Alfred Place Baptist Church

22:49-53 The Last Miracle

Luke 22:49-53 “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. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, ‘Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour – when darkness reigns.’”

The new semester has begun in the 100 universities in the United Kingdom. The Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship has set a goal for Christian students of getting 50,000 other students to read Luke’s gospel this term and to do an Uncover Study. They are asking every member of each Christian Union, “Pray for 5 students. Give to 5 students. Read with 5 students.” That is an enormous challenge and if our students could do that with one or two friends – I mean in an authentic relationship and with a spirit of prayer – that would be an extraordinary achievement. Some of you thought you were coming here to receive, and the first scary sentences you hear from me are that you are here to give. We will pray that God will bless you all and that there will be fruit. I need to turn to the rest of the congregation and to myself and say, “Pray for five of your neighbours. Give literature to five of them. Read with them.”

I can help every student to understand Luke’s gospel as each Sunday morning I am explaining and applying what Luke says about the Lord Jesus. After having the Bible having a mentor is valuable. You are hoping that you will have some inspirational lecturers in your courses who can make rather cerebral subjects come alive. Now this text (that I’ve read in your hearing) is one that your eyes could easily glide over as you go on to more familiar incidents later on in this chapter and the next chapters. You would then miss this extraordinary event. It is in fact the last miracle of our Lord, and there is particular interest in the first and last of anything that Jesus chose to do. This serious injury done to Malchus, an unbeliever, by a Christian preacher, is actually recorded in all four gospels. It was a potentially fatal injury. His whole ear was severed. What was going to stop the flow of blood? His life was in danger and that was due to the wild folly of the leading preacher of the Twelve.

Our Lord once said that if men and women had seen him they had actually seen God the Father. It is a terrific claim, that this man Jesus of Nazareth is the incarnate God, the Word who was with God in the beginning at creation and he was God. He had become flesh and dwelt amongst men. He was the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of his person. Jesus Christ is Lord. That’s the basis on which we welcome people into fellowship. “Who is Jesus Christ?” “He is the Son of God and my Saviour.” “Welcome my brother.”

Do you see the implications of what I am saying? What we read of in this account of Jesus healing Malchus is a divine revelation to us. It is showing us God. The words and acts of Jesus express to us exactly who is and what is the only God that exists. The healing of Malchus declares who is our Creator and Judge, and who is the one prepared to be our Saviour. I can easily give you a plain definition of the living God. I want to give it to you, that he is a Spirit infinite, eternal, unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth. That enlightens your mind, but the devils know that God is like that. I would better move your affections so that they home in on this wonderful God if I tell you what were the things that Jesus said and did because they are an expression of God’s character.

You see the scene, on one side is Peter, holding a bloody sword in his hand, looking at the violent bodily harm he’s done to a pathetic slave, and then he is rebuked by Christ – yet again. In the background are the soldiers still getting to their feet, unsteady, angry and afraid of this mighty one whose words, “I am,” have had had this powerful impact on them. And then there is Malchus groaning in severe pain, blood pouring down his neck and over his shoulders; his detached ear is on the floor, in the darkness. Then Jesus acts; he has spoken to his apostles and told them to sheath their swords. That should suffice, you think. There is this kingly rebuke. He is still in complete control. Soon he will hand himself over to the soldiers to be bound and led away. They will wreak their own vengeance on him for humiliating them, for pushing them onto the floor by the power of his words. What a nasty trick that was! Jesus will then go on and have an audience with the Sanhedrin and Pilate and Herod. He will receive 49 lashes. Christ knows that all that lies before him. He has no time for anything else, surely! He will walk with dignity, surrounded by the temple guard, to Pilate’s palace. But here is this wounded slave. Who’d think twice of a mere slave, especially a slave working for his arch enemy, sent by him to help in his arrest? There’d be a report given to Pilate the next morning and filed away. It would tell of a successful mission, the culprit arrested, with just a slave suffering a slight head wound.

But what does Jesus do? Certainly he never acts by the local cultural sense of what is right and wrong. He acts exactly as God would act. Divine justice is tender and powerful. It is pay-off time in the Garden of Gethsemane. The law of remuneration is coming into operation. Here is a man who has suffered personal injury at the hands of one of Jesus’ own followers; it’s been done in order to protect Jesus and thwart the plans of those arresting him. Now is the time for a divine compensation, even though he is a mere slave. So by this extraordinary providence of a serious affray, a life-threatening injury coming into Malchus’ life, something far more wonderful happens to the slave. Light and liberty comes into the Malchus’ life.

