The Lord Tests His Disciples (That’s Us)
Full Transcript of Matthew Message #43:
Chapter 5 through 16:20 is the heart of the gospel of Matthew. Here’s a simple division that we’ve been following. In chapter 5-7 the Lord Jesus says something. You recognize that as the Sermon on the Mount. He says something. And then in chapters 8-10 He does something, and that’s the great miracle section, the great redemptive miracles. And then in chapters 11&12 the people respond to what the Lord Jesus said and did. After the Holy Spirit gives us that cycle, He goes back and does it again. In chapter 13 the Lord Jesus said something, and that’s the great parable section, the kingdom of heaven parables. And then in chapter 14 the Lord Jesus does something, and that is your miracles of feeding the five thousand and walking on the water, and all of that. Then in chapter 15-16:20 there are more responses to what the Lord Jesus said and what He did.
When we left off last time we finished our discussion up through 14:12, so now we’ll begin at chapter 14:13. From this point on in the record, until we come to the next section in chapter 16:21, the stories are many. There are many, many Bible stories, and yet the stories are one. In a unique way, they are all put together, and the responses are tied in very closely to what Jesus does. There’s an awful lot of overlapping in this, and how they responded to Him is all part of this same story. You are going to recognize the stories when you hear them, the titles of them. They are exciting stories, and we could spend a lot of time on each one.
Usually these stories are studied by themselves alone. For example, we study the feeding of the five thousand, or we study the Lord Jesus and the Apostle Peter walking upon the stormy sea, or we study the Syrophoenician woman and her great faith, and how the Lord Jesus acknowledged her great faith. Or we study the miraculous feeding of the four thousand, as well as the five thousand. They are exciting Bible stories. Usually we detach them from the context, and we just take each one by itself, and we look as if it’s a Sunday school story. Hundreds of sermons have been preached on Matthew 14, 15 & 16 because there are so many exciting stories in this section. And great observations have been made through the years by God’s people. Many hearts, unnumbered hearts, have been turned to the Lord through these wonderful chapters. Only eternity will reveal how heaven will be different because the Spirit of God gave us Matthew 14, 15 & 16. We would miss a lot if we didn’t look at those stories as individual stories. I love to look at them devotionally, and we’re going to do that.
But at this time I believe the Lord has called us to study the gospel of Matthew, not just stories in the gospel of Matthew, but the gospel of Matthew itself. We don’t want to see them just as isolated stories, as if Matthew were Proverbs. Matthew is not Proverbs. God did not just put one thing after another after another in Matthew. He’s telling a great spiritual story, so we want to put them altogether and see it that way first. What’s going on historically? What is the Lord Jesus about? What is He doing? What is the Holy Spirit inspiring Matthew to record these stories at this time and in this order? That’s what we want to look at. I realize that touching stories like this in this way is going to be tough on you because you are going to say, “Slow down, Ed. There’s an awful lot in there. What you are jumping over are gems. You could be having all kinds of principles.” And it will also be tough on me, because I see some of those gems, and I want to stop and pick them up and hold them before the Lord and before you.
What I’d like to do is to look at this whole section, 14:13 all the way through 16:12, and seventy five verses tonight; the whole section tonight, in an overall view, and in a panorama. There are six different stories in this section, and like I say, you could spend a long time on each one. I believe that instead of isolating the six stories right away, if we stand back and get a telescopic view first, then it will mean a lot more to us when we go in for a microscopic view, and spend a little more time on that.
Let me just state for you the six stories, and then after we get our proverbial forest out of the way, maybe we can go back and look at some of the trees. Just for the sake of those listening by tape, I’ll give the references as I state this. You can glance at your Bibles and view this to be so. Chapter 14:13-21, the feeding of the five thousand, chapter 14:22-33, the Lord Jesus walking upon the stormy sea, chapter 15:1-20, the parable of the human heart (where he says food comes into the body and it’s what comes out of the body, the heart, that means something with God), chapter 15:21-31, the Syrophoenician woman, then chapter 15:32-39, the feeding of the four thousand, and then chapter 16:1-12, the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees; that’s a lot of ground to cover, but I believe if we stand back far enough, and we see the whole thing together, it will make an awful lot of sense of what God is communicating in this section.
