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An Unexpected Witness

God always gives us a witness of himself

Have you ever paid any attention to the arithmetic of the Scripture? I through the years have become intrigued with the things that the Word of God emphasizes that you and I wouldn't emphasize. If I'd been writing the book of Chronicles you can count on it, I wouldn't have started with all those chapters and multiple pages of genealogies in which we find out who begat whom in such multiple succession that it's very difficult for a fellow to keep up his courage when he wants to read the Bible from beginning to end. But there it is. And I wonder sometimes if it isn't God's way of saying They're human beings; they've people and I'm interested in them. You may not know anything about them and you may not be interested in them, but I'm interested in them. And they may have lived a whale of a long time ago and they may be unimportant to everybody else, but there's nobody that's unimportant to me, and those genealogies have their own purpose.

One of the things that I became interested in earlier in my own study of Scripture was the book of Genesis and the fact that there are two full chapters given to the story of the creation. In fact if I remember, I think there are all of 56 verses given to the story of creation. But did you ever notice that there are 13 chapters given to the story of Joseph? And Joseph was not even a patriarch. Could it be that one man is more important than the creation of the whole universe? It may well be that one holy, one pure Man is more important than the creation of the whole universe, and it may take a little more out of God to create one holy Man than it does to create the whole universe. You're aware that it cost him his Son to do it, and it cost only the speaking of his Word to speak all of the universe into existence. But there it is, and I think it is a testimony to the interest of God when he gives us these things.

I'd been reading through the Gospel of John and I came to this story of the arrest of Jesus. If I had been writing the life of Jesus I could have taken care of this in about three sentences. I could have simply said Judas went to the temple and talked to the people there, told them where to find him, and they sent out a group of soldiers and police, and they found him a garden. They arrested him and they took him for trial. But if you look at the four Gospels, you will find that there are accounts of this event in all four of the Gospels. Now you're aware that there are many great stories in the life of Jesus that are not recorded by all four of the evangelists. The woman at the well, which is one of my favorite stories, is not found in Matthew, Mark or Luke. The story of the lost son is not found in the Gospel of John. You can keep on going. There are many of the greatest of the stories and many of the greatest of the teachings of Christ that are found in only one or two or three of the Gospels and not in them all. But the story of the arrest of Jesus is recorded in all four, and it is recorded in amazing detail. There are ten verses in the Matthean account. There are ten in the account in Mark. There are eight in the account in Luke. And there are twelve in the account in John. So there are 40 verses devoted to the arrest of Jesus in the Gospels. And as I said, there are only 56 in the recording in the two chapters of the creation of the universe.

Now I began to say Could it be that this story is given in such detail because God has something to say to us? Look for just a moment at some of the details.

We know where he was arrested. We know that he was arrested across the Kidron Valley, and he was in a garden when they found him.

We know when it was during the day. It was at night. And the evidence is that it was on a Thursday night.

We know who was with him. Eleven of his disciples were with him. Judas was the only one that was absent until he came to lead the party.

We know who came with Jesus. There was a band of soldiers, Roman soldiers. There was also a body of temple police, which came from the Jewish temple representing and coming from with officers from the chief priest of that day.

We know how they came. They came with lights and they came with torches. They came with weapons. They came with swords, and they came with clubs.

We know how Jesus was identified. We know that Judas planted a kiss on his cheek.

We know much of the conversation that took place in this obviously very brief event in the life of Jesus.

We know the response of the soldiers. We know that when Jesus turned and said, "Whom do you seek?" and they said, "We seek Jesus of Nazareth," he said, "I am he." We know that they stepped back and fell to the ground.

We know Jesus' concern in that hour, because we know that he turned and said, "If you seek Jesus of Nazareth, let these go."

We know John's reaction to that because John said that "this occurred in order that Jesus might keep his word that he had promised that he would lose none of those whom the Father had given to him."

We know what Peter did. We know that it was Peter who pulled his sword and struck a man in that milieu.

