Notes on Matthew 14

Matthew 14  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 7
The immediate connections then existing of the Lord with the Jews were, as we have seen, terminated, and the kingdom of heaven was proclaimed according to the form which it was to take in consequence of His rejection. He was no longer seeking fruit from His vine, but was sowing that He might have fruit through the word. But Jesus continued to think of the people, showing what He was, and alas! what they themselves were, and what was to take the place of His connections with the Jews, such as they would have been, if He had been received by them.
Chapters 14 and 16 show us what He was then for the Jews, and what the remnant would become through His absence from that people, and the rejection or setting aside of the people. Chapter 15 brings in what He was for them as a divine person, even when the people were wicked and rejected; but being so, because He was God, and His counsels could not change. This favor extended itself to the Gentiles who had no right to the promises, although He did not abandon His positive connections with Israel; for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. But we must remember that in this unfolding of the ways of God the grace of the Lord, divine and personal grace, is manifested in the most touching and instructive manner, and practical lessons for us are brought out continually from what is passing.
The rejection of the testimony of God begins to be realized in facts. John the Baptist is put to death by Herod through the instigation of his wife. The Lord, touched and sensible of the violence done to His faithful servant, retires into the desert. Elias, as it is said elsewhere, had come, and they had done unto him whatsoever they listed, and the Son of man was also to suffer at their hands. This act of cruelty was not only the death of the faithful proclaimer of the Lord, but from the heart of the faithful witness it spoke of the state of the people. But however painful His feelings were, as having come into their midst, divine love rises above all, above the sufferings of the Son of man.
The multitude hear that He has retired into the desert, and hasten thither. Coming forth from His retreat He sees the crowd, and, moved with compassion, He heals them. His goodness did not become weary in presence of the iniquity of man, now hastening to accomplish it. Evening being come, the multitude was there, having nothing to eat. The disciples feel the inconvenience of their position, and wish to send them away, the natural resource of man. But God was in Israel and wished that His disciples, after so many proofs should have the consciousness of the power that was there.
But their heart had no other resource but that which was visible to man and according to a human measure. Give ye them to eat, said the Savior, and I myself will give to them. But they, instead of having faith in God in the divine power of the Savior, had five loaves and two fishes. What a difference between faith and the flesh! between God who can do everything and the poor resources which are in our hands. But the flesh sees no farther. The disciples could not make use of the power which was there. Alas! they did not think of it. But here the Lord was manifesting what He was in the midst of evil; not putting Himself in relation with Israel, if Israel wished it, but showing Himself above Israel, the Jehovah who blessed His people, according to His heart. It was but a testimony to that grace, but it was to that grace that the testimony was rendered. In Psa. 132 it is said of the time, in which Jehovah will arise and will remember David and will act in grace according to His own heart “He will satisfy His poor with bread,” and He does so, a testimony useless for Israel, and even for the disciples save for grace, but not for His glory. The rejected Christ is Jehovah, the Savior of His people, spite of all. The prelude to His rejection and to His death leads Him to give the proof of His divine and almighty grace, which is above the evil and unbelief even of those who belong to Him. But it is none the less true that this is only a testimony, and that things take their course, and this is intimated here in the facts.
He sends His disciples to cross the sea alone, dismisses the people and goes up into a mountain apart to pray: a living picture, in a few strokes, of all that had happened. The Jewish people is sent away, Christ is on high and His own on the sea. However, as we have seen all through in this Gospel, the Jews or the disciples as a remnant are in the foreground. I have no doubt but that even the number of the baskets of fragments, however slight the indication may be, has reference to the full blessing of the latter days in the reign. It is the number sacred to that, twelve tribes, twelve apostles, twelve thrones for them judging the twelve tribes, twelve stars on the woman. It is the idea of the perfection of the government of God in man. This is why it is also found in the heavenly Jerusalem. But let us pass on to the more formal facts of this history.
The Lord makes His disciples embark in a little boat without Him, then He dismisses the multitude of the Jews who had rejoiced in His presence. It is not here judgment on the people, but Himself disappears, so to speak. Those who belong to the Lord, the little remnant, are besides exposed to the violence of the storm, without having the Savior personally present with them. He is on high alone. Mark the situation. But some other facts are brought in. The Lord rejoins them, master of all the elements which try them on the road. The water and the waves are the pathway of His feet, and as soon as He joins them all is calm, and those in the boat recognize Him as Son of God, the world likewise, Gennesareth which had rejected Him now joyfully receives Him, and its wounds are healed as the remnant of Israel had found peace.
We have not yet spoken of another fact. Peter leaves the ship to go to Jesus, before He rejoined the disciples. He walks upon the water when Peter goes to meet Him. This port of the history presents us, I doubt not, with the Christian position outside Judaism. Jesus has not rejoined His disciples whom He had made embark when He had separated from them. Christ alone is the strength and the motive: “if it be thou;” one must walk where there is nothing, as Christ walked. Trouble of the waves causes Peter's faith to fail, but the grace and the power of the Savior are there for the others, as for himself. He stretches out His band and supports His poor servant. This is what He has done in order that we should walk as He walked where there is no support but Himself. Once Christ is come back to His disciples, all is peace and the voyage ends; but there are some precious personal instructions here.
The Christian has to walk over the water, to walk by faith, as Jesus walked, where there is no path, but divine power, for man cannot walk—is totally incapable of doing so. To walk there is the fruit of the power of Christ and of faith in the Christian, but this is not all. The eye must be fixed upon the Savior, without that one sinks. Peter had looked at the agitated sea and was sinking. Christ being out of his view, there was a comparison made between the difficulties and himself. Impossible so to walk. He was right; but the divine power was utterly forgotten. So Israel with the spies. The cities are walled up to heaven, the Anakims were there, we were like grasshoppers. This was to forget God. Was He like a grasshopper before the Anakims? And what did the walls up to heaven? They fell down at the sound with a ram's horn. No, it is a question of looking to God and the path of His will, as Joshua and Caleb said, If the Lord take delight in us, we are well able. Peter had said, “If it be thou,” but then he should always have looked to Him. And see how foolish is unbelief. He saw the sea agitated. What if it had been calm? The reason of the difference was not there, but in looking to Jesus—or not. If one looks to Him, all is possible and all succeeds, because He can and will do all, all blessing all the fruit of faith, thanks be to God. He is there to sustain us even when our faith comes short. If Jesus is the object who makes us walk on the water, Jesus is the strength to walk there, but the eye must be kept fixed on Him. If His power is there, the storm does nothing. If His power is not there, we sink in the calm as much as in the storm. The walk is in every case by faith: and we need Jesus always and with Him can do everything. Storm and calm are alike.