More Than a Miracle Worker (Matthew 13:53–14:36)

Most cellphones today come equipped with passcodes, facial recognition software, fingerprint scanning capabilities, and multistep-step user verification. Why? It’s all for the purpose of ensuring that whoever is accessing the information stored inside the device is the person who should be accessing all the information stored inside the device! We understand that failure to identify—or misidentifying—the one using the phone can bring frustration, inconvenience, danger, and even harm. Simply stated, identity recognition and conformation can be serious business.

What’s true of cellphone access and private data is exponentially (and eternally) more true about the person of Jesus Christ. Failing to rightly recognize, confirm, and prioritize the true identity of the Saviour has dire consequences. There simply could not be more at stake.


Identity recognition can be serious business. 

Growing up, my parents gave my brothers and I a password for protection—a random word known only by our immediate family. If there was ever an emergency in which our parents had to send someone to get us from school, a friend’s house, or sport practice, they would give the chauffeur this password so that their children could confirm the identity of the individual ushering us to their vehicle. If they knew the password we would know they were who they said they were and were there to do what they said they were there to do. (Parents had to be more creative before cellphones, huh?)

Speaking of cellphones, today they have passcodes, facial recognition software, fingerprint scanning, and multistep-step user verification all to confirm that whoever is accessing the information on the device should be accessing the information on the device because damage can be done if not. 

Rightly identifying who someone is can impact our safety, prosperity, and peace of mind in this life. But we’re going to be reminded this morning that it can impact the life to come as well. More specifically, it’s the identity of Jesus we must rightly recognize, confirm, and prioritize. If we fail to do that, damage is done.

In the text today we’re going to see, first, several examples of people confused about who Jesus is and then, in contrast, we’ll see Jesus’s disciples who are actually growing in their understanding of who he is.

Misunderstanding Jesus’s Identity

We’ll start with the negative and highlight three groups of people who are misunderstanding Jesus’s identity. Matthew recounted that the people of Nazareth, the people in the palace, and the people of Gennesaret were all unclear as to who Jesus really was, about the identity of his person.

Don’t get me wrong, they saw his work (see 13:53–54; 14:1–2, 36). It seems everyone was noticing Jesus’s his miracles and teaching. How could they not? It was obviously supernatural. 

His work wasn’t the issue. It was his person that was consistently misjudged. Look back to his hometown visit.

“Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? 

Matthew 13:55–56a

They know him, his family, his roots. This could be an example of crabs in a bucket, the ones at the bottom pulling down all who dare to strive for freedom. Or, perhaps these people believed what others were saying about them (see John 1:46).

Whatever the case, this familiarity with Jesus prompted the rejection the person of Jesus.

“Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.

Matthew 13:56b–58

The old adage is true: Familiarity breeds contempt. And, because of their misidentification of his person, Jesus shuts off the power as well.

In chapter 14 we may move from a backwater town to a palace but the confusion remains the same.

“This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

Matthew 14:2

Again, while Jesus’s power can’t be ignored, his person is misunderstood.

Finally, there’s the people of Gennesaret at the end of the chapter. Jesus and his crew arrive on their shores and are swarmed. Why? Because the people know of his power.

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Him, they sent word into all that surrounding district and brought to Him all who were sick; and they implored Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were cured.

Matthew 14:34–36

No mention of his teachings or his claims to be King, they just want the power. They seem indifferent to his person, his identity.

So, we have hometown familiarity, palace ignorance, and foreign apathy. All three groups see his obviously supernatural works but consistently misjudge his person; they miss his identity.

In 2020, Ligonier Ministries surveyed self-professing evangelicals in the USA to determine the state of Christian theology. One statement to which participants were asked to respond was this: “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God.” Thirty percent agreed.

Nothing has changed in 2000 years. Many people see and enjoy the works of his power, the life he offers, the teachings they like best, but it’s the identity of Jesus that trips us up.

Before we move away from the misunderstandings of Jesus’s identity, I want to highlight something about his future. More specifically, this passage subtly foreshadows the death of the person of Jesus.

Moving on in chapter 14, Matthew tells us why Herod had John the Baptist on the brain.

For when Herod had John arrested, he bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. For John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Although Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded John as a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod, so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Having been prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” Although he was grieved, the king commanded it to be given because of his oaths, and because of his dinner guests. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. His disciples came and took away the body and buried it; and they went and reported to Jesus.

Matthew 14:3–12

John was arrested for teaching truth and killed for righteousness’ sake by an unrighteous, cowardly leader wanting to save face and look powerful. Sound familiar?

Jesus will soon be arrested for teaching truth and put to death for righteousness’ sake by unrighteous, cowardly rulers wanting to save face and maintain power.“John preceded the Messiah in birth and in mission; and he now precedes him in a violent death” (Plummer, Matthew, 201). From this point on in Matthew, Jesus’s death, foreshadowed here, looms increasingly large over the narrative.

Back to the identity of Jesus. With all these people misidentifying his person, Jesus begins to pull away from his public ministry.

Now when Jesus heard about John, He withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself; and when the people heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities.

Matthew 14:13

And what we’ll find is that Jesus is withdrawing so as to focus on his disciples that they might understand his identity. While many are misunderstanding who he is, he wants to make sure they don’t.

When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick.

Matthew 14:14

He tries to get away but can’t and, as disappointed as he may have been, Jesus’s amazing compassion is seen again as he heals masses of people with no indication they believe his message. And, after a full day of work, the twelve come to Jesus and tell him what to do.