In fact, we know who it was he struck. We know that he was a servant of the chief priest. And the incredible thing is that we know his name. His name was Malchus. Have you ever thought about how many people there are in the Bible whose names we don't know? You can't tell me who the good Samaritan was. You can't tell me the names of the two thieves on the cross. You can go through the Scriptures. There are multitudes of important people about whom we know very little, but yet we know this fellows name and we know who it was who pulled his sword and struck him.

And unbelievable as it is, we know where he hit him. We know that he hit him on right ear. And we know not only that it was an ear. We know that it was the right ear that Malchus had missing by Peter's sword when he swung.

You can keep on going. It is astounding to me the amount of data that we know about that little event where Jesus was arrested in the garden that night. As I began to look at it, there are some things that began to come out of that passage to me, and just let me share them with you.

Jesus' arrest shows his sovereign majesty under difficult circumstances.

One of them is a very beautiful thing to me. Here is a place where you see very clearly and very beautifully the sovereign majesty of Jesus under what for other people were incredibly difficult circumstances. Now we know that these circumstances were difficult for the people who came to arrest him. You would think that the police on this occasion would be the calmest ones in the bunch coming to arrest a street preacher who had never lifted a finger to harm anybody in the world but was the very essence of love and gentleness and meekness. But do you know how they came? We are told that they brought lamps and torches and swords and spears. They brought clubs. And why did they bring all this? They were uneasy. I don't know and I'm not scholared enough and there are others in this crowd who I'm sure know more about this than I do, but I think it's William Barkley who said that the Greek word which is translated here can mean a cohort or a thousand troops, 246 of which would be cavalry. Can you featured bringing a bunch of cavalry and several hundred soldiers out to arrest one poor preacher and his friends? Now if it isn't that, Barkley said it could have been 600 men, and at the least a maniple of about 200 men. I don't know enough to debate that. But all the evidence is that there was quite a crowd that came out that night in a very small place and under very limited conditions in the darkness where there was no one around to create any problem, where most everybody else was asleep. A great crowd that came with their torches and their spears and their clubs, they were very uneasy.

And when they came, you'll remember, Judas kissed him and Jesus stood and said, "Whom do you seek?" Calm Master. And they said, "We're looking for Jesus of Nazareth. He said, good, "I am he." And he stepped forward to say it. The text says, and you can do with it what you please but I take it the way it's written. The text says that "They stepped back and fell to the ground." And I take the word fell exactly the way it's written. My own conviction is that suddenly they became aware of something of the numinous character of the person who stood before them and the absolutely wrong of their ever laying a hand upon him. And they staggered back and fell to the ground as if suddenly a bit of a break came in that curtain between this and that other world of which we've talked. And he looked at them again and said, "Whom is it you seek?" And they said, "We seek Jesus of Nazareth." And he said, "I am he."

Now the text says that they took him and bound him and arrested him and carried him away. I don't believe that for a minute. I believe that what happenedthe text is right, of course, but he climbed up in their lap and said I am he, boys. Take me back to the people who sent you. You don't think that really they could have held him if he had not wanted to be held, do you? Do you think for one moment that if they chains that they put on legion were not strong enough to keep him demented and possessed by demonic spirits, do you think that the chains that they put on the Christ would have held him if he had wanted to be free? Do you think that if the thongs that they bound Samson with were not adequate to hold a man under the anointing of the Spirit, that this One who had the Spirit without measure could have been held by these chains? The One who broke the bonds of death and of hell and the grave? No. He's the One who climbed into their lap and said Take me and let himself be taken.

You know that in the midst of this Peter became very excited. He could not believe that his Master could have this happen to him. And something had to be done. And so he did immediately pulled his sword and started swinging. You know there's a miracle in this story that everybody knows about. That's the miracle of the restoration of Malchus' ear. But you know the bigger miracle in this is not the restoration of Malchus' ear. The bigger miracle to me is that Peter came out alive, because here are these men with their swords and their spears, they're staves, all uneasy, anxious, nervous. And suddenly one of Jesus' friends begins swinging a sword. The miracle is that he didn't have a half a dozen spears through him in about thirty seconds. But into that confusion Jesus stepped and moved to save his impetuous apostle. And he says, "Let these men go." And while he has their attention, these his disciples, slip away.

