Date: February 11, 1940
He touched his ear and healed him. – Luke 22:51
We come before Thee, our souls wounded by sin, to secure Thy healing benediction and Thy cleansing power. O Jesus, where can we find the cure for the selfishness and the sorrow that burden our lives, if not in Thee, our loving Savior, through a trusting approach to Thy cross? Let all else in life recede; but may the picture of the crucifixion which then Lenten weeks draw before our inner eye be irremovably etched on our heart, so that we may always look to Thee for help! Send Thy healing mercy to our bruised spirits and broken lives! Show them, as Thou hast shown us, what an allgracious Redeemer, ever faithful Friend of sinner, Thou art to them that love Thee, our Christ and our God! Amen.
FOR millions in the United States eventually it must be either Christ and His redemption or chaos and its despair. More than a thousand people write us every day; and if you want to survey the reaches of sorrow, examine the towering files of our mail. Here are snatches from last week’s letters, sent by heart-broken, peace-robbed listeners. A theological student in Georgia, a young man who is to give others spiritual comfort, writes: “I have lost all hope and have been at the point of taking my own life.” An eighty-one-year-old mother in Virginia confides: “I am writing to tell you how fearful I am that I may drop into hell because of my wickedness. I can see no hope of salvation. God does not answer me.” A distracted wife in New Jersey fairly screams: “It is awful to live without hope. I have been tempted very often to take my own life.”
What can we tell these stricken souls? What assurance can we give those battered and broken by a thousand crushing sorrows? What comfort, indeed, if not the hope offered in this Lenten appeal:
TO CHRIST FOR HEALING LOVE!
May God’s Spirit richly bless this plea, based on Saint Luke’s inspired record (22:51), “He [Jesus] touched his ear and healed him”!
MALCHUS EXPERIENCED THAT HEALING LOVE
These words take us to the Garden of Gethsemane. Only a few days before this solemn Thursday, Jesus was welcomed to Jerusalem with enthusiastic acclaim; now a mob, armed with swords and staves, has come to kill Him! Only a few hours earlier the Savior held His final meeting with the disciples in the upper room and at that last supper instituted Holy Communion, with the blessed gift of His own body and blood. Now the time has arrived when that body, scourged and wounded, will be given into death for our sins and that blood will flow from His beaten back, His nail-pierced hands and feet. Only a few moments before, in the deepest loneliness history knows, Jesus threw Himself to the ground, pleading in never-to-be-measured anguish that, if it were His Father’s will, the cup of suffering might be lifted from His lips; so terrifying was the ordeal confronting Him, the Son of God, about to bear the world’s sins in His own sinless body. Now the silence in the garden of prayer is suddenly broken. From all sides, it seems, an armed mob thirsting for blood swarms into Gethsemane.
In this crisis it is a different Christ whom we behold in the revealing light of the full moon; no longer weak from that agonized wrestling; no longer terrorized into a bloodlike sweat. With the courage imparted by the strengthening angel He steps before that mob of murderers to ask, “Whom seek ye?” When they answer, “Jesus of Nazareth,” the Savior unhesitatingly identifies Himself with the words, “I am He.” That declaration and the glance with which He pierced their hearts were so powerful that the whole throng was instantly hurled to the ground. The love of Christ was even stronger than His omnipotence. Though He could have avoided His arrest and the sequel of torture, uncomplaining Lamb of God that He is, He wanted to suffer for us!
He released the men who in a moment would take Him captive. After they had risen to their feet, their ranks seemed to part, and a sinister figure advanced toward Jesus. We recognize the form and features of that man whom all generations will despise because of His loathsome treachery—Judas, the disciple entrusted with the meager funds of the Twelve—Judas, the informer, the moneyblinded wretch who, though repeatedly warned by Christ, sold His Savior and his own soul for thirty pieces of suicidal silver. His smirking kiss, it seems, fully aroused the disciples to their Lord’s danger, and the hand of one of them nervously gripped the hilt of a sword hidden beneath his garment. Neither Matthew nor Mark nor Luke mentions the sword-bearing disciple’s name; only John identifies him as Peter. What impressive example of Christian charity and forbearance in the silence of the first three evangelists! When their gospels were written, Peter was still alive, and with loving consideration they avoided mentioning his name, to spare him and the early Christian congregation much sorrow. But John wrote toward the close of the first century, long after Peter had died, and, both for our warning and comfort, he could well record the name of this impetuous disciple.
