When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it.
2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.
4 Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”
5 “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.
“I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) 6 When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
Picture with me for a few minutes Jesus and eleven men walking a path into the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s a quiet night and the moon is full (did you know the moon is always full during Passover?) Jesus had just predicted that one disciple was about to betray him and another deny him, so it may have been a bit quiet and contemplative during the ½ mile walk from the gate of Jerusalem to the spot where Jesus prayed.
John doesn’t mention Jesus’ prayer in the garden, but we know from the other gospels that He was prayed with such agony that He sweat drops of blood as John and Peter and the other disciples slept. It was very late by the time Judas came into the garden with about 300 guards and some representatives from the chief priests. I’m not sure why the chief priests thought they needed that many soldiers. Jesus had always been peaceful. And obviously if He’d have wanted to escape, He could have; because just the acknowledgement of who He was caused the whole company to fall to the ground. But Jesus didn’t use their moment of weakness to escape. Instead He asked them again . . .
Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”
“Jesus of Nazareth,” they said.
8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” 9 This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”[a]
10 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.)
11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”
All the gospels tell of the high priest’s servant losing his ear, but only John names the disciple whose sword was the culprit. Perhaps John wants to redeem Peter since in the very next passage we’re going to hear the familiar story of Peter’s denial. Maybe John wanted us to know that when this disciple who disowned Jesus around the fire, he was confused because Jesus had scolded him for attacking when the soldiers had come to take them away. I think John wanted to remind us that even though Peter gets a bad rep for disowning our Savior, he was really one of the bravest disciples. Peter was ready to die in the battle. But like us, when things didn’t go the way he planned, it caused him to become discouraged and afraid.
We are all so familiar with this part of the Good Friday story. Almost everyone has put themselves in the place of Peter as he stood outside the gates of the high priest’s house.
12 Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13 and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people.
15 Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, 16 but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in.
17 “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” she asked Peter.
He replied, “I am not.”
18 It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.
Yes, this same man who we know as the denier of Christ is the disciple who cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. We tend to remember Peter as a coward, but John reminds us that Peter was ready to fight 300 soldiers to defend Jesus. Unfortunately, like us, Peter’s wonderful plan wasn’t in Jesus’ plan. He forgot to consult Christ before He lunged into battle.
But there’s one other interesting detail of this story that is only found in John. Only John shares the servant’s name, Malchus. I often wonder if John was the only one who knew this servant’s name, or perhaps the only one who knew it well enough to repeat it.
If we look a little closer at verse 15, we see John calling himself “the other disciple” who was known to the high priest. And not just “known”; he was obviously in pretty good standing with this local celebrity, because the high priest’s servant girl, the one on duty at the door, knew John well enough that she was willing to let John AND Peter into the priest’s courtyard. Considering the reason they were at the priest’s home to begin with, I’m guessing John was more than a mere acquaintance. Jesus wasn’t really on the high priest’s list of “friends and people of influence.” It’s the middle of the night! I can’t imagine two friends of this man who had just been arrested for treason being allowed to enter freely unless at least one of them had a pretty good reputation with the priest.
So, we can assume that the reason John shared his name was because He knew Malchus better than any of the other Bible authors. John had probably chatted with Malchus on more than on occasion. They may have even been friends. But there’s one more fact of the night that even John omits. I personally think it’s one of the most important, but for some reason it’s only Luke, the only one of the four gospel writers who wasn’t there that day, the man who had to investigate, probe, and ask questions to find out his information that tells us. Perhaps it’s because he was a doctor that he found it so amazing.
Plus I can’t help but wonder who it was that told him about it. Maybe it was Peter or John. Perhaps it was Mark, who ran away without his clothes when the guards tried to grab him. Luke doesn’t reveal his source, but I’d like to think he interviewed Malchus as part of his investigation into the life of Jesus Christ. Because, of everyone in the garden that night, I’m pretty sure it’s Malchus who could never forget what happened.
It’s only Luke, the doctor, who adds this fact:
Luke 22:51 But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.
As quickly as Peter had lopped it off, Jesus reached up and put it back on. Luke goes on to tell us that as quickly as He healed that ear, Jesus told the entourage who’d come for him to go ahead and arrest him, and in spite of the three second healing service, the soldiers seized our Savior and led him off to a farce of a trial and crucifixion.
