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Ministry to the Masses, Ministry to the Few

Narrative #4

By Mike Mazzalongo     Posted: Thu. Mar 5th 2015
Jesus performs miracles for the crowds as well as private demonstrations of His power for His Apostles in order to strengthen their faith and prepare them for His own suffering and death on the cross.

Chapters 13 to 17 contain the fourth narrative and the final information concerning Jesus' ministry in the northern part of the country near His birthplace and adult dwelling place. After this He will go up into Jerusalem and the surrounding area. This is the second year of His ministry.

We will also witness the last of His great miracles recorded by Matthew. There are a few more to come, but the final miraculous signs of His divinity will be performed here among the people of His home town (feeding of five thousand and four thousand) and especially for His chosen disciples (walking on water, healing and casting out demons, transfiguration, paying tax with coin in fish's mouth). There is even the healing of a Gentile woman's daughter as an act of compassion and a sign of things to come when the gospel will be brought to all, not only the Jews.

After His Galilean ministry in this section, Jesus will go south toward Jerusalem and finish His ministry there:

  • Teaching and more confrontation with the Pharisees.
  • Triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
  • Judgment on Jerusalem and a prophecy.
  • Suffering, death and resurrection.

While He is in the safer and more familiar surroundings Jesus establishes, especially with His disciples, His identity. In addition to this, He prepares them for the rejection He will suffer at the hands of the leadership and people when they descend to Jerusalem.

Rejection

53When Jesus had finished these parables, He departed from there. 54He came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, "Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? 55Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?" 57And they took offense at Him. But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household." 58And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.

1At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the news about Jesus, 2and said to his servants, "This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him."

3For when Herod had John arrested, he bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. 4For John had been saying to him, "It is not lawful for you to have her." 5Although Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded John as a prophet.

6But when Herod's birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod, 7so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 8Having been prompted by her mother, she said, "Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist." 9Although he was grieved, the king commanded it to be given because of his oaths, and because of his dinner guests. 10He sent and had John beheaded in the prison. 11And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 12His disciples came and took away the body and buried it; and they went and reported to Jesus.
- Matthew 13:53-14:12

Jesus' rejection by His own hometown in Nazareth and the killing of John the Baptist by Herod at the national level spell out His ultimate rejection by the people. Those who knew Him best and witnessed not only His teachings and miracles but also His pure life completely reject Him now. Herod, who knew that John the Baptist was very popular with the people and was aware of his connection to the Lord had him killed anyways thus sending a clear signal to Jesus of his contempt and evil intentions.

Yet, even with this evident rejection displayed before Him, Jesus continues to minister to the people and prepare His disciples.

Ministry to the Masses

In this section Matthew writes of Jesus' compassionate care for the people. He does not record any parables or sermons at this point, only Jesus' benevolent ministry for those who came to Him for help and healing.

Feeding the five thousand who had followed Him out to the wilderness when He had gone out to pray following the death of John the Baptist

13Now 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.14When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick.

15When 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." 16But Jesus said to them, "They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!" 17They said to Him, "We have here only five loaves and two fish." 18 And He said, "Bring them here to Me." 19Ordering 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, 20and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. 21There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.
- Matthew 14:13-21

Healing of the sick by the touching of His cloak

34When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35And when the men of that place recognized Him, they sent word into all that surrounding district and brought to Him all who were sick; 36and 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

Healing of the Canaanite woman's daughter who came to Him begging for help. Jesus reminds her of His primary mission to the Jews, but she appeals to His mercy and is immediately rewarded

21Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22And 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." 23But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, "Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us." 24But He answered and said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." 25But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, "Lord, help me!" 26And He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." 27But she said, "Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." 28Then 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

Healing the blind, lame, mute and others who were brought to Him for help by others

29Departing from there, Jesus went along by the Sea of Galilee, and having gone up on the mountain, He was sitting there. 30And 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. 31So 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

Feeding of another group who had followed Him for teaching and healing

32And 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." 33The disciples said to Him, "Where would we get so many loaves in this desolate place to satisfy such a large crowd?" 34And Jesus said to them, "How many loaves do you have?" And they said, "Seven, and a few small fish." 35And 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. 37And they all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, seven large baskets full. 38And those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children.
39And sending away the crowds, Jesus got into the boat and came to the region of Magadan.
- Matthew 15:32-39

Healing of an epileptic boy upon a father's desperate request

9As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, "Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead." 10And His disciples asked Him, "Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" 11And He answered and said, "Elijah is coming and will restore all things; 12but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands." 13Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist.
- Matthew 17:9-13

Many of these rejected Him, but Jesus continued to demonstrate His divine nature through miraculous healings in the compassionate service of people who needed help.

