The Touch of Christ10 min read

If someone were to do a documentary on your hands, what would they see? What would the inferences of the documentary make clear?

At first, of course, we would see an infant’s fist. Then a close-up of a tiny hand wrapped around mommy’s finger. Then what? Perhaps holding onto a chair as you learned to stand, or maybe handling a spoon as you learned to eat. Not far into the documentary, we would see your hand showing affection, reaching up to touch your father’s cheek, or reaching out to pet a puppy or a kitten.

It wouldn’t be too long before we’d see the hand exhibiting aggression: grabbing a toy or pushing baby brother away. All of us learn early that the hand is suited for more than just basic “provision.” It’s suited well for expression. (I certainly can’t talk without using my hands).

The same hand can help or hurt, encourage or discourage, help someone up or push someone down.

As the documentary continued, there would undoubtedly be times when you’d be proud of some of your hand’s ‘moments.’ Maybe the moment you put a ring on her finger, the moment you doctored a wound, the moment that you folded your hands in prayer, or the moment that you wiped the perspiration from the brow of someone in a hospital bed. Yes, you’d be proud of some moments—but wouldn’t each of us be embarrassed about other moments?

There have been times when our hands have been more accusing than encouraging, more abusive than helpful. Leave them unbridled and unmanaged and hands, like the tongue, can be weapons of destruction and lust (cf. James 3).

But let them be submitted to God Himself—washed by the blood of Jesus, warmed by His presence and touch, inspired by His love—and our hands can be used mightily by God. They can be so surrendered to and managed by Him … that when we touch He is touching, and when we encourage He is encouraging.

The Hands of Christ

And what if we were to see a documentary about the hands of Christ? We wouldn’t see abuse, greedy clutching, or self-centered yanking. One warm occasion after another we would see the kind hands of Christ on people as their lives were changed—infants and children being brought to Christ “to have Him touch them” (Mark 10:13), parents coming for encouragement; others for healing. Each one touched; each one changed.

None, however, were touched or changed more than the leper in Matthew 8: “When He came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before Him and said, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ He said. ‘Be clean!’ Immediately he was cured {Greek: made clean} of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, ‘See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’”

Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell the same story. In these three Gospels this leper appears and disappears. We don’t even know his name. We know his disease. We know he approached Jesus, but what brought him to the point where he cried out from the side of the road for healing he hoped Christ could bring?

Leprosy was the most dreaded of diseases in New Testament times. The disease rendered the body a mass of ulcers and decay.

  • fingers would curl and gnarl;
  • blotches of skin would discolor, rot and stink;
  • certain types of leprosy could numb nerve endings, leading to losses of extremities—fingers, even a whole hand or a foot.

It’s been said that leprosy was “death by inches.”

The social consequences were equally severe. Since they were considered contagious, lepers were quarantined or banished, usually to a leper colony.

The Ultimate Outcast

Since leprosy is almost cured in the world today, what’s the application? Throughout Scripture, the “leper” is representative and symbolic of the ultimate outcast. He stands for any person in any nation in any era who has been set apart, kicked out, or turned away. He, like many today, is avoided by people he doesn’t know and condemned to a future he cannot bear.

Getting back to the leper, in the memory of each leper was the day he discovered the truth about his condition. Then there would be the discovery and discernment by his wife … children … neighbors … and having to see the priest for the “diagnosis.”

The pronouncement of the priest became something of a “death sentence” in many ways. The priest covered his mouth and extended his hand palm forward: “You are unclean.” With that one pronouncement the leper lost his family, his friends, his “farm,” and his future.

What was it like for him to say good-bye to his wife and children as he headed into his new life of banishment and loneliness?

Seems terribly harsh, this isolation, doesn’t it? Of course, the ancient East isn’t the only culture to isolate their “wounded”. We may not build colonies (anymore) or cover our mouths in their presence, but we certainly build walls and avoid eye contact.

The divorced know this feeling, don’t they? So do the handicapped. The unemployed have felt it, and the less educated. Some unmarried moms feel shunned. So do the autistic. We keep our distance from depressed people. We wish the addicted would cry “unclean.” We avoid the terminally ill. Only God knows how many there are living quiet, lonely lives, infected by their fear of rejection.

But there came that time when this leper would risk going to Jesus, even as “the tax-gatherers and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him” (Luke 15:1). I wonder if the leper hid behind a rock? I think he was watching Jesus as He descended from the mountainside as throngs of people followed Him.

I think he waited until Jesus was just paces from him, and then he stepped out and addressed Jesus: “Master, Master.” Jesus stopped and looked in his direction. So did the dozens or more who were following Jesus.

Fear would have swept across the crowd. People’s arms flew in front of their faces. Children ducked behind parents. “Unclean!” someone shouted. The leper would normally run; he would have had to run.

What kept him from running? Hope? Possibilities? Imagining what life could be again?

And what had he heard about Jesus? What did he know about Jesus’ compassion?