Every year we put ourselves in the place of one of the men or women of scripture. We’ve imagined what it would be like to be Peter, denying Christ, not once or twice but three times. We’ve examined our lives to make sure we aren’t more like Judas, betraying our friend, the one who loves us in spite of our sin. We have put ourselves in the place of the crowds who shouted “Crucify Him,” and we can imagine we’re the women at the foot of the cross or how it might have felt to have been one of the disciples who ran for their lives instead of defending the One who would lay down His life in our place. But tonight I’d like for us to step into Malchus’ shoes for ten or fifteen minutes.
Malchus was just following orders that night. I imagine when those servants and guards got the word that they were to go arrest Jesus in the Garden, they anticipated a quick arrest with very little skirmish. They’d seen Jesus preaching. They had heard Him avoid a riot with His wisdom when He’d said to “give to Caesar what was Caesar’s and to God what was God’s.” The priests saw Jesus as a threat to their role in government, but if I’d have been Malchus that night, a servant with no political agenda, I’d have wondered why they were arresting the guy. Three hundred soldiers was a bit much for 12 guys, most of which had never held a weapon, let alone trained with one. So I picture a group of soldiers and servants with their guard down.
Stop and think about it. This group couldn’t have gone up on that hill with thoughts of a battle. Otherwise, a fisherman would never have been able to get in the first slice. But Peter did. And the stunned Malchus just stood there with his hand over the place where his ear used to be looking at his ear on the ground. Or perhaps, depending on Peter’s skill with the sword, it may have been dangling by some skin there on the side of his head. But I want you to put yourself in Malchus’ shoes for just a moment and imagine sharp iron running along your head taking off your ear. To say that you’d be startled would be an understatement. I imagine the man being stopped in his tracks unable to move from the shear amazement of it; the pain delayed for just a moment because of the shock and the adrenaline. And, not that I want to get gory or anything, but imagine for a moment all the blood.
I looked it up, and when Van Gogh cut off his ear there was blood everywhere. For just a moment, the millions of thoughts that can run through a person’s mind had to run the gamut of “What just happened here?” to “I wonder if I’m going to bleed to death” to “I can’t believe the pain.” But it only lasted for a second before Jesus takes matters into his own hands, and He reaches out and fixes Peter’s hasty mistake.
As I put myself in the place of Malchus, I’m guessing that standing there in the garden, it all happened too fast to process; because no sooner had his ear been restored than the soldiers tied Jesus’ hands together and began leading Him back into Jerusalem. Without a struggle, Jesus allowed them to lead Him back into the city. The eleven disciples along with Mark scattered in fear, and somewhere in the crowd on the road back to Jerusalem was a confused servant named Malchus.
Put yourself in Malchus’ place tonight. The thoughts running through his head on the ½ mile walk back into the city must have been all over the place. He’d been sent to assist in the arrest of a traitor. What he’d found instead was a man of peace. He’d been told that Jesus was a blasphemer of the Almighty God, but what he’d found was a Healer. All of the lies that Malchus had been told about Jesus Christ crumbled in that moment when his ear went from the worst pain he’d ever experienced to completely made new. If it wasn’t for the blood all over his shoulder, he might have thought it was just a dream. In that walk back to Jerusalem, did all the stories he’d heard about this man from Galilee come flooding into his mind? Did he start to believe that Jesus really did feed 5000 men and their families with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish? Did he begin to know the truth of who Jesus really was?
When they got back to the priest’s house, I wonder if Malchus was nearby when Peter was denying that he knew the man from Nazareth. Did he want to run over and chastise Peter? I can just imagine him thinking, “Are you kidding? First you cut my ear off, then you deny that you know the man who healed it for me?” I wonder if Malchus agonized because he didn’t have the courage to rush into the trial room and tell everyone what Jesus had done?
As the servant of the high priest, there’s a good chance that Malchus would have been in the company of those who took Jesus to Pilate and then on to Herod. This man who’d lost an ear would have had a front row seat to every person who questioned Jesus. In fact, it may have been Malchus who later told the disciples and Luke what happened inside those rooms at Pilate’s and Herod’s palaces.
The events of Good Friday moved fast. What started on Thursday evening ran all through the night. I doubt the servant would have had time to leave his duties to change his blood covered clothes. And each person he encountered would have asked about all the blood. What could he say? If he told the story of Peter cutting off his ear, he’d also have to offer an explanation of why his ear was back in place. Would he have risked giving any glory to the man they were about to crucify? And the real question tonight is . . . would you?
Malchus probably knew the soldiers that threw the dice for a chance to win the robe that Jesus’ mother had hand stitched with love for her son. Did a part of him want to rush in and rescue the garment to return to Jesus’ mother, explaining to her how grateful he was for the healing?