THE PLIGHT OF MALCHUS.

Here stands bleeding needy Malchus, being pulled between two religions and two priests. His master is Caiaphas. You turn to anyone in Jerusalem and you say to them, “Who is the High Priest?” They will think you’re certainly an ignorant man. “Caiaphas!” they’ll say scornfully. “Are you a stranger from another country?” Then there is Jesus of Nazareth just arrested and facing the death penalty, on his way to be tried for blasphemy for claiming to be God’s High Priest. What is he going to do? He will do what a priest should do; he is going to bless, though all curse him; he is going to heal, though the angry soldiers are getting to their feet and planning their revenge, what they’re going to do to him for his pushing them to the ground. Yet Jesus ignores them completely. He is concerned with the bloody wound of a slave.

Here is Malchus, and like every single person in Jerusalem he’d have known something about this extraordinary man Jesus. He’d have heard his master getting more and more incensed with our Lord over the past three years. “Who is Jesus of Nazareth?” Malchus would answer, “The healer and preacher who claims that God and he are one. The blasphemer.” His master Caiaphas had been fulminating and cursing this Jesus almost every day. Now the slave sits on the grass of Gethsemane in great pain, facing death through loss of blood. Yet in the darkness of the Garden, an extraordinary light begins to shine on Malchus.

He is face to face with Jesus, the man whom his boss wants to see dead because he is a liar and a blasphemer. Jesus is the one who claims that he is the way and the truth and the life, the Son of God, and that no one comes to the Father except by him. Now Malchus has a close encounter with one of his followers! His first impressions of Christians are not very good are they? Isn’t that sometimes the case? There are some of you who may have been put off by the enthusiasm and excesses of professing Christians. “Not for me, that kind of religion,” you’ve said. Maybe they hurt you. You’ve been damaged by your encounter with Christians and you don’t want any more of that. Or you’ve put all religions in the same boat and you have seen fanatics screaming, yelling out and chanting their slogans, burning, bombing, parading, shooting religionists, and that gives you a real excuse for dismissing religion out of hand. “That is what it does to people. It makes them extremist bigots,” you’ve said to yourself. Malchus felt the agony of the terrible injury that this top follower of Christ had done to him. Was he going to die? He surely was not drawn to follow Jesus. “That’s the last straw for me, becoming one of his disciples. This is what it does to people.”

2. THE POWER OF CHRIST.

Then he hears – through his good ear – Jesus saying some things. What’s this? Christ doesn’t cry, “Come on boys, up and at ‘em. The soldiers are all petrified, Look at ’em lying on the ground. Finish’em off. I’ll stop’em hurting you. The revolutions’s here!” and with that Peter would come running up to Malchus and finish him off; he’d cut Malchus’ throat. That is not what happened. Not at all. Jesus does speak to his men, but this is what he says to them, “No more of this! Put your sword away!” God warns them sternly, “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” The Son of God says, “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” And there is no more bloodshed at all. Jesus’ followers all shrink back. Jesus is not a bully. God did not send him to launch a holy war. Who is this extraordinary man? He makes these great claims, and has great power, but his followers sometimes let him down. Yet how often had Caiaphas let Malchus down? Many times? How often had he been shouted at and hit by Caiaphas? Malchus starts to think very quickly. Here are two rival religions and he knows that Caiaphas’ wants to destroy Jesus’. Which of these two has got it? Which of these two men is the true and real High Priest of God?

And you also have to decide. You today must choose. You must look at the evidence. You must take Luke’s gospel and you must read it. It is an extraordinary document. What is stopping you reading it? Is it true? A former student and friend of mine Oliver Gross the pastor of the Evangelical Church in Welshpool has just had some special meetings commending Christianity to the folk of the town. He invited some special speakers and one of them was Professor Michael Clarkson the former professor of Farm Animal Studies at Liverpool University. The two of them went to the large Farmers’ Market in Welshpool where Michael spoke to individual farmers. How did he become a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ? I will tell you. When he was a student he was invited to a Christian meeting and the speaker at the end of his talk told them he had a book in his hand which he was giving away freely, and that if they read that book their lives would be changed. So Michael went forward to get the book, and it turned out to be one of the four gospels like Luke’s gospel. He was initially disappointed that it was a mere gospel that he’d been given but a couple of weeks later he picked it up and began to read it, and he was gripped by what he read and his life was changed for better, and today he is unashamed of being a follower of Jesus Christ. Let me say that like all of us, from time to time, he has met Christians who’ve let him down and disappointed him, and no doubt he has disappointed others in turn.

