The master of physical touch, the love language we look at Sunday, was Jesus. It’s powerful to learn from Jesus how to touch the lives around us.
We’ve been learning how Jesus loved using the five love languages as a template. We’ve looked at words of affirmation, quality time, giving of gifts, acts of service, and today we look at physical touch. It’s ironic we’re looking at physical touch during a time of social distancing in our world, but it’s critical for those who have touch as their primary love language.
The master of physical touch, like all of the love languages, was Jesus and we learn from Him how touch can communicate what words can never say.
Full Sermon Script
Good morning everyone.
Well, it’s kind of a bummer for me to end this series today. We’ve been learning about how Jesus loved and using the five love languages as a template for this series.
The premise of the book is — what makes me feel loved might not be the same thing that makes you feel loved.
We want to learn the love language of the people in our lives so we can love them better… because life is all about love.
Well, we’ve all been learning what our love language is — as well as our friends, relatives, spouses, and children.
We talked about for some, it’s Words of Affirmation
For some people, it’s spending Quality Time together
For some people, it’s the Giving of Gifts
For some, it’s Acts of Service
Today, we’re looking at Physical Touch
Now you can tell if physical touch is the primary love language of the person sitting next to you… because if it is, they’re sitting right next to you.
If it’s their love language and you’re not sitting right next to them, you might want to move over so you’re right next to them.
For any child — to be hugged or touched gently or held says love, but to the child where physical touch is their primary love language, that may be more important than any other form of love they receive.
And this will remain true as they grow older.
Now the master of this love language, like the rest of them, is Jesus.
We’re going to look at Jesus and touch. It’s very, very powerful.
To begin, I want to talk about one of the most important understandings of the Christian faith — what’s sometimes called The Doctrine of the Incarnation
This is what happened in the story of God and the human race that no one could have predicted.
And this is so important, I want to spend a few minutes taking about it at the beginning of this message.
I’ll get to it this way —
Some of my favorite movies are the ones where I say at the end, “Whoa, I did not see that coming.”
The Sixth Sense
M. Night Shyamalan is known for his surprise endings, but there’s a reason The Sixth Sense is still talked about 20 years later.
Or Fight Club
Where you find out Brad Pitt’s character is a manifestation in Edward Norton character’s mind.
It’s the kind of movie you want to go back and watch again to find all the things you didn’t notice the first time.
Or The Usual Suspects
Do you remember this movie where the majority of it’s told from the perspective of Kevin Spacey’s characters memories?
In both present day and all of his flashbacks, we see him walking with a limp. However, in the last few seconds of the film, he’s walking away from the police station, and all of a sudden the limp starts to go away.
And the cop who questioned him is looking at the bulletin board behind his desk and pieces together that everything Ken Spacey’s character said was made up on the spot using words and images he saw while sitting in his office. — “I did not see that coming.”
Other movies like Momento, The Others, Seven, Split, Glass, Unbreakable…
All of these movies have “I did not see that coming,” endings. They’re some of my favorite movies.
Now the apostle John, when he’s an old man, starts telling this story.
In the beginning was the Word… John 1:1
He starts with the same phrase the Old Testament starts with — the greatest story of all — “In the beginning…”
John says, “In the beginning was the Word…”
Logos is the Greek word.
We get our word logic from that — reason, understanding, insight, to be able to study.
Biology, psychology, sociology, ecology, neurology all come from that word.
All of John’s readers would have loved this beginning — “In the beginning was the Word (the logos)…”
Ancient Greeks loved reason (logos) so much that they believed it was actually an eternal, spiritual, divine being that you ought to worship.
Reason was so beautiful to the Greeks, they worshipped it.
Israel loved wisdom so much, Old Testament writers would speak of wisdom as a person.
The writer of Proverbs talked about wisdom being with God for all of eternity.
When John writes:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1
Every Jewish reader would have loved that.
The idea that wisdom, the Word, wasn’t just available to God; it was actually part of God’s identity. It was his character. It was his essence.
The idea that God can’t do anything that is not wise — they would have love that.
Then John writes:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. John 1:14
I did not see that coming.
No one saw that coming.
Anne Lamott, a woman who came to faith in Jesus kicking and screaming, writes about a little girl who was afraid to go to sleep.
She would ask her mom to stay with her in her room because she hated the dark… and she was afraid to be alone.
