Jesus and Malchus

It’s week 5 of our series “Encounters with Jesus” and we’re going to be Luke 22 this morning. As you’re turning there… let’s remember who it is we meet whenever we encounter Jesus. 

When we encounter Jesus, we’re encountering the truest, deepest nature of God. We’re seeing what God is like. Jesus—the church confesses—is fully God. And—at the exact same time—when we encounter Jesus, we’re encountering the truest deepest nature of humanity. Jesus—the church confesses—is fully human.

Jesus shows us what God is like, and Jesus shows us what humanity is like. What we are meant to be. Every encounter with Jesus shows us where we’ve come from (Who created us) AND ALSO what we’re made for (what we’re destined to be).

And that brings us to Luke 22 this week. 

This is an account of Jesus right before he’s put through a mock trial only to then be tortured, beaten, and executed. This is an account of Jesus being arrested.

While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”

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.” (Luke 22v47-53)

For the disciples this is a moment of chaos and confusion. Their friend—their teacher, their rabbi, the one they thought could be the messiah (the christ, the king!) and usher the rule and reign of God’s kingdom into the world—Jesus is being arrested. Their dreams are crashing down around them: “It’s not supposed to be this way.”

It’s no wonder in the middle of all of this, we find scuffles and struggles and fights breaking out. In fact, in the middle of it all one of the disciples (v50)—another gospel (John’s gospel) tells that it was Peter—pulls out a sword and takes a swing at someone. 

I hear the word “sword” and I think “medieval Braveheart broadsword.” But what Peter has is a “ma-chai-ra” in Greek (where we get the English word “machete”). It was probably more like a dagger—it’s some kind of knife. There’s some kind of struggle, and Peter has a big knife and slashes a guy. And he ends up hacking off the guy’s ear. 

And in the middle of all of this, Jesus cries out, “No more of this” and then touches this fella’s ear (v51) and heals him. In the middle of all of this darkness and chaos and confusion and violence, Jesus heals this guy. Jesus heals his enemy’s ear. 

That’s an encounter worth looking at. 

But before we do, we might ask an obvious question: “Why does anyone with Jesus even have a sword?”

I mean, that’s a reasonable question. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus had taught his disciples to turn the other cheek, to love their enemies, to pray for those who persecute them. Why on earth do they even have a weapon with them?

And the answer is Jesus asked them to bring one.

If you look about a dozen verses before our text today, we find Jesus finishing a meal with his disciples early that evening and we hear a conversation going on between them:

Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”

“Nothing,” they answered.

He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” 

“That’s enough!” he replied. (Luke 22v35-38)

It’s at the instruction of Jesus that they have a sword with them. And the disciples are like us: they like themselves some Second Amendment. Jesus says to grab a weapon—to bear arms—and you don’t have to ask them twice. Because they’ve got “common sense” like us, right? They are totally sensible. They know you’ve got be packing a proper self-defense. (“We need a way to hurt those who are trying to hurt us.” ) They know that a particular kind of enemy poses no threat… a dead enemy. 

But notice (v37) why Jesus wants a weapon in the group: so that he can be “numbered with transgressors.”

“The Scripture says that I’m lumped in with the lawbreakers, the outlaws, the lawbreakers, the villains—so bring a sword.”

And it’s like one of the disciples (maybe Simon the Zealot) has just been waiting for this moment and opens up their cloak like a watch salesman. “Someone ask for a sword, Jesus? This tunic happens to have two.” (“I’ve got more back at the inn…”) To which Jesus replies, “Good grief, that’s enough” (v38). 

The sword—the dagger—is for appearance only. It’s like Jesus is planting evidence on himself—giving people a reason to arrest him. But in the heat of the moment, Peter decides to start cutting and slashing. And it’s in this moment—in this encounter—as an ear falls limp into the dirt and leaves, that Jesus shows us what it means to be God and what it means to be human. 

First, Jesus reveals a God who heals his enemies. A God who loves his enemies. This is the gospel, by the way. It’s really good news that God loves his enemies—the people who hate him. And that’s good news, because that’s all of us at some point. In all our destructive, hateful violence, God always already loves us.

God loves his enemies. God heals his enemies. 

We never earn the love of God. We never merit the healing of God. Whatever it is you’re looking for from God—love or mercy or forgiveness or peace or direction in life or clarity about a situation or some kind of healing—I have good news: Whatever you’re looking for from God, you’re never going to earn it.

You can stop trying to get in God’s good graces. You are already in them. You can rest. The gospel invites us to see what God is like: God loves, God heals, God gives good gifts, and it’s never because we’ve earned it. 

God gives good gifts, not because we are good, but because God is good. 

What does God do when his enemy gets hurt in front of him? Well, God replaces an ear. Someone who is actively attacking him—someone who is actively bringing darkness in the world—someone who could not possibly be earning anything from God with their choices…

“Here’s your ear back.” That’s what God is like. “I give good gifts, not because of your goodness, but because of my goodness.”

That’s the gospel. It’s really good news. In all our guilt, in all our sin, in all our shame, in all our darkness, God gives us mercy. God gives us healing. 

