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Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Devotional Thoughts Based on Matthew 15:32-39

by Pete Benson

Gospel Reading: St. Matthew 15:32-39 - Jesus feeds the Four Thousand

“Then Jesus called his disciples unto him, and said, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way. And his disciples say unto him, Whence should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill so great a multitude?
And Jesus saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven, and a few little fishes. And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks, and brake them, and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude. And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets full. And they that did eat were four thousand men, beside women and children. And he sent away the multitude, and took ship, and came into the coasts of Magdala.”

A case of bad memory or slow learners?

It’s possible there are a few that have notes in their Bible that could bring out some of the points that we made four weeks ago. But I would guess that lots of us would be ‘Well I don’t really remember.’ You know, even myself, I had to go and look at my study. I don’t remember what I taught four weeks ago. So I had to get it out and look at my outline, remember my points. Definitely a case of bad memory. That is true, isn’t it, that’s one of the challenges we have as Christians, believers, is we have bad memory. We lose those understandings and some of the things the Lord is teaching us, sometimes they’re powerful, sometimes they’re tough experiences. But God shows us things and we start to loose just the memory of it, we start to forget, and so as a result, a little bit later we’re facing similar situations, and you’d never know that we had learned certain principles before because it’s like we’re having class all over again, taking the test again, and trying to remember what the answers are.

You know there’s this phrase often, I did a search in my Bible software, but if you take the phrase “Do not forget”, it comes up quite a few times in the Bible, God saying to his people “Do not forget, do not forget.” One of the instances is in Deuteronomy chapter 8 where Moses told the people as they were about to enter the Promised Land, and of course they were going into lots of abundance, lots of resources, lots of blessings, they had nothing to do with it [almost the freak way we Americans ended up in the US as a few tiny insignificant English colonies on the eastern shores of the American continent---and look what we inherited]. And when they were entering the land and going to live there awhile, God said ‘beware that you do not forget the LORD your God, and then as a result your heart becomes lifted up and you start to think that you had something to do with this.’ He says ‘beware that you don’t forget.’ ‘Beware that you don’t forget in this manner, for if you do’, he said, ‘you will assuredly perish.’

Well then we flip through our Old Testament study, history there as we’ve been doing on Wednesday nights, and don’t you know they forgot exactly what they were told not to forget, they forgot God, they forgot his principles, specific instructions he told them not to forget, they forgot. And then as a result, sadly, they were judged. And boy isn’t it true for you and I, we go through a season, God will teach us things, and then a little bit later, it’s like we never had this season, we forget. A similar situation, similar circumstance comes and you’d never know that I had learned certain principles before about God and about myself. Sometimes it’s a case of bad memory, other times it’s a case of being a slow learner. So I didn’t quite learn it the first time, actually, so I get to take the class all over.

As we pick up now in Matthew chapter 15, verse 32, you know, the disciples, they have similar problems. They have a bad memory and they are slow learners too, no doubt about it. You could say they’re special-needs disciples, you know. You could give them some kind of little letter, delayed ADH, whatever, you know, they are special needs disciples, they need extra class-time, a lot of special attention from Jesus so that they can learn some of the principles. [And we’re not that much different, those of us the Lord has called, cf. 1st Corinthians 1:26-29, read it.] Fortunately for us, we get to study their lives, and as we do, there are things that we can glean, and prayerfully by the grace of God can also remember a little bit later in time.

But one of the things we’re going to look at today as we watch them, is this aspect of slow-learners. And what are some of the things, some of the reasons that we’re slow to learn? Well there’s a few points that I noticed that we’ll draw out, and we’ll point out other things too as we go along. But some of the points, three points,

1) one of the reasons why we’re slow to learn is because of different variables, different place, different time. I may have learned it in one context, but now it’s a little bit different. It’s a similar type faith issue or whatever it might be, but it’s a little bit different time, different place. And so the variable’s are different, so I struggle.

2), Secondly, one of the reasons why we don’t learn or are slow to learn is that we willfully choose not to believe, with some of us that’s the case, an area where God has spoken, and I just don’t believe, I just choose not to, I don’t accept that.

