The King in Withdrawal from the Nation of Israel
Matthew 13:53 – 15:39
- Unbelief in His Hometown of Nazareth (13:53-58)
- Beheading of John the Baptist by Herod (14:1-12)
- First Dispensational Outline: Miracles on the Sea of Galilee (14:13-36)
- The Presentation of Christ to Israel: Feeding of the Five Thousand (14:13-21)
- The Time of Christ’s Absence: A Storm on the Sea of Galilee (14:22-33)
- The Millennium: The Lord’s Reception and Healings at Gennesaret (14:34-36)
- Second Dispensational Outline: to Syro-Phoenicia and Back Again (Matt. 15)
- Religious Hypocrisy & the Evil Heart of Man Exposed (15:1-20)
- Turning to the Gentiles: the Syro-Phoenician’s Daughter (15:21-28)
- Millennial Blessing: Feeding of the Four Thousand (15:29-39)
Unbelief in His Hometown of Nazareth (13:53-58)
vv.53-58 These verses rightfully belong to the following chapter, because they show that Jesus was a rejected King, even in His hometown of Nazareth
¶ 53 And it came to pass when Jesus had finished these parables he withdrew thence. v.53 This verse is a prelude to the next section: the King in withdrawal from the nation of Israel.
54 And having come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, Whence has this man this wisdom and these works of power? v.54 Jesus returns to His own country; that is, as Luke tells us, the city of Nazareth (Luke 4:16-24). This is not the language of faith; it is said in a derogatory way. Notice that they do not deny the glorious works and wisdom of Jesus, but they stumble at the lowliness of His coming.
55 Is not this the son of the carpenter? Is not his mother called Mary, and his brethren James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Judas? 56 And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then has this man all these things? vv.55-56 They do not even give Him the full dignity of being a carpenter; they insinuate that He is a mere apprentice, not even a qualified craftsman. In reality He was the Messiah! They knew His mother, and His half brothers and sisters, that they were common people. They judged Him by sight, and not by faith (John 7:24). Side note: in Psa. 69:8 we learn that His own brethren reproached Him, for this was before they were converted. This is the only scripture that tells us our Lord had at least two sisters. The absence of Joseph’s name here when the rest of the family is enumerated would suggest that he had died by this time, perhaps being somewhat older than Mary.
57 And they were offended in him. And Jesus said to them, A prophet is not without honour, unless in his country and in his house. v.57 Their being offended in Him proved that there was no faith in them. Jesus refers to Himself as “a prophet”, and surely He is “the Prophet” (Deut. 18:15) – God’s mouthpiece to the Nation of Israel. And yet His own country and His own house rejected Him, and did not give Him the place of honor He was worthy of. This proverb uttered by our Lord gives us the principle that those closest to us are the hardest to win. Familiarity breeds contempt. It is easy to be a blessing to those who live far away from us, but much more difficult to be a blessing to those in our family or local assembly. For some reason, people tend to think of those they grew up with as common, and incapable of greatness. It is very difficult take a prophetic word or rebuke from someone you know. For us, our faults known to our brethren can contribute to that effect. But in the Lord’s case, He had no faults. It was pure envy behind their disdain for Him.
58 And he did not there many works of power, because of their unbelief. v.58 There is no limit to the grace of God, but unbelief on man’s part can limit His blessing.
Beheading of John the Baptist by Herod (14:1-12)
The rejection of the King’s Herald. While John had become popular as a prophet among the poorer element in Israel (v.5) yet he was still hated by the religious and political class that had not believed his message (Matt. 21:25). In Matt. 17:10-13 we read that Israel was held responsible for having “done unto him whatsoever they listed” referring to John’s death. The rejection of the Messiah’s herald is but the harbinger of the Messiah’s own rejection; as the Lord went on to say, “Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them.”
What controls men who reject the authority of the heavens? With the sad description of John’s death at the hands of Herod, we get a little picture of the darkness that controls the secular man in the time of Christ’s rejection. Men who reject the kingdom of heaven (ch.13) think they are free to make their own decisions, but really they are opening themselves up to an evil form of bondage:
- Controlled by superstitious fear (v.2)
- Controlled by anger (vv.3-4)
- Controlled by popular opinion (v.5)
- Controlled by their own lusts (vv.6-7)
- Controlled by Satan (vv.8-11)
¶ At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, v.1 Chronologically, the sending out of the twelve falls between the end of Ch.13 and beginning of Ch.14. This makes sense also because it was on account of their ministry that that fame of Jesus reached the ears of Herod.
2 and said to his servants, This is John the baptist: “he” is risen from the dead, and because of this these works of power display their force in him. v.2 Why would Herod think this about Jesus? Why connect Him with John? He had a bad conscience and he was afraid that judgment was coming on him. Herod could silence the voice of John, but he couldn’t silence his own conscience! He thought Jesus got his power from John… but the opposite was true. John was just a forerunner for this Great One. This gives occasion to recount how John had been martyred, and so we get it in the following verses. The Spirit places this account here to highlight the rejection of the King (by proxy) and the dark moral condition in Israel.
3 For Herod had seized John, and had bound him and put him in prison on account of Herodias the wife of Philip his brother. 4 For John said to him, It is not lawful for thee to have her. vv.3-4 An angry Herod put John in prison for telling the truth, and denouncing Herod’s adulterous marriage. This is an example of “suffering for righteousness’ sake” (Matt. 5:10, 1 Pet. 3:14). It brings up a good question: to what extent should Christians speak out against the evil seen around us in the world? Here are a few thoughts. We must stand for the truth at all costs. John is a bold example of this. Another example is Nathan (2 Samuel 12:7) when he drove home king David’s guilt at the risk of his own life, although the king did repent of his iniquity. However, John forfeited his life, because Herod refused to repent. John was an Israelite with earthly hopes. As Christians, we must learn the lessons of Matt. 13; this world will not be straightened out until the appearing of Christ, and it is not our place to try to do so now. Also, from Paul’s ministry we learn that we are a heavenly people, and the arena of politics does not belong to us. To speak the truth is one thing, to lobby for political change is another. Notice that John said “to him” that what Herod had done was wrong. He wasn’t trying to make a public splash. For instance, if someone tells us they are going to get an abortion, we must state the truth: abortion is murder. But to try as Christians to influence the governments of this world is another thing. John wasn’t trying to change Herod; he was merely speaking the truth.
