By Pastor Glenn Pease
William H. Taft, the 27th President of the United States, was a big man in more ways than one. When he was inaugurated in 1909 at age 51 he weighed 325 pounds. His goal was not to become President, however, but to be the chief justice of the Supreme Court. In 1921 he achieved his goal and became the only man in the history of our nation to hold the countries 2 most powerful offices. Peter was like Taft in being the big man among the Apostles. He was physically a big fisherman, but he was also the only man selected to be the head of the 12, and the only man to be considered the first head of the church.
The Catholic Church considers Peter to be the first Pope. Peter also had the reputation of being the biggest human power on earth with the keys to the kingdom. All of the stories about coming to the golden gate of heaven involved dealing with Peter, and so he was like Taft in the Christian realm. He was the only man in Christian history to ever hold the 2 highest offices. He was the President of the 12 and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Christian faith. He could bind up or set loose and so determine who would or would not be in heaven.
Peter was a big man, but as we have seen in previous studies, he made more mistakes than all the rest of the Apostles put together. A big man can make big mistakes and make himself look small, and Peter was a pro at it. His most violent mistake is the one is the one we want to focus on. It happened in the account of the arrest of Jesus. In Peter's impulsive act of drawing his sword and cutting off the ear of the servant of the high priest, he taught a multitude of lessons about the Christian and violence. We can only look at some of them.
No situation is necessarily like another situation. Peter could have said that Gideon with just a handful of men defeated a large army, and so even though we have only two swords among us, by God's power we can defeat this army of enemies who come to take our Lord unjustly. It is a biblical truth that God can lead the minority to victory over the more powerful majority. It runs all through the Old Testament. This is the setting we have here in the arrest of Jesus. We need to get the picture to see the high side Peter was taking in coming to the defense of his Master. Peter was being as bold and courageous as he ever was in his life, but it was zeal without knowledge. The fact is, he was demonstrating his willingness to die for Jesus. All 4 Gospels reveal this scene, and Mark and Luke both used the word multitude. There was a vast crowd of people who came to arrest Jesus. John tells us of the band of soldiers and officers of the chief priests and Pharisees, but the other Gospels tell of a multitude of people with swords and staves. Matthew even calls it a great multitude.
Get the idea out of your head that the arrest of Jesus was by a hand full of Roman guards, and that it was like a police officer picking up a disturber of peace. This was a crusade, and the troops were lined up to march as to war. We are talking hundreds of people ready to engage in fierce battle to subdue and take Jesus into custody. The enemies of Jesus expected and all out conflict with heavy casualties, and so they came with an army. Peter had delusions of grandeur to think he could fight this army. It is a wonder he was not cut to ribbons. Jesus did a quick miracle to restore the one victim of Peter's violence. Otherwise Peter would have been killed on the spot.
The point here is that you cannot just transfer truth to any situation and try to apply it where it does not fit. Every piece of a puzzle fits somewhere, but it does not fit everywhere. You can't take a biblical truth or principle and just squeeze it in anywhere you like. It is true that one man with God is a majority, and that God can use one man, like Samson, to win a battle over a thousand Philistines. Does this mean a Christian can in every situation take on a thousand enemies and be assured of victory? Not at all. A Christian can take on foe, and if he uses violence out of God's will, he will be a loser even if he draws first blood as did Peter in this context. There is a time for war and a time for surrender, and this was a time for surrender for Jesus. If Peter would have stopped and talked with Jesus, he would have known that Jesus was ready to surrender and go the cross.
Peter saw the setting as a power struggle, but that struggle was already over and Jesus told Peter to put up his sword. He was ready to drink the cup the Father had given Him. This was a setting where fighting was not appropriate. When the disciples grasped this they all fled, and their lives were spared. Matthew records that Jesus said to Peter that he could have called for 12 legions of angels. One angel destroyed an army of 85 thousand in the Old Testament. 12 legions equals 72 thousand angels. Jesus is saying that if the issue here was power I have at my disposal enough power to wipe out the entire human race millions of times over. Jesus told Peter to put up his sword for violence only leads to more violence.
Violence only produces revenge and retaliation, and the end result is that everybody eventually loses. Peter was probably aiming for the whole head, but as a fisherman he was not skilled in swordsmanship. John tells us that the man's name was Malchus. He has the distinction of being the only person who suffered injury in this mini-war. He could have been the only man among the enemies of Christ who ever experienced a miracle. Jesus made sure His enemies did not suffer any loss. This was His last miracle before the cross. Malchus is the only New Testament victim of Christian violence. This is the only battle in history I am aware of where one side guaranteed that the enemy would lose no blood, while the other side would shed the most important blood in history.