3), and then thirdly, one of the reasons we struggle in belief, little bit different, it might sound the same, but it is a different principle, and that is that we struggle in faith. It’s not that we willfully don’t believe, but we actually have faith, but we struggle with faith, it’s a meager faith. And so, we struggle.

Copyist error or two separate feedings?

Chapter 15, verses 32-39, “Now Jesus called his disciples to himself and said, ‘I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with me three days and have nothing to eat. And I do not want to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.’ Then his disciples said to him, ‘Where could we get enough bread in the wilderness to fill such a great multitude?’” And you’re thinking, ‘What’s up here guys?’. Just a couple chapters earlier, well, a chapter earlier [Matthew 14:12-21] dudes. “Jesus said to them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ And they said, ‘Seven, and a few little fish.’ So he commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves and the fish and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to his disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitude. So they all ate and were filled, and they took up seven baskets full of the fragments that were left. Now those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. And he sent away the multitude, got into the boat, and came to the region of Magdala.”

So, Jesus feeding a whole bunch of people. Been there, done that. I remember the first time, you know if you’ve had this experience, you’re studying through the Bible, and you see something, like ‘Hold on here,’ I remember reading this, going ‘wait a minute’, this is the same story, did somebody make a mistake? Did somebody copy this, and ah, just the numbers maybe over the hundreds of years, centuries started to change a little bit? It’s the same story.’ I remember stumbling over that and struggling with that. And evidently there are a lot of Bible critics that have the same issue, they stumble over the fact that there are two of these feedings and they’re so similar. But you know, I’ve had these experiences where I stumble like that, then I come back and I began to study, and rather than my faith being in question later, what happens is I see that this is the Word of God, these things are true, as I begin to study and dig in. And God had a purpose for this. And so my faith is actually strengthened. When you carefully compare the feeding of the five thousand and four thousand, no doubt about it, there were two feedings. A little bit later, we’ll get there, prayerfully today, chapter 16, a few verses down, verses 8 and 9, we’re prayerfully going to make it to verse 12, but you’ll see that verse 8, 9 and 10, Jesus actually himself references two different feedings. So it’s not a copyist error, where it accidentally just slid in there, because he himself actually says there’s two different feedings.

But then the details, when you compare the details, there’s quite a few different details that clearly there were two different feedings.

So some significant differences. And yet, people question, ‘Why would Jesus, why would he do this same thing? I mean, it’s so similar.’ Similar situation, similar question, and why, why do the disciples respond in the same way? Some stumble over that, but you know, as I consider the Old Testament and the Israelites, I’m like ‘Well, you know, looking at the way they were, and then I look at my own life and the way I struggle, and man, same lessons over and over, same struggles. When I look at it and consider it, then their response, the disciple’s response isn’t so unusual to me. I mean, when I look at some of you guys too, in your lives, some of the things that you’ve gone through, just watching your lives, those of you I know real well, still struggling with the same sorts of questions and situations.

1. Different times, different variables: But how many times does the Lord have to provide for us before we just simply trust him?

Well, why again, why does Jesus have this happen? Why don’t the disciples get it? I think again it’s a case of the disciples being slow to learn, they’re slow learners. Even though it’s a few months later, Jesus had tested them in a similar fashion, some of these principles hadn’t fully sunk in yet. And so Jesus is retesting, he wants them to understand, it’s important that they learn the way he can work, what he can do. But also the way that God can use them. I mean, there’s a whole lot of needs in the world, and these men are going to be the foundation of the Church. And they need to be able to go out in faith and be used by God---as a conduit of his power and his love in ministering to the needs around them.

And so they need to discern and understand, it doesn’t matter how great the needs and how many people. God can indeed work through my life, he can indeed use me, he can meet the needs of these people. So they’ve been slow to learn, so let’s take the lesson through, Jesus is no doubt setting this up. One of the reasons, too, maybe at this point, again that causes them to struggle a bit in learning, is the fact that there’s different variables. It’s a different place, it’s a different time. And also potentially it’s the fact that there is now a Gentile crowd as opposed to there being a Jewish crowd. And that could be something too, that type of variable is causing them to, when the situation comes up, and he’s clearly bringing it up. It’s not connecting initially in their minds.