Let me show you before we begin, a couple of things that tie these six stories together. Let me mention two things. The first thing that ties them together can be summarized in the single word: food, eating. All through this section you have food or hunger or eating or bread or crumbs or leaven. The whole thing is talking about eating. Let me illustrate it. Of course, you can see it right off the bat in the first story. Chapter 14:13-21, the feeding of the five thousand, and you know that has to do with food and eating. In chapter 14:22-33, when the Lord Jesus was walking on the stormy sea, in Matthew’s account you don’t see it as clearly how that ties in with food, but listen as I read these two verses from Mark. It’s the same account: Jesus walking on the stormy sea. It’s Mark 6:51&52, “And He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped, and they were greatly astonished, for they had not gained insight from the miracle of the loaves, and their hearts were hardened.” Here they are on the stormy sea and Jesus said, “They didn’t learn anything from the miracle of the loaves.” He ties in the storm with the feeding of the five thousand. God intended that they would learn something when He fed the five thousand, and then He tested by the storm what He intended that they would learn, which, by the way, He always does. God will never give you a principle, unless He tests that principle in your life, for a number of reasons, and one of them being that He loves you too much to have you hold the truth in unreality. He’s going to make sure you are real. So, when He teaches something you can expect a storm, because He’s going to test the reality of what He’s teaching you.
Matthew 15:1-20 I’ve called the parable of the heart, but that, also, is around the truth of eating. Look at 15:2, “The Pharisees and the Scribes come to Jesus, ‘Why do your disciples transgress the traditions of the elders, for they do not wash their hands when they eat bread?’” Verse 11, “Not what enters into the mouth defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth; this defiles the man. Verse 15, “Peter answered and said to Him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ And He said, ‘Are you still without understanding? Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is eliminated, but the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart. Those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts and murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things that defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.’” I remember when my son found that verse and he used to use it so he didn’t have to wash his hands when he ate. He used to remind me that the Bible said, “Unwashed hands; that doesn’t defile anything.”
But this is all about food; it’s about eating. The same thing is in Matthew 15:21-31, the Syrophoenician woman. Matthew 15:26&27. “And He answered and said, ‘It’s not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ But she said, ‘Yes, Lord, but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.’” Again; food, eating, bread, loaves, crumbs. Look at verses 32-39 and you’ve got the same thing again. This time it’s the feeding of the four thousand. Even in chapter 16:1-12, when He warns about the leaven of the Pharisees, notice their response in verse 7, “And they began to discuss among themselves, saying, “It’s because we took no bread.” And they are back to food again. But Jesus, aware of this, “’You men of little faith. Why do you discuss among yourselves because you have no bread? Do you not understand, yet, or remember the five loaves of the five thousand, how many baskets you took up; or the seven loaves of the four thousand, how many large baskets you took up? How 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.’ Then they understood that He did no say, ‘Beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’”
If you study these stories one at a time, you might miss that connection, and that’s a big connection, as you are going to see. God ties this together with the truth of food and eating and hunger and bread and loaves and crumbs and satisfaction of appetite. God ties it together, and we need to see that connection. It’s extremely important. Not only are these stories tied together that way, around the theme of eating, but there is another thing going on here, which I believe is a great key in understanding the section. On first sight, on the surface, you might take these stories individually one at a time, and think that the Lord Jesus is dealing with each of these situations as they come up. In other words, in two cases, His concern is hungry people; the multitudes. So, He’s concerned about them, and does a miracle in order to meet their need. Or, when that gentile women came with her problem of her daughter being demon possessed, you might say, “Well, His heart was moved in compassion for that woman and for her daughter. That was His concern.” Or when the Pharisees and the Scribes came, you say, “Now His concern is to expose false teachers, and to show how the blind lead the blind.” And when Peter was walking on the water, you say, “Well, He was dealing with Peter, and teaching us not to look to circumstances, or to look to Christ instead of circumstances.”
