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

A CONTINUING JOURNEY

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.

A CONTINUING MINISTRY

"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.

A CONTINUING COMPASSION

"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.

A CONTINUING CHARGE

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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