The Traitor

David Bast

READ : Matthew 26:20-25

“Is it I, Lord?” (v. 22 ESV)

J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion sets Matthew’s text of the passion story to dramatic music. When the soloist singing Jesus’ words announces to the disciples that one of them will betray him, an agitated chorus immediately breaks in with the disciples’ question, “Lord, is it I?” The choir sings that phrase exactly eleven times. One disciple didn’t have to ask Jesus who the traitor was.

What can Judas teach us? For one thing, he shows us the danger of what John Bunyan described in the character he called Formalist. Formalist is outwardly religious but inwardly unconverted. Formalism is having the appearance of faith without the reality.

It is sobering to remember that Judas was one of the Twelve, a member in good standing of Jesus’ inner circle. He had all the advantages of his position: he had heard Jesus’ teaching, seen his miracles, even served in his mission. To all appearances he was just as committed as all the others. When Jesus announced there was a traitor in their midst, no one asked, “Lord, is it Judas?” But all this time Judas’s heart was unchanged.

Church attendance, Bible reading, charitable giving, works of service—these are all good things. But if your heart hasn’t been changed, none of them matter.


Lord, deliver me from every competing love, and make me wholehearted in my devotion to you.