If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Matthew chapter 15. Last week as we were looking at Matthew 15: 21 through 28, we commented that 15:21 begins a new section in Jesus' ministry. Scholars of the gospel call this the retirement ministry where He draws away from Galilee and ministers in Gentile territory for a while, ministering to His disciples and to others. We don't know exactly how long it lasts, but it is a turning point of sorts. And it's a turning point in the midst of a turning point because we also commented that the central chapters of Matthew's gospel, chapters 15, 16, and 17 remind us of a very significant turning point in Jesus' ministry.
Jesus had been followed by crowds from the very beginning of His ministry, but He had been opposed by the Pharisees. The crowds had been generally receptive. The Pharisees and the Sadducees and the scribes and various other parties of the religious leaders of His people had been rejecting His teaching, rejecting His claims. Now the crowds, though they're still there, and though they still follow Him, though they are still amazed at what He says and though they are amazed by His miracles, the crowds more and more are rejecting Jesus.
It's important for us to see how this rejection is coming. It is not that these crowds are predominate Jewish folks who are following Him as He speaks, as He preaches, as He heals. It is not that they have decided that He's not a good person. That haven't decided, “Jesus, you're a bad person.” They haven't decided that Jesus is not a great prophet. Many of them are calling him Elijah, some of them are calling him John the Baptist raised from the dead, some of them are calling him Jeremiah, they're speaking of him in great evaluation and estimation as being a great prophet. But they are not accepting His claim to be the Messiah. They're not accepting His claim to be the Messiah sent by God for the sake of the reclamation of Israel and for the establishment of God's kingdom. They are not accepting him as Savior and Lord, and that, Jesus counts as rejection. And that rejection which is somewhat indirect right now will become more direct and more explicit as the gospel carries on. But in the mean time, the crowds are still following Jesus but they are not accepting His claim, though they are amazed by His miracles.
Now that teaches us a very important lesson about saving faith. Saving faith is not thinking nice things about Jesus. Saving faith does not mean simply thinking that Jesus was a great moral teacher or a prophet or some sort. Saving faith doesn't even mean thinking that Jesus is the greatest man that ever lived. Saving faith embraces Christ in His claims. And He claims to be the divine Messiah sent by God for the sake of establishing the kingdom of God. And anything less than that is not an adequate profession or confession. Remember the very first – the earliest confession of faith that we have given to us as a Christian confession is Jesus is Lord. That's a Christian confession of who Jesus claims to be. And that's an important lesson for us to learn.
Now last week in Matthew 15:21-28, we saw Jesus ministering outside the land of Israel and ministering to a Gentile woman. A non-Jewish woman, who in fact, acknowledged that He was the Lord, the son of David. Something that the Jewish crowds who had been following him were not acknowledging. So this Gentile had seen something of the fact that He was the Messiah sent by God to Israel and had confessed him as her Messiah, her Lord.
And we saw then a beautiful lesson in saving faith and in the compassion of the Savior as He dealt with that grief-stricken, desperate woman.
Now this week we come to Matthew 15 verse 29 and we'll go to the end of the chapter. And we see repeated for us an important miracle for a different purpose. So let's look to God's holy word, Matthew 15 beginning in verse 29.
Father we thank You for this word and we ask now that, by the Spirit, You would enlighten our heart’s not only to understand, but to embrace it. Show us the compassion of our Lord. Show us His unrestricted mercy, we pray. Give us the grace to follow after it. In Jesus' name, we pray this prayer. Amen.
Christ's ministry in this passage and His repetition of the great miracle of the feeding of thousands is designed to teach us spiritual truth. Designed to disciple His disciples. And in the passage today, we're going to see at least three lessons that are to be learned from Jesus' actions.
The first thing we see is that Christian mercy ought to be as unrestricted as the gospel offer. The second thing we see is that Christians, in light of Christ's example, must love and care for those who are different from us, but attracted to Christ. And thirdly, we learn that saving faith must trust in Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior and Lord. Let's look together then at this passage.