It is no wonder that the disciples fled the scene, for they could not understand what Jesus was doing. We know the whole story and so we can understand, but for them it was pure mystery. Jesus calls Judas friend, and then He heals the injured enemy, and rebukes the only one to strike a blow in His defense. Whose side is Jesus on anyway? Would be the question in their minds. The only record of Jesus ever doing any miracle surgery whereby He attaches a body part back on is done here in the context of His arrest. This was an eraser miracle to undo one of Peter's mistakes. Peter had to be shocked at the action of Jesus. It is true that one less ear in an army does not lessen its strength measurably, but a few more whacks and he might have got in a direct hit, taking Malchus out of the battle. But Jesus commanded him to put up his sword. Jesus stopped the fight before it even got a start.
The Christian does not win in the war with evil by making the enemy suffer. He wins by suffering for the sake of the enemy. This is the new message of the cross. You don't make the enemy pay for their evil, but you pay the penalty for them and offer them peace. You won't find this in any military manual or strategy for warfare, but this is the principle for Christian warfare. The blood now shed is not to be that of the enemy, but it is to be your own for their good. The goal is not to win over them, but to win them over, and to make them a part of the Christian army. The cross way is the only way to win an enemy.
Jesus could have won the victory easily if defeating the enemy was His way. He could have won in second, and all of the enemy would have been dead or prisoners of war. It could have been the fastest won war ever fought, but that was not the way Jesus wanted to win. Someone said, "He who strikes the first blow admits he has run out of ideas." Peter was quick to run out of ideas and strike the first blow. Peter felt violence was justified because it was self-defense. They were minding their own business. It was a normal response of self-defense. Any of us would defend ourselves if attacked, and so Peter is just told to put up his sword and not take that approach. Self-defense can be legitimate, but there are times when even that only adds to the misery of friend and foe alike.
Satan almost used Peter again to wipe out all the labor of the Son of God and sink His church in one battle. Starting a war, even for the right reasons, can be foolish, for nobody wins most wars. Wallace Viets says that asking who won a war is much like asking who won the San Francisco earthquake? You survive a war, but you seldom win a war, for as Jesus said, those who take the sword will perish by the sword. War is never the best answer. It may be an answer forced on you that you cannot prevent, but it is never the best. Jesus has a better way.
Bernard Clausen, the great Baptist preacher back in the 50's and 60's, served in World War II on an American sub chaser. One of the German subs, which they encountered was led by Captain Martin Niemoller. One of the best things to come out of their battles was the same thing that came out of the encounter of Jesus with His enemies in Gethsemane, for nobody was injured or lost. Clausen went on to become an American pastor and Niemoller went on to become a German pastor, who became famous for his opposition to Hitler. These two men could have killed each other, but by God's grace they did not, and they became a part of God's team to fight evil the world over. Malchus and Peter could have gone at it and killed each other had Jesus not prevented it. Such a loss Jesus was not going to let happen, but Christians like Peter have gone their own way and have suffered such loss.
Marcus Aurelius said, "The best way to avenge yourself is not to become like the wrong doer." The enemies of Jesus took the sword. There were likely hundreds of swords in the multitude coming to take Him. If Peter's way was to be permitted, there would be loss of life on both sides, and all would lose, for nothing of value would have been accomplished by a battle. Jesus prevented a battle of swords and illustrated His own teaching by loving His enemy and healing one of them. Augustine said, "In no way can thine enemy so hurt thee by his violence as thou dost hurt thyself if thou love him not." Peter hurt himself more than Malchus, for Malchus was restored and lost nothing, but Peter lost his chance to be Christ like in loving his enemy.
If you want to know why Christians do not always do what is wise and beneficial, but often do what is folly, look to the life of Peter. We learn from him, the number one Apostle, that Christians often just do not listen to their Lord. They have their own agenda, and their own value system, and they operate on that rather than submit to the Lordship of Christ. This minor incident in the garden is much ado about nothing. It had no impact on the arrest of Jesus or His crucifixion. It led to a quick miracle, but nobody seemed to be impressed. It is seldom seen in books dealing with miracles. It accomplished nothing, and yet it is recorded in all four Gospels, and this is very rare for such a minor incident with no obvious value or purpose.
Peter made enough other blunders, and so we really didn't need this one to convince us that he was the king of mistaken judgments. I am convinced that the Bible has a number of trivial details in it because God wants us to pay attention to details and realize that there are valuable lessons for life in things we tend to dismiss as irrelevant. For example, this little incident reveals something we seldom think of. A Christian can be sincerely wrong in his defense of the faith, and do more harm than good. This text becomes the basis for self-criticism. Can we so approach the non-Christian in a way that we do injury to them? Can a Christian be a part of the problem, and actually drive the non-Christian away from the faith? Why are there so many people in the world who claim to be injured by Christians? Malchus was restored, but even so he probably resented the fact that he almost died at the hands of Peter. The miracle only got him back where he was before, and apparently did nothing to turn him toward the faith. Those who wish for more miracles in the world to change the world live in fantasy, for there is no evidence that miracles move men to faith.
