and hang myself, rather than go the route of Peter who wept bitterly then found his way back to Jesus.
Faith in God and hope for the future produce life-giving repentance. As long as I keep looking at myself and what I have done, pardon seems beyond reach. Instead, sin must be a stepping-stone, not a stumbling block that strangles my devotion and drains my zeal for God.
Looking at myself shows me how feeble, wavering, and ignorant I am. I see my failure and sin. I need to look at Jesus. The Bible says so, even commands it. My strength, forgiveness, comfort and renewal are in Christ, not in me, ever.
Peter knew this; Judas missed it. Also, Judas saw God as an avenging judge, but Peter knew the Lord as a loving Father and a forgiving Savior. For them, there was little difference in their sin and emotional reaction. What changed the outcome was their understanding of God and of why Jesus died.