We are studying the royal person of Jesus as He is described by Matthew in his gospel. Matthew presents us with an image of Jesus as the King of the kingdom of heaven on earth, and in his gospel we see:
- Jesus worshiped by the wise
- Jesus, Lord even of spirits (good and bad)
- Jesus explaining His kingdom
- Jesus establishing His kingdom
- Jesus preparing kingdom workers
- Jesus helping the kingdom grow
Every time we turn to a new scene through Matthew's eyes, he reveals yet another aspect of Jesus' royal nature and work.
In these two chapters we will see some of the many acts of kindness Jesus performed on behalf of the people. Usually a king is the recipient of service, not the one doing the serving. A king has many servants and their task is to find out what he wants and then provide it for him. Matthew shows us how different the King of the kingdom of heaven is in that it is He that serves, it is He that fills the needs of His subjects. In Matthew 14 and 15, Matthew describes seven instances of the King's kindness towards others.
1. Feeding the 5000
13 Now when Jesus heard about John, He withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself; and when the people heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities. 14 When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick.
15 When it was evening, the disciples came to Him and said, "This place is desolate and the hour is already late; so send the crowds away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." 16 But Jesus said to them, "They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!" 17 They said to Him, "We have here only five loaves and two fish." 18 And He said, "Bring them here to Me." 19 Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, 20 and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. 21 There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.
- Matthew 14:13-21
Matthew gives the details of John the Baptist's execution before he describes the scene where Jesus is with the multitude. Perhaps he was trying to convey the idea that after John's death, many of his followers began to follow Jesus, and this explains the surge in the number of people seeking out the Lord for comfort and teaching.
In this scene Matthew notes that Jesus' reaction to John's death is to retreat to a remote spot probably to mourn and pray over the death of His cousin and forerunner, John. Matthew says that the people received word of where He was and followed Him.
When Jesus returns from His retreat He finds more than 5000 people awaiting Him. Matthew says that Jesus had compassion on them because they were hungry, tired and without direction or hope. He not only cared for their spiritual well-being but also understood their basic needs for food and rest.
His disciples suggest that they send the people away to care for their own needs. Jesus responds that they (the disciples) care for them, and they answer that they only have five loaves and two fish. Jesus takes and multiplies these in a way that all eat sufficiently. Once distributed, the Apostles discover that there were 12 baskets of bread left over.
The point here was not the performing of a miracle to impress the crowd. Jesus used His power to provide an act of kindness towards these people. He showed the disciples that He was the source that provided for their needs as well, even if their need was to feed more than 5000 people. Jesus does the miracle as an act of kindness towards the multitude and an act of power to build the faith of His disciples.
2. Strengthening the faith of His disciples
22 Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. 23 After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. 24 But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. 26 When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid."
28 Peter said to Him, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." 29 And He said, "Come!" And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" 31 Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" 32 When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. 33 And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, "You are certainly God's Son!"
- Matthew 14:22-33
Note that Jesus remains with the people and sends the Apostles ahead to cross back over the lake. He also retreats in order to continue His time of prayer. Matthew says that their boat was caught up in a storm, and at a critical moment Jesus appears to the frightened Apostles while walking on the water. Again, the miracle demonstrates His Lordship over the material world and the physical laws of that material world.
In the miracle of the loaves and fish, the disciples were strangely silent; they were entering a space where their sense of reality was being sorely tested. Once in the boat, however, they were once again on familiar terrain. After all, they were fishermen, and they understood the sea. They were not afraid of storms since these were a regular occurrence in the type of work that they did. However when Jesus appeared to them they were afraid to the point of crying out. The Lord comforted them with assurances that He was not a ghost nor was this a nightmare or vision.
At this point Peter decides to test what he sees and asks Jesus to let him also walk on the water. For a time his faith is solid and he succeeds. Then he realizes that this isn't a dream. The wind is real as well as the danger. The Apostle begins to doubt and that hesitation causes him to sink. Peter's faith is not strong enough to permit him to continue walking on the water, but by this point it is strong enough to ask Jesus for help, which the Lord provides.
Note that when Jesus and Peter return to the boat, the storm stops and the Apostles' collective faith is strengthened to the point where they no longer see Him simply as a teacher or prophet, but worship Him as God.
3. Heals those in remote areas
34 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized Him, they sent word into all that surrounding district and brought to Him all who were sick; 36 and they implored Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were cured.
- Matthew 14:34-36
There are two remarkable things about this brief passage:
- That Jesus would even go to this very small and remote area on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. One who could do miracles and spoke from God traveled to this backwater place to minister to the least important in the eyes of men.
- The other remarkable thing was how He ministered to them. They brought all who were sick and these were cured without a word or a long profession of faith. They simply touched His cloak and were completely healed.
The King showed His concern for all of those in the kingdom and demonstrated the fact that His power was available to all who came to Him. No matter how poor or how remote, all had access to the King.
4. Jesus lifts a heavy burden
Jewish life, especially for the common person, was not easy in Jesus' day. Their tiny nation was under the imperial thumb of the pagan Roman Empire. They had dangerous regional enemies to the north and south. Their own political leaders were cruel and murderous. To make matters worse, their religious leaders had so complicated their religion that it had become nearly impossible to practice it with a clear conscience.
One of their man-made religious practices was the issue of being "clean or unclean" for purposes of worship. The Law of Moses had certain prescriptions about purification rites to be performed if one had a disease or had touched a dead animal or person. These usually involved a cleansing and quarantine of some kind followed by an offering at the temple to signal that a person was ready to re-enter the social and religious life of the community.
