A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas on November 24, 2019.
Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel. Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. And after sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan (Matt. 15:29–39).
Having withdrawn from the borders of Israel and into the Gentile region of Tyre and Sidon, Jesus was confronted not by a Jew but a Canaanite woman. Her plea was for the sake of her demonically oppressed daughter. The woman’s hope was in the Son of David, displayed in a simple faith that Jesus could, indeed would, heal her daughter. Rather than responding to the woman’s pleas, Jesus tells his frustrated disciples, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24), a harshly sounding, matter-of-fact statement of exclusivity that would deter most.
But the humble woman is neither offended nor deterred but persistent. Only her faith exceeded her desperation. She persisted. Jesus said to the woman, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Undeterred, she humbly replied, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (Matt. 15:26-27). Acknowledging the identity of Israel’s Messiah, the Canaanite welcomed even the crumbs of our Lord’s grace and mercy. He said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire” (Matt. 15:28), and Matthew tells us that her daughter was healed at that very moment.
It is in this encounter that we see that the Jewish Messiah, who came “only to the lost sheep of Israel,” came also to be the true child of Israel and to fulfill God’s purpose in Israel. To the grandfather of Israel, God promised, “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:3, NIV). And to Israel God promised, “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isa. 49:6, NIV). And so, in Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, the faithful child of Israel, the Son of David, we see “a light for the Gentiles,” a light that shines brightly from his resurrection to today, a hint of which we see in our passage today.
Proceeding from the outskirts of Tyre and Sidon, Jesus and his disciples travel along the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee eventually reaching the Decapolis, a unified Gentile region. For whatever reason, Jesus avoids an urban area, moving upward into the hills. His location, however, does not deter the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, or any others in need of healing. In this Gentile territory, the Jewish Messiah will reveal his glory in healing the sick and feeding the hungry. And in these two accounts, I want to draw your attention to three themes: need, compassion, and praise.
The people who came to Jesus are indeed needy. Jesus responds to their need with compassion. And as a result, the Gentile people praise “the God of Israel.” Ultimately, the revelation of God is singular in purpose: the glory of God. Jesus has not accidentally wandered into Gentile territory; he is not lost. No, in revealing himself to the Gentiles, he is revealing the chief end of every man, woman, and child. As the psalmist declares,
O God, let peoples praise Thee;
Let all the people sing;
Let nations now be joyful;
Let songs of gladness ring;
For Thou wilt judge the peoples
In truth and righteousness;
And o’er the earth shall nations
Thy leadership confess (Psalm 67:3-4).
Because we were created to glorify God and enjoy him forever, to sing his praises now and forever, let us first consider the need of all people.
Need of All People
Nothing confronts our supposed autonomy like sickness. Serious illness often yields a fervent prayer life. The reason is the perception of our need. Illness often renders the unimportant superfluous and removes distractions to heart-felt prayer. We understand why the sick have followed Jesus into the hills. We know why they are kneeling at his feet. They are needy and so are we.
The lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others came to Jesus, but their greatest need was not physical healing. The crowd followed Jesus for three days without eating, but their greatest need was not food. Our greatest need is not health or food; the need of all people is salvation from sin and death. What good is walking if my feet lead me to eternal torment in hell? What good is seeing if my eyes will not see heaven? What good is singing if I cannot praise God?
The gospel is good news for all people. As sinners, like you and me, we are given Christ’s righteousness by grace through faith: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). To those due eternal death, we hear, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NASB). And for those who have earned the wages of sin, death, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). Therefore, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Rom. 10:9-10). This is the need of all people.
Compassion for All People
As the gospel is the good news of salvation for sinners in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, it is also indicative of the compassion of God for all people. The sick came to Jesus, and he healed them. As the people continued to follow him, he said to his disciples, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” For both the sick and the hungry he had compassion. But he not only had compassion, he acted on it. He healed the sick and fed the hungry, meeting their needs as only he could. For no one else can miraculously heal the sick or feed over four thousand people with seven loaves and a few small fish but the Son of God.
We have seen this before, haven’t we? Did Jesus not heal the sick in Galilee? Did he not feed over five thousand people with five loaves and two fish? As extraordinary as the miracles of Jesus are, why does Matthew tell us of these? Why the redundancy? Because these miracles are not for the children of Israel, but they are miracles among the Gentiles. We are to recognize the similarity of the miracles except for this glaringly obvious difference:
The compassion of the Jewish Messiah, he who “was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” overflows like crumbs that fall from the Master’s table to all people. Oh how glorious are those crumbs of grace! While God’s saving grace does not extend beyond his sovereign grace, his compassion does. As the Apostle Peter wrote in his second epistle, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). And while only the elect come to repentance and faith, the compassion of God extended to us motivates our compassion.
Let us remember that at one time we were “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). It is only by God’s grace that we are saved through faith. And even that is not of our own doing but is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8). Therefore, the Apostle Paul tells us, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).
Christian compassion is of course motivated by Christ. Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, had compassion on the Gentile sick and hungry, and so should we. Compassion is one of the communicable attributes of God, who is glorified in our compassion. What is one of the greatest ways to show compassion to those who are outside the covenant family of Christ? Take them to Jesus. Tell them the good news that the only hope of salvation from sin in death is this: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. Let not we who are the recipients of God’s grace hide it from a lost and dying world.
Brothers and sisters, the most compassionate thing you can do is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Why? Because we were created to worship, to glorify God and enjoy him forever, and as Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). So, let us have compassion for all people and take them to Jesus, for the Lord is worthy of praise from all people.
Praise from All People
Jesus heals the Gentile sick, who do not leave but follow Jesus and are fed. The crowd follows and will not leave. What they have seen and experienced is unlike anything they have ever known. The Gentile gods have not given sight to the blind, healed the lame and crippled, or loosened the tongues of the mute. Only Jesus can and has.
How is a Gentile to respond to the miraculous works of this Son of David? They “glorified the God of Israel.” The right response to God’s compassion in the work of Jesus Christ is praise. The scribes and Pharisees witnessed the same things and yet dishonored him. But the Gentiles glorify the one and only true God of Israel in Christ. This is telling of the covenant family of God to come.
After his death and resurrection, our Lord commissioned his Church, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20). And by virtue of this Great Commission, the gospel of Jesus Christ is advanced to all people one disciple at a time.
But what is the ultimate purpose of this Great Commission? Why is the Church commissioned? The answer is in the Gentile response of our passage: They “glorified the God of Israel.” John Piper explains it this way: “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever” (17). That’s it!
In other words, the need of all people, is met in compassion for all people (namely the gospel of Jesus Christ), that God may receive praise from all people. The gospel is an invitation to come and praise the Lord forever. Let all the people sing!
O God, to us show mercy,
And bless us in Thy grace;
Cause Thou to shine upon us
The brightness of Thy face;
That so Thy way most holy
On earth may soon be known,
And unto ev’ry people
Thy saving grace be shown.
O God, let peoples praise Thee;
Let all the people sing;
For earth in rich abundance
To us her fruit will bring.
God, our own God, will bless us;
Yea, God will blessing send;
And all the earth shall fear Him
To its remotest end (Psalm 67:1-2, 5-6).