Why are you in church today? To learn something about God? To have fellowship with his people?
To grow in your sanctification? All are good reasons, but they fall short of the most basic one. We meet together to worship God and to glorify him. That is the reaction to Jesus by the 4,000 in Matthew 15:29–39 — they glorify the God of Israel.
Reflect the compassion Jesus shows. The compassion of Jesus is seen in his miracles. The setting is apparently the predominately Gentile area to the southeast of the Sea of Galilee. Note the reference to “the God of Israel,” and also Mark’s more specific geographic location, Mark 7:31. Jesus healed the multitudes. Jesus’ compassion is particularly evident in his concern for the hungry crowd. This miracle is distinct from the feeding of the 5,000, Matthew 14:13–21. Consider why Jesus performs this second, similar miracle.
Stand in awe at the presence of the Messiah. The people witnessed the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. These miracles had been promised as events that would accompany the year of the Lord’s favor, Isaiah 35:5–6; 61:1–3. Present is One who, by his teaching and his miracles, claims to fulfill the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. The people were amazed, and praised the God of Israel. Like the Canaanite woman of Matthew 15:21–28, they recognize that the coming of the covenant messenger to Israel means an overflow of blessings to them as Gentiles. Your daily life this week flows out of the miracle of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. “If we do not see God’s eternal grace in His daily mercies, we may be blessed for a time but we are not truly redeemed and our life will be in vain. But if in faith we see God’s grace, we may know our lives are being cared for in every way.” S. G. De Graaf, Promise and Deliverance, Vol. 3, p. 249
Glorify the God of Israel. Join in praising the God of Israel. The people praise God. Their identification of God as “the God of Israel” suggests that they are Gentiles. Yet they recognize that God’s grace has touched their lives as well. This praise from Gentiles must have been an encouragement for the Lord. The event is bracketed by skeptical opposition from the Pharisees (Matthew 15:1; 16:1), and beyond that, by rebukes by Jesus to his followers for their little faith, Matthew 14:31; 16:8. His people would ultimately reject him, and even his disciples had so little trust in him. The reception of his ministry here anticipates the spreading of the good news to the nations, contained in the Great Commission, with which Matthew will close his Gospel. This song of praise anticipates the heavenly chorus from every tribe and tongue and nation. Matthew records this incident as an invitation for you to join in glorifying God. This is your chief end, Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q&A 1. While you cannot add to God’s glory, you can ascribe glory to his name as you praise him. He is pleased to accept this worship from you. “The kingdom of God, which was foretold and expected by the prophets, in which God would be king and his will the delight of everyone, which in origin and character is a heavenly kingdom and already present in heaven now (Matt. 6:10) — that kingdom is now coming on earth and is near (Mark 1:15). But tying in with those expectations, Jesus immediately introduced a big change. From the Jewish tradition he went back to Scripture and interpreted that kingdom, not first of all as a political but as a religious-ethical dominion. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Mark 12:26), the God of Israel (Matt. 15:31) whom Jesus recognizes and confesses as his God, is also and before all the king (Matt. 5:35; 18:23; 22:2), the Lord of heaven and earth (Matt. 11:25). At the same time, he is the Father in heaven, who in his kingdom wants to rule as a Father over his children.” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2, p. 246)
Experience the fullness of Jesus’ compassion. The crowd of 4,000 ate and was satisfied, v.37. They experienced the compassion of Jesus in a very direct way, as they received the food they needed to make the journey home. Recognize that your daily blessings are no less the result of your Savior’s grace. Look at this miracle in the context of Matthew’s whole Gospel. The provision of food is simply one concrete expression of the compassion of Jesus for his people. It is an expression of his purpose in coming into the world, not primarily to multiply food for people, but to deal with your deepest need. “[T]he belief in Jesus as the heaven-sent sovereign Ruler will entitle the Gentiles to sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 8:8–11, and parallels). Moreover, the real issue with miracles is the glorification of God (Matt. 9:8; Luke 5:26; 17:17–18ff), by those also who do not belong to the people of Israel in the narrow sense of the word (Matt. 15:31, ‘They glorified the God of Israel’). A miracle, as much as preaching, in its sense of being a revelation of the kingdom of God, is a confrontation which necessitates a decision: for or against Jesus as the victor of the Evil one and the Bearer of the Spirit of God….” (Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, p. 70) Why does Jesus perform this second feeding of a multitude? Certainly, because they were hungry. And, as he himself says, he has compassion on them. But he is also making a point in doing this with what apparently is a largely Gentile crowd. And Matthew, who, like each of the Gospel authors, is selective about what he records, takes the space to this miracle. Like the previous section, the good news is going to Gentiles. The listing of the miracles makes clear that here we have the kingdom of God. We have the presence of the King, establishing his kingdom by his life, death, and resurrection. When Jesus has compassion on you, he does not simple make the effort to give you food. Ultimately he gives his life on the cross so that your sins can be forgiven, and you can be reconciled to God.
Jesus’ miracles, because they are manifestations of his kingdom, summon you to a decision. Are you for or against Jesus? Do you recognize him as victor over the evil one, as the Spirit-filled Messiah? Do you trust him as your Savior? If his compassion has touched your life, glorify the God of Israel!