Luke 22:49-51 “When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, ‘Lord, should we strike with our swords?’ And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.”
All four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, record this incident, and every one of them makes a distinctive contribution to our knowledge of what happened. Matthew records what was Jesus’ response to this supporter of his who was wielding the sword: “‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matt. 26:52-54). Mark tells us of the disciples all running away and one disciple slower than the rest got caught by a soldier, but he wriggled out of his linen cloak and left it in his hands while he ran off naked. John is the evangelist who tells us that Simon Peter was the one who wielded the sword, and that the name of the injured man was Malchus. He also tells us what Jesus said specifically to Peter: “Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) Jesus commanded Peter, ‘Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?'” (John 18:10&11). Finally there is the passage before us in Luke and he adds that there were a number of the followers of Jesus who cried out to him for permission to draw their swords. We know that they had two swords and that Jesus had told them to buy a sword. When they shouted to him whether they should defend him Jesus didn’t say “No.” He paused, actually allowing Peter to strike at one of the high priest’s servants. Luke also is the evangelist who tells us that Jesus healed the man’s ear.
There are a number of questions about this incident we can’t answer, such as why it is that Mark didn’t tell us that it was Peter who struck the servant, and why both Mark and Matthew omit telling us that Jesus immediately healed the man. Why was it that Jesus didn’t say immediately, “Put you sword down!” allowing Peter to make such a serious injury. But there is so much more in the record of this incident that is instructive and helpful and challenging.
You recall the scene, how a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees all carrying torches and weapons arrived in the Garden of Gethsemane, and our Lord, strengthened by an angel’s ministry took the initiative, waking the sleeping disciples and approaching the men. “Who is it you want?” he asked. “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” he said, and when they heard those words they drew back in alarm and they actually fell to the ground (Jn. 18:6). Peter saw all this – the soldiers falling back from Christ like corn blown by the wind – and this galvanized Peter to act. The former fisherman was carrying a sword and he drew it, running up to the soldiers slashing away at them, and a poor slave named Malchus became his victim, avoiding having his head split open, but having his ear cut off. Let’s approach it by looking at the two protagonists, Malchus the victim and Peter the victimizer.
1. MALCHUS THE SLAVE OF THE HIGH PRIEST.
All the gospel writers tell us in the Greek original that this man was a ‘doulos’, in other words, the personal slave of Caiaphas the High Priest. His name, Malchus, was commonly found among the people of Nabatea and in Syria, so he was probably a slave of Arab or Syrian extraction. He must have been in the Garden as an observer and reporter for the High Priest.
You may be initially surprised that a religious man Caiaphas, the top man in the Old Covenant structure, the chief priest himself, should be a slave owner, but you know from the Old Testament Scriptures that there were careful rules governing keeping slaves, and that every fifty years, in the Year of Jubilee, every slave was released. This anticipated the day when the Messiah would come, and the trumpets of freedom would be sounded throughout the kingdom. Slavery would be incompatible with living under the reign of the Messiah in his kingdom; Christ’s realm is the place of perfect freedom. Evangelical Christians led the campaign to terminate the institution of slavery.
But even in the first century one of the sects of the Jews was called the Essenes – a colony of these people lived near the Dead Sea and some of their famous scrolls have been discovered – and they utterly forbade slavery. It was prohibited amongst them; they judged all men to be on the same level; the Essenes spread these views throughout the land. Love means we serve one another voluntarily, they said, and so love banished slavery. If you love God there can be no class of slaves. That is what they taught within the boundaries of Israel, and all the Jews knew of their views.
Do you see the picture in the Garden that night? The Jewish officials are shouting and yelling, the Roman soldiers are picking themselves up and preparing for a fight, the apostles are perplexed and afraid, while Christ turns his attention to a slave. This is the year of jubilee when slaves have their rights. Christ has displayed his majesty to these men, and they have collapsed to the ground overwhelmed with fear. He never hides his majesty throughout the hours of his trials, but now he ignores everyone, and focuses all his concern upon a slave.