I. Christian mercy is as unrestricted as the gospel offer.
The first truth that we mentioned, you'll see in verses 29 through 31. Here in this passage, we see Jesus continuing His ministry amongst the Gentiles. And here we learn that Christian mercy is as unrestricted as the gospel offer. Mark, in Mark 7:31, the parallel passage to Matthew 15, tells us that Jesus is doing this ministry in the Decapolis. The Decapolis is a region marked by ten cities that are in a mutual defense pack ruled by one tetrarch and it was a predominately Gentile region. So whereas Jesus has just been in the area of Tyre and Sidon, outside of Galilee and has just ministered to a Canaanite woman, He is going to be ministering to many Gentiles. And so, we see a connection between this passage and the previous passage. Though Jesus' great mission is to come and to gather and reclaim the lost sheep of the house of Israel, yet His concern and His compassion is towards the Gentiles too. And so as He ministers in the Decapolis, He's ministering to Gentiles. And He sits down on a mountainside, we're told in this passage, and He's no doubt teaching. That was the standard posture for teaching in His day, to sit while the disciples stand, and just as in the Sermon on the Mount, He spoke to the multitudes from that position and so the multitudes, Jew and non-Jew alike, brought their folks who were sick and who were had maladies of various serious sorts, to be cured of various serious diseases and problems.
For instance, we're told explicitly by Matthew, that He healed people who were unable to walk. He healed people who had various handicaps. He uses that phrase crippled to describe a whole range of possible handicaps. He tells us that He healed people who were unable to see. He healed people of blindness. He healed people who were unable to speak, and then He says that He healed many others as well, and no doubt this refers not only to many other people who were brought to him but many other sorts of sicknesses.
And there is no question, as these people bring them to Him, “Are you a Jew? Are you of the people of the covenant? Are you of God's ancient people?” He heals everyone indiscriminately. They're simply laid before him and He heals them.
And so, there is no attempt to isolate this ministry to Jews and, though He is in a predominately Gentile region, He ministers to all alike the same.
And the crowd is absolutely amazed by what He does. They're amazed by His power. They marvel at what Jesus is doing. And the crowd in turn, as you will see there in verse 31, praises the God of Israel. And that is Matthew's hint to you that this crowd in predominately Gentile. Now in the Old Testament, when we see that title used, the God of Israel, it is often reminding us that God in His love has not only saved His people, but He's drawn near to them. One of the ways that God shows His closeness to His people in the Old Testament is that sometimes He gives them a name of which His name is a part. Think of Jacob who was given the name Israel. El. God. God's name is part of Jacob's new name, Israel. It shows Jacob's closeness and His new relationship with God.
But often also in the Old Testament, in order to show His closeness to His people, God takes their name. And so, for instance, in the great covenant of Abraham, He is called the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel. And it shows again how God is willing to draw near to His people. We show in a marriage how close a man and a woman are when the woman changes her name and takes the man's name. God takes our name as He draws near to us in covenant and so that phrase, God of Israel, in the Old Testament would have brought to mind how close God is to His people.
But here in this Gentile region, in this region where they were not recipients of the Law of Moses from Sinai, where they were not recipients of the covenant promises, where they were not recipients of the prophets’ preaching, here that phrase, God of Israel, tips you off to the fact that their god was not the God of Israel, and they recognize that it was the God of Israel who was enabling the miracles that Jesus was doing. These Gentiles are saying, 'your God, the God of Israel, is the one who is responsible for doing these great things.' And so Matthew is letting you know that this great crowd of people that has assembled around Jesus haven't ever known the God of Israel before, because they're not of Israel. And yet they recognize that it is the God of Israel who is doing this marvelous work. He is performing numerous extraordinary signs, Jesus is, and the phrase, they glorified the God of Israel, is an indication that this Gentile population and this Gentile region is praising the God of Israel for the work that the Lord Jesus is doing.
And by ministering in this place and by continuing His ministry to the Gentiles, Jesus is again expanding and laying the groundwork for His own disciples' later ministry to the Gentiles. You remember we said last week as He ministered to the Canaanite woman, He is preparing His disciples for the day after the resurrection, after the ascension, after Pentecost, when their job will not simply to be to gather in the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but their job will be to go to the ends of the earth, from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and to the ends of the earth, to bring in the Gentiles into the kingdom. And so this kingdom of heaven will contain both the Jews and the Gentiles as they rest and believe on Christ. It's a glorious passage as we see Jesus showing compassion to the multitudes. Even those who are not of God's ancient people. And it reminds us of the unrestrictive nature of Christ's' mercy. And if we're going to emulate our Lord, we must be unrestrictive in our display of mercy and comprehensive in our gospel also.
