THE POWER OF TOUCH
Based on Mark 5:25-34
A Sermon by Glenn Pease
One of the great stories of Greek Mythology is that of antaeus and Hercules. Antaeus, like Hercules, was of gigantic stature and marvelous strength. His parents were Neptune and Terra - ocean and earth. When he and Hercules engaged in mortal combat, Hercules proved to be the strongest, but every time he had Antaeus exhausted and point of defeat his flesh would touch Mother Earth, and his strength was mysteriously renewed, and he resumed the conflict with fresh vigor. Hercules finally slew the mighty Antaeus by performing the titanic feet of lifting him into the air where he was out of touch with the earth. The Greeks were saying by this legend that there is great power in touch. The earth was the source of life for Antaeus, and when he could not keep in touch with his source of life he lost his power, and, therefore, lost his life.
Though it is a myth, the truth it teaches is a fact. Direct contact with the source of life, with the palpitating heart of things, revitalizes you and rejuvenates the flow of energy. The people who are really enthused and alive on any issue are those who are in touch with the heart of the issue. On the other hand, if you are out of touch and have no contact, but are on the fringe of things, you are like a branch cut off the vine, and you will wither and waste away.
All of nature is a witness to the power of touch. If the plant world is not kept in touch with mother earth, no life can exist. It is the tree whose hungry mouth is pressed against the earth's sweet flowing breast that cause the poet to say, "Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree." God makes a tree and all the fruits of trees through the power of touch.
Jesus used this fact of nature to illustrate the necessity for contact in the Christian life. In John 15:4-5 he said, "Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bare fruit of itself except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit, for without me you can do nothing." Jesus is clearly saying, out of touch is out of power. The power of life is found only by maintaining contact with the source of power. Get out of touch with Christ, and you are like Antaeus up in the air cut off from mother earth; weak and helpless and doomed to defeat.
The truth we are dealing with here is not an isolated incidental fact of life. It is a universal truth with infinite significance. The power of touch must be taken seriously in all realms of life. Science is all based on the principle of the necessity of touch. How many times have you wondered why your tape recorder, or some other electrical appliance, has stopped working, only to discover that the problem was a loose connection somewhere? Something was not touching and there was no contact being made, and all electric power depends upon contact. Break the current of contact and you lose your power. It is just a fact of life in the realm of science as well as in nature. No touch means no power.
History also bears witness to the power of touch. When the church began, it was in constant contact with the common people. The common people heard Jesus gladly, and when the Apostles took over the leadership they were always among the masses. For several centuries the church was active in the market place. It kept its finger on the heart post of people's lives where they were living, and the result of this keeping in touch with people was power and growth.
Then came the age of the monastery. The church withdrew from the world. It isolated itself behind walls, and broke contact with the masses. The result was a thousand years of sitting in the dark. It is called the dark ages because the power of the light house was gone. It was gone for the same reason your house goes dark if you take your fuses out and pack them away in a box in the attic. They must be put in contact with the flow of energy to bring light to your house. So the church had to be in touch with the world if it was going to be the light of the world.
The circuit must be complete. Jesus could only reconcile God and man, and be the mediator between God and man, because He was equally in touch with both God and man. The church cannot be an agent of reconciliation unless it is in touch with both God and man. History proves that being out of touch is being out of power. In our individual lives we will degenerate, vegetate, and stagnate if we lose touch with people. Lukewarm leftovers are dishes in which the devil delights, and they will be the menu we offer a starving world if we do not keep in touch with our Lord, the source of our life and power, and the world who desperately needs the fruit that His power can provide.
Our text is just one of many Biblical examples of the power of touch. I chose it because it is recorded in all three of the synoptic Gospels, and the word touched is used in this account more than anywhere in the New Testament. 11 out of the 32 uses of the word, touch, in the New Testament are found in the three recordings of this healing miracle. As we examine the power of touch in the life of this one woman we will see how essential it is for all of our lives. The first thing we see is -
I. A TOUCH REVIVED HER HOPE.
The context shows that this woman interrupted Jesus as He was on His way to restore to life the daughter of Jairus. Verse 42 tells us the girl was 12 years old. From the time of the girls birth, to the moment Jesus headed to restore her, this woman had been plagued with a flow of blood. For 12 long years she had endured the shame of her problem. For the same 12 years that Jairus enjoyed the sunshine of a healthy little girl, she endured the gloom of her illness. Such a flow of blood would exclude her from the women's court in the temple, and from the synagogue. She was not much better off than a leper, for she would be ostracized, and if she was married she would likely have been divorced and sent away on her own.
