As I read through Matthew 14, I found that we get to see a very intimate side of Jesus. To give some context, in the beginning of chapter 14, John the Baptist is beheaded by Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee. Now John the Baptist was a great prophet, sent to prepare the way of the Lord according to Matthew 3:3; but not only that, he was also Jesus’ cousin as we learn in Luke 1. So, as we open in Matthew 14:13, we come to the part in the narrative where Jesus learns of his dear cousin’s death.
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.
We know from John 1:1 and Colossians 2:9 that Jesus was both fully God and fully man – as hard a concept that is to grasp. Being fully man, he had real human emotions; he laughed with joy, he got angry, he got annoyed, he hurt, and as we see in this passage, he grieved. I don’t know if you have ever lost someone very close to you, but it is overwhelming. And there are times when you are so overwhelmed by your own emotions that you simply cannot deal with others’ emotions. I had a friend who was going through some hard stuff and our friendship pretty much consisted of her crying on my shoulder. When my dad passed, I couldn’t be there for her any longer because I was so absorbed by my own grief that I could not deal with hers too. In this first glimpse of Jesus in Matthew 14, we see him going off by himself to do the same thing – he is grieving and wants to be alone to comprehend his grief.
Then, Matthew turns our focus to these random crowds who are following Jesus. These are the men and women who have heard of Christ. He has become quite well known at this point and news of the miracles he has done, the healings he has performed, has reached all throughout the region. These crowds of people have heard of Jesus and are curious; they want to know if it’s true. Some think of him as the Messiah that was promised, that he would take the throne and reclaim the kingship through the line of David as promised. Some disbelieve that what they have heard was real and want to see for themselves. These people hear that he is in their town and are following him with hope to have their questions answered, hope that their sick will be healed like the ones Jesus healed before them, hope that he will be the one promised to lead Israel into freedom. Let’s continue reading this passage in vv14-21.
14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
This story of Jesus convicts me completely. I think of how I was not able to be a friend to the one I spoke of earlier because of my emotions, and I think of how I act now when my kids are interrupting the things I have planned for the day, or how I wasn’t able to get things done the way I wanted because of my family and I’m convicted. I certainly treat my family harsh compared to my friends, and at times think people can be inconvenient or annoying. In this passage, Jesus was overwhelmed with grief and was seeking solitude so he could deal with his emotions; yet, when he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them. In the original translation, the word “compassion,” is splagchnizomai: It means to be “moved to the depths of one’s spirit.” He became so overwhelmed in his spirit for them, that he put aside his own needs for the moment and instead ministered and served them in the way he knew they needed. Do you ever try to make it a point to see another’s need instead of focusing upon your own needs? Instead of getting annoyed with our family and friends, do we at least try to love them and serve them first above ourselves? Not only did Jesus put aside his solitude for the moment, but as the night grew dark, the disciples came to Jesus and told him to send them away so they could get something to eat. Jesus had a ready-made excuse to send these people away and then get to the solitude which he had earlier sought; but instead of taking their suggestion, Jesus just produces enough food to keep the crowds there so he could continue to minister to them. He wasn’t biding his time until he could get rid of them, he truly loved these people and saw each person as a child of God and one worthy of his time.
If you have grown up in church, you have heard over and over and over again that God loves you, that Jesus loves you, and nothing you could ever do will cause him to turn his back on you. It is one thing to know it in our heads, and a totally different thing to know it in our hearts – to believe it without a shadow of a doubt that you are completely and totally loved, and more so, you are enjoyed by your Father and Savior. He enjoys you, he laughs with you, he thinks you’re wonderful. Because Jesus didn’t just put his emotions on hold for you, he gave up his life for you. Not “you” as a collective group of humanity, but insert-your-name-here-you. He had your name in his head as he chose to allow them to nail him to the cross, to mock him, to beat him, to put him to the most painful and shameful death known to the Roman world. You. He died for you.
He put his emotions on hold for these men and women and had so much love and compassion for them that he spent the day with them. But at the end of the day, after he miraculously fed them, it was time that he needed to finally take for himself. So let’s continue with this story in vv22-27.
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
So Jesus made his disciples go to the other side of the lake, while he took care of dismissing the crowds. After the crowds were gone, he was finally able to grieve in solitude. And who does he run to? His father in heaven. Let me tell you something, when you are grieving and completely broken, there is only one who can give you comfort, healing, and peace. When you come to the time in your life when you have nothing left to give, only grief and heartache that completely overwhelms you, there is only one who can carry you – and it is God. He will give you joy and peace in the midst of the heartache, he will give you hope in the midst of the pain. He promises redemption, he promises justice, he promises healing, he promises a future filled with goodness. So many times we take all our hurt and pain and try to give it to the our “person,” parents, significant other, best friend, etc…. No matter who it is, if it is not God, trying to give your pain to them will end up letting you down, and letting them down. More often than not, it can destroy that relationship. Do not make that mistake of trying to give a person what only God can carry. When that time comes, and I promise you it will come, you cling to the Father and the promises he alone can fulfill and you let him prove himself faithful.
