We have a sad tendency to read the gospel narratives as holy relics of a cherished past. We are thankful to have them and are occasionally aroused to protect our collection from wolves. Yet, like relics and mementos, they often lie beautifully stored and carefully preserved, but merely possessed, taking up space, without fulfilling the vital purpose for which they were given to us. Let us once, however, admit their inspiration and enter fully into their purpose, they become the flaming personal presence of Jesus Christ in our lives. Being inspired, they are the living voice of the Holy Spirit, whose words never fall to the ground lifeless, as historical curiosities. Even more, they are Christ’s own autobiography, for he sent his Spirit to give them to us and preserve them for us. To this indisputable truth must be added another. The Gospels are the way our Savior would have us understand him and relate to him. Through them he is present with us and would have us seek and possess his presence. Therefore, as we read, believe, and apply them, our Savior continues to come to his believing church in each generation, saving, challenging, and transforming us, even as he did the original hearers and witnesses.
The Gospels are historical; they are our Savior’s actual word and deeds. This is far more than a dogma that must be defended against prejudiced critics. The Gospels are the way our Savior walks and talks with us, saves and rules over us, encourages and loves us. Many centuries separate us from the first accomplishment of his deeds recorded therein, from the first utterance of the grace of his lips. Yet, because of his promise to abide with us forever, no centuries and no distance separate us from the same exalted Savior who now reigns at the right of the Father. He does the same powerful works for us and says the same words of “spirit and life” that are found in his Gospels. They forever define, explain, and give our Savior and King. To have Jesus Christ, then, we must live in his Gospels, for he lives there, still speaks there, still works there. If we use the Gospels as he intends, we may touch and draw near to him there, in all his saving glory and power, friendship and warmth, transcendence and nearness. Thus, we might consider the ruler who came to Jesus and asked him to come to his house to raise his dead daughter to life. Jesus said he would come, for he is ever the enemy of death. They begin moving through the crowds that ever surrounded our Lord; though many did not believe in him, they could not but be drawn to him, even as the seas could not but respond to their Maker. They press upon him, calling out to him, watching his every move, waiting for anything to fall from his lips. He stops. Someone has touched him. He asks, “Who touched me?” Looking around, Peter is incredulous. “Who touched you, Lord? Everyone is touching you.” No, Jesus responds, someone touched me. It is not every touch or approach, you see, that obtains the object of its desire, that actually benefits from the encounter with the Son of God, and that is a touch of true faith.
A woman lies prostrate at Jesus’ feet. What a miserable creature she was! Suffering from a lengthy, embarrassing, and isolating disease, she had thought to herself, Matthew records, that if she could but touch the hem of his garment, she would be made whole. All her resources had been exhausted upon potential cures; all her hopes had been dashed. Here, however, was one of the daughters of the ancient faith, like Ruth seeking a covering at Boaz’s feet. To speculate on her mental and emotional state will only obscure the one certainty: she knew that the Son of God could heal her.
How, though, could she approach him? Her condition was too delicate to permit a direct approach, for this would undoubtedly result in bringing her misery to public view, a thought too uncomfortable for her to contemplate. A private interview might bring the desired cure, but would Jesus’ disciples allow a woman approach Jesus alone? Should she shout after him? Long seclusion due to the ceremonial uncleanness associated with this disease made her averse to anything that would draw unwelcome attention. She saw the thronging crowds. Ah, here she would remain unnoticed. So, reaching the dense mass around him, she began inching closer, likely stooping or crawling through the jumbled mass of bodies, for it is said that she reached out to touch the hem of his garment, its extremity or border. The sensation of healing was immediate, certain. Knowing that healing power had left him, that faith had touched him, Jesus turned, looked downward upon the woman. Trembling, she came forward and confessed before all that she had touched him, the reasons, and the result. “Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace.” By these words, Jesus healed her inwardly: the dark grip of despair, the reign of frustration and isolation, the paralysis of loneliness and fear. O, the virtue of touching Jesus is always holistic, never piecemeal, always beyond our assessment of our need, never limited to the weakness of our faith.
Man is ever tenacious in the pursuit of the object of his desire. It is a great tragedy, however, that these desires are often deadly to his soul. Obtaining his desire, he gains great harm and misery. His condition is worse for the possession. Let the desire be good, though exceedingly difficult to obtain, and even the pursuit is ennobling. How much more when our desire is for Jesus Christ, the wisdom, righteousness, and power of God? Learn, then, from this woman, that all your desire must be toward him. Whoever you may be or think yourself to be, apart from him, her condition is yours. You have spent all your resources to procure your desire, even assuming its legitimacy. Without Jesus, “without avail” is the result. You have struggled with relationships, inner sins, and family duties. You may, like her, suffer from a longstanding and difficult disease. There may be one sin, one duty, or one dream that wholly occupies the horizon of desire; you have been frustrated in its pursuit or devastated by its realization. You seek fulfillment, deliverance, or purpose. Put all other thoughts aside but this: whatever is worth having, it is to be found only in the Son of God, for he is the life and light of the world. All else is death and darkness. If you have him, he possesses you unto joy unspeakable and full of glory. If you do not have him, what is life but a dreary shadow? How may you obtain him, without whom all else is empty and meaningless?