How sorely we need that spirit of Christian charity today in helping to protect the good name of friend and foe! Newspapers employ, and the public applauds, peephole columnists, who delight in publicizing private sins. We ourselves easily put the worst construction on the actions of others. Even nations can be goaded into warfare by propaganda later proved malicious falsehood. How the ministry suffers not only from front-page space devoted to its mistakes and from the motion-picture caricatures of the Protestant clergy as snooping hypocrites, but also through the unjustified attacks of scandal-mongers and tonguewaggers in some churches! We ask this audience to reject all unfounded attacks on the ministry. Instead, let us defend the clergy and by prayer and friendly help support these spiritual leaders, who, the most easily maligned of all men, have the hardest task the ministry ever faced in the United States.
In the heat of the excitement Peter, turning to Christ, asks, “Lord, shall we smite with the sword?” Without waiting for an answer, he unsheathes his saber and with that single weapon tries to start a holy war. An ill-aimed blow strikes his nearest enemy—it happens to be the servant of the high priest—and cuts off his ear.
That was the beginning of bloodshed in the mistaken defense of Jesus Christ, but it was not the end. Recall the ill-fated attempt to tear Palestine from the Turks, as though some special holiness attached to the country that rejected Jesus! Think of the persecutions of the Waldensians and the Albigensians, recorded in blood-dripping chapters! Someone has estimated that 50,000,000 Protestants were massacred in persecutions and religious wars. This figure may be too high, but if the exact number were known, the total still would be appalling. We have had the swordbearing, inquisitorial type of Christianity on this continent, too. In this age of many monuments we should recognize the first religious martyrs within the boundaries of what is now the United States and place a towering shaft at the mouth of Saint John’s River in Florida. Sixty years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock a French Protestant colony was established there. But King Philip of Spain sent merciless Menendez to Florida to kill all the “Lutherans,” as the French Protestants were known. Here and in nearby places during ensuing massacres at least five hundred men, women, and children, including the aged, the sick, the helpless, were cut down in cold blood, as the record specifically states, not because they were Frenchmen but because they were “Lutherans.” The bloody horror was hardly over, when those killers held religious services, “a cross was raised, and a site for a church selected on ground still smoking from the blood of a peaceful colony.”
Why revive ancient history? some of you may object. Why erect a monument in Florida to commemorate a carnage that everyone admits was a mistake? We answer: Because that obsession of spreading Christianity with the sword, far from being labeled an error, is often applauded. Last week a United States Federal Court indicted seventeen men on the charge of conspiring to overthrow the Government of the United States. In their headquarters investigating agents found weapons, ammunition, and material for making bombs. Who were these men, organized, it is claimed, to overthrow our existing order by force of arms? Anarchists, radical agitators, atheistic Communists, agents of foreign nations? They called themselves the “Christian Front,” employing Christ’s holy name to justify a campaign of bloodshed. More significantly, they received encouragement from a publicized churchman. Instead of condemning their sword-bearing crusade, he declared, according to press reports: “I shall take my stand beside the Christian Fronters. I reaffirm every word I have ever said in support of their position.”
What does Jesus say about such sword-bearing? Hardly had fire-breathing Peter severed that ear, when the Savior raised His voice in warning, “Put up again thy sword into his place; for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” That stem rebuke forever takes the sword out of any church’s hand. It tells all Christian denominations to forget military power, political agitation, and lobbying for their special interests. It foretells that those who thus kill will themselves perish by violence. If only today this spirit of a militarized Christianity, this delusion of arms-bearing forces regimented to cut a bloody path for Christianity, were stopped in its tracks! How much more could be won by the love and the power of faith!
