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Sailor's Delight

Matthew 15:29 - 16:12

Lesson audio

It is, perhaps, unfortunate that verse and chapter divisions were required. With computer search tools it is much easier to find things these days. The chapter divisions suggest that there is a logical break point at verse 1. This is not the case in this session, which we shall take piece by piece.

Feeding the 4,000

Departing from there, Jesus went along by the Sea of Galilee, and having gone up on the mountain, He was sitting there. And large crowds came to Him, bringing with them those who were lame, crippled, blind, mute, and many others, and they laid them down at His feet; and He healed them. So the crowd marveled as they saw the mute speaking, the crippled restored, and the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel. And Jesus called His disciples to Him, and said, "I feel compassion for the people, because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way." The disciples *said to Him, "Where would we get so many loaves in this desolate place to satisfy such a large crowd?" And Jesus *said to them, "How many loaves do you have?" And they said, "Seven, and a few small fish." And He directed the people to sit down 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 gave them to the people. 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 crowds, Jesus got into the boat and came to the region of Magadan.

(Mat 15:29-39 NASB)

Healing first

It is a fact: if you’re going to convince the average human of something, you will need his attention first. The method of getting that attention matters too, for if you get his attention by robbing him, for example, you can convince him – that you are a thief.

God understands this fact. So it is that Christ performs his healing first, convincing the crowd that here is a man from God (at the very least). But in every group there are those who are waiting for the main course: feed me. In our own time we find the “prosperity Gospel” – God wants you to be rich; He will make you rich if only you will give to His cause, and no better place than right here in our television ministry. Which brings up the question: what if God doesn’t make you rich?

The usual answers run along the lines of “you weren’t really sincere about giving.” There’s something to be said for that; but often enough God is concerned first with your healing. If the wounds of life still bleed, it’s healing you need, not riches. So if you are expecting riches – monetary or not – and not getting them, perhaps He is healing you before feeding you.

There is a parallel to this in our own lives. Sometimes the sinner walks through the church door only to find that he is shuffled off to the “right” Bible class. We are sometimes so anxious to feed that we forget there is healing to be done first. So it is that we have the example of our Lord to remind us: first things first.

Ask not, and you shall receive

It is not usually noted, but see that the crowd does not ask Him for bread. They may or may not have heard of His feeding the five thousand, but they are willing to starve themselves (or at least fast) so that they might have His healing. The phrasing in the Greek here means that Christ was restoring lost hands and feet; I suspect the awe was at such a level that it would have seemed inappropriate to ask for such a feeding.

But Christ’s compassion flows this way. His blessings do not depend upon our righteousness but His compassion. Speaking for at least one sinner, I’m glad that it does.

Christ often works this way; before we perceive the problem, the people of God have turned to Him, petitioning a solution. So it is that we often find ourselves puzzled at what God is doing, only to see later that His compassion was meeting needs we did not feel were important. He knows us better than we know ourselves.

Growth in the faith

If you make the comparison with the feeding of the five thousand, you will see a growth in faith.

  • The people no longer thought they must touch Him or His garment; it is sufficient now to lay the crippled at His feet. The example asks the question: who should we be bringing to Him?
  • The disciples no longer challenge Him as to how this can be done. Not after the feeding of the five thousand. They’re not sure how it will be done – but they know He can do it. The example asks the question: are we telling Him what must be done first?


The Pharisees and Sadducees came up, and testing Jesus, they asked Him to show them a sign from heaven. But He replied to them, "When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' "And in the morning, 'There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.' Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times? "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah." And He left them and went away.

(Mat 16:1-4 NASB)

It should be noted that the very earliest manuscripts have neither the ending of the second verse nor all of the third verse. These apparently are additions; Jerome was aware of the difference, however, and considered the additions valid. (AD 391-403).

The Pharisees, testing/tempting

The Pharisees – though they would be shocked to understand it – share something in common with the modern agnostic. They believed they were in a position to pass judgment upon God. In the Pharisees time this was due to hypocrisy and arrogance, as they were the “experts” on God; no one knew God better. The agnostic today relies upon arrogance and hypocrisy; arrogance, in that he passes judgment upon God; hypocrisy in proclaiming himself a seeker – but only a seeker after the God he wants, not the God Who Is.

Man sits in judgment on God; in this manner he prevents himself from knowing who God really is. It is important to do this; otherwise, He may introduce you to yourself, sinner that you are. But if know God as He really is, you will discover yourself honestly – and know that He seeks the wandering and lost.

See the signs of the times

Christians tend to fall into one of two categories when it comes to “signs of the times.”

