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God’s Word for You

Mark 14:20-21 Woe to that man

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Sunday, December 31, 2023

20 “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread with me into the dish. 21 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.”

Verse 20 does not precisely answer the question, “Which one of us? Surely not I?” Instead, the words of Jesus illustrate just how wretched an act this betrayal was. “The one I am talking about is one of the Twelve.” This identified the traitor as one of the Apostles, but not which one. Then Jesus follows with another matching statement:  “One who dips bread with me into the dish.” This was the Passover that Jesus was hosting; it was his Passover. For someone even to be invited was a rare and special privilege. Therefore, for someone in this group to betray him was a dark and treacherous act. We should not take this action to mean that Judas happened to be dipping his bread into the sauce (or relish) dish at that very moment, but simply that the traitor had been granted this honor as they all had, of sharing the Lord’s own dish.

There are many prophecies about the Son of Man going willingly to be crucified, “Just as it is written.” But especially we would look to Isaiah 53: “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).

These words did not phase Judas. He did not leap from his seat and beg forgiveness for what he was planning; plotting. He allowed his hand to dip into the Lord’s own dish with the others.

“Woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man!” This is one of only two times that Mark uses the word “woe” (see 13:17 in the Greek text). To say that it would be dreadful for him would be an understatement. Judas was still unmoved. Jesus gave him a foretaste of the actual, final judgment at the end of the world: “Better for him if he had not been born!” His agony in hell for the sin he was committing would be excruciating. But Jesus’ words are the voice of love, calling out to the man about to sin. “Don’t! I have invited you! I have loved you! I have offered you the same forgiveness as all the rest! Come back! Come back!” But the traitor is still unmoved. He will not turn back. His heart has become as hard as Pharaoh’s before Moses’ begging.

It is a hideous thought, that all of a person’s life would have been better if he had not been born at all. All of the delightful bliss of childhood memories, playing in your mother’s flower garden, the joy of being given gifts by loving parents, the joy of learning new things, of being taken aside for a special lesson. The thrill of being told you are loved. The delight of being with friends, not to mention learning about God’s will and God’s way and the means by which God gathers his church—a gathering which was offered to you, too. But to be told that it would have been better for you not to have had any of that? To be less than dead; to be an un-thought; a vanishing dream, a whisp of fog or smoke that is blown to rags by the lightest breath of wind? To be less than a flame that does not catch, but dies on the matchhead? Yes: the punishment of hell is far worse than losing a lifetime. The punishment of hell includes the horror of having lived a lifetime with joy and love in it, and to know that this could have been part of eternity, but that sin, in the end, overtook all that bliss. The hellbound sufferer must know that his punishment will include memories of what was and what could have been, but was rejected.

Judas, after all, was not forced to do what he did. He used his own, fallen, sinful free will to chose to betray for his own reasons, for money.

Judas was not predestined to do what he did. God does not predestine anyone to their sins and sinful choices, nor to be damned. It is the opposite, because Christ died for all, Christ sought the salvation of all, and Christ loved all (John 3:16; 1 John 2:1).

By teaching us and warning us about hell, God informs us of the approaching danger, and he corrects our behavior and bad choices. He turns us away from the pleasures of the sinful flesh. The fires of hell should extinguish the heat of sinful desire. The Lord also gives us this warning to turn us away from self-indulgence, from greed, and even from fearing sinful men. Jesus said: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

Augustine said: “If we could cause Judgment Day not to come, I think that even then we should not live wickedly. If the fire of God’s judgment did not come and only separation from God’s presence threatened sinners… they would have to mourn over not seeing the One who created them and over being separated from that sweetness of his indescribable face.”

The warnings of God to sinners are also for us. There are some who don’t think that treachery and treason are very serious things, but they stand in opposition to the verdict of all of history and in opposition to God himself. “Woe to you, O traitor!” (Isaiah 33:1). “You, O God, will cast them down into the lowest pit; men of blood, men of treachery. But I trust in you” (Psalm 55:23). Put your faith in the one who was betrayed for your sins, and do not follow any wicked or crooked path. “For there are some who by treachery make a practice of bearing the Name yet do things unworthy of God. You must avoid them as you would wild animals, for they are vicious dogs that bite in secret. Be on your guard against them.” Trust in Jesus, and you will dip your bread in the dish of Lord your God forever.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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