Jesus was not satisfied with rebuking His erring disciple. Even in the momentous hour of His own arrest and persecution He had a remedy for the wounded man and a lesson for Peter. There is plenty of negative preaching today with the repeated prohibitions: “Don’t do this!” “Stop doing that!” Pulpit harangues and moralizing orations thunder accusations right and left. But Christ is the constructive Savior. He leaves no problem unsolved, no essential question unanswered. Here, too—and in less than twelve hours He will be nailed to the cross—He helpfully performs a miracle, the last in His earthly life. He stretches out the hand that never grasped the sword, touches the wounded ear, and His life-giving contact brings immediate healing.
The New Testament accounts tell us little about the man who had the distinction of being blessed by the Savior’s last miracle. Three of the gospels do not even mention his name; the fourth simply calls him Malchus. What marvelous grace, however, that, though he was among Christ’s enemies and a servant to those who lusted for our Lord’s blood, the all-merciful Savior loved not only His friends, but also those who opposed Him! How bitterly we, like Peter, hate! How quickly we fan our prejudices into consuming anger and resentment! Love our enemies? Some people cannot even love their own husband or wife or their own flesh and blood. Even if our soul’s salvation were not involved in accepting Christ, we should follow Him, if only to learn how to love those who despise us and to do good to those who persecute us.
Malchus was a servant, a slave, of the high priest. When an acclaimed leader of men falls sick, every resource of healing is quickly drafted. Take the instance of Lord Tweedsmuir’s critical illness. Outstanding specialists were rushed to his bedside; carpenters quickly erected a special platform and approach at the depot; a private train was chartered to convey him to the best-equipped hospital in Canada; extraordinary traffic precautions were exercised throughout the trip. Everything humanly possible was done to help him, for Lord Tweedsmuir was a mighty man, the King of England’s representative to the Canadian Dominion. But here, in our text, is a slave, a social outcast, one whose body and life are not even his own; and as though the Lord would tell all men, no matter how despised they may be, that He is their Savior, Jesus closes the long list of His pre-Calvary miracles by restoring the ear of a bondman. Is not He, the condescending, all-loving Lord, the Redeemer whom you want? Is not His spirit the power we need to stifle the passionate hatreds that make people sneer at their fellow-men if their skin is of another hue, their families of another race, their worship of another creed?
Peter did not forget that rebuke and that miracle. Never again did he take recourse to the sword. After Pentecost and its outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the swordwielding disciple became an apostle of patience. In his last days, when his enemies confronted him, as on that Maundy Thursday night they surrounded his Savior in the Garden, Peter did not start a second miniature holy war. Early records state that, when he was crucified for his loyalty, he asked that he be nailed to the cross head downward, since he did not regard himself worthy to die as his Lord had died. This is only tradition, but there can be no doubt that this humility agrees with Peter’s spirit. Read his letters! He commits the punishment of evil-doers to the government, not to the Church. He says it is a thankworthy thing “if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.” He holds up the example of the persecuted Christ, who, “when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not.” “Rejoice inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s suffering!” he exults. Strengthened by the Spirit, fortified by faith’s victories, he had learned to apply Christ’s healing love.
WE, TOO, CAN FIND HEALING IN CHRIST
When we, too, know the healing power of Christ, we know the Savior aright. It was prophesied centuries before Gethsemane that the coming Deliverer of the race would be the Savior by “whose stripes we are healed.” The divine cure Jesus offers us today penetrates far deeper than physical pains and means much more than the healing of a lacerated ear or a wounded body. Christ, first of all, cures our souls of sin—that fatal illness for which men have no human help whatever, the inherited disease bequeathed to each of us at birth, and the contagion we contract during life. Only one cure can banish that soulsickness—faith in the cleansing, life-transfusing blood of Jesus Christ. Only one contact can break the power of that soul- and body-destroying terror—the touch of Jesus Christ, our God and Savior. Only one prescription can present a permanent antidote for every form of this poison—the direction of the Master Physician’s apostle, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” Only one hospital can offer a sure cure—the arms of Christ Himself and the restoring offered by the true Church here on earth.
