Jump directly to the Content
Jump directly to the Content


Home > Sermons

Touch of Christ

When we surrender to God, our hands become his.

I would like to begin by asking you to look at your hand for a moment. Maybe it has been a while since you have looked at it. Why don't you get reacquainted? Look at the back of your hand. Look at the palm. Look at the fingers. Rub your thumb over the knuckles. What if someone were to film a documentary on your hand? What would the film tell us?

I suppose the film would begin showing an infant's fist, then a of a tiny hand wrapped around Mommy's finger. Then what? Holding onto a chair as we learn to stand, or maybe handling a spoon as we learn to eat. We wouldn't be far into the feature before we would see your hand showing affection, reaching up to touch Daddy's cheek or reaching out to pet a puppy or a kitty. Nor would it be too long before we 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 for expression. The same hand can help or hurt, encourage or discourage, help someone up or push someone down.

Were we to show this documentary to your friends, chances are 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. You'd be proud of some moments. But wouldn't each of us be embarrassed about other moments?

Then there have been times when our hands have been more accusing than encouraging, more abusive than helpful, more taking than giving. Leave them unbridled and unmanaged and they, like the tongue, can be weapons of destruction and lust. But let them be submitted to God himself, and these hands become the very hands of God. They are his hands. They can be so surrendered to him that when we touch he is touching, and when we encourage he is encouraging.

Illustration: Some years ago after I'd been in my first ministry for a few months I went to visit the wife of an older man who had just passed away. He was a Bible teacher in our Sunday school class, and I really liked him. He was a gracious fellow, and it was a sad day for all of us when he passed away. It's been almost ten years now. As she was walking me down the hallway to the room where we were going to plan the funeral, we passed a gallery of photographs.

I noticed something familiar out of the corner of my eye. Tacked on the wall were notes that I had written. I said, "I don't understand this. John or somebody tacked all these notes that I wrote him on the wall." She said, "John did that. It meant so much to him that the minister wrote him a note." I was 33 years old; he was 74. I was in the ministry; he had been in the church and forgotten more than I'd ever learned. He had served as an elder in three or four congregations on two different continents. But there was still something about the hand of the minister that had touched him.

Oh, the power of these hands, how they can touch and how they can encourage. When surrendered to God they become the very hands of God.

Last year our church spent quite a bit of time studying the body of Christ. We asked ourselves the question If I had eyes like Jesus, what would I see? If I had feet like Jesus, where would I go? One Sunday we discussed, If I had a hand like Christ's, how would I touch?

Were we to see a documentary about the hands of Christ, we wouldn't see abuse, we wouldn't see slaps, we wouldn't see greedy clutching, we wouldn't see yanking. We would see one warm occasion after another of the kind hand of Christ on people as their lives were changed—infants being brought to Christ, parents coming in for encouragement; each one touched, each one changed. But none were touched or changed more than the leper in Matthew 8:

When Jesus came down from the hill, great crowds followed him. And then a man with a skin disease came to Jesus. And the man bowed before him and said, "Lord, you can heal me if you will." And Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man and said, "I will. Be healed." And immediately the man was healed from his disease. And Jesus said to him, "Don't tell anyone about this but go and show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded for people who are made well. This will show the people what I have done."

Mark and Luke tell the same story. But with apologies to all three writers, none of them tell us enough. The fellow appears and disappears, and we don't even know his name. We know his disease. We know his decision. But we are left with questions about the rest. So tonight I want to wonder with you about this guy.

For five years, no one touched me.

Let's just put ourselves in this man's sandals. What brought him to this point when he cried out from the side of the road for the touch of Christ and the touch came and he was healed? I wonder if his story went something like this:

For five years no one touched me—not my wife, not my child, not my friends. They saw me. They spoke to me. I sensed love in their voices. I saw concern in their eyes, but I didn't feel their touch. There was no touch, not once. What is common to you, I coveted—handshakes, warm embraces, a tap on the shoulder to get my attention, a kiss on the lips. Such moments were taken from my world. No one touched me. No one even bumped into me. Oh, what I would have given to be bumped into, to be caught in a crowd where my shoulder could brush against another's. But for five years it has not happened. How could it have? I was not allowed on the street. Even the rabbis kept their distance from me. I was not permitted in my synagogue, not welcome in my own house. I was untouchable. I was a leper, and no one had touched me until today.

