Luke 22: 49 - 51
Midnight in Gethsemane. Jesus has been praying alone. In the distance the disciples can see the flickering lights as a group of soldiers crosses the Kidron Valley. They are led by Judas. It all happened so quickly. A brief conversation, a hurried kiss on the cheek, the soldiers step forward to take Jesus away. In the confusion and semi-darkness, Peter knows he has to act, has to do something to protect his master. Grabbing his sword, he takes a wild swing, aiming at no one in particular. The sword finds its mark but not as Peter intended. If he hoped to scare off the soldiers, it didn’t work. If he hoped to inspire the other disciples, that might have worked had not Jesus stepped in.
He lopped off the ear of the high priest’s servant. No doubt the servant fell to the ground and began screaming in pain. Blood must have come spurting out of the hole where his ear had been. The soldiers would have drawn their swords, ready to kill Peter. But before things get out of hand, Jesus touches the servant’s ear, healing it instantly. And just like that, the crisis is over.
It made an impression on the disciples because this incident is recorded in all 4 gospels. Only John tells us that it was Peter who swung the sword and that Malchus was the servant’s name. Only Luke tells us that Jesus healed his ear. When we think about the betrayal and arrest of Jesus - the disciples never forgot what happened to Malchus. If it seemed that important to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, if the early church never forgot this story, then it contains important lessons for us. Frame the question - How does a follower of Christ react when all is lost? What do we do when our dreams seem to disappear in the darkness? Several important answers. We react righteously when all is lost …
1. By Refusing to Give In to Impulsive Anger.
We can easily understand Peter’s desire to fight back. In the confusion of the late-night arrest, he saw his Master being threatened, and he decided to fight back. Who can blame him? So grabbing a sword he takes a wild swing and cuts off Malchus’ ear. No doubt he meant to behead him but the angle wasn’t right - and I’m sure Malchus didn’t stand still either - so he lopped off his right ear. In his fear, anger and desperation, Peter has lashed out at the nearest target, the high priest’s servant, wounding him but not killing him.
Everything about this story makes perfect sense. You can hardly blame the disciples for thinking, “It’s time to fight,” and of course, we would expect no less from Peter, the volatile, emotional leader who generally acted first and thought about it later.
“Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. For human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness” (James 1: 19, 20). Slow to anger. How many of us are good at that? Raise your hand if you are slow to anger. I am sure there is a slice of humanity that can honestly say, “I am slow to anger,” but for the rest of us, here is a message from the Lord. Your anger and God’s righteousness generally move in opposite directions.
Most of our anger stems from fear, and most of our fear comes from the perception that we are losing control. Stop and think about it for a moment. As long as we are in the driver’s seat and things are going our way, we rarely get angry. But let things spin out of our control, as they did that night when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, and fear takes over. It is only a short step from fear to impulsive anger, and from sudden anger comes all manner of evil.
2. By Choosing to Lose Rather Than Winning Through Brute Force.
Losing is not a popular idea today. We all want to be on the winning team, don’t we? We want to be able to say, “My team won.” Nothing seems more un-South African than choosing to lose. But that’s precisely what the followers of Jesus are sometimes called to do. In Christ’s kingdom, the values of the world are turned upside down.
He that would save his life must lose it. Take up your cross and follow me. What will it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul? He who would be first among you must be the servant of all. Whoever loves his life loses it. Whoever loses his life saves it.
Sometimes when you follow Jesus, you have to lose in order to win. That’s what Jesus meant when he said to Peter, “Put your sword back in its place for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26: 52). Brute force does not advance Christ’s kingdom. We cannot accomplish God’s work by bullying people into submission. When we try that approach, it may produce short-term results but it always backfires in the end because the appeal to brute force means that we don’t really believe in God. If we did, we wouldn’t try to take matters into our own hands. “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (v. 53). Do you think 72,000 angels could handle the soldiers that came out to arrest Jesus? But if Jesus had that sort of power at his disposal, why didn’t he use it? v. 54 says that Jesus refrained from calling on those angels because he knew that his arrest was necessary to fulfil God’s plan. “It must happen this way,” Jesus said.
I don’t blame Peter for not fully understanding those words. It’s after midnight, and he is tired, distraught, confused, angry, worn out, upset, and in his despair he wants to do something, anything, that will rescue Jesus.
But Jesus doesn’t need his help. He doesn’t want to be rescued. Jesus can take care of himself. What seems to be the cluttered rush of events turns out to be the plan of God unfolding to bring salvation to the world. When evil seems to be winning, Christ calmly submits, knowing that in the end, God’s will must be done.
In our losing of our power, our significance, our place in the lights, our fame and fortune and all that we hold dear, especially our reputation in the world, in giving all that up, our losing with God wins for us a blessing the world can’t match and does not understand.
