Matthew 16:1-4, The face of evil

Some have passed the point of no return. What they fail to understand is where their journey will end.

Matthew 16:1-4

1 The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.

2 He replied, When evening comes, you say, It will be fair weather, for the sky is red, 3 and in the morning, Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast. You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. Jesus then left them and went away.

Commentary

You may think at first that the fresh appearance of the Sadducees in Galilee means that some new faces are in town (verse 1). The NIVs wording conceals the fact that the whole purpose for the Pharisees and Sadducees approaching Jesus was to test him.[1] We have examined this verbal form before: Greek peirazo can mean either tempt or test, and the hostile context here tells you what is going on. Indeed, this verb occurs only six times in Matthews Gospel, and the first two involve Satan tempting Jesus, while the last four involve emissaries of Satan, as seen here.

Even without such analysis, their request for a sign from heaven rings hollow after Jesus has performed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miraculous healings in Galilee and the nearby regions. Accordingly, Jesus answers them in a metaphorical way. There is irony here as well, because Jesus will play with the various meanings of heaven as either the place where God dwells or the sphere in which weather occurs. The NIV translates the same Greek noun ouranos as heaven in verse 1 (in the demand from the Pharisees and Sadducees) and sky in verses 2-3 (in the pointed answer that Jesus gives using the weather analogy).

Jesus notes that the religious leaders are experts at reading the signs provided in the ouranos by the changing weather, yet they cannot discern the signs of the favorable moment, the moment of opportunity (verse 3). We know why this is the favorable moment, but the willful blindness of the religious leaders leaves them clueless.

In verse 4, Jesus tersely rejects the request for a sign, but not without calling them a wicked and adulterous generation (verse 4), where the adultery is spiritual and consists of failing to honor their covenant with God. The sign of Jonah is not explained here, but can be found in Matthew 12:40-41. Osborne rightly points out that the sign consists of the resurrection of Jesus and the repentance of Ninevah.[2] The Sadducees did not accept any kind of resurrection, and none of the Jewish religious leaders saw any need to repent. But they could not have been more wrong!

When Jesus left the leaders and Galilee behind, he did not return to Galilee until after his resurrection. Constant opposition put an end to their hour of opportunity.

Copyright 2017 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Materials originally developed for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 636.
[2] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 613.

Matthew 15:32-39, The “dogs” feast on crumbs!

When you think about Jesus, one of the most important questions is this: Does he care only about the few, or does he care about all? Keeping in mind that Matthews intended first audience was Jewish Christians, those who had given their allegiance to the promised Messiah, how might Matthew have decided to answer that question? After all, his first audience grew up thinking that Gods kindness was intended for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The answer is that Matthew decided to let Jesus show them the truth.

Matthew 15:32-39

32 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way. 33 His disciples answered, Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd? 34 How many loaves do you have? Jesus asked. Seven, they replied, and a few small fish. 35 He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. 36 Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. 37 They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 38 The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children. 39 After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan.

Commentary

How this account advances Jesus message

Perhaps part of the justification for extending Gods kindness to the Gentiles was the example of the Canaanite woman and her astounding faith in the compassion of Jesus (Matthew 15:21-28). Her insightful response to Jesus showed that she understood Jesus had a primary commitment to the Jews (15:27). Her view was that even the Gentile dogs could feast on the crumbs falling from the Master’s table. The feeding of the four thousand (plus) Gentiles proves her point in concrete terms.

R. T. France does the best job of looking at the wider scale of Matthews Gospel and explaining what Matthew had in mind by this second feeding miracle:

If the purpose of the second story is to invite comparison with the first, it is only to be expected that it should be told in a way that recalls the first except for the points of difference is meant to be noted; and that is just what we find in this [account].[1]

The major points of difference between The Feeding of the Five Thousand (Matthew 14:14-21) and The Feeding of the Four Thousand (Matthew 15:32-38) are these: (1) the first showed Jesus compassion toward the Jews while the second showed his mercy toward the Gentiles; (2) greater numbers of Jews were fed than Gentiles. If we flash forward to the Apostle Paul, we find the same emphasis: I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile (Romans 1:16).

