Matthew 14:13 – Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there into a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.
Upon hearing of the execution of John the Baptist, Jesus and his disciples withdrew to the region across the Sea of Galilee. This was a sparsely populated region chiefly used to pasture flocks. It was under the jurisdiction of Herod Philip.
This journey served a dual purpose. First, it removed Jesus and his disciples from close proximity to Herod Antipas. Herod believed that Jesus was actually John the Baptist, risen from the dead. There was a very real danger that Herod would try to kill Jesus out of hate, fear or guilt.
Jesus had an appointed time to give his life for mankind, but that time had not yet come. God opened a door of escape; to reject it would be to tempt God.
Also, the disciples were no doubt shaken by the death of John; time alone with their master was much needed.
Second, there was bound to be public outcry over the sudden unjust death of John and Jesus probably did not want to get caught up in that drama, as it would detract from his mission.
Have you ever been pulled into a drama? One of the dangers of being involved is that it takes up a lot of your time and attention, so instead of using your energy for the kingdom, you end up wasting it on drama. Be careful not to fall into this trap.
Another possibility is that Jesus had planned this time alone with his disciples before the incident of John’s death. They had recently returned from their mission to spread news of the kingdom of Heaven and it is very possible that he already scheduled a further time of refreshing and training for them.
However, there was to be no respite from the crowds. The people saw them leaving in the boat, and hurried to the eastern shore on foot.
Matthew 14:14 – When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
The gospel of Mark gives some additional insight:
Mark 6:34 – When he [Jesus] went ashore, he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like a sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.
In their zeal to hear of the kingdom of heaven and be healed, great crowds of people hurriedly walked away from the ease and comfort of their homes and traveled to a remote deserted area. This shows that they were so hungry for spiritual guidance that they were reckless with their own well being.
How hungry are we for spiritual teaching or a touch from God? What would you be willing to walk away from to get it? Entertainment, sports, work, Facebook? The scripture says that if we draw near to God, he will draw near to us. If we lack wisdom in some area, he will impart it to us. When we spend time in his presence, we are always spiritually refreshed. So what are you waiting for? Travel to your prayer closet to meet him! He is waiting there for you!
Mark tells us that Jesus views the crowds as sheep without a shepherd. What does he mean by that?
Well, the duty of the shepherd is to care for the flock. He is to feed it, protect it from predators and lead it to green pastures and still waters.
Spiritually speaking the Scribes and Pharisees were supposed to be the shepherds of Israel. They were to feed the people with the word of God. They were to protect the people from false teachings and false gods. They were to lead the people into a relationship with God that resulted in peace and prosperity.
Unfortunately, they did none of those things. They were haughty and full of pride. They despised the common people, and seldom bothered to instruct them in the ways of God. When they did attempt to teach or instruct them, they often led the common people astray or laid tremendous burdens upon them.
So, it was not surprising that the multitudes were hungry to hear what Jesus had to say.
It is also not surprising that Jesus had compassion for these lost and dying souls. I hope that when we are confronted with spiritually lost and dying people we too will show compassion, not anger or frustration if our plans are interrupted.
Matthew 14:15 – 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.”
Jesus begins to teach and to heal. The proceedings continue, hour after hour. Soon it is noon, but still the ministry continued. No one got up and left. Finally, it reaches 3 pm.
At this point, the disciples recognize that the crowd is hungry (they probably are too). It appears from the text that they have already considered the situation. The time is late, the crowds are large, there is no pizza delivery or nearby village with a grocery store and they themselves had nothing on hand that would feed such a gathering.
From a human perspective, the only logical thing to do was to stop the proceedings and send them away. So, they approach Jesus with their plan.
Matthew 14:16 – But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”
Can you imagine the look on the disciples face when they heard that? I wonder if their mouths dropped open in shock or their knees became weak. There can be no doubt that they immediately recognized their inability to perform the task at hand. They knew there was no possible way for them to feed this multitude.
This was because they were looking through their fleshly or worldly eyes. Jesus was about to teach them to look through their eyes of faith. God is sovereign over all of nature and with him, all things are possible.
Matthew 14:17-18 – They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.”
The loaves were made of barley. Barley was about 1/3 the cost of wheat, so most poor people regularly ate barley. Fish was a common food for everyone in the region.
