When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean. Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Matthew 8; 1-3
If you read over the accounts of Christ’s healing miracles, you will find that in almost half of them we are told He touched the subject. Or to be more specific, out of twenty-six recorded miracles of such character, twelve are marked by this close, personal, physical contact.
When the blind men followed him, he touched their eyes and their eyes were opened. When they brought to Him one that was deaf and had an impediment in his speech, Jesus put His fingers into the man’s ears and touched his tongue, and the man’s ears were opened and the bond of this tongue was loosed. When He met the widow of Nain following to the cemetery the dead body of her only son, Jesus came near and touched the coffin and the dead sat up and began to speak. When He saw the woman, whose miserable old body was all crooked in pain’s hard grasp, Christ laid his hands upon her and immediately she was made straight.
In the garden of our Lord’s betrayal, when a too impetuous disciple whipped out his sword and struck off a servant’s ear, Jesus touched the wounded member and it was made whole again. A leper came to Him, all hideous with the ravages of that dread disease and Jesus “Stretched forth His hand and touched him, and straightway his leprosy was cleansed.” And thus, the stories run tale after tale.
If it were only once or even occasionally that such language is used, we might pass it by without much thought as merely some indifferent undersigned physical movement on the Master’s part. But when time and again we read “He touched her,” “He put forth His hand,” “He laid his hands upon him.” We can scarcely get away from the conviction that Jesus must have meant something by such repeated and consistent action. It was not necessary to the efficacy of the miracle. Virtue could and did leave Him elsewhere than through the extended arm and applied fingertip. The ten lepers were healed while there were hurrying away from Jesus.
The nobleman’s boy was cured when he was far out of reach of the Master’s hand. Lazarus was raised from the dead with a ponderous tombstone between him and the possibility of a touch, so that it was not indispensably a part of the miracle. What then may we say about it? This much at least, I think we are warranted in saying; Here is an expression of sympathy, here is the way of salvation, here is the secret of effective service.
Here is an expression of Sympathy.
In the incident from which our text is taken, Christ had just finished his sermon on the Mount, “Ask and it shall be given to you.” He had taught the people and the leper perhaps whispered to himself as he crouched by the roadside, “Now, I’ll put this great speaker to the test; I’ll see whether he honestly meant what He said or if it was only the eloquence of a temporary enthusiasm. I’ll prick his high-sounding phrases and find whether they are genuine or only pretty elocution. Lord, I ask, make me clean!”
The story is told of Eugene Sue, the French author, who frequently visited one of the distinguished women of Paris and in her rich furnished house, talked pathetically of the distressing condition of the poor and of what he was doing to aid them. One day, to test out his protestations, the women disguised herself as a beggar and asked Sue for charity as he was leaving a café where he had dined on a very costly meal. The man was annoyed and threatened to hand her over to the police if she persisted. And then lifting her disguise the woman said, “And you are the man who writes about the miseries of the poor; you are the workingman’s champion are you?” and left him to his discomfiture.
Here the leper found no breach between this man’s words and his deeds. The preacher had not abandoned his interest in suffering humanity in His mountain-pulpit, for “Jesus touched him and immediately his leprosy was cleansed.”
Some children in Madagascar, with the brutality towards misfortunes quite often characteristic of non-Christian lands, were teasing a poor woman who lost all her fingers and toes by leprosy, teasing her as boys sometimes tease a stray cat or dog. A missionary woman saw it and going up to the leper, put her hand on the woman’s shoulder and asked her to sit down on the grass with her. And the poor native woman burst out crying saying, “A human hand has touched me. For seven years no one has touched me.”
Such a revelation the touch of Christ must have brought this wretched outcast. The poor fellow had long lived in isolation and melancholy. No one cares for his soul. But now, he had one friend at least and a new heaven and a new earth must have come to the man. “Why life is well worth the having and the keeping after all, he must have soliloquized, “There is blue in the sky and the sun is shining and the birds do sing, and the flowers are all blooming and filling the air with a fragrance indescribably sweet.”
