Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
March 2, 2014
And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
— Matthew 4:23-25, ESV
When studying the New Testament it is important to distinguish the subtle difference between “the gospel” (lower case “g”) and “a Gospel” (capital “G”). “The gospel” is the simple and spectacular good news of God’s message of salvation by grace through faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. “A Gospel” is a unique book, originated by the church, which collects select actions and sayings of the Lord Jesus Christ in order to teach and preach the gospel. There are, four Gospels in the New Testament which tell us the gospel: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
In the four New Testament Gospels, each inspired writer uses a little over half of a Gospel to tell of the public ministry of Jesus Christ, most of which took place in Galilee and some in Judea and other outlying areas. Almost all of the second half focuses on Christ’s last days on earth, culminating with His atoning death on the cross and the resurrection. What Matthew has done, in three short verses in this transitional text in his Gospel, is give us a full summary of the first half a Gospel.
What Jesus Did and What We Should Do
Our Lord Jesus Christ repeatedly did three things in His three-year public ministry. He was always teaching, often preaching, and occasionally healing sick (and sometimes dead) people. His most common title was teacher or rabbi, because this was His most common work. He was considered to be a prophet, even by those who doubted or denied He was the Messiah, because His powerful messages seemed to come directly from God. And, Jesus was perhaps most famous for what may have been His least important activity, performing miracles. Let’s look at these activities and also think about how the church today can carry on the Lord’s work.
Jesus was “teaching in their synagogues.” The synagogue was the primary place of worship for devout Jews in Jesus’ day. It was organized and worship there was ordered much like our modern churches. People came who were predisposed to believe in God, or drawn with a curiosity to consider belief in God. They came to engage in a series of godward activities like prayer, praise, the public reading of Scripture, and the teaching of the same. The home rabbis (much like a church’s pastors or elders) would lead in worship and expound upon the selected biblical text. If a visiting rabbi was present, he would often be asked to say a word about the word of God. Imagine your good fortune if you were a synagogue worshiper on a particular Sabbath when Jesus showed up to be the guest speaker! Teaching about entrance into and the ethics within the kingdom of God was King Jesus’ favorite task, and no one could do it as good as Him.
Inside and outside of the synagogues, Jesus was “proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom.” He was by far the best teacher and preacher this planet has ever seen. The subtle difference between teaching and preaching is often overstated. Perhaps the best explanation is to say that teaching is for believers but at the same time it invites unbelievers to believe, while preaching is for unbelievers but at the same time it surely inspires believers to believe more deeply. There, I overstated it. When Jesus preached the gospel, He was proclaiming the God-centered message of Himself as God’s Son fulfilling all of God’s word to bring God’s salvation to God’s people by God’s grace in their lives through proper repentance and faith, in God, for God, in order to be with God in His kingdom, eternally. Jesus Christ preached serious gospel messages that required serious thought and serious commitment; therefore, preaching is a most serious business.
Last and least, Jesus had a habit of “healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” I say last, since it is the third of three activities mentioned in the order of this text. I say least, because it is the only one of the three done sporadically and secretly. Furthermore, of the three, this is the only one that cannot be completely carried on after Jesus and His Apostles left the earth. I would never claim that the miracles were not important, for indeed they were in establishing the absolute deity and supreme compassion of Christ. I would never say that miracles have ceased, for I am convinced they happen every day. But I would say that today’s so-called miracle workers are nothing but con-artists, frauds, and manipulating money-changers, without exception.
Speaking of today, how is it that we Christians and Christian churches should carry on the ministry Christ?
It is really quite simple, I think. Our worship and other services should be centered upon the teaching of the word of God. We are not here to entertain, engage in politics, market religion, nor make numbers or names for ourselves. People who are not interested in Holy Scripture should show no interest in our church; and, those who are hungry for the word of God should clamor to come in, knowing they will be fed. Of course, our teaching should find its focus on the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, with its power to save sinners and straighten out the saints. We should never resort to cheap dispensers of grace like so-called altar calls and sinners prayers, but plainly teach and preach so that people will truly repent and believe. Those who do will not have to be manipulated into baptism and meaningful church membership. And certainly, we should offer the healing that we have the power in our hands to provide. We should offer the healing of the gospel for the sin-sick and spiritually dead soul. We should offer the healing of food and clothing to genuinely poor and hungry bodies. We should offer the healing of counseling to the troubled mind and heart. And while no one among us has the power of Jesus and the Apostles to heal sickness, we can offer prayers to connect people to the power of our God, who still heals according to His will and pleasure.
