Alfred Place Baptist Church

14:47 The Last Miracle of Jesus

Mark 14:47 “Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.”

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 adds 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). Luke adds that there were a number of the followers of Jesus who cried out to him for permission to draw their swords before the first of them struck out at the high priest’s servant. Luke also tells us that Jesus healed the man’s wound; “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” (Lk. 22:49-51). Finally 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).

There are a number of questions about this incident we can’t answer, such as why it is that Mark did not record that it was the apostle Peter who struck the servant, and why both Mark and Matthew omit telling us that Jesus immediately healed the man. But we have so much in the gospels that is instructive and challenging that we have little time to speculate. Have you ever thought that both the first and last miracles of our Lord Jesus were unusual. The first took place in Cana of Galilee when Jesus turned water into wine; the last miracle was the only one which took place during his passion when he healed Malchus’ ear. All the books of the world couldn’t contain accounts of the miracles that lay between this alpha and omega. Thousands of signs weren’t reported simply for lack of space, but this last one wasn’t omitted.

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 the 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 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 look at the people primarily involved.

1. MALCHUS THE SLAVE OF THE HIGH PRIEST.

All the gospel writers tell us in the Greek original that this man was a ‘doulos’, 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.

In fact one of the sects of the Jews was called the Essenes – a colony of these people lived near the Dead Sea – 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 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 will not 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 the Gentiles, 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 the High Priest taking apart the Year of Jubilee. This chief priest has in fact become a slave to those 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.” Here is Jesus Christ, the one person who could free Malchus, and Malchus is sent to help in his arrest 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 of slaves! 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. 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 that – and a miraculous deliverance, and all this 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, Mark tells us that “one of those standing near” (v.46) put up some armed resistance. Mark doesn’t even say it was a disciple, and that seems strange. 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 Mark didn’t finger Peter; he doesn’t tell his readers that this was Peter. The suggestion has been made that it wasn’t safe at the time Mark was writing the gospel to reveal Peter’s identity and 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 Mark simply describes him as a bystander.

Peter, by taking out his sword and attacking the men, is showing us that he didn’t 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 Mark 9 at 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 numbers, even when he is totally wrong in the stand he takes. Before we criticize Peter, let’s respect him for a minute. I don’t know how many people were with 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 professionalism 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?'” (Lk. 22:49). 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.” Sure, but did you expect an answer in two or three minutes? Then when you didn’t get instant counsel did you do what your instincts told you to do? Everything in Peter from his crown of his head to the sole of his feet was saying one thing, “Jesus mustn’t die.” It was so strong 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 you’ve inflicted?

“No more of this,” Jesus said to Peter (Lk. 22:51) 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. We don’t want him, of all people, to be outside knocking on the door for access but here in the centre, working and saving and sanctifying. So all we are and all we do 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. If we were in the business of selling more hamburgers we might wear a hamburger costume, give out free hamburgers and sing a hamburger song. 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 to the community for people to come forward with information. 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 bring to their fellow citizens in their naked grief and the broken earnestness of their appeal is immensely more powerful than any such embellishments. I am saying that to dress up, or issue threats in the presentation of God’s word 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, 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 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 keep 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 in a moment 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 that was long before sections of the American church fell into the error of angelolatry. My point is that we can take up fleshly means of resisting the world and advancing the work of God. God does not need this. He has an innumerable host of angels to do his bidding.

What’s Jesus’ point in saying this? To stress that it’s not because God lacks the power to stop it that he is going to be crucified. And it’s not because Jesus lacks the authority to ask God to spare him that he is going to the cross. He is going to Golgotha because he has chosen to go there. He is not a passive victim. He is the prime actor, and he has chosen to go to 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 he desires to fulfill the word of God.