Who else would have dared touch the leper? Listen how his fellows treated him, “and the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be ripped and his head bared and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip and shall cry “unclean, unclean.” He shall dwell alone, without the camp shall be his habitation.” All right of course a perfectly legitimate quarantine law that is practically followed still in the corralling of contagious diseases; but in danger of being enforced with a cruelty that made people forget the poor afflicted man was a brother whose need of companionship wasn’t changed at all by the calamity that had come upon him.
You remember just a few years ago how the papers were full of the account of a man supposed to have leprosy who was shifted about from one place to another in a box-car. The authorities of no town being willing for the railroad company to unload the victim on them. It seemed to me there was a lot of needless hysteria about it; and certainly, a lot of harshness, but all that happened in a Christian civilization with its scientific equipment for handling such distressing cases. But the old Hebrews did not have such scientific knowledge to disease, nor much equipment for handling it. The wisest course for them to take, indeed the only course, was to isolate cases suspected to be of a contagious nature. But you can see how it was easily capable of abuse, until a law that was framed primarily for the protection of society degenerated into a sort of persecution of distress.
With that historic background, think again of what Jesus did here. Does he not seem to say “it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not touch the leper; and those results would follow the chance of infection and ceremonial defilement; but I say unto you; I will touch him. And Jesus did put forth his hand and in no official priestly way, but brother-to- brother He touched the leper. And the old things of a rather selfish ceremonialism passed away and the things of human intimacy and love became new and abiding.
O this wonderful sympathy of the Son of Man. Did you ever hear a prayer sent to His heart by the leprous, the blind, the pain tossed, the broken spirited? To such Christ answered, “no.” Have you ever seen him gathering his clerical robes about him and drawing aside lest some unworthy soul brush against him? Were his feet ever too weary to run an errand for the helpless? Were his hands too busy unrolling the musty parchments of the scribes or plucking posies for his own delight to reach out a message of assurance to some weary man or woman? He touched blind eyes and sight came again and then reveled in the beauties of God’s fine world. He touched deaf ears and they heard the charm of the sweetest of music. He touched twisted limbs and the symmetry and usefulness of the body were restored. He touched dumb tongues and they sang his praises. He laid his hand on broken hearts and his love was so warm and genuine, the anguish was all forgotten. He placed his fingers, thrilling to the very tips of them with divine compassion, on the sore spots of the leper and his skin became soft and healthy as an infant’s. And men who had grown hard and cynical and women who had fallen into brooding moods felt the contact with his soul. And somehow the smiles came back the clouds lifted, and almost in spite of themselves they caught themselves singing snatches of old-time melodies such as they sand when they were little children.
I would not like to lose any part of the Savior’s biography. But if something had to go, I believe I would say, “Take one of parables, tear out even a paragraph of his mountain talk, but leave me in big print the tenderness and pathos of his gospel narrative which tells how he touched this man and that man. He might have helped them without any physical contact. He chose rather to take them by the hand. And this was the loving significance of his act. See, woman of the curved spine, man of the polluted blood, child of the sightless eyes and unhearing ears, hearts of the sick bed and the shadows, I the all-compassionate one, I of the infinite tenderness, I of the measureless mercy, I heaven’s best gift for man, I really identify myself with all your sins and sorrows. I come into closets and realest touch with you; I sympathize with you; I suffer with you.
Matthew says that Christ thus fulfilled. O, the pulpit needs to preach this fundamental truth, and the pew needs to believe in and rejoice in and grow strong in this profound truth of the sympathizing attitude of Jesus Christ.
But theology will be nothing but quibbling over technical phrases and real religious devotion will be impossible, unless we are assured that God is not in the finest expression of Himself, creative power. First case, supreme force, not avenging wrath, unloving and unapproachable, but that He is our everlasting friend and physician and redeemer. Precisely this lesson we get in Christ Jesus, who came up close to use, so close that we can feel his touch and know him to be ‘bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. That beginning of our Christian faith, the essence of it all, the strength and the beauty of it all, those elements which make it infinitely superior to the ethnic faiths, lie here – he stretched forth his hand and touched him.
Here is the way of SALVATION.
Salvation is not godly parentage, though I would not underestimate the value of that. Salvation is not church membership, though that is of no slight consequence. Salvation is not decency and morality between man and man, though that is involved certainly. Salvation is not good citizenship, thought that is presupposed.
