Scripture: Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel. Matthew 15:29-31 ESV
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Observation: In yesterday’s Daily Focus, Jesus has a lively discussion with a Canaanite woman who seeks his healing touch for her demon-possessed daughter. Refusing to take offense to his seemingly off-color remark that referred to her as a dog (a label for Gentiles and a reminder that they were of secondary importance to his mission to Israel), she points out that even the dogs eat the crumbs from the master’s table. Seeing her determination, Jesus commends and rewards her faith with the spoken word that brings healing to her daughter (click here to read it).
Matthew then tells us that Jesus continued on foot along the shoreline to the Sea of Galilee and hiked up one of the steep hills (no actual mountains around the sea), where he sat and ministered to the great crowd who followed him. Matthew adds that they placed their friends and family who were lame and diseased at his feet (a sign of submission and respect). And as they pondered his miraculous healing powers, they glorified the God of Israel (more said below). In Mark’s parallel passage, he highlights just one healing of a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment to explain how much Jesus astonished the crowd since no great prophet of old had ever made the deaf hear and mute speak (Mark 7:31-37, click here to read).
Takeaway: Noting that they (the crowd) glorified the “God of Israel” in response to Jesus’ healings (v.31), theologian D. A. Carson contends this crowd must have been Gentiles, for no Israelite would use this title. But where else along the Sea of Galilee would a large number of Gentiles live? Carson reasons that Matthew, unconcerned with details, makes no mention of direction. But Mark specifies that he traveled to the Decapolis, which comprised ten Hellenistic cities extending from the eastern shore of Galilee, including the Gadarenes, where Jesus delivered two shackled men from demon possession. (Matthew 8:28-9:1, click here to read). As Matthew writes of this early-ministry incident, the townspeople, afraid of Jesus’ reported power over demons, asked him to leave their region. While uncertain where the above story’s healings took place in the Decapolis, we can reasonably assume he revisited the Gadarenes now that word had spread of all the excellent work he was doing to heal the masses.
Our takeaway? Like Jesus, we must not write off any people group. Granted, there are times when we need to withdraw when encountering resistance, which is why Christ instructed his disciples to shake the dust off their feet when parting Israelite towns that rejected the Gospel message. But after Pentecost, when the Gospel spread throughout the Mediterranean basin, Paul and the other apostles persisted in seeking the transformation of communities when they initially met resistance. Ephesus is a good example. Most of its Roman citizens wanted nothing to do with Paul’s religion, but it eventually became one of the seven foundational churches of the first century.
So like the apostles, when we encounter antagonism, we would do well to step back to provide the distance for the Son to shine on the seeds we planted. And then, as we remain ready through prayer, we revisit as the Holy Spirit prompts and continue this cycle as long as necessary to do our part, whether planting more seeds, watering, or harvesting. For no one is beyond the reach of our Lord’s strong arm of salvation. That’s good news for all of us and a comforting word for those with loved ones who resist our Lord’s gracious Gospel.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you and your Son for not giving up on us. And we thank you for your Holy Spirit, who relentlessly pursues us with the love of Christ. With this in mind, would you please help us to resist writing people off and instead exercise patience and perseverance in doing our part to revisit (as the Holy Spirit leads) those who initially oppose you, us, and your Son’s Gospel? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling