You know, if you’ve been a Christian for a while (maybe all your life) or if you’re really familiar with the Gospel story, the things that you read in passages like today’s reading could become sort of “ho-hum”. I guess what I’m saying is that if we’re not careful, the “blow-your-socks-off” story about God becoming flesh and living among us can become too familiar. I’d like to challenge you to read our assigned reading today with fresh eyes… “Whoa! Walking on water?! Whoa! Feeding 5000 and then 4000 with just a snack’s worth of food?!” Let the miracles of Jesus have the effects that they were intended to have on you, and let your faith be strengthened in who He is and what He can do in your life!
So, what do we find here? As always, way more than we’ll be able to address, but we’ll soldier on, nevertheless…
5000 (and later 4000) fed — Matthew 14:13ff and 15:32
Again these miracles might be too familiar to us to cause us to drop our jaws and gawk, but it was amazing! Think of a high school gym full of people being fed with 5 little round loaves of middle eastern bread and 2 small fish. Depending on human ability, not every one would even get a crumb! But with Jesus’ ability, they ate until they were satisfied! And we worry about paying our bills. The same Lord who fed the 5000 and then the 4000 can take care of us, too, when we’re living obediently.
What it takes to walk on water — Matthew 1422ff
The apostle Peter takes his share of criticism for being speaking before putting his brain in gear, for giving in to fear at a critical moment, for not believing at certain key times (e.g., the resurrection), and for even being a bit off base in his practice of faith (Galatians 2:11ff); but you have to give him credit here. Through his faith, he became the only other man in all of history (besides Jesus) to actually walk on water. And there’s something crucial that I want you to notice about this — it’s simple, but it’s crucial in the question of faith — Peter was willing to step out of the boat. If this had been one of us, we might have asked for the Lord to miraculously freeze the water just outside the boat, so that we could have something tangible to trust in — then we’d step out of the boat. Saving faith — you hear about it a lot — is essentially the trust to “step out of the boat” without any visible means of support. You see it in converts who know their family won’t approve. You see it in missionaries as they leave for a foreign country without really enough financial support. You see it in people giving generously to others. You see it in marriages keeping things together through tough times, not because of romantic love, but because of agape love. Faith that God is pleased with shows this characteristic over and over again throughout all of Scripture. As someone has well said, “If you want to walk on water, you gotta get out of the boat.”
Tradition vs. Command — Matthew 15:1ff
“Traditions” seem to have gotten a really bad name. Among the youthful generation, this word is almost another way of swearing; it’s sort of the ultimate put down. Among a lot of Bible believing religious groups the word tradition is nearly synonymous with doctrinal error. But the truth is that tradition in the Bible or in Jesus’ eyes is not necessarily such a bad word. Traditions, in the general sense, are merely the way people have been doing things for a while. In a Jewish sense, traditions are the teachings of the important rabbis about the ways that things in the Law of God should be done “correctly”. And it is in this last sense that Jesus discusses traditions with the religious leaders of His day in this passage. Sadly, the tradition of washing hands before eating had become equivalent to God’s Law. Jesus disagreed, of course, and warned against teaching traditions as if they were the very words of God — they’re not the same thing. But that doesn’t mean that traditions should never be followed; it simply means that we must never ever raise our traditions up above or even equal to the commands of God. God’s word trumps everything and everybody else, period.
Do you tell on yourself? — Matthew 15:15-20
As someone who does a lot of counseling I notice this a lot — people tell on themselves (what they’re thinking, what they believe, and what they’d do) by what they say and what they assume of others. Listen carefully to what Jesus is telling us here, (Matthew 15:18, 19) “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” Jesus’ point is not so much to watch our mouths, but watch our hearts. The only way to guarantee that improper words or deeds won’t come from us, is to sweep our hearts clean and clear of evil thoughts.
Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees — Matthew 16:5ff
When the apostles first heard Jesus warn about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, they thought He was offering a criticism of them for forgetting to bring bread along. They’d missed the point. His mind was on the false teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and His concern was that their teachings might influence (like leaven “influences” a loaf of bread) his disciples. Their teachings were well argued, their leading voices were persuasive, their principles were held by the leaders of the nation, and popular opinion believed their teachings were the standard of righteousness. It’s good advice for today, too. There are well argued religious points of view that are not biblical; Harvard is full of them. There are celebrity religious leaders who have great followings, but are not teaching the truth; the TV channels are full of these. The largest religious group in a community usually exerts the greatest influence, but big doesn’t translate to right. We must constantly return to the only reliable religious compass, the Bible, to determine “true north”, and resist the siren calls of religious error.
The Good Confession — Matthew 16:15,16
Again, Peter has suffered plenty of criticism over a lot things over the centuries, but you have to give him credit, where it is due, too. And this is one of those times. While everyone else seemed to be scratching their heads about exactly who Jesus was, it appears that Peter is the first one to get it right. He got it right apparently on the evidence of the miracles that he had seen so many of already — Matthew 16:17 “…flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” Jesus hadn’t told Peter, Peter had concluded this on the basis of Jesus’ miracles. Jesus had let the miraculous signs do the talking for Him.
What profit? — Matthew 16:25,26
It is not just in the story of Faust’s deal with the devil that men sell their souls. And the pity of it is that their souls often are priced so cheaply — a little dope, a night of sexual satisfaction, popularity, or pride. Esau traded his birthright for a bowl of stew. King Saul lost his throne over popularity. Judas betrayed the Master for 30 pieces of silver. Demas loved the present world. Jesus’ question is a deep and serious one, Matthew 16:26 “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.