Now it's very easy, very easy for us to become cocooned. It's very easy for us to work within our own familiar circles and never to reach outside and never to show compassion and concern for those who are different from us. But I don't think it's a misapplication of this passage at all to remind ourselves of the responsibility that we have to show Christian mercy and to do mercy ministry to those who are outside the bounds of our family relationships, outside of our friendship relations, those who are different than we are. And Jesus' mercy to the Gentiles is a call to us to show that same kind of unrestricted mercy to others.
Furthermore, as we see these Gentiles, as we see all the people in this crowd, coming to Jesus for healing of their bodies, does it not remind you of how people have a tendency to care more about their earthly, temporal and physical lives than they do about the spiritual reality of their life. People are often more zealous about their bodies than they are about their soul. They're more zealous about dieting, or about exercising, or about rest or about obtaining proper medical help sometimes than they are about spiritual things of eternal significance. J.C. Ryle says this: “Let us not forget that our souls are far more diseased than our bodies.” Let us learn a lesson from the conduct of these people. Our souls are afflicted with a malady far more deep-seated, far more complicated, far harder to cure than any aliment our flesh is heir to. They are in fact plagued by sin. They must be healed, and healed effectually, or they will perish everlastingly. Do we really know this? Do we feel this? Are we alive to our spiritual disease? Alas, there is but one answer to these questions! The bulk of mankind do not feel it at all. Their eyes are blinded. They are utterly insensible to their danger. For bodily health, they crowd into the waiting room of doctors. For bodily health, they take long journeys to find purer air. But for their soul's health, they take no thought at all.”
Is that you this morning? Do you care far more about your bodily health or maybe your financial health? Are you far more interested to get good counsel from the best stockbroker around than you are to get spiritual counsel from God's word? Are you far more interested in seeing wholeness in your body than wholeness in your soul? If so, Jesus is speaking to you today. The one who healed those bodily diseases was by the very healing of those extreme maladies showing that He was the only one who could heal souls. It was not that their bodily diseases were the most important things they faced. It was that it was an opportunity for him to display His power and to remind them that only He – He, and only He has the power to overcome the real things, the real problems that we face. And of course our greatest problem is sin.
Now if we do not recognize that we have a problem in that area, that is our biggest problem. Those who are in need and those who recognize it are those who are able to avail themselves of the blessing which Jesus has for His people. And so we see Jesus show His mercy in an unrestrictive way to this crowd as they come to him bringing their sick to him. But that's not the only lesson in compassion that we see in this passage.
II. Christians are deliberate in their love for “the marginal.”
In verses 32 through 36 we learn a second thing. Christ is deliberate in His love for the marginal. And because Christ is deliberate is His love for the marginal, so also, Christians must be deliberate in their love for those who are marginal. Jesus, speaking before this crowd of predominately Gentiles, healing before them, cares for their souls. And He shows that though they are marginal in the eyes of His own disciples. And we're going to see that in just a few moments. Though they are marginal in the eyes of His disciples, they are precious in His sight.
Let me just stop and address one critical issue here. Many liberal New Testament scholars will look at a passage like this and say, “Ah-ha. Here is a great example of how Matthew was operating off of some oral tradition. And that oral tradition obviously confused one event and talked about that event as if it happened two times. And it messed up all the details. You know, one time it said it happened with 5,000 people, the next time it happened with 4,000. This is clearly one event that has been duplicated and accidentally included in the gospel material by Matthew.” Surely this didn't happen twice, is the logic. Well, let me say that not only is that an unbelieving attitude towards the text itself, but it also contradicts the evidence within the Scripture itself which debunks that sort of a view. For instance, if you were to turn one chapter ahead, in Matthew 16 versus 9 and 10, you would see that Jesus himself recounts to His disciples both the feeding of the 5,000 and the feeding of the 4,000. And we're going to see in a few minutes that the reason He did that similar miracle twice, is because He had a different reason for doing it the second time than when He did the first time.
