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The Touch Of The Master’s Hand

Matthew 8:1-4

A few weeks ago, my family and I worshipped at the First Presbyterian Church of Asheville, North Carolina. The preacher was a young man named Woody Brown. He grew up in a church I previously served and he answered God’s call to the ministry while I was there. I have to tell you that it was a thrilling thing for me to see what a tremendous job of preaching he did, and to savor the fact that God had used me in some ways to influence him. His sermon that day was entitled “The Touch of the Master’s Hand.” His text was Matthew 8:1-4. He preached such a splendid sermon that he inspired me to borrow his title and tackle the same text in order to see if I could do as well. So think with me now about “The Touch of the Master’s Hand”…

Jesus’ hands would have been rough hands, marked and creased by the scars of many a splinter and many an errant chisel blow. They would have been dark hands. The people of the Middle East have skin deeply colored with the rich brownness of the sun. Jesus’ hands would have had that brownness. And they would have been strong hands, hands that could lift great boards and boulders. You see, carpenters in those days did not work in a shop building tables and chairs. Instead they were more like a combination of lumberjacks and stonemasons. They moved and cut huge blocks of wood and stone in order to do the big jobs—fashioning huge beams to support a roof, or laying in a stone wall, or crafting large yokes for the oxen. It took strong hands to do that kind of work.

Yet there would have been about the hands of Jesus a kind of gentleness, too. They were so gentle in fact, that they could tousle the hair of a little child without frightening the child—so gentle that they could be extended to a woman taken in sin and lift her to her feet again with great tenderness. And, alas, they would have been wounded hands. The poet writes:

The hands of Jesus are very frail, 
For they were pierced with a nail, 
But only those reach heaven at last 
Whom His nail-pierced hands do clasp.

So the hands of Jesus were rough, dark, strong, gentle, tender, and wounded. But oh, was there power in the touch of those hands. I never hear that song “He Touched Me” without being moved at the core of my spirit. In the Gospel of Matthew—there are at least four different places where the Gospel writer speaks of Jesus touching people. And what we learn from Scripture is that the touch of the Master’s hand brings powerful results.

For example, the touch of the Master’s hand brings cleansing. We see that in Matthew 8:3.

Here we see a leper fall on his knees before Jesus to plead for healing. Now Leprosy was, and is, a loathsome disease. It began as a severe inflammation of the skin. It would proceed quickly to a deeper infection. Soon the nerve endings would be affected and the sense of touch would vanish. Tendons would contract until hands became like claws and limbs were twisted and bent. With no physical feeling, the parts of the body would sustain damage and infection. The process of deterioration would continue until the parts of the body would be destroyed. So ugly, so pervasive, and so horrible to behold was this disease that in the world 2,000 years ago those who had leprosy were separated from all other people. They were not permitted to live at home. They were not permitted to work. They were not permitted in public worship. They were not permitted to come within six feet of any healthy person. And if the wind were blowing, they were not permitted within 150 feet of those who did not suffer from this horrible disease. They were altogether rejected by and isolated from society. No family. No friends. No community. No home. No access to God, at least in the fellowship of worship. All that was left for them to do was to wander about ringing a bell, and crying out, “Unclean! Unclean!” so that others would be warned away.

So this leper fell on his knees before Jesus, and Matthew says: “Jesus touched him.” Think of what that must have meant. It was the first time that he had been touched by anybody in years. But Jesus stepped across the horrendous barrier of this disease and touched him, and the man was cleansed.

Of course, leprosy is not the scourge of the world it once was. Today it is called Hansen’s disease, and it can be controlled by medication. So I don’t want to speak anymore about the physical aspects of leprosy. But the fact is that leprosy has always been used as a synonym for sin—and there are some remarkable parallels between leprosy as a disease and sin as a state of the human condition.

Leprosy destroys the person who has it—so does sin. In almost everything we do in life, the longer we are engaged in it, the more proficient we become at it. The first time you take a needle and thread in your hand, you cannot sew. But if you work at it diligently then in time you will master the art of sewing. The first time you try to hit a golf ball, the ball goes nowhere—or, what is worse, it goes everywhere! But after hours and hours of practice swings, you begin to hit the ball well. In every human endeavor, the more we engage in something, the better able we are to master it—in every human endeavor save one. The more we involve ourselves in sin, the less we can control it and the more it controls us. The more we try to master it, the more it becomes the master of us. It destroys as surely as leprosy destroys.

And sin separates just as leprosy does. It separates the sinner from other people and from God. Those who are caught in the grip of sin want no fellowship with those whose level of life is above their own. They don’t want them anywhere near. They don’t want them within six feet or better yet within 150 feet. And they are separated from God. It is not that God will not come near the sinner—God is longing to do that—it is that the sinner does not want anything to do with that which is good, especially with that which is perfectly good.

But if the one captured by the disease will only come like that leper of old, and say, “Master, I wish to be clean”—then Jesus, with all the infinite love of which He and He alone is capable, will reach out and touch—and with the touch there comes the gift of forgiveness, the gift of wholeness, the gift of new life. “Master, touch me, for I would be clean.” The touch of the Master’s hand is a cleansing touch.

And the touch of the Master’s hand brings healing. We see it in Matthew 8:15.

The incident took place at the house of Simon Peter in Capernaum. His mother-in-law was in bed with a great fever. More than likely it was a case of malaria. Jesus went to her and took her by the hand—He touched her—and as He touched her she was healed. She was given the gift of physical healing.