We wonder about this man because leprosy was the most dreaded of diseases in New Testament times. The condition rendered the body a mass of ulcers and decay. Fingers would curl and gnarl. Blotches of skin would discolor and stink. There were even certain types of leprosy that would numb nerve endings, leading to losses of extremities and a whole hand or a foot. Leprosy, as one man said, was death by inches.

The social consequences were severe. Since they were considered contagious, lepers were quarantined or banished, usually to a leper colony. 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 out, kicked out or turned away. He is avoided by people he does not know and condemned to a future he cannot bear. In the memory of each leper must be that day he discovered the truth about his condition.

Back to our leper's story: One year during harvest my grip on the scythe seemed to weaken. The tips of my fingers numbed, first one finger, then the other. Within a short time I could grip the tool but scarcely feel it. By the end of the season I felt nothing at all. The hand grasping the handle might as well have belonged to someone else. The feeling was gone. I said nothing to my wife, but I know she suspected something. How could she not? I carried my hand against my body like a wounded bird.

One afternoon I plunged my hands into a basin of water intending to wash my face, and the water reddened. My finger was bleeding, bleeding freely. I didn't even know I was wounded. How did I cut myself? On a knife? Had I slid my hand across a sharp edge of metal? I must have, but I hadn't felt anything.

"It's on your clothes, too," my wife said softly. She was behind me. Before looking at her I looked down at the crimson spots on my robe. For the longest time I stood over the basin staring at my hand, and somehow I knew that my life was to be forever altered.

"Shall I go with you to tell the priest?" she asks. "No," I sighed. "I'll go alone." I turned and looked into her moist eyes. Standing next to her was my daughter. Squatting, I gazed into her face and stroked her cheek with my good hand. What could I say? I stood and looked again at my wife. She touched my shoulder, and I touched hers. It would be our final touch.

Five years have passed and no one has touched me since, until today. The priest didn't touch me. He looked at my hand, now wrapped in a rag. He looked at my face, now sadder than sorrow. I've never faulted him for what he said. He was only doing as he had been instructed. He covered his mouth and extended his hand palm forward. "You are unclean," he told me. With that one pronouncement I lost my family, my farm, my future, and my friends.

My wife met me at the city gates with a sack of clothing, bread and some coins. She didn't speak. By now friends had gathered. What I saw in their eyes was a precursor to what I've seen in every eye since—fearful pity. As I stepped out, they stepped back. The horror they felt as a result of my disease overtook their concern for my heart.

Seems harsh, doesn't it. The banishing of a leper seems unnecessary. Of course, the ancient East isn't the only culture to isolate their wounded. We may not build colonies or cover our mouths in their presence, but we certainly build walls and avoid eye contact.

Illustration: Some years ago, David Robinson, who plays basketball in San Antonio, visited our church. He's not a member of our church, but he shows up occasionally. You can imagine the stir that occurred when that striking fellow walked into the auditorium. We have two worship services, and he came to the first one. At the end of it, people mobbed him. Kids all wanted his autograph. Dads wanted things signed for their kids, but we all knew who really wanted it. The brouhaha finally settled down and David went his way, and we began the second service.

In the second service that day, I was standing to do the announcements when something happened that has never happened since. A homeless person walked in the back of the auditorium, came down the center aisle with his backpack, ratty jeans, torn T, unshaven face, and distinct odor. He walked down to the front, and he sat down.

The contrast struck me. When David Robinson entered, he was immediately swarmed. People wanted to touch him and be close to him, be next to him. However, I'm sad to say that nobody jumped up to run and sit next to the homeless man. After two or three awkward minutes in which I was trying to act like nothing was happening, one of our elders got up from his seat and sat by the man and touched him. I was struck. Wouldn't you have been as well?

The message that I received in my heart that morning was, through touching which of these men do you touch Jesus? If you want to touch Jesus, whom do you touch? Jesus said, "Whatever you've done for the least of these, my brethren, you've done also to me." So if we want to touch Jesus, we would encourage all people that we would find special purpose in seeking out those forgotten and ignored people who are untouched like this man, and touch them.

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. We keep our distance from depressed people. We avoid the terminally ill. We have neighborhoods for immigrants and convalescent homes for the elderly, schools for the simple, centers for the addicted, prisons for the criminal. Any of the other untouchables simply try to get away from us. Only God knows how many there are living quiet, lonely lives, infected by their fear of rejection and their memories of the last time they tried. So they choose not to be touched at all, rather than risk being hurt by ever being touched again.