Response to His Accusers

His rejection was spearheaded by the Pharisees and priests (Sadducees) who, despite seeing the miracles and hearing the teachings, refused to accept the conclusion that these pointed to. Instead of believing, they wanted to discredit and destroy Jesus in order to protect their position, and hide their own sinfulness. They did not teach with authority and twisted the Scriptures to their own advantage. They did not help the people or provide for them, they merely manipulated them.

Accusations of Transgressing "Tradition"

1Then 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." 3And He answered and said to them, "Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4For God said, 'Honor your father and mother,' and, 'He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.' 5But you say, 'Whoever says to his father or mother, "Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God," 6he is not to honor his father or his mother.' And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7You 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.'"

10After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, "Hear and understand. 11It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man."

12Then the disciples came and said to Him, "Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?" 13But He answered and said, "Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit."

15Peter said to Him, "Explain the parable to us." 16Jesus said, "Are you still lacking in understanding also? 17Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? 18But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. 19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. 20These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man."
- Matthew 15:1-20

The Pharisees from Jerusalem (more authority than local Scribes) accuse Jesus of violating the tradition of washing before eating. Tradition, or "halacha," was the set of rules (631) established as a fence around the Law by the rabbis in order to make sure they did not inadvertently break the Law. It included all kinds of rituals, procedures and rules that were conceived and enforced by religious leaders without any authority from the Scriptures themselves. Their thinking was that it was better to be safe than sorry.

For example, the Jews washed their hands according to complex ritual in order to make sure they were not defiled by touching something that a Gentile may have touched before them. The Law required no mingling, marriage or worship with Gentiles. There was no law, however, about hand washing, only human tradition and thinking. Eventually these rules became as, or more important, than the Law itself.

Jesus brushes aside their accusation by confronting them with how their tradition actually broke the very Law they were trying to uphold.

3And He answered and said to them, "Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4For God said, 'Honor your father and mother,' and, 'He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.' 5But you say, 'Whoever says to his father or mother, "Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,"
- Matthew 15:3-5

Their traditions permitted them to avoid caring for their parents by saying that their money was consecrated to God and the temple thereby voiding the fourth commandment. Jesus accuses them of breaking the Law by hiding behind their traditions in order to cover their greed.

In the end Jesus responds to their earlier accusation by explaining that men are defiled (made impure) not by what goes into them (food, etc.) but what comes out of them (lies, adultery, greed), and by implication, condemns the Pharisees of impurity and defilement because of what came out of them.

Pharisees ask for a sign - Matthew 16:1-12

Again, as in chapter 12, they asked for a demonstration of His power as a special sign or signal to them, and Jesus responds in the same way. This request demonstrates the evil and disbelief in their hearts. Theirs was not a sincere request and could not lead to faith for them (i.e. Thomas asked for a sign from a sincere heart and received one. Jesus knew the hearts of these men and their insincerity). He tells them what sign to look for, the sign of Jonah, the sign that pointed to His resurrection.

Jesus warns His disciples against the teaching and schemes of the Pharisees who will be their chief opponents in the future when they will be establishing the church.

Ministry to the Apostles

Miracle: Walking on water

22Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. 23After 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. 24But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. 25And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. 26When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid."

28Peter said to Him, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." 29And He said, "Come!" And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" 31Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" 32When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. 33And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, "You are certainly God's Son!"
- Matthew 14:22-32

Jesus sees them having trouble in the storm and comes to them while walking on the water. Peter leaves the boat and walks on the water also. This experience teaches him an important lesson of faith. Note that in verse 33 all the Apostles confess Him to be God's Son. Jesus performed these great personal miracles in order to build the faith of His Apostles.

Miracle: Transfiguration

1Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. 2And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. 3And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah." 5While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!" 6When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified. 7And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, "Get up, and do not be afraid." 8And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone.
- Matthew 17:1-8

Peter, James and John witness the visual brightness of Jesus' divine nature and His ability to communicate beyond time with Elijah and Moses (they represent the prophets and the Law). Luke records that they spoke of His crucifixion. The voice from heaven confirms Jesus' role as one who fulfills all prophecy and Law. The instructions to, "... hear Him" is to listen to Jesus as the final word of prophecy and Law.

