Compassion for People – Matthew 15:29-39

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

January 16, 1994

"Compassion for People"

Matthew 15:29-39


Last week we saw the mercy of God spilling over to a Canaanite woman, a woman who had a "great faith" in Jesus. She had the kind of faith which all believers should exhibit. She came to Jesus repentant for she had turned away from her idols. She was reverent toward Jesus and yet persistent, but most of all she was humble. For these reasons, Jesus exalted her for her exceptional faith. See: The Faith of An Outcast) .

This week we are going to see that the mercy of God continued to spill over to the Gentiles as Jesus travels to another area. We will find again that Jesus has compassion for all people. Turn to Matthew 15:29.


"And departing from there, Jesus went along by the Sea of Galilee, and having gone up to the mountain, He was sitting there."

Matthew’s description here is very nondescript. It simply says that He left the area of Tyre and Sidon where He had met the Canaanite woman and had cast the demon from her daughter. We do not know how long Jesus was in the area of Tyre and Sidon, but now He is somewhere along the Sea of Galilee and He has gone up on some mountain there. Mark gives us a little more information saying that Jesus was in the region of Decapolis. That does not tell us what mountain he was on, but it does give a little better understanding of at least the general area he was in. If you have a map in the back of your Bible, you can look there and find that Tyre and Sidon are on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Decapolis was an area named for a league of Ten cities (deca = 10; polis = city) in the area of what is now Jordan. Part of it covers the area of the southeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus has traveled at least 40-50 miles to get there.

The importance of Jesus’ location is that it determines who He will be ministering to. We have seen in the past that Jesus had been trying to find a place where He could teach His disciples in relative peace. That was why He had left Capernaum to go the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. However, He ended up healing people and feeding over 5,000. (See: A Little is Enough with God ). That was the reason He and the disciples had gone to the plain of Gennesaret, but again He ended up in a very busy time of ministry. (See: Religion vs. Real Faith). It was also the reason that He had gone to Tyre and Sidon. In Matthew 15:26, Jesus states very clearly that He was "sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." His purpose of going into Gentile territory was not to minister to them, but to find a place where He could instruct His disciples in peace and quiet. Yet we found God’s mercy spilled over to the Canaanite woman and Jesus cast the demon from her daughter. Possibly that event brought a lot of attention to Jesus and made it difficult to have the peace and quiet He was looking for. We really do not know because the text does not say. But now we find that Jesus is again in Gentile territory, and the people that Jesus will be ministering to in the rest of this chapter are Gentiles, but even so, we find that Jesus has a continuing ministry.

Look at verse 30, 31. "And great multitudes came to Him, bringing with them those who were lame, crippled, blind, dumb, and many others, and they laid them down at His feet; and he healed them, so that the multitude marveled as they saw the dumb speaking, the crippled restored, and the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel."

Notice that last phrase, "they glorified the God of Israel." That points out again that these are Gentiles for the Jews just glorify God and it is the correct God. It is the Gentiles that must distinguish which God they are glorifying, and they recognized that all Jesus had done was not done by their gods, but by the almighty God of Israel.

That brings out an interesting point, for the Pharisees, who claimed to worship God, had seen Jesus doing these kinds of miracles and claimed that Jesus must be doing them through the power of Satan (Matthew 12). The people of the region of Galilee had seen Jesus do all these kinds of miracles in abundance, yet they rejected Jesus’ claim to having come from heaven and that He was "the bread of life" and the source of eternal life (John 6). Yet these Gentiles, who grew up worshiping false gods and knew the power of Satan, immediately recognized that Jesus’ power came from another source. It could only come from the Lord God of Israel, creator of heaven and earth.

These Gentiles of the region of Decapolis were much like the Canaanite woman we saw last week. They had turned from the worship of their idols and turned to Jesus because they believed something about Him that so many of the Jewish people that Jesus had ministered to had not believed – that Jesus was sent from God.

But there are some differences here too. Jesus had prompted the Canaanite woman to express a deeper faith than just asking Him to heal her daughter. Jesus’ response had brought out from her the depth of her faith, and that she recognized that Jesus was the master, that she was unworthy but humbly requesting a crumb of God’s blessings. These people expressed their faith in bringing to Jesus the lame, crippled, blind, dumb, and many others and then laying them down at Jesus’ feet. (The verb here translated "laid" carries with it the sense of casting or throwing down in haste, yet not carelessly. They could not reach Jesus too soon or be to close to Him). But we do not find Jesus challenging them as He had the woman earlier. The text simply says, "and He healed them." He healed them as He had so many before, but these are Gentiles. The blessings of God to Israel were already overflowing to the nations through Jesus.