And you know, we can be like that, you and I can be like that. I can have, maybe earlier in the ministry where I was trusting God for provision in my life. Maybe there was a season, it was like that for my wife and I when we first got started, there were a lot of seasons for trusting God for provision, personally, maybe in the church. And those seasons aren’t quite the same anymore. But if a season like that comes up today, you know I learned it then, I went through the class and began to trust God that God is a God that provides. And yet, today, there might be a season because of the way it comes into my life, where now I’m facing unpaid bills or a little bit of a provision deal, and I can start to struggle a little bit. I can start to question, where my faith isn’t what it should be. Different time, time is passed, there can be different variables. So today, maybe you’re here in the same situation, and here you are. And you can look back in your life, and you’re looking at the situation ahead of you, and you’re struggling right now because of what’s going on. There’s not the peace of God, there’s not the faith, there’s not the hope as you’re looking at what’s before you. But yet, if you’re honest, you can look back, and maybe it’s packaged a little bit different, but you can look back in your life, and there are circumstances and situations that are fairly similar, where God came through for you, where God intervened, where God worked. [“I am the same yesterday, today and tomorrow”] And if that be the case, it’s a statement of us being slow to learn, or having a bad memory, one or the other.

You know you wonder, how many times does the Lord have to provide for us, how many times does he have to intervene for us before we begin to just simply trust him, and rest in him---not getting stressed out and getting all discouraged, getting frustrated? It is sad how quickly we forget that God provides, it is sad how quickly we forget how he comes through for us miraculously, and yet we forget a little later. Or we forget about his compassion. You know, he showed us clearly he loved us. And now, a little later, I’m questioning the love of God because of what’s going on in my life. But he’s shown me before, he just demonstrated it to me so clearly, that one season. Man, I know you love me, Lord, because of the way you ministered to me then. And yet, here we are struggling in trusting. Well are you facing a situation like that? Little bit different variables---different place, different time? Looking back, your like ‘Yeah, I can connect and see, there’s some things back there.’ Well, I pray that the Lord just ministers to you today before you leave, and you choose to go out and just trust him. It’s great to trust God, and just to rest in him. It really is. It’s a good life to just trust God, and not to fret and wonder and question, but just to rest---‘You know, I know you’re gonna take care of this, God, you’re good and you take care of my life, you promise all things work together for good, I’m gonna rest in that principle in my life. I’ve learned it Lord, I’ve chosen to learn it.’

Jesus is the answer to all our needs

Verse 32, “Now Jesus called his disciples to himself and said, ‘I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with me three days and have nothing to eat. And I do not want to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”

These people have been with Jesus three days. Now that’s a statement, that’s a statement of how they were so drawn to him, to be with him for three days, they’re away from civilization, and they’ve got to the point where they’re hungry [ie, their personal food supplies have run out]. So to be out there that long a time, that’s a statement of how they’re really, he’s so powerful in his ministry and in his teachings, so they’re drawn to him. They are physically hungry, that’s clear, he notes to his disciples, these folks are so hungry. He’s concerned that when they return to wherever they’re going to return that they may actually faint because of weakness, lack of food, being tired.

We learn in the other Gospel, Mark chapter 8, that some of them have come from a far distance too. And so as you see, due to his compassion, he’s a God of love, you know, it’s true, he loves you, he loves me. Why don’t we just rest in that. But as a God of compassion he chooses to do something, and intervene and minister to these people. He doesn’t want them to go away hungry. And it’s true today, you’re here today, and in your heart, man, there is that sense of lack or hunger, or man, you need just the touch of God in your life, you need healing. And I believe, the way Jesus is looking at these multitudes at this particular time, Jesus looks here and he doesn’t want you to leave this place without that need being met. He doesn’t want you to leave hungry, he doesn’t want you to leave with that hurt, not having been touched or being healed. He wants to minister in your life. And so may you believe, really, may you open your heart to him, and allow him to minister to you, and touch your life.

