Matthew 14

Matthew 14: That Sinking Feeling

Have you ever experienced that sinking feeling that was brought on by a sudden storm in your life?  A phone call in the night, a sudden interruption of everything going just fine and in an instance turns upside down. Fear takes hold of your imagination and the worst case scenarios begin to take control of your thoughts and thus your actions. You are so numbed with fear and distraught that you cannot think clearly. Today’s lesson takes us on such occasions in the lives of the disciples. Bad news travels at the speed of light doesn’t it?  And this chapter starts out with bad news.

One other event we will want to take note of in this chapter is the ongoing training and teaching of his disciples as the  Lord Jesus  continues to challenge  the faith of his disciples. For we must remember the all-important, pivotal role faith plays.  For it is by grace you are saved through faith and without faith it is impossible to please God. We are to walk by faith and not by sight. And the Bible defines faith in this way in Hebrews 11:1: “ Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see.”   You will notice all through the stories in the Scriptures we read stories of no faith, little faith and great faith.

This chapter starts out with Herod Antipas, one of Herod the Great’s sons. One figures any story involving the Herod’s cannot be good news.  So we are told of Herod’s concern. Herod hears the reports about Jesus and his miraculous powers and thinks this must be John the Baptist risen from the dead.

Then Matthew backtracks to tell us about the death of John the Baptist and how it came about. Previously, Herod had John the Baptist arrested for what he was saying about his marriage to Herodias , his brother Phillip’s wife.  John the Baptist, never one to back down, from calling sin- sin, has told him it was unlawful for Herod to take the wife of his brother Phillip who was still living. More than likely, Herod was doing this to appease Herodias and to shut up John. We are also told by Matthew that Herod would have killed  John the Baptist, except he feared the reaction of the public who considered John a prophet.

Then on Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias, Salome, dances for Herod at his birthday banquet. It pleased Herod so much  he told Salome I will give you whatever you ask. We read she was prompted by her mother to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. The king was upset, but he had made a public proclamation and had to keep his word. Thus, John the Baptist was beheaded and his head brought to Salome on a platter.  John’s disciples came and took away his body for burial and informed Jesus of John’s death.

We then read Jesus and the disciples withdrew privately by boat to a solitary place. Jesus was saddened and wanted to get away. Mark’s account tells us Jesus said to the disciples” come with me by yourselves to quiet place and get some rest.” Luke 9 also fills in some details that informs us the 12 disciples had just been on a mission trip to the villages.  It appears the group were getting away for some R& R with their Master what would have been a well –deserved rest. Certainly there was sadness upon the hearing of John’s death. In addition they heard the reports that Herod thought Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead could be interpreted Herod wanted to also get rid of Jesus. Bad news travels fast even in the days before the internet. The account we are about to study was recorded in all four gospels so the Lord must have considered this account important.

These were the circumstances surrounding their voyage by boat to a solitary place. But the crowds found them and when they landed Jesus saw a large crowd. Matthew tells us the estimated size of the crowd was 5,000 men, not counting women and children.

Jesus’ reaction was one of compassion and he began to heal the sick. As we read the account, it leads me to believe, the disciples were disappointed they would not have their time alone with the Lord. They were insistent Jesus send the crowd away so the people would leave and go into the surrounding villages to get something to eat, leaving them alone with the Lord.

Jesus also uses this occasion to teach his disciples. He asked them “where shall we buy bread for all these people to eat?” Phillip does some quick math and says if we had 8 months of wages- we could not buy enough for each person to have a bite.”  Then here comes Andrew, the younger brother of Peter, with a small boy who has volunteered his meager lunch which consists of five small barley loaves and  two fish.   And you know the rest of the story.  The people sat on the grass in groups. Jesus looked into heaven, from where all our blessing flow and gave thanks and broke the bread.

Some might say- five loaves and two fish describes the sad state of the church today, especially in America.  I say America because there are more Presbyterians in Ghana than in all of the United States and Scotland combined. Korea has gone from 1% Christians to 40% Christian in the last 40 years. Imagine what can happen in a country like China if Christianity, which is growing there, takes off- we could see more Christians in China than in the U.S.  I believe we have an attitude not unlike the disciples that day-  send the crowds away.  If they are hungry let them go to the government, while we hoard our five loaves and two fish. And in the meanwhile we complain about how the government wastes our money on food stamps.  Don’t misunderstand me, we know there is waste in the government. And we also know churches and charities can be more efficient than our government.   And Jesus told the disciples- waste nothing. As Gina’s Aunt Juicy used to say-‘ you can throw away more with a spoon than a man can bring in with a shovel.’ The problem is not in having only having 5 loaves and 2 fish- the problem is we lack the power of Jesus.