One other thing to point out here is the nature of Jesus’ healings. They were of such a nature as to cause the multitude to marvel, be amazed, and to glorify the God of Israel because as they watched, the dumb began to speak, the crippled were restored, the lame were walking, and the blind could see. These were miracles that took place all at once, one right after the other, irrespective of the person’s faith.

I point this out because we live in an age were charlatans abound with many of them claiming to be able to work miracles like Jesus or the Apostles did. No doubt some of these men and women may even be sincere in what they are saying, but neither Jesus nor the apostles did things halfway or over some period of extended time. Those who could not speak were now shouting praise to God; those who could not walk were now leaping for joy. Consider as well that Jesus not only healed diseases, blindness, deafness, dumbness, etc., but also the lame and crippled. Lame here is from cwloV / cholos which includes being maimed or having a foot missing. Crippled is from kulloV / kullos which means "crooked" and includes disability due to mutilation. You will look in vain for verified accounts of faith healers causing missing body parts to grow back.

Again, why do I mention this? Because the claims of some that they have apostolic power and can do what Jesus and the Apostles did are false. Too many people end up distracted by such faith healers and supposed miracle workers and follow them instead of following God. Authority rests in the Scriptures, the Word of God, not in people’s false claim to it. My authority as a Pastor comes from God’s word, not my ability or inability to do miracles. Even if you see someone that does some amazing things, keep in mind that truth is not determined by experience, but by the Word of God. Jesus’ miracles attested that His claims about Himself were true, not simply because He did them, but that they were the fulfillment of what the Old Testament prophesied about Him. Some of those prophecies included that He would perform these healings out of compassion for people. We see Jesus’ compassion continuing in verses 32-39.


"And Jesus called His disciples to Him, and said, "I feel compassion for the multitude, because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not wish to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.’ And the disciples said to Him, ‘Where would we get so many loaves in a desolate place to satisfy such a great multitude?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ And they said, ‘Seven, and a few small fish.’ And He directed the multitude to sit on the ground; and He took the seven loaves and the fish; and giving thanks, He broke them and started giving them to the disciples, and the disciples in turn, to the multitudes. And they all ate, and were satisfied, and they picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, seven large baskets full. And those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. And sending away the multitudes, He got into the boat, and came to the region of Magadan."

Why would Matthew include this story in his account of Jesus’ life? Some have foolishly said that this event never took place, saying that there was confusion about the feeding of the five thousand taking place earlier. However, their premise is built on the idea that Matthew did not write this book. How foolish men prove themselves to be when they profess themselves to be wise! The two accounts are very similar, but also have quite a few differences. The locationhere is in Decapolis, not Bethsaida Julias. Here they sat on the ground, not on the grass, which would be keeping with it now being later in the year after the green grass of spring had withered away in that arid climate. Here we find the 4,000+ are fed after they had been with Jesus three days rather than 5,000+ who were fed after one day. Here seven loaves of bread and a few fish are available rather than five loaves and two fish. Here seven large baskets – hampers – are taken up rather than twelve regular baskets.

Why then does Matthew point out this incident? It is a significant miracle that points out two things. First, Jesus is not only able to perform a mighty work, but He can repeat it according to His own desire. Second, this miracle demonstrates Jesus had compassion on those outside of Israel’s covenant as well as those within it.

We find in verse 32 that Jesus is moved with "compassion" for these people just as He had been earlier when He had fed the 5,000+ (Matthew 14:14). These people had been with Him for three days and He was concerned that after such a length of time the people might pass out from hunger on their way home if they did not get something to eat. The main problem was that they were in a desolate place and there was no place for them to get food. Notice the questioning of the disciples in verses 33, 34 that brings that point out. The disciples have not forgotten what Jesus had done earlier that year, but neither do they presume on Jesus that He wants to perform such a miracle. Their question back to Him declares that they do not have the resources themselves and they await Jesus’ direction on what He wants them to do to fulfill His request.

The feeding of this multitude is carried out in the same manner as the first feeding of a multitude. Yes, they have more food and fewer people to feed, but it is as impossible for 4,000+ to be fed with seven loaves of bread and a few small fish as it is to feed 5,000+ with five loaves of bread and two fish. The task cannot be completed unless God intervenes, and He does. Jesus gives thanks (verse 36) and begins giving the food to the disciples who serve it to the people. I believe the food continued to multiply as Jesus gave it to the disciples in much in the same manner as the widow woman of Zarephath whose jar of flour and jar of oil never ran out though there was little in them and she used them for a whole year (1 Kings 17:10). Or the case of the multiplied oil of the prophet’s widow when Elisha had her continue to pour oil from one container and fill up a room full of vessels. The oil multiplied even as she poured it out. I believe the same occurred here with the food multiplying in the basket even as Jesus distributed it to His disciples.