Persons in such predicaments as her are willing to try anything for a cure, and so according to Mark she spent everything she had on the doctors of her day. Dr. Luke does not tell us this interesting detail, and I suppose for good reason, for it would have been unethical for him to write of his fellow physicians in this negative way. It is understandable, and so no one can complain if doctors do not have a cure for your problem, but when they make your problem worse by using you as a guinea pig, there is room for complaint. That is what happened to this woman. Christian tradition calls her Bernice. In verse 26, Mark calls her broke. If she was broke but better, she would be a happy woman, but she was broke and worse than she was before she went to the doctors.
In the Catholic Bible there is book of Tobit, and in 2:10 we read of a similar problem he had with the doctors of Biblical days. He writes, "I used to go to the physicians to be healed, and the more they anointed me with their medicines, the more my eyes were blinded by the films, until they were totally blinded." I don't know if Bernice had the same doctor as Tobit, but their treatment had the same effect, for it made the patient worse instead of better. With her health gone, and now her wealth, she was at the end of her rope. Where could she turn now for she had nothing to pay even if she found someone with a cure.
She must have been in a pit of hopelessness, but then all is changed, for verse 27 says she heard the reports about Jesus. What reports? Why the reports that He could heal with a touch. He didn't use any medicine or costly herbs. A touch from the Great Physician is all it took to heal. She had heard that His touch even healed the hopeless, and He would bid them to come to Him.
"When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, O abide with me."
This was the cry of her heart as she heard these reports, and the possibility of being healed by a touch revived her hope. She was so convinced of the power of touch that she says to herself in verse 28, "If I can touch even the hem of His garment I shall be made well." What a powerful conviction for a woman who has spent 12 years fighting a losing battle. Now she has the hope of being made well by a mere touch. As we read on we see that, not only did a touch revive her hope, but secondly,
II. A TOUCH RESTORED HER HEALTH.
Verse 29 says, " And immediately the hemorrhage ceased and she felt healed." 12 years of futile treatment, and now it is all over by the power of a touch. Touching Christ, or being touched by Christ, is like making contact with a live wire. There is an immediate effect. It is like hitting a switch and having immediate light in place of darkness. In Matt. 8 we read of a leper who came to Jesus for help, and verse 3 says, "And He stretched out His hand and touched him." Then does it go on to say how 5 months later he got well, or 5 weeks, or 5 days, or 5 minutes? No! It was not even 5 seconds. It says, "Immediately his leprosy was cleansed." In this same chapter the mother-in-law of Peter is sick with a fever, and verse 15 says, "He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and served Him." She didn't recover the next morning and fixed them breakfast, she got up immediately and fixed them lunch. In Matt. 20 there were two blind men who cried out to Jesus as He passed through Jericho. Verse 34 says, "And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they received their sight and followed Him."
There are more examples of how Jesus touched and healed, and how He touched children, and how He touched His disciples to calm them when they were fearful. Over and over again we see the power of touch to restore to health and to balance. The fascinating thing to notice as you study the passages on touch is how it doesn't make any difference if Jesus reaches out to the person, or if the person reaches out to Jesus. As long as touch takes place and contact is made in faith, there is healing power in touch.
Bernice was not basing her hope on her own imagination. The reports she heard about Jesus told of how many were healed by touching Him. Back in Mark 3 a great crowd pressed around Jesus, and verse 10 says, "for He had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon Him to touch Him." Bernice was not alone in wanting to touch the hem of His garment. In Matt. 14:35-36 we read of many who did the same thing. "And when the men of that place recognized Him, they sent round to all that region and besought Him that they might only touch the fringe of His garment, and as many as touched it were made well."
On the monument of Oliver Goldsmith these words are inscribed: "He touched nothing that he did not adorn." This was certainly true of Jesus. He touched water and the water became wine. He touched the lepers ugly form, or the darkened eyes of the blind, and there came forth beauty and the light of sight. Everything that sin had deformed, Jesus could reform or transform by the power of His touch.
The healing of His seamless dress
Is by our beds of pain.
We touch Him in life's throng and press,
And we are whole again.
The healing power of touch has a fascinating history. English kings for centuries healed people by the kings touch. It was thought to be a gift God gave to kings, and many practiced it. Edward I in the 13th century touched over a 1000 sufferers a year. In the 17th century over a period of 19 years, Charles II touched almost 91 thousand people for healing. Even King James, after whom the Bible is named, practiced it, but he did not like it. In 1686 on Easter day, king Louis XIV of France laid his hand on 1600 people repeating each time, "The king touches thee, may God cure thee." Many did experience healing, and theologians debated the issue, as we debate about faith healing today. The point is, healing has, ever since Jesus entered history, been connected with touch. There is just no escaping the power of touch.
