Theme: Care for All
In this week’s lesson we learn to desPair of no one.
He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was four thousand, besides women and children. “‘After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan.
Matthew’s account of the feeding of the four thousand people near the Sea of Galilee may be similar to a previous story told in chapter 14. But Leon Morris points out that Matthew
clearly regards the two incidents as distinct: the numbers of people are different in the two incidents, as are the quantities of food and the amounts left over; the words for “basket” are different; the people in this incident had been with Jesus for three days (v. 32) whereas in the earlier incident they had just gone around the lake to head him off (14:13-14).. .The times appear to be different, the earlier feeding being when the grass was green (Mark 6:39), that is, in spring, while here there is no mention of grass and the ground appears to be hard (v. 35); in other words, it is late summer.1
The important thing is this. The reason Matthew includes the story of the feeding of the four thousand is that all or most of these people were Gentiles, which makes it a sequel to the story of the Canaanite woman. It is true that Matthew does not say explicitly to which side of the Sea of Galilee Jesus returned after having been in the region of Tyre and Sidon, but Mark says that it was to the Decapolis (Mark 7:31), a name referring to an area to the west of Galilee known for its ten Greek cities, and Matthew fits in with this when he says that the people praised the “God of Israel” (v. 31). That was a natural thing for Gentiles but not Jews to have said. That these were Gentiles rather than Jews has been a view in the church since St. Augustine.
Gentile “dogs”! Yes. But in spite of their being Gentiles: 1) these people were healed just as the Jews had been (vv. 29-31), 2) they were fed just as the Jews had been (vv. 32-37), and 3) the disciples were used to serve them just as they had been used to serve the Jewish gathering (vv. 36, 37). What better way to teach that Gentiles are as important to God as Jews and that Christianity is a worldwide religion.
I have spent most of this study showing what the stories of the Gentile woman and the feeding of the four thousand are about and how they fit together. But these stories also need to be applied to ourselves directly. I find that they teach four important lessons.
1. Faith may be found in unlikely places. “It is grace, not place, that makes people believers,”2 wrote J.C. Ryle. This is true. One would have expected to find strong faith among the people of Israel, who had the Old Testament and all the other benefits that went with being Jews (see Rom. 9:1-5). The last place one would have expected faith was in an utterly Gentile territory. But it is the Canaanite woman who believed, and strongly, and it was the people of Galilee who did not. It is the same today. Do not say, “That person will never come to faith” or “That one is too far gone to believe.” You do not know that, and it is often the most unlikely persons who come. Who would have expected Saul, that first great persecutor of the Christians, to be converted? Yet he was. He became the great missionary to the Gentiles. John Newton, the converted slave trader turned preacher, said on one occasion, “I have never despaired of any man since God saved me.”
2. Be encouraged to come to Jesus. You may think that you are too to come to Jesus or that Jesus could never care for you. But that is completely wrong. If Gentile “dogs” can come, you can come. If you have never turned from sin to trust Jesus as your Savior or have never thrown all your cares upon him, do it now. Jesus himself said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). He taught, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37).
3. Come to Jesus especially if you are in trouble or hurting. Jesus cares for people whatever their problems might be. The multitudes were hungry. Many were sick. The Canaanite woman had an afflicted daughter. Jesus fed the hungry, healed the sick and cured the girl’s demon possession. Will he do less for you?
4. Needy people will often find more compassion in Jesus than in Jesus’ people. The disciples were not much help either with the woman or with the crowds, either one on-one or with the masses. But that was only to be expected. They were just poor sinful people themselves. They were not the answer to these problems. If you have been disappointed by Christ’s people, don’t despair about that. They are trying; it is just that they are still sinners. Come to Jesus. It is What they would tell you to do anyway.
1 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, and Leicester, England, Intervarsity Press, 1992), pp. 406,407.
2 J.C. Ryle, Matthew (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 1974), pp.179-180.
What is significantly different about the two accounts of mass feeding?
Explain what this point of difference indicates.
List and explain four lessons you learned from Jesus’ two encounters with Gentiles.
How do you treat needy people? How can you be more compassionate?
Pray that your relationship to Christ is as it should be. Pray that your relationship to others is as it should be as well.