Jesus truly cares about our trials and struggles, and sometimes he does alleviate them. We should not be embarrassed or ashamed to ask him for help with earthly problems. Jesus should be the most significant factor in any situation for us. Even so, having our troubles “fixed” often leaves us unchanged, and that’s not always a good thing.
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Matthew #50 . Matthew 15:29-38
Greetings, dear friends. This week I will be writing about, among other things, how the presence of Jesus should be the most important factor to believers in all circumstances. In terms of energy, time, talent and finances it often seems like I am inadequate to the callings the Lord has for me. But just as the most important thing for the 4000 hungry people to know was that Jesus was among them, so it is with me, and you too, I might add.
For this reason, I invite you to pray with me for the ministry of Clear Bible.
Please pray that the Lord will provide every need to keeping making this ministry what He wants it to be. Pray it will continue to be a blessing to those who hear it. Ask God, if it is his will, to touch even more lives with these messages. Ask him to use this ministry in making disciples of Jesus Christ.
Please also pray for our finances. Pray for us to receive what we need. God really is our true provider, so please do pray for us in this way before you give anything. And then, as you pray, if the Lord leads you to give us a gift, please go ahead and do that. But if he doesn’t want you to give to us, that is absolutely fine. We don’t want you to feel bad about it. We want you to follow Jesus in this matter.
If the Lord does lead you to give, just use the Paypal Donate button on the right hand side of the page. You don’t have to have a Paypal account – you can use a credit card, if you prefer. You can also set up a recurring donation through Paypal. We can make this tax-deductible if you just mention that it want it to be so in the “note” part of the transaction.
You could also send a check to:
New Joy Fellowship
917 Canyon Creek Road
Lebanon, TN 37087
(this is a new address by the way. It is merely an administrative change).
Just put “Clear Bible” in the memo. Your check will be tax-deductible.
Thank for your prayers, and your support!
One of the arguments made by skeptics is that the Bible, as we have it today, was shaped and “redacted,” by early Christian communities. In other words, goes the theory, over the first few hundred years of Christianity, various Christian communities changed some of what was originally written, and made up other parts out of thin air. Of course, this theory is destroyed by the known facts of how the Bible came to be. With vast numbers of complete and partial manuscripts in various languages, with a few surviving portions of manuscripts dating back to the time of the apostles, and large numbers of surviving papyri dating to within one generation of the apostles, we know that early Christian communities changed nothing. If they had, we would find widely varying readings in the various surviving manuscripts, with significantly variant readings clearly centered in geographical areas. Instead, we find that by A.D. 250, virtually all Christians across the known world (at the time) were using essentially the same New Testament texts. This occurred while Christianity was still an illegal, persecuted religion, so no one got any wealth or power from what is written in the bible.
Matthew 15:29–38 is another one of those passages that would only be included if the Bible is in fact what it claims to be. In other words, if you were in an early Christian community deciding what the Bible was going to be, you would almost certainly leave this out. If you haven’t already, go ahead and read the text. Now, think about it. We already have the feeding of the 5000. In that story, Jesus healed a bunch of people, and then fed them all with a few fish and some pieces of bread. In this story, we have almost the same thing. Jesus heals a bunch of people, spends three days with them, and then feeds them all with a few fish and some pieces of bread. The main differences appear to be that the second crowd was with Jesus for three days (instead of just one), and there were 4000 men (plus women and children), instead of 5000 (plus women and children). We also have different numbers of bread and fish and of baskets of leftovers.
Why would we include this second story? We already have a story just like it. The answer is simple: the reason Matthew included this story is because it really happened. It wasn’t put in by an early Christian community because they had some sort of agenda; this story does not advance any agenda beyond that of the first mass-feeding. A made-up gospel would simply leave it out. No, the only reason to include this story is because this is what actually happened. By the way, Jesus and his disciples have a conversation in Matthew 16, in which they refer to both incidents.
We might ask, why then, did Jesus repeat this miracle? We can ask this in true faith; it is a reasonable question. Sometimes, however, I think we hyper spiritualize what we read in the Bible. Sometimes the answer is very simple and straightforward. I think the reason Jesus fed the 4000, even though he had previously fed the 5000, was because, at that particular time, he was with the 4000 and they were hungry. In other words, it wasn’t some sort of additional lesson, or spiritual parable. He wasn’t proving a point. He happened to be there with those people. They were in need, and so he healed them; they were hungry, and so he fed them. It was simply Jesus providing for needy people.
Now, I believe this is true, and I think it is the main reason we have this text. I also believe that the Holy Spirit can, and does, use every part of the Scripture, and so I also think that we can hear God speak to us through this text.
First, I want us to notice something about our desires and their fulfillments as we look at this passage. Matthew tells us that he’s only counting men (in a census, only men were counted, which was a good thing for the people when it came to war and taxes). Conservatively, if you assume only one woman and one child for every two men present, on this occasion, Jesus fed about 8,000 people. On the previous occasion it would have been 10,000. So, between the two incidents, Jesus miraculously fed 18,000 people (possibly many more). In addition, he healed many of those people. I am sure that many of them desperately wanted healing for themselves or their family members before they went to see Jesus. I’m sure that many of them were very tired and hungry before Jesus fed them. Well, they got what they wanted: they were healed and then fed. They came to the Lord, asking him to meet their needs, and he did. But what was the result?
