We’ve all been there. We’ve experienced the stabbing pain of betrayal. It may have been a spouse, a parent, a friend, boss, pastor, or even one of your children, but betrayal often feels like we’ve been punched in the gut and we can’t seem to suck in enough air to breathe again.
But Jesus, our great teacher and shepherd experienced the ultimate betrayal, which eventually cost his life. When we see how he responds, we can model our response after him and build trust in even the most broken relationships.
Like us, Jesus experienced betrayal at the hand of those closest to him. Judas is the most obvious example, but Peter and the rest of the disciples also betrayed the Lord in his darkest hour. It began in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus asked his disciples to watch and pray with him.
“He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’” Matthew 26:37-38 NIV
Even though Jesus spoke with increasing sorrow and foreshadowing, the human frailties of those closest to him kept them from being the support he needed in his darkest hour.
Three times Jesus asked them to support him through their prayers. Three times he caught them sleeping while he suffered. Our Lord gave those who had broken trust with him several chances to rise to the occasion. Building trust means giving opportunities to those who have hurt us to rise to the occasion and succeed.
“Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?’ he asked Peter.” Matthew 26:40.
Building trust means communicating with others about how their betrayal has affected you. Jesus was affected by the insensitivity of the disciples and he expressed that without accusation or questioning of their motives. Shoving our emotions down without acknowledging a break in trust only creates greater fractions in the foundation of our relationships. Healthy communication about disappointments builds healthy boundaries so that both parties can become accountable to better behavior.
In the story of Jesus’ life, a short time after the garden, Peter would do the unthinkable. The disciple who seemed the most fiercely loyal, betrayed Jesus by denying that he knew him. Jesus knew this ahead of time but didn’t allow it to change his commitment to Peter. He didn’t have false expectations. He foreknew, and made allowances for Peter’s denial, still offering hope for his future. Building trust plans a future with those who have disappointed us. There can be no trust without hope for the future. If trust has been broken, a great way to prove commitment to that relationship would be to plan something together. It could be as simple as a dinner date, shopping trip, or vacation.
Judas, of course, commits the most obvious betrayal to our Savior, and perhaps in all of literature. However, we can learn from Jesus’ response to him as well. Once Judas’ moment had come, Jesus calmly releases him to go his own way. “As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, ‘What you are about to do, do quickly’” (John 13:27). It grieved Jesus’ heart to know that one who had walked with him so closely would betray him, but he didn’t let it anger him or cause him to be bitter.
Jesus recognized that in order to build trust with those who had been faithful to him, he needed to allow Judas to break fellowship with both him and the other disciples. Jesus kept Judas close to him for his entire ministry. It was only at the very end that he released Judas to betray him. Sometimes, for the greater good of everyone involved, the best way to build trust is to look around and decide who will be hurt or destroyed by misplaced trust. Letting go of those who are not walking in repentance can be difficult, especially without bitterness. But Jesus modeled what our responses should be. Just like Jesus in the Garden, we may have to move forward without the fellowship of some.
Jesus encouraged the disciples to do the right thing, but in the end, he had to do the right thing alone. Jesus did not allow the disappointment of the situation to keep him from what he needed to do. Sometimes, we must move beyond our hurt feelings and push through to take the higher ground. He asked us to be imitators of his grace, love and wisdom, and he never asks us to do something that he isn’t going to give us the power to fulfill through his grace.
Jesus reinstated Peter into the fellowship in John 21:15-19 by addressing the betrayal and confronting Peter. He referenced their strained relationship with the question, "Peter, do you love me?" Peter expressed his remorse and reaffirmed his love for his Lord. Jesus chose to move past the pain of betrayal and re-established their relationship.
Walking through betrayal can be one of the darkest moments of life, but just as Jesus modeled, it can become the precursor for some of the most victorious events. The reasons for betrayal can range anywhere from the weakness of our flesh to spiritual warfare. Whatever the case, it is comforting to know that our Savior experienced betrayal and can understand the pain that results in our hearts. Allow him to lead you through betrayal and toward trust and you’ll see brighter days ahead.
Dr. Robert Ritzema
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra