Have you ever done something you thought was the right thing to do, but realized later that it was very, very wrong? How did you feel, knowing you could never undo it? Was your heart heavy? Fearful? Filled with remorse and regret? That is a feeling we’ve all known, and it’s called “guilt.”
Today I read passages from the gospels that describe Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane and His mockery of an illegal trial in the middle of the night. There were two witnesses to these events who experienced guilt as I described above but with different consequences.
Judas, our betrayer. Watching as Jesus was mocked, interrogated, falsely accused and beaten, he realized what he had done was wrong. Jesus was an innocent man. He was filled with remorse (regret). To try to “make up” for it, he went to the chief priests and returned the 30 pieces of silver he had been paid, telling them he had been wrong to participate in their plot. You would think that priests would have a merciful heart toward a sinner, and would guide him towards God, at least prescribing the sacrifices according to the law to cover his guilt and sin. Instead, they replied, “What is that to us? It’s your responsibility,” effectively giving him no hope. Consumed by his guilt, he committed suicide.
Peter, also a betrayer. Just as Jesus had told him, three times he denied knowing Jesus. As the last words of denial came out of his mouth, the rooster crowed. In that moment, Peter looked across the courtyard to meet Jesus’ eyes and he remembered his boastful claim that he would even die for Jesus. Consumed by his guilt, he went out and wept bitterly. Instead of his guilt consuming his life, however, Peter found forgiveness. Jesus went out of His way specifically after His resurrection to find Peter and restore Him.
There is a third player in these events who will deal with guilt. Just before His arrest, we find Jesus praying by Himself in the garden. The Bible says His soul was distressed and troubled, overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. He was in anguish, so much so that His sweat was filled with drops of blood. Why? I believe Jesus was already anticipating the weight of the world’s sins He would bear on the cross.
Remember that guilty feeling I asked you about at the first of this post? Multiply that by about 100 billion, the estimated number of people who have ever lived. Keep in mind the horrible, wicked, evil things that humans can do – things we would never think could happen but take place daily around the world and have been happening since the beginning of time. That’s the weight of the guilt that would be placed on Jesus!
We can barely endure the weight of our own bad decisions, our own sins. No wonder Jesus was filled with sorrow! The physical pain of the cross was nothing compared to the pain of His soul.
If Judas had sought out Jesus and truly repented, he would have experienced the same forgiveness Peter received. Jesus took our guilt, so we could be relieved of the burden. Do we respond like Judas, and regret what we’ve done, but let the guilt destroy our lives? Or do we respond like Peter, in humble gratitude for the love of a Savior who would give His life to bear that guilt, so that we could be free and forgiven?