Now, my brothers and sisters, we must face a correction. For centuries the church of Jesus Christ has ignored the fact that Jesus is a Jew! The very word Christ means the anointed one, the Messiah. Jesus came first to the Jews and only then to the Gentiles like us. Paul calls us wild olive branches and the Jews the natural olive branches (Romans 11:17-24). We must learn from Matthew and Paul to understand our abundantly blessed place as fellow heirs to those who came before us in Christ.

If you have ever expressed prejudice against Jews, how might that be offensive to Christ and how will you behave toward Jews in the future?

The Feeding of the Four Thousand (Gentiles)

The account of the astounding miracle that Jesus performed in feeding this great crowd has both high points and low points. Since we all love good news, we begin where the story begins, with the compassion of Jesus for the people (verse 32). They have been so astonished by his miracles of healing and his caring for them that they do not want to leave, and their supplies for the journey have run out. Jesus cares about the danger they face even though they have ignored it. (Or perhaps they were expecting him to deal with whatever might happen.) The first high point is the compassion of Jesus for the people.

Ah, but the low point comes next. The disciples mistakenly assume that Jesus has summoned them to fix the problem! An overly literal translation of verse 33 might be: Where to us in an uninhabited region is bread enough so as to satisfy such a multitude? Well, duh, sitting right next to them is Jesus, the greatest creator of bread in the history of the world! And they have seen him do it before.

Jesus mercifully overlooks this interruption and determines what resources are available (verse 34). After giving thanks, Jesus took the bread and fish and kept on giving them to the disciples (HCSB)[2] to distribute to the people until everyone had eaten plenty (verses 36-37). More was left over than they started with! Having protected the crowd for their journey, Jesus dismissed them and sailed away (verse 39).

As it happens, we don’t know the location of Magadan (verse 39), Jesus destination, but we do know that the next part of Matthews account finds Jesus and his disciples back among the Jews on the western side of the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 16:1). Later in Matthews Gospel, Jesus will return to the theme of his plans for the Gentiles.

Copyright 2017 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Materials originally developed for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 601.
[2] Greek imperfect tense, implying ongoing action.

Matthew 15:29-31, All welcome in Christ

It never dawns on us as we worship God together at Christ Fellowship that we are part of that special expression of Christs mercy to the Gentiles that began with people like the Canaanite woman. He has blessed us so greatly that it seems as if that was his intention all along. It was! But the widespread expression of Gods mercy to the Gentiles started at a point in history.

Matthew 15:29-31

29 Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. 30 Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. 31 The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.

Commentary

If you did the exercise suggested above, then you know that Jesus could easily have extended his ministry among the Gentiles by avoiding a return to Galilee. He may have elected to do so to avoid that ominous group of religious leaders from Jerusalem mentioned in Matthew 15:1. The idea that Jesus ministered in the area of the Decapolis, scattered in both the tetrarchy of Phillip and the southern portion of the Roman province of Syria also solves another mystery.

Many have wondered why Matthews Gospel contains both the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:13-21) and the feeding of the four thousand (Matthew 15:32-39). They are quite similar. In fact, one theory championed by theologians who hold the Bible in low esteem is that they are the same event and Matthew has simply included both descriptions. Nah!

France argues persuasively that the feeding of the five thousand took place among the Jews, and the feeding of the four thousand took place among the Gentiles.[1] The strongly parallel nature of the two descriptions is intended to communicate that God intends to show the same kindness to the Gentiles that he previously extended to the Jews.

Jesus heals Gentiles

Jesus fame had spread all over the Decapolis, ten Hellenized cites east of the Sea of Galilee, and all over the tetrarchy of Philip and the Roman province of Syria. So, when he entered the Gentile regions, people began gathering the sick, disabled and the demonized to be healed at the earliest opportunity.

Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down (verse 29), and those in need of his miraculous healing were brought from far and wide (verse 30). Jesus healed them all, and the result was both amazement and praise for the God of Israel (verse 31). Jesus saw fit to fulfill the words of the Canaanite woman that Gentiles would feast on the crumbs dropped from the Jewish Messiahs table.

Sometimes those of us who live in vibrant Christian communities grow accustomed to the high level of Gods blessings in our lives. Curiously, we can become less fervent in our worship than an outright pagan who has just discovered the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Copyright 2017 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Materials originally developed for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 597.