We know that Jesus could have miraculously turned the stones into bread to feed these people, but he didn’t. Why not?
Turning stones into bread is not an example that you and I can follow. So instead, Jesus shows us how we should handle such situations.
When God calls us to a task that is too great for us, we should begin by rounding up what we have, and giving or dedicating it to him. This principle applies to our time, our skills/talents, our resources and even our relationships. When we give our all to Christ, there is room for him to come in and accomplish what we cannot do.
The next step is to stay close to God, listen to his voice (not the voices of those around you!) and follow his direction no matter how strange it may seem. In this case, Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups. Think about this: at the time the disciples organized all those people into groups and had them sit down, there were still only 5 loaves and two fish!
Soon, Jesus would give the loaves and fish to his disciples and tell them to distribute them to the crowd. The disciples were following the directions of Jesus by faith. We must do the same.
Matthew 14:19 – 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.
The people are commanded to sit down or recline, on the grass. Mark and Luke both tell us that the people sat down in companies:
Luke 9:14 – and he [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.”
Once organized this way, it would be very easy to calculate the approximate number of people at a glance. Once everyone was seated, Jesus said a prayer of thanksgiving for the food. In Jewish households, the father would say a prayer of thanksgiving acknowledging God as the source/provider of all their food. Some of these prayers have been preserved for us in Jewish writings. For example:
“May God, the ever blessed One, bless what He has given us.”
“Blessed be thou, O Lord our God, the King of the world, who has produced this food and this drink, from the earth and the vine.”
In this case, Jesus looked up to heaven as he prayed. However, that is not the only way to pray. A person may pray with eyes open or shut, standing/sitting/kneeling, loudly or quietly. Your method of prayer may be different from others, but that does not mean that you are not heard by God. Pray in whatever manner seems natural to you. Remember, pray is a conversation between you and God. Just be yourself!
I’m sure the Jews who were present at the time were very thankful for the earthly food that sustained their physical bodies. They probably did not attach any spiritual significance to what was happening. However, those of us who are looking back on this historical event cannot help but see Jesus as the Bread of Life who will very shortly have his own body broken that he might provide spiritual life for us.
This miracle is the only one that is recorded by all four gospel writers. It plainly shows that God is sovereign over nature. He has creative power. The religious leaders might possibly cast doubt on the miracles of healing, or the miracles of casting out demons, but there was no way to deny the miracle of multiplication that occurred here. Therefore, the Jewish leaders had to acknowledge that God was in their midst. To deny it at this point, defies all reason and logic.
Many, many lessons can be found in this miracle:
Jesus gave the food to the disciples, who in turn gave what they had to the people. God gives spiritual wisdom to pastors, apostles, teachers and prophets, they in turn give what they have to the rest of the body. You too can share your spiritual wisdom with those around you.
Like the widow’s oil in the Old Testament, the food was multiplied as it was given out. Don’t be afraid to use what you have. Don’t be afraid to give. Jesus assures us that when we give, it will be “given back to us, good measure, shaken together and running over” (Luke 6:38). This is one of the great mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven. In the natural, you get more by hoarding what you have. In God’s economy, you get more by giving what you have!
In this case, Jesus satisfied those who were hungry in the flesh. Likewise, he promises that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness shall be filled. If we desire to know heavenly things, Jesus will answer our request. All we need to do is slow down and take time to ask him.
The disciples could not feed the crowd in their own power. It took a partnership between them and Jesus. Likewise, we need the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit to bring spiritual food to the starving world in which we live.
Matthew 14:20-21 – And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
The miracle is all the more astonishing when we see that more was taken up in the form of leftovers than was originally served as the meal!
We are not told the size of the baskets, but it is surmised that they were containers often used by Jews who were traveling. Jews always carried their own food to make sure that they not only had provisions, but that those provisions met their clean/kosher standards.
Let us take note that God is never out of resources. His supplies never run low. There is no lack in the kingdom of our Lord. Anything that the church of Jesus Christ needs in order to carry out the gospel mission will be provided, even when it requires a miracle.
Let us also remind ourselves that nothing is impossible with God!
Matthew 14:22 – Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
In the gospel of John (6:15) we are told that after this miracle, the crowd was convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. They were planning to take him by force and make him king.