Is Malchus the servant who was sent to stand witness to the crucifixion? Did the high priest ask him to make sure the traitor was dead before they took him down? Did the man with the healed ear have to stand and watch as they whipped Christ and tore his back open with the scourging? Did he stand by helpless as the soldiers pounded the nails into Jesus’ feet? Was he almost numb as he watched that thorny crown be pressed down on Jesus head? Did he ache to cry out, “STOP,” but just didn’t have the courage to defy the powerful Sanhedrin? Were there tears in his eyes as he desperately wanted to tell the crowds his unbelievable story and thank this Man they were crucifying?
In my mind, I see Malchus standing there near the cross. I imagine him being able to get just a little closer than the crowds because of his position in the high priest’s household. I see him cringing as the soldiers mocked the Man who just hours before had held his ear in His hand. I hear him quietly cheering as the thief hanging there next to Jesus acknowledged the Christ for who He really was, secretly wishing he could be brave enough to do the same.
For more than three hours, Jesus hung in agonizing pain, and as Malchus watched, I imagine the events of the last eighteen hours playing over and over again in his mind, every scenario going back to the garden. As he watched Jesus pray on the cross, did he reach up and touch that ear? As he heard the groans of our Savior, did he glance at the blood on his shoulder and remember?
I picture Malchus standing close enough to hear Jesus say, “Forgive them, Father, they don’t know what they do.”
And I wonder if that statement made Malchus break down . . . ?
I want to be clear tonight that everything I’ve told you about Malchus is speculation. This servant’s name is only mentioned one time in all of scripture. The only thing we know for sure is that Peter cut off his ear, and Jesus put it back on. But when I put myself in Malchus’ place, these are the things I imagine.
Would I have had the courage to speak up where Malchus didn’t? Would I have denied the miracle of healing by my silence? Would I have followed the events of the night without saying a word? What would I have felt standing there at the foot of the cross, hearing the man I’d helped arrest say, “I forgive him.”
For Malchus, everything about Jesus became personal. Jesus was about to be arrested, but He took the time to heal Malchus’ ear. And even though Malchus obviously never made a big enough splash in Christianity to have his name recorded twice in the Bible, the man was never the same. Like Malchus, we need to make what Jesus did on the cross personal. Each of us needs to say, “Christ died for me.” In the midst of His darkest hour, Jesus healed Malchus, even though he was the only one who needed healed that night. In the same way Jesus died on the cross . . . even if I had been the only one who needed Christ’s death on the cross, He would have died. It was just for me.
We don’t know anything about Malchus, but we can assume that he could never touch his ear again without thinking about that Man in the garden. We don’t know if he accepted Christ’s death on the cross as payment for his sins. And perhaps that’s why we don’t know the rest of Malchus’ story. This way each of us can put ourselves in Malchus’ shoes.
Because whether you remember it or not, you have a Malchus’ ear. Each of us have a moment in our life when Christ touched us, but we get to write the end of the story. Like Malchus, often the touch of Jesus comes in just a moment, easy to pass off as a dream or coincidence. Some of us here tonight will write the end of the story as just that. When we reach up and grab our ear, the miracle will be forgotten. We’ll dismiss it. The gift of the cross will be lost on us, and we’ll continue living the drudgery of a servant.
But some of us will write the end of Malchus’ story with glory. We’ll be grateful for what Christ did, and we will refuse to pass it off as too small to talk about. We won’t care that others think it’s impossible or explainable. Every time we touch that ear, we will praise Christ for what He’s done, and the hope of Easter will allow us to call this Friday, Good.
Tonight I want to ask you to make Malchus’ story your story. I want you to go back to that moment when Jesus touched you. Like Malchus, it may have only been a split second touch, it may have been so brief that you left the memory of it in the garden, but it’s important that we never forget it.
You see Jesus’ death on the cross is much like the healing of Malchus’ ear. Malchus didn’t deserve to have his ear restored, and I don’t deserve to have my sins forgiven. Malchus did nothing to merit Jesus touching him, and I have done nothing to merit Jesus blood cleansing me. So I celebrate Good Friday as a reminder.
Tonight I encourage you to get a reminder, perhaps a pocket cross. Just like Malchus was forever able to touch his ear and remember what Christ had done for him, I want to have something like a cross, something you can touch that will remind you of the blood that flowed on that Friday we’ve come to call good. I want you to have something to hang on to that will forever challenge you to tell the world your story.