DUNCAN/Four thousand fed
Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 15:29-39. 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. In this passage, we are going to see three lessons that are to be learned from Jesus’ actions. First, Christian mercy is as unrestricted as the gospel offer. Second, Christians are deliberate in their love for “the marginal.” And third, saving faith trusts in Jesus as the Messiah, Savior and Lord.
I. Christian Mercy Is as Unrestricted as the Gospel Offer
In verses 29-31 we see Jesus continuing His ministry amongst the Gentiles. Here we learn that Christian mercy is as unrestricted as the gospel offer. In Mark 7:31, the parallel passage to Matthew 15, we read that Jesus is doing this ministry in the Decapolis. Though Jesus’ great mission is to come and to gather and reclaim the lost sheep of the house of Israel, His concern and His compassion is towards the Gentiles too. As He ministers in the Decapolis, He is ministering to Gentiles. He sits down on a mountainside, no doubt teaching. We are told that He healed people who were unable to walk. He healed people who had various handicaps. He uses that word “crippled” to describe a whole range of possible handicaps. We are told 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 healed many others as well. No doubt this refers not only to many other people who were brought to him but many other sorts of sicknesses.
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. This reminds us of the unrestrictive nature of Christ’s mercy. If we are going to emulate our Lord, we must be unrestrictive in our display of mercy and comprehensive in our gospel also. It is very easy for us to become cocooned. It is 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. I do not think it is a misapplication of this passage 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, and those who are different than us. 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 lives? Do you care far more about your bodily or financial health? Are you far more interested in seeing wholeness in your body than wholeness in your soul? If so, Jesus is speaking to you. 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.
II. Christians Are Deliberate in Their Love for “The Marginal”
In verses 32-36 we learn that Christ is deliberate in His love for the marginal. Because Christ is deliberate in His love for the marginal, Christians must be deliberate in their love for those who are marginal. Jesus, speaking before this crowd of predominately Gentiles is healing them, caring for their souls. He shows that though they are marginal in the eyes of His own disciples, they are precious in his sight.
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. This is a call to all of us. All of us are tempted to overlook those who are isolated and hurting and needy and who are different from us. 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? That does not just mean corporately through the programs of the church. That means through our own time and our own individual efforts.
III. Saving Faith Trusts in Jesus as the Messiah, Savior and Lord
In verses 37-39 we see the culmination of this miracle as everyone eats. We are 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 has reminded them again that He is the only one who can overcome the real needs, the real obstacles in our lives. 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. They said, “Where would we get so many loaves in this desolate place to satisfy such a large crowd?” Jesus had just months before fed more than five thousand people, and when He faces them with the question of how these people will be fed, they respond in this way. Clearly, they needed to learn this lesson again.
Jesus 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 of Jesus’ power. Christ is the only one who can answer us in the hour of need. We must never forget that it is His love and 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, Savior, and Lord. This is how we grow in grace. Growing in grace is relearning the lesson of His power and our need. If we do not see our need, we will not grow in grace. May the Lord enable us to do so.
The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at email@example.com.