Have you ever had a season in your life where it feels like everything is going wrong? Your work or school (maybe both) feel busier and more exhausting than ever, conflicts and stressors are emerging left and right in your personal life, and suddenly it feels like those tiny rain clouds have formed over your head with no intention of ever leaving?
If you answered yes, you are in good company. Over the past few years, just about everyone has gone through a season like that. As people returned to the office, the busy tug-and-pull of life began yet again with so much passion and vigor. Add on the stresses of the pandemic, losing loved ones, the divisiveness of a heated political landscape, and more, it would be hard NOT to be familiar with the feeling of utter exhaustion.
When we study Scripture, it’s easy to look at the stories passage-to-passage, not fully realizing just how close to each other some of these events take place.
In the first 12 verses of Matthew 14, Matthew describes the death of John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin. King Herod, who held John in prison, beheaded him and brought his head to Herodias, his wife, on a platter. Some of John’s disciples retrieved and buried the body and then went to tell Jesus what had happened.
“As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone.”
Matthew 14:13a (NLT)
This news would have obviously been a lot for Jesus to process, but it also would have deeply affected the apostles. Andrew, brother of Peter, is confirmed to have been an apostle of John the Baptist and so, likely, was Phillip. Regardless, there was a lot of overlap between the ministries of Jesus and John, and the news would have been devastating. So, Jesus takes the time to retreat by boat to grieve. Except…
“But the crowds heard where he was headed and followed on foot from many towns. Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”
Matthew 14:13b-14 (NLT)
Instead of ending in a remote place on their own to grieve, Jesus and the disciples poured out their hearts in service to the great crowd that followed them. Now, as evening fell on them, not only were the apostles emotionally exhausted as they mourned for John the Baptist, but they also started to reach physical exhaustion, having labored all day and finding themselves on empty stomachs.
Speaking of hunger, remember all those people who came out to the remote place to be healed by Jesus? They were hungry too. And all anyone had was five loaves of bread and two fish. But Jesus took those loaves and fish, multiplied them, and gave them to his disciples to feed the 5,000 (Matthew 14: 18-21)
To summarize, the apostles have now, in one day: learned of the death of a close friend/mentor, traveled by boat to a remote place, aided in the healings of countless people going into the evening, witnessed many miracles from the healings to the loaves and fish, AND now they went around feeding 5,000 men (plus women and children).
WOW, what a day? Surely this day can’t get any crazier right? Wrong.
“Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone.
Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!”
But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!”
Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”
“Yes, come,” Jesus said.
So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.
Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”
When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. Then the disciples worshiped him. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed.”
Matthew 14:22-33 (NLT)
Now, after what was already a VERY long day, the apostles leave by boat (without Jesus) to find themselves stuck in the storm of all storms late at night. Have you ever been on the water in the middle of the night in a starless sky? It is pitch black, you cannot see a thing beyond your boat.
Then, all of a sudden, as they were seemingly moments away from capsizing into a dark and stormy sea, they see a figure walking on the water towards them. After a day where they watched Jesus perform miracle after miracle, it would seem like an easy conclusion that Jesus was now walking on water, right? Just another miracle.
Except that the weight of everything that had happened that day was weighing the apostles down. They weren’t able to think straight. While the storm raged around each of them, a storm of exhaustion had been raging within them all day.
Then, as Jesus becomes more clearly defined on the horizon, Peter’s view clears as he focuses on Jesus. The stormy wind and waves of his exhaustion fade as he can only see one thing: Jesus. Peter walks on the water by faith, wanting to draw closer to Jesus.
Unfortunately, Peter quickly sank into the water as his attention shifted back to the overwhelming, exhausting, terrifying storm that surrounded him.
Peter is the visible example of what the apostles were going through the entire day. And, at least temporarily, he showed the way forward.
When life is so overwhelmingly exhausting that you have no clue what to do: focus on Jesus. On a day in which Jesus lost His cousin, He didn’t turn away the thousands of people clinging to His miracle-working power. Neither did He deny those same people food when they were with Him all day, in a remote place, with no food to eat. Jesus’ main desire when He heard of John’s death was to withdraw to a solitary place, as He often did. And when, after a long day’s work, He finally had the chance to withdraw to that quiet place, He came for his apostles as they were stuck in a storm, never letting go of them as they were moments away from disaster.
Cling to Jesus. When we are exhausted, He is not. When we are at our end, He is only just beginning. He overcame death and the grave for each of us, and He won’t stop now.