The underlying story going on in this account is about faith; faith in a God for whom nothing is impossible.  Do you believe God is who He says He is?  Do you believe God can do what He says He can do?  Then notice in this story what started out as five loaves and two fish fed approximately 15,000 people with 12 baskets left over. Is not God the same today? Our problem is really not there is not enough food- it is a matter of distribution. Jesus had them sit down in groups of fifty. There was organization here plus a miracle. The church is an organization and we sit in groups in Sunday School. But unless the power of the Holy Spirit is upon us- we see little or no multiplication. Here is the key found in verse 18:  “ Bring them( the five loaves and the two fish) to me.”  When you are willing to bring what you have to the Lord, He can do great things with it.  I am reminded of the story of Howard Hendricks, a well known professor at Dallas Seminary. While interviewing Chuck Swindoll and Jim Dobson, a writer for a Christian magazine was interested in who had the most impact on their ministry and lives.  Both men mentioned by name- this beloved profession, Professor Howie,as they called him.  This led this writer to interview the man who had influenced two men who had followers in the millions. When he interviewed Dr. Hendricks, he asked him the same question regarding who had influenced him the most. And without hesitation, he answered it was his  Sunday School teacher who taught  him as a  12 year old. A man who was probably not educated past the 8th grade, but so loved these boys that when he died and Dr. Hendricks was asked to speak at his funeral. Dr. Hendricks was reunited with some of the boys from his class. He discovered that 8 out of the 12 in his class alone had gone on to become preachers.  This teacher had little- but he brought what he had to the Lord Jesus who through sharing his love and time with these boys influenced millions and millions.

When everyone had all they could eat, the disciples collected 12 baskets of leftovers. Jesus then ordered them to get in the boat and go ahead of him to the other side while he went up on the mountain top to pray and the crowds dispersed.  Jesus knew they would not  leave until the disciples left. So here is the scene- Jesus is on top of a mountain praying, the disciples are the boat crossing over the sea to the other side with 12 baskets of bread and fish.

What occurs next is one of my favorite stories.  It was in the fourth watch of the night- that is between 3:00 am and 6:00 am that Jesus came to them in a storm, a wind that was buffeting them and they could make no progress.  Ever feel like that- the harder you try, the worse it seems to get. Straining and trying to get through it- nothing seems to work. And of all the times not to have Jesus with them in the boat, the disciples must have thought.

Do you understand what the Lord is doing?  He is training them in the degrees of faith. He had challenged them first with a seemingly impossible task of how to feed 15,000 people. In fact they were carrying in their boat the 12 baskets left over as a reminder of what the Lord had done. Remember how often we hear the Lord speak of no faith, little faith and great faith.  “Faith comes from hearing and hearing from the Word of God.”   They are about to hear from the Word, who became flesh, the Lord Jesus.  He was aware of their problem, just as he is aware of your problem. He knows what awakens and troubles you in the fourth watch of the night.

He went unto them.  He knows where you are – He has his eye on you.  He hears your prayers. His delay is not without purpose. His intent is always for your good and His glory. ‘He went out to them, walking on the water.”   When the disciples saw Him, they were filled with fear and thought it must be a spirit, a ghost.  Everything looks bad when you are in a storm.  It was as if on top of everything else happening to them- this tired, scared bunch of men now have to deal with a ghost coming toward them.   Then Jesus speaks to them.  His sheep know his voice, right?  Listen to what Jesus says to them and us in the midst of a storm: “ Be of good cheer. It is I; be not afraid.” (KJV)   You see the Lord can take whatever course He wants to take to save His people.

