“The servant’s name was Malchus” (John 18:10).
It was he whose ear Peter, in a spirit of wild and reckless enthusiasm that ill became the moment, had cut off. Peter, always energetic, had recourse to the sword in order to defend his Master from His foes. But the sword—the weapon of vengeance—was out of place in such a defence, The Lord was about to surrender Himself into the hands of sinful men for the fulfilment of His mission below; and self-defence was therefore no part of His gracious plan. He abandoned it in order to accomplish the Scriptures. He had already, whilst the disciples slept, passed in spirit through the dread ordeal, and was now prepared for all that was to happen; He had taken the cup from His Father’s hand, and willingly drank thereof.
But such an act of surrender was scouted by the rash and impulsive disciple. His sleep had ill-prepared him for such a trial. He awoke unconscious of the nature of the temptation and of his own moral inability to face it. He was shorn, like Samson, of his locks, yet he flew to the sword; he appealed, in his weakest moment, to the verdict of the weapon of natural strife. His intention was, no doubt, good, but his conduct was sadly at fault.
He strikes, and cuts off the ear of Malchus. Now, who was Malchus? He was the servant of the high priest. Is this fact not remarkable? Was not the sound of his master’s feet behind him? It was, though at some distance. The high priest could hardly, with the propriety becoming his dignified office, sally forth at night in the company of the bloodthirsty crowd that made its way, with torches and weapons, to dark Gethsemane. No, he remained behind in his palace, but he sent Malchus to fill his place; and he it was that suffered under the stroke of Peter’s sword. Had the high priest gone in person the blow received by his servant would have fallen on him. But, as it was, the servant of the high priest and the disciple of Jesus met in conflict, and the former was wounded.
Thus Peter “does exploits,” but they are out of keeping with the times. David had his “mighty men,” the records of whose prowess are placed on the page of history. They fought and won by the use of carnal means; but they acted in keeping with their times.
Jesus came not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. His disciple acted otherwise.
Alas, how slow we are to learn grace, or to apprehend the unworldly, the heavenly nature of Christianity! How slow to learn the differences that God has made in the dispensation of His ways! The law and the sword agreed well; but grace and the sword are absolutely incongruous. Nature understands the former, and readily acts upon it; but the Christian should seek to know the latter, and act thereon too. The disciple acted in law, and used the sword; the blessed Master acted in grace, and healed the ear of Malchus. How bright the contrast!
And for the rest of his days did the servant of the high priest carry the healing touch of the Lord. How fully he might have described the difference between the hasty, rough disciple and the calm and gentle Master. Was his heart affected? Did he return to his master and declare the tender grace of Jesus to him? We are not informed. It is not Malchus, either wounded or healed, grateful or otherwise, who fills the eye at this crisis. It is the infinite grace of the blessed Lord, whose forgiving and healing hand lays itself gently on the servant of His chief enemy! Such touches of His grace captivate the heart, as they speak so unmistakeably of what He was. Yes, the Scriptures present to us Jesus in His own perfection, not as compared, but as contrasted with men, and the best of men. Men come before us, indeed, in many different characters, but, in the best estate, shown to be only “lighter than vanity”; whereas Jesus—Son of man, Son of God—holds His own peculiar place, “full of grace and truth,” just in order that we might discover what that God is against whom we have sinned, and who is, therefore, unknown to us. For Jesus was of a truth God “manifest in the flesh”—a most wonderful fact, and worthy of deep and reverent contemplation.
Think of it, dear reader: God in flesh, God assuming that condition (all sinless and perfect), in order that we, who are in it, fallen and guilty, and blinded by sin to all that God is, might get to know Him.
Creation, with its innumerable wonders and beauties, could not make Him known. it may tell of His power and skill.
Jesus made Him known. “The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” He was God manifest in the flesh.
And if in the flesh, a perfect Man, tempted in all points as we are, sin apart, and in perfect grace, as well as in perfect truth, so that the healed ear of Malchus, healed at such a moment, is but in lovely keeping with all His ways, from the manger downwards.
What winsome grace!
But Peter’s hasty conduct bore fruit to his sorrow. That fruit did not end with the sword-stroke. Following his Master, now captive, into the palace of the high priest, he takes his place beside the other servants, in which evil company his identity is soon established. He is charged with being a disciple of Jesus but, alas! stoutly denies the charge.
Yet one of the company said, ‘Did not I see thee in the garden with Him?” What a home-thrust, and how deeply it must have cut! And by whom was it made? Strange to say, by “his kinsman whose ear Peter cut off” (v. 26). His kinsman had seen the blow given, and now recognised the man who gave it. Here we have an eye-witness to Peter’s mistaken zeal and murderous conduct.
Malchus and his kinsman had apparently led the band that followed the traitor, Judas Iscariot, only too eager to carry out the wishes of their high-priestly master; and being thus in the van, they were the more readily exposed to any opposition that might arise.
Malchus suffered from, and his kinsman bore witness to, the fool-hardiness of Peter. And Peter, at fault in the garden, is still more at fault in the palace. There he strikes a foe; here he denies his Lord.
But did the kinsman, while quickly incriminating Peter, as quickly relate the healing touch of Jesus? Did he tell how speedily and thoroughly and gently the fault of the disciple was more than rectified by the very Master whom Peter now so heartlessly denied? We are not informed.
Little injuries are remembered when large acts of kindness are forgotten, for such, alas! is human nature, tainted as it is by sin; and hence this exquisite proof of the forgiving grace of the blessed Lord may have passed out of mind as a thing of no account.
Thank God that it is written on the page of inspiration, “He touched his ear, and healed him” (Luke 22:51). And so Malchus may have presented himself for years before his master, bearing the visible mark of the healing touch of Jesus—an imperishable witness to His love and pity—who, “when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judges righteously.” Such exhibitions of His grace win the heart, and endear Him to it.