5 And while desiring to kill him, he feared the crowd, because they held him for a prophet. v.5 Here we learn a little bit more about Herod’s character. His highest motivation was public approval. We will see how Satan uses that very knowledge to lead Herod to murder John.
6 But when Herod’s birthday was celebrated, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod; 7 whereupon he promised with oath to give her whatsoever she should ask. vv.6-7 The daughter of the adulteress Herodias came in on the king’s birthday and pleased the king and his attendants by what was evidently a lascivious dance. Herod made a foolish mistake, which men are prone to do when consumed with their own lusts.
8 But she, being set on by her mother, says, Give me here upon a dish the head of John the baptist. v.8 Here we find that Herodias had an agenda. Both Herod and her daughter were pawns in her scheme, but they were all pawns in Satan’s scheme. From the moment John condemned her adultery, she was looking for revenge. It is possible that Herod had John put in prison to protect him from the pernicious hands of his wife.
9 And the king was grieved; but on account of the oaths, and those lying at table with him, he commanded it to be given. v.9 Herod was grieved, not because he wanted John to live, but because maintaining popularity with “those lying at table with him” would cost him popularity with the common people. That is what you call a catch-22. So he chose the option with the smallest consequences… or so he thought.
10 And he sent and beheaded John in the prison; 11 and his head was brought upon a dish, and was given to the damsel, and she carried it to her mother. v.11 Think of the indignity of this scene! A pretty girl dances one minute; the next minute she is carrying the severed head of the blessed forerunner of Christ back to her gloating mother on a platter. All because John had dared speak the truth about this incestuous and adulterous marriage.
Caught in a trap, or Satan’s Chess-piece? Herod was in an impossible position. To silence the grating of John’s voice on his conscience, he wanted to kill John. To please the people, he wanted to keep John alive. To please his wife and maintain his reputation before his colleagues, he wanted John dead. Herod must have felt like things were out of control, but it was really Satan pulling strings behind the curtain. He moved each game-piece in place until Herod had only one option: kill John. Satan hates God, and uses men as his slaves to fight against God. This is where men end up who reject the authority of the heavens.
12 And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and came and brought word to Jesus. v.12 The broken-hearted disciples of John reverently collect and bury the body of their master, and then turn to Jesus in their trouble and distress. This is a precious thing. They knew that Jesus sympathized with them in their loss, and in their deep sorrow.
First Dispensational Outline: Miracles on the Sea of Galilee (14:13-36)
vv.13-36 The events in these chapters are not arranged haphazardly. The Spirit of God gives them to us in a dispensational order, to picture the changes in the dispensational ways of God.
13 And Jesus, having heard it, went away thence by ship to a desert place apart. ¶ And the crowds having heard of it followed him on foot from the cities. v.13 The Lord marks His feelings about the death of John by departing from the multitudes. Jesus deeply felt the grievous wrongs that were done, not only in the martyrdom of John the Baptist, but in the sorrow brought to the disciples, and the outrage of sin against God. Surely, the Messiah on earth felt the weight of the last prophet being killed by the usurping king of the Jews, and that the cross was now before Him. He departs into a desert place, a place of solitude. But also, the desert depicts the state of Israel at our Lord’s first coming; barren of any fruit for God (Isa. 53:2). This is the first of four symbolical withdrawals by our Lord.
14 And going out he saw a great crowd, and was moved with compassion about them, and healed their infirm. v.14 When Christ came to Israel, He demonstrated that He had the power necessary to bring in Millennial blessing. This is referred to in Hebrews 6:5 as “the powers of the world [or, age] to come”. The healing of diseases is one of the things that would characterize the Messiah in the Millennium (Isa. 33:24; Psa. 103:3).
15 But when even was come, his disciples came to him saying, The place is desert, and much of the day time already gone by; dismiss the crowds, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves. v.15 The second thing that was promised concerning the coming Messiah was that He would satisfy the hungry. In Psalms 132:1-5 we hear Messiah saying, “I will satisfy her poor with bread.” (see also Psa. 146:7). The way He will accomplish this in the Millennium is by causing the earth to produce abundantly (Psa. 72:16). The “evening” here might represent the end of the testing of the first man, when the Messiah came; “God… hath in the end of those days spoken to us in [the Person of the] Son” (Heb. 1:1-2). “Christ… was manifest in the end of times for you” (1 Pet. 1:19-20). The disciples come to the Lord and state the obvious facts; the conclusions about the situation apart from the grace of God. They acknowledged:
They recommend that the Lord send the crowds away to fend for themselves. What a sad suggestion; send the crowds away from Jesus? When the situation is urgent, the first man resorts to human efforts, and tends to turn away from the only One who can satisfy their need.
16 But Jesus said to them, They have no need to go: give “ye” them to eat. 17 But they say to him, We have not here save five loaves and two fishes. vv.16-17 How slow we so often are to see the heart of God. The Lord’s desire was not that men should distance themselves from Him and seek their own means for satisfaction. But Jesus here wanted the disciples to search their own hearts, to see how deep their faith really was. Alas, they were so blind that, in their survey of all their resources, they overlook the Person of Christ in their midst. He put the question to them in order to lead them to see, not what they possessed, but who was in their midst. When man looks to human or material resources for satisfaction, the situation can only appear darker. It speaks too of how Jesus involved His disciples in the kingdom-miracles displayed to Israel (Matt. 10). The Lord delights to involve His servants in His work of blessing. The five loaves and two fishes were a little boy’s lunch (John 6:9), nothing compared to the greatness of the need. The same is true with any service for Christ. All of our resources amount to nothing; apart from Christ!