As we enter this Lenten season with its clinic for our inner life, let none of you spurn Christ’s healing and claim self-confidently that you are of such spiritual health and moral perfection that you need no physician! Take inventory of your thoughts and impulses, your lusts and desires! Catalog the words that proceed from your lips—often hateful, malicious, dishonest, slanderous, untruthful! Recall each act that takes you away from God and perhaps brings injury or disgrace on yourself and others! See yourself as does God, whose eyes can penetrate your heart more completely than any X-rays, diagnosing your moral illness better than any corps of experts! And in honesty you must acknowledge yourself sick and sore, mortally afflicted by a poison inestimably more dangerous than the deadliest virus known to medical science.
Under the conviction of your sin listen to Christ as He repeats for you the first recorded sermon He ever preached, “Repent ye and believe the Gospel.” Stand before the Crucified in true contrition; that is far more than mere sorrow over your sins, much deeper than good intentions to stop drinking, swearing, cheating, lying, slandering, coveting, serving fleshly lusts. Find real repentance which moves your soul with deep-rooted grief, unreserved confession of all your sins, known or unknown, and the realization that the breaking of God’s Law is far more than a disobedience soon to be forgotten. As little as a cerebral hemorrhage can be stopped with a headache tablet, just so impossibly can the cure for sin be found without recognizing this divine decree, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.”
Thank God, “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” In the darkness of any sin-blackened night you can see the rays of the cross pierce the gloom as, in fulfillment of the Old Testament promise, the “Sun of Righteousness” arises “with healing in His wings,” that is, with the reviving powers radiated from Christ and His cross. When you train your eyes to behold Jesus nailed to that accursed timber, all else in life recedes; when your heart, crushed by sin and sorrow, acclaims the crucified Son of God your Savior, a greater power than that which healed Malchus’s ear will cure your sin-sick soul forever. A score of diseases may baffle modern science, but Christ is stronger than any sin. Believe that, my young theological friend in Georgia distracted by the specter of suicide! Hundreds of thousands may die annually because they started treatment only when it was too late; but it is never too late for a penitent soul to come to Christ. Think of the promise of Paradise given to the malefactor on the cross, my eightyone-year-old friend in Virginia! Vast multitudes in the United States are beyond the reach of proper medical care; but no one who believes the words I now proclaim across the country by the marvels of the radio, “The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin,” has reason to cry out, “Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!” for that sin-destroying Savior now stands in spirit before you to heal and help. Remember that, you in New Jersey who are continually tortured by the thoughts of self-destruction and attempted murder. Pay close attention, every one of you, particularly those whom God in His gracious guidance may have led especially to this broadcast for a holy purpose: Here is hope for your sin-sick souls! Here is help and strength from heaven itself, in this resolution of faith, “To Jesus Christ for healing love!”
Can Jesus also heal the sickness of the mind and the weaknesses of the body? Banish every doubt from your heart; the unlimited power of the blessed Savior, whose outstretched hand restored Malchus’s ear in Gethsemane, can do today what He did in thousands of instances during His lifetime, when He drove out fevers, cured the palsy, healed the lepers, made the lame walk, restored sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and gave life to corpses. As definite proof of the healing power in Christian faith we have specific instances, unnumbered in this audience alone, in which, after medical science had exhausted its resources; after specialists had admitted, “As far as we can see, there is no hope”; after even the unmistakable signs of death had begun to show themselves, God suddenly exerted His quickening power. One of the leading surgeons here in Saint Louis, a physician who himself has performed thousands of major operations, expressly answered my question with this credo: “I believe that God Almighty can cure men and women today. I have repeatedly seen instances in which, after all human help had been tried without avail, the patient continued to live despite the prediction that he could not rally.”