Modern studies are revealing that touching is essential to both physical and mental health. Many babies have died in their first year due to marasmus. This is a wasting away caused by a lack of loving touch. Life will not survive without the touch of love. The same is true for animals. They must be licked when they are new born in order to survive. Mother animals do not lick their young just to keep them clean, but to keep them alive and healthy. The very power of life is in the touch. Experiments on rats have revealed that when they are gently handled and cuddled they can survive operations that kill those who are not calmed by loving touch. Rats that are touched and petted learn faster and develop a higher antibody rate. Touch restores to health and maintains health. It is a principle God has built into His creation.
It applies to people as well as rats. Dr. Smiley Blanton wrote, "As a psychiatrist, I have good reason to know how often human problems are caused by the simple failure of people to make contact with other people." Not keeping in touch as a family can ruin the health of the family. Touching always restores health. When the father of the prodigal saw his son returning, he did not prepare a quick lecture, or wait and greet him with a stiff and reluctant handshake. Instead, he ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. There was more power for reconciliation in that act of touching love than in an encyclopedia of words. Dr. Paul Tournier said, "I'm convinced that 9 out of 10 people seeing a psychiatrist don't need one. They need somebody who will love them with God's love, and take time with them and believe for them, and they will get well."
In so many ways we all possess the power of healing in our hands. Dr. Blanton said, "I have great faith in "touchingness" as a remedy for sick souls because I know what it can do. Love is the climate in which all living things flourish, and sometimes a single touch can evoke the atmosphere. A father ruffles his son's hair lightly and in that casual gesture expresses infinite pride and joy. A husband, helping his wife on with her coat, rests his hands for a moment on her shoulders, and thus says "I love you" as clearly as if he had written the words in letters of fire." The power of love is linked directly to the power of touch.
Bernice had her long lost health restored to her through a touch, and millions of others have experienced the health giving power of the touch. As the body of Christ, we as Christians are to be sensitive to this power we possess. He wants us to continue to do what He did in the flesh, and give the world a hand. The poet spoke wisdom:
Tis the human touch in this world that counts.
The touch of your hand and mine,
Mean far more to the fainting soul,
Than shelter or bread or wine.
For shelter is gone when the night is o'er,
And bread lasts only a day,
But the touch of a hand and the sound of a voice
Sing in the soul always.
This was certainly the case with this woman who touched Jesus. We cannot know until eternity what other lasting results came of that touch. We know she would have loved to sing the popular song, He Touched Me. We want to look briefly at a third point, for a touch not only revived her hope, and restored her health, but -
III. A TOUCH RENEWED HER HISTORY.
After Jesus found her and heard her story, He says in verse 34, "Go in peace and be healed of your disease." For 12 years she had known no peace, but now her life begins anew. History is filled with new potential now, for as a healed woman, she is free again to enter the temple and synagogue, and to associate with people everywhere. Her whole history is radically renewed by this touch.
Helen Keller was blind, deaf, and dumb from her 19th month, but when she was 7, her teacher opened up to her the power of touch, and a new history began for her. It was almost like a conversion experience. She writes of it in her book, My Key Of Life. "This was an adventure full of enchantment. From the darkness to light, from silence to language and harmony...., from dumbness to speech....O wondrous the change! I loved everything my fingers touched. The world seemed to me to overflow with goodness, justice and love." With all her handicaps she might have been a tragic vegetable of a person of little value to herself or the world, but the power of touch changed her whole history, and made her one of the great flowers of all time with a powerful impact on numerous lives.
Anyone of us, yielded to the Spirit of Christ, can, by our touch give hope and help toward a new history to those who's present history leads only to darkness.
Frederick Buechner compared humanity to a spider web and said, "As we move around this world and as we act with kindness, perhaps, or with indifference or with hostility toward the people we meet, we are setting the great spider web atremble. The life that I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt." Bernice only touched the hem of Christ's garment, but that touch has set the whole spider web of history atremble. Here we are 19 centuries from that touch, and still being affected by it. Her touch gave her a place in history from which she has touched the lives of millions. Jesus wants to do this very thing in all of our lives. He wants to touch us that through us, He might touch others.
She only touched the hem of His garment
As to His side she stole,
Amid the crowd that gathered around Him,
And straightway she was whole.
Oh, touch the hem of His garment, And thou, too, shalt be free! His saving power this very hour Shall give new life to thee.
By faith we need to reach out to Jesus recognizing that He is reaching out to us to heal and renew by the power of touch.