Malchus was being faced with a decision. His master, the chief priest, hated Christ. But there were the claims of Christ to be the true High Priest of God. Only one is right. Both seem to be involved in violence; Caiaphas is going to arrest and crucify Jesus. Could a killer be the High Priest? Yet what of Jesus, the one who has permitted Peter his henchman to try to kill Malchus? Is that the only choice Malchus faced? His master or Peter’s Master? What a rotten choice. Did the slave feel, “A plague on both your houses!”

What was the response of the Master to Malchus. The Lord Jesus looks at Malchus and he doesn’t think, “A mere slave, and besides, it’s only an ear.” There are no small wounds to Jesus. He will not acknowledge anyone to be a little person. He doesn’t know insignificant people. Jesus walks up to Malchus as everyone watches and he completely heals him. He restores and attaches the ear in a moment – as he restored wasted muscles in paralyzed men, and gave seeing eyeballs to men born blind. Jesus do things as he does to show that one day he will make a new heavens and a new earth and will remove all the effects of the curse. This is yet another sign of his intention and ability to do this. But most of all Jesus heals Malchus because he is plenteous in mercy.

“Plenteous in mercy.” Beautiful words of the Authorized Version. We can leave them and hurry on to make some other comment about Christianity, can’t we? They are words, yes, but they are absolutely magnificent words of truth. I am saying to you that this incident is showing us what the real God is like, the only God there is. He is powerful, of course, but he is also plenteous in mercy. To the things that I have done, concerning which I am most ashamed, about which I do not like to think and will not speak, God is plenteous in mercy to those things. Don’t despair over the past. There is a God in heaven who is merciful. The Lord who healed Malchus the slave lives!

Never take for granted what lies at the very heart of the Christian faith, the abundant mercy of God in Jesus Christ. An acquaintance of mine was preaching at a convention and he met a man there who’d been present at the meetings the previous day. He asked him what the other speaker had spoken on yesterday. “Oh, he only preached the gospel,” he said. My friend thought, “He . . . only . . . preached . . . the . . . gospel,” as though one can take for granted the gospel, nothing special in the gospel, no ‘deeper life’ or ‘higher life’ or ‘Spirit baptism’, only . . . the gospel of mercy through Jesus Christ to sinners.

Do you see what we have here? The scene takes place ten hours before Jesus is going to be crucified, and on his way to the cross he stopped. He ignored everyone and everything and he walked to a wounded slave. He wouldn’t abandon him to bleed to death in order to go on a minute faster to stand before the Supreme Court and the Roman governor and the king of the Jews. First Jesus stopped; he turned, and he dealt with this man’s desperate need because the Lord is plenteous in mercy. You may have the impression that the evangelical church today is rich in justice. It knows about every case of injustice to Christians who have been fired for their beliefs, for wearing a cross, or giving out the wrong literature, or not allowing people to sleep together in the B&B’s. They know Christians who have been persecuted for following Jesus. We Christians definitely know our rights. We know what is right and wrong, and we are unyielding in our commitment to what is righteous, and full of exasperation for what is unjust. You say that that is your impression of Christianity, a bit prickly and aware of its rights, but what of our commitment to mercy, and loving the unlovely? How consecrated is your mind to be showing mercy to those who have offended and hurt you? Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” I am saying that if you look at this last miracle of Christ then you will see that he acted as he did because of the exceeding depth of his pity for a man in pain.

The Lord comes to Malchus, focuses his powerful virtue, fixes his heart on his Father, acts with the power of God and then Jesus miraculously heals Malchus. This is what the writers of the gospels tell us. They were there, and some of them were eyewitnesses. If Mark should have been the young man mentioned in his gospel whose outer garment was torn off, then he was an actual eyewitness of what occurred. And Luke was a doctor and he knew how serious was the injury that this man had suffered. He would know that no one before in the history of mankind had ever had an ear that had been sliced off attached to his body once again. It was simply incredible, all that would be involved in joining all those blood vessels and cartilages. All four gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, tell us that an extraordinary action was done by the Lord Jesus, and that if this had been the only miracle that Jesus of Nazareth had done then it would still be striking and would require a lot of explaining on naturalistic terms. A Welshman has an industrial accident and his ear is severed, but they put it in an ice-bag and rush it with him in an ambulance with a police escort – all lights flashing and sirens blaring – to a splendid city hospital where there is a surgeon on duty who can act at that moment. They take the man and his ear immediately to an operating theatre and there the long and demanding operation begins, attaching muscles, and nerve endings, and veins. The operation is a success. He can’t wiggle that ear like he used to; he never has feeling in that ear again, but he’s got something to keep his glasses up, and he grows his hair a bit longer and it looks fine and he is pleased. But what Jesus did was to restore it as it used to be, absolutely perfectly. This is what the four gospel writers tell us. Only God can do that. That is our claim. I am a Christian today because my Saviour Jesus healed Malchus.