But let me point you to some other things in the text that shows you that this is not some accident. The gospels have not accidentally duplicated the same event in a similar story. First of all, remember that two gospels record this story. Both Matthew and Mark record this story. Secondly, notice that numerous significant details are different in the feeding of the 5,000 and the feeding of the 4,000. For instance, the number of people fed, obviously is different in each of these events. Also, the loaves which were available are different in each story. The size of the baskets is even recorded to be different in the feeding of the 5,000 and the feeding of the 4,000. In the feeding of the 5,000, small wicker baskets of the sort that you might carry to use in a garden or to carry a small amount of food at a grocery store are mentioned. And twelve of those are left over. In this passage in Matthew 15, in the feeding of the 4,000, large hamper baskets are spoken of. It doesn't reflect itself very well in our English translations, but one basket was smaller than the other. In fact, the kind of hampers that were used here in Matthew 15 are the same kind of hampers in which Paul was let down out of the city wall to escape under the cover of darkness. A fairly large sized basket, presumably, for that to take place. And so we see different sizes in the hampers or the baskets that were used in the event.
But that's not all. There are other differences as well. For instance, Matthew goes to the trouble of telling you here that the people sat down on the ground, whereas in the feeding of the 5,000, he tells you that they sat down on the grass. Well, it makes perfect sense if the feeding of 5,000 happened in the spring. This is late in the season. The grass is withered. They sit down on the ground and Matthew bothers to give you the details. They weren't sitting on grass. The grass was dead by that time. They sat down on the ground. And then there are various verbal difference. But as we said, Jesus later speaks of both these instances, both the feeding of the 4,000 and the 5,000.
And there is a different reason, a different purpose in these miracles in Jesus instruction of His disciples. Listen to R.V.G. Tasker: “In the first story, Jesus seems to be concerned that the disciples should understand how utterly dependent upon Him they must always be. If they are to do what they would have them to do, they must be in dependence upon Him.” You will remember that the disciples come to Jesus in the feeding of the 5,000. They say the people are hungry, and what do we do? And Jesus shows by His mighty miracles that the disciples must depend upon Him, because He turns around and He says, “You go feed them.” And the disciples say, “We can't.” And the point is: “Right, you can't, I can.” If you're going to feed the people, if you're going to shepherd the people, you're going to have to be dependent on Me.
But listen to what Tasker says is the reason for this miracle: “In the second story He seems to be indirectly reproving them for their lack of sympathy for the needs of the Gentile world.” Have you ever noticed the difference between these miracles? Jesus is right off the shore of Galilee, ministering in a Jewish region, and the disciples come to him and say, “Lord, these wonderful people are hungry.” Now Jesus is ministering in a Gentile region. Do the disciples come to him? No. Jesus comes to the disciples. These people have been with Jesus for three days. For three days these people have been with Jesus and they've run out of their food supplies and do the disciples come to Jesus and say, 'Lord these good people are hungry'? No! The disciples don't even notice. Jesus comes to His disciples and He says, 'I have compassion on these people.' What's implied? You don't. 'I want to feed them. So you feed them.' The scenario is entirely different. Jesus is again showing the disciples His compassion for the Gentiles and this was key to their later missionary work. Jesus is laying a very important foundation for the missionary task. And Jesus' compassion being highlighted is not a unique experience in the gospels. No less than 9 times in the gospels Jesus is accounted as being a person of compassion.
Here we see again the abundant compassion of Christ. Ryle says, “None ever seems to have felt so much when He saw a crowd as Christ.” T.W. Manson says, “No true household can exist unless it provides for more than its own children.” And that is precisely the lesson that Jesus was teaching us. They had to look beyond the boundaries of their normal family units and even of the units of religious nature in Israel, their heritage. They were heirs of the covenant and they had to have compassion beyond those boundaries for those who are marginal in their own experience. The point of all this is that Jesus wants us to have the same kind of compassion for those who are marginal in our experience as He had.