To these laws the Jewish teachers had added all kinds of conditions and ceremonies. One of these was the meticulous washing of hands and dishes required even if a person had touched any object that may have been touched by a non-Jew. This was far beyond what God intended and made the common man's life very complicated in his effort to serve the Lord. This is the point Jesus addresses in 15:1-9.
1 Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 "Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread." 3 And He answered and said to them, "Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, 'Honor your father and mother,' and, 'He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.' 5 But you say, 'Whoever says to his father or mother, "Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God," 6 he is not to honor his father or his mother.' And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you:
8 'This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far away from Me.
9 'But in vain do they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.'"
- Matthew 15:1-9
In this passage Jesus reveals the double standard that the Jewish leaders lived by in their own lives. They created these burdensome laws without God's consent. They twisted God's legitimate commands in order to suit themselves. For example:
They would pledge to the temple the money that would normally be used to help their parents which was a legitimate duty of children towards fathers and mothers.
By pledging this money they would, in effect, freeze their assets. Once their parents had died, they would reclaim their pledge from the temple for their personal use once again.
Jesus reveals this hypocrisy, and in doing so stripped these people of the moral authority they used to lord their will over the people.
10 After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, "Hear and understand. 11 It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man."
12 Then the disciples came and said to Him, "Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?" 13 But He answered and said, "Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit."
15 Peter said to Him, "Explain the parable to us." 16 Jesus said, "Are you still lacking in understanding also? 17 Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? 18 But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. 20 These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man."
- Matthew 15:10-20
This is a continuation of the process of lifting heavy burdens from the people. Jesus explains that we become impure (defiled/not worthy for worship) by what comes from our hearts and out of our mouths, not by what goes into our stomachs. He explains that it is our words, thoughts and evil intentions that make us unworthy, not what we eat.
Of course, the disciples realized the trouble this was going to cause with the Pharisees who oversaw and taught extensively on the subject of food laws. Jesus is effectively abolishing these for those in His kingdom. He is the guide who sees, they are the blind ones. Even though the teaching is radical, He leaves His followers to choose which leader/guide they will follow.
Again, Peter is the one who needs and seeks clarification on this matter. Jesus explains why food itself cannot contaminate the soul. Sin defiles, not food.
What a heavy burden is lifted here, but only for those in the kingdom. It relieves one burden but adds another: the burden of persecution for those who will follow Jesus as guide.
5. Kindness towards the Gentiles
21 Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed." 23 But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, "Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us." 24 But He answered and said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." 25 But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, "Lord, help me!"
26 And He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." 27 But she said, "Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." 28 Then Jesus said to her, "O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed at once.
- Matthew 15:21-28
Some actually think that Jesus is being unkind to this woman because of His reference to dogs. His claim to feed the children first was based on the priority of His work which was to bring the good news of the kingdom to the Jews first then to the Gentiles (as this woman was). The comment about dogs looks harsh but is really quite harmless. First, we feed the children before we feed the pets. Jesus was stating a matter of order, not that others are dogs.
Again, the true kindness is that Jesus defies social convention (He has a conversation with a woman); He defies national prejudice (He converses with a Gentle); He alters His timetable (healing a Gentile before the time for bringing them the gospel is at hand); and all of these acts of kindness done towards those in need.
6. Kindness towards the needy
29 Departing from there, Jesus went along by the Sea of Galilee, and having gone up on the mountain, He was sitting there. 30 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. 31 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.
- Matthew 15:29-31
This is a repetition of the scene that took place in Gennesaret where Jesus heals many. In this instance the diseases and infirmities are described:
- Not just general illness but conditions that normally had no improvement or cure.
- Blindness, deafness, those with severe handicaps were restored.
Again, there is no teaching accompanying these miracles. They were done to relieve the pain and suffering of the people of that area.
This kindness had its effect on people in that God was glorified, just as Jesus said that He would be when good works were done in His name.
7. Kindness for its own sake
32 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." 33 The disciples said to Him, "Where would we get so many loaves in this desolate place to satisfy such a large crowd?" 34 And Jesus said to them, "How many loaves do you have?" And they said, "Seven, and a few small fish." 35 And He directed the people to sit down on the ground; 36 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. 37 And they all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, seven large baskets full. 38 And those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children.
39 And sending away the crowds, Jesus got into the boat and came to the region of Magadan.
– Matthew 15:32-39
Matthew completes this sequence with a second instance where Jesus miraculously feeds a large multitude of people. His ministry of healing has drawn great multitudes and now that they are here they need to be fed before Jesus sends them away so He can move on to another place. He approaches the disciples with the problem and again they respond with doubt. He performs a miracle similar to the previous one and provides food for the large crowd.
This is one further attempt to show them not only His power but also the fact that His power is in the service of His mercy and kindness towards those in need.
Matthew shows us a facet of the King's character that is very comforting to those in the kingdom: His kindness. His power over the spirits, the material world and mankind in general is enough to intimidate us into His kingdom, but not very comforting. Matthew, in showing us His great kindness, makes our submission to the King something we don't have to worry or be afraid of because in the kingdom there is mercy.
It is His absolute power that draws people to the King and His kingdom, but it is His kindness that convinces them to stay.
The same parallel can be made for the kingdom or church today. It is the power of the gospel and the many good works in His name that bring people into the church. However, it is the love among the brethren that convinces them to stay faithful to the Lord, not the threats of punishment.