Series: Matthew

Jesus' Modes of Retreat, Pt. 1

October 02, 2022 | Jeff Crotts

Passage: Matthew 14:13-36

Matthew 14:13-36 (pt. 1) – Jesus’ Modes of Retreat


[Intro] People will not fault Jesus for getting away.


  • “Still, why was retreating necessary?”


  • Why is a retreat redemptive for a believer?


[Context] People polarizing from Jesus.

  • Away from Christ’s accountability.
    • Offensive message (parables).
      • Jesus’ hometown rejection.
      • Herod’s paranoia representing Rome’s rejection.


  • Threatened by X’s power and influence.


  • Sudden unexpected shift, Jesus now moves away.


“…he withdrew…to a desolate place by himself” (v. 13).

  • Jesus’ last year, spent most time with the Twelve.
    • Opposite of cowardice.
    • Not running from mission.
      • Not backing in defeat, from the front.
      • Good reason for Jesus’ to retreat.


  • Jesus removed from center stage.
    • Off the grid.
    • Must be a rationale for Jesus’ retreat.
    • Capture for our own lives.


  • Next three sections (chapter 14), manifests reasons for retreat.


Prop: Reasons for Christ’s retreat.



  1. Pursuing nearness with God (vv. 13-21)


  1. Preventing burnout (vv. 13-14)


[Note] Jesus “withdrew” from where he was, still Galilean region, got in a boat “by himself” (v. 13).


  • Matthew’s emphasis “by himself” (v. 13).


  • Mark’s account: Jesus instructed disciples to go with him.


Mark 6:31, “And he said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat” (cf. Mk. 6:31).


  • Rather than inconsistent between accounts, Jesus is models something to follow.


  • Jesus by himself, calling his friends to do likewise: “Come away by yourselves…”


[Illus] The old pastor said, “If you don’t come apart and rest, you will come apart.”


  • Mark and Luke inform: Jesus and disciples get into a boat together and sail four miles across the top end of the sea of Galilee to Bethsaida.


[Note] Going “to a desolate place” - “a desert place.”


  • A secluded spot, where people are not.
    • Busyness more spiritual?
      • In work early, staying late, not leaving your job is done.
        • 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “If you do not work, you do not eat.”
        • Woke committing, “The Great Resignation!”


  • Still, not ignore Jesus’ emphasis for retreat.
    • Rest, vital refreshment.
      • Overtraining renders athlete ineffective.
      • You can overwork.


  • Resting admits, “I cannot live my life within my own strength.”
    • Humble admission to limits.
    • Breaking points.


  • Jesus’ clear reminder limitations not fundamentally based on fallen condition.
    • The Son of God added full humanity without sin.
      • Needed retreat from crowds/work.
      • At capacity.
        • Jesus known to retreat to pray (even all night).
          • Selecting the Twelve.
          • Facing Cross.


  • Non-legalistic routines.


ESV  Mark 1:35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. (Mar 1:35 ESV)


  • Matthew’s immediate context clues why Jesus retreated.


  • Verse 12 disciples took John the Baptizer away and “…went and told Jesus” (v. 12).
    • Did Jesus leave to process this.
      • Dearly respected colleague, executed.
      • Jesus grieved Lazarus.


  • Jesus respected John making his death tragic.


  • Jesus reacting to Herod Antipas.
    • Jesus never recklessly ran into danger.
    • Jesus moving beyond Herod’s jurisdiction.


“A tiger tastes blood and wants more” [Spurgeon].


  • Jesus had retreated from Pharisee’s conspiracy to trap and kill him (cf. Matt. 12:15).


  • Jesus did not fear for his own life (John 10:18).
    • Using common sense, discreet use of solitude.
      • Longed for isolation.
      • Did not tell crowds to come with Him.


[Question] “When did Jesus’ retreat begin?”


[KEY] Once on the water.


  • Natural barrier between himself and crowds.
    • Putting the sea between him and the crowd.
      • Galilee, 50 miles by 25 miles.
      • Population of 15,000, 204 little villages, thick population.


  • Hard to be alone.


[Appl] Experienced mindset shift when in for a long road trip or plane flight. Or boat. The burdens lift and sense relief.


[KEY] Jesus was moving away from others because He needed too.

  • Jesus’ perfections did not make his capacities limitless.
    • Fully human.
    • Human needs.


[Appl] I know people who wear like a badge their ability to stay of late in the night in the name of being able to accomplish so much more – like living on five hours of sleep is super spiritual. Some have the capacity to function this way, but I am not one of them. In fact, I find that I not only require 6 to 7 hours a night regularly, but also need to workout consistently to maintain energy levels.


