Jesus Heals and Feeds the 4,000
Passage: Matthew 15:29–39
We are finishing up Matthew 15 today where Jesus heals a bunch of people with very different kinds of ailments and then he feeds 4000 people. This is the culmination of a story that started back at the feeding of the 5000. Remember, Jesus fed 5000 men, plus women and children, then he walked on water, then he rebuked the Pharisees and Scribes, then he acknowledged the faith of a Canaanite woman, and now he’s feeding 4000 more people.
What do you think Matthew is trying to do? He’s trying to tell us all who exactly Jesus is. If you were to go out into the city right now and ask people who Jesus is, I know you would get answers like ‘he was a teacher,’ ‘he was prophet,’ ‘he was an important historical figure,’ or ‘he was a myth.’ Some of these answers are more correct than others, but none of them by themselves are correct.
If you ask them what Jesus does, you’ll get answers like ‘he taught love,’ ‘he healed people,’ ‘he started a revolution,’ or ‘he restricted our freedoms.’ If you ask who has access to Jesus, I’ve heard answers like ‘those who obey the Ten Commandment,’ ‘those who live a good life,’ and ‘those who go to church.’ Again, some of these answers are more correct than others, but on their own, they are all wrong.
There is a lot of confusion out there about Jesus and there was even more confusion during Jesus’ earthly ministry and in the early years of the church. People in the context of our passage are asking, ‘who is this man?’ Some say he’s the prophet Elijah, some say he’s John the Baptist come back to life, and some say he’s a heretic. And this is exactly what Matthew is writing to address. He wants to let Jesus answer that question for all of us.
So, that is how we are going to look at this passage. By answering the questions Matthew wants to address. Who is he? What does he do? Who is he for?
- Who is he?
What Matthew wants us to see is that Jesus is the long awaited, long prophesied Messiah. Do you remember the prophecy in Isaiah 35? Isaiah 35, though it doesn’t have a messianic figure, describes the return of God’s people to Zion with all of its accompanying blessings. 5 bThen the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 bthen shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. cFor waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; - Is. 35:5,6
Is this not exactly what Jesus is doing? Verses 30 and 31 30 And great crowds came to him, bringing with them uthe lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, 31 vso that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mutespeaking, wthe crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. - Mt 15:30,31
The prophecy in Isaiah 35 is a promise that one would come who would bring Israel out of her exile, safely through the wilderness, and into the promised land. And some might have a pause here and think, “Well, Israel is back in her promised land at the time Jesus is doing his ministry, so how does this apply?” While Israel is back in the land, they aren’t free. They are under Roman Occupation and feeling the need for the Messiah to come as much as ever. In addition to that, Israel has gone astray in their hearts even though their bodies are in the land. So they await a Messiah to save them.
These signs Jesus does proves that he is that Messiah. The anointed one who is to bring salvation to Israel and usher in the New Covenant. The one who would lead us out of the slavery of sin, through the waters of baptism, through the wilderness of this life, and into the promised kingdom of God. And this is a theme that Matthew has been trying to drive home for a while in his gospel.
You may remember just four chapters before John the Baptist had the same question before he was killed he sent word to Jesus from prison and asked him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And what did Jesus say? 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 kthe blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers1 are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and lthe poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who mis not offended by me.” - Mt 11:4-6
Jesus is answering John by quoting, again, the prophet Isaiah from chapter 35, but also Isaiah 61. Isaiah 61 is a straightforward messianic prophecy The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has tanointed me to bring good news to the poor;1 he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and uthe opening of the prison to those who are bound; - Isaiah 61:1
Jesus is saying, “I’m doing what Isaiah said I would do.” He said the blind would see and they have. He said the lame would walk and they do. He said lepers would be cleansed and they are. He said the deaf would hear and they can. He said good news would be delivered to the poor and it has been. Matthew is claiming in the strongest possible way that Jesus is this Messiah. Nothing less. He is more than a teacher, he is more than a religious leader, he is more than a prophet, and he is even more than a king. He is nothing less than God himself as Isaiah prophesies in chapter 9, For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. - Is. 9:6
But, there is one very important part of Isaiah’s prophecies that is not fulfilled in Jesus…yet. Judgment. Most of Isaiah’s prophecies refer to judgment in their immediate context, but Jesus seems to ignore it when he addresses John the Baptist and Matthew hasn’t addressed it either. The blessings promised for the end time have broken out, but for some reason Jesus is choosing to delay the judgment. Why? This leads us to the second question. What does he do?