If you read it with that perspective, you’ll get blessings, but you are going to miss the reason the Holy Spirit put it in the gospel of Matthew. You’ve got to find out what God is doing and catch the spotlight of the Holy Spirit. What is God doing in this section? The problem is that it moves so fast, and we study so slow, we’re tempted to miss it because we get in too close. But if we stand back, we’ll see that in every case, no exceptions to this, He is dealing with His disciples. Those other things, like feeding five thousand, feeding four thousand, the Syrophoenician woman, the demon possessed girl, those are occasions by which He trains His disciples. He’s using them as curriculum, but He is teaching His own. If you are going to understand what He’s teaching, you’ve got to understand that He is addressing His own disciples. At this point in their lives they are very dull; they are very thick headed; they’re having a hard time grasping, comprehending spiritual things. Later on God continues to open their eyes and give them light, but at this point they are struggling along. They are in training; they are in school. All the things that take place here now are for the benefit of the disciples.
I remember when I was in high school, we took a course in chemistry. I hated it and flunked it by one point. I couldn’t pass chemistry, but that course was divided in two sections. We had, first of all, the classroom discussion. That was the first section. That was book learning. That’s where you had to take notes and get all those facts in your head. The professor would lecture or do some experiment in from of the room, or show some object lesson, and then we’d have to take notes and be ready for pop quizzes or exams, and all that kind of thing. Classroom discussion had to do with knowledge; with book learning, and I didn’t really do that badly. I didn’t ace it, of course, but I didn’t do that badly, because I could memorize facts about matter and about atoms. I could learn by my own head some of the components of the atmosphere; oxygen and hydrogen and water and carbon dioxide, and that kind of thing, and some of the inert gases. I could memorize those kind of things. But the second part of the course had to do with lab, and that is where we tested the reality of what we were supposed to have learned in the lectures. That was the practical side. That’s where we tested the formulas. Well, my chemistry course ended with an explosion of my own experiment, and it put my teacher in the hospital. That’s how I did in lab. Then he flunked me by one point. I didn’t think that was fair.
Anyway, the Lord Jesus was dealing with His disciples that way. He didn’t only teach parables and give the Sermon on the Mount, He also took them into the lab. He also took them into life. He also took them out into the road where “the rubber meets the road”, the practical side, and He tested these disciples in everyday life. You are going to miss a whole lot if you don’t see that all of these stories are the Lord Jesus teaching His disciples. He lays down a principle, and then He takes them to the lab, and He teaches and shows them, and then they usually flunk. And then He goes back and teaches them another principle, and He puts them out in life, and they usually flunk. Then He goes back and teaches again and again. I don’t know what it means to you to have a very patient Teacher as your Savior, but I don’t know where I’d be this evening if it weren’t for the patience of God in my life. A marvelous Teacher is our God, and we’re going to see that illustrated in some of these stories. I’m not suggesting, of course, that he had no compassion for these other people. He did have compassion on the hungry multitudes, on the Syrophoenician woman and her daughter, but the main point is that He’s using those stories, those situations, those occasions, as opportunities to teach His disciples and to train them. That was the big thing He was doing. They were part of the experiment and part of the lab. If we approach these stories that way, I have an idea a whole section will open up to us. Then we’ll go back and pick up some of these devotional details.
Let me suggest a little outline of how I’d like to develop this, this evening. I believe in these six stories there are at least three clear principles that the Lord Jesus was trying to teach His disciples. I know there is more. There are at least three. There’s always more. There’s no bottom to your Bible. This is infinite. These things are right on the top; three great things He was trying to teach His disciples. As I understand God and the ways of God, He’s been trying to teach them ever since. He longs to teach us these great truths.
Let me say again by way of explanation, so that you don’t jump to conclusions, these disciples at this time were about two years deep now into the ministry of the Lord Jesus. At this time they are in the middle of the course that they are enrolled in. They are going to do fine by the end of the course. They are going to pass. But at this particular time, this is not the whole story, they didn’t do too well on these pop quizzes that they got in these six stories.
Let me show you these three principles, and I’ll state them as principles in order that they might be practical in our life. Again, be patient if we go through some of these rich stories rapidly. I have trouble with that, because they are so good, but I feel like this is important. I trust you’ll enter into it. Let me give the chapter and verse divisions of these three principles, and then we’ll get into them. Chapter 14:13-33 is principle one and embraces two stories—the feeding of the five thousand, and the stormy sea. The second principle is really in two sections, chapter 15:1-20, along with 16:1-12. Then the third principle is Matthew 15:21-39, again embracing two stories—the Syrophoenician woman, and the feeding of the four thousand. It would take far too long, I believe, to read those seventy five verses, so I’m going to select as we go through some verses that will give a connective hold, and we’ll just dip in. I’m also hoping that at least you are familiar with some of these stories. I think that you are. If not, speed read rapidly as we go on, and get the facts in your mind.
