Close Encounters of the Jesus Kind (Part 2)
Bono’s theme this year has been “FEARLESS.” And God is love! We sing it and celebrate it! The two ideas fit together. People who met Jesus met perfect love in human flesh… and “perfect love banishes fear” (1 John 4:18).
Meeting “perfect love” means a life will never the same again. Walking with Him… learning Him… reflecting Him… people began to be Jesus in their world, sharing His love every day with everyone they met.
Last time, we saw Jesus meet Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, at a tree and an unnamed, five-times-married-and-shacked-up Samaritan woman at a well… not random meetings because Jesus told Zacchaeus, “…come down, I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5). And John says “…he had to go through Samaria” (John 4:4). God planned these meetings
The High Priest’s servant encountered Jesus (Matthew 26:47-56; Mark 14:43-50; Luke 22:47-51; John 18:7-11).
John tells us his name was Malchus (18:10). From the available evidence we believe that 200-300 armed Roman soldiers and Jewish Temple Guards – were in the posse led by Judas to arrest Jesus… they came “with torches” and armed to the teeth with “swords and spears.”
Malchus could have been one of the “temple police” responsible for order in the Temple area. His’ position at the front of this throng indicates he likely was one in authority. Likely, he was privy to – and sympathetic to – the Jewish religious authorities’ hatred for the Galilean prophet. Perhaps he had seen Jesus before, maybe in the previous days upsetting the “business” of the temple, teaching on its porches and in its courts, and eluding the clever traps set for Him by the “best and brightest” Jewish minds of the day. He might have been one of the Temple guards sent to arrest Jesus earlier (John 7:32-53)… who didn’t complete their mission, returning instead without Him and explaining their dereliction of duty by saying, “No man every talked like this man talks” (v 46).
It was Passover time in 29 A.D. Passover festivals celebrated Israel’s escape Egyptian bondage 1400 centuries earlier. Jerusalem swelled to bursting with pilgrims from all over the world every year. Every Jewish family attending would bring a lamb to sacrifice. Sacrifices lasted for days because of the huge numbers involved. On Passover, 60 A.D., 260,000 lambs were slaughtered (Josephus). Lambs’ blood would flow away from the Temple altar and into a cut in the pavement channeling it to the Kidron Brook far down below.
Jesus and His band would have crossed a blood-red Kidron that night to reach Gethsemane, a garden named for an olive press. Jesus’ band often spent nights there. And He likely prayed there often, but this night His prayers were agon-izing… not olives, but Jesus was the One pressed with the burden Heaven sent Him to accomplish. Though many were present He was very much alone.
In time praying was done and Judas and his throng arrived. Jesus met them head-on. We get some sense of His aura when at some point in those initial seconds of standoff Jesus spoke some word or made some gesture that caused them all to “fall backwards” momentarily: “When Jesus said, “I am Jesus,” the men moved back and fell to the ground. (John 18:6). One they thought might run and hide in the darkness met them openly and boldly. Armed men retreated from One unarmed. Hunter ran from Prey.
But we the posse regained its composure… Judas kissed and identified Jesus... and men seized Jesus. Peter couldn’t stand it – “better to die on one’s feet than to live on one’s knees,” he thought – so he took his misguided but courageous stand. With his 18” long double-edged sword he swiped at anyone within reach and clipped Malchus; though intending to do more damage, he cut off his ear.
Then and there, Malchus – no doubt in searing pain – met the love of Jesus. In the same moment rebuking Peter and compassionately touching Malchus’ ear, Jesus made it as it had been… completely whole.
What was Malchus’ reaction?
The Bible story ends there. But surely he was somewhere near Jesus as He was falsely tried and convicted first by the Sanhedrin, then by Pilate, and then led to Golgotha and cruelly crucified. One servant of the High Priest slapped Jesus as He answered one of the questions they’d asked Him (John 18:22)… was that Malchus? My sense is “no.”
Ralph F. Wilson has written a little piece, Malchus, the Salve Whose Ear Was Cut Off…
"You are my ear, boy," says Caiaphas the High Priest to his servant Malchus. "Now go! Tell me what's happening." His words are sharp. His special talent is listening, hearing. As reigning high priest in an intensely political environment, Caiaphas has many enemies. Malchus is indeed his ear in the city. Lately, he has been dispatched to learn about Jesus, prophet of Nazareth, who is visiting for Passover. Malchus listens as Jesus teaches… something about coming to save the “lost.” “Who’s lost?” he wondered.
Now it is night, Passover night, and Malchus goes on a hush-hush mission with temple soldiers — and Judas. With supreme hypocrisy, Judas kisses him to confirm the identification and the soldiers move in. One disciple flashes a sword and begins to brandish it wildly. Malchus is struck, blood gushing from his head. The blade has sliced his ear clean off. He clutches at his head to stop the bleeding and drops to one knee. Blood is pouring down his neck, drenching his cloak. He begins to wobble, blackness is engulfing him.
Then a sudden warmth. Pain ceases, and the flickering light of the torches reappears. Jesus is kneeling before him, a hand covering his wound. All Malchus can see is the man's eyes filled with a gentleness and love.
"You'll be all right, now," Jesus assures him.
A soldier jerks Jesus to his feet and the spell of the moment is broken. Malchus reaches up to feel his head. The ear is there – all of it. His ear is whole, the bleeding stopped, only his blood-soaked cloak to indicate that there ever was a wound.
