In the Old Testament, the place where God chose to meet with his people was a place of contagious holiness. It was so supercharged with holiness that merely touching the very instruments of worship in the tabernacle would make a person holy.
God spoke to Moses about the consecrated altar. “The altar shall be most holy. Whatever touches the altar shall become holy” (Exod. 29:37b). Concerning the table in the tabernacle, the altar of incense, the lampstand, and utensils, God said, “You shall also consecrate them, that they may be most holy; whatever touches them will become holy.” (Exod. 30:29). God’s holy place was filled with holy things that existed to make a holy people. In fact, after giving Moses the instructions regarding the tabernacle, God identified himself as, “the LORD who sanctifies you” (i.e. makes you holy, Exod. 31:13b).
This infectious holiness also extended to the garments of God’s priests:
And when they go out into the outer court to the people, they shall put off the garments in which they have been ministering and lay them in the holy chambers. And they shall put on other garments, lest they transmit holiness to the people with their garments. (Ezek. 44:19; emphasis mine)
The holy people of God could transmit the holiness of God to those outside merely through touch! These realities shed light on a familiar story in the gospels.
Laying Hold of Jesus
On one occasion as Jesus was passing through a crowd of people, a desperate woman grabbed hold of his garment. This woman “had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse” (Mark 5:25–26) When she heard that Jesus was in town, she said to herself, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well” (Mark 5:28). Amid the clamoring crowd, the poor woman gathered enough courage to wiggle her way near the Lord and touch him.
According to the law, this woman’s hemorrhage rendered her religiously “unclean” (Lev. 15:19), and whoever touched her would also be rendered unclean. When she touched Jesus, however, something marvelous happened: after twelve years of suffering in her uncleanliness, her hemorrhaging stopped, and she experienced the healing power of God (Mark 5:29–30).
Every other physician had let this woman down, but not the great Physician (Mark 2:17). When she touched Jesus, she was touching the true and holy temple of God. When she grabbed his garb, she held the priestly garments of Christ that were more contagious than her uncleanliness, and the power of Christ flowed into her, healing her and making her clean.
Today there are many people who suffer a sense of defilement, impurity, corruption, and shame. They feel cut off from the worshiping community like this woman did, because they wrestle with various ailments and sins that keep them from approaching the Holy One.
The good news is that Jesus is still in the business of making desperately hopeless and broken people clean—you only need to touch him. For now, we don’t lay hold of the contagiously holy Christ with our physical hands, since Jesus ascended into heaven. While we’re waiting for him to return bodily to earth at the end of the age, we can grab onto Jesus with the hand of faith!
Through faith, you can lay hold of Jesus right now—regardless of how unclean you feel—and experience the same power this woman did. In fact, her healing didn’t come simply because she touched Jesus (many in the crowd had done this); but because she touched him with faith. “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (Mark 5:34; emphasis mine).
The Christian life consists of continually coming to Jesus with that same faith and laying hold of him. When we do this, he blots out the things that isolate us in shame and fills us with his holiness. Don’t let Jesus pass you by.