The first principle is in Matthew 14:13-33. Let me state it for you as a principle, and then illustrate it in the text. The Lord Jesus was teaching His disciples the truth of union with Christ. That was the great thing that was on His heart – the truth of union with Christ. What do I mean by that? That’s a great doctrine in the New Testament. Really, you could have a whole course on union with Christ. Let me tell you what I mean in simple words. What I mean is this; I can’t do it by myself with my own resources. God won’t do it by Himself. God will do it through me using my resources. That’s union, and that’s what I mean by union. I can’t do it alone. He won’t do it alone, but we can do it together. In union together God will allow us to do it. Beginning in verse 13, the disciples had not understood union with Christ. They were under the conception that God expected them to meet the overwhelming need of others, the awful hunger of the multitudes, out of their own resources. The disciples were calculators. They could add and count, and so they did. They counted their resources; one, two, three, four, five—one, two. And then they counted the people—one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, and they counted the people. They had five loaves and two fish.
Even if you took Leviticus 23 and Exodus 23, word literally, when it says that the men go up to Jerusalem for the three annual feasts and the women and children stayed home, and you took that literally and said there were no women and children, you still have five thousand in the count. Of course, if you read this carefully and read verse 21, you see that there were women and children there, besides. And there were about five thousand men who ate, aside from women and children. If you take that number five thousand, and my math is right, that’s less than half a fish for every thousand people, and one loaf for every thousand. They calculated and they looked at their resources, and then they said to the Lord Jesus, “No way.” Jesus said, “They don’t have to go away. You feed them, and give them something to eat.” “Right. We’ve got five loaves and two fish. You see, God deliberately did it this way, to show the disciples that His provision was going to be out of all proportion to their resources, and no possibility of feeding so many people.
There were many ways God could have fed the multitude. He could have said, “We’ll take it out of the treasury. We’ll supply. You do to town, disciples, and get some food, and we’ll provide and they’ll see how wonderful we are because we’re loving, and they don’t even have to pay for it. He could have done it that way. The multitude had money, because He said, “Send them in, that they might buy food.” He could have taken a collection, and when He got enough resources He could have formed a delegation, and He could have sent them into town. He could have passed the hat; pass the bucket, pass the basket. He finally did pass the basket, but it wasn’t to collect. It was to give. That’s usually how He passes the basket, anyway. The Lord had done many wonderful miracles. He had cleansed the leper and healed the lame, and gave sight to the blind, He raised the dead, and He could have worked a miracle on these people to take their hunger away. He could have just done a miracle and said, “You are not hungry anymore,” and they wouldn’t have been hungry. They would have been satisfied. He could satisfy their appetites for food. He could have either created food in their stomach, or He could have said, “You don’t need food,” and just sustained their bodies. He could curse a fig tree and dry it up. They were on grass. He could have made that grass produce all kinds of food immediately, or He could have rained manna from heaven, or ravens could have come. He did that on other occasions. But He had to do it in such a way to teach His point and teach His principle.
Feeding the multitudes is incidental to what is on His heart. He wants to teach His disciples something and wants them to understand what the blessing of God is. It’s when God, using our resources, provides impossible things for others. I could have met their needs apart from human resources. He didn’t have to use those five loaves and those two fish. He didn’t need to do that, but He wanted to lay down that great principle. They said, “We can’t. You do it.” And He said, “I won’t. Let’s do it; let’s do it together.”