We know that these supernatural acts of Jesus are given three or four titles in the New Testament. They are called ‘signs’ because they point to Christ and say, “Consider this man who does such things.” They are called ‘wonders’ because they give us goose pimples and make us awfully afraid so that we ask, “What manner of man is this who can heal a man with a severed ear?” They are called ‘miracles’ because they are simply otherworldly; there is no explanation for what we read here except if we bring in the supernatural and the divine into the explanation. Their only rationale, as you gather all of these acts of Jesus Christ together, is that they are the actions of the one true God living amongst men. They are a ‘foretaste’ of what is to come, because they point to a time when the dust of our dead bodies will be raised and we will have a new living body like Jesus’.

Of course, if this were the only miracle that the famous rabbi Jesus of Nazareth had done then it would be a curiosity. But if he actually did it then we would say, “The world has never seen another man like that.” But the reality was that there were thousands of other miracles like this that Christ did. Thousands and thousands, many of them far more impressive than this. He raised the dead. He never failed to heal someone whether they were in the last stages of dementia, or of cancer, or of heart disease. You think of those words that end the profound gospel of John; “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (Jn. 20:20&31). And then at the very end of his gospel, one chapter later, John feels how inadequately he has served his master in writing this biography of him, and these are his final words. “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (Jn.21:24&25). We have looked today at one miracle . . . just one little astonishing miracle. John says, “I am the one who has written this down,” and the other apostles have added their affirmation – “We know that what he has written down is absolutely true.” Why should you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? Because it is true. Because the women who helped Jesus and his disciples, the fishermen and the doctor were not a bunch of conspirators and plotters and liars any more than we are or you are. They tell us what they saw over three years in this man. That seems to me to be the only and all sufficient reason for being a follower of our Lord, because it is true. If there had been only his miracles, then we would conclude Jesus was an unusually great healer, but there is something more, there is also the fact of the transparency and godliness and humility and purity and kindness of his attractive life. He did nothing bad, nothing at all, and yet is a three-dimensional man who loved and cried and sweated and grew thirsty and spat and was weary and slept. He is God’s holy child Jesus. There is even more than his impeccable loving; there is also the profundity of his teaching . . . the Sermon on the Mount, the parables and the Upper Room Discourse. No one ever spoke like him. And there is more; there is also the influence he had on the people who followed him. He transformed them from being violent men who’d take out their knives or persecuting bigots to behaving like him, serving others and suffering without complaining about God. There are all these spokes, I say, and the hub of it all is this person, the living historical Lord Jesus Christ.

So here is the ultimate healing miracle of Jesus. We’ve been looking at it and its not what you would expect if you were bragging up a man. Do you hear the drums roll here? Not at all. We are vaguely familiar with it and that’s all. Do we see the spotlights trained on Jesus? No. This is like a candle in a Garden. The apocryphal gospels that started to be written 300 years later would demand that this final wonder be pyrotechnic! Before an audience of thousands Jesus would astonish them all. He would, say, make the whole Temple take off into the air, hovering like a helicopter for ten minutes, before descending again to its mount in Jerusalem. Or Jesus would go to the graveyard in which he raised Lazarus and he will raise everyone else. Or he would perform a meteorological extravaganza commanding the wind to blow from all four directions one after another, clouds to appear and disappear, snow to fall followed by sun and then snow again as he shouts out, “Sun! Snow! Storm! Pitch darkness!” That’s how apocryphal gospels would have concluded. The final miracle of Jesus would have to be a dazzling finale, like the end of the Olympic Games, and – if the gospels had been written by fakes a few hundred years later – there would have to be razzmatazz at the end. There is not. No fireworks. He helps a slave who has been wronged by one of his followers. Some of you have been wronged by some of us Christians, and the same Jesus is here to help you. He soothes our sorrows, heals our wounds and wipes away our fears.