This man must have led a hard life; is it ever easy to be a slave? You have little time of your own and few rights; you obey your master in everything. He tells you what to do, and who are you to argue with him? What a tragic life Malchus had led, walking in the shadow of Caiaphas the very last high priest to whom the old covenant gave office. If Caiaphas had been the kind of high priest he should have been he would have ministered the love of Jehovah to his slave. Caiaphas knew what the Essenes were teaching, and he had had to justify his own slaves. He hung on to them. “It’s all right to keep slaves,” he said, “I have mine, and you may have yours, but be just and kind to them,” and of course everyone believed that they were being just and kind to their slaves. That was the religious establishment.
Jesus Christ has come to the land, and in one of his first sermons he took the book of the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth, “he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’” (Lk. 4:17-21).
Caiaphas hears all the reports of Jesus of Nazareth. His spies have been in many of Jesus’ meetings. They have seen miracle after miracle, heard sermon after sermon, listened in on many debates. All their reports have piled up on Caiaphas’ desk, and yet the chief priest refuses to acknowledge that Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel. He won’t allow the teaching of Jesus to affect him in any way. He will not be born again. He won’t walk in the light of the year of jubilee; he is blind to it. In fact he sends a slave to accompany and help the soldiers who have gone to arrest Jesus – the Jesus who is in fact the great Emancipator of slaves. The High Priest’s slave is there to witness the Messiah taken captive! More than that, Malchus is there to witness his master Caiaphas, the leader of Israel, summoning help from Gentile dogs, the Roman occupying forces, to make the Messiah a prisoner and put him to death on a cross. This poor slave is there to witness Caiaphas the High Priest taking apart the Year of Jubilee. This chief priest has in fact become a slave to these pagans. Great Caiaphas is hiding behind the sword of Rome; he is using Rome to maintain his power as head of the establishment. Instead of the chief priest acknowledging with joy the arrival of the liberating Messiah Caiaphas is kissing the rod of Rome which is tyrannizing them. “Go,” he said that evening to Malchus his slave, “and help take captive Jesus of Nazareth. Give the men all necessary assistance.” Malchus is there in the front line. Here is Jesus Christ, the one person who could free Malchus, and Malchus has been sent to help in Jesus’ arrest, torture and murder. What terrible irony! The priest and the slave work for the tyrant Rome against the Prince of the kingdom of peace. The slave has come to arrest the great Emancipator! Malchus was opposing his own freedom. He was walking in the light of his own lantern.
Great things were going to happen to Malchus that night. He was going to experience the healing power of the Messiah. Rays of light were going to fall on his eyes. The bells of freedom were going to sound in his ears! He was going to experience the birth-pangs of the New Covenant which would fill him with amazement. What a night he was going to have, never to be forgotten. The winds of heaven were gong to blow around him, and he would hear the sound thereof but could not tell from whence they came or whither they went. They would come to this slave through terrible pain and injury – but he would be no stranger to suffering – but he experienced a miraculous deliverance, and all that would be new to him.
That is the first thing to keep in our minds that Malchus was the servant of the High Priest.
2. PETER THE SWORDSMAN.
As Jesus is being arrested, Luke tells us that “one of them” (v.50) put up some armed resistance. This man attempted to impede the arrest by taking out his short sword and actually slashing out and making contact. He cut off Malchus’ ear. Now it is interesting to note that Luke didn’t finger Peter; he doesn’t tell his readers who this was. The suggestion has been made that it wasn’t safe at the time Matthew, Mark and Luke were writing the gospel to reveal Peter’s identity as the instigator of such grievous bodily harm. But when John was writing his gospel some years after Mark, it was safe for him to spill the beans. That is one suggestion concerning why the three synoptic writers simply describe him as a bystander.
