Matthew 14

Matthew 14  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 8
AT THAT TIME, says the opening verse, Herod “heard of the fame of Jesus” (ch. 14:1). Just when He had no fame at Nazareth His fame reached the ears of that godless man, and as it appears, touched his hardened conscience. It is remarkable that he should have thought it was John risen from the dead, since to a later Herod we have Paul saying, “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” (Acts 26:88Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead? (Acts 26:8)). That which they could not believe when it had happened was conjured up by a guilty conscience.
This leads Matthew to tell us the story of John’s martyrdom, which had happened not long before. John’s faithful witness had stirred up the anger of Herod and the revenge of Herodias, and the Lord’s forerunner died as the result of a godless oath. Herod outraged the law of God in order to preserve the credit of his own word. Such was the man that ruled many of the Jews-a chastisement surely for their abounding sin.
Now John had always faithfully pointed to Jesus, and the people acknowledged that though he did no miracle, “all things that John spake of this Man were true” (John 10:4141And many resorted unto him, and said, John did no miracle: but all things that John spake of this man were true. (John 10:41)). As the fruit of John’s happy fidelity to Jesus, his disciples knew what to do, when he was so suddenly removed. They were granted his body, so having buried it, they “went and told Jesus” (ch. 14:12). John was the burning and shining lamp whereas Jesus was the light, that coming into the world, shines for all men. The lamp was extinguished, so they turned to the great light, and found consolation there.
Hearing it, Jesus departed to a desert place. Mark shows us that just at this time His disciples had returned to Him from their mission. A period of solitude and quiet was suitable at this juncture for the Master, for His disciples, and for John’s sad followers; if, as is likely, they accompanied Him.
The multitudes however still went after Him, and He met their needs. As ever He was moved with compassion. The indifference of Nazareth and the wickedness of Herod produced no change in Him. Let us meditate long and deeply on the unchanging compassions of the heart of Christ. Blessed be His Name!
It was not the Lord but His disciples, who suggested that the crowds should be dismissed to fend for themselves. It was His compassion that detained them and bade His disciples give them to eat. This tested the disciples, and brought to light how little they realized the power of their Master. They had to discover that His way was to use the tiny resources that were already in their hands, and multiply them until they were more than sufficient. The prophet indicated that Jehovah would find His rest in Zion, and that then His word would be, “I will abundantly bless her provision: I will satisfy her poor with bread” (Psa. 132:1515I will abundantly bless her provision: I will satisfy her poor with bread. (Psalm 132:15)). Jehovah was now amongst His people in the person of Jesus, and though there was no rest for Him in Zion at that time, yet He proved what He could do with these five thousand men, beside women and children. He was dispensing the bounty of heaven, hence He looked up to heaven as He blessed.
At this point let us recall the situation, as presented in this Gospel. He had been definitely rejected by the nation, their leaders going so far as to commit the unpardonable sin in attributing His works of power to the devil. Consequently He had symbolically broken His links with them. This we saw in chapters 11 and 12. Then in chapter 13 He spoke the parables which reveal new developments as to the kingdom of heaven; and at the end of that chapter we find that the people of His own country saw nothing in Him beyond the son of the carpenter. We opened chapter 14 to find Herod slaying His forerunner, so that His refusal on all hands could hardly be more complete. Yet before we close the chapter we see a display of two great facts: first, He is more than sufficient when in the presence of human need, whether the wants of the multitude or the weakness of the disciples. Second, He is more than supreme when confronted with powers wielded by the adversary. He not only walked Himself upon the stormy waters, but He enabled a feeble disciple to do the same.
During the night He had been in prayer upon the mountain, and the disciples had been toiling against contrary circumstances. Towards morning He drew near to them, walking upon the waves. In the earlier episode on the lake (chap. 8) He had shown Himself able to quell the storm since His power was above all the power of the devil. Now He show; Himself in absolute supremacy. The storm was simply nothing to Him. It was distressing to the disciples, but here was the One of whom it had been said, “Thy way is in the sea, and Thy path in the great waters, and Thy footsteps are not known” (Psa. 77:1919Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known. (Psalm 77:19)). His presence brought good cheer to them even while the storm still raged; and when He joined the boat the wind ceased.
But the Lord brought with Him more than good cheer, and Peter it was who discovered it: He can conform others to Himself. It involved for Peter stepping “out of the ship,” (ch. 14:29) and this could only be done when he had the authoritative word, “Come,” which authenticated the fact that it was the Lord Himself who drew near. Assured that it was Himself, on the strength of His word, Peter stepped forth and walked on the sea. We may see here an allegory of what was shortly to come to pass. The Jewish system, which consisted so largely of “the law of commandments contained in ordinances,” (Eph. 2:1515Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; (Ephesians 2:15)), was like a ship, quite suited to men who are “after the flesh” (John 8:1515Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man. (John 8:15)). As the result of His coming, the disciples were to step out of that “ship” into a path of pure faith. Hence when Paul bade farewell to the Ephesian elders, he did not commend them to a code of laws nor to an institution or organization, but to “God and the word of His grace” (Acts 20:3232And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. (Acts 20:32)). Hence too the call to go “outside the camp” (Judg. 7:1919So Gideon, and the hundred men that were with him, came unto the outside of the camp in the beginning of the middle watch; and they had but newly set the watch: and they blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers that were in their hands. (Judges 7:19)) in Heb. 13. Peter was “out of the ship,” (ch. 14:29) with Christ as his Object and His word as his authority. The Christian position is outside the camp with God and the word of His grace.
Yet Peter’s faith was small, and, his mind turning from his Master to the violent wind, he was afraid and he began to sink. But still, he had faith, for in the emergency he at once called upon his Lord, and so was sustained, and by both together the ship was reached, when at once the wind ceased, and the land was reached, as John’s Gospel shows us. Peter was quite illogical in his fears, for it is no more possible for us to walk on smooth water than on rough, but we are all like him when little faith possesses our hearts. Faith which is fully centered in Christ is strong, whilst that which is occupied with circumstances is weak.
We sometimes hear rather too much of Peter’s failure, and not enough of what the power of Christ enabled him to do, though his faith was small. After all, he did not sink. He only began to sink and then, sustained by a power not his own, he reached his Lord and returned with Him to the boat. No other man has done a thing like that, and his momentary failure only made it so manifest that the power that sustained him was that of his Lord that all the rest worshipped Him as the Son of God. They got a great glimpse of His glory, and when arrived at the land of Gennesaret tribute was paid by the people to His grace as well as His power. The diseased flocked to His presence, and their faith was not misplaced, for as many as touched Him were made perfectly whole. True Divine healing means 100 percent cure in 100 percent of the cases! A perfectly wonderful state of things!
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