This is marvelous how He involves them. Every step of this involvement is symbolic. Every step of this involvement lays down Bible principles. You’d think after this they wouldn’t forget this in a thousand years. What the process. I’ll break it up into four steps, just for the sake of logic and analysis. Number one, they had to yield up what they had to the Lord Jesus. That’s how they started. They had to surrender everything they had to Him. Number two, after they surrendered everything, He would put His blessing on it by breaking it. They had to surrender it to Him, and when it was in His hands, He just broke it. Number three, then He gave it back to them. They gave it to Him, He broke it, He gave it back to them, so that they could distribute it to others, and they soon ran out. Number four, then they came back to his feet for more. And that was the process, that’s always the process. He’s going to teach them about union, and if you are going to know anything about union, and God using your miserable resources, and my miserable resources, you are going to have learn that you yield it up to Him, He breaks it and returns it to you, and He blesses it to others, and then you go back to His feet for more, and He gives it again.
I wish God’s people would learn how to keep going back to Jesus’ feet, in order to receive what is necessary, in order to feed the hungry multitudes. By this process He lays down the principle, that if I’ll ever be a blessing to anyone, and if I’ll ever offer one drop of real food to hungry multitudes, it will never, never, never, not in a million years come out of my own resources. It’s not possible. It doesn’t matter how many, or how great, or how resourceful you are. You may be very smart and very gifted, and very talented, and very handsome or beautiful, or strong, and you may have a good personality, and may have good teaching skills, or some other skills, mechanical skills or medical skills, or maybe God has endowed you with a generous portion of this world’s goods. Maybe you have money, but until those loaves and fish are surrendered to Him, and yielded up to Him, the Lord Jesus, He will not use them. You can’t use your talent by yourself, and you can’t use your gift by yourself. You can’t use your strength by yourself. You can’t go out and serve the Lord and say, “I’m giving Him all my time and tithes, and I’m doing all this work for Him.” You are wasting your time, His time and their time. The only way to feed hungry multitudes is how these disciples did. They had to learn union with Christ. I can’t feed people by what I have. I can only feed people by what I have surrendered to the Lord, and then the Lord breaks it.
I told you on another occasion that the Lord has called me to write titles of books; not books. I tried that. It was a nightmare. I’ll give you the titles, and you write the books. Here’s a wonderful title of a book; it’s a book on evangelism/soul winning/missions—“Broken, in Order to Feed”. Think about that. “Broken in Order to Feed,” because there is no shortcut to that. That’s how the Lord always does it. You look at the ones in church history that God has greatly used. All those women have been broken women, and all those men have been broken men. His blessing is upon weak things, and small things, broken things. It’s part of His greatness. It’s not we, or our resources that minister. It’s not He apart from our resources that ministers. But it’s He through we (that’s bad English, but it’s a great principle). It’s the Lord through us, using us, using our gifts and our talents, after they’ve been surrendered to Him. That’s the principle He taught the disciples.
Hold that a moment and follow the events. Look at verse 22, “And immediately He made the disciples get into the boat.” Notice the word “immediately.” He taught them the principle that you can’t do it, I won’t do it, we can do it and will, and immediately He sends them into a boat, into a storm. If you want to get the impact of this, it helps to add modifiers one at a time, to see what kind of a storm it was. In verse 29 when the Lord Jesus said to Peter, “Come,” and Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water, when He said, “Come,” Peter was representing the whole church. His invitation for Peter to come and walk on water was His invitation for the whole church to come and walk on water. The Christian life is illustrated by walking on water. It’s an impossible thing, and if you ever learn to walk on water, you don’t know what it means to live the Christian life. It’s a miracle life. Nothing is more impossible than for a Christian, anybody, to walk on water with his own resources. It’s just not possible to do that.
When we add modifiers, one at a time, they were called to walk on the sea, verse 29, and already it’s impossible, but if you look at verse 24 you’ll see that it was a stormy sea. They weren’t only called to walk on the sea, they were called to walk on a stormy sea. Verse 24 also teaches that it was a stormy sea at its worst. Verse 24 again, you’ll find out that they were about in the middle of a stormy sea at its worst. Verse 25 says it’s the darkest part of the night in the third watch. Verse 24, it was against a contrary wind. It’s one thing if the wind is with you, at least you have a break, but they were called upon to walk on the sea, on the stormy sea, in the midst of a stormy sea at its worst at the darkest part of the night against a contrary wind. He is going to test the reality of the principle. You are going to have to learn union with Christ to do that, and learn, “Peter, you can’t do it by yourself and I’m not going to do it alone, but we can do it together. You keep your eyes on Me.” That’s what He taught them in the miracle of the five thousand; you can’t, I won’t, we will, and He takes them out and teaches the same thing again. He tests it, this is lab, and they fail, and He’s patient. He takes them back in the boat, “Oh, you of little faith,” and rebukes them.