Peter, by taking out his sword and attacking the men, is showing us that he didn’t yet understand at all the purpose of what Jesus was going to do in the next twenty-four hours. He is revealing to us how deficient was the disciples’ understanding – even after the Upper Room. You remember that way back in Caesarea Philippi, as soon as Peter confessed him to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God, Jesus then began preparing his disciples to understand that the Christ had to die, and when Peter sought to turn him from this, our Lord was very stern with him, “Get thee behind me Satan!” But here and now Peter again is saying, “God forbid that you should die,” and he is even attempting physically to prevent the Lord Jesus Christ from being arrested, persecuted and killed.
Of course we have to admire a man’s courage who will defy a group of soldiers experienced in killing men. Peter’s experience had been in killing fish. What a brave man was Peter, even when he was totally wrong in the stand he took. I wonder what was his reaction as he saw the blood gushing out from Malchus’ head and he’d done that. We respect him for a minute. I don’t know how many people were led there by Judas, but it could have been in the hundreds. Part of the Roman cohort was there, John tells us in John 18, and part of the temple guard was there. They were armed; Peter was hopelessly outnumbered, and out manned. They had more weapons as well as readiness in using them, and yet this fisherman is ready to take out the sword for the first time in his life and leave this world fighting and killing for Jesus. You have to admire the man. I wonder what we’d have done in the same circumstance. But again I must stress his actions were ignorant and uncomprehending.
Notice first of all how the disciples asked whether they should put up some armed resistance, before Peter drew his sword. We are told, “When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, ‘Lord, should we strike with our swords?'” (v.49). They sought for guidance, but they didn’t wait for an answer. They are just like us. We say, “Well, I asked the Lord about it.” Then you went ahead after saying the prayer. Did you expect an answer in two or three minutes? When you didn’t get instant counsel did you do what your instincts told you to do? Everything in Peter from the crown of his head to the sole of his feet was saying one thing, “Jesus mustn’t die. It would be the worst possible thing if Jesus died on the cross.” He was so convinced – even though Jesus had told them early on that he had come to give his life as a ransom for many – that he didn’t wait for Christ to answer; into battle he went. He was utterly sincere and sure he was doing right, but he was dead wrong. One can be out of step with Christ while thinking we are the only ones who are serving him and doing his will. “Why can’t everyone see it as we see it?” Peter became the child of Satan in doing what he did. Imagine, for example, Peter being killed there and then, and an end coming so prematurely and unnecessarily to what was to be a long and useful life! Imagine the apostles managing to bundle Jesus away in the Garden and preventing him from going to the cross. Then there’d be no gospel of forgiveness for you and me. Peter’s name would have been a perpetual disgrace. Have you chopped off any ears recently? Is there any blood on the ground by a blow that you’ve inflicted?
“No more of this,” Jesus said to Peter (v.51) and then, further, this was what Jesus proceeded to say – as Matthew records it – “’Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?'” (Matt. 26:52-54). And John tells us that Jesus turned to Peter and said to him, “Put your sword away. Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?'” (Jn. 18:11). Do you hear Jesus’ arguments against taking the sword?
i] One, all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Those who take the sword in their own strength will perish by the sword. A stroke of the sword which is independent of justice, will wound and destroy whoever wields it. It creates resentment and retaliation. There is a place for the sword. The powers that be in the government can use an army and its weapons and fight a just war. The police and courts and prisons are designed to punish criminals. That is their place; keep it there. The sword and instruments of man’s power are not to be used for the defense of the gospel or the spread of the kingdom. In other words, the Son of God deplores worldly and carnal means of defending the gospel and furthering God’s Kingdom. They contradict all we say about the livingness and nearness of God and the power of his grace. The methods we employ in serving the Lord must reflect his message. We bring the great Physician and Emancipator to the sick people enslaved to sin who live all around us just as he did, for “the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin” (Gals. 3:22)
You understand what Jesus was teaching Peter by rejecting the sword and embracing the cross? Not only the substance of what we tell the world but the style in which we bring it to the world has been defined for us by God. The message and the method must be harmonious. The way we worship God in this church, and the way I lead the services has got nothing to do with the fact that I might prefer a more traditional style of ministry. I was raised in dead traditionalism; I won’t speak a word defending traditionalism as such. The issue is not ‘being contemporary.’ Earnest, prayerful, loving Christianity will always be contemporary. The issue is this; we’ve been given a message by God and its heart is a bloody cross on which is hanging the Lamb of God making atonement for our sins. Only by the dying of Jesus Christ can we be saved. So there must be a radical discontinuity between a martial, or sentimental, or sophisticated presentation and this given, divine message of our Saviour being crucified to save us. Our number one concern is not to attract unbelievers to our meetings but to attract the Son of God to walk up and down the aisles and sit next to each of you and give you understanding and conviction and illumination and salvation, that he open the hearts of all of you as he opened Lydia’s heart as the Lord’s servant spoke to the congregation. We don’t want him, of all people, to be outside knocking on the door for access but welcomed here into the centre, working and saving and sanctifying. So all we are and all we do here on his day must reflect his love and righteousness and truth, lest we grieve him and he stays away. There is nothing more powerless than a church without Christ. There is nothing sadder than a church that thinks it is full of him when all the time he is outside knocking, but his knocks can’t be heard because of the noise within.