A passing thought or two will never bring you to Jesus. You may have grown up in the church and know a great deal about him. Knowledge about Jesus without desire for Jesus is a barren wasteland, a desert yielding self-satisfied arrogance, coldness of soul, and bitterness toward God and others. You may seek religious experiences, closeness with others that seem to be closer to him than you are, or fuller book knowledge. These never substitute for Jesus himself as the object of our desire, for seeking him with your whole heart. No, you must cast aside all your self-reliance, the self-reliant routes you have taken, even, in some instances, the preservation of your sense of self-worth and personal dignity. All else must be abandoned to obtain this pearl; the secrets of the inner life exposed; the idols of the heart forsaken. You must seek him: even if simply to touch the hem of his garment. He will give you more; he will give himself to you in all his fullness. Often weak, faith cannot apprehend the magnificence of his grace and generosity. How should you approach him?
There is only one way. He must seek you. It is true that this gospel woman came to Jesus, but we must ask why. She had heard of him. The thoughts of acting as she did would never have occurred to her in her emptiness and isolation had some whisper of his words and works not reached her ear, had Jesus not called to her through them. Jesus granted her a germ of faith to come. Like Nathaniel under the fig tree, Jesus knew this woman long before she came to him. He knew her soul in adversity. He anticipated her coming. He empowered her coming. She responded by coming. The exalted Son of man is similarly calling us through his words and works. Done and said long ago, they were, but they are still living and breathing in the Gospels – not a dim echo through the millennia, not a faint glimmer of glory. He shines as brightly in them now as he did then. He lives through them. Will you cling to him through them? Will you hold the Gospels as a mere relic or source of doctrine, or will you come to Jesus as this woman did? She heard of the very deeds and words of which we read in our Gospels. She came. Drawn by Jesus, she reached toward him in her infirmity, her embarrassment, her utterly emptied condition. She was made whole by her faith – not a mystical touch, not a mountaintop experience, but by a humble believing that Jesus Christ was who his words and works proclaimed him to be: the Son of God and Savior of sinners. She put all else aside, even her last hiding place of personal dignity and self-respect. All is worth sacrificing that I might touch him.
Is this your heart? You may sit in church services all your life and never touch Jesus. You may know a great deal about him but never be touched by him. Or, you may waste your life pursuing one illusive dream after another, but receive a blighted soul as your reward, and that even if your pursuits do not take you into the dark dens of human depravity but consist in things otherwise good and necessary. Without seeking Jesus, without desiring him, without coming to him in the light of his words and works, you will remain isolated and empty, filled with pride and self-loathing. You see, though we were made for God, we gave up this pursuit in favor of Satan’s lies. Fallen human nature is unchanged for these six millennia. Only if we are remade by his touch, by his saving grace, dying love, and resurrection power will we ever begin to realize the purpose of our creation. Come to him. Believe him to be as his word declares: the healer of man’s uncleanness. Believe him able to do as his works reveal: restoring and forgiving men, reconciling them to God, raising up the dead and blind to reign with him. Believe his promise to be with us. Believe that he gives himself to us afresh each day through his Gospels, as we believe and meditate upon them, relate to him as they direct us, and trust in him alone. Reach out to him, even if you find in yourself all manner of vileness and weakness; even if you have, you think to yourself, thrown your life and opportunities away on trifles and vanities; even if but to touch the hem of his garment. And finding him, do not let go. It is all his work, of course, and nothing of ourselves, but he has spoken God’s words and done his Father’s works as so many invitations to us to touch him, to taste and see, to believe and live. He will not turn you away if you look to him. He will satisfy and heal, restore and empower, encourage and motivate. He will say to you as he said to the healed woman, “Be of good comfort; go in peace.”
Would you have fresh supplies of his power? Renewed courage and zeal? Would you be delivered from a besetting sin, more constant in his service, more quickened in love and thankfulness? These, too, are found only in coming to Jesus, like this woman, reaching out to him, touching him, believing that he has lost none of the love and compassion, grace and power, wisdom and goodness that he shows us in the Gospels. Is not this the very hope of a recovered church and converted world? That we might again touch the hem of his garment, that God-given faith may again set its affections on things above, where Christ is, seated in glory and power, goodwill and compassion? The same malady that affects us as individuals is dreadfully debasing the bride of Christ: too much reaching out to the world, too much dependence upon earthly means and methods, too little seeking of Jesus Christ in the course of our lives. Seeking our Savior, then, to be healed and purified by his power, to be renewed and enflamed by his promises and presence, far from being simply a personal cure is the single pursuit that will reform and revive the church, lead to a converted world, and cause the islands to wait for his law. His touch alone heals. His voice alone raises the dead. We have these in his Gospels. Through them, at this very moment, he offers himself to us. What, O professing believer, are you crawling toward? What is the object of your desire? Make it Jesus Christ, as he reveals himself in his Gospels, believing his promise, depending upon his presence, and he shall grant you everything else you require. For when faith touches the hem of his garment, it receives from him saving fullness, righteousness, peace, and holiness of life, grace upon grace. It receives him.