It is also possible that the disciples were in favor of this plan. They were already convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. They knew that Old Testament prophesy said he would one day rule the earth. They may have believed this was the time to form an army and make Jesus king. After all, hadn’t God gathered together this 5000 for a reason?
Jesus, however, knew that his time had not yet come. He immediately separates the disciples from the crowd, and orders them to get into the boat and leave without him.
The disciples probably didn’t want to do this. At the very least, they would not have wanted to leave Jesus because of the close relationship they had with him (can you imagine leaving your leader behind?). Besides, if Jesus was going to be made king, they didn’t want to miss that! But in the end, they are obedient to his command. Without having a full explanation or understanding of what was happening, they did as Jesus instructed them.
In many ways, our walk with Christ mirrors that of the disciples. Often, God will call us to do something without giving us a full explanation. Sometimes we go through situations that we don’t fully understand. Sometimes we think the time is right for a change or a breakthrough, but God still asks us to wait. One thing we can be sure of – God sees the full picture. He knows what is around the next corner. So, in every instance, the best thing we can do is trust and obey him. He will never fail us!
Matthew 14:23 – And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.
Remember the temptation in the wilderness? In one of those temptations, Satan offers to give Jesus all the kingdoms of this world:
Matthew 4:8-9 – Again the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him [Jesus], “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
In this temptation, Satan was offering Jesus an easy way out. He was offering to make him king of the world, without going through the suffering of the cross.
This situation after the feeding of the 5K was much the same. We have already discussed how the people wanted to make Jesus king. However, this would have been a sin just as surely as if Jesus would have taken Satan’s offer, because once again, it offered Jesus kingship without going through the suffering of the cross.
I imagine that this was a difficult time for Jesus. Even though he was God, he was also human and no human being wants to suffer. All of us are inclined to take the easy way out, if one is presented to us.
Thus, it makes sense that Jesus retreats to a solitary place, where those voices of temptation are silenced. It makes sense that he spent the night in prayer, gaining strength from the Father to carry out the mission that lay before him – death on the cross.
We too can turn to God in our moments of weakness and temptation. If we flee to him, he will provide a way of escape from the temptation:
1 Corinthians 10:13 – There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.
Let’s turn to God in our moments of temptation, expecting and looking for that way of escape. He will strengthen us just as he did Jesus.
Matthew 14:24 – but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them.
Meanwhile, the disciples were having trouble. The sea was about 10 miles across. The gospel of John tells us the boat had traveled 25-30 furlongs, which is about 4 miles. They are practically in the middle of the sea.
In this region, it is common for storms to suddenly pop up. The colder wind from the surrounding mountains rushes downward and encounters the warm air above the water and presto – you have a storm. Some of these squalls can be quite ferocious, which seems to have been true in this case. The storm was so severe, the disciples were fearful of their lives.
A couple of things are worth noting here. First, the weather was fine when the disciples began their journey. There was no mention of bad weather on the horizon when Jesus broke up the meeting and sent them on their way.
Have you ever started a new ministry or project for the Lord and everything started off smoothly? How long was it until you encountered your first problem or difficulty? Anytime we do something for the kingdom of Heaven, it stirs up our enemy to come against us. We should not be surprised at this, in fact, we should expect opposition anytime we work for the kingdom. Thankfully, we have victory over the enemy through Christ Jesus our Lord!
Second, there can be no doubt that the disciples were in the perfect will of God when they encountered this storm. Let me repeat that: The disciples were smack dab in the center of the perfect will of God when their problems started. Remember, Jesus himself had audibly spoken to them and told them to get into the boat and depart (you can’t get any clearer direction than that). Clearly, being in God’s perfect will did not guarantee smooth sailing!
The same is true for us. Being in God’s perfect will does not guarantee the absence of problems and difficulties. However, God does guarantee that he is watching over us, and he will work all things out for our good. It is often the times of trial/testing that bring about the greatest spiritual growth. Times of difficulty prompt us to turn to the Savior and keep our eyes on him. As he works out the situation, our faith and trust in him grow. As our faith grows, we are ready for bigger and bolder work for the kingdom.
Also, notice what the disciples did NOT do: they did not turn back. They heard from the Lord and they moved forward, through the difficulties. There was never any discussion about going back.