You know, Jesus is truly, he is the answer to all our needs, there’s no doubt about it. You know, the Lord chooses to use the disciples here, clearly he’s engaging them at this particular time. He wants to work. But he could work independent of the disciples, he could just have fed these people, setting it up just like before, he asked them the question. We learn in Mark chapter 8, they actually respond, and maybe they start to tune in at that point, ‘How many before?’, ‘What are we going to do, how many loaves do you have, how many fish?’. And so they actually respond with the answers. And I’m sure their hearts and minds are beginning to maybe think a little bit back to what happened before. But he wants them to fully grasp, fully know, that he can work in their lives, always, every situation. And he wants them to know that in every situation, all the time, he can also work through them, to minister to the needs around them.

You know, Paul writing to the church in Colossians, he was telling this church that Jesus is indeed the answer to all my needs, and all the needs around me. Colossians chapter 3, verse 4, Paul writes, “When Christ, who is our life, appears…” When Christ, who is our life, he is our life. Do you know Jesus as your very life? Then he states in a few verses later, in verse 11 of Colossians chapter 3, he says, “But Christ is all and in all.” Now that is a full statement. Christ is all, and he’s in all. So, he is our life, and he is all, and he is in all.

And so the Bible makes it very clear that Christ is all that I need, if he is my life. And he’s all, and in all. He’s what I need, man, any time in my life, any time.

“Let’s see what our Father will do for us now”---We’re the conduit through whom God works

The disciples, it’s baffling, ‘Where could we, all these people, how, what could we possibly do?’ Just go back, man, a few months---remember, remember. It is kind of funny. But you know, if I was on their team, if I was part of this, I’d be right there, I know I would, I’d be ‘What are you talking about, we’re out here in the wilderness.’ It wouldn’t connect. So then pushing the point a little further, ‘OK, now how many loaves do you have?’ And I wonder what was in his eye as he looked to them. ‘How many fish do you have? You’ve got seven loaves and a few little fish. Do you remember anything? I know, little bit different, I know that’s a little trip for you, a little bit different, hard to get over it, seven and five, that’s a little bit different, I understand.’ But isn’t it funny, we can be like that.

Well then he sits them down in a similar fashion, just sits the multitude down, takes the bread, and give thanks, and he begins to break it and distribute it. And it’s interesting, he’s just got the seven and a few fish, and he sits them down, and it’s meal-time, and that’s all the food there is around. You know, the table’s been set, all these people. And of course God’s going to work. And that takes faith, to sit down at a table at that time, with four thousand people, and you’ve got seven loaves and a few fish, and say ‘We’re going to have a meal-time, right now.’

We do, as part of our discipleship class, we get folks, one of the classes to read the book about George Mueller, you know, the man of faith And you know, you think of what’s here, Jesus is setting the table with that much food, and the people are going to get fed, and George Mueller learned that God could do that. I’ll just read to you, this is from one of my children’s, they’ve got a book called “Hero Tales” by Dave and Annetta Jackson. I took the story out of there because it’s just simple. “Abigail Townsend was not an orphan, but when her family moved to Bristol, England, a close friendship developed between her father and George Mueller.” Now George Mueller had an orphanage of a couple thousand orphans, all by faith, he stepped out and began to get property and began to believe that God wanted to use his life to minister to the orphans in England. “So this gal Abbey, her dad knows George, so she develops a friendship also. Abbey would go off into Ashley Downs with her father to visit George Mueller and the orphanage. Well one morning George Mueller took Abbey by the hand and said ‘Come see what our Father in heaven will do for us today.’ He led her into the long dining room, where bowls and cups were on the table, but there was no food. But the orphan children were standing behind their seats respectfully waiting for breakfast to begin.’” So there are thousands, at this time maybe there were a little bit less than thousands, but there were eventually thousands, they’re all standing there, lots of kids, no food, table set.

“Children, said Mueller, it will soon be time for school, so let’s pray. ‘Dear Father, we thank you for what you are going to give us to eat.’ Just then a knock sounded at the door, and their stood the local baker. ‘Mr. Mueller,’ he said, ‘I couldn’t sleep last night, somehow I felt you didn’t have bread for breakfast, and the Lord wanted me to send you some, so I got up at 2 o’clock in the morning and baked some fresh bread for you.’ Mueller thanked the baker and praised God for his care.

