Introduction: As we conclude our contemplation of Christ’s care for us as our Ascended Lord, we return to Matthew’s Gospel, to a miracle that takes us back to the roots of Israel’s redemption in the desert: the miraculous feeding. Just as God provides for the ‘Woman’ (symbolizing the church in Rev 12), so He gave the provision of manna in the book of Exodus, and so Christ fed the 5,000 on the shores of the Sea of Galilee! The challenge for us is the same in all these accounts of Divine provision in the desert: will we trust God’s power to care for us – even when it comes to the most basic of our needs? Or will we give in to the devil’s temptation to try to manufacture bread from the stones of our own self-effort? May God cause us to deepen our reliance on Him. Though we are faced with wilderness wandering like the crowds who followed Jesus, may our eyes of faith be lifted up to where our Shepherd ministers at God’s right hand on our behalf!
Monday: read Matthew 14:13-14 & Mark 6:30-32. How good it is to have a Savior able to receive both downcast and jubilant disciples, lifting the depressed ones up, and humbling those who rejoice too much that “even the demons are subject to them” (Luke 10:17, 20).
We know how comforting and tender Jesus would have been with the heart-broken disciples of John who came in Matthew 14:12 to tell Him of their master John’s death. We also know that Jesus would have shared His own disciples’ joy when they return to tell Him of the success of their first missionary journey in Mark 6:30 – even while not letting their success go to their head.
Therefore, how balanced Jesus is in the face of both heartbreak and jubilant missionary success. He instructs His disciples to come apart with Him to a place of quiet and rest. Success never went to Jesus’ head, and He recognized the need for His own to rest after their many apostolic labors. What wonderful rhythms of work and rest Jesus invites us to enjoy with Him.
Meditate and Pray: “Thank you Jesus, for your care for your weary followers. Just as your Father searched out a place of rest for Israel of old in the desert in Deuteronomy 1:31-33, so your compassion prompts you to give the disciples rest and the crowds food. Thank you that you know each inch of our wilderness journeys, and you never leave us alone. Amen.”
Tuesday: read Matthew 14:13-14 & 14:22. What sets Christ apart in His miracles is not simply the power displayed in them, but the deep-seated compassion which motivates them. In this case (Mt. 14:14), Christ’s compassion is literally as deep as his inner organs – He has “bowels of compassion” for the hungry multitudes. More of such compassion, as marking Jesus’ pastoral care in tomorrow’s notes; but for now, let us focus on the unspoken love and concern which prompted Jesus to force the 12 into a boat to get them away from the crowds in Matthew 14:22.
Yes, Jesus still is concerned for the disciples’ rest, and for the ongoing teaching ministry (Mark 6:34). But the hands which push the disciples to embark once again on the Sea of Galilee( though a storm was coming!) represent Jesus’ concern that His own followers not be corrupted by the lust for an earthly kingdom which drove the recently fed crowds to try and bend Jesus to their lust for earthly power in John 6:15! He knows that such lust for the good things of an earthly kingdom now, instead of the spiritual blessings of God’s unseen Heavenly Kingdom first and foremost, is a temptation too great for the young faith of His apostles. So, He hurries them into a boat and handles the crowds by Himself. He does not want the 12’s view of His true Kingdom to be corrupted by the crowd’s false view of a carnal kingdom.
But what of the storm? Didn’t Jesus know that, in sending the 12 away in the boat, He was sending them into a storm? Undoubtedly. But Jesus knew that the imbibing of Jewish heresy via the carnal atmosphere of John 6:15 was a far more dangerous way to die than to face death by drowning on the lake.
Meditate and Pray: Let us give thanks that our Lord Jesus knows how to protect the souls, and the faith of His people, and is mighty to restrain us when sinful ideas and false doctrines threaten to undo the good work which His Father has begun in us (Philippians 1:6). Let us give thanks for Christ’s prayers that our faith won’t fail when we are sifted by the Devil (Luke 22:32), and also rejoice in our Lord Jesus’ power to take action when we get too near physically as well as mentally to the flames of false teaching which would consume our growing faith. Christ is just as mighty to force us out of harm’s way – even if it means sending us into a storm as He did the 12!