You know there are days of just that kind of confusion and uncertainty and anxiety and apprehension in your life. I just want to say there was never a moment in the life of the Lord Jesus that he was ever under the circumstances that they were. He was the Master of the circumstances. And only once do we find him pressed, and that was in Gethsemane when he was facing atonement with all that it involved for you and for me. A beautiful example to me of the mastery of Jesus of the difficult moment. I don't know about you, but I believe he's sovereign Lord, and I don't believe you will ever get under any circumstances that he will not be perfectly able if you will give him the chance to extract you from those moments of difficulty. He's the sovereign Master and Lord.

Jesus' arrest shows his compassionate concern for bumbling disciples.

Now a second thing that you see in the passage is his compassionate concern for bumbling disciples. You will notice he turns to these that have come to arrest him and he says, "Whom do you seek?" And they said, "We seek Jesus," and he said, "I am he. You let these go." John never could get over that, so that years later when he was writing his Gospel he said, "This was the fulfillment of a promise that he made back in the sixth chapter that he would not let any of those that the Father had given to him really be lost here, and he'd bring them through." And he movedin the midst of the moment when his life was hanging in the balance, he moved to protect the wellbeing and the lives of these that were his disciples.

Jesus' arrest shows human foolishness when we don't understand God's ways.

But now there's a third thing that's in the passage that is intriguing to me. And that is the foolishness of the flesh when it doesn't understand the ways of God. You will remember this morning we were talking about where John in the Gospel of John, or Jesus in the Gospel of John tells us it is the Spirit that gives life and the flesh profits nothing? My heart goes out to Peter. Peter had staked his life on Jesus and given everything that he knew to give at this point, and yet in that moment he saw his Lord threatened and ready to be carried away, and he said it can't happen, something has to be done. And so good old Peter moved in to save his Master and pulled his sword and started swinging. I really don't think he improved the situation. Do you? I don't think Jesus was in any stronger position when Peter was swinging that sword than if Peter had simply tucked his tail and run away. You're not going to defend Jesus or protect him. He's the one who is Savior and Lord. But Peter said somebody's got to do something; somebody's got to act now, and he did. And how foolish and how absurd can you look?

Did you notice what it was that Peter struck when he struck a man? I'm fascinated that the text tells us that he struck his ear, so he wasn't a very good marksmanship. And he not only struck his ear, but he struck his right ear. Now have you ever stood and fought with a person or have you ever stood and tried to work with your right hand against the other person? Do you know what the right ear is like? It's on the wrong side if you're swinging. Now it may well be that in the darkness or in the confusion he got him from behind. But, you see, when he swings with a sword on this side, that guy's right ear is on the other side. And I think it's an illustration of the exaggeration of the absurdity of what was taking place that night.

And do you know? I don't know about you, but I've seen days when I think my service for Christ looks a bit like that. And I've seen a few other bits of service for Christ that I felt was about that absurd, too. You know I'm convinced that a substantial chunk of what goes on to hinder the cause of Christ is done with about that same motivation. Have you ever been in a church that was troubled by gossip? Do you know what motivates a substantial chunk of the gossip in the average church? Somebody has to save the cause of Christ from what's taking place. Did you ever notice it? You say that really shouldn't be taking place here, and you move in to save the cause. You keep thinking. It is amazing how much trouble is caused by people who want to save Jesus from the trouble he's in. And I want to tell you. He doesn't need you to save him. But what he does need is a servant that has come to the place where his heart has been cleansed enough and his spirit has been illuminated enough that he knows God's way of doing God's work, and he's not striking out absurdly and ridiculously in fleshly ways.