When it was evening, the disciples came to Him and said, “This place is desolate and the hour is already late; so send the crowds away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”

Matthew 14:15

Here comes the teaching moment.

But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!”

Matthew 14:16

Later we’ll be told there’s probably 10,000 hungry people there and Jesus says, “You do it.” The disciples are at a loss.

They said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” And He said, “Bring them here to Me.” Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.

Matthew 14:17–21

Jesus, seeing the disciples’ confusion, takes the food they have, blesses it, breaks it, and, note this, gives it back to the disciples who give it to the people.

This scene may have reminded the Jewish crowd of Moses bringing bread from heaven or pointed them forward to the coming Messianic banquet the prophets anticipated. But more immediately, this miracle is training for the twelve, showing them what it’s like to be conduits of Jesus power to needy people (v. 19b).

Jesus, withdrawing from the crowds, is preparing his disciples for their future work, a time when he won’t be around because of the death that was just foreshadowed in John’s.

But there’s still no indication that the disciples are understanding Jesus’s identity any better than anyone else, is there?

This is where the final scene of our text is important.

Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.

Matthew 14:22–23

Once again, Jesus withdraws from public ministry to be alone and, again, this sets up another lesson for his disciples, one that, this time, really has to do with understanding who Jesus is.

But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea.

Matthew 14:24–25

How do the disciples respond?

When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.

Matthew 14:26

Here we think, “Oh, no! Even the disciples don’t understand his person!” But, Jesus wants them to, and so …

But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Matthew 14:27

They’ve seen his power countless times before, but Jesus wants them to grasp his person as well—who he is. Well, Peter, representing the disciples, needs confirmation.

Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and *said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind stopped.

Matthew 14:28–32

The power was sufficient for the task before Peter. It was Peter’s faith in the person with the power that failed him.

At this point, the question still lingers: Do the disciples understand who Jesus is? At first they thought he was a ghost but then Peter took that step of faith but then he sunk. So, are they learning?

And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!”

Matthew 14:33

Now we’re getting there! They may not fully grasp the identity of Jesus yet, but they’re making progress. And, tying that to the feeding of the multitudes, that’s going to be important. If they’re going to be conduits of his power in his absence they’ve got to grasp his person. They have to understand the identity of him who they represent, him who they proclaim, and him to whom they are loyal.

While the work Christ can and does do is wonderful, attractive, and exciting, it is who Christ is that’s the true treasure. It’s his person. His identity as God the Son incarnate, Saviour, Redeemer, Intercessor. As his followers today we must guard against trusting in anything other than the identity of Jesus.

Founders of other religions make various claims: “I have found the way,” “I have seen the way,” “God has shown me the way,” and “I can tell you the way.” But in Christ we have one who says, “I am the way.”

When Jesus walked on earth, opinions about him and reactions to him were diverse as we’ve seen today. Many misunderstood his identity, rejecting him, scoffing at him, and using him. Others, however, were slowly learning his identity: “You certainly are God’s Son!”

Prioritize the Person of Jesus!

This passage lays before each of us—and all of us together as a church family—the invitation and charge from God to prioritize the person of Jesus! 

Don’t let familiarity distract from how special he is like those in Nazareth. Don’t allow ignorance to stop us from marvelling at his uniqueness like Herod. Don’t let apathy push us into using Jesus merely for what he can do like those living at Gennesaret. 

No, we need to prioritize the person of Jesus. We need to grow in our understanding that Jesus is enough, that Jesus is our salvation, that Jesus is our treasure, that Jesus is our goal. That his person—who he is—is endlessly fascinating, infinitely satisfying, inexhaustibly beautiful, and perfectly glorious. Without his person, we have nothing; with him, we have more than we understand (see Ephesians 1:3–14).

As we close I want to give us all a one- or two-verse reading assignment to help us better prioritize the person of Jesus this week. And, there are five options—I’ll let you decide which is right for you.

First, if you’re seeking today, prioritize the person of Jesus by reading John 14:6. “Jesus said to him [Thomas], ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.’” Read and mediate on that self-identification from Jesus and ask him to reveal himself to you.

Second, if you’re struggling—wrestling with doubts, fear, and assurance—prioritize the person of Jesus by reading Hebrews 13:8. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” The Saviour you trusted years ago has not shifted one iota even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death. His promises stand, his person is rock solid. Read that statement and ask God for comfort.

Third, if you’re stagnating in your faith, prioritize the person of Jesus by reading Hebrews 12:1–2. “… let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The fix for apathy is locking your attention on the beauty of the Lord Jesus, doing the hard work of running after him but, if your eyes are anywhere else, you’ll falter. 

Fourth, if you’re serving—working hard for the Lord and loving it—prioritize the person of Jesus by reading Colossians 3:23–24. “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” It’s easy for our motivation to drift away from pleasing Jesus and toward pleasing others. Keep his person central to your service.

Finally, if you’re suffering these days, prioritize the person of Jesus by reading Revelation 1:17–18. “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” If you’re suffering, in pain, destitute, or desperate, know that, in Christ, because of who he is, death has been conquered, relief is coming, eternity awaits.

Brothers and sisters, it’s all about the person of Jesus—God’s Son, our Saviour, the promised Messiah and the coming King. Let’s prioritize his person starting right now in prayer.


Josiah Boyd

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