This is because, as you know, if you carry any level of responsibility, you work on your responsibility whether you are officially “clocked in” or not. You may distract yourself from your duties to a degree (in the forefront of your thinking) but without a proactive form of exercise or at least engaging a hobby on a significant level, you will find yourself in a state of depletion. And perhaps deep discouragement.


Why people join sports teams, have a boat and/or cabin. Putting yourself in another frame of mind, on a level where you make it impossible to think about your responsibilities is actually a great means of rest. So, I find, I not only require REM sleep but mental rest from activity. Resting by shutdown and resting by cranking up! You say, “Is this truly godly?” I guess is depends on how you interpret the verse, “bodily discipline profits (a) little.”


We understand godliness is greater treasure, but I understand this not as a trade but prioritization. When rightly prioritized, physical rest or exercised become the means for spiritual life. Think of all the times Scripture speaks to running or wrestling or boxing or boating or building or fighting in the military.


[KEY] Not promoting license to use retreat to rationalize avoiding church attendance and participation.


  • Retreat is: Taking and Giving!
    • Restoration for mission.
      • The phrase, “I meet God in nature” is either positive or negative.
      • Depending on the motivation.


  • Issue is not method but motive.


[Illus] I remember the story of two young men in a woodchopping competition. One chopping non-stop while the other took frequent breaks. At the end of the context to the surprise of the lumber jack who never stopped, he found he had half as much done as the other. What he did not realize was while the other lumber jack was on break, he was sharpening his ax. I dug trenches on a construction crew for summer work. The men there immediately corrected by poor technique saying, “Don’t work harder, work smarter!”


Verse 13 tells us Jesus’ period of solitude, would soon end.


[Note] The “crowds…followed him on foot from the towns” literally double-timing it on foot to be where He would land.


  • Galilee being a small region, a population made up of several small coastal towns, and this small crowd was running through these villages along the way.


  • Crowd could have been disoriented by Antipas’ threat.
    • Wanting Jesus’ miracles.
    • Pointing out the Jesus’ boat, compelling others to join their run.
    • 5,000 men plus women and children.


  • Like a Boston Marathon.


  • Crowds running, eager for the Word of God.


[Note] As soon as Jesus “went ashore…a great crowd” (v. 14) as there.


  • Wind conditions (rough or placid) stalled boat, the crowds there ahead of Jesus (cf. Mk. 6:33).
    • Jesus’ response?
      • No anger nor frustration.
      • “Compassion on them” (v. 14).


  • Followed by action, “…healed their sick” (v. 14).


[KEY] Not meant to feel sorry for Jesus.


  • “Retreat cut short!”
    • Jesus where Father wants Him to be.
    • Retreat taking new shape.


  • Jesus’ brief withdraw refueled to reengage.
    • Pour out His heart.
    • Pour out healing.


[Question] Christ compassion is eternal.


  1. Providing for needs (vv. 15-21)


Verse 15 gives the time marker, “evening” (v. 15).


[Note] Disciples stating the obvious, “a desolate place” (v. 15).


  • In desert with disciples and crowd was a renewed plan Jesus was accepting.
    • Jesus’ opened retreat for people to join.
    • Retreating is not hermit-ing.
      • Ascetic in greater spiritual state.


  • Favorite retreats are filled with others.
    • Away at a conference.
      • Bible teaching with friends.
      • Minus work obligations.


[KEY] Disciples, assume role of hosts.


  • Spontaneous retreat, meant problem solving crowd’s need for food.
    • Realizing “the day is now over” (v. 15).
      • Options for food non-existent, to keep their event going.
        • Two periods marked as “evening” – pre-dinner and post-dinner.
        • This, 3:00 or 4:00 pre-dinner.


  • Appeal to Jesus’ authority - “…send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves” (v. 15).
    • Pragmatic solution to a real need.
    • Crowds go back to fishing villages, small unwalled hamlets.
      • Bread and fish as staple source.
      • Back to hotels, buy food and seek shelter.


  • Jesus’ response, not a rebuke (cf. v. 16).


  • “They need not go away; you give them something to eat” (v. 16).


[Appl] Often the passage is understood as the disciples having a major lapse in judgment, here Jesus had just healed the sick and so they should expect Jesus would miraculously provide food.


Or the opportunity for Jesus to surprise His disciples, doing the unexpected to bolster their faith. Jesus’ mode of miracle has less to do with wowing His disciples and/or the crowds and more to do with the fact that Jesus is the Provider.


