Episode 80 - Feeding the Four Thousand - Opening Up the Gospels

In Episode 79, we journeyed with Jesus and the Twelve to the region north of Galilee where Jesus marveled at a Gentile woman’s faith and healed her daughter from a demon. I talked about how odd it must have been to the Twelve that Jesus had skipped attending the Passover feast in Jerusalem. Not only did the Jewish messiah not attend the feast, but He was now in Gentile cities among people that weren’t even Jewish. While Jesus’ focus certainly did remain on Israel for the final year of His ministry, this specific time period highlights the shift that occurred away from Galilee and towards other regions, including several regions populated primarily by Gentiles. In the next several episodes we’re going to see Jesus traveling extensively. Today we’re going to look at some events from Matthew 15 and Mark 7, so let’s jump right in and start in Mark: “Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.” (Mark 7:31–33 ESV) Let’s take a look at our map so we can figure out exactly where Jesus is going here. Mark says that Jesus went to the region of the Decapolis, which you can see here. Decapolis was just a region of ten Gentile cities to the east of Galilee and Samaria. The parallel passage in Matthew’s Gospel says that upon leaving the region of Tyre, Jesus skirts the sea of Galilee to get to the Decapolis. The distance between these two regions in a straight line is about 50 miles, but certainly the journey Jesus and the Twelve took was much longer. So once again we’re in a region primarily populated by Gentiles, and Jesus’ fame is known even there. At some point after He arrives, a man who can’t hear and can barely speak is brought to Him. Imagine if this was you. The fame of this Jewish man was well known even in your region, and though you’ve never been able to hear about Him with your own ears, your friends have. They bring you to Jesus and upon first glance, He seems so ordinary. As your friends beg Him to lay His hand on you, He takes you aside from the crowd. He puts His fingers into your ears and then spits onto His finger and touches your tongue. By doing that, He’s saying “I’m going to take care of these things for you. Though you can’t hear me and though you can’t speak clearly, I will help you.” Once again we see Jesus showing forth so much compassion. Let’s keep reading in Mark 7: “And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”” (Mark 7:34–37 ESV) Jesus performs yet another beautiful miracle here. He sighed, showing His sympathy with the man’s condition and taking it to heart. Then He speaks in Aramaic a word meaning “be opened”. And immediately his ears heard and he was able to speak clearly. Remember, Jesus had taken him aside from the crowds. When he went back to them or when he saw some of them around town, what would their reaction be? Now Jesus explicitly charges the man and the people that witnessed the miracle to tell no one. But Mark says that the more He charged them, the more widely they kept telling the news. Why is that? Well throughout the Gospels we see Jesus often times telling people to keep His identity and His power a secret. Remember, just recently, right after the feeding of the 5,000, He slipped away and avoided the crowds who had an overzealous desire to make Him the ruler. And now he’s saying to Gentiles to keep who He is and what He’s done a secret. Jesus knew the reason for which He came – to lay His life down as a ransom for many. Instead of taking up David’s throne in Jerusalem right away, He would first have to suffer. He wouldn’t enter into His glory as the rightful king of Israel until He returns at His second coming. Let’s move on to the next scene we see in Mark 8: “In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.” (Mark 8:1–10 ESV) Jesus is still in the region of the Decapolis, and once again a crowd of people have followed Him almost everywhere. Jesus said they had been with Him for three days already, and in that time they had nothing to eat, so He was feeling a deep concern for them. Remember back to Episode 74 and 75 when I talked about the feeding of the 5,000? Well, there are so many similarities between that scene and this one, and I think Matthew and Mark are purposeful in the way they highlight the parallels. First, Jesus’ compassion is seen throughout the entire miracle. Second, the disciples wonder how they are going to feed so many people. Third, Jesus creates baked bread and cooked fish, supplementing the small amount they began with. Fourth, the crowds ate and were satisfied, which again would have been very rare in that day. Fifth, they picked up basketfuls of bread after everyone had eaten. And sixth, Jesus and the disciples get in a boat and go somewhere afterwards. There are a few broader points that are important to recognize here. The feeding of the four thousand, first of all, was clearly different than the feeding of the five thousand. Though there are similarities, both Matthew and Mark record two distinct feedings with different details between them. Not only were they in different locations, but the number of people, number of loaves, and number of baskets left afterwards were different. I believe one reason why Jesus repeats the miracle with a different group is to help the Twelve grasp even more who Jesus is. As we will see in the next episode, the disciples are kind of dull and still have a lot of unbelief at this point – it takes them a while to understand what Jesus is saying and the points He’s making. Just as with the feeding of the 5,000, we see Jesus creating bread that had been baked and fish that had been cooked. He didn’t need to pray and ask for God’s power, He didn’t need to work something up, He was the sole bearer of creative power. The same word that spoke the universe into existence is there in the Decapolis creating bread and fish. Now the feeding of the 5,000 happened in Galilee among Jewish people, symbolizing God’s provision for the Jewish people. But the feeding of the 4,000 happened in the Decapolis among the Gentiles, symbolizing God’s provision for the Gentiles. Just like we saw in the last episode, the Gospels are hinting at the fact that Gentiles are not out of the scope of God’s promise. They too will also be beneficiaries of the covenants God made with Abraham if they bear the fruits of repentance and put their faith in the Jewish Messiah. Mark says right at the end of verse 10 that Jesus and the disciples get into a boat and go to the district of Dalmanutha. We’re not exactly sure where this is, however in Matthew 15:39, the region of “Magadan” is mentioned. That location too is also unknown, however a variant reading is also “Magdala”, which we know to be on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. And if the disciples were crossing from the western shore after being in the Decapolis, it would make sense that Magdala would be a possible place to anchor after crossing. So it’s possible that Magdala, Dalmanutha, and Magadan are different names for the same place, but we can’t be totally sure. So just as a quick summary of the important point in the last couple of episodes – Jesus skipped out on the Passover feast and is now ministering in regions primarily populated by Gentiles. He has rejected Galilee because after all the miracles that had been performed there, the Galileans had not borne the fruits of repentance. God had personally appealed to them and they were more interested in their bodies being healed and their bellies being filled than they were in hearing Jesus’ message and turning from the heart. What a tragedy. Well here’s a couple of points for your meditation this week: 1) Ponder what it would have been like to watch Jesus heal the deaf man. Think about the setting, what the day was like, who was there, and how they reacted when Jesus healed Him. Remember, this was a real day in history, a day that man wouldn’t soon quickly forget! 2) Imagine yourself as one of the disciples as you watched Jesus feed huge crowds all over again. What emotions would you be feeling? In the next episode we’ll head over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee again where Jesus has yet another conflict with the Pharisees and teaches a lesson to His disciples.