The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.
Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.
Jesus Heals Many
29 Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. 30 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, 31 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.
After Jesus expressed the truth about what defiles a person, He and the disciples left for Gentile territory in Tyre and Sidon.
There He healed a Canaanite woman’s daughter of a demon (Matthew 15:21-28).
Verse 29 says that, afterwards, He continued to the Sea of Galilee to what was then Decapolis, still among the Gentiles who worshipped Greek gods. John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):
It would’ve taken Him some weeks to have gone through Tyre and Sidon, east over the Hermann Range, across the Jordan, south again on the eastern bank, and down to Decapolis; and so He’s been ministering for some length of time among these who are Gentiles …
And so we come then to Decapolis. Decapolis is on the southeast edge of the Sea of Galilee. It’s not far from the area known as Gadara where Jesus, you remember, delivered two demoniacs and sent the demons into the herd of swine.
Those unfamiliar with the accounts of the Gadarene Swine might find these posts useful:
Matthew 8:28-34 – Gadarene swine, miracle, demons, Jesus
Luke 8:26-33 – Gadarene Swine, demons, Jesus, Legion, pigs
Luke 8:34-39 – Gadarene Swine, Jesus, sin, miracle, healing
Mark’s account — Mark 5:1-20 — is in the three-year Lectionary.
Now more from MacArthur on Decapolis:
It’s the southern end of the modern Golan Heights. It’s not far, frankly, from a little kibbutz where you may have eaten St. Peter’s fish if you’ve been there, just after you’ve crossed the Sea of Galilee in a little boat, a very familiar spot.
Decapolis means ten cities. Deca is ten, polis is city. There were ten little cities there, small ones. They were wedged in between two territories, really, under Jewish domination. One controlled by Philip the tetrarch, and the other controlled by Herod Antipas, and in the middle was this wedge called Decapolis. And these ten cities were each free Greek cities. The Greeks were big into free city states; and these, each of them, were free; and they were under sort of an overall sovereignty by the governor of Syria. They were not under the rule of Israel or any of its monarchs. And so they were Greeks or Gentiles, sort of wedged in the middle of that Jewish part of the world.
Archeologists who have searched the area have found statues and monuments to Zeus and Athena and Artemis, and Hercules, and Dionysius, and Demeter, and many other Greek gods. So they were into Greek paganism full-blown…and Jesus came there.
These Gentiles would have known who Jesus was, because Matthew 4:24-25 tells us that His fame had spread as far away as Syria. Prior to this, people had travelled for weeks to Capernaum — a great trading centre for foreign lands — to be healed or to have their relatives cured. That is why Jesus based Himself there. Now He has left the Jews to go to the Gentiles.
Although Jesus was sitting on a mountain, crowds of people went with their sick for His compassionate, immediate and complete healing. The people laid the sick at His feet. He healed all in need of it (verse 30). MacArthur describes the scene:
It says at the end of verse 30, “He healed them,” and that statement is so profound; and it almost passes by unnoticed. “He healed them.” And you feel like you ought stop and scream or something to get everyone’s attention. It says also in this text that…it says, “They put them down at His feet.” Some manuscripts say Jesus’ feet, some say His feet. The verb there is to fling in haste.
We will see in next week’s post that there were 4,000. However, as only men were counted in those days, there were thousands more when one factors in women and children:
You can see that 4,000 men — it tells us how many were there later on — plus women, and you can imagine another, I don’t know, anywhere from 4 to 5 to 10,000 women and who knows how many thousand children — 20,000 would not be a small estimate. And they’re all coming, and it says, “They’re all throwing these people at His feet.” Can you imagine the chaos of this? I mean they were not orderly. They were not in line. They were just getting there in a frantic, knowing He could heal, hoping they would be one that He would heal; and this pile of humanity is being pitched at His feet; and it just says, “He healed them.”
I mean people with no arm are going away with an arm. People who had lost their eyes were going away with eyes. People who had never spoken were speaking, and people who had never been able to walk were walking. And this was going on en masse, you see. I mean they couldn’t even look fast enough to catch them all; and the result of it was verse 31 — “The multitude thalmodzo, marveled.” I mean they were struck with absolute awe at this scene, because, you see the word thalmodzo or marveling or wonder is a word that says we have no human explanation. There is nothing in our little computers that tells us this can happen. This is not possible. This is beyond imagination. This is incredible.
And they are left with wonder and astonishment at this flurry of spontaneously occurring miracles.
Note their reaction versus that of Jesus’s own:
This pile of humanity being dumped at His feet, getting up and walking away whole, and may I submit to you that their wonder was greater than the wonder of the Jews, because the wonder of the Jews was always limited by their skepticism. It was always limited by their gross case of spiritual pride. It was always limited by the bondage of their ceremony and tradition; and the blindness that exists on Israel today was there then. But these Gentiles didn’t have that; and so when Mark writes of this in Mark 7:37, he says, “They were beyond measure astonished.” And he says that, I think, to differentiate between the astonishment of the Gentiles and the astonishment of the Jews who…who were astonished, but not to this degree, because they were so encumbered by the…the attachment to their false religion and their spiritual pride.
These Gentiles — heathens worshipping Greek gods — saw these incredible and innumerable healings and … glorified the God of Israel (verse 31).
The God in their presence through Jesus’s healings could only have been the God of Israel.
This was not an afternoon of healing, but three continuous days:
the crowd never leaves. All day long, the Lord heals and surely teaches them the things pertaining to the Kingdom, invites them to embrace Him. At night, they don’t go anywhere. They lay down on the ground, and they sleep; and when the Lord awakens in the morning with the disciples, they’re all there; and it goes on the second day and the second night they do the same thing; and the third day, they just don’t ever leave…and that brings us to verse 32.
That is where next week’s reading begins.
Matthew Henry has excellent observations worth highlighting. On Jesus’s sitting on the mountain:
Christ steps into the coast of Tyre and Sidon, but he sits down by the sea of Galilee (Matthew 15:29), sits down not on a stately throne, or tribunal of judgment, but on a mountain: so mean and homely were his most solemn appearances in the days of his flesh! He sat down on a mountain, that all might see him, and have free access to him for he is an open Saviour. He sat down there, as one tired with his journey, and willing to have a little rest or rather, as one waiting to be gracious. He sat, expecting patients, as Abraham at his tent-door, ready to entertain strangers. He settled himself to this good work.
He refused no one:
Such was the goodness of Christ, that he admitted all sorts of people[,] the poor as well as the rich are welcome to Christ, and with him there is room enough for all comers. He never complained of crowds or throngs of seekers, or looked with contempt upon the vulgar, the herd, as they are called for the souls of peasants are as precious with him as the souls of princes.
What this means for us in our infirmities:
Note, All diseases are at the command of Christ, to go and come as he bids them. This is an instance of Christ’s power, which may comfort us in all our weaknesses and of his pity, which may comfort us in all our miseries.
Next time — Matthew 15:32-39