Saturday, 24 March 2012

Laying on of Hands

If somebody says "Just wait 'til I get my hands on you," You know at that point, assuming they're bigger, it's time to head for the hills as fast as you can because they want to do you some harm (e.g. Es.3:6).

But it's not all bad. Since the dawn of time, people have been laying hands on each other to confer a blessing. In so doing, they share something they have with the person who is on the end of their arms. For example, outside the bubble of the secular West, fathers often confer inheritances (family wealth and authority) on their sons (e.g.Gen.27:26-27). The church is not unique in this practice. Many religions do the same kind of things for the ordination of their spiritual "elites." It is a very human behaviour.

But before you think I've gone all anthropotheic and liberal, let me say that humanity was made in the image of God not vice versa and that changes everything. We are not rational creatures, we are liturgical ones. We aren't here to define reality, but to reflect it - to reflect the reality of Heaven where Jesus lives with his Father in the fellowship of the Spirit (Matt.6:10).

A quick glance at the phrase lay hands in the Bible, reveals an interesting difference between the Old and New Testaments (covenants).

In the Old Testament, the laying on of hands was bad news. If someone lay their hands on you, you were about to get it in the neck - literally. You were about to die. Animals would be brought to God's appointed place of worship for sacrifice, the people would lay their hands on them and then slaughter them by slitting the throat so that the blood of the animal could be poured out.

However in the New Testament, the laying on of hands is no longer an "uh-oh!" moment and as a practice is actively pursued in the early church (2Tim.1:6). So it begs the question... What's changed?

Fallen humanity has nothing to offer God, so when a person came to the temple / tabernacle with his animal to sacrifice in tow, he was not offering God a blessing. As he laid his hands on the animal, he was conferring upon it all his sins, sinfulness uncleanness and death.

As an aside, all human laying on of hands (aka the "blessings" of Adam) end in death, we cannot confer immortality on each other. The very best we can give, will never last. Morbid as it is to think on - all humanity is united in temporariness, futility and death.

But there is more to this particular temple ritual than mere scapegoating...

In this instance, the laying on of hands was a sign that a person was uniting himself to the sacrificial animal as it was about to die - he was symbolically joining it in the grave.

These animal sacrifices pointed towards the coming of Christ and how his death would remove all our sin, uncleanness and death and renew everything, even our dark hearts, making us able to approach the living God joyfully. So although these Old Testament believers were living under a covenant of death, they were waiting in resurrection hope, that when the Christ came, he would raise them to life and that's exactly what he did when he ascended in to Heaven after his resurrection, he took all the OT saints with him (Eph.4:8) and they are partying hard right now! (Rev.7:4)

So after the ascension, where Jesus sits down at the right hand of the Father, we see a total change take place. The Spirit is poured out, humanity is invited to draw near with faith and receive a foretaste of the eternal life that is coming. Christ has done away with sin, those who draw near are cleansed and transformed. No longer is sin at work in them producing death, rather, the Spirit is at work in them producing resurrection life.

So now when Christians lay hands on people, it is not to transfer sin, uncleanness and death, but rather resurrection life that they have received through the pouring out of the Spirit. And just as the OT person united himself to the animal in the laying on of hands, so too, as hands are laid upon believers in the New Covenant age, it is a declaration that we are all united as one in Christ and we share him with each other and the world.

The laying on of hands is NOT a hocus pocus thing (See Acts 8:19 for the case of an idiot who thought it was). It is an expression of sharing and unity (which has supernatural elements) Jesus has been glorified and the Spirit of Life has now been poured out on the World, for all to come and drink if they will only hear the call.

Will you hear the call - today, and everyday after?

3 comments:

Lozi said...

Good blog post Ricardo!

john Marcham said...

Probably the attitude of the church and its people.We only seem to lay hands in the context of a meeting, where it is made to seem as a special event,whereas we can lay hands at any time anywhere work,clubs, the gym etc. I have even laid hands on a car engine which
would not start, after praying it did.

Richard Walker said...

I know where to come if my car breaks down then...

;-)