Salvation lies simply in the touch of Jesus Christ. It is a personal individual contact with a personal individual Christ. “I am the Way.” “Come until me,” Christ said. And so, saying, He slashed through all the wrappings by which men have cumbered and hidden the truth and got right at the heart of the Gospel.
You may know a theology from title-page to finish, and it may be the most unyielding orthodoxy; you may rattle off a creed with phonographic precision, and it may stand the test of councils and assemblies; but it may or may not be religion, salvation, life. I do not wish to be misunderstood. I am not indulging in any cheap claptrap against creeds and theology.
Theology is just the orderly arrangement of religious truths and creeds are just an expression of belief in such truths. But I do protest that these things are not life. They may be manifestations of life and they may have not vitality whatsoever in them. Eternal life, salvation, is conscious and sustained contact with Jesus Christ. There comes into a man’s being sometime or other the influence of the unique personality of Jesus Christ. And as the sunshine makes shadows all the blacker, so the holiness of the Christ makes sin all the more ugly and damning.
And up through the gloom of the abyss, the man reaches for the divine hand which has reached down for him and touched him. And thenceforth there is a new power in all the man’s thoughts and activities. He has passed from death into life. He is a new creature, a new creation. And it was brought about because, as Paul says, “Christ apprehended him, laid hold of him.”
There may be some other things the man knows full well or will learn as his faith develops, and there may be a thousand and one things of which he is and ever will be ignorant, but this he does know and it tells upon him ever after that; Jesus Christ gives eternal life.
The Savior is a divine lapidary. He sees lying in the refuse and mire of earth an unsightly object others pay no attention to. But he knows it is a gem in the rough with the possibilities of a Kohinoor latent in it and by and by, He has a jewel such as emperor’s bargain for with half their kingdoms.
It was the touch of Christ that fashioned thus from the man-hunting Saul of Tarsus, the “chief apostle to the Gentiles.” It was the touch of Christ that wrought thus with a dissolute youth of Africa and made of him Augustine the Christian Bishop. It was the touch of Christ which redeemed a vicious slave dealer and out of such unpromising material brought Newton, the preacher. It is the touch of Christ today that is lifting hundreds of men and women out of the sloughs of error and selfishness and worldliness and gross sin and is placing them upon the hilltops of high resolve and keeping them there as they go “from glory to glory.”
Christ has infinite ways of revealing Himself. Infinite ways of laying His hand upon folks, so that it is a cheapening of the Christ to attempt to standardize religious experience, to insist upon Christ’s appearing to every man in precisely the same way. But a man must know Christ. A man must feel and respond to the constraint of His redemptive and consecrating touch. A man must have His spirit. A man must know God as Christ knew God. A man must be animated by the same spirit which motivated Christ, or eternal life is not his portion.
There is salvation for the home in the touch of Christ. There may not be wealth in it. But if Christ’s hand has lifted the latch string and His foot crossed the threshold as a welcome guest, there will be fine foretastes of heaven on earth.
As the college boy who had hung up in his room a copy of Holliman’s head of the Christ said that gradually the other pictures disappeared; the pugilists and chorus girls, and all that because somehow they didn’t see to go well with the other, so everything cheap and mean and nasty will go out of the home into which Christ really comes.
There is salvation for the Church in the touch of Christ. Her life does not depend upon grace of architecture, beauty of frescoing, charm of music, stateliness of ritual, but upon the abiding presence of Him who sits between the cherubim.
There is salvation for society in the touch of Christ. As Shailer Matthews well says, “You can’t redeem society by joining an Anti-Tuberculosis Club.” Organizations and legislation and programs are hopeful only as they are servants of Him. There is salvation for the state in the touch of Christ. It is righteousness that exalteth a nation while sin is a reproach to any people.
There is salvation for the world in the touch of Christ. Salvation of course for the poor benighted Bulu of Central Africa and for the Eskimo of the frozen North, but salvation also for cultured Germany and England and other country and every other country depending for her progress upon what Lowell called cannon-parliaments.”