18 And he said, Bring them here to me. 19 And having commanded the crowds to recline upon the grass, having taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed: and having broken the loaves, he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. vv.18-19 The loaves and fishes first had to be brought to the Lord. He did the miracle. The same is true of the few resources that we possess; they are nothing unless brought to Jesus. It was a desert place, but notice that there was grass! While the nation of Israel was a moral desert, the fellowship and company of Jesus was like a little green oasis in the desert; wherever He was there was grass. He alone is able to “spread a table in the wilderness” (Psa. 78:19); and it is far away from the religious center of Judaism. Ever the dependent man, Jesus looks “up to heaven” before breaking the loaves. He distributes to the disciples, involving them in the work. This is a lesson; if our resources are going to be used to feed God’s people, we must have a conscious sense that we have received them from the hands of Jesus, not as if they belong to us.
20 And all ate and were filled, and they took up what was over and above of fragments twelve hand-baskets full. 21 But those that had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children. vv.20-21 The miracle is performed! The broken loaves were passed from one to another and were not used up! Like the barrel of meal and the cruise of oil (1 Kings 17:16) that did not fail, Jesus’ power maintains the little fragments. There was nothing ostentatious or showy about it; Jesus did not create an enormous loaf of eighteen cubic yards of bread, or something like that. No, it was the same original loaves multiplied gradually by divine power. Furthermore, of the pieces left over, more remained than they started out with! So it is with the work of the Lord. The miracle is often imperceptible in the moment, but looking back over things we can see it! Twelve baskets are left, one for each of the disciples; “the workman is worthy of his hire” (1 Tim. 5:18). Perhaps the number twelve also denotes that this miracle was a sign to the nation of Israel. We don’t know how big the crowd exactly was, but if each of the five-thousand men had a wife and at least one child, then it would have been upwards of fifteen-thousand! Incredible power!
The Feeding of the Five-thousand. This is the only miracle of our Lord that is recounted in all four gospels, so it evidently has a special importance. See Matt. 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17; and John 6:1-15 (compare). By contrast with the Synoptic gospels, John the Evangelist does not record the beheading of John the Baptist, nor the apostles’ return from their mission, nor their desire to send the multitude away because they needed rest. In John it is Jesus who takes the initiative, that the masses may be fed. Ultimately, spiritual food is the primary thought in each account, but a different emphasis in each.
Compare Feeding of the 5000 and 4000. In both the feeding of the five-thousand and four-thousand the men were numbered as even multiples of 1000. Both are connected with the Millennium; in ch.14 it is Christ on earth at His first coming displaying the “powers of the world to come”, showing that He could bring in Millennial blessing. In ch.15 it is the Millennium itself. Notice also that in ch.14 it is 5 x 1000, because Israel’s responsibility and failure to receive the Messiah is in view. In ch.15 it is 4 x 1000, because universal blessing is in view. Also, the baskets used to pick up the fragments are different. In ch.14 they are twelve hand-baskets; perhaps five liters each. In ch.15 they are seven market-baskets; perhaps thirty liters each! Even though the numeral ‘seven’ is smaller than ‘twelve’, the total amount was greater in the feeding of the four-thousand. Just so, the blessing dispensed by Jesus on earth was but a sample of the blessing to come!
Two Great Transitional Changes (vv.22-23a)
22 And immediately he compelled the disciples to go on board ship, and to go on before him to the other side, until he should have dismissed the crowds. v.22 Change #1: The remnant enters a new phase while the nation is set aside. There is no mention of thanks from the multitude for the meal of loaves and fishes. In fact, from John 6 we learn that they were only interested in satisfying their lusts. Now the Lord dismisses them, a picture of the apostate nation of Israel being set aside. But before He sent the multitudes away, He constrained the faithful remnant to embark on a new phase, to enter a ship and go to the other side. This represents a new departure in the history of God’s people, which began on the Day of Pentecost. Really, the faithful remnant of Jews became the nucleus of the assembly.
23a And having dismissed the crowds, he went up into the mountain apart to pray. v.23a Change #2: Christ returns to the Father and begins His high priestly work. The Lord went up into a mountain, which is a picture of His return to the Father. As a consequence of His rejection, Christ as a man is “alone” in heaven, “apart” from His people in a physical sense; yet He is ever near them in a spiritual sense. Christ would not accept the kingdom from the hands of men (John 6:15); instead He waits in perfect dependence to receive it from His Father. It will be at that moment (Rev. 11:15) when the Father will have put all Christ’s enemies as a footstool under His feet (Heb. 1:13), at a time known only to the Father (Matt. 24:36). In the meantime, He began a new work; a high-priestly work on behalf of His people. It is from the mountain that Christ began to pray, no doubt in part for His disciples on the sea; “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). We cannot take one step in faith apart from the high-priestly grace of Christ. It is absolutely necessary for our continued salvation; “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:10). Notice that Christ begins to pray before the storm begins… even so, Christ’s intercession begins long before a trial assails us.
The History of the Christian Testimony (vv.23b-31)
23b And when even was come, he was alone there, 24 but the ship was already in the middle of the sea tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. vv.23b-24 The dark ages. During the time of Christ’s rejection, while He is separated from His people, man’s day rolls on and becomes “evening” in the sense that moral darkness deepens. In conjunction with the moral darkness, a “contrary wind” of evil doctrine (Eph. 4:13) began to blow, and waves began to toss the Christian testimony up and down.