I am forever being asked, “Can faith heal?” The answer is “No.” But Jesus can. And faith in Jesus can open the door to the possibility of Jesus’ healing. In fact, it inevitably brings healing, invariably brings healing. Oh, it is not always physical wholeness which comes. The disease may be some terrible malignancy of the body, and we pray about it, and the malignancy advances. It is not always a physical healing that comes. But there is healing—healing of mind or body or spirit. In one way or another, this healing comes.

This does not mean that we turn away from medicine. Not at all. Jesus said that His people would do greater works than He did. And that’s true. Every single day, for example, more people are healed in our Presbyterian mission hospitals around the world than Jesus healed in all of His ministry. We do greater works than He did. But there are some times, some instances, when the healing rests with Him alone. Whether it be healing of the body, mind or spirit. And as He was ready to give the gift of healing twenty centuries ago, so He stands ready to give the gift of healing today.

I think here of Rhea Sanders. She was a member of the church I served before coming to you. My first day on the job there, I was called to the hospital to see Rhea. We met for the first time just moments after she learned that she had a serious cancer. We prayed earnestly. There followed a long and losing battle that covered four years and countless numbers of prayers. But in the midst of all that, Rhea Sanders was touched by Jesus. She felt the clasp of the Master’s hand. She was healed—not healed in the body in this instance—but healed in spirit. As a result the fear of the disease and the superficialities in her life were removed. She became a radiant and powerful witness for her Lord. If I live to be a thousand, I shall not forget the last time I saw her. Trisha and I visited her in her hospital room one hot day in June of 1981. The disease had ravaged her physically. Yet she smiled and said: “I’ll be up and out of here in a day or two.” Then she winked at me. She was right—not up and out physically, but up and out in the Kingdom of Heaven with her Lord Jesus Christ.

Many times, I have seen physical healings wrought by the hand of Jesus. They are as much miracles today as they were twenty centuries ago. And I have also seen that miraculous power of His touch minds and spirits as well. The touch of the Master’s hand is a healing touch.

Next, the touch of the Master’s hand brings inspiration. We see that in Matthew 9:29.

Two blind men approached Jesus, and He drew them into the confines of a house. There He touched their eyes, and they could see.

However, I am not so much concerned now with Jesus’ ability to restore physical sight. We have already considered the power of His touch to heal physically. I simply wish to point out that just as Jesus’ touch can bring cleansing for the soul caught in sin and healing for the broken body or mind or spirit, so His touch can bring sight to the spiritually blind. That’s inspiration. Jesus can take a life caught in mediocrity and flood it with hope and vision and power.

I think here of a young man named William Terry, who was a cobbler in a city in Scotland. Jesus touched him, and his spiritual eyes were opened so that he went out into the world and won tens of thousands of people to his Saviour.

I think of a man named Dwight L. Moody who sold shoes. He was concerned with the tongues of shoes and the soles of shoes until Jesus touched his life. The touch of the Master’s hand gave him such a spiritual vision of this country that he went on to become the greatest evangelist this country has ever known. He became concerned with “the tongues of men and of angels” and the souls of humankind.

I think of a man named B. B. Page who loved tinkering with mechanical and electronic machines. He built a nice little electronics business in Columbia, South Carolina. Then Jesus touched his life. Now, at tremendous personal sacrifice, he travels around the world constantly keeping the machinery running in all of our Presbyterian mission hospitals.

I think of David Seel who became a doctor, a good one. Early on, he became known as a leading specialist in the treatment of cancer. Then Jesus touched his life. He left the prominence of practice in this country and a six-figure income to go to the Jesus Hospital in Chenjou, Korea. Trisha and I stood on a hillside at dawn and watched what happens every day at dawn—hundreds of people from all over that region of Korea, traveling by car, or by taxi, or by horse-drawn cart, or by foot, come pouring into that hospital to receive the healing touch from this doctor who has been touched by the Master’s hand.

Jesus said to those blind men: “According to your faith be it done for you.” And He says to all who will open their eyes to see: “With the touch of my hand on your life, I will give you spiritual vision of a world to be won—and you can be involved in the winning of it.” The touch of the Master’s hand is an inspiring touch.

Then the touch of the Master’s hand brings encouragement. We see it in Matthew 17:7.

On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter and James and John saw Jesus transfigured into a glory which surpassed the glory of the angels. They were so awed by this spectacle that they fell on their faces, filled with fear. And Matthew notes that Jesus came to them and He touched them, and He said: “Arise and be not afraid.” The passage then says: “They lifted up their eyes and saw Jesus only.”

There are those who when confronted with all the splendor and the significance of the Master feel that they are not worthy to be in His presence. But it is to just such ones that Jesus comes, and, touching them, says: “Arise, and be not afraid.” So if today you come to this place with the burden of great sin, do not be afraid of the touch of the Master’s hand. It will cleanse you.

If today you come here with an illness of your body, mind, or spirit, do not be afraid. Hold yourself up to Him. Receive the healing touch of the Master’s hand. If today you come here recognizing that your spiritual life is not as productive as you wish it would be, that it is not touching other lives and winning other people and making this world into what God would have it to be, then I say to you: “Do not be afraid. Arise. He will do for you what He has done for others. He will touch your life and you will never be the same again.” How does the poet put it?

And many a man with life out of tune
And battered and scattered with sin
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd
Much like an old violin.

A mess of pottage, a glass of wine,
A game, and he travels on
He is going once, going twice
And going…and he’s almost gone.

But the Master comes and the foolish crowd
Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought
By the touch of the Master’s hand.

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