‘Children,’ he said, ‘we not only have bread, but God has given us the treat of fresh bread, fresh baked bread.’ Well right away came a second knock at the door, this time it was the milkman who said his cart had now broken down outside the orphanage. I must empty my wagon before I can repair it, could the children use my cans of fresh milk?’ He sets the table, and he’s so confident, he brings this gal and says, ‘Watch the Lord.’ And you think, ‘That’s just fantasy, that’s not a true story. You know, I have watched God, and many of us have watched God work in our lives when we step out in faith and trust him, in wild ways. And oh it would be good to remember that, and to walk in that, and to trust in that.

George Mueller knew that God could work. So he set the table, and he gave thanks, and there God miraculously provided. George Mueller knew that God could use his life, his faith, his witness. And so, he had understood that Jesus was his life and Jesus was all and in all.  Well, Jesus, you know, as before, he distributes, the miracle actually happens in his hands, he just gives the bread, he keeps giving the bread and the fish out, and you’re the disciples, and you’re gathering it and taking it and you’re bringing it out, and he keeps going and going and going, and it’s just all happening as he’s doing it. He does it, but you’re the conduit for it. You know, it goes through your life. It passes through the life of the disciples. And that’s what ministry really should be. We noted that before, and hopefully we didn’t forget. He’s a powerful God, I’m that conduit as I just walk with him by faith and trust in him and step out in faith. He works through my life.

They were stuffed, glutted

Verse 37, “So they all ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets full of the fragments that were left.”

So, verses 37, note too, this is similar, it says ‘they all ate and were filled’, the Greek word again is, as before, they were glutted, they were really full, Sunday afternoon, like you are, when you just gorge out, and you just want to take a nap. That’s what they were like. It says they took up seven large baskets.

Now the Greek here is different [than in the last feeding of five thousand], the Greek word is spureze, and it refers to a hamper-sized basket, a big basket. These generally had two handles, and they were predominantly used in the Gentile territories by Gentiles. When Paul was lowered down the wall, he was lowered, as you remember in Acts chapter 9, he was lowered in a large basket, it was one of these, a spureze type basket. But back before in chapter 14, when we studied the feeding of the five thousand, the Greek word there was cofinos, that was the basket, and that type of basket was a small basket. So it’s possible that actually there’s more bread left over here, considerably more than in the other one. But it was a small basket, it was this basket that the Jews had, because it had a narrow neck on the top, small opening. And the reason it did is, the Jews, more than anything, would put their food in these small baskets. They didn’t want any dust getting into the basket, especially dust that potentially had been touched by a Gentile. And as you remember, the radical Jews especially, that dust would be unclean, if that dust got on you, you were unclean. So they didn’t want unclean dust getting into their baskets. So there’s a different word for a different basket with a small neck, referring to what would be a Jewish basket. And so for that reason, this is a different basket, it’s apparently a Gentile basket. So more evidence that there were clearly two different feedings.

Now also what is interesting, as you remember, from our last study, Jesus has ministered to this Gentile gal, this Canaanite lady, he’s ministered then to a multitude of Gentiles in the area of the Decapolis it appears, and now with the feeding, it’s probably a lot of them that are around, and he feeds them, and he’s in this part of the land where he’s actually ministering to Gentiles. And as we noted last time, this is a picture of what’s about to come. Jesus came to the Jew, he sent out his disciples to the Jew initially, but of course as he came to be the Messiah, the Christ to all, where there’s now the Church, no Jew or Gentile, and the Church Age is about to start. And this is a taste of that again.

So it’s interesting there’s seven, because when you come there’s seven baskets in this time with the Gentiles. Because when you get to the New Testament, that number seven is repeated with a picture of the Church. We get to the Book of Revelation, Revelation chapters 2 and 3. There’s the seven letters to the seven churches, representing all of Church history, Gentile Church, of course, Jewish Church, the Church [made up of both the Gentile and Jewish branches of the Church, is what he’s getting at].

Source: Unity in the Body of Christ

See Also:

Sermons and Bible Commentaries for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost

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