25 But in the fourth watch of the night he went off to them, walking on the sea. 26 And the disciples, seeing him walking on the sea, were troubled, saying, It is an apparition. And they cried out through fear. 27 But Jesus immediately spoke to them, saying, Take courage; it is “I”: be not afraid. vv.25-27 The reformation begins. Up to this point we have the history of the Christian testimony down through the dark ages. The disciples were in the boat, which is a picture of Jewish ground. The boat is a man-made structure to separate the sailors from the sea, just as Judaism is a natural religion that separated Israel from the nations. Through the dark ages, the Christian testimony remained on Jewish ground. They viewed themselves as the spiritual replacement of Israel, and adopted Jewish forms and rituals. The Church really failed to embrace Paul’s doctrine and therefore continued in a Jewish character for many centuries. But in the 1500’s the Lord came to His disciples, to intercept them before the break of day. The fourth watch was the final watch of the night, from 3 AM to 6 AM. The first motions of recovery began three quarters of the way through Church history as well. But notice the reaction; they were “troubled” instead of relieved. The sight of a man walking on water was incredulous to them, and they could not believe. In a similar way, the Church was too deeply steeped in Judaism to be completely delivered in Martin Luther’s day. While many foundational truths were recovered, the Church remained in darkness as to her true nature and proper hopes. Yet the Lord did not give up on them, and He spoke encouragingly to them, until at last there was a response. Note: this event is recorded in three out of four gospels (compare).
28 And Peter answering him said, Lord, if it be “thou”, command me to come to thee upon the waters. 29 And he said, Come. And Peter, having descended from the ship, walked upon the waters to go to Jesus. vv.28-29 The recovery of the truth. Finally, one of the twelve responds and leaves the Jewish ship to take the same ground as Christ; walking on water. Peter goes beyond the position of the remnant, forsaking all natural supports, and walking on the water with nothing but the truth of Christ’s Person before him! This is the quality of faith that ought to characterize the Church; “Lord, if it be thou, command me to come”. In other words, “Lord, if you are really there, no obstacle is so great that it cannot be overcome by Your command”. Sometimes we lose the practical significance of this miracle. Peter actually walked on the water! Water is the most unsteady of supports. There is no possibility of remaining upright if we lose sight of Christ. There is nothing is us that can keep us in that place, it is only enjoyed by faith in the Person of Christ. In the mid-1800’s a small group of Christians got out of the boat and began to walk by faith as gathered to the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ alone. They let go of every human system and embraced Christ’s heavenly, sanctified position as the Church’s proper calling. They went walking out to meet the Lord, looking for His soon return. The hope of the Lord’s coming had been lost for centuries.
30 But seeing the wind strong he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, Lord, save me. 31 And immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught hold of him, and says to him, O thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt? vv.30-31 Failure of the recovered testimony. Peter had begun so well in faith, but then he got his eyes off Christ, and onto the storm. The storm really makes no difference when it comes to such a feat as walking on water. One who sinks in the water will sink in the calm sea as well as in the rough sea. Sadly, the heavenly character that was restored in part to the Church in the 19th century has almost been totally lost again… Peter has begun to sink. His state without faith in water is worse than his state in the boat with the remnant. The Church having given up the recovered truth is in greater peril than before it was ever exposed to that light. But faith, ever so weak, cries out to the Lord for salvation. The response is immediate; Jesus reaches forward with His omnipotent hand to sustain His faltering servant. This is where we are today. The Church has largely rejected the heavenly calling, and even those who had separated from Christendom unto Christ have gotten their eyes on circumstances, and are sinking beneath the tide of worldly influences. Our place is that of Peter, to call upon the Lord to sustain our last few wavering steps before He comes to take us home. His coming is so near that He is within arm’s reach. Peter walked on water again, but now it was to his shame; “O thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt?”1
Christ Rejoins the Remnant (vv.32-33)
32 And when they had gone up into the ship, the wind fell. 33 But those in the ship came and did homage to him, saying, Truly thou art God’s Son. vv.32-33 When at last the Lord comes to the ship (the rapture and the appearing of Christ viewed together seamlessly) the winds of doctrine cease, and all is set right for the Jewish remnant. They see with amazement the efficacious influence of the presence of Christ on the earth… righteousness and peace. They recognize that the calming of the storm is due to the personal presence of the One who walks on water, and who alone is the object for faith of those who imitate Him. They own the truth concerning the Person of Christ; “Truly thou art God’s Son”. With Him in close proximity, the Jewish remnant will own what Peter laid hold of when Christ was at a distance, who Jesus really is. Today it is the Christian’s privilege to own what the Jews rejected; that Jesus is the Son of God. In a coming day, the Jews will own that truth, but the Church will be by His side, in closest association with the very Son of God.
34 And having crossed over they came to the land of Gennesaret. v.34 Having crossed a period of Gentile blessing (the sea), the Lord resumes His covenantal dealings with Israel again (reaches land). It was the very land of Gennesaret where He had been rejected at His first coming (Matt. 8:28-34) when “the whole city… begged him to go away out of their coasts”. This time He receives a very different welcome!
35 And when the men of that place recognised him, they sent to that whole country around, and they brought to him all that were ill, 36 and besought him that they might only touch the hem of his garment; and as many as touched were made thoroughly well. vv.35-36 At His first coming to Israel (Matt. 8:28-34) only the demons would acknowledge the truth of His Person, and the people rejected Him. Now at His second coming they “recognize him” for who He is, and receive Him. What a change between the nation of Israel at His first coming and at His second coming! The difference? A great storm (the Tribulation) in which the remnant will learn their need of Him. Not only do the citizens of Gennesaret receive the Lord for themselves, but they send the good news out through the whole country – a picture of the Gentiles brought into blessing in connection with Israel. All the evil that has come in to corrupt the earth will then be removed by the Messiah when He is rightly received!
