Summary: The importance of touch in ministry
The Touch of Angels
In recent years, we have seen quite a rise in the number of alternative therapies that are available. No doubt there is an alternative cure for hair loss! Some of them seem to have an element of sense in them, and others fall into the barking mad category. However, where I think that many of the alternative therapies have their success is that they give their patients time, and they often involve some kind of physical contact, such as massage.
I understand that the medical profession now recommends a special form of therapy in dealing with unconscious patients. The relatives are encouraged to touch the patient, to communicate their love through the touch of the human hand.
There is enormous power in the touch of another person. And the angel in our reading from 1 Kings 19 knew the importance and healing power of a touch. For twice we read that the angel touched Elijah.
Before we go too much further, we need to put our reading into context. We need to know Elijah’s situation. Some years before, Ahab, the king, and his wife Jezebel had abandoned the worship of Jehovah and begun to worship the pagan gods or Baals. One of the consequences of this was that God sent a drought to try and bring the nation to its senses. However, the king and the people were stubborn, and a showdown came about on Mount Carmel in which Elijah outstandingly defeated the four hundred and fifty prophet of Baal. You may be quite familiar with that story. For in it, Elijah showed clearly that it was God who had the power to bring rain and not Baal.
Not surprisingly, Ahab and Jezebel were not particularly happy with this, and threatened to assassinate Elijah. (19:2).
So that was Elijah’s situation. But what was Elijah’s state of mind? As you can imagine, Elijah was afraid, (v3) and went off into the desert. We read that he sat down under a tree and prayed that he might die (v4). I think he was tired, even exhausted after his showdown with the prophets of Baal. He was afraid, and depressed. Elijah was sick and needed healing.
God knew Elijah’s situation and God knew Elijah’s state of mind. And God knew Elijah’s needs. God knew the importance and healing power of a touch and sent his angel to administer it.
The touch of the angel’s ministry
Now, angels are described in the Bible as messengers and ministering spirits sent to serve God’s people (Heb 1:14). I imagine that the stereotype of an angel is somewhat along the lines of ‘so heavenly minded as to be no earthly use’, but as you read the Bible record, you find that angels are frequently sent for very practical purposes. And that is certainly what happened with Elijah. The angel came as God’s representative (the angel of the Lord v7), to show to Elijah the presence of God with him.
The angel came as God’s minister to touch Elijah to assure him of God’s love. The angel didn’t just come and sit there slightly apart from Elijah. The angel actually touched Elijah. The angel touched Elijah twice. And in the touch was an intensely practical assurance of God’s love.
The angel came as God’s minister to touch Elijah to bring in healing. Because after the angel’s touch Elijah was able to get up and move on. Rather than lying down under the tree, wanting to die, Elijah began to be restored.
The angel came as God’s minister to bring practical assistance. Elijah needed bodily sustenance. And the angel provided him with freshly baked bread and water. Ministry is not just spiritual. It is practical as well. And the angel gave practical assistance to Elijah.
And finally, the angel came as God’s minister to give direction. For once Elijah had been fed and begun to be restored in mind and body, the angel directed him on. The angel directed Elijah to Mount Horeb, the mountain of God, where Elijah was to have an even greater experience of God.
So we see very clearly the touch of the angel’s ministry. The angel came as God’s minister in a very practical way. And an essential part of that ministry was to touch Elijah to assure him of God’s love, to touch him to bring God’s healing and restoration.
The touch of Christ’s ministry
Of course we see the importance of touch and clearly displayed in Jesus ministry. For Jesus touched people, time and time again.
Jesus touched people to bring healing. In Mark 5:23, we read of Jairus asking Jesus to touch his daughter and that she might be made well. And we know that that is what Jesus did.
Jesus touched people to show his compassion. In Luke 1:41, we read how Jesus touched the untouchables, how Jesus touched a leper, and he was immediately made clean. And in that touch, we see that it was a touch filled with compassion. Jesus touched people to show his compassion of and concern for them.