Now two thoughts come to me as I read this account. First, because I can get afraid and worried in a storm, I can take comfort that the disciples did also. Second, and more perplexing, is Jesus wants us to ‘be of good cheer’ in the storms of life. How can we be cheerful when we are trying with all our might to keep from sinking deeper in our problems?  How can we be of good cheer when for every step we take forward, it seems we are blown two steps back?  How can we possibly do that under these circumstances?  The answer we will see is by faith. For our faith is in facts, not feelings. What time I am afraid, I will trust in Him.  Let not your heart be troubled , you believe in God, believe also in me.  We walk by faith, not by sight. He told them the reason they could be of good cheer, it is I.  I am with you. I will never leave you. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for thy rod and thy staff comfort me.   That is why I need to fear not- to not be afraid, Jesus is coming to me- He has his eye on me and is aware of my circumstances. In fact, He allowed them, just as He sent his disciples go into the boat across the sea without him.  He had been with them physically in a storm at sea and now He tests them by sending a storm when He is not with them, so they understand when He leaves them to return to heaven they know He will still be with them.

Now comes the moment for Peter that he would venture forth in faith. Peter calls out and says: “ Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.” And He said- “ Come” And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water , to go to Jesus.”

“But ( there comes that conjunction of contrast, of interruption) when he( Peter) saw the wind boisterous he was afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried, Lord save me!”

And immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him and said unto him, “ Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt ?”  And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshipped Him, saying –Truly you are the Son of God.”

Don’t you love that story and its ending?

Do you know that Jesus not only allowed Peter to walk on the water, He also allowed him to sink.  He walked on the water that he, Peter, might know the power of the Lord Jesus Christ. He sank that he might know his own weakness.   Don’t tell Peter that sinking feeling isn’t real- he knows it is real. He also knows what to do when he experiences it.

The cause of Peter’s fear was the wind which picked up and blew harder.  When we focus on our problems, it will involve turning our eyes away from the Lord.  The circumstances were scary- and all of a sudden Peter who was a fisherman all his life, allowed the five senses by which our flesh understands the physical world we live in to crowd out his supernatural faith.

He looked at his problems with eyes of human reasoning and said this is impossible. And what happened?  He began to sink.   We have all experienced that sinking feeling.  It comes during the storm when our  faith falters as it is weakened, little faith.

But I like the end- for Peter knew what was needed- he cried- he was desperate. Ever cried out with a loud voice to the Lord to save you from your trouble? I have. I guarantee you Peter shouted out as loud as he could- Lord save me.

And immediately the Lord Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him saying- “ Oh you of little faith, why do you doubt?”

I tell you what else it tells us- when faith is weak, prayer must be strong. And we need others to pray for us.

This is also a picture of salvation.  The Lord comes to us, often in storms of life, which he has allowed in order that will cry out for salvation.  His hand is still stretched forth for the lost to come to Him for salvation.   And for us believers when the storms of life scare us to death and everything seems to get worse the harder we try- the worse it seems to get, until in desperation we turn to the Lord and ask Him to save us.  Sometimes it does not come immediately- we knows what is the perfect time as in this situation Jesus is teaching them to trust Him with all their hearts.

He is our very present help. And He will get us through the storms.

Are you experiencing that sinking feeling today?  Are you being pounded by contrary winds during the fourth watch.

Then Jesus says to you today, this moment:  Be of good cheer, It is I; be not afraid. He says to us ‘come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. .

Do you realize how Jesus came to the disciples that night?  He came literally on and in the  trouble- the wind-tossed sea. He came with reassuring words to calm their fears in the storm.

The fears of the disciples began in the storm. Their fears began to disappear the moment they heard the voice of the Lord.  Twice in one day, Jesus had challenged their faith. Once with the seemingly impossible task how to feed 15,000 people with a little boy’s meager lunch of 5 loaves and 2 fish. And now by coming to them in the storm, when they must have thought it is impossible for the Lord to come to us, He is on top of the mountain. “ Is anything too hard for the Lord?” ( Genesis 18:14)   The Lord still speaks to us through His Word.  And it is still true- there is not anything too hard for the Lord.

I wonder- will you give your lunch to the Lord? Will you give what you have to the Lord, meager as it may be. Bring it to Him and He can bless it, break it and multiply it.

Do you remember what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments? ‘To love the Lord thy God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.’

Do you know what can lift you out of the circumstances in which you are sinking? His Love. “ I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore, very deeply staining with sin, Sinking to rise no more- But the Master of the sea Heard my despairing cry. From the waters lifted me, Now safe am I.  Love lifted me! Even Me- Love lifted me. When nothing else could help, Love lifted me.

Are you sinking in a storm today?  Look for the Savior for He is the same today.

It is I- Be Not Afraid, says the Lord, the Master of the sea.

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14