Malchus returns to his room and removes his stiffening cloak and tunic. He washes the caked blood from his shoulder, arm, and face, and soaks his hair and beard to dissolve the remaining blood. All the time he stares at his ear in the mirror. It is whole, undamaged, without pain.
What have I done to this kind, gentle man? Malchus asks himself.
The rest of the day is a blur. He follows the multitude to Pilate's quarters, hears the Roman's pathetic attempt at washing his hands of the matter, and goes behind as the crowd surges up the narrow streets to Golgotha, just outside the city. By the time Malchus arrives on the hilltop, Jesus is hanging from a cross, his body and face mutilated almost beyond recognition.
Malchus is aghast at what he has done, at his part in this ugly business. Jesus' words flood back, "... To seek and save the lost." Surely, I am lost, says Malchus. I have shed innocent blood.
Malchus burns with shame. He kneels, but no one is watching as he pours out his agony and begs forgiveness. Thunder cracks. Wind blows. As Malchus strains his ear — his whole ear — he can hear Jesus' unbelievably gracious answer to his cry: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Malchus rises. The man they call "the ear of Caiaphas" is different, for this slave's ear now listens for a new Master.
How would you have reacted had you been Malchus that night?
Jesus shows us a God who loves and heals his enemies; it’s the gospel. What good news it is for us that God loves His enemies – those who hate him. The best news for us because we were all His enemies at some point. Didn’t Paul say that… “while we were yet sinners (Jesus’ enemies) He died for us…”? He came to into the world to heal “enemies” and has always been at work doing that.
Then, maybe a good gauge of how Malchus reacted is how we all finally react when we realize that we were Jesus’ “enemy” and He healed us. More than our ears were cut off… our souls were! And by His death in our place Jesus restored our souls to be with God.
Yes, Malchus’ story is an unfinished Gospel story… as are many others: Simon of Cyrene, the man born blind, the man by Bethsaida Pool, Pilate and His wife, Barabbas, the Roman Centurion at the cross, the lame man at the Temple Gate, Cornelius… many women… and others. After Jesus’ resurrection and Pentecost, the church got big in Jerusalem, even a “large number of priests” (Acts 6:7).
Imagine Malchus and Peter both sitting across from John telling the same story:
Peter starts, “I was the goof who thought we could save the world by violence… and so that night I pulled out my sword.” Then Malchus jumps in: “And he got me… right here… he hacked my ear off. And then Jesus gave it back. While I was lynching Him, He was healing 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.”
I don’t know that it happened that way at all, but I know that’s what the gospel does. When people learn from Jesus how to live, enemies become friends.
A problem with our “Five Step Plan of Salvation”
Now we shift gears away from Malchus and think a bit about our encounter with Jesus again. And I would say to start this part of my lesson off that our fellowship has been using a salvation formula now for about 150 years. When people ask, “What do I have to do to be saved?”, we tell them that their part is…
TO HEAR – learn three key facts: (1) sin separates from God, (2) we have no way to get to back to Him on our own, and (3) God has made Jesus’ blood, shed at the cross, the “way” for all.
TO BELIEVE – admit that what we have heard is true.
TO REPENT – decide to follow Jesus… make changes in our thinking and behave so that we are following Him.
TO CONFESS – make it known that Jesus is our Lord and Savior and we are His servant and friend.
TO BE BAPTIZED – be buried in water, an act symbolic of death to sinning, be washed in His blood, and be resurrected to a new, different life as a “new creation.” It’s following Him into the water and then doing what He did!
The problem with “Five Steps,” then SAVED? I don’t want to alarm… but we’ve created a multitude of baptized people who are not followers.
“SAVED” is true in one sense… Yes, they’re JUSTIFIED! The balance owed to God is $0 because Jesus’ blood at Calvary has paid it off in full and will keep on paying it off if they continue following as His disciple. Should Jesus return to judge the world or should death come immediately – say… walking up the steps from the water or on the car trip home – without them ever having done a positive thing for Jesus, they are justified and He will save them forever by His love and grace.
Ah, but the problem becomes clear when we ask, “What if they don’t die immediately?” None of us did! THEN THEY BECOME FOLLOWERS… DISCIPLES! What’s wrong with the FIVE-STEP PLAN is… THERE’S ANOTHER “STEP”!
We assent! To assent is “to agree.” We agree in our hearts that we belong to Jesus and that He is the North Star of our life… all its minutes, all is treasure, all its talents, all its days. We make no attempt to hide it from anyone that we will ever and always be walking with Him and learning more of Him, following, following… letting the Holy Spirit of God live and work in us, following… becoming imitators of God and His Son in our words and ways that will be shown (as people watch us) by our love for all and our visible desire for their salvation, compassion for enemies, generosity and hospitality to all we meet… a hundred things… no, maybe a thousand… that we learn day by day, new insight be new insight, succeeding and failing in our following, but always intending to follow in His footsteps…
A follower becoming like Him is called SANCTIFICATION… in our lives, we’re becoming more and more like the Son of God and God our Father: “God knew them (those who love Him) before he made the world. And he decided that they would be like his Son” (Romans 5:29 ERV).
This is what God wants and wills… that when we’ve counted our attendance any Sunday (we have today; it’s____) and say our final “Amen” to pass through Bono’s church-house doors, every ONE will be Jesus walking out energized by God’s Word, by being in praise in His presence, and empowered by the Spirit to meet and forever change the lives of people we meet!