That is why Jesus came, in order to help not the righteous but sinners, and his greatest help was when he gave his own life as a ransom for many. Whether it is 5,000 men or just one, whether a centurion or a slave, our Lord showed his depths of compassion. Compassion and loving power is vastly more important than mega-supernatural displays. He’ll show his love to an astonished, hurting slave and save his life. This miracle is not a superior firework. No, here is light entering the life of a slave who had lived his life hitherto in darkness. Here is a warm glow being kindled in the life of an unloved slave who works for the hateful Caiaphas. What Jesus did made the men who saw it ask themselves even briefly, “What manner of man is this?” Who are you dealing with when you come here? Here’s a man who found time in the hours before his torture and death to exhaust himself in helping a slave. I’m saying that he has time to help you, and that is why you are reading these words, that he might deliver you from slavery and bring you into true freedom. O cry to him that he might! Cry until you know he has answered you

There was an occasion when Cain murdered his very brother Abel. The two boys had grown up together and yet the older struck down and killed the younger. We are told that God put a sign on Cain that the Lord had seen it, and that he would avenge the blood of this young good brother. “This is a moral universe,” God was saying. God would see to it that this man’s cruel murder would be vindicated. So too in this passage before us, in the Garden of Gethsemane one of Jesus’ own followers has fearfully wounded Malchus. The Lord takes action to vindicate the slave. There are millions of Christ’s followers who have suffered amputation, and branding, and rape, and torture, and death. This Lord – who had time to help a mere slave – will vindicate each one of them too.

3. THE PROTESTATION OF CHRIST.

How did this exchange end? What does Jesus say next? He is the unpredictable Messiah. He doesn’t say, “You can all come to me and have your wounds healed.” They are a sullen, hostile, bitter group of men seething with revenge for his humbling them, planning his tortures. Their hearts are full of hatred; there is no repentance and no sense of need of him, and so he rebukes them. He heals a slave and he rebukes “the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him” (v.52), and he does so by asking them, “How did I preach? Where did I preach? Was I a subversive? Was this some mystery religion that I promulgated with secret ceremonies in the darkness of the wilderness? You are acting as if I were a common criminal.” Does one criminal arrested in a night raid by a hundred armed men go to the Temple each day and preach to crowds of people? These were Jesus actual words, “Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me” (v.52). Why? Because these mighty heroes and warriors marching to arrest one man in the middle of the night on the Mount of Olives were in fact a gang of cowards. The chief priests were acting out of pure self-interest. They knew how much the people loved him and how they would rise as a man and physically prevent them laying a hand on their beloved preacher Jesus. These great champions of truth and justice who wanted to stamp out heresy and blasphemy have bribed one of his followers to take them to a place where they could abduct him with no one there to protect him. They chose the night when all the people were preparing for the Passover the next day. Jesus is confronting them with their cowardice, choosing darkness as a cloak for their wickedness. Then they had bribed witnesses to say they had heard him blaspheme. If they were men of light then they’d be open-faced, men without guile, not the creatures of darkness they were. That’s why they refused to love and serve him. Not because he had not preached the truth clearly enough and powerfully enough and fully enough. Not because he had not done enough signs and wonders as proof of his deity as the Son of God. The reason for their hatred of him was that they loved darkness rather than light. Can this be the reason for your refusal to repent and believe on Jesus Christ?

However, the setting for his arrest, in the darkness of the night on the mountain, was very fitting for the darkness of their hearts. He said to them, “This is your hour and the power of darkness” (v.53). Today we are experiencing Jesus’ hour and the power of light. We are gathered in his name with him in our midst, and he is ministering to us, rebuking, correcting, encouraging and instructing us in righteousness. But there have been other times when you’ve been led by the power of darkness, and that has been the hour of self and Satan and the world. In that hour our hearts were full of indifference and apathy and hostility to the claims of Christ to be our God. We will not have him rule over us; we don’t want him; we don’t like him. That is the fruit of darkness and the evidence that we love darkness more than light. In that hour we crucify to ourselves the Son of God afresh. What hour is this for you? Is it an hour of darkness or light? An hour of rejecting Christ or receiving him into your life as your teacher and the lamb of God and your Lord? For that you must first know his mercy, his healing touch and he is here to give you that. He can end your life of slavery to those unworthy to be your Lord. Only he is worthy to be your Lord.

23rd September 2012 GEOFF THOMAS