We will defend with all our energy this truth that Jesus can cure today as He did on that memorable night in the garden. But the decisive question is not, “Can Jesus heal?” but, “Will Jesus heal?” And here we must think in harmony with the revealed truth of the Scriptures. In the first-century Church, we know, the apostles and others enjoyed a special gift of healing. They could lay their hands on diseased bodies, and health would flow from that contact. Such cures were extraordinary endowments to the early Church by which its power could be clearly manifested in those epochal days. But where in all the Scriptures is there a statement saying that today we must not bother about doctors? To the contrary, the Bible recognizes the necessity of physicians and of medicine, stating, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.”
So much fraud and deceit have been attached to the delusion that certain people, once they touch a diseaseridden body, can always bring miraculous healing, and so much sorrow has come from the similar error of trying to think ourselves out of our sicknesses that we must say a word in protest. From our files we take this account of an Altoona, Pennsylvania, “healing.” In that city, on a recent May 13, a man who had been a bedfast invalid for seven months was carried to the platform of a “healer,” anointed, and there, before the eyes of all, walked four or five steps. The tabernacle was in an uproar. The case was pronounced an outstanding cure. Twelve days later the man died from overexertion. His physician, a reputable doctor, declared, “It is my professional opinion that his trips to the tabernacle, the exertion, and the excitement . . . hastened his death.” Here is the case of a twenty-eightyear-old Kansas City young man who, seriously injured, refused medical aid and preferred the help of a so-called “miracle woman.” Because he was badly crushed, his strength kept ebbing away as he sat upright in his chair, praying for hours. After resisting twenty-four hours longer, he died. The family doctor, a registered physician, wrote, “Had that man received medical attention immediately, he would have had a good chance to get better.” Thus have money-grabbing, falsehood, and despair often followed this misplaced trust.
Believe, however, that, if you pray to God for health or for the lifting of any other burden—the unpaid bills after the funeral of your deceased husband; the increasing mortgage charges of 1939, 1938, 1937 and longer, for which you see no source of payment; the sorrow in your family that seems beyond remedy—God can help you provided you are Christ’s; and He will help you if this healing be according to His will. If our Lord prayed in that garden of agony, “Not My will, but Thine, be done!” should we not go to dark Gethsemane and learn of Jesus to pray submissively for earthly blessings? God grants requests for the restoration of health, money, and happiness, for the removal of family friction and the lightening of all earthly burdens only when those petitions are in harmony with His good and gracious will, which—whether we understand it or not—always directs a Christian’s life to a blessed end.
If you, my peace-robbed friends, tell me that though you are Christ’s the Savior has not healed you, let me ask in reply whether you have that trusting, victorious faith which says, “Speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed!” Pray on your knees and with all your soul for a deeper, stronger, truer faith! Turn to the basic textbook on the curing of wounded hearts, the Bible! Daily, constantly, reverently, study the Word! Read it aloud! Have it explained to you! With this confident faith, all else may pass away; but the promise of God’s healing grace positively must, through Christ, be fulfilled in your life. Perhaps, too, you have been dictatorial in asking for this healing love. You forget that sometimes God’s will and wisdom must purify, refine, and strengthen your faith by repeated contact with the fires of adversity. Perhaps you have been too sure of yourself in the past, and therefore God sends no immediate help so that you may become truly humble, fully penitent, and completely reliant on Him. It may be that God has already helped you and you do not realize it because He has adopted a new and unexpected healing process.
Particularly do we ask you, our fellow-redeemed, who have not found help for your sins and cure for your affliction in Jesus, to approach the cross and there to find your Savior and Substitute, your Ransom and Atonement. Keep His cross before your mind during the day and at night, when your eyes close or when they open in sleeplessness; cling to the Crucified! Then you will have not only a cure for every sin, a healing for every sorrow, but, day by day walking more closely with the crucified, now victoriously risen Savior, you can also look to the heavenly homeland with the confidence, “Earth hath no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal!”
O Christ, grant every one of us Thy healing love! Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.