  • There are those who, by the grace of Darby, Lindsay and Peretti, know all the answers. Everything that is happening in Israel is a sign of the times – and a lot more outside. Those who follow such a theory often find themselves with more signs than they know what to do with.
  • There are those who don’t follow such a crowd, and wonder whether or not such things are indeed signs of the times.

The answer is relatively simple: God’s timing is hidden (“no man knows the hour”) but His plan is not. He tells you that He is returning – and He also tells you how to behave in the meanwhile:

  • Don’t goof off, but do what you are assigned to do
  • Don’t be a hypocrite; He, after all, is not a false God. Why should you be a false Christian?
  • Don’t neglect the good works He has commanded you. Analyzing the signs of the times is no substitute for Christian charity.
Why no other sign?

So why, then, doesn’t God hang out a few signs for the wicked? It would be so very convenient to have fire and brimstone hit every now and then. So why not?

  • First, there are signs and there is seeing. To see God requires the pure heart – clearly not present here.
  • If you seek God earnestly, he will be found. The question is one of intent.
  • But if you seek only your own good, you will see nothing of the things of God.

Men of Little Faith

And the disciples came to the other side of the sea, but they had forgotten to bring any bread. And Jesus said to them, "Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." They began to discuss this among themselves, saying, "He said that because we did not bring any bread." But Jesus, aware of this, said, "You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread? "Do you not yet understand or remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets full you picked up? "Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many large baskets full you picked up? "How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

(Mat 16:5-12 NASB)

Getting the point

It is a connections not often made: little faith means you often “don’t get the point.” Why should this be?

  • Little faith means little obedience. As Bonhoeffer once observed, “Only those who believe, obey. But it is equally true that only those who obey, can believe.” Our lack of obedience is often a barrier to understanding what God is trying to tell us.
  • Since we have so little faith (looking forward) we see no sense in looking at the past to find our faults. We have our children study history for a reason.
  • Little faith means little results; little results make us disinclined to ask for big ones. Given our track record, what else would we expect?

Leaven, for a variety of reasons, isn’t really the example it used to be. But if I used the word “cancer” you would see the threat:

  • Cancer, like leaven, is a slow, silent and insidious threat. So it is with false teaching; there are no neon lights to proclaim its arrival.
  • Cancer, like leaven, does its work best when the body suffering from it does nothing – wishful thinking that it will go away by itself. Or perhaps it’s a refusal to see the obvious. Doing nothing helps false teaching grow.
  • Cancer, like leaven, may at first seem like something multiplying good, not evil. Its victims may start to lose weight, usually welcome in our society. False teaching often comes with real enthusiasm.

But leaven still has one good example for us: when baked in, a hard crust conceals the airy lightness inside.

Could such leaven be with us today?

“Not in our church,” is the proud proclamation. The phrase, “Bible believing church,” is presumed to ward off all elements of false teaching (especially those of the Bible believing heretics down the street). We don’t see the problem, staunch Christians that we are. But consider:

  • All Scripture is profitable – so why is this in the Bible if not to warn us of the dangers of false teaching? This is not Biblical babbling, but a warning to the body of Christ.
  • The insidious nature of false teaching tells us how it is done: the matter seems good to most people. Only the stuck in the mud don’t see the virtues of the new way of looking at things.
  • Besides, we argue, it’s trivial. What difference can it make?

Let me give you an example of “what difference?” Consider the doctrine of marriage now proclaimed from the pulpits of Bible believing churches:

  • Despite the Bible to the contrary, a woman owes neither obedience nor submission to her husband. Isn’t this what the church has always taught?
  • Despite the Bible to the contrary, men and women are interchangeable parts – either can be the leader in marriage.
  • Despite the Bible to the contrary, our views on marriage really don’t have any impact on the frequency of adultery, fornication and homosexuality.

But surely, you say, surely this is not all that important, is it? We’re modern people; we know better, right?

Consider then what our picture of marriage has done to the doctrine of the church. The ancient church – by which I mean from the beginning to perhaps a hundred years ago – used marriage and Christ’s relationship with his church as logically interchangeable. You knew the relationship of Christ and the church by looking at marriage; you knew the ideal of marriage by looking at the relationship of Christ and the church.

  • We now tolerate adultery nicely; we also tolerate “other” religious views as being broadminded. The thought that Christ is the only way is viewed as narrow minded and old fashioned. (Think what this does for evangelism, folks.)
  • The woman need only “respect” her husband; the bride of Christ need only respect Him – no real obedience required. We need only call Him, Lord, Lord. Obedience is now seen as “legalistic.”
  • The husband was required to be the spiritual leader of the family, as Christ is of the church. Now, we expect little more than attendance and tithing. As the church, we expect little of Christ. Perhaps this is why He disappoints us; we expect too little of Him.

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