If you don’t understand that, you haven’t yet understand the cross. The cross is not a tragedy; it is not the triumph of evil over good; it is not some sort of “Plan B” idea that God came up with. You know there is an old teaching on the fringes of evangelicalism to the effect that Jesus really came to offer the kingdom to the Jews. However, they rejected it, and, OOPS, God had to come up with another plan. That theory bears no relation to what Mark says in this gospel. Jesus came for the determined purpose of giving his life a ransom for many. That baby lying in a manger came from heaven for the purpose of dying, and our Lord understood that, and so he rebukes his disciples. I want to say that if you’re a sinner who thinks that you’ve done something beyond Jesus’ willingness to receive you, you need to remember this, that the one who was prepared to suffer is a willing Savior. The Almighty Son of God who stopped his own disciples defending him with force of arms and who resisted any attempt at a so-called ‘holy war,’ who allowed these men to bind him and take him away and crucify him, he is the one desirous that sinners turn from their ways, trust in him and find salvation. If he was prepared to suffer Golgotha, surely he is full of readiness to save everyone who calls on his name. I don’t need to win you to him by pscychological devices or threats. Just call on his name and do not case calling until you know he has answered you.

3. CHRIST THE HEALER.

You see the scene, Peter at one side, holding a bloody sword in his hand, rebuked and chastened by Christ yet again. The soldiers are still getting up and fearful of this one whose words have sent them crashing to the ground, and there is Malchus groaning in severe pain, blood running down his neck and over his shoulder from where his ear had been. Then Jesus acts; he has spoken to his apostles and told them to sheath their swords. That should suffice, you think. There is the kingly rebuke, and then he is going to hand himself over to the soldiers to be bound and led away to an audience with the Sanhedrin and Pilate and Herod. Who would look twice at a mere slave? The report given to Pilate the next morning and filed away would have told of a successful mission, the culprit arrested, with just a slave suffering a slight head wound. But Christ never acts by human standards of justice; he acts by divine justice, and divine justice is kind and powerful. It is payoff time in the Garden of Gethsemane. The law of remuneration is coming into operation. There is a man here who has suffered personal injury at the hands of one of the Twelve. It is time for compensation, even though he is a mere slave, and so by this extraordinary providence light comes into the life of Malchus.

Here stands bleeding needy Malchus midway between two religions and two priests. There is Caiaphas, and he is the one everybody in Jerusalem will tell you is the chief priest. There is Jesus of Nazareth on his way to be tried for blasphemy, for claiming to be God’s High Priest. Jesus is doing what a priest should do; he is blessing though all curse him; he is healing though men beat and threaten him; he is concerned with the blood of a slave though these ruffians have no respect for his blood. Malchus has known something about Jesus of Nazareth for many years; has he ever seen Caiaphas behaving like this? Malchus has had no light from Caiaphas as to what is true religion, but now, in the darkness of Gethsemane, an extraordinary light begins to shine on him. Both Caiaphas and Jesus claim to be religious, but which of these two is the true and real High Priest? Which is God’s High Priest? You also have to decide. You today must choose. You must look at the evidence and think about what you are seeing. The chief priest hates Christ. Neither man will allow you to say that they are both high priests according to their own convictions. Only one is High Priest; the other is a murderer. Would you have a killer as your High Priest?

The Lord Jesus looks at Malchus and he doesn’t say, “Ah, he’s only a 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. Why does Jesus act like this? Because he is full of mercy. We can hurry on to some other comment about Christianity quite easily, can’t we, because we’ve heard before that the Son of God is full of mercy. If that should be the case we’d better stop a moment. When we start to take for granted what lies at the very heart of the Christian faith we’d better slow down and think. An acquaintance of mine was preaching at a convention and he met a man there sitting next to him on the platform who’d been present the previous day. He asked him what the speaker had spoken on the night before. “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’ in the gospel, only . . . the gospel. There is something unhealthy about a church that thinks like that about the good news of Jesus Christ.

I have just said that the Son of God wouldn’t abandon a bleeding slave lying there to go on to an encounter with the chief priests, and Herod the king of the Jews, and Pilate the Roman governor. First Jesus stopped and he dealt with this man’s need because Christ is rich in mercy. People say of the evangelical church today that we are rich in justice; that we know what is right and wrong and are unyielding in our commitment to what is righteous, but what of our commitment to mercy? Christ acted as he did because of the exceeding depth of his pity.