Whatever it is you’re looking for from God, you’re never going to earn it. Don’t misunderstand… yur choices may have left you without an ear and you may need to receive the gift of a new ear, before you can receive those decorative earrings you want. You may have to receive wholeness in some areas before God can give you gifts in others. But make no mistake—God just gives freely. 

May that give you rest. 

Look at Jesus—again and again and again—and learn to believe this incredible news. 

But this encounter isn’t just incredible news, it’s also an invitation—a summons—a call to us. Because if this what God is like at the center, then Jesus also shows us what it looks like for a human being to reflect this image. 

Jesus reveals the truly human life strives to heal everyone—our enemies included.

And that right there… that shatters all our “common sense” about life.  Because most of us have got the same common sense as the disciples. We share the same instinct as the disciples… a killer instinct. We all “just know” that we’re going to find true life when our enemies lose.

Maybe they’ll lose an ear, maybe they’ll lose their job, maybe they’ll lose custody—and my goodness I hope they lose the argument and their dignity and hopefully they’re losing sleep too. We all are sensible enough to know that I’m going to find true life when my enemy loses.

Because, good grief, they had it coming: “I feel no sympathy for you or your stupid ear on the ground—that’s what you get for making the decisions you’ve made. What did you think was going to happen?”

Our instinct is to celebrate when some people lose. Jesus’s instinct is to strive for the healing of everyone—enemies included. We want them broken; Jesus wants the whole. Our instinct is to defend ourselves at all costs—hacking and hurting and slashing to save ourselves. Jesus’s instinct is to heal those wanting to hurt him.  We rejoice in the death of the wicked. We celebrate enemies getting what they deserve. We applaud when the axe falls and a piece of them falls off with it. But Jesus is replacing that piece.

God is the one putting our enemies back together. Jesus replaces an ear. He heals this servant of the high priest. Jesus loves his enemy. This servant’s name is Malchus, by the way… our enemies have names. They’re people. Broken people. Like us. 

John is the account that gives us Peter’s name—he’s the disciple with the dagger. But when John tells this story in John 18, he also gives us the name of the enemy: Malchus. A lot of scholars think that this guy—Malchus—was actually one of eyewitnesses—one of the actual sources—from whom the gospel writers got their stories. So John tells us it was Peter and also mentions it was Malchus.

I like the image of Malchus and Peter both sitting across from John telling the same the story. Peter starts by saying, “I was the goof who thought we could save the world by violence… and so that night I pulled out my sword”

And then Malchus jumps in: “And he got me—right here—Peter hacked my ear off… and then Jesus gave it back. While I was lynching Jesus, he was replacing my ear. And that act of love—that act of healing—that act of giving while I was attacking—I guess that’s why I’m sitting here talking about him. Jesus was making things better while I was making things worse… and it changed my life.” 

That’s what the gospel does—when two people learn how to live from Jesus—it makes friends out of enemies. In the kingdom of Jesus, there’s a particular kind of enemy who poses no threat… the enemy-now-your-friend. 

Jesus—the truly human human—knows that the Enemy will never be defeated with swords. Cycles of violence are never stopped with more violence; violence is stopped by a turning a cheek. Hatred is never overcome by more hatred; hatred is overcome by love. Enemies are made friends… by replacing an ear. 

An early Christian leader wrote to the church of Rome, saying:

“Overcome evil with good” (Romans 12v21)

In other words: “Make things better when others are making things worse.” Because that’s what it looks like to reflect God’s image—that’s what it looks like to be truly human. 

Jesus wasn’t exaggerating…he was dead-serious about true life: “Love your enemies.”

It begs the question: “Who are our enemies?”

Who do we butt heads with?—who are we rooting against?—who do we want to lose? Before we could ever think about loving them, or working for their good, or wanting them to be whole, before we talk about doing anything, Jesus wants to talk about our assumptions. About what we believe deep down. 

Will we let ourselves be opened to the idea that true life—that true humanity—that deepest joy—will be found if our enemies could be into friends? Peter and Malchus are celebrating the same story. And they were brought together by the one wielding mercy instead of a machete.

That doesn’t mean that we’re always going to feel warm-and-fuzzy about our enemies. It doesn’t mean that we think what they’re doing is OK, or that we go along with it, or that we stay in a particular situation. 

If you’re in a damaging environment—in destructive patterns with other people—God isn’t calling us to stay in destructive places. True life looks like loving destructive people—not staying in destructive patterns or destructive places. To truly love destructive people demands an incredible amount of wisdom. If you’re in an abusive relationship or situation perhaps the most loving thing you can do—for yourself, for the person abusing you—is get out of it. God isn’t inviting us to keep having our bodies bruised, but God is inviting us to have our hatred crucified. 

There are parts of us that have to die before we’re going to be capable of receiving all of God good gifts. Because as long as we keep clinging to hate, we’re never going to have open hands that receive true and lasting life. We’ll never taste our full humanity by inflicting pain on others. True humanity looks like loving and healing everyone—enemies included. 

May we be opened to the true and joyful life of God himself. May we believe the good news that God heals his enemies and gives good gifts because of his goodness. And may we be granted wisdom on how to pierce the darkness, how to how to carry the cross of love, how to work for the healing of even our enemies.