A very striking picture appears in one of the current magazines, entitled “Christ between the Trenches.” The figure of the Christ is seen walking between opposing trenches that are only a few yards from each other. And what are the men doing? Shooting at each other through that figure? Throwing their explosives at each other through that figure? Undermining and planning a rush for more murder through that figure? Of course not! Their guns have dropped from their hands and they stand in quiet reverence before the One who supremely taught that all men are brothers. And you and I every man knows that precisely that would happen with all war if the spirit of Christ Jesus ever really got into international relationships. “In none other is there salvation; for neither is there any other name under heaven that is given among men whereby we must be saved.” Saved from the evil of our own ungoverned passion. But there isn’t any magic in the name.
Salvation comes only as we yield to His life principles. Only as we respond to His intimate and redemptive touch.
Here is the secret of effective Service.
Jesus never did His work by proxy. Of course, he did commission his helpers but in a very real sense they were to do their own work, not His. We never read of Christ’s reclining on an easy couch and saying, “Here Peter or James or John, heal this suppliant for me.” He looked with His own eyes for opportunities of service. And when He found them and they were never far to seek. He stretched forth his own hand to the waiting task. And this complete willingness to serve made of Christ a veritable treasure – house of Divine Grace and the doors were never barred. Wherever He went he was surrounded by the poor and needy who get such scanty attention elsewhere. Emphatically, he came “not to be ministered unto but to minister.”
I wish as individuals and as organizations we might have more of the commendable spirit of the Master’s. We recognize the obligations of service measurably, but we are so prone to shirk personal responsibility and to flatter ourselves that we can furnish a substitute. At your bidding certainly, but with a checkbook or through some person specially hired for that purpose. But I wish we might come to see that the world never will be redeemed by this proxy method. The record of the early church reads thus; “Andrew findeth first his own brother Simon and brought him unto Jesus.” Philip findeth Nathanael and saith unto him, come and see. They went everywhere preaching the gospel.” But we are including to change all that. Andrew now turns over everything of the sort to the pastor or the missionary. Philip makes a yearly subscription to some society. The millennium will never come that way. The secret of all effective service is to do precisely as our Lord did here with this leper and with all the unfortunates with who he came in contact, to stretch forth our own hand and feel virtue going out from ourselves into the deed.
There is no other way to do effective service. We must put ourselves in it. Of course, a man can’t literally touch every task with his own hand. No man can go at the same time to India and China and the Sudan and down about the Freedmen. He must be represented in many places by his money. But even then, he must stretch forth his own hand. If the money he gives to all such worthy causes isn’t really an expression of himself, if he is simply giving it to get rid of a persistent canvasser or to save his face in the community or because he takes a sort of pride in putting his name down for as much as anybody else in the congregation, “Verily I say unto you, he has received his reward.” But the recompense isn’t from “Thy father who seeth in secret and the service doesn’t mean very much. Always the world’s redeemers are the men who stretch forth their own hands, who give themselves with their tasks and so freely of themselves, to their hungry neighbor and me.
Robert Browning says in one of his essays, “Once I was walking in the streets of Paris with my son who was then a little boy. We saw an old man approaching us in a long, loose, rather shabby coat with a stooping, shuffling attitude and gait. “Touch that man as you pass him,” I whispered to my little son; I will tell you why afterwards. The child touched him as he passed and I said to him, “Now, my son, you will always be able to remember in later years that you once saw and touched the Beranger.”
I have tried to present something of the greatest character the world has ever known. He came into human life. He even went close to the leper, and lower down in humanity’s wretchedness. He could not possibly have gone and touched the man. And coming thus in to such intimate contact with this particular man, Christ stood side-by-side and yet stands side-by-side with all the world. In genuine sympathy for salvation in its fullest sense, in most effective service. And what Browning urged his son to do with the great French poet, I appeal to you do with Jesus Christ, touch that Man and so respond to His own initial touch of you. In whatever way He may make His approach to you, and he has an endless variety of approaches and appeals. See that you recognize Him and allow His touch to work its miracles of grace with you.
There is grace and power in the laying by the touch of his hand and spirit.
Yesterday a tiny seed, lay buried in the earth. Today it opens slender buds, to give a flower birth. If He can fashion flower hearts, to blossom out of clay, we need the beauty of His touch within our lives today.
From Grandpa’s Whit and Wisdom, Devotions compiled by Liza Weidle / January 2023