Luke tells us that when the dust had all settled after the crucifixion and resurrection, there were about 120 people (men, women and children) who followed Jesus. We don’t know for sure who each one of those 120 people were, but we know that the twelve followed him before the feeding of the five or four thousands. We know also about many women who were already his followers before this, along with several people whom were not present when he fed the five thousand, or the four, but became followers later, in Jerusalem. What this means is that at most, out of 18,000 people who received miraculous healing and miraculous food, fewer than 100 ended up following Jesus. That’s about one half of 1%. It is possible, of course that not a single one of these 18,000 people were among the 120 disciples at the time of Jesus’ resurrection.
The reason I bring this up is because it speaks to the heart of a lie that we human beings tell ourselves so often. We think that if God would just show himself we would put our faith in him. We believe that if God would simply fix our difficult situation everything would change for us. There are many Christian circles where it is popular to say “you cannot minister to a person’s spiritual needs until you have ministered to her physical needs.” But all these ideas are destroyed by this fact: Jesus Christ himself ministered to the physical needs of more than 18,000 people, and virtually none of them followed him; virtually none of them were fundamentally or permanently changed.
Our true need is not for God to simply alleviate our suffering, for him to deal with the thing that we think is bothering us the most. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the alleviation of suffering, particularly my own. But I do not think it accomplishes as much as we suppose it does. In the lives of these 18,000 people, it did not accomplish much spiritually, it did not fundamentally change the lives, or eternal destinies, of very many of them.
When I have a friend who is not a believer, and is suffering in some way, I usually pray that the Lord would alleviate his suffering. In that situation, I also often tell my friend I am praying for him. I have this idea that if God will simply intervene, my friend will become a believer, surrender his life to Jesus, and be changed forever. But this business about the feeding of the thousands shows me that that is not necessarily the case. Perhaps (!) the Lord is wiser than me when he chooses not to intervene miraculously. Maybe fixing everything doesn’t actually fix everything.
Jesus addressed physical pain, and physical needs, because he loved people, and the Father allowed him to help them. And I think this is another important lesson to take from the passage: Jesus cares, and sometimes Jesus does something about suffering. If nothing else, this passage shows us that he has great compassion on those who suffer. He did his miracles of healing and feeding, not because it led to more people following him, not because through it, more people received his salvation, but simply because it broke his heart to see them in need.
He did not need to do this miracle to show the people something about who he was as the Messiah – he had already done that with the feeding of the 5000. But he cared about the fact that these people were also hungry. He had just provided physical healing for number of them, and he did not want to send them off on a long journey with nothing to sustain them; he did not want hunger to undo the physical healing he had already brought. He cared about their hunger, he cared about their need, and combining his compassion with power, he met that need. The book of Hebrews says “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).” That means that Jesus is still like this today: he still cares about our physical needs, and he still meets them, perhaps even miraculously at times. Maybe you need to hear this word for you today: Jesus cares about you, about every single thing in your life.
I don’t think I’m contradicting my earlier point. I think we need to put our own struggles and sufferings in perspective. We need to realize that if Jesus were to miraculously solve all our problems, we would still have a deep need for him. We need to recognize that the resolution of all earthly obstacles does not actually accomplish very much for us in eternity. Even so, Jesus truly does care about our present, earthly trials and struggles, and sometimes he does alleviate them. We should not be embarrassed or ashamed to ask him for help with earthly problems.
There is another thing I find interesting here: the response of the disciples when Jesus suggested that they should provide food for the crowd. It’s easy to judge them; after all they were in this same situation, probably no more than a year or two before (Matthew does not tell us how much time has passed since the feeding of the 5000). To me, their response seems almost incredible, at least on the surface: “Where could we get enough bread in this desolate place to fill such a crowd?” Seriously? Did they learn nothing from the first time?
However, I think perhaps when we judge the disciples in this way we are not being entirely fair. First, it isn’t like Jesus is producing food out of thin air every day. From day-to-day, week to week, month-to-month they are eating with Jesus in the normal way. In fact, we know from Luke that they were generally dependent on help from others for their daily necessities (Luke 8:1-3). It is likely that they themselves had experienced times when they wondered whether or not they would get a meal. Clearly, Jesus did not miraculously provide food on every single occasion when there was a need.
Second, I find that when I am in a place of need, I still often doubt the Lord, even though he has so clearly provided in the past. I think this is human nature, and it may be one of the reasons why the Lord grants so very few Christians the dangerous position of financial security. We are meant to keep looking to him for all we need, and very few of us really do look to him until we are in need. There is something about our relationship with the Lord that keeps inviting us to trust, and in order to truly trust, doubt must be possible. In any case, I have to admit, I’m still sometimes not expecting Jesus to do anything, still sometimes surprised when he does. How often do I, like the disciples in this text, expect that Jesus will not really do anything?
This is a reminder to me to keep looking to him. Once again, I don’t think this a contradiction to anything I said earlier. I don’t think God’s provision turns people into disciples. However, for those of us who have already begun to follow Jesus, it is vital that we remember God as the most important factor in every situation. We have eight thousand hungry people, what shall we do? Look to Jesus. We have a bill we can’t pay, what shall we do? Look to Jesus. We have a broken relationship that we can’t fix, what shall we do? Look to Jesus. Maybe you are lonely, or dissatisfied with life, or overwhelmed. The presence and will of Jesus should be the deciding factor for us in all circumstances.