Finally, her mom tried to reassure her and said, “You’re not alone. God is with you.”
The little girl said, “I know God is with me, but I need someone with skin on.”
Well, Jesus is God with skin on — “The Word became flesh…”
I want to say a word or two about why this is so critical to the Christian faith.
I understand it can sound like a strange idea — “God became human? Really?”
The reason this is so important is — God wanted to be with us so badly that he became like us.
That’s part of what love does — it enters into the experience, the existence, the burdens of another person. God did that for us.
And through Jesus, we can also know what God is like.
Also, somehow through Jesus, God knows what we’re like. — “The Word became flesh…” — this has staggered people for over 2,000 years.
Somehow, in Jesus, God knows what it’s like to be tired… and hungry… and thirsty.
Somehow, in Jesus, God knows what it’s like to be sick.
God hit his thumb with a hammer.
God fell down and skinned his knee.
God went through adolescence.
God’s voice changed.
God was tempted.
Somehow, in Jesus, one day, God died.
I did not see that coming.
“The Word became flesh…”
You’ll have to decide what you think of this… but to John…
This is not poetry.
This is not a metaphor.
This is not just a lovely idea.
This actually happened.
And this matters, not because it’s some abstract doctrine you have to believe before you can be called a Christian… or before God will let you into heaven.
It matters because it means God is not just an idea.
If you look at the history of the church, in traditions or denominations where this belief is lost, God turns into a kind of pale, lifeless, abstract idea… and faith doesn’t keep its vitality.
You see, it matters because God is real.
And God is alive.
And God is active.
And God has inhabited our planet.
And if you will let him, God will inhabit your life.
Way back at the beginning of the Bible, the writer of Scripture says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Then one day, the Word became flesh, and the heaven and the earth came together as God always intended… and that was Jesus — “The Word became flesh…”
Jesus is God with skin on.
Alright, for the rest of this message, I want to look at Jesus and physical touch.
I went through the Gospels last weekend. I looked at how many times the writers of Scripture talk about Jesus touching people.
And I was staggered by how essential touch became to Jesus’ life — to the way he interacted with people… and to his ministry.
Now, I realize it’s wise right now, with the spread of Coronavirus, to honor social distancing… so we’re not touching each other right now.
It’s ironic I’m teaching this at a time when we’re being encouraged not to touch each other.
Nonetheless, I want to look at a few episodes in the life of Jesus… and I want to talk about how we can express love through physical touch with people in our lives the way Jesus did.
This week applying this may be limited to those who you live with. But hopefully you will consider physical touch and physical love in the life of Jesus beyond the coronavirus.
Alright, the first thing I want to look at is:
The touch of healing.
Over and over again, when Jesus heals people, he does it by touching them.
I want to look at one instance in the gospel of Mark that will show the significance of Jesus healing people with a touch.
A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Mark 1:40
This is a very dramatic moment.
Anyone who had leprosy in that world was regarded not just as sick but as unclean.
The law was very clear — if someone touched someone who was considered unclean in that society… that person was considered defiled.
If I was unclean and you touched me, then you would become unclean. You would become like a leper.
This is why lepers were required to keep a distance of at least six feet away from everyone.
If you had leprosy, you were required to tear your clothes.
You had to cover your mouth.
You had to cry out, “Unclean, unclean,” so no one would touch you even by accident.
Leprosy was often thought to be kind of a curse — it was considered an outer manifestation of inner uncleanness.
It was often associated with the judgment of God by writers of the Old Testament. It carried this moral stigma.
Rabbis would throw stones at lepers if lepers looked like they were going to get too close.
Now, in Mark 1 a leper comes to this rabbi, Jesus.
Everyone is watching to see what Jesus will do.
Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. Mark 1:41-42
A leper comes to Jesus. No one touched this guy. “If you’re willing, you can cleanse me.”
Jesus is filled with compassion. Jesus has an idea.
You have to imagine this scene — Jesus hasn’t said a word yet. And he reaches out his hand to touch this guy.
Every one would have gasped.
You see, this is loaded — Jesus is deliberately taking on this man’s uncleanness.
Jesus, a Rabbi, has deliberately broken the law in order to bring healing, in order to save another human being.
Now it’s Jesus and this leper who are unclean… while everybody else is clean.
