The Power of Touch
Mary may be the most famous mother in history. She is a central character of the gospel stories in the Bible. She is a primary person in the Christian faith and practice of millions of people. Of all the things that can be said about her is this: she exercised the power of touch as the mother of Jesus. She touched Jesus in birthing him. She touched Jesus in caring for him. She touched Jesus as parents do as she taught Jesus about life and love, about caring for himself and caring for others. Mary loved Jesus, and Jesus learned of the power of touch from his mother.
Today, you and I can learn of the power of touch from Jesus: from the stories about Jesus, from the teaching of Jesus, and from this episode of the resurrected Jesus when he said to Thomas, the one who doubted the stories of resurrection, “Touch me, here in my hands. Touch me, here in my side. Feel those wounds. Trust me. Trust God. Trust your senses. Trust what you can touch."
Jesus knew when and how to touch people. The love and power of God came through his touch. The gospel was performed as much by what was heard, or seen, or smelled. Years later, John the apostle wrote three short letters. He began the first one with these words, “We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, who we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands.”
Jesus gripped the hands of John in baptism. Jesus took Simon’s mother-in-law by the hand and helped her sit up. He touched the man with leprosy and healed him (Mark 1:41). Jesus held the hand of the daughter of Jarius (5:41). He placed his hands on many and healed them (6;5).
Jesus touched the ears and tongue of a dead man (7:33). Jesus touched blind man twice (8:23) and some of you will remember the book by Keith Miller titled A Second Touch. Jesus helped a demon-possessed boy to stand (8:27). Jesus took the child to bless (9:36). And finally, in one of the most famous episodes of the gospel, Jesus blessed the children (20:16) by taking them in his arms. This simple act conveyed the tender love of God for all people.
We know also that many people touched Jesus to be healed (3:14). They also touched his garment, thinking it had healing power (6:65). Remember the woman who had been sick for years and years? “If only I can touch the edge of this coat,” she said, “I will be healed” (5:27). Joseph of Arimathea was not thinking that when he wound his way to the cross, put his hands on the dead body of Jesus, and gently took it from the timber, carried it to the tomb, and laid him in the grave.
What we have seen and heard and touched, this we declare to you!
There is a right way to touch and a wrong way to touch.
Parents, friends, and lovers know the right way. We are taught this growing up, making friends, and falling in love. I picked up a book from a Mothers Day table: Hold My Hand. We learn to hold hands, embrace, and kiss. My grandson Sam is a first class hugger. “I love you pop-pop,” he says to me freely and frequently. He has learned a valuable lesson.
We believers have important rituals of touching. For years, I have presided over the dedication of infants, holding aloft an infant. At baptism, I tell the believer to hold on to my right hand as I place that hand over their mouth and my left hand on their back as they slide into the water, all the way under.
We bless people by laying hands on their head and praying. We minister to people by touching their body that is ailing and hurt. We wash feet—well, we don’t, but some people do. But here is one thing we all do: we extend the right hand of Christian fellowship. The Bible also authorizes the holy kiss, but we are sticking with that right hand!
In all these ways, we are receiving and giving the grace and mercy of God. In all these ways, we bestow a blessing. In all these ways, we are doing gospel work. You do the work of Jesus when you touch another with the gentle love of God. The power of God can flow through your hands when you greet the stranger, embrace the broken, and lay hands on the hurting.
But touching is, well, a touchy subject.
Touching wrong puts people in jail. Jails are full of people who touched the wrong way. Lives are crippled by people who touched the wrong way. Religions and churches are denigrated by touching people wrong.
Touching wrong has the power to hurt, to burden, to ruin, and to curse. Strict rules and protocols must be observed to guide the way we touch. For years, Roman Catholicism has suffered the curse that comes with the wrong kind of touching. In these last few years, the Southern Baptist Convention has come under the microscope for failure to monitor the bad touch. Hillsong founder Brian Houston is under arrest in Australia for failure to report his own father for inappropriate touching. Years ago! If you see the wrong kind of touch, tell somebody. If somebody touches you wrong, tell somebody. You be the agent to break the cycle of the touch of curse.
Many people touched Jesus. Mary his mother. John the baptizer. Soldiers who whipped and beat him. Joseph who buried him. Many others wanted to touch Jesus. He was a celebrity. He was a miracle worker. He was a savior.
But Thomas was one of the few to hear Jesus say, “touch me”. This is the opposite of what he said to Mary of Magdalene!! But here is Jesus, the Risen Lord saying to a man, “Put your finger here, put your hand here. Put your faith here!”
We cannot touch Jesus. But Jesus can touch us through the touch of others. The most public illustration of this is ordination, when a person set aside for special gospel work kneels and people gather and place their hands on the head, the shoulder, the hands. The power of God can come through that touching to bless, to transform, and to direct. But there are scores of ways our hands become the hands of God as we touch another person. A stranger came into our sanctuary while I was teach my Bible Class. One member took one look, one smell and pushed himself away; another member leaned toward the stranger, placed his hand on his shoulder, and said, "Welcome. Here is a Bible."
Jim Henry is the father of Kate Campbell. She sang and played the guitar at a concert during our Twentieth Anniversary celebration in 2021. He is a well-known preacher and, I might add, a graduate of Georgetown College. When I was dean of the chapel, I brought him to Georgetown to preach at our 2006 ministry reunion. He told this story.
Following overflowing success as the pastor, first, of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville and First Baptist Church of Orlando, Jim Henry retired. At the retirement ceremony in Orlando, hundreds of people came to thank him for his fruitful ministry. Towards the end, a man approached him and said, “Pastor, you don’t remember me, but I was a little boy when you were preaching in Nashville. I attended church with my mother, a single woman of very modest means. We always sat on the back row, and I always sat on the end of the pew. Every Sunday, as you came into the sanctuary, you passed by our pew; and every Sunday, you would place your hand on my shoulder. You didn’t stop or talk. As far as I know, that was the only contact my mother and I had with you. But I must tell you, it was the high point of my week. I looked forward to it all week. Looking back on it now, I suppose I considered it a kind of blessing. I needed the kind of attention that touch on the shoulder provided. I needed the kind of blessing that hand on the shoulder provided. I drove down from Nashville to tell you this story, and to thank you.”
You also can channel the blessing of God into the life of another, sometimes without even knowing it. You can touch them with the touch of Jesus. It is sometimes that our hands are the only hands God has in the world. Sometimes those hands needed to be folded in prayer. Sometime those hands need to be passing plates of hot food. Sometimes those hands need to be wielding a hammer, building a home for somebody who needs it. But sometimes those hands need to be gripping the hand of a troubled soul, embracing the body of a new convert to Christ, or washing the feet of a lonely person. You have the power of God in your hands, you have the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in your hands. You have the gifts of the Holy Spirit in your hands.
Maybe you are the troubled soul, the seeking soul, the lonely soul looking to strengthen your faith or confirm your response to the voice of God. Maybe you are the one, like Thomas, who needs to hear the voice of Jesus say to you, “Put your hands in my side. Put your fingers in my hand. Put your faith in the God of heaven and earth.
Years ago, one of the most popular contemporary Christian songs picked up this theme. “Put your hands in the hands of the one who stilled the waters. Put your hand in the hand of the one who calmed the sea.”