3. By Relying Completely on Christ’s Supreme Power Rather Than Our Own Puny Strength.
Sometimes we just have to let go. How hard that is for most of us. Letting go doesn’t exactly mean giving up. It doesn’t mean passively sitting by while the world takes advantage of us.
Letting go means giving up the right to always be in control.
Letting go means admitting that you aren’t calling all the shots.
Letting go means that you choose not to manipulate others.
Letting go means admitting that you don’t have all the answers.
Letting go means yielding your frantic emotions to the Lord.
Letting go means resigning your position as Boss of the Universe.
Could God have made things turn out differently for Jesus? The answer is yes. He’s God. He could have arranged the circumstances any way he chose. But God ordained that his Son would die. “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief” (Isaiah 53: 10).
Jesus had to die! Think about that and you will know why Jesus didn’t fight back. He knew that without his death, the whole world would be lost. So to serve God’s greater good, he endured the indignity of the howling mob, the false accusations, the brutal beating, and the shame of death on a cross.
Good Friday always comes before Easter Sunday. There is no resurrection without a crucifixion, and there are no shortcuts on the road to glory. Peter’s wild attack, motivated no doubt by desperate love, meant that he still didn’t understand that Jesus had to die. That’s why he relied on his sword to protect the Son of God. Peter’s use of force was . . .
Unavailing - The Church’s feeble instruments can do as little against the world’s battalions as Peter’s sword could have done against the guardsmen of Caesar.
Unnecessary - If you can command 72,000 angels (and all of heaven besides), you don’t need Peter’s puny sword to protect you.
Unchristian - In attacking the servant, Peter contradicted Jesus’ own teaching to turn the other cheek when you are attacked.
Unreasonable - Even if Peter had prevented the arrest, it would have accomplished nothing of value. Our goal is to convert our opponents through love, not to coerce them through force.
Unwise - Peter’s vain attempt to protect Jesus would have hindered the Father’s purpose to bring salvation through the death of his Son.
Unsafe - Peter’s sudden action called attention to himself and made it easier for him to be identified later in Caiaphas’ courtyard. His attempted rescue boomeranged and only hurt himself.
4. By Extending Christ’s Healing Love to Those Who Have Hurt Us.
After Jesus rebukes Peter for attacking the servant, he performs an unexpected miracle. He restores his ear. “He touched the man’s ear and healed him.” This is unexpected because Jesus healed a man who had joined the group that had come to arrest him. It must have happened quickly. Peter attacks, the ear flies off, blood spurts everywhere. Jesus rebukes Peter. Then he reaches out his hand, touches the bloody place where the ear had been, and suddenly the ear is restored.
Peter did what we all tend to do when we are hurt and scared. He struck out in anger and confusion, hitting and hurting the high priest’s servant. It seems like a natural thing to do.
Hit back! Get even! Make someone pay! Hurt them the way they hurt you!
But even in this case, we see the folly of retaliation. Why attack the servant of the high priest. He was only doing what he was told to do. Peter swung wildly, in anger and desperation, wanting to hurt someone, wanting to protect his Master. But cutting off an ear wouldn’t stop them from arresting Jesus. In fact, if Jesus had not healed the man, it would only have further enraged the Jewish authorities. In trying to make things better, Peter made them worse.
Jesus did what only the Son of God could do. He healed the one who came to hurt him.
What if Peter had succeeded that night? What if he had led the other disciples in a desperate, fight-to-the-last-man defence of Jesus? It wouldn’t have worked, of course, because the Jewish leaders had the power of Rome behind them. But if somehow Peter had succeeded in “protecting” Jesus, he would never gone to the cross, God’s plan of salvation would have failed, and there would be no Good Friday and no Easter.
Shall I Not Drink the Cup?
That brings us to the final words of Jesus before he was arrested. “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18: 11). Jesus was always in charge, even in the garden in the darkness of the night, surrounded by the soldiers who came to take him away. He came to drink the cup of suffering, and drink it he must.
Off Jesus goes into the night while the disciples flee and Peter follows afar off. His hands bound, guarded as if he were a common criminal, Jesus goes to face his accusers. In less than12 hours he will be hanging on a cross. As he goes, one man rubs the side of his head and remembers that Jesus touched him and healed him.
This is truly the forgotten miracle of Easter. It is a tiny slice of life, a midnight encounter, a small miracle on the way to the big miracle. It is a revelation of the true heart of Jesus. In this little story we see how Jesus treats his enemies. When they come for him, he does not resist. When they are hurt, he heals them. He receives their attacks and then is led away to die for the very men who are putting him to death. He will not use his divine power to escape their clutches. He only uses his power to heal those who have been hurt by his followers.
On him was laid the sin of us all. If we are not saved, we cannot blame Jesus. The fault is all our own. He is as willing to forgive as he was to be taken prisoner, to bleed and to die.
What a Christ! What a salvation he brings! Glory to his name forever. Amen.