The disciples all look at each other and think, “I did not see that coming.”
Then Jesus speaks the words, “I am willing. Be clean!”
Now, why does Jesus touch this man first… while he’s still unclean?
Jesus didn’t have to do that. He could have spoken the word first. He could have kept the law. What is Jesus doing?
Well, because the Word became flesh, to God, no one is untouchable anymore.
To God, there is not a human being on this planet he needs to keep his distance from.
See, this is a huge change to a first century Jewish person about what it means to be spiritual.
In general, in the ancient world, physical imperfection was associated with spiritual imperfection.
The temple was to be a holy place, so you couldn’t even bring an imperfect animal to sacrifice in the temple.
Pharisees regarded their homes as little temples, so people with physical flaws and imperfections were not allowed in their homes.
They wouldn’t touch them… but Jesus is touching them.
This happens all through Jesus’ ministry.
Peter’s mother-in-law gets a fever. Jesus touches her.
A 12-year-old girl is deathly ill. Jesus touches her.
Two blind men in Capernaum. Jesus touches them.
There’s a deaf man in Decapolis. No one would go near him. Jesus touches him.
There’s a blind man in Bethsaida. Jesus touches him.
There’s a blind man in Jerusalem. Jesus touches his eyes.
Over and over again, Jesus could have healed with a word… but he chose to heal with a touch instead.
Religious leaders thought they were showing their spiritual maturity and devotion to God by who they wouldn’t touch.
Jesus showed his devotion by who he touched.
Physical touch, quite literally, has healing power.
There was a study done at UCLA years ago.
People who receive meaningful touch at least 10 times a day live longer lives than people who do not.
This week, if someone in your home is hurting, especially someone whose primary love language is touch, take a moment and reach out. That’s what your hand is for.
It’s amazing — with a child, with a spouse, with a friend, with a roommate — if someone has had a hard day, just the power of touch, just the power of a hand on the body of another human being… especially if you pray for them, brings healing to our souls.
Alright, that’s the touch of healing.
A little weird that we’re talking about this this week, but you can do that this week for someone in your home.
2. The touch of reassurance.
Matthew writes in his gospel about an event of tremendous drama where the disciples are shaken.
When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” Matthew 17:6-7
I love that Matthew includes this little detail… that before Jesus says anything, he touches them.
They’re on the ground in fear, and Jesus comes along.
Do you remember the game Duck-Duck-Goose when you were a kid?
Jesus is going around touching them on the head —
Don’t be afraid.
Touch has the power to reassure people who are experiencing fear.
When one of our daughters was little, if she was afraid of something, she would raise her hands and say, “Mommy, hold you.”
Instinctively, if someone suffers grief or loss or sorrow… we hug them.
It’s because touch can communicate what words can never say.
If there’s a question you cannot answer or a problem you cannot solve… a touch just says, “I’m here for you.”
God made our bodies for this.
And we never stop saying this… I don’t care how strong or smart or rich you are. You never stop saying, “Mommy, hold you?” Maybe it’s not to your mommy, but it’s to someone you love and need reassurance from.
By the way, the writers of Scripture often call the church — the body of Christ.
You see, that ministry of sanctified touch — “You don’t have to be afraid,” belongs to us now.
I mention this because sometimes it doesn’t get practiced.
Again, in light of what we’re going through with coronavirus, this is not going to happen anytime soon, but it’s necessary in the future.
I was talking to a woman who’s a widow. She was telling me, “Not only did I lose the touch of my husband when he died. Most of my married friends don’t ask me out to be with them as much anymore either, so I have actually lost touch outside my marriage as well as inside.”
If you’re part of our church, let’s just make it a deal that when we start gathering in person again, we will make our gatherings high-touch.
Put an arm around another shoulder
Give a hug
Especially for those people who come to church who are afraid, or are alone, or are going through grief.
Church should never be a place where people go and don’t have someone who is reaching out to them.
Now we want to do it in appropriate ways… and I’ll say more about that in a minute, but this week, look for chances to offer the touch of reassurance to someone in your home.
3. The touch of reconciliation.
We often use language of physical touch — a metaphor of closeness and distance — to talk about what’s happening to our souls, and our spirits, and our hearts.
The very last story of healing from Jesus comes just hours before his death.