Miracle: Coin in the fish

24When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, "Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?" 25He said, "Yes." And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?" 26When Peter said, "From strangers," Jesus said to him, "Then the sons are exempt. 27However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me."
- Matthew 17:24-27

Peter is questioned if he pays the temple tax or not. Jesus tells Peter to go fishing and he will catch a fish with a coin in its mouth in order to pay the temple tax for both of them. The idea is that it was ridiculous for Jesus, Son of God, to pay tax on His own temple, but to avoid offending those still weak in faith He instructed Peter to do so. However, the way it was done once again impressed Peter concerning Jesus' identity. Those who did not believe only saw a young rabbi pay his dues, for those who confessed Jesus, yet another miracle was wrought before their eyes.

For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.
- Matthew 13:12

Whoever has more given to him does not have to lose what he has. Whoever has faith, more revelation will be given; whoever does not have faith, what little he does posses, goods, life, etc., he will lose.

Teaching

Jesus ministered to the Apostles with miracles to build up their faith and provide them with eyewitness accounts to use in bringing others to faith. He also continued to minister to them through teaching.

The lesson concerning what it is that defiles

15Peter said to Him, "Explain the parable to us." 16Jesus said, "Are you still lacking in understanding also? 17Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? 18But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. 19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. 20These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man."
- Matthew 15:15-20

Warning about the teachings of the Pharisees

1The Pharisees and Sadducees came up, and testing Jesus, they asked Him to show them a sign from heaven. 2But He replied to them, "When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' 3And 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? 4An 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.

5And the disciples came to the other side of the sea, but they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6And Jesus said to them, "Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." 7They began to discuss this among themselves, saying, "He said that because we did not bring any bread." 8But Jesus, aware of this, said, "You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread? 9Do you not yet understand or remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets full you picked up? 10Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many large baskets full you picked up? 11How 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." 12Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
- Matthew 16:1-12

Jesus' response to Peter's confession

13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" 14And they said, "Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." 15He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven."
- Matthew 16:13-19

The miracles and teachings over a two year period have built the faith of these men when Peter speaking ahead of the others makes a full and complete declaration of what the parables and the miracles had pointed to all along: Jesus is the divine Messiah!

Jesus now teaches them beyond their confession:

  1. Without the revelation of the Son in His teachings and miracles Peter could never have known this. Flesh and blood cannot reveal God. This is why the gospel is the power of God to save men, it reveals Christ!
  2. Simon (the old man) is truly blessed because of his confession. He has actually seen the One who will bring salvation to Israel.
  3. Peter (the new man, "rockman") will be stronger, better because of this.
  4. This revelation will be the basis for establishing the "called out," the church. If Jesus wanted to say he was to build His church upon Peter, the construction of the sentence would have been, "... and upon thee, I will build.." The word upon which this indestructible church is based is the reality that Jesus is the divine Messiah, not just the acknowledgement of that reality.
  5. To those who first believed and confessed, Jesus begins to outline the ministry they will have. The key to the kingdom is the ability to open the doors to the kingdom of heaven with the gospel message they preached, and the Holy Spirit who gave them the power to confirm their words with a powerful witness. The idea of keys is from Isaiah and king David; the key to the throne = authority.

Binding and loosening is the authority to speak for God to men on earth as well as the inspired writings to define the structure and functioning of the church. Also, to forgive or not to forgive sins (bind and loose) belonged to those who proclaimed God's way to be forgiven for sin. They did not invent the teachings but whatever they instructed was from heaven and thus confirmed the teachings.

There are many varied interpretations of this verse but in summary and context of all that followed in the Apostles lives, these points explain well the meaning of Jesus' promise.

Prophecy concerning crucifixion

21From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. 22Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You." 23But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's."

24Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 25For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 27For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds.

28"Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom."
- Matthew 16:21-28
9As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, "Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead." 10And His disciples asked Him, "Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" 11And He answered and said, "Elijah is coming and will restore all things; 12but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands." 13Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist.

22And while they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; 23and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day." And they were deeply grieved.
- Matthew 17:9-13;22-23

This momentous revelation through teaching and miracles was tempered with the revelation that the Messiah, although divine, was to die an ignoble death in utter rejection.

This to teach them several lessons:

  1. There was a glorious resurrection to come, not just suffering (16:21).
  2. The cost of discipleship was high; think before committing (16:24-26).
  3. This was according to the prophets (17:10).

With this mixture of faith in Him as divine Messiah and knowledge of His impending death, they are now ready to leave home and head for Jerusalem for the last time in order to face the unbelieving leaders and the cross.

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Dr. Stafford North
Professor of Bible
Oklahoma Christian University