Certainly there is much you can apply in this great story of walking on the water. But we’re going to leave it here. Next time we’re going to come back. This much for now. Look at verse 30, “Seeing the wind, he became afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out saying, ‘Lord, save me,’ and immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, ‘Oh, you of little faithful, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat the wind stopped, and those who were in the boat worshipped Him, saying, ‘You are certainly the Son of God.’” And then these words from Mark again, “He got into the boat with them and the wind stopped. They were greatly astonished, but they had gained no insight from the miracle of the loaves.” That’s what Mark says. Mark 6:51&52.
Hold that for a moment. That’s the first lesson. He longs to teach His disciple union with Christ. The second lesson is Matthew 15:1-20, and the principles can be described in these words (there’s many ways to say it and this is just one way). There’s a difference between flesh and Spirit. There is a difference between the physical and spiritual; the material and the spiritual, external and internal. God wanted them to learn that the heart is everything. It matters very little if the lips confess the words, if the heart is wrong. He uses the occasion of the Pharisees, Matthew 15:1, “Some of the Pharisees and Scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem saying, ‘Why do your disciples transgress the traditions of the elders? They do not wash their hands when they eat bread.’ He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?’” Verse 7, “’You hypocrites. Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you saying, ’This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me.’”
That’s the point of this section. They honor with their lips but their heart is far away. Matthew 15:11, “It’s not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man. It’s not the physical things, but what proceeds out of the mouth.” Peter still didn’t understand, verse 15, “And Peter said, ‘Ex plain the parable to us.’ And He said, ‘Are you also still not with understanding? Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated?” It’s physical. “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart. That’s spiritual, and if your heart is wrong, even if the outside is right, you are wrong.
I remember a man telling me one time, quoting this verse, “It’s not what goes into a man that defiles a man. It’s okay to drink liquor, because Jesus says that’s it’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man. I won’t be defiled if I drink liquor because it goes in and then it’s eliminated.” His point is exactly the opposite of that. He’s saying that drinking doesn’t defile a man. A defiled man drinks. Do you see the difference? He’s not saying that drinking defiles a man. He says that a defiled man drinks. If your heart is wrong, that’s why you do wrong things. It starts from the inside. The heart is everything.
This was the second truth that the Lord Jesus wanted to communicate to His disciples. They took a long time learning this one; that spirituality is not measured on the outside. It’s measured on the inside. It’s not measured by forms that you go through, and by rituals that you keep, and by religious things that you do. It’s not measured by activities and observances, and works. It’s not even measured by sound doctrine. The difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees was this; the Pharisees had sound doctrine on paper, but they were dead in heart. It looked good on paper. They were evangelical, Bible believing, fundamental. The Sadducees were the liberals. They were the false teachers, but the Pharisees were more dangerous than the Sadducees, because the closer you get to the truth, without being the truth, the more dangerous you are. The Pharisees had the truth without the reality. They had the words. “With their lips they honor Me, but their heart is far from Me.” Nothing is more dangerous. The more you go on in the Lord, the more you need this caution; nothing is more dangerous than having all the right answers, and being dead in your heart. Nothing is more dangerous than that. As you study the Bible and learn more and more, you come up with more right answers, and you have all of the right doctrine.
A tree can die at its heart long before the leaves die, and the buds die, and the blossoms die, and the fruit dies. You can look at a tree and say, “That tree is doing fine,” and yet deep down inside, the tree is dead. We need constantly to have our hearts searched by the Lord, that we’ll not die on the inside, and keep up the outside. That’s what they did in the Old Testament when the Shekinah glory cloud left the temple. God was gone, but they kept up the ceremonies, and they kept up the sacrifices, and they kept up all the forms. It reminds me of 2 Kings 2:19, when the men of Jericho came to Elisha and they said, “Behold, now, the situation of the city is pleasant, as my Lord sees, but the water is bad.” See, it looked good on the outside. Jericho looked like a thriving city, but what happened was that its springs had become poisoned, and all its fountains had become polluted. It was dead at the heart.
