This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Sermon prepared by Rev. Duane Smith, Bemis, South Dakota
Baseball fans are often excited about seeing the players of their favourite team play and after the game have a chance to meet some of them. Better yet, to talk with them, shake their hands or get their autograph. To do that is a thrill — just to be near them or to touch their favourite player. It is something they will remember for a long time.
For Roman Catholic people it is an even greater thrill to see the pope when he, in the pope-mobile, drives through the streets. You can see the people line up by the thousands, waving — if only to be close to the pope — maybe even to have his shadow fall on them, or better yet, to touch him, or his garment. Best of all, to get to speak to him, to feel his power and influence in their lives.
The same thing happened when Mother Teresa was still alive and she would come to visit a town. Or, nowadays, Billy Graham for that matter. People who come near them or touch them, somehow, feel close to God and extremely blessed. Even the sick have experienced healing power in their lives.
In the book of Acts, chapter 5, there is such a phenomenon. The apostle Peter was in the temple at the place called Solomon's colonnade. Because many men and women believed in the Lord, people brought their sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.
People saw in Peter healing power that he did in the name of Jesus. Later, in Acts 19, Paul was in Ephesus and God did extra-ordinary miracles through him so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick and their illnesses were cured and evil spirits left them.
If this phenomenon was true of Peter and Paul, how much more so of Jesus, the Son of God. While on earth, He made Himself available to the people, going from town to town, house to house, ate with tax-collectors and sinners, easily talked to people from every social class, slave and free, Jew and Gentile, men, women and children. Whoever came to Him, He never turned away. The people often crowded around Him and many took the initiative to have Jesus come near and touch them.
In Matthew 14, just after Jesus had walked on the water, people brought all their sick to Him and begged Him to let the sick just touch the edge of His cloak and all who touched Him were healed. In Luke 6, people all tried to touch Him because power was coming from Him and healing them all. In Luke 18, people were also bringing babies to Jesus to have Him touch them. Oh, what a joy, what a blessing to feel the warmth of Jesus' touch! It seems that Luke, himself a doctor, knew the special effects of touch. And how it enhanced healing for the sick. He mentions Jesus' touch more often than Matthew and Mark.
The power of touch by a doctor or therapist, even today, enhances healing. It's regrettable that we live in a society where no one dares to touch another person for fear of sexual harassment — a touch that so easily sends out the wrong message.
Touch, of course, must always be appropriate. Be it on the arm or shoulder, a gentle embrace or a hug. It's often done at weddings and funerals and other such occasions of great joy or sadness. Babies need to be touched, cuddled and held to grow and develop normally. Our children need to be touched and hugged on occasion, including through the teen years. It conveys the message, louder than words could say, “We care for you and about you.” It gives encouragement and hope.
Adults also need to be touched. We need to do it more often at the appropriate times and places. In a time of difficulty, times of depression, after a talk, a handshake or better, a hand on arm or shoulder, even a hug with the words, “Hang in there... you can do it, I'm praying for you,” makes hope soar.
A certain telephone company has a line, “Reach out and touch someone.” The phone call to someone who is struggling makes him or her more blessed and hopeful. Thinking and knowing that someone cares enough to call and talk. We should not be afraid to reach out and touch someone.
People in the crowds reached out to touch Jesus and He touched them with power. The power of God went out from Him to heal and restore. One of the most moving stories in Scripture of such healing power was of a woman in the crowd who had suffered for twelve long years from some sort of bleeding. Doctors were of no help and she had spent all her money but still there was no cure. Worse, she was considered to be an outcast of society, ceremonially unclean.
According to Leviticus 15, when a woman has a discharge of blood she would be unclean as long as she had the discharge. This poor woman had been unclean for twelve long years and no-one touched her for fear that they then would become unclean.
Understand then why she had no intention of meeting Jesus face to face. According to Matthew's account, she thought, “if I only touch His cloak, I will be healed.” Silently and persistently, and in faith, she made her way through the crowd, came up behind the Master Healer and touched His cloak. Sure enough, immediately she felt the bleeding had stopped. Quickly slipping away, imagine her surprise when Jesus turned around and asked, “'Who touched Me?”
With the crowd pressing Him on every side, Peter found it a strange question. But Jesus insisted, "Someone touched Me, because I know power has gone out from me." The woman knew that she had no choice but to come to Jesus. She came trembling. Would He be angry and scold her, treat her harshly and reject her? After all, she had been unclean all these years, and besides, she was a woman.
She managed to tell Him the whole story of her miserable life, her feeling of despair and the burden of being an outcast. She took a huge risk and told it in the presence of all those people in the crowd: How the bleeding had stopped and that she had been healed. No doubt, her story came out, mixed with tears of sadness and joy.
See the tender compassion of the Saviour! Perhaps, He placed His hand on her shoulder and then He called her “Daughter,” the only woman so addressed by Jesus, “Your faith has healed You, go in peace.” Surely, she remembered those words for the rest of her life. By faith she had been healed, not only from her physical bleeding, but also spiritually, as she was warmly welcomed by the Saviour into His family of believers, with the parting blessing, “Go in peace.”
Her life had turned around. All became new because in faith she had touched Jesus, Who then had touched her with His healing power. She was never the same after that.
Make no mistake about it. The healing, saving power of Jesus is just as real today as it was then. After all, He is the eternal Son of God. His power goes forth to all those who, like this woman, humble themselves, believe in Jesus, reach out in faith to touch Him in prayer, calling on His name.
In Romans 1, the gospel is called “the Power of God unto salvation for all who believe.” The moment that we, yes, even the vilest offender, believe in Jesus, His power through His Holy Spirit goes out and surges into our lives. It is a power that miraculously opens and softens hardened hearts, so that we believe the power of His blood shed on the cross washes away all our sins and uncleanness and spiritual filth. It is the power of His life-giving spirit to heal us of all the wounds of our sins and to make us new persons to live in new obedience. Power, that we know is there.
When we reach out to touch Jesus in the personal quiet of a jail-cell or in a large crowd, He touches us with a power so real you can't explain it, but you know that you will never, no never, be the same. You will have a different view of the world, of yourself, of others, a whole new outlook on life.
More than that, Jesus doesn't want anyone who has touched Him, and Whom He has touched with His healing power, to slip away unnoticed. He wants us and He calls us to come out of the crowd.
Therefore, come out of hiding and tell Him all about your sin and misery. The mistakes we have made in the past, our fears and failures. But He also wants us to tell Him in thankfulness, maybe with tears of joy, about our healing. How His powerful touch has changed our lives, so that we'll never be the same.
As this woman told Him in the presence of a crowd of witnesses, Jesus also would want us to tell it in the presence of all the people. Tell it to the congregation so that all may know of His healing, saving and redeeming power. Tell them that Jesus said to you personally, “Daughter, Son,... your faith has healed you, saved you, Go in peace.”
The only real peace you or anyone can have is peace with God which comes through faith in His Son Jesus. Are you healed? Do you have this lasting peace with God? If so, praise the Lord. If not, reach out and touch Jesus — in prayer and come to know, once and for all, His healing power and abiding peace.
Suggested Hymns: #63, #535, #462, #363, #627