Roman soldiers were sent to arrest him, and the apostle Peter decided he was going to defend Jesus,
Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) John 18:10
Apparently, Peter was a little out of practice in his sword fighting because the best he can do is cut off his ear.
Jesus said, “Peter, put away your sword. We’ll have none of that.” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.
There’s something about this story that is so moving… it’s recorded in all four of the Gospels.
Jesus tells Peter, “Put your sword away. This is not how I want you to respond.”
And then he turns to his enemy who has come to help kill him. He reaches to his face (it’s a real intimate gesture when you touch someone in the face) in this moment when everyone feels hatred and fear.
I imagine Jesus apologizing for Peter:
“Malchus, I’m sorry. I’ve been working with Peter for three years. I can’t seem to do anything with him. Here’s your ear back.”
And he sticks his ear back on.
Then they arrest Jesus and take him away.
I wonder if Malchus asked himself, “What kind of man would waste his last miracle on one of his arresters? Why would he touch me like that?”
I wonder what Malchus said when he went home to his wife and family.
I wonder when he was older if he would sometimes go to scratch his ear and remember the time when Jesus touched him and healed him.
Kathy and I were at dinner with friends a while ago, and I said something that I could tell was hurtful to Kathy.
There’s that moment sometimes when someone you know really well — no one else can tell, but you know what you said hurt.
A few minutes later, under the table, where no one could see, where no one else would know, a hand touched my leg. I was pretty sure it was Kathy’s hand.
That touch was her way of saying, “I’m okay. It’s okay. We’re okay.”
That touch of her hand was her way of saying, “I will not distance myself from you while we’re with our friends… or try to make you feel isolated… or hurt you back. We’re still together. I still love you. We’re okay.”
Kathy has a very expressive hand.
On the other extreme, I know a guy whose marriage has been one of distance, disappointment and estrangement.
His primary love language is physical touch… especially the sexual part of their marriage.
Yet, as the relationship grew more and more distressed… physical distance became the way she would communicate rejection.
This is so sad — he said one night in bed… he rolled over and his foot happened to touch her leg, and she moved away from him in her sleep.
He talked about how painful it was that this dynamic of distance and avoidance had become so deeply embedded in her body that even when she was sleeping, it was at work.
They have a lot of issues to work through… but if she could just touch him on the arm, or hold his hand and looked him in the eye, his love tank would start getting filled up so fast it would amaze her… and it wouldn’t cost her a thing.
If you’re in a relationship where there has been this kind of estrangement, you don’t have to solve everything to just touch one another.
Now I know this will raise a question for some of people:
“What do I do if someone in my life has physical touch as their primary love language, but it doesn’t come naturally to me?”
I grew up in Chicago, in a neighborhood with a lot of Swedish people. I didn’t see a lot of people hugging and touching each other.
A friend of mine literally never once saw his parents hug each other.
He literally never saw his parents holding hands.
He literally never once saw his parents kiss.
Guess what his wife’s primary love language is. It’s touch.
He said, “I’m not a toucher. My parents were not touchers. Their parents were not touchers. We are not touchy people.”
Swedes actually have their own love language — food.
“What do I do if it’s just not natural, and I don’t feel comfortable with physical touch?”
There may never be a time when you feel comfortable with physical touch if you were raised in a family that didn’t touch each other.
But if you reach out a hand or give a hug… it can, over time, feel less and less uncomfortable.
And even if it doesn’t, this is not about feeling less uncomfortable. It’s about love… and love is not about my comfort.
Love is willing to experience discomfort in order to will and act for the good of someone I love.
4. The touch of blessing.
People were bringing children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples had a problem with that.
When Jesus saw this, he was indignant…
And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10:16
This is a picture of extraordinary beauty that was quite unusual in the ancient world.
In the ancient world, people were not all sentimental about children like we tend to be today.
Children were regarded as the lowest on the status pole.
That’s why Jesus sometimes used them as a picture of greatness in the kingdom. With Jesus, children were made to be touched… made to be loved.
Because of Jesus, children, whose bodies experienced loving touch developed better emotional lives.
Their brains developed quicker.
They become closer relationally than those who were touch starved.
It’s so interesting… again, this would be unusual in the ancient world — in a very different, non-sentimental culture.
But with Jesus, parent’s knew, “My child could be blessed by his touch.”