Jesus can do whatever He wants whenever He wants to whoever He wants as often as He wants. God is not limited in power or resources and He will have compassion on whoever He desires. In this case His compassion and blessings are spilling over in abundance upon the Gentiles.

This story of Jesus’ compassion on the people of Decapolis is nice, but unless we learn something that we can apply to our lives it will remain just a nice story. There are many applications to this story including the importance of glorifying God for what He does for the goal of ministry is worship of Him, that we can rely on Jesus to provide for our needs because He cares for us and His resources are unlimited, and that we should make ourselves available to Jesus for service as did the disciples. However, the application I want us to concentrate on is the example of compassion that Jesus has set for us here, for there is a continuing charge to follow His example.


As I have pointed out on many occasions from Romans 8:29, the purpose of God in saving us from our sins is that we might be "conformed into the image of His Son." Or as Ephesians 2:10 states it, We are "created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

For too many people who claim themselves to be Christians, that designation is merely a social or intellectual one. There is little reality in their claim, for they in fact do not actually follow Christ and exhibit little desire to do so. For many others the claim to be a Christian is a true one, but because of immaturity due either to ignorance or complacency, they continue to fail in following after Jesus as they should.

Let us be neither ignorant nor complacent in this matter. It is our purpose to follow the example that Jesus gave us. We do this out of a response to His love for us and understanding that such is our Creator’s will for us. We have seen this morning another example of Jesus’ compassion for other people, and in this case people that would be considered unholy for they were Gentiles. They were also unlovely for they had various physical problems such as being blind, dumb, crippled, and maimed. They were uncultured for they lived in a remote area far from the centers of cultured society. These are not the kind of people you would want to go out to make friends with, yet we find the Savior in the midst of them ministering to their needs and having compassion for them. Should our response to the needs around us be any less?

James 1:22 tells us to "prove yourselves to be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves." He adds in verse 27, "This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." In James 2:15, 16 he adds that a person who sees a brother or sister in need of clothing or daily food and says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," has a useless faith. We are to strive toward holiness and reach out to those around us who cannot repay us the benevolence we bestow upon them. The apostle John tells us in no uncertain terms that the love of God does not dwell in a person who has the world’s goods, sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him. We are to "not love in word or tongue, but in deed and truth" (1 John 3:17, 18).

How can we fulfill Jesus’ example and follow the commands of these Scriptures and so many more like them?

First, get over your hesitation to be involved with groups that are social service or social action in nature. True, there are dangers in such groups because many of them exist only as social service or action groups without any thought for the greater need for the proclamation of the gospel, and even groups that start off with the proper motivation of using social service and action as a means for declaring the gospel can get off focus. However, we see over and over again that we as followers of Christ need to have compassion for the multitudes of lost, hurting people and put that compassion into action in both meeting their physical needs and declaring the truths of God’s word to meet their spiritual need for following Him.

I am glad that this church does have some involvement with groups such as the Life Saver Ministries and NYCF. However, our involvement needs to be more than one organization supporting another, and that brings me to my second point.

Second, we need to personally respond in compassion to the needs around us. The particular thing that God prompts us to get involved with from person to person, but each of us needs to be involved. You will never know what that will lead you to.

If you look on the back of your bulletin today, you will see that it talks about a ministry called, "Chera" Fellowship. That came about because someone saw the need to comfort and encouragement to widows. That is now becoming a national ministry.

You will also notice in our bulletin today that both the Life Savers Ministry and the Poughkeepsie Crisis Pregnancy Center are having training seminars at the end of this month. Both provide an opportunity for you to get involved personally, not just in helping to save the lives of babies that might otherwise be murdered by abortion, but more importantly to share the gospel with frightened young women who need eternal life in Christ as much as their unborn babies need a chance to be born. I would encourage any of you ladies to get involved with either of these two ministries, and if you need help to pay the training fees, I am sure we can find some men who will sponsor you.

A third point that must be made if we are to follow Jesus’ example of compassion is that we must be willing to sacrifice for others. We are often blocked from following Christ in these things because of our own selfishness. We think more highly of ourselves and our desires than we do of others and their needs.

Let’s face it, we can go out and spend $20, $30, $40, $50 on dinner and not think much of it, but to give that same amount to someone in need is a big deal. Now I am not saying that you should not go out to eat and I am not saying you should be giving your money to every panhandle you meet, for you do need to be cautious to whom you give money to and why you give it to them. But I am saying that for too many of us our own selfishness blocks us from making the kind of sacrifices that should be made and will be made if we are really following Jesus’ example in this. Remember, on this occasion as when He fed the 5,000+ Jesus shared with the multitudes everything He had, and God made that enough for them and Him. He will do the same for us.

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