Those two principles the Lord begins with. He says, “I want you to get this; union with Christ; you can’t, I won’t, we can. It’s Spirit and not just the outside, and not just the lips, and not just the words, and not just the forms, and not just the rituals. It’s not wrong to have those, but not as a substitute for the heart. Everything is the heart. Glance at chapter 16. They still missed it. Matthew 16:6, “Jesus said to them, ‘Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.’ And they began to discuss it among of themselves and said, ‘It’s because we took no bread.’” Back to the physical. They missed the whole point again. And He says, “Don’t you understand? Didn’t you see it?” Verse 8, “Oh, you men of little faith. Why do you discuss among yourselves because you have no bread? Don’t you understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves? Don’t you remember the principle I taught you in class? You are flunking lab, boys. You aren’t doing good out there.”
In our panorama there’s one other lesson the Lord Jesus wanted to teach. Matthew 15:21-31. This principle also includes two stories; the Syrophoenician woman and the feeding of the four thousand. Once again, I know there’s a lot that can be said about this, and we’ll come back and pick up some of these details. But let’s look at the big principle. Before I state it for you, I believe this background will be a key to understanding this particular section. Jesus had just tried to instruct the disciples on the difference between spiritual things and physical things, and now they are in the lab again. Look at verse 22. It looks like this is the issue. “Behold, a Canaanite woman came out from that region, and began to cry out, saying, ‘Have mercy on me, oh Lord, son of David. My daughter is cruelly demon possessed.’”
Forget the context. It looks like this is a great concern to the Lord Jesus; this woman, and the awful pain for a mother to have a daughter who is demon possessed. But this woman and her daughter were not the real concern. They were the curriculum. The Lord Jesus was teaching his disciples again. The fact is, the woman and her daughter were doing pretty well compared to the disciples at this point. We read a story like this, “la, la, la,” and we miss some of the great principles that God has laid down. I think we need to understand the tremendous prejudice in those days between the Jews and the gentiles. This women was a gentile “dog”, as they called her. She was a Canaanite. Canaan was the cursed people, and she also had a demon possessed daughter.
In verse 23, when the disciples said, “Send her away. She’s shouting after us,” they didn’t have the least bit of compassion on her. Here’s a women whose daughter is demon possessed, and the disciples, the students, the Bible students, the seminarians said, “Send her away. She’s bothering us.” When Jesus said, in verse 24, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” that gave them more ammunition for their prejudice. They said, “See, He didn’t come for that dog. He came only for the lost house of the sheep of Israel. He came for the Jews, not the gentiles.” But, you see, the Lord Jesus was talking spiritually, and they missed it. He wasn’t talking about the Jews, the physical descendants of Abraham. He was talking about the Jews, the spiritual Jews. Not everyone is a Jew whose of Abraham, but those who are of faith are Israel, God says. You see, the opposite is true. They said, “Send her away.” His answer is, “No, but what is it that I came?” They look at her at say, “A gentile.” Jesus looked at her and said, “This is one of the lost sheep of the house of Israel, spiritual Israel, but they didn’t have any idea what the Lord Jesus was talking about, because all they saw was physical, the outside, and the material things. They saw her as one who belonged to the nation of the uncircumcised.
In this chapter the woman is doing fine, but the disciples are in bad shape. They are so full of prejudice. In order to lay out this principle, the Lord Jesus takes this woman as an object lesson, and reaches down inside her soul, and pulls out faith, in order to display it in contrast to his disciples. Verse 26; that’s the point of this verse, “He answered and said, ‘It’s not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ But she said, ‘Yes, Lord, but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.’” You see, the disciples had this view of the Lord Jesus; of God, that God has come to bless Israel, their nation, and that the whole loaf of God’s blessing, and the whole loaf of salvation belonged to them, the children; physical Israel. They said, “There’s not enough for the gentiles. The whole load is for us.” But this woman, and that’s why the Lord Jesus used this as the manual, had a different view of the Lord Jesus. They said, “One loaf is for Israel.” She said, “All I want is one crumb, because if I have one crumb from Him, that’s all I need for myself, and that’s all I need for my daughter who is demon possessed.” One crumb from Jesus; she had a large view of the Lord Jesus. Her view of Him was so great, that all she needed was one crumb from Him, and it would meet all of her needs forever, and she’d go away satisfied.