You contrast for a moment the Peter that you see here with the Peter that you find in the book of Acts, and you will find a remarkably different figure, an incredibly more effect; and it is because there is now a change in Peter that has come through the operation of God's Holy Spirit within him, cleansing him and empowering him and giving him understanding. And so as I looked at that I thought, yes, I believe there is something in that passage for those of us who claim to be the servants of Christ.

Jesus' arrest shows how God even cares about the wicked.

But there's a fourth thing that I want to say. And that is an inexorable, inevitable witness, an inescapable witness. Did you notice who it was whose ear was clipped by Peter's sword? His name was Malchus, and he was the servant of the chief priest. And Jesus reached down, took the ear and restored it. And do you know where Malchus went? Malchus went back to see Caiaphas and Annas and report on the success of their venture. Have you ever thought of the irony of that? Can't you see old Caiaphas anxiously awaiting for these fellows to come back and tell him whether they got the Christ or not?

And finally they do come in. And with great anxiousness he turns to them and says, "How did it go?" And somebody says, "It went very well. We got him." And he says, "Well, did you have any trouble getting him?" They said, "Not really, just a little." "Well, how much trouble did you have getting him?" And everybody turns and looks at Malchus. And they said, "Well, Malchus had a little problem." And Caiaphas said, "Malchus, what's the problem?" And Malchus looks up and says, "Sir, it was my ear." And Caiaphas says, "What about your ear?" And Malchus says, "One of his servants pulled his sword and cut my ear off." Caiaphas says, "That can't be. It's on now." And Malchus says, "Yeah, that's the problem about it." And Caiaphas says, "What do you mean?" And he says, "Well, the fellow that we got that you sent us to get, he reached down and took my ear up out of the dust and put it back and restored it and there it is. It's perfectly well." And I don't know whether Malchus said the thing that was in his mind, but you can't tell me he wasn't saying between the lines Sir, do you really think we arrested the right man?

But you the thing that intrigues me the most? Caiaphas pushed on that night and crucified Jesus the next day. Now I don't know whether all the servants showed up on the Sabbath or not, but I know they showed up on Sunday morning and they showed up on Monday morning and they showed up on Tuesday morning and they showed up on Wednesday morning and all week after the crucifixion. Every day that Caiaphas lived he had to look down and there in front of him stood his servant Malchus with that right ear as big as Mt. Everest. You know, I never thought about that. You know I think I know why the Gospels tell us who he was and what his name was and what Peter did to him. I think God is telling us how much he cares about even wicked, malicious, vicious men like Caiaphas. Could it be that that was God's last message to old Caiaphas, so that that night Caiaphas has to say "Shall I go ahead or shall I not?" but in the hardness of his heart he moved right on over the message of the Savior standing in his presence, the inevitable inexorable witness to the concern and the compassion of Jesus, and he rejected his claim and his witness and he crucified him.

You know as I've lived I've become convinced that in ever person's life somewhere there's a Malchus' ear. I used to think there were a lot of people in the world who didn't have, you know, a really adequate witness. I'm not sure of that any more. Nobody expected a sermon from Jesus in the house of the chief priest after that arrest, but it was there every day. And there was no way Caiaphas could make it go away. And do you know I believe tonight if you're lost and without Christ somewhere in your life there's something as obvious and as inescapable that when you stand in the judgment of God will be there to condemn you, because God has sent his message and you have failed to heed it and have marched roughshod over it. You know I am astounded and awed at the universality of the witness of God.

You know it may be that Gideon's Bible in a motel room. A fellow contemplating suicide, the last thing he wants is a reminder and there lying on the table next to his bed or on the dresser in his room is a Bible that reminds him of everything that's Christian before he goes.

I sat and talked with a young university student and I said, "What are you majoring in, doing your graduate work in?" English literature. I said, "What are you working on now?" "Well, Dante, His Inferno, his Purgatory and his Paradise. Milton, his Paradise Lost, his Paradise Regained."