Peter, put your sword back in its place. Peter, surrender your weapon. There was a time when Yehudi Menuhin was asked what was musical genius. He said, “Surrender.” The musician surrenders to the music, to the composition, to the conductor and to his instrument. The Christian surrenders to Christ’s Lordship over the message and the method and the means which God gives us. All of that must be enfleshed in those of us who are servants of Christ, in our living and in our words and our entire approach to ministry. Not by the sword; never by the sword; if we use the sword we are displaying the triumph of unbelief. We have far more effective weapons to do God’s work than swords, for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.
If my task were to teach you the alphabet then it wouldn’t be out of keeping me for me to dress up as Mr. Alphabet Clown and chant the 26 letters to you, and we’d learn to sing the ‘ABC’ song together. When Domino Pizza opened their new shop here last year there were a number of men dressed as pizza boxes around the town giving out leaflets. Good fun! There’s no incongruity between that message and the methods used to promote it. However, there are some methods that are radically inappropriate for the message, for example, think of a teenager who has been assaulted and murdered. Her parents make an appeal on T.V. to the community for people to come forward with information about their daughter’s death. It would be utterly unacceptable and self-defeating for them to dress up in costumes and sing some songs about a little girl lost. How mawkish! They would build a barrier between their hearers and the killing of their daughter. What they do bring to their fellow citizens in their naked grief and the broken earnestness of their appeal and that is immensely more powerful than any such embellishments. I am saying that to dress up, or issue threats in the presentation of the cross of Jesus Christ to mankind, would erect a wall of disparity between the message and the people to whom it was being communicated.
We bring good news to the world which is the very testimony of God. It centres on the Son of God humbling himself even to the death of the cross for our redemption. That is the only way we can be saved. If we turn to methods which reflect the wizardry of men to communicate that message – man’s mood-creating music, psychological devices, physical or mental intimidation, the threat of a sword, or a rack, the humour of clowns – then that will eviscerate the gospel of its own content and power. Men may become religious through such devices but they won’t become Christians. The Saviour went to the cross and that fact dictates the way his kingdom is going to spread. John Flavel once said, “A crucified style best suits the preachers of a crucified Christ.” The defense of the faith demands a holy correspondence between message and method. Let me ask myself whether what I am saying, and how I am worshipping, and how I live my life is in keeping with the essence of the gospel? Let us all do that.
God has disclosed himself supremely in the cross, and if following Jesus Christ means dying daily then to adopt a style of ministry which is militaristic, or triumphalistic, or designed to impress and calculated to win acclaim is utterly inappropriate. “Peter, put away your sword!”