Jesus ran to his father and allowed God to refresh his spirit, to speak healing and comfort and peace over him and to encourage him that he was loved. When things get hard, we need to remember that above all else, God is still good and He still loves us desperately. And that God is still in control. We are then told that Jesus prayed all night on that mountain, and by the time he went to get on the boat with the disciples, it was a long way from shore in v24. Not only that, but it was windy, which caused some raucous waves. We are told in v25 that Jesus approached the boat around the 4th watch, which was around 3-6am, and he came walking on the water. Obviously, the disciples about lost their minds when they saw him and believed him to be a ghost – these first century Jewish men were very superstitious. But Jesus says, “take heart, it is I. do not be afraid.”
Here he is, just walking on the water as the wind is raging and the waves are in chaos around him, and Jesus calmly walks on the water over the lake to reach his disciples. The disciples react in fear, and Jesus responds “it is I,” which in Greek is ego eimi. Coincidentally, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, what Bible scholars call the Septuagint, it is the same phrase God uses in Exodus 3:14 when God speaks through Moses in the burning bush. Moses asks what he should call the “God of the fathers of Abraham,” and God responds, “I am who I am,” ego eimi. Jesus, in confirmation of his identity to his disciples, did not just confirm that it was he their teacher, but that he is the I AM; he is Son of God and was with God when he spoke to Moses through the burning bush, he was with God when he created the earth, when time began; and he is the I AM who is walking on earth as the promised Messiah. Jesus was professing and exemplifying his command over every aspect of creation. The previous day, Jesus healed the sick, multiplied food to feed what scholars believe to be at least 15,000 people including the women and children, and now is controlling the elements, commanding them to solidify beneath his feet and give him way as he commands. Make no mistake, Jesus was always the I AM and he revealed it bit by bit throughout his life on this earth.
After his claim to his rightful identity, we have this wonderful interlude between himself and Peter. Let’s continue it in vv28-33:
28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Right from the start Peter responds to Jesus, “Lord if it is you…” Jesus has just said he is the I AM, and Peter immediately questions, “Lord if you are the I AM, let me come to you on the water.” How I love Peter in this. I love that he requests proof of Jesus. Do you think it is ok to question God, to request proof? Or do you think he wants you to follow him blindly? I fully believe God gave us incredible capacity for intelligence, and he wants us to use that to reveal himself to us. Science does not contradict God, but rather reveals his wonders to us. It shows us how incredible and awesome he is, that he made things work together down to the most minute capacity. God knows his sovereignty is complete, so why do we think he might be offended at our asking? Jesus says, “Ask that it may be given. Seek that you may find,” in Matthew 7:7. God tells us point blank to seek Him, and in seeking you will find Him. Whether you are seeking to prove him false like CS Lewis, or seeking to prove him true doesn’t much matter, as long as you actually desire to know the truth; because the end result is the same – God is real, and in His reality, He is good and He is faithful. On the contrary, God gave us intelligence and reason for a purpose – if you need to question God existence and his truth, then question it. Seek, but seek truth, not to prove your previous agenda.
Peter tested Jesus, I believe, because he desired to experience the fullness of everything Jesus could give him. Peter wasn’t testing Jesus to disprove him as the Messiah, he was asking to walk on water because he wanted to experience the wander of doing something only God alone can do. Why are you following Jesus? Is it simply to be safe in salvation or because your parents, spouse, or friends told you to? I want to be like Peter – I want to face any fear I have, when the wind is raging around me and the waves look to overtake me – and see Jesus walking on the water, and I want to walk on it with him. There is an adventure for your life that you cannot conceive of – there is a plan for your life that you cannot imagine. Jesus is already walking there and he asks you to get out of the boat in faith and walk with him through adventures that you can only have with him. I refuse to be one of the eleven, standing inside the boat, with my feet solid on the wooden planks and watch as someone else dares to do the impossible with Christ. You can be safe, or you can be thrilled with Christ. He offers the unimaginable. You can have salvation and never fulfill God’s plan for your life; you can know God and refuse to step out in faith with Him. But he has so much more planned for you. So my question for you tonight is this: the I AM has called you out into the water, will you be like Peter who dared to step out in faith, or will you be one of the eleven who kept their feet inside the boat and never dreamed to walked upon the water with the I AM?