A practical note. The Lord did not give up on the people of Gennesaret. Often the first time we speak to someone about Christ they may reject both the message and the messenger. But the Lord may pass that person through some circumstances along with the passage of time to change their willingness to listen. If we have the grace to visit them again, as Christ did here, there may be a different reception!
Second Dispensational Outline: to Syro-Phoenicia and Back Again (Matt. 15)
Dispensational Outline. In a certain sense the whole of chapter 15 is a dispensational outline as follows:
- vv.1-20 The unbelief of the Jew and exposure of man’s true spiritual condition.
- vv.21-28 The belief of the Gentile and their blessing while Israel is set aside.
- vv.29-39 Resumption of dealings with the Jew, and universal blessing in the Millennium.
Hypocritical Accusation of the Pharisees: Disciples Eating Unwashed (15:1-2)
¶ Then the scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem come up to Jesus, saying, 2 Why do thy disciples transgress what has been delivered by the ancients? for they do not wash their hands when they eat bread. vv.1-2 The accusation from the Pharisees is a rude intrusion into the quasi-Millennial scene at the end of chapter 14. This religious class was the most favored in Israel, and they now reveal their utter hypocrisy in light of the grace and truth that came by Jesus Christ. The scribes and Pharisees make a journey from Judea to Galilee to question Jesus. They believed they had Him in a trap, not because of His own actions, but by those of His disciples. There is no Old Testament scripture requiring a person to wash their hands before eating. Certainly, it is a wise thing to do, but not required. Also, we must understand that hand-washing had evolved into an elaborate ceremonial procedure (Mark 7:3-4) delivered from “the ancients”, not the simple 20 seconds it takes to physically clean your hands. The Rabbis taught that hand-washing preserved a person from ceremonial defilement.
3 But he answering said to them, Why do “ye” also transgress the commandment of God on account of your traditional teaching? v.3 The Lord does not debate the details of the traditions and of the disciples’ actions. Such debating will never reach the conscience. As was His usual method, the Lord asks them a question of His own which does get to their conscience and the heart of the matter. They really had no concern for the claims of God, and they had an exalted view of tradition. They were zealous for the traditions of their fathers in direct opposition to the plain commandments of God! He gives them an example.
Traditions. Any tradition formed on any other basis than the Word of God will sooner or later be found in contradiction to the plain commandments of God. We see this with the copious traditions developed in the Catholic Church down through the centuries. Holy candles, holy robes, holy incense, holy smoke, etc. all are in opposition to the principles of New Testament doctrine. Generally speaking, the traditions valued so greatly by the Church are deviations from the Word of God. We are not saying that traditions in the sense of practical applications are bad, so long as they are formed on scripture and never elevated above (or even close to) scripture. For instance, we are told to go unto Jesus without the camp of Judaism; leaving all the elements of a natural religion behind (Heb. 13:13). One application of that is to omit instrumental music from assembly worship. That is a tradition or application based on a scriptural principle. However, we should be very careful not to “do things how we’ve always done them” without looking afresh to the Lord and His Word for direction. This is the religious tendency of the flesh, and it is the opposite of dependence on the Lord. The word “traditions” is used several times in the New Testament, not only for the added sayings of men (Matt. 15:1-7), but for what the apostles exhorted the saints by inspiration, first orally, then in writing while the canon was in building and not yet complete (Rom. 6:17; 2 Thess. 2:15; 1 Cor. 11:2). The word could also be translated “directions” or “instructions”. We have those same “instructions” with us today, in the completed canon of scripture. The idea that there is a separate set of “traditions” (man’s word) that are to be valued equally or superior to God’s Word is very dangerous. Whether it be the Jewish Talmud or the Christian Catechism, the traditions of men always lead to transgressing the commandments of God! Why? It is looking to man rather than looking to God, and it is adding to scripture. Read more…
4 For God commanded saying, “Honour father and mother” [Exo. 20:12; Deut. 5:16]; and, “He that speaks ill of father or mother, let him die the death” [Lev. 20:9]. 5 But “ye” say, Whosoever shall say to his father or mother, It is a gift, whatsoever it be by which received from me thou wouldest be profited: 6 and he shall in no wise honour his father or his mother; and ye have made void the commandment of God on account of your traditional teaching. vv.4-6 The Lord takes up a very personal example. The Law was clear on the issue of honoring one’s father and mother (fifth commandment, Exodus 20;12). It is clear that honoring one’s parents includes caring for them financially. Remember, there was no Social Security Administration back then. Not only was honor for parents rewarded; “the first commandment with promise” of long life (Eph. 6:2-3), but disrespect for parents was punishable by “the death” or execution by stoning (Exo. 21:15,17; Deut. 21:18-21). In order to escape the financial burden of caring for their parents, the Jews had used a tradition whereby all they had to do was pronounce the word “Corban” (or, “it is a gift”, Mark 7:11, also used in Lev. 1-3) and no one was allowed to ask questions about their money because it was marked as “for the service of the Lord”. By using this method they could forget about their poor parents and justify their actions based on tradition. But this “traditional teaching” made “void the commandment of God”.
7 Hypocrites! well has Esaias prophesied about you, saying, 8 “This people honour me with the lips, but their heart is far away from me; 9 but in vain do they worship me, teaching as teachings commandments of men.” [Isa. 29:13] vv.7-9 The Lord was here on earth exposing the inward fleshly motives in these outwardly upright Pharisees, and now He pronounces it on them. They were not merely following tradition, they were using tradition to indulge the flesh, which is ultimate hypocrisy. Traditions are nothing but religious habits to disguise a cold heart. The Lord quotes from Isaiah to show that these right-wing leaders were really no different than the nation of Israel in the time of the kings on whom judgment fell. They honored God with “the lips” (had a showy outward profession) but “the heart” was far from God (they had no real fear of God). Therefore, all their sacrifices of “worship” were disqualified before God, because they valued the “commandments of men” at the expense of the Word of God. The Lord will expand on the subject of man’s heart in the next section.