The Lord comes to Malchus, concentrates his powers, fixes his heart on his Father, acts in the virtue of the power of God and miraculously heals him. 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 verse fifty-one, then he was an actual eyewitness of what occurred. They tell us that an extraordinary miracle happened. If this were the only miracle that Jesus of Nazareth had done then it would require a lot of explaining on naturalistic terms. A man has an industrial accident and his ear is severed, but they put it on ice and rush it with him in an ambulance with police escort all lights flashing and siren 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 blood vessels, and veins. The operation is a success. He can’t wiggle that ear like he used to but he’s got something to keep his glasses up, and it looks fine.

We are told by Luke and John that the Lord Jesus Christ replaced Malchus’ ear in a moment. Not a minute had passed before that right ear was back indistinguishable from the left ear. We must not look at his miracle as the world looks at it, a less significant sign than other signs – a mere slave, and a mere ear, the incident tucked away at the end of the gospels. A miracle which Christ performs is always a miracle. The divine power and love behind it are the same. Nobody in the world could speak and the winds and waves respond; no one in any place or at any time could raise a man from the grave; no one in the world could multiply five loaves and two fishes and feed five thousand men, neither could anyone immediately attach a severed ear to a head so that it glowed with health in a virtually invisible union. Who is this who can do such a thing? This was the last of many such miracles; it was the culmination of Jesus’ mighty works, and it was done before an unexpectant and a hostile company of men there to arrest him. We may not say, “It’s an odd kind of miracle.” We must confess, “Here is the King and this is the power which one day will work on our bodies.”

There was an occasion when Cain murdered his brother Abel and the Lord put a sign on Cain that he would avenge the blood of his brother. “This is a moral universe,” said the Lord. He would vindicate this man’s cruel murder. So too in the Garden of Gethsemane one of his own followers has wrongly wounded Malchus and the Lord takes action to vindicate the slave. There are millions of Christ’s followers who have suffered amputation, and branding, and rape, and death. This Lord – who had time to help a mere slave – will vindicate each one of them too.

Again, 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 do such wonders?” They are called ‘miracles’ because they are simply otherworldly, utterly supernatural in their explanation. Their only rationale, as you gather all of them together, is that they are the acts of God. They a ‘foretaste’ because they point to a time yet to come when the dust of our dead bodies will be raised.

Do you understand that these miracle are not dazzling displays of a better than average healer; they are not the wonders of a religious man making his bow as a magician. They are not like the miracles of the apocryphal books, the boy Jesus making sparrows out of clay. Such a miracle would be to no purpose; it doesn’t prophesy; it is the work of a trickster. It is designed to make us ask – as we ask when watching stage magicians – “How do they do that?” None of Christ’s little ones are blessed by the act.

How different is our Lord. His very last miracle is due; do you hear the drums roll and the spotlights train on Jesus? The apocryphal gospels would require this final wonder to be pyrotechnic! Before an audience of thousands he will, 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 will go to the graveyard in which he raised Lazarus and he will raise everyone else. Or he will 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! Sun! Snow!” The last of Jesus’ miracles has to be a dazzling finale, and if the gospels had been written by fakes a hundred years later it would have been. But Jesus doesn’t set off any fireworks. He comes to minister and to give his life a ransom for many sinners. Whether it is 5,000 men or just one, a centurion or a slave, he will show to us the depths of compassion that there is in God. He will display his superhuman majesty to an astonished slave. This miracle is not a rather splendid firework; here is being kindled a warm glow in the life of a slave which lights up this dark garden full of menace, and make men ask themselves even briefly, “Who are we dealing with?” Who are you dealing with when you come here? Our Jesus had time to help a slave. He has time to help you, and that is hwy 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

12th June 2005 GEOFF THOMAS