Weds/Thurs: read Matthew 14:14 & Isaiah 40:10-11. Christ’s compassion for His sheep means He is determined to shepherd us through the deadly temptations in this world. When He sees us in danger of false teaching, He takes action! What a contrast to, and rebuke of, false shepherds: who let the wolves in among the sheep! John Owen applies the picture of true shepherding found in Isaiah 40:11 to Christ’s compassionate care for us as His sheep:
The personal attributes which describe Jesus in Isaiah 40:11 are that of the greatest tenderness, compassion and condescension that can be imagined. His people are set forth under many infirmities; some are lambs, some great with young, some very tender, some burdened with temptations – nothing in any of them strong or comely. To them Christ is a shepherd that feeds His own sheep and drives them out to pleasant pasture; where, if He sees a poor, weak lamb, He doth not thrust him on, but takes him into His bosom, where He both eases and refreshes him: He leads him gently and tenderly. As did Jacob them that were burdened with young, so doth our dear Lord Jesus with His flock, in the several ways and paths wherein He leads them.
When He sees a poor soul, weak, tender, halting, ready to sink and perish, He takes him into His arms, by some gracious promise administered to him, carries him, bears him up when he is not able to go one step forward. Hence also is His great quarrel with false shepherds, Ezek. 34:4, “Woe be to you shepherds! The diseased have you not strengthened, neither have you healed that which was sick, neither have you bound up that which was broken, neither have you brought again that which was driven away, neither have you sought that which was lost.” Compassionate care is that which our careful, tender Shepherd would have done to His sheep. (Vol. 2, pg. 142)
Friday: read Matthew 14:13; John 6:11-15 & John 6:53-59. There is another reason why Jesus removes Himself into the desert besides His compassion for the lost and His concern to give His disciples rest. It is to take up the prophetic mantle of John the Baptist, the last Old Testament prophet. Now that John is gone, and his mighty wilderness voice has been silenced, Jesus Himself will go out to the desert as the prophetic leader of God’s wandering people – just like Moses in the book of Exodus. And just as Moses suffered abuse at the hands of Israel, even though God sent them manna in accordance with Moses’ word, so Jesus is abused after providing the miraculous meal of bread and fish – even though that meal was so plentiful that all who ate were “satisfied”! We will return to this miracle of feeding when we come to a second feeding in Matthew 15. But let us end this week by focusing on the abuse which Jesus received after such a generous, gracious, compassionate feeding of the multitudes.
What exactly was the abuse which Jesus suffered? Well, after providing abundant loaves and fish, the crowds sought to bend Jesus to their lust for power in John 6:15, coercing Him to take up an earthly throne to do their bidding against the Romans! They tried to make Him king by force, while disregarding both His word and the real reason why He had come – which was to give His flesh and blood for the salvation of sinners (John 6:53-59). In the same way they rejected all the prophets who went before Jesus as well (Matthew 23:37)!
Meditate and Pray: Lord, give us grace to be willing to be rejected for your sake. When we are scorned, minimized, ignored and even abused by those who would bend our spiritual words to their own carnal uses, give us grace to live out the words of hymn # 584. Amen.
Go, labor on: spend, and be spent,
Thy joy to do the Father’s will:
It is the way the Master went;
Should not the servant tread it still?
Go, labor on! ’tis not for naught
Thine earthly loss is heavenly gain;
Men heed thee, love thee, praise thee not;
The Master praises: what are men?
Go, labor on! enough, while here,
If He shall praise thee, if He deign
The willing heart to mark and cheer:
No toil for Him shall be in vain.
Go, labor on! Your hands are weak,
Your knees are faint, your soul cast down;
Yet falter not; the prize you seek
Is near—a kingdom and a crown
Sat/Sun: Only when we are persuaded of God’s absolute provision for us in the wilderness of this hostile world are we ready then to study ‘end times’ passages such as Matthew 24 or Revelation 12. May the Lord give us a stability in His Word about the ‘last days’ that makes us unshakeable – even when so many run to and fro declaring our supposed need for ‘more’ than God’s Word to be ready for Christ’s Return! We don’t need more, technologically, physically, politically or militarily. The Church will be kept by the Lord Jesus until His return because our Savior in His Word has promised it! Let these words of Jesus – which promise the security of the church until the end – comfort your hearts:
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” (John 14:1-4)
18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” (John 14:18-20)
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:20-22)