[KEY] A miracle, is when God performs an intervention, superseding the laws of nature, that manifests His power.


  • Make no mistake, Jesus was going to perform a miracle.


  • Significant miracle, the only miracle performed by Christ in all 4 Gospels.


[Appl] Liberal theologians have stripped the Bible of miracles, defaulting to circumstantial explanations (food in caves) or the crowds suddenly becoming unselfish. The miracle was their change of heart. Morally unselfish.


These are naturalists’ interpretations verses a supernatural interpretation. Remember Jesus could do whatever He wanted–to – tempted in the wilderness, He could have turned stones to bread.


[Sproul] In naturalism, it is impossible to get something from nothing by a natural means. If over time there was nothing, there would still be nothing now.


[KEY] Jesus is the central focus.


  • Signs and wonders false-teaching replaces Christo-centricity for Miracle-centricity.


  • Two abuses in the church, liberalism of Do-Gooding based in naturalism or hyper-charismatic experientialism worshiping supernaturalism.


  • Jesus’ modus operandi to feed the 5,000 answers both extremes in perfect balance.
    • Sublimated the super-natural event through the means of distribution, to raise the focus to Christ.
      • It is always about exercising “faith in Christ.”
      • Jesus is the Bread of Life (cff. John 6:28, 34) to his faithful remnant.


Verse 17 is disciples’ practical response.


  • Jesus wants the crowds to stay at this “desert conference” so they come up with what they possibly can.
    • I do not think the disciples sarcastic, rude, or acting in unbelief.


  • Operating without presumption that Jesus would choose to provide food supernaturally.


ESV  Mark 6:37 But he answered them, "You give them something to eat." And they said to him, "Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?" (Mar 6:37 ESV)


  • This would have been a year’s earnings.
    • Perhaps they thought in the back of their mind that Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding, so he could multiply food but why should he?


[KEY] John’s account tells us Jesus prompted this whole discussion.


ESV  John 6:5-6 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?"

6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. (Joh 6:6 ESV) (Joh 6:5 ESV)


  • They find a boy with “…only five loaves…and two fish” (v. 17; cf. Jn. 6:9).
    • They scavenged through the crowd.


  • Jesus wanted his disciples to be clear, there was no food.
    • Why Jesus required investigation.
    • Jesus wanted their involvement.


  • Crowds in haste, didn’t think to pack food.
    • Crowds ran a 5K.
    • Perhaps 8 miles through rough terrain.


[KEY] Verse 18 is Jesus’ command for the food to be brought to Him.


  • Nothing to do with the boy’s extra-special sacrifice.
    • Matthew leaves him out of account.
    • Represents effort to find what they had to work with.


  • Jesus works with it too.
    • Did not need a starter kit.
    • Chose to use food to make food.
      • Could have turned “stones to bread” (cf. Matt. 4:3).
      • Would later command breakfast into existence.


[Question] “Why did Jesus use literal food to make food?”

  • What does next, gives us a clue.
    • He “…ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass” so they could observe this whole event.
    • Everyone clear, with miracle.


  • Took five loaves and two fish and “…looked up to heaven and said a blessing” (v. 19).
    • Jesus would do nothing without the Father’s blessing.
      • Jesus gave thanks!
      • Or literally blessed God for what being their Provider.


  • God’s blessing for Jesus to be refreshed.
    • To provide for crowd of believers.
      • First priority, blessing (Jewish tradition).
      • Second, He “broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples” (v. 19).


[POINT] Absolutely a miracle, still, performed through natural means.


  • Share bread by breaking bread.
    • Distribution by seating crowd in groups.


  • By team of ushers, “the disciples” (v. 19).


  • Manna, regularly provided on the ground, gathered (cf. Exodus 16).


ESV  Exodus 16:8 And Moses said, "When the LORD gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the LORD has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him--what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the LORD." (Exo 16:8 ESV)


ESV  Exodus 16:13 In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. (Exo 16:13 ESV)


  • Jesus is greater than Moses, greater than Elisha.


ESV  2 Kings 4:42-44 A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And Elisha said, "Give to the men, that they may eat."

43 But his servant said, "How can I set this before a hundred men?" So he repeated, "Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the LORD, 'They shall eat and have some left.'"

44 So he set it before them. And they ate and had some left, according to the word of the LORD. (2Ki 4:42-44 ESV)  


  • No physical description of miracle in any 4 Gospel accounts.