Teaching About True Defilement: Comes from Within Man’s Heart (15:10-20)
10 And having called to him the crowd, he said to them, Hear and understand: 11 Not what enters into the mouth defiles the man; but what goes forth out of the mouth, this defiles the man. vv.10-11 The Lord now calls the crowd which had been standing at a distance. The broader principle which he was about to unfold is important for everyone to “hear and understand”. However, we never read that they did understand. The religious leaders believed that tradition made them better, but the common people thought that culture made them better! The Lord now teaches that every effort of man to morally improve himself (eating right, etc.) it totally ineffectual at getting to the root of the problem. Fundamentally, a man does not sin because he is defiled by the evil in his environment, but rather evil comes out of a man’s heart and corrupts his environment. This is a message that man does not want to hear. His very nature is corrupt; therefore no good can come from it, and there is no use retraining the flesh through legal ordinances. Any effort to improve man in the flesh is a fundamental misunderstanding of the cross and God’s judgment on the flesh (Rom. 8:3).
12 Then his disciples, coming up, said to him, Dost thou know that the Pharisees, having heard this word, have been offended? v.12 The disciples sensed the magnitude of it, and the ramifications among the Sanhedrin. Also, naturally they did not like what the Lord was saying either, because it runs totally contrary every natural thought. They perhaps thought the Lord was being a bit too radical, and thought to reign the Savior in, and being sympathetic to those who were offended.
13 But he answering said, Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted up. v.13 The Lord’s answer reveals a wonderful secret. The Pharisees did not have a new life from God. The only solution for man is that he be planted with a new life, from the Father in heaven. No earthly solution will work, it requires the action of the “heavenly Father”. For those who do not possess this new life, their plants will be rooted up for judgment (Matt. 13:41; Rev.14:14-16; Matt. 24:30-31, 40-41).
14 Leave them alone; they are blind leaders of blind: but if blind lead blind, both will fall into a ditch. v.14 They were to “leave them alone”, or don’t let the fear of them bring you under their legal control. Step away from the whole system of Judaism. What we have here is the true Shepherd leading His sheep out of the fold of Judaism (John 10:3). Void of divine life, the Pharisees exercised their leadership without any moral discernment, as a blind person (John 9:40-41). More than that, they were leading an apostate nation that was also blind. The danger is that “both will fall into the ditch”; both the religious leaders and the led are headed for judgment.
15 And Peter answering said to him, Expound to us this parable. v.15 Peter refers to the Lord’s statement in vv.10-11 as a parable that needed to be expounded. That is very telling. Peter could not understand the Lord’s plain assertion that man’s heart was the fountain-head of evil! The main reason we have difficulty with understanding scripture is that we don’t like what it says! Peter thought, “this has to be a parable about something”. But no, it is not a parable, rather it was a plain statement of fact.
16 But he said, Are “ye” also still without intelligence? 17 Do ye not yet apprehend, that everything that enters into the mouth finds its way into the belly, and is cast forth into the draught? vv.16-17 The Lord remarks on not only Peter’s intelligence, but all the disciples (“ye” is plural). Graciously, the Lord walks them through what He had previously said, but doesn’t soften the meaning of it at all. That physical food taken into the physical body works its way through and gets flushed down the toilet as physical waste. There is no possibility of contracting spiritual or moral defilement from eating with physically unwashed hands!
18 but the things which go forth out of the mouth come out of the heart, and those defile man. v.18 But while moral things don’t go into the mouth, certainly they can come out of the mouth in the form of words. Words really express what is in the heart; for “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matt. 12:34) and “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). It is those evil thoughts and desires coming out of the heart through the mouth that morally defile a person.
19 For out of the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witnessings, blasphemies; 20 these are the things which defile man; but the eating with unwashen hands does not defile man. vv.19-20 The Lord lists seven things that come out of the evil heart of man. There is a moral progression to these things: (1) “thoughts” are where the evil is premeditated, (2) “murders”, (3) “adulteries”, (4) “fornications”, (5) “thefts”, (6) “false witnessings”, and (7) “blasphemies” are how those thoughts are worked out into actions. But nowhere in that list is eating with ceremonially unwashed hands. Man cannot escape his own defilement by ceremonial rites, he must receive a new heart by being “born of water and of the Spirit” (John 3:5)
¶ 21 And Jesus, going forth from thence, went away into the parts of Tyre and Sidon; v.21 Israel’s rejection again being manifested, Jesus withdraws Himself again and heads northwest. Tyre and Sidon are 125 miles from Jerusalem. It belonged to Syria at this time, and was well-known as a place that had come under the judgment of God (Matt. 11:21-22). The overthrow of Tyre predicted in Isa. 23 and Ezek. 26 was only partially accomplished by Nebuchadnezzar in the Judean captivity. Later Alexander the great utterly destroyed them according to Ezek. 26:3, 4, and sold the remaining inhabitants into slavery. They represent the Gentiles as a people-group.
22 and lo, a Canaanitish woman, coming out from those borders, cried to him saying, Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is miserably possessed by a demon. v.22 This Canaanitish woman illustrates the dispensational ways of God to turn to the Gentiles when Israel is set aside. Here she is called “Canaanitish” but called “Syro-Phoenician” in Mark 7:26 (compare). The emphasis is on her utter alienation from any claim to God, because she is connected with “cursed Canaan” (Gen. 9:25). Not only that, but her daughter had been possessed by a demon, and was fully under the control of Satan. You can’t get lower than this. We get this same double condition of misery in Ephesians 2; we Gentiles were slaves to Satan (vv.1-3) and strangers from the covenants of promise (v.12). Her first cry to the Lord is very interesting. She is a Gentile, but she addresses Him according to His relationship to the Jews. Perhaps because of the proximity to Israel she thought using His messianic title would have some influence over Him. She sought to lay hold of Jewish promises though a Gentile. The result is very interesting.