The same should be true for us. Whatever God has called you to do, do not give up! At the perfect time, God will be there to rescue you, if the need arises. Do not give in to the suggestions of the enemy that you should turn back or quit. He is trying to rob you of your purpose and destiny. He knows that you will be victorious in Christ if you don’t give up, so he will do everything he can to stop you. Don’t fall for his lies!
Matthew 14:25 – And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.
The fourth watch of the night is 3 am. Now I feel extra sorry for the disciples – not only did they have a long day of ministry, but now that they should be sleeping they are awake and terrified and working to keep their boat from sinking.
Then, Jesus comes to them walking on the water! If the miracle of the loaves and fish did not prove that Jesus was sovereign over creation, this certainly should have done it!
We notice that Jesus knew the distress the disciples were in and he came to their aid. He knew exactly where they were, even though they were in the darkness, on a moving boat in the midst of a violent storm.
Likewise, God knows every nuance of your current situation. He understands every relationship, every lack, every emotion, every difficulty and every impossibility. Maybe your problem was one of your own making, brought about by your own bad decisions. It doesn’t matter. Jesus is the perfect one to turn to in times of trouble, because he cares for you. His love is not dependent on your perfection; it stems from his own nature. It knows no bounds. After all, he loved you so much that he died for you. What more proof of his love do you need? Furthermore, I stress once again that nothing is impossible for God. He walked on the water to get to his disciples. What more proof of his power do you need?
Call upon him right now. Pour out your heart to him. He will come to you in the midst of your storm. He already knows where you are; he is just waiting for you to call on him.
Matthew 14:26 – 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.
We might be tempted to scoff at the disciples, but give them a break. They were tired. Tension/fear was at an all time high. The storm was raging and it was dark. The introduction of an unknown supernatural element naturally brought them fear.
Matthew 14:27 – But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
‘Do not be afraid’ or ‘fear not’ are common sayings in the bible. God is constantly telling us not to be afraid. To the child of God, these words should dispel fear, bringing inward peace and strong confidence.
2 Timothy 1:7 – For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love and of a sound mind.
Perhaps you have experienced some fear during the recent pandemic. Fear is very destructive. It focuses your attention on the ‘storm’, not on the greatness of God. It causes you to doubt God’s love for you. It causes you to question whether or not God can or will take care of you. It robs you of faith and peace. Clearly the source of fear is our enemy Satan, whose ultimate plan is to steal, kill and destroy.
The disciples experienced fear at night in the midst of a storm. Likewise, Satan will attack you and I with fear in the lonely hours of the night, when we are in the midst of a difficulty. But we can be victorious over him through Christ!
The fear of the disciples fled when they knew they were in the presence of Jesus. Our fears will also flee when we enter into his presence. God has revealed to us that praise and thanksgiving are the doors to his throne. Once we are in his presence, fear melts away because we realize how much God loves and cares for us. We remember that he is all powerful; sovereign over all of creation. We are reminded that he never leaves or forsakes us and that he has plans to prosper us. Strength returns to our spirit as we understand that all storms will pass and we are victors through Jesus our King. So if you are experiencing fear at this time, PRAISE HIM. Spend time worshipping your Lord and Savior. Fear will melt away in the all consuming fire of God’s presence.
Matthew 14:28-30 – And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”
When Jesus walked on the water, a purpose was served – to get to his disciples in their time of need. But in Peter’s case, there was no clear purpose for walking on the water. In fact, Jesus never asked Peter to do so. The whole thing was Peter’s idea.
What are we to make of Peter’s request?
I think it shows how much we are like him! Peter has a mixture of faith and yet unbelief. Faith calls Jesus ‘Lord’ or ‘Master’, but doubt says ‘if it is you’. Getting out of the boat and walking on water demonstrates faith, but being overcome with fear and sinking shows unbelief.
Most scholars view his request as presumptuous. In his confidence and zeal, he desired to do something that he was not capable of, nor was he called to do. In this case, Jesus granted the request so that Peter might learn a valuable lesson – to be humble and walk where God leads, not where we want to go. The secondary lesson is also valuable – do not take your eyes off Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith. If you look at your circumstances instead of your God, fear will overtake you and you will fall.
Matthew 14:31 – Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
In a way, we could say that Peter experienced failure in the midst of success. He started off strong, but then stumbled. Yet, Jesus did not abandon him. He was right there when Peter called out in his distress.