The leper continues: Oh, how I repulsed those who saw me. Five years of leprosy left my hands gnarled. The tips of my fingers were missing, as were portions of an ear and my nose. At the sight of me fathers grabbed their children and mothers covered their eyes. Children pointed and stared. The rags on my body couldn't hide my sores nor could the wrap on my face hide the rage in my eyes. I didn't even try to hide it. How many nights had I shaken my crippled fists at the silent sky. "What did I do to deserve this?" But never a reply.

I grew so tired of it all, sleeping in the colony, smelling the stench, so tired of the damnable bell I was required to wear on my neck to warn people of my presence. As if I needed it! One glance and the announcements began. "Unclean! Unclean! Unclean!"

Then Jesus drew near and touched me.

Several weeks ago I dared walk the road to my village. I had no intent of entering. Heaven knows. I only wanted to look upon my fields and gaze again upon my home and see perhaps the face of my wife. I did not see her, but I saw some children playing in the pasture. I hid behind the tree and watched them scamper away. Their faces were so joyful and their laughter so contagious that for a moment, for just a moment I was no longer a leper. I was a farmer. I was a father. I was a man. Infused with their happiness I stepped out from behind the tree and I straightened my back and I breathed deeply, and they saw me. Before I could retreat, they saw me. They screamed, and they scattered.

One lingered, though, behind the others. One paused and looked in my direction. I really can't say for sure, but I think she was my daughter. I don't know, but I think she was looking for her father.

That look is what made me take the step I took today. Of course it was reckless. Of course it was risky. But what did I have to lose? He calls himself God's son. Either he will hear my complaints and kill me, or accept my demands and heal me. Those were my thoughts. I came to him as a defiant man moved not by faith but by desperate anger. God had wrought this calamity on my body, and he would either fix it or end it.

But then I saw him. It was when I saw him that I was changed. You must remember, I'm a farmer, not a poet. So I cannot find the words to describe what I saw. All I can say is that the Judean mornings are sometimes so fresh and the sunrise so glorious that to look at them is to forget the heat from the day before and the hurt from times past. When I looked at his face I saw a Judean morning. Before he spoke, I knew he cared. Somehow I knew he hated this disease as much asnomore than I did. My rage became trust, and my anger became hope. From behind a rock I watched him descend a hill. Throngs of people followed him.

I waited until he was just paces from me, and I stepped out. "Master, Master." He stopped and looked in my direction, as did dozens of others. A flood of fear swept across the crowd. People's arms flew in front of their faces. Children ducked behind their parents. "Unclean!" someone shouted. Again, I don't blame them. I was a huddled mass of death. But I scarcely heard them. I scarcely saw them. I'd seen the panic a thousand times. His compassion, however, I had never seen before. Everyone stepped back except him. He stepped toward metoward me! Five years ago my wife stepped toward me. She was the last to do so. Now he did. I did not move; I just spoke.

"Lord, you can heal me if you will." Had he healed me with a word I would have been thrilled. Had he cured me with a prayer I would have rejoiced. But he wasn't satisfied with speaking to me. He drew near me. He touched me. Five years ago my wife had touched me. No one has touched me since until today. "I will," he said, so close that he had to whisper. "Be healed!"

Energy flooded my body like water through a furrowed field. In an instant, in a moment I felt warmth where there had been numbness. I felt strength where there had been atrophy. My back straightened and my head lifted. Where I had been eye level with his belt I now stood eye level with his smiling face. He cupped his hands on my cheeks and drew me so near I could feel the warmth of his breath and see the wetness in his eyes. He smiled. "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." Then I think he winked, and he said, "This will show people what I have done."

So that is where I am going. I will show myself to my priest, and I will embrace him. I will show myself to my wife, and I will embrace her. I will pick up my daughter. She is older now, but I will pick her up and I will embrace her. I will never forget the one who dared to touch me.

He could have healed me with a word, but he wanted to do more than heal me. He wanted to honor me, to validate me, to christen me. Imagine that. Unworthy of the touch of man, yet worthy of the touch of God.

Jesus' touch did not heal the disease, you know. Matthew is very careful to mention in the text that it was the pronouncement, not the touch of Jesus that healed the disease. "Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man and said, 'I will. Be healed.' Immediately the man was healed from his disease." The healing of the disease came with his words, but the healing of my heart came with the touch of his hand.