23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came to him and asked him, saying, Dismiss her, for she cries after us. v.23 The Lord doesn’t answer a word, as if ignoring her. Why? He knew all along that He would heal her daughter, but He desired to see something more. She had come to him on the wrong basis; a dishonest one. She had nothing to do with the Son of David, or the chosen people, the Jews. As Son of David “Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers” (Rom. 15:8). She tried to claim promises that had not been given to her people. There are no promises of blessing for Canaanites. In fact, all we have in prophecy is the promise that Israel’s failed expulsion of the Canaanites will one day be accomplished by the Lord (Obad. 1:20; Zech. 14:21). Yet wonderfully, the Lord was not merely Son of David (as such He couldn’t help her) but he was also Son of God on earth to meet man’s need. The disciples don’t enter into the Lord’s heart for this woman, and reveal their own coldness by asking the Lord to dismiss her. They reveal the prejudice of the Jew who would kick away the grasping Gentiles from their coattails. Notice: she was not crying after them, as they wrongly assume, but Him.
Application to today. Sometimes sinners come to God in a similar way, claiming promises they have no right to. Promises in the Old Testament were to Israel, and promises in the New Testament are to Christians. For example, when someone gets sick they might pray the Lord’s prayer, or claim the promise that “all things work together for good”. What they must be told is that those promises are “to them the love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). Things don’t work together for good to the sinner. No, the sinner ends up in torment! The common expression “every human being is a child of God” is utter nonsense (unless it is in the sense of Acts 17:28). No, the sinner is not a child of God, and cannot come to God for blessing on that basis, unless he is willing to acknowledge his true moral condition. The sinner must approach God like the publican, who “standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner“ (Luke 18:13). Technically, a person who is quickened is a child of God, but he is not in that conscious relationship until he has humbly turned to Christ for salvation. It is only “as many as received him, to them gave he the right to be children of God, to those that believe on his name” (John 1:12).
24 But he answering said, I have not been sent save to the lost sheep of Israel’s house. v.24 The Lord states His proper mission as Son of David, that title in which she had approached unto Him. As if to say, “I can offer you no blessing on that ground, because your condition is worse than you know”. This woman had faith, and the Lord knew it was there, but was cultivating a state of soul that answered to the truth about her condition. He was giving her a hint, and she got it! Outwardly this would appear very harsh, but to faith (and this woman had it) this was an invitation to respond again, if she was willing to lower herself, and drop all claims to blessing by right.
25 But she came and did him homage, saying, Lord, help me. v.25 And she does lower herself! She bows before Him in homage, all religious pretenses stripped away by the skill of this Divine Soul-worker. She simply acknowledges (1) His Lordship in a universal way, and (2) her need of His help. Notice how similar this cry “Lord, help me” is to Peter’s cry in ch.14, “Lord, save me.” It is that simple cry of faith so characteristic to these last 2000 years of Gentile blessing.
26 But he answering said, It is not well to take the bread of the children and cast it to the dogs. 27 But she said, Yea, Lord; for even the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from the table of their masters. vv.26-27 There is one more step which the Lord wished to see this woman take in her faith. He wished her to rise up and acknowledge the heart of God. So the Lord calls her people “dogs” (or, “puppies”) to her face, because that is morally what the Gentiles were. He says “You are not a child, you are only a worthless dog, and it simply isn’t right to give the child’s portion to the dogs.” Her response is beautiful, and Jesus rejoiced to hear it. “Yea Lord” – that is, “Yes, I am a worthless creature, and have no claim to blessing… but I still appeal, not on the basis of my own merit, but on the basis of sovereign mercy”. She knew that if even a human heart could find mercy to let crumbs fall to the dogs, then God’s heart had sufficient mercy in it to bless the Gentiles in His sovereignty. God’s grace and power were so great that but one crumb of it was enough to deliver her daughter from her condition of misery.
28 Then Jesus answering said to her, O woman, thy faith is great. Be it to thee as thou desirest. And her daughter was healed from “that” hour. v.28 Immediately her daughter was healed from the demonic possession. Her faith rose up to the character of God, and it was not disappointed! By faith she enjoyed a taste of what happened after the cross, when God burst out of the bounds of Israel in sovereign blessing to the Gentiles! All this she enjoyed by simple faith. How different was her faith from the unbelief of the Jewish leaders in vv.1-20. They were offended when Jesus exposed the evil heart of man. This woman acknowledged that she was nothing but a worthless dog, and yet had appealed to the sovereign mercy of God… and she obtained mercy. Note: she was a blessing to her daughter. In ch.14 we had a woman (Herodias) that was a curse to her daughter.
¶ 29 And Jesus, going away from thence, came towards the sea of Galilee, and he went up into the mountain and sat down there; v.29 Once again Jesus departs, and we get another scene of blessing. He heads south toward the Sea of Galilee, which speaks of a resumption of God’s dealings with the remnant of Israel (see v.31). From Mark we learn that it was in Decapolis, on the eastern side of the Sea. He goes up into a mountain, which is a picture of priesthood (Matt. 14:23). It is as Priest after the order of Melchizedek that Christ will be the blesser of the Millennial earth, bringing forth bread and wine.
30 and great crowds came to him, having with them lame, blind, dumb, crippled, and many others, and they cast them at his feet, and he healed them: v.30 So it will be when the Lord appears, that Israel will come to Him out a sense of great need. He will make them feel their need through the tribulation time, and then He will meet those needs in His priestly grace.
31 so that the crowds wondered, seeing dumb speaking, crippled sound, lame walking, and blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel. v.31 The evidence was overwhelming that God was on earth visiting His people, and there was a response. So it will be in the Millennial day; the outpouring of blessing will lead all, Jew and Gentile, to glorify Jehovah – “the God of Israel”.