This is the third principle. He wanted them to learn of union; you can’t, I won’t, we will. He wanted them to learn that the Spirit is life, and not just form, and now He wants them to have large view of Him, a view like this Canaanite woman had, so that even one crumb, because it’s from Him… She had an ocean view of that crumb. She saw that crumb as the whole, and that’s all she needed. They saw the whole loaf, and it wasn’t enough to share with the gentiles. They needed a large vision of Him.
Let’s go back to the lab, Matthew 15:32, “Jesus summoned to Himself the disciples, and said, ‘I feel compassion for the multitude. They’ve remained with me three days, and they’ve had nothing to eat. I do not wish to send them away hungry, less they faint on the way.’ And the disciples said to Him, ‘Where would we get so many loaves in a desert place to satisfy such a great multitude?’” You wouldn’t expect that after what they’d just been through. And I’m not talking about the feeding of the five thousand. I’m talking about the crumbs. They just got the word from this woman that Jesus took her faith and said, “I haven’t seen faith like this in Israel.” He holds it up. She said that all she wanted was the crumbs, and they said, “When are we going to get enough loaves to feed these people?” Their view of the Lord Jesus was so small.
I see a little irony in the feeding of the four thousand. It used to bother me, “Why record two miracles? He told us about the feeding of the five thousand. Why come right back and teach us about the feeding of the four thousand?” I have an idea there is irony in it, because when it was all over, He didn’t take them out in a storm. He got in the boat Himself and went away. And when He got in the boat Himself and went away, the disciples were standing holding seven baskets (and the Greek word is crumbs) full of crumbs; leftover parts. Do you see what the Lord Jesus was doing? He reached into this woman and pulled out… She had such a view of Christ that only one crumb is all they need. They couldn’t even see the whole load wasn’t enough, and He gives them seven baskets of crumbs, and is standing there holding them, and He walks away. What had they learned? I suggest these are the great principles He tried to teach His disciples then; these are the great principles He tries to teach His disciples all the time. I can’t do it with my resources, and He won’t do it alone, but in union with Him, sure He’ll break me, and I’ll have to be at His feet, but He’ll use me to feed thousands, and I’ll have to keep coming back to His feet. In union with Him I’ll walk on water, and it doesn’t matter how stormy the sea is. I can be in the midst of the stormiest sea at its worst against a contrary wind, in the darkest part of the night; if I’m in union with Christ, it doesn’t matter how deep the water is, if you’ve learned to walk on top. Union with Jesus Christ; He longs to teach His disciples. It’s not just the outside, and it’s not just form; don’t just honor Me with your lips, and have your hearts far from Me. In this He longs to teach His disciples to have a large view, a spiritual view of Him; one crumb is enough from Him.
When we think about our God, and how involved He is, the universe is so great, and it’s so complex, and its affairs are so many, and the Bible says, “He thinketh on me.” I used to think, “Oh, the Lord is not confused by complexities, and He’s not mixed up and so occupied in some galaxy up there. I used to think that I was so nothing, Lord. I don’t want to have to waste Your time on me. Don’t you realize that part of His greatness is in the fact that He considers the insignificant? That’s a part of His very greatness. If He wasn’t that great, He wouldn’t think about the little things. But the fact that He can think about the little things, the crumbs, and you begin to see the crumbs and see how big the crumb is, then you get lost in the loaf. God give us union with Christ. Give us the principle of heart, and life, and Spirit, and inward reality, so that from the blood of our souls we’re right with our God. God teach us to have such a big view of the Lord Jesus, that even a little crumb from His table is all that we’ll ever need to satisfy us and fulfill us forever. That’s the whole section. Next time we’ll go back and pick up devotionally some of its parts.
Our Father, we do thank You for the gospel of Matthew, again not our understanding of it, but all that You know that it means. Take us forward in these great principles of God. Lord, we just rejoice for Your Holy Spirit turning our eyes to Christ. Thank You for your compassion upon us, and Your great patience in teaching us these things. When You took us to Yourself, You took unto Yourself a great burden, and yet we know it’s the delight of Your heart. Instruct us, and teach us in the way that we should go. Guide us with Your eye. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.