Oh, the power of a godly touch. Haven't you felt someone reach out and take your hand—a physician, an elder, a fellow minister, a listener? The touch, the authentication, the acceptance that comes from a touch is amazing.

Illustration: When you touch those people, you are touching Jesus himself. When St. Francis of Assisi turned his back on worldly wealth and walked out of his village, he was stripped naked. As he left the city, he saw a leper standing on the edge of the path, and 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, and 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."

Let us not forget the power of a touch. Let's not forget the powerful work of the Holy Spirit that can result when as God's minister you reach out and touch someone and say, be healed.


I wonder as I bring this to a close how long it has been since you've been touched. I know we've each had a few fingers shaken at us. But how long has it been since somebody reached out and put a hand on your shoulder and said, "I'm going to pray for you; I'm going to encourage you"? When someone takes the time to touch you, you can almost sense something traveling through his arm and out his fingertips. Perhaps that's why the anointing in the New Testament was always received with the laying on of hands. Not that we put any power in the flesh of man, but it pleases God when God's people touch God's people.

Illustration: A couple of days ago I looked out the back room of our house, and I saw our three daughters playing together. I never see that because two of them are teenagers and one of them is an , and those three just don't mix. But I saw them bouncing on the trampoline just like they were little again, and my heart literally jumped inside. I thought, Oh, isn't it great. My children are playing together. I could almost hear God saying, That's how I feel when I see you reaching out and touching and encouraging each other.

Oh, the power of a godly touch.

Illustration: Once when I was 19 years old, I was in a pickup truck in Andrews, Texas, a west Texas town close to Muleshoe and Lorenzo and No Trees. You've all been there. James, my best friend, and I had shared a case of beer that night. I was to the point where I could drink a and not feel it. I was so accustomed to the alcohol that it took more and more and more to get me drunk every night. I turned to James that night in July and I said, "James, there's got to be something more to life than this." I believe that husky prayer of a alcoholic was heard that night. I felt something on my shoulder. It was some time later before I identified who it was. But I knew that night I was forever being changed. Something happened because Christ touched my heart, and I felt him touch me with his hand.

Max Lucado, a author, serves as pulpit minister of Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas.

Max Lucado

Preaching Today Tape # 179


A resource of Christianity Today International

Max Lucado is an author and minister at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas.

Related sermons


Receiving God's grace

I Struggle With a Certain Sin Often. Will God Forgive Me?

A fresh look at God's response to habitual sin
Sermon Outline:


Our hands are suited for expression.

Illustration: Imagine a documentary showed your hands at work through your lifetime.

-Illustration: Once when Lucado was visiting an elderly woman's home in order to help plan her husband's funeral, he saw upon the wall several notes that he had written to the woman's late husband. The notes had touched him deeply, unbeknownst to Lucado.

The kind hand of Christ changes lives, as in the story of the leper in Matthew 8.

I. For five years, no one touched me.

Illustration: Lucado imagines what the leper in Matthew 8 may have experienced.

Throughout Scripture, the leper is representative of the ultimate outcast, banished to a leper colony.

Illustration: Lucado imagines how the leper's friends and community retreated from him in horror when they learned he was diseased.

Illustration: Lucado relates how one Sunday basketball player David Robinson showed up at the church and the congregation flocked him, seeking his autograph. By contrast, in the next service a homeless man sat in the front of the sanctuary, and no line formed to greet him.

II. Then Jesus drew near and touched me.

Illustration: The leper walked to his village and spied his daughter lingering as the other children fled at the sight of him, which gave him the courage to approach Jesus.

When the leper approached Jesus to heal him, once again the others scattered, but Jesus lovingly touched the man and verbally healed him.

-Illustration: When St. Francis of Assisi left his city and worldly wealth behind, he embraced a leper on the side of the road, whom he later concluded was really Jesus in disguise. As Jesus said, "For whatever you've done for the least of these … you've done also for me."


A godly touch is powerful.

-Illustration: One day Lucado saw his three daughters playing together, a rarity because of their age differences, and his heart jumped. He thought that God must feel the same way when he sees his children reaching out to each other.
-Illustration: When Lucado was 19 and a soon-to-be alcoholic, he felt God's touch one night on his shoulder and knew he was being forever changed.