32 But Jesus, having called his disciples to him, said, I have compassion on the crowd, because they have stayed with me already three days and they have not anything they can eat, and I would not send them away fasting lest they should faint on the way. v.32 Not only were the medical needs met, but provision was made for their sustenance. In ch.14 we had the feeding of the five-thousand, and now we get a very similar miracle performed for four-thousand (compare). In ch.14 it pictured what Christ did on earth to demonstrate that He was the Messiah; here in ch.15 it is a picture of the “world to come”, the Millennium itself. There are a number of important differences between the two miracles. With the five-thousand it was the disciples weariness with the multitude that was the occasion of the feeding; here it is the Lord Himself who brings the subject up, and simply tells out His heart for them. “They have stayed with me already three days” – that is two days of Gentile blessing, and now the Millennial day; “After two days will He revive us; in the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight” (Hosea 6:2).
33 And his disciples say to him, Whence should we have so many loaves in the wilderness as to satisfy so great a crowd? v.33 Once again, the disciples are slow to enter into the heart of Christ. Their failure was in looking to themselves for resources, instead of seeing the greatness of the Person in their midst.
34 And Jesus says to them, How many loaves have ye? But they said, Seven, and a few small fishes. v.34 When asked, the disciples find seven loaves and a few small fishes. With the five-thousand they had five loaves, because five is the number of human weakness (Israel at Christ’s first coming). But here there are seven loaves, because seven is the number of spiritual completeness (Christ at His second coming). Truly Israel will reflect on their history as one of human failure, but see fullness of provision in Christ! If we have Christ, we have everything (1 Cor. 1:30).
35 And he commanded the crowds to lie down on the ground; 36 and having taken the seven loaves and the fishes, having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples, and the disciples to the crowd. vv.35-36 Again the Lord feeds the multitude in an orderly way. Again He gives thanks for the food; ever the dependent man, even in the day of His glory. Again He employs the disciples to distribute the loaves and fishes. It is a beautiful picture of how Christ will use restored Israel in the government of the Millennial earth, as the head of every other nation. Blessing will flow from Christ, through the Church, through Israel, to the world.
37 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was over and above of the fragments seven baskets full; 38 but they that ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. vv.37-38 The miracle occurs; “they all ate and were filled”. What a day that will be when blessing flows unhindered and souls are filled! They started with seven loaves and ended with seven baskets! The all-sufficiency of Christ is the supply for present need (loaves) and for the future (baskets). The baskets uses to pick up the fragments are different. In ch.14 they are twelve hand-baskets; perhaps five liters each. In ch.15 they are seven market-baskets; perhaps thirty liters each! Though the numeral seven is less than twelve, the Spirit is careful to show that the blessing in the Millennium will far exceed the works of power and grace shown at the Lord’s first coming. Notice also that in ch.14 the number of men was 5 x 1000, because Israel’s responsibility and failure to receive the Messiah was in view. In ch.15 the number of men is 4 x 1000, because universal blessing is in view.
39 And, having dismissed the crowds, he went on board ship and came to the borders of Magadan. v.39 Magadan was a small coastal town just south of Gennesaret. This marks a break in the narrative. In ch.16-27 we get a new withdrawal, and another dispensational outline. It is at the culmination of that fourth withdrawal that Jesus reveals His intention to build His Church, founded on the basis of who He is as Son of God!
The Four Withdrawals of Christ. In this portion of Our Lord’s journeys He withdraws from the crowds no less than four times; three in ch.14-15 and one in ch.16-17.
- We find Jesus passing through Nazareth, where He is rejected for a second time (Matt. 13:54).
- 1st Withdrawal. He continues through Galilee, and from Capernaum, they go off by boat with Jesus to a quiet place near Bethsaida (Luke 9:10). Here he feeds the 5,000 (Matt. 14:14).
- The disciples return across the Sea of Galilee in a storm (Matt. 14:22), Jesus meets them walking on the water (Matt. 14:25). They land near the Plain of Gennesaret and Jesus heals many (Matt. 14:34).
- From Gennesaret they make their way back to Capernaum (John 6:24).
- 2nd Withdrawal. Jesus withdraws from Galilee to the region of Tyre and Sidon in Syrian-Phoenicia (Matt. 15:21) where he heals the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman (Matt. 15:22).
- 3rd Withdrawal. He leaves Sidon and great crowds follow Him. He goes toward Galilee (Matt. 15:29) but travels through the Decapolis (Mark 7:31) where he heals the deaf and mute man (Mk 7:32) and feeds the 4,000 (Mt 15:32).
- He comes to the Sea of Galilee, crosses by boat to Dalmanutha (Matt. 15:39). There the Pharisees and Sadducees ask for a sign from heaven (Matt. 16:1).
- He continues on to Bethsaida where a blind man is healed (Mk 8:22).
- 4th Withdrawal. Jesus then withdraws again, and travels from Galilee to Caesarea Philippi. This is the most remote of His withdrawals. It is there that Peter confesses that Jesus to be the Christ, Son of the Living God (Matt. 16:13).
- He continued north from Caesarea Philippi towards Mount Hermon where Jesus is transfigured (Matt. 17:1).
- Jesus return to Galilee (Matt. 17:22) where (in Capernaum) He pays the Temple Tax with the coin from the fish’s mouth (Matt. 17:24)!
- Jesus leaves Capernaum and Galilee for the last earthly time (Matt 19:1) and heads for Jerusalem (John 7:10).
- The expression “O ye of little faith” is a gentle rebuke, repeated four times in Matthew: first in Matt. 6:30 in regard to care; second in Matt. 8:23 in regard to fear; third in Matt. 14:31 in regard to doubt; and fourth in Matt. 16:7-8 in regard to reasoning in divine things. All four instances have to do with failure in simple faith. And yet the Lord never says to His own “O ye of no faith”.