[Illus] Other examples might be the ram caught in the thicket, placed there for Abraham to substitute for sacrificing Isaac. A baby’s cry moved the daughter of Pharoah. Shepherd’s staff, the conduit for miracles. A boy’s sling kills Goliath, leading Israel to route the Philistine army.  The water there to be turned into wine. How about the Incarnation itself, supernatural conception, carried within the Mary’s womb, through the natural, normal gestation period, born through natural childbirth.


[POINT] You can miss the divine operations of the Lord in everyday life by seeking the supernatural instead of recognizing God’s intervening (daily) providence.


[Question] “Are miracles for today?”


  • Some claim all passed with close of Apostalic Age.


  • Miracles were validations of Jesus and Early Church.


  • James 5 where through the prayer of faith, healed of sickness.
    • Miracles by providence.
      • God’s time-table.
      • Not by “Office” or “Command.”


  • Anyone claiming Apostleship, not genuine w/o Apostalic credentials.
    • So, not for today.


  • Do not miss the principled point of miracles.


  • God is the Provider and Providence then is Providence now.


[KEY] Verse 20 tells us, mission accomplished! “And they all ate and were satisfied” (v. 20).


  • Jesus’ miracle provision was more than enough to feed everyone.


  • Do not think Jesus was measuring miracle in terms of how much food he could summon.
    • Could have been more, could have been less.


  • Jesus provided to the point of satisfaction!


  • Full feeding, all present.


  • This still was massive miracle.


[Illus] It is said, 1.2 semi-tracker trailer containers worth of bread, to feed 20k people.


[KEY] All enjoyed Jesus’ provision and were all welcome to join Jesus’ retreat.


  • Why the mention “…twelve baskets full of broken pieces left over?” (v. 20).
    • Jesus’ miracle was effortless.
      • Not just enough; more than enough.
      • Full faith in Jesus, fully meeting needs.


  • 12 baskets represent the 12 Apostles (12 tribes of Israel).
    • It is impossible to exhaust Jesus’ store.
    • Leaders serving the food, stock increases.


  • The Ox is not muzzled.


[KEY] Verse 21 builds same emphasis, “And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children” (v. 21).


  • More than “five thousand” there.
    • How many? Scripture not precise.
    • 15 to 25 thousand, all fed, with leftovers.
      • Fed without distinction or exclusion, of men, women, boy, girl.


  • All fed, all, the strong and weak made whole.


  • Picturing, Jesus saving the nations, heaven and the marriage supper of the lamb.
    • If Jesus wants you to stay in the desert with Him, then He will provide for you to be there with Him.
    • He is our Provider!


  • The overflow of His retreat!


[Point] A miracle of providence where people see in retrospection.


  • He superseded natural laws but administered real bread and fish.
    • Supernatural event through normal labor tasks.
    • Even picking up remaining scraps sublimated any sense hokus pokus, supernaturalism-worship.


  • Worship Jesus, not His miracle.
    • Bless God for Provision and see Provision in Daily Providence.
    • Contrast polarization from Jesus is the Bread of Life.


Conclusion: The story takes a real shift from Jesus going on retreat to being the One to whom we find retreat.


  • Find your rest in Jesus and be willing to follow His guidance to take a retreat.


  • Private retreat turned into a conference.


  • Introverts?


  • Retreat, when focus is Christ.
    • A divided focus will drain you.
    • A united focus will refresh you.


  • The Mass of people in Heaven are fixed on Christ.


[Next Week]




  1. Presenting opportunities to mentor (vv. 22-33)


  1. Pouring out blessing on spontaneous needs (vv. 34-36)


 [Illus] An old man whose son had been convicted of gross crimes in the army and sentenced to be shot came and plead with Lincoln. As the boy was an only son, the case appealed to Lincoln; but he had just received a telegram from Butler (War Democrat, Brigadier General of Massachusetts, Militia. Known as “Beast”). The telegram read: “Mr. President, I beg you not to interfere with the court martials of the army. You will destroy all discipline in the army.” Lincoln handed the old man the telegram and watched the shadow of disappointment and sorrow come over the man’s face as he read the message. Lincoln suddenly seized his hand and exclaimed, “By jingo! Butler or no Butler, here goes!” He wrote out an order and handed it to the father. The man read the order, which was as follows: “Job Smith [the boy] is not to be shot until further orders from me, Abraham Lincoln.” “Why,” said the father, “I thought this was going to be a pardon. You may order him to be shot next week.” Lincoln replied, “My old friend, evidentially you do not understand my character. If your son is never shot until an order comes from me, he will live to be as old as Methuselah.”
















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