We cannot say that any good came out of this miracle except that it teaches us how wrong we can be as Christians when we are not sensitive to the purpose of our Lord. Zeal without knowledge is a major problem in the history of Christianity. When Christians choose to use force to fight evil they often become a part of the evil rather than the answer to it. It is not likely that Malchus is the only victim of Christian zeal. He is the only one in the Bible, however, and we can assume that he is there as an example of how risky it can be to fight for the Lord when his goal is peaceful surrender.
I believe that self-defense is right, and that the just war is right, but the fact is, most victims of war are like Malchus. They are people who have no choice. They are in the midst of violence because of the choices of their leaders. Most victims of war are innocent of the cause of the war. The people who actually cause wars often escape the hell of them, while people who don't even know why there is a war get killed and maimed. Therefore, it is rare for violence to be justified unless you know it can be done in such a way as to punish the guilty and not the innocent. Violence toward innocent people is an injustice that is greater than submitting to injustice.
Peter reveals the folly of risk that is not in obedience to Jesus. Peter was bold and was ready to risk his life for Jesus, but Jesus is not impressed, for Peter is ready to throw away all that Jesus had spent His life preparing for. Sacrifice can be stupid when it does not accomplish a purpose worthy of sacrifice. A Christian can make sacrifices that are more harmful than good because they only hinder the cause of Christ and give Satan the advantage. In the light of this John Calvin said, "..in the person of Peter, Christ condemns everything that men dare to attempt out of their own fancy....for nothing is more common than to defend, under the cloak of zeal, everything that we do, as if it were of no importance whether God approved, or not, what men suppose to be right." Calvin says that Christians are often so eager, like Peter, to do something great for God, and they end up doing more harm than good, as did Peter.
We would rather be wrong, however, than follow the way of the cross, for this goes against our grain. To surrender to an enemy and let them win over us is totally contrary to our human pride. But the fact is, that may be the only way you will win that enemy and make them a friend. We are often so busy trying to prove we are superior to the world that we seldom impress the world that we love them. The message of Peter and Malchus is to make us look at our pride and recognize we can be as bad as the bad guy, and be as out of God's will as he is. Peter had good intentions, but his goal was as bad as his aim. His focus was on self and not on the enemy, or the ultimate goal of Christ. You do not win as a Christian by hurting an enemy. You only win by making that enemy a friend, and this means you don't sacrifice the enemy, but, like Jesus, you sacrifice self for the sake of the enemy. This is the message of the cross.
It is a Christian obligation not to hurt non-Christians. Jesus did not say to Peter that it is only a servant you hurt and so it is no big deal. He stopped him and healed that servant. He was going through the most momentous moments in history, and yet Jesus stopped to do His final miracle on a mere servant caught in the crossfire between Christians and Jews. Jesus never met an insignificant person. There was no one so insignificant that they are unworthy of His compassion and miracle power. In the midst of His greatest suffering Jesus never misses the chance to minister to the needs of others. It is not just the leading characters, but even the most miner players on the stage that He cares for. He heals Malchus, and soon the dying the thief by His side will receive from Him the gift of eternal life. We tend to ignore the little guy and those who are of no importance to us, but Jesus loved them and was going to the cross to die for all people.
Peter cut off the ear of Malchus, but it was his own ears that were closed to the message of Jesus about compassion. Peter did finally get his ears back and later he wrote of the very lesson he had been deaf to. In I Peter 2:19-21 he wrote, "For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is the commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps."
Peter finally learned to stop doing for Jesus what Jesus does not need done. If Jesus needs to judge His enemies and wipe them out in wrath, He can do that at any time. What He needs is followers that will so love the enemy that they will suffer in order to win them. Peter went on to suffer for sinners and never again attack them as enemies of Christ. He took up the cross and suffered for them that they might see God's love and come to Christ as Savior. The way of the cross is not easy, but if you ever expect to win a non-Christian to Christ you are going to have to stop rejecting and attacking them. You need to suffer for them to win in Christian warfare.
You need to ask yourself if you are more concerned about fighting evil, or of saving evil people? Most of us are more concerned about fighting evil, but Jesus wants us to go the way of the cross. He wants us to be willing to pay a price to see that people are saved, and not only be concerned that people pay a price for their own evil. The way of the sword says, "I am going to make people pay." The way of the cross says, "I am going to pay for people." May God help us to choose the way of the cross and be successful in Christian warfare.