Sometimes we fail in the midst of our endeavors for Christ. But when we get into trouble, all we need to do is turn to Jesus. He will reach down and rescue us, while teaching us a valuable lesson at the same time. In the end, our faith is strengthened even by our failures.
Matthew 14:32-33 – And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Suddenly, the trial is at an end. Be comforted – your trials will also have an end, even though you may not see it right now.
Looking back on this event, we can see that:
The storm ceased when Jesus entered the boat. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. When we open the doors of our lives and allow him to come in, he brings peace into our situation, no matter how violent it may be.
We must always keep our eyes on Christ. As long as Peter’s eye/focus was on Jesus, he was victorious; he was able to walk on the water. But when he focused his attention on his circumstances (the wind and the waves), he sank. When we endure trials (and we certainly will, at some point), we can stay in faith and block out fear by keeping our mind centered on Christ. Reading the word, praying and engaging in praise/worship are wonderful ways to keep our minds centered on the Savior. If we stop looking through our eyes of faith and focus on our situation, all will be lost, for we will immediate sink into fear.
There is no situation in which Christ cannot help us. Peter was in an impossible situation – sinking into the oblivion of a dark sea during an immense storm on a gloomy early morning. There was no human who could have rescued him. Yet, it was a small thing for Jesus to reach down and save Peter. I assure you that even though your situation seems impossible, it too is a small thing for the God of the universe.
Peter was the architect of his own problems – he was the one who suggested that he get out of the boat in the first place; he climbed out of his own free will. Yet, when he failed, Jesus was there to pick up the pieces. Perhaps you have gotten yourself into a bad situation. Maybe you have made some wrong/poor choices in your life. Cry out to Christ. He is there to love and rescue, not to condemn.
The disciples never expected to see Jesus walking on the water in the midst of that storm, yet it happened. God often does unexpected things. He allows donkeys to speak. He pays taxes from money found in a fish’s mouth. He causes water to flow out of rocks. He parts the sea. He makes axe heads float. He brings dry bones to life. The list goes on and on. The bible says that his ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts. So let’s not get too set in our ways. God wants to do something astonishing in this generation, and he is calling upon us to partner with him. So listen closely and be ready to experience a new move of God!
Christ was glorified. It is unlikely that the disciples were alone on the boat. There would have been sailors and some other passengers as well. The disciples already believed that Jesus was the Son of God, so those who fell down and proclaimed this truth were probably the unbelievers in their midst. The trial of the disciples demonstrated the power of God to the unbelievers around them. The same is true for us. When we trust Christ in the midst of our storms, when we glorify him in the midst of our struggles, unbelievers will see it and recognize him as Lord and Savior too.
Matthew 14:34-36 – And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.
The men of this region had heard of Jesus. They went out and rounded up all the sick people in their neighborhoods and brought them to Jesus for healing. And Jesus did not disappoint. He healed every single person who touched him.
We know Jesus as Lord, Savior, King, Provider, Protector and the Prince of Peace. There is a world full of scared, lost people right in our own towns and neighborhoods. Let’s seek them out and take them to Christ, so that they too can be children of the King.
So let me offer you some encouragement: Trials and tribulations come to us all. As a Christian, make sure you keep them in the proper perspective. They are opportunities for spiritual growth. They are opportunities to reflect the love and power of God to a lost and dying world. Someday, all your trials and tribulations will be over – so make good use of them now while you still have them!
Let me offer you some relief: All of us make bad decisions or poor choices at one time or another. When we do, Satan loves to try and convince us that Jesus won’t help us because the problem is our own fault. Don’t believe that lie! No matter what the source of your problem is, Jesus is standing by ready to reach out and save you. He will give you beauty for ashes. He will take what was intended for evil and make it into something good. So don’t wait another second – call on him today!
Let me offer your some strength: We looked at the people who were so hungry for spiritual food, they gladly went out to meet Jesus in the wilderness/desert. They were willing to walk away from comfort and routine to find God. My guess is that they probably found even more than what they were expecting or looking for. What about us? Can we make a commitment to put aside some of our comforts in order to draw closer to God? What eternal benefits could be reaped by spending an hour less per day on reading, or surfing the net or watching TV? There is only one way to find out – give it a try!