- What does he do?
The Messiah meets all the needs of his people. This is what is being displayed in the strongest possible way. He has power over physical ailments, he has power over spiritual ailments, he has power over the natural world and the supernatural world. And we see in verse 32 that he uses that power because he has great compassion for his people. “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” - Mt 15:32
But, the disciples still don’t seem to get it. They ask in verse 33, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” - Mt 15:33 Seriously? They have literally just been in this same situation with thousands more people and they don’t know how Jesus is going to feed them? And on top of that they have just seen him perform all kinds of miracles yet they don’t know how he can feed these people? Before we are too hard on them, though, we must see that these disciples in this moment are a great picture of all of us.
John 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.” How many of us have seen Jesus do an amazing work in our hearts, in our relationships, in our addictions, but the moment a new problem arises, we doubt. We wonder if he can do it or will do it again. We may, like the disciples, even question his ability to work in our lives when a crisis arises. And if that is you this morning, we can learn two things from this passage. First, like the disciples, we take our questions and even our unbelief to Jesus. They had a question and they asked him. They weren’t afraid of him. They felt like they could approach him and so can we. If you have a child with a problem, would you want them to come to you with it? Of course you would. And your Heavenly Father has the same desire of you.
Second, we should see that it is in our neediness that we see Jesus’ compassion the most. His miracle in feeding the 4000 would not have been impactful if the people were not hungry. Sometimes that does mean that we see Jesus do some sort of miraculous healing in our life. I’ve seen crazy things that I can’t explain other than Jesus’ supernatural healing. I’ve seen children cured of cancer. I’ve seen brain tumors disappear. I was talking with an Acts 29 pastor this week who had a propane tank explode in his face and burn everything and somehow, all his skin grew back as if nothing happened. No doctor could explain it other than through the power of prayer. And I can tell you that in each of these cases, these people saw the compassion of Jesus in an even greater way because of their unique needs.
But, Jesus doesn’t give us the expectation that this is always how he is going to work. These miracles are describing the kind of power he has, but not prescribing that this is always how he will choose to work. His goal is always to work more on the inside than the outside. More on the spiritual and emotional than on the physical. Sometimes instead of fixing the short term problem, he gives us a peace that surpasses understanding and sustains us through the problem and that’s how we see his compassion toward us. That’s exactly what happened to the Apostle Paul when he asked Jesus to heal the thorn in his side, whatever that was. Jesus simply and audibly told him, “My grace is sufficient.”
Jesus uses our ailments to make sure we continue to keep our eyes on him. To see his compassion more clearly. And he promises in Romans 8 that all things will work for the good of those who believe. And the ‘good’ promised is that those things will be used to conform us more into his image and the more we are conformed into the image of the Son, the more joy and satisfaction we will have in this life.
But all our ailments in this life are supposed to show us that Jesus has come to solve our greatest ailment: our sin. All of our problems in this life are a result of our sin. The curse that we brought into this world because of our desire to be a sort of god over our own lives. This world was not designed to have broken relationships, broken bodies, or irrational minds, but because of our sin, it does. But there is something worse that our sin brings on us. It merits God’s just wrath against us. If God is perfect, then he is perfectly just, and if he does not punish sin, he ceases to be perfect.
And this is at the heart of what Jesus, the Messiah, does. In his unimaginable compassion, he came to bear that wrath in our place and he did so on the cross. God does punish sin, but for those who put their faith in Jesus, that punishment is taken by him in our place. This is why the judgment of Isaiah is delayed. Because in Jesus’ earthly ministry, he says he has not come to condemn, but to save.
Jesus then lavishes us with his righteousness and gives us eternal access to the Father as redeemed children. And as the saved Israelites wandered in the wilderness toward the promised land, so we, as saved Christians, will wander in this life toward the better promised land of his kingdom where there will be no more pain, no more fear, and no more hurt. But between then and now, he will sustain us. He will not let us go. He will be with us at every moment. But, for those who do not put their faith in Jesus, there is still a judgment. It is delayed, but it will come. Every sinner must be judged, but we get to choose whether that judgment will be paid by us or by Jesus.
This leads us to our last question: who is Jesus for?
- Who is Jesus for?
The answer is for everyone. That is, any type of person who puts their faith in him. Not those who live a good life or those who obey the Ten Commandments because that is impossible for us to accomplish. Jesus did not come to simply make us more law abiding, he came to fulfill the law for us and then put that law in our hearts. He’s not for those who go to church because simply going to church is not enough to deal with our sin. Jesus is for any type of person who repents of their sin and puts their faith in him as the only one who can redeem them and save them.
