Ministry to the Gentiles

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” (v. 31).  

- Matthew 15:29–39

Because Jesus’ feeding of the four thousand (Matt. 15:32–39) is so similar to His feeding of the five thousand (14:13–21), many liberal commentators say that Matthew has confused and repeated two different accounts of the same event. Even worse, they might suggest that the second, if not both, of these stories are made up altogether. Such theories call the research and writing abilities of the first evangelist into question, and even make him an author of lies.

However, the evidence compels us to take these stories at face value -— descriptions of two different, miraculous feedings. The five thousand were clearly Jews because the group followed Jesus from Nazareth and other surrounding towns (Matt. 13:53–14:21). On the other hand, the four thousand were probably Gentiles. Just prior to feeding them, Jesus healed many of the four thousand who then “glorified the God of Israel” (15:29–31). Jews could speak of the Lord this way, but it is more likely that Gentiles would say such things as the Jewish crowds in Matthew do not use this title elsewhere. More importantly, Mark locates the events of today’s passage in the Decapolis (7:31–8:10), a region of ten predominantly Gentile cities east of the Sea of Galilee.

Jesus’ ministry in this area reveals that the kingdom is for Jew and Gentile alike. His miracles here figure predominantly in the prediction of the Messiah’s reign in Isaiah 35. Christ’s work here shows that His blessing is for the nations, which may explain why His Jewish disciples had trouble conceiving that Jesus would feed unclean Gentiles (Matt. 15:33). Even Peter struggled to believe that the nations could become full citizens of God’s kingdom (Gal. 2:1–10).

Or, the disciples may have simply forgotten Jesus’ mighty feeding of the five thousand. Such forgetfulness is not limited only to the Twelve. John Calvin comments, “There is not a day on which a similar indifference does not steal upon us; and we ought to be the more careful not to allow our minds to be drawn away from the contemplation of divine benefits, that the experience of the past may lead us to expect for the future the same assistance which God has already on one or more occasions bestowed upon us.”  

Coram Deo

Matthew Henry writes: “Forgetting former experiences leaves us under present doubts.“ We are quick to forget all that God has done for us in the past and grow impatient when He does not act in the manner that we desire in the present. We sometimes then doubt His love for us even though He has shown Himself good and true in our past. If you are having trouble trusting the Lord this day, remember an occasion in the past in which He provided for you.

Passages for Further Study

Deuteronomy 8
1 Chronicles 16:8–13
Jonah 4
Romans 11:1–24

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