It is very difficult to escape the witness of God. I did graduate work in a Jewish university. I was sitting buried in an ancient Acadian text one day about as far away from anything contemporary as you could be when suddenly I heard something that in my consciousness that was far away and seemed so contradictory to everything I was involved in that I couldn't quite believe it, and so it took me several moments to slowly come to. And I was hearing "King of kings and Lord of lords, and he shall reign forever and ever." And as I slowly came to, I got up from my seat and walked over to a great panel of glass and looked down at a room before me. It was filled with young Jews and Jewesses. It was the room where they went to smoke and where they went to socialize and where they went to listen to music and where they went to eat their snacks and drink their Cokes and their coffee. And I looked and the whole room was moving keeping time with Handel's Messiah, Jews and Jewesses.

And I remember one day when on NBC TV I saw Leonard Bernstein conducting Handel's Messiah. I'll never forget the way the camera zoomed in on him when it came to that high point. He was lost in the ecstasy of that incredible music, perspiring profusely, his head moving vigorously and his hair flying, obviously lost in the greatness of that moment. King of king and Lord of lords, and he shall reign forever and ever.

And you know I thought Could it really be that in the judgment if Leonard Bernstein never comes to know Christ God will simply turn in that moment and say to Gabriel, "Gabriel, go over to the NBC film library and pull that clip out"? And then on a great heavenly screen there will be the picture of Leonard Bernstein lost in the greatness and the grandeur of the greatest piece of music ever written, a tribute to the M of Jesus. I can hear God saying, "Leonard, why didn't you catch on?"

I'm sure that all he'll have to say to Caiaphas is "Look at Malchus. Caiaphas, why didn't you catch on?" And I'm sure that in your life and mine if we are not right with him all he'll have to do is pull from somewhere. I can't tell you what it is in your life. But there's been enough in my life that if I do not believe all he will have to say is "There, Dennis, you know and you saw."

Jesus' arrest shows his silence when man makes the ultimate wrong choice.

But there's a last thing, and that's the sad silence of the Savior, when a man has made his ultimate choice. I think the most poignant thing in the life of Jesus, from this point of view, takes place in this story. One of his own, whom he loved, one of his own whom he had taught, cared for, comes and plants the kiss on his cheek, speaks and says, "Rabbi." One of the texts, one of the translations of the Matthean account says that Jesus turned to him and simply said, "Judas, do what you have to do." I don't know about you, but there's something inside me that wants to take Jesus and shake him and say Is that all you can say? You're not going to let him go through with this without saying more, are you? Aren't you going to make one last effort to stop him and one last effort to save him? And I can hear Jesus saying no. It's like the rich ruler. When he arose and turned and walked away, Mark says, and Jesus beholding him loved him but he didn't lift a finger to go after him. Do you know there is a point when God stops working in a man's life? And Jesus did not lift a finger or speak a word to deflect him. Judas had made up his mind.

That gives the lie to the notion that all men ultimately will be saved, because they won't. The Word is explicitly clear. But you just balance again the silence of Jesus to Judas, the presence of Malchus in Caiaphas' court to know the heart of God. He will go as far as it is possible to reach you; but when he's gone as far as is necessary, then his work stops. How careful we ought to be both in our own lives and in the lives of those that are about us to see that we do not find ourselves in a spot like Judas but we find ourselves with hearts that say O God, I see the witness that you've given to me. I don't need any more. I've seen enough. Lord, I believe.

Dennis F. Kinlaw is president of the Francis Asbury Society in Wilmore, Kentucky. His most recent book is Let's Start with Jesus (Evangel, 2003).

(c) Dennis Kinlaw

Preaching Today Tape #19


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Sermon Outline:


I. Jesus' arrest shows his sovereign majesty under difficult circumstances

II. Jesus' arrest shows his compassionate concern for bumbling disciples

III. Jesus' arrest shows human foolishness when we don't understand God's ways

IV. Jesus' arrest shows how God even cares about the wicked

V. Jesus' arrest shows his silence when man makes the ultimate wrong choice