Jesus’ Reaction

Everyone stepped back except Jesus. He stepped forward, toward the leper! The leper didn’t move. He spoke: “Lord, You can heal me if You will.”

This man would have been thrilled if Jesus had healed him with just a word (and soon Jesus will). Had Jesus cured him with a prayer he would have rejoiced. But, apparently, Jesus wasn’t satisfied with just speaking to him. Jesus drew near and did the unthinkable, the unimaginable: He touched him.

Five years or so is when he had last been touched. Who had been the last to touch him? His wife? A priest? No one had touched him since until now. Jesus answered the request: “I am willing. Be healed!”

The healing was instantaneous: energy and life streamed back into his limbs! Miraculous! He got up from kneeling in front of Jesus, and I see Jesus cupping His hands on his cheeks and drawing so near that the leper could see the moisture, the tears in Jesus’ eyes.

Jesus smiles. “Don’t tell anyone about this. Go and show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded for people who are made well.”

What a different trip to the priest this must have been! Imagine the trip home to the farm to see his wife and children. How the children have grown! Jesus could have healed this leper with a word (and that’s actually what happens), but Jesus wanted to do more than heal him. He wanted …

  • to honor him
  • to validate him
  • to restore him
  • to love him
  • to “christen” and “anoint” him

Please note that Jesus’ touch did not heal the disease. Matthew is very careful to mention in the text that it was the pronouncement, not the touch of Jesus, that healed the leper and cleansed his body from the dread disease. “Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man and said, ‘I am willing. Be healed.’ Immediately the man was healed from his disease.”

Healing of the Heart

The healing of the disease came with His words; but, I think, the healing of his heart came with the touch of Christ. Remember the order. It’s instructive for how we see and treat people today. Jesus did not wait for the leper to be “clean” before He touched him; He touched him and then “saw” him cleansed. We too need to “meet” people where they are, the way they are, and prayerfully, when we can, share the Word of the Lord and the love of Jesus.  

Please consider how God continues to “touch” you in your life today. He has touched many in the waters of Holy Baptism—which we are to remember each day—when we were adopted and carried into His family. The Lord’s Supper provides us the opportunity to be touched by the very price of our salvation—His body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of sin. 

And please remember how Jesus uses us today—individually and as congregations in ministry and mission—to extend His kingdom as members of His body (1 Corinthians 12:27). God enables and equips us to reach out and “touch” others with His love. Indeed, Jesus lives in us (Galatians 2:20). Jesus opened our eyes of faith when He encouraged: “Whatever you’ve done for the least of these, My brethren, you’ve done also to Me” (Matthew 25:40). We should seek out the forgotten and ignored, the “untouched” like this man, and touch them—whatever that means, whoever that is in our contexts.

When St. Francis of Assisi turned his back on worldly wealth and walked out of his village, he was naked. As he left the city, he saw a leper standing on the edge of the path. He embraced the man, then turned and continued his journey. Looking back one final time, he saw that the leper was gone. For the rest of his life, St. Francis of Assisi was convinced that the leper was Jesus Christ. Who is to say he was wrong? “For whatever you’ve done for the least of these, My brethren, you’ve done also for Me.”

Surely one sign of a healthy congregation is members who, convinced of God’s great love, forgiveness, and mercy, are prayerfully, deliberately, thoughtfully extending the “touch” of Jesus love and forgiveness to family, friends, and other acquaintances. When was the last time you put a hand on someone’s shoulder and said, “I’m going to pray for you; I’m going to encourage you”? These are the blessed occurrences that we need the family of God to hear about, celebrate, and continually be open to seeing.  Having been cleansed and touched, having been given a servant’s heart, may you be Christ reaching out to others.

Photo (c) Pearl/Lightstock



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About the Author

Rev. Dr. David P. E. Maier is president emeritus of the Michigan District, LCMS.

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FERDINAND BAHR - October 2, 2019

Dear Brother David

The touch of Jesus – what a fine, inspiring devotion. Thank you for being a fervent (servant) leader.

I have been enjoying the postings from your district. My contact has been through a good friend who is one of your staff, Todd Jones.

Blessings on your continued service of Jesus. This summer I celebrated 60 years of ordained ministry. And I am still on fire.

Jesus Is Victor!
Pr. Ferd

Jeremy Ashley - October 2, 2019

What a great dig into a story to which we don’t often give enough thought. If only we, as believers, would live our lives this way. It would certainly be more possible if we were willing to give up our self-inflicted distractions of busyness, reality-numbing screen watching, unhealthy indulgences, etc. Imagine the time and awareness we’d have if we traded those things for intentional acts of sharing Jesus through our hearts, words and hands. Thanks again for the post, brother!

Timothy Loewe - October 2, 2019

Thanks David. Excellent. I hope you don’t mind, I posted it on our CTK FB page. God bless you and yours.

Thank you for your kind comments and especially sharing this on your church Facebook!