“When telling Thy salvation free
Let all absorbing thoughts of Thee
My heart and soul engross:
And when all hearts are bowed and stirred
Beneath the influence of Thy word,
Hide me behind Thy cross.”
ii] Two, the Scriptures must be fulfilled. That is another reason to put away the sword. The Bible says that it must happen in this way, the Messiah is to be put to death. He must become the suffering servant whom the Lord was pleased to bruise. He must become the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. Jesus says to Peter, “Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” Jesus was determined to live by God’s plan, and nobody, not Peter, not Judas, not the mob was going to stop that plan from being accomplished. “Christ came intentionally to be the true Lamb of God, the Passover lamb. He came voluntarily to be the scapegoat on whom the iniquities of the people were to be laid. His heart was set on accomplishing this great work. It couldn’t be done without the hiding of his power for a time. To do it he became a willing sufferer. He was taken, tried, condemned and crucified entirely of his own free will.” (J.C.Ryle)
iii] Three, Jesus is conscious that God was in control and taking care of him at that moment – far better than we ever could with our swords: “Don’t you think that I could call upon twelve legions of angels and they’d be here instantly to protect me?” Let’s take Jesus literally for a moment. A Roman legion had about 6,000 men in it. So if an angelic legion had that number of angels Christ was saying that God could send 72,000 angels at the nod of the head of the Ancient of Days to protect him if necessary. The old gospel song says, “He could have sent ten thousand angels.” Yes, his Father could have sent 70,000. In other words, there would have been about 6,000 angels for each of the eleven disciples and Jesus to protect them. Not just one guardian angel, but 6,000 guardian angels. The very first message which I heard John Murray give in 1961 in the morning Seminary Chapel service was on the subject of angels and their protection, and that was long before sections of the American church fell into the error of angelolatry. My point is that men have taken up fleshly means of resisting the world and they have used flashy means of advancing the work of God. God does not need this. He will not use even innumerable host of angels to do his bidding. God uses clay pots. God uses the foolishness of the message of Jesus Christ the Son of God crucified for our redemption. God uses lisping stammering tongues that tell his story as it is found in the Bible. God uses Christ-like lives, and integrity and honesty and sincerity and prayerfulness and courage. In other words what God used during the first century to turn the world upside down he uses today. We have the same holy spiritual weapons as the early church used. Were they successful? They certainly were. Then who will lay aside the best for the second rate? Only the most short-sighted and ignorant fools.
The Lord Jesus tells them he could summon twelve legions of angels and in the twinkling of an eye they would swoop down in a mighty fighting squadron and rescue him. They are great words! One angel destroyed the whole Assyrian army. What havoc would twelve legions wreak? What is Jesus saying when he points this out? He is stressing that it’s not because God lacked the power to deliver him that Jesus was going to be crucified. And it’s not because God was twisting his hands helplessly as a spectator that he was killed. It was not because Jesus lacked the authority to ask God to spare him that he was going to the cross. He was going to Golgotha because it was his eternal and divine destiny. He was going to die because he had chosen that death. He was no passive victim. He is the prime actor, and he has set his face steadfastly towards Calvary. Jesus goes to the cross not because the Father can’t stop it, not because he himself can’t ask the Father to stop it, but because Father and Son have agreed that he will come to this world and humble himself even to the death of the cross. He is going to the cross because he loves us, pathetic weaklings like us, sometimes feeling religious and sometimes feeling frauds. He went to the cross to save us from sin, from its guilt, its pollution, its consequences, to be saved from the ruin that sin brings, to be saved from the wrath to come, from the just condemnation and curse of a holy God in a righteous law. He came to seek and to save that which was lost and so the word ‘Saviour’ is a very great word, and that word ‘Calvary’ is a very, very great word because of the one who died there for our sins, according to the Scriptures.
Jesus Christ is the way to God. His is the only name under heaven given amongst men whereby we must be saved. His life and death is the only means of our redemption. There is something that lies in the very nature and being of the one eternal God that requires such a redemption in order for forgiveness for sin. God requires this; God provides this; God finds the Lamb of God to be our substitute in his own flock, and in his own bosom. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. Entrust yourself to him alone and salvation and eternal life is God’s gift to you with strength to trust and follow him as a person bought at such a price should hitherto live from this day forward.
16th September 2012 GEOFF THOMAS