Parents were bringing little children to have Jesus touch them.
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. Mark 10:13
The disciples know Jesus has more important things to do.
But actually, Jesus doesn’t, because to touch and love is to bless. He’s always looking for those who were least likely to be blessed.
When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Mark 10:14
You see, to refuse to touch is to dehumanize… so Jesus would touch those that would not be touched by other people… he would touch them to bless them.
There’s a story about Jackie Robinson, you may have seen the film 42. It just kills me every time I see it.
The racial hostility in a stadium is pouring out of the crowd. It’s part of the legacy of our nation.
People, because of the color of their skin, were regarded as untouchable.
Pee Wee Reese, a white shortstop from Kentucky, walks over in front of a full stadium and puts his arm around Jackie Robinson and just stands there… because touch says more than words ever could.
If you haven’t seen the movie, I have to show you the scene.
The power of touch.
When someone would pray for someone in the Bible, they would lay hands on them… because they realized touch is never just physical. It always involves spiritual connection… because we’re spiritual beings. That’s who we are.
Spirit and body are all mixed up together… because the Word became flesh.
Now, I need to say something about the right kind of touch and the wrong kind of touch… and how this form of the expressing love needs to be redeemed.
People who work in this field say — every human being has their own definition of personal space, our little kingdom, that should not be violated.
How close do you stand to someone… when we’re not dealing with a pandemic?
In the US, experts say 18 inches from the tip of your nose to the next person tends to be intimate space, and you only allow intimate friends to stand that close in conversation.
If someone else gets that close… that’s when people feel uncomfortable.
About four feet is personal space.
Now this varies from one culture to next. I remember being in Argentina where personal space is much closer.
If someone violates another person’s personal space, particularly if it’s a man violating the personal space of a woman, that’s creepy and offensive and a little scary, and we don’t do that.
Also, there’s a real important difference between giving someone a hug… and taking a hug.
If you’re sad and a friend embraces you… they’re giving you a hug.
If you have a moment of victory and a friend embraces you… they’re giving you a hug.
If a team wins a championship and grown men are jumping up and down embracing one another… they’re giving a hug.
But there’s a clingy, needy touch that can actually drain the life out of you.
I remember someone at church saying something like this to me —
“I’m so lonely and desperate. I can’t even guilt or manipulate people in my own family into hugging me. I’m a bottomless black hole of emotional need looking for a body I can suck the life out of. You’re a pastor. It’s your job. Hug me.”
That’s taking a hug. We don’t do that around Blue Oaks.
There’s an interesting story in the life of Jesus where he was touched once… and his immediate response was, “I felt the power go out of me.”
Only Jesus can heal the needy soul.
I shouldn’t try to manipulate a human being into satisfying the need that only God can satisfy.
Also, because our bodies are created by God to be so important and so enmeshed with our spirit… the wrong kind of touch can be incredibly destructive.
Physical abuse in a family — between spouses, or a parent and a child… or in any relationship — is wrong. It’s sin. It’s not okay.
And if it’s happening to you, you need to get out. You need to get safe. And you need to get help.
Sexual abuse is wrong. It’s sin. And it’s not okay.
Unwanted sexual advances are wrong… and sin… and not okay.
The writers of Scripture talk about our bodies being the temple of the Holy Spirit.
That means when I’m dealing with the body of another human being… I am on holy ground.
Alright… “The Word became flesh…”
Jesus is God with skin on.
Why would God do that?
Well it turns out human life — your life and my life — is kind of a love story.
There’s a hero, a Prince, the best human being who ever lived. His name is Jesus, and he lives in perfection and joy.
Then there’s the human race, you and me, all ragged and sinful and hurting.
The Prince says he wants to marry her. He actually becomes a peasant, actually becomes like us, actually sacrifices his life so one day the Prince and his bride, Jesus and his church, God and you, God and me could be one.
I did not see that coming.
Would you join me in prayer as the band comes to lead us in a closing song.
Now, God, thank you that into our lives and our fear and darkness… the Word became flesh. Love dwelt among us.
God, thank you for the hope that the Word made flesh goes before us, and may that love triumph in our lives. May the touch of Jesus flows through us to people around us.
We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.
Now before the band leads us in a closing song, as it’s appropriate, would you just love the person next to you — embrace, give a hug, shake a hand, say a word.