And if we do these things, we, like Jesus, will draw a crowd, of some kind.
How People Responded and How We Should Respond
The response to Jesus’ ministry was “fame” and “great crowds.” However, the fame was fleeting. The crowds were inconsistent throughout His ministry, and almost totally diminished at the end. Jesus peaked at His miraculous “feeding of the 5,000” (which could have been as many as 20,000 people). Jesus’ followers at the foot of His cross were few, and all the believers all together at His resurrection totaled about 120. After such a precipitous drop in attendance, Baptists would not have crucified Christ; instead, they would have fired Him for His lack of church growth acumen.
The crowds that did gather around Jesus’ ministry were essentially three-fold. There was the outer edge of the crowd that consisted mostly of critics. The middle-of-the-road crowd were sincerely interested in Jesus, at least in terms of what He could do to satisfy their self-interest. They showed little interest in what they could do for Jesus. The inner crowd was in the right place for the right reasons, as we shall see very soon.
Though you find little evidence of it in this text, a summary of all of Matthew’s or the other Gospel stories reveal some shady characters in the crowds Jesus attracted. Religious rulers like the Pharisees and Sadducees often attended Jesus’ meetings, but only to criticize and try to catch Him in some fault. I’m sure Rome sent a few spies into the crowd, a crowd-infiltration tactic used through the years by communists and other totalitarian regimes. Hard-hearted critics disguised as professing Christians still attend many church services, today.
The biggest part of the crowds described in this text, and in big events and mega-churches today, are the “what’s in it for me” crowd. Jesus catered to them quite a bit, actually, and offered them love, words of life, and physical benefits. Most of them, however, like the 9 out of 10 lepers, never returned to give thanks or offer love and allegiance in return. Many are the men and women who flock to gatherings to have their ears tickled by weasels like Joel O’Steen, or have their psychosomatic illnesses cured by charlatans like Benny Hinn, who would turn and run at the sound of crystal clear biblical exposition and the cost of discipleship. I fear the many inactive and non-resident members of our evangelical churches found out that coming to Jesus or coming to church did not make them overly healthy, wealthy, and wise, so they dropped out to pursue other paths that could. Still today, this is the biggest part of the crowd who call themselves Christian.
The smallest crowds were the sincerest crowds, if you could call them a crowd at all. As Jesus’ ministry unfolds in this passage, and as so many began to follow Him from round about, I think the only true followers would have numbered only a dozen or so. As previously mentioned, after three years of this type of work, the first and only church which gathered before Pentecost consisted of a roll of 120 souls. But these are they who truly repented. These are they who truly believed. These are they who truly followed the Lord Jesus Christ, heart and mind and will, uphill and downhill, for a few hours on Sundays and 24 hours every day, whose lives were lost in the One who lost His life for them, only to take it up again abundantly and eternally.
You see, the only true Christians in this crowd of the full summary of the first half of a Gospel are the ones who totally embraced the second half of a Gospel. For unless you are a part of the crowd that has accepted by grace through faith the complete work of Christ in the crucifixion and resurrection, then you are a part of the wrong crowd.
So read of Jesus’ ministry and respond in the only saving way possible. Repent of the sin, selfishness, and silliness in your life and believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to live. Hunger for His teaching, and find yourself in a crowd committed to a Bible-believing church. Put the preaching of the gospel at the starting point of your life in Christ and never stop proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to your family, friends, and neighbors. Come and have your soul healed and saved by the Healer and Savior who has come to be your Lord and King. Don't settle for a half a Gospel but have the gospel whole, and be a wholly devoted follower of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.