Summary: Our compassionate Lord and the leaven of the hypocrites.


Matthew 15:29-39; Matthew 16:1-12.

1. Jesus headed towards the Sea of Galilee, and again great multitudes gathered around Him, bringing the “lame, blind, mute, maimed, and many others” (Matthew 15:29-30). Jesus healed them all: and the people “marvelled” to see the “mute speaking, maimed made whole, lame walking, and blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel” (Matthew 15:31). This was in fulfilment of prophecy (cf. Isaiah 35:5-6).

2. We have had occasion before to comment on Jesus’ compassion (cf. Matthew 9:36). Now we see it in relation to the hungry crowd of worshippers who had been willingly following Jesus for three days (Matthew 15:32).

How like us the disciples were, who could only see the size of the problem: “so much bread” needed, “in the wilderness”, “to fill so great a multitude” (Matthew 15:33). But we need to remember how great His faithfulness, whose compassions they fail not (cf. Lamentations 3:22-23)! “Whence should WE have so much bread?” at least shows a willingness to share in the task, so Jesus asks what they do have (Matthew 15:33-34a).

The amount is indeed small among so many, but when we hand it over to Jesus our little becomes much. The people sat on the ground; Jesus gave thanks, broke, and handed to his disciples; the disciples distributed to the multitude. They all ate - 4000 men besides women and children - and were filled: and they took up seven baskets full of fragments (Matthew 15:34-38).

There were twelve baskets full after the feeding of the 5000 (cf. Matthew 14:20), representative of the twelve tribes of Israel. Seven baskets full after the feeding of the 4000, representative of completeness (Matthew 15:37). Our compassionate Lord could now dismiss the crowd, and took ship to Magdala (Matthew 15:39).

3. The Pharisees and Sadducees came asking, of all things, for a sign from heaven (Matthew 16:1). Jesus’ reply was sharp: in effect, ‘You know how to read the weather’ (Matthew 16:2-3). [When I was a child we used to say, ‘red sky at night, shepherd’s delight; red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning’].

“Hypocrites!” says Jesus (Matthew 16:3). “You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times.” This message does not just belong to those who walked with Jesus in those days, but also to those with whom Jesus is walking in our own day. We also need to discern the times as we await His return. Let us be ready!

Jesus’ parting shot at his would-be tempters was, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matthew 16:4; cf. Matthew 12:40).

4. By the time the disciples caught up with Jesus, they realised that they had forgotten to bring bread (Matthew 16:5). Ignoring their evident hunger, at least for the time being, Jesus used this as an opportunity to issue a solemn warning: “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6). “Is it because we forgot to bring any bread?” wondered the disciples (Matthew 16:7).

“O ye of little faith!” declared Jesus. In effect, ‘Here you all are thinking about bread for eating: even if you lacked that, surely you have learned by now that I am your provider?’ Thus, lack of faith makes us carnal {Matthew 16:8-11).

Now “leaven” here, we discover at the end of the section, relates not to bread, but to false doctrine (Matthew 16:12).

This leaven is still with us, and we are to be on the watch for it. Even within the visible church, we have the self-righteous formalists on the one hand, and the sceptical rationalists on the other. The one will add to Scripture, as we have seen again and again with the Pharisees: and the other will take from Scripture, denying angels and resurrection with the Sadducees; and these days denying Creation, miracles and the written Word of God itself!

Such false teaching permeates the whole church, and would swallow up our own souls - if it were possible (cf. Matthew 24:24). “Take heed and beware,” says Jesus (Matthew 16:6).

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