There is a well known Ancient Near East literary device called a chiasm. Imagine a triangle with similar events at each end pointing to one thing at the top of the triangle and that thing is what the author wants us to see. Well, we have a chiasm here. What two events do we have that look awfully similar? The feeding of the 5000 and the feeding of the 4000. And what comes in between? The gentile Canaanite woman, outside of the covenant promises of Israel, allowed to eat the food from the table of the kingdom. We looked at this last week.
Not only that, but we have a progression in these feedings. Many people have wondered why both Matthew and Mark would put two of the same miracles so close together. Why he would use such valuable space and ink to say the same thing. One of the reasons is because the feeding of the 5000 was a Jewish audience, but this feeding, according to Mark, was in the Decapolis. This area, while in Israel, comprised of many gentiles. This is why they said in verse 31, “That they glorified the God of Israel.” Jews didn’t say this. Jews said they glorified the God of Abraham. This is never heard in the feeding of the 5000. These are outsiders, like the Canaanite woman, saying their hope is in the God they have been estranged to. So, we have this clear progression that displays the inclusion of the gentiles in the kingdom that Jesus is bringing.
Not only that, but what is taking place is on a mountain. This is really important to Matthew as he points out in a number of places where Jesus does significant things that he is on a mountain. The sermon on the Mount, the transfiguration, and here. The Old Testament prophecies say that Jerusalem (Zion) would become a great mountain to which all of the nations would come and be saved. Matthew is showing us that this is fulfilled in Jesus! People of every nation, every tribe, every language can come to him now and be saved.
This is why we put so much effort into global missions. The promise is available, but we must take it. Let’s go back to Isaiah. 6 Therefore my people shall know my name. mTherefore in that day they shall know that it is I whospeak; here I am.” 7 nHow beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, owho brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” 8 The voice of pyour watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; qfor eye to eye they see the return of the LORD to Zion. - Is 52:6-8
Paul picks this up in Romans 10 by saying, 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him uof whom they have never heard?3 And how are they to hear vwithout someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written,w“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” - Romans 10:14,15
Jesus is for all types of people and we, as Christians, are called into the most important mission in the history of the world: to take that message to them. Today there are more Christians alive than have existed in the first 1900 years of the faith combined. But, there are also 3.4 billion people who have no access to the gospel. People who will be born, live, and die without ever hearing the name of Jesus. Just think about that, there are exponentially more messengers for Jesus than have ever existed AND more people who, without us going, will never hear the gospel.
If we are to take this passage seriously, we must seriously engage with our call AND our global context. This means that some of you will go to foreign and strange lands to be the only message of hope certain people groups will ever hear. I will live the rest of my life saying that for those who are called to go, that is one of the greatest callings a Christian can have. But, even though not all of us are called to go in that way, we are still called to be a part of that mission.
This means praying for these people groups. There are great resources out there like The Joshua Project that can help us to knowledgeably pray for unreached people groups. We are called to financially support those who do go. You can go to our missions wall in the hallway over by the offices and see different missionaries we have sent and support and take one of their cards and pray for them and support them. Do you realize that pretty much all of us are products of other believers at some point in time, taking the gospel where it is not. If we believe that Jesus is for all people, our prayers, our money, and our feet must be where our mouths are.
But more than all the benefits Jesus gives us, the greatest gift is that we get him. He is not just our hope in our troubles, he is not just the hope of the world, he is the personification of hope who we get to have a relationship with. The consistent thread through these stories is simple, “Why are you worried? You have me.” “Why are you worried about what you will eat? You have me. Why are you worried about the storm? You have me. Why are you worried about drowning? You have me. Why are you looking for a king? You have me.
Just as Moses refused to go into the promised land if the presence of God wasn’t going with him, so all the physical and spiritual benefits of the gospel, but without the person of Christ would not be worth it. And all who come to him will be accepted and embraced.
Jesus has compassion for the 4000 and says I will not send them away. Neither will he send away any of us who asks for the forgiveness of our sins and puts our faith in him. Matthew says that all ate and were satisfied. In the same way, all of us who eat of the bread of life will be satisfied, but not just of our hunger for a day. We will be satisfied in the deepest part of our souls for all of eternity because Jesus is the prophesied Messiah who comes to us in his compassion for us to redeem us and take us home.