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lonely young woman 

Ever have of those seasons when life is so hard because things seem to keep getting worse, and it is just one thing after another? Rejection, grief, lack of rest, pressures of responsibility, danger, and the unexpected challenges all come crashing down on you?

Did you ever stop to consider that Jesus also experienced such times? I am reading through the entire New Testament this Lent season. It is a nice change from the more intense study of specific passages. One great advantage of reading straight through the gospels is you see the bigger picture. You start to understand how each event moves into the next and how each experience impacts the people involved.

Take Matthew chapter 14 for example. At the beginning of the chapter, all is well.  Jesus goes and sits by the lake. Nice. Right? He is spending the day teaching by the lake. The crowd gets so big that he has to move out onto a boat and speak from there. He teaches all day using parables about sowers, weeds, a mustard seed and more. When he is done teaching, Jesus moves on to his hometown.

And this is when things start to go downhill fast. His hometown has trouble accepting Jesus as a teacher. Verse 57 says they took offense at him. And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith. Jesus was rejected.

Then Matthew tells us a ‘meanwhile back at the palace story’. While Jesus is being rejected at home, John the Baptist is in serious trouble. King Herod has John beheaded. John’s disciples bury him and then come to tell Jesus. With the wounds of rejection still fresh, Jesus is now struck by grief. Like many of us, his first reaction is to want to be alone for a while.

But do you see what happens next? He gets no down time. The people follow him and even so,  he has compassion for them. Rejected, grieving, and weary Jesus still reaches out to minister to those around Him. Over five thousand people have gathered by now. They are tired and hungry. I suspect Jesus was tired and hungry himself. Still, He performs a miracle so they can be fed and his disciples can be taught an important lesson. Surely, Jesus will get a break after this, right?

Not yet. We are told that immediately after feeding the multitude Jesus tells the disciples to go out in a boat while he, Jesus, stays behind to dismiss the crowd. By now he must be exhausted. He has not even had time to properly grieve over his cousin John. Yet, once again, he is sees to the needs of other first.  At last, with the disciples in the boat and the crowd dispersed, Jesus has time to go up to the mountain and pray. After all he has been through; Jesus finds a quiet solitary place to pray.

Just as we are starting to breathe thinking everything is going to calm down now and get back to ‘normal’ – Matthew tells another ‘meanwhile’ story. This one is ‘meanwhile out on the lake’…the wind and waves are crashing against the disciple’s boat tossing it about. It is a dangerous, life threatening time and they are frightened! Then just before dawn…wait…just before dawn? Did Jesus or the disciples get any sleep at all? Just before dawn, Jesus walks out on the water towards them. There is the whole exchange with Peter stepping out of the boat in faith, then starting to sink because of doubt, then being rescued by Jesus and finally as they both climb into the boat the storm stops. Deep breath…so many lessons in that one story.

But this is not where the story of chapter 14 ends. It ends with them arriving in a new town after their harrowing night. Word quickly spreads that Jesus has arrived, and more people come to him in need of his healing touch. One chapter…one chapter of Matthew tells of a very brief season in Jesus’ life when he experienced rejection, grief, lack of rest, the pressure of responsibility, danger and unexpected challenges – all one right after the other and over the span of just a few days. Are you in a tough season? He understands. He has been there.

Paul has been there too. He offers encouragement in 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 : “ But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (NIV) Do you need more encouragement? Read through one of the gospels this spring. Look for the bigger picture. Note how Jesus responded to His tough seasons and follow His perfect example.