Now I understand there's an incredible, there's an unparalleled thing happening here in redemptive history. God has dealt with the world primarily through Israel and the old covenant. And all who are saved in the old covenant must become a part of that religious unit of Israel. And here in the new covenant, we're breaking forth, and the kingdom of God is going to be made up of both Jew and Gentile. I understand that there's something unique and unparalleled going on here. But there is a lesson for us in this. It is very easy for us to limit our mercy, our compassion, and our gospel ministry to those within the bounds of our own congregation and of our own experience. Young people. You may have been privileged to study in a wonderful private academy. And that's great. But that may lead you to only show your concern and love and mercy for those within the bounds and spheres that you are already use to. And there may be a public school student on the outside who needs to be ministered to that you are not even going to take account of because they're not part of your normal experience. They're marginal to you. Now this is Jesus' call to you to get out of your comfort zone.
This is a call not just to students. This is a call to all of us. All of us are tempted and especially in a city like this where we have large extended family connections and already have social connections in place with many friends. All of us are tempted to overlook those who are isolated and hurting and needy and who are different from us. And Jesus is calling on us here to show His kind of compassion to those who are marginal, to those who are different, to those who we might even be inclined to shun. Jesus is calling us to them.
Are you going to respond to Jesus' call? Who are your Gentiles? Who are the Gentiles in your experience? Who are the unwashed? Who are the untouchables? Who is it going to be that you show the compassion of Christ? We are unmoved by Scripture if we go away from this place not realizing that we are constrained by the love of Christ to have this kind of a mercy ministry to those who are marginal. And that doesn't just mean corporately through the programs of the church. That means through our own time, our own individual efforts.
III. Saving faith trusts in Jesus as the Messiah, Savior and Lord.
One last thing. In verses 37 through 39 we see the culmination of this miracle as everyone eats. And we're reminded again that saving faith trusts in Jesus as the Messiah and the Lord. Jesus, like all good teachers, has repeated an important lesson here for His disciples. He's reminded them again that He is the only one who can overcome the real needs, the real obstacles in our lives. And the disciples needed to be reminded of Jesus' power and of their dependence on Him. That is apparent from their reaction to Him in verse 33. I mean, He had just months before fed 5,000, and when He faces them with the question “How are we going to feed them?”, they respond, “Well, I don't know, what are we going to do. There's no food in this place!” Clearly they needed to learn this lesson again. Calvin says this – “Because daily a similar dullness creeps over us, we must be more careful never to let our minds be turned aside from reckoning the benefits of God.”
He knows that just like the disciples, we forget how dependent we are on Christ. We forget how powerful Christ is for all our needs and we must constantly grow in our trust in Jesus' power and in our neediness. Christ is the one who can answer us in the hour of need. The Scottish Psalter and Paraphrases beautifully speak to this as they paraphrase Romans 8:31 and following: “Let Christian faith and hope dispel the fears of guilt and woe; The Lord almighty is our friend and who can prove a foe? He whose Son most dear and lov'd gave up for us to die, shall He not all things freely give that goodness can supply? Behold the best, the greatest gift, of everlasting love! Behold the pledge of peace below and perfect bliss above! Where is the judge who can condemn since God hath justify'd? Who shall charge those with guilt or crime for whom the Savior dy'd.? The Savior dy'd, but rose again triumphant from the grave; And pleads our cause at God's right hand omnipotent to save. Who then can e'er divide us more from Jesus and His love, or break the sacred chain that binds the earth to heaven above? Let troubles rise and terrors frown, and days of darkness fall; through him all dangers we'll defy, and more than conquer all. Nor death nor life, nor earth nor hell, nor times destroying sway, can e'er efface us from His heart, or make His love decay. Each future period that will bless, as it has bless'd the past; He lov'd us from the first of time, He loves us to the last.”
We must never forget that it is His love, it is His power that causes us to be unable to be separated from him. And so we must go back to him in dependence as our Messiah as our Savior and our Lord. And that's how we grow in grace. Is relearning the lesson of His power and our need? Christ, the Scriptures, ourselv1es, and Satan's devices ought ever to be our study if we do not avail ourselves of the power of the love of Christ. If we do not see our need, we will not grow in grace. May the Lord enable us to do so today. Let us pray.
Our Lord and our God, we pray that You would build in us a compassion like the Lord Jesus. That you would teach us from Your word. And that you would conform us to His image for Christ's sake. Amen