March 20, 2022 Jesus Withdrew

Jesus Withdrew

March 20, 2022




Scripture: Matthew 14:13-14.


Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.[1]


What Jesus heard was that John the Baptist had been beheaded. We spoke about that last week.


Jesus withdrew to a desolate place. Desolate means there is nothing there! There would be no people. There would be no food. There would be no stores. Desolate means the absence of everything! To emphasize this, Matthew adds the words, “by himself.” Matthew wishes to communicate that Jesus did not even bring any of his disciples with him. He was alone.


We need to see this! Jesus chose solitude.


Solitude is one of the spiritual disciplines.


But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness;

    8      for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.[2]


The word for “discipline” is translated “train” in the ESV and “exercise” in the NKJV.


The context of Paul’s letter to Timothy is immensely practical. He is telling Timothy how to succeed in his own sanctification as well as how to succeed in leading God’s people. In writing of exercise or training or discipline he uses the term γυμναζε (gumnaze), from which we get our word “gymnasium.” Instead of spending time on godless myths and legends, Paul tells his son in the faith that he is to be at work in the spiritual gymnasium. He likens this training for godliness to bodily training in verse 8, but better because bodily training only helps you in this life while spiritual discipline helps you in this life and the life to come.


We are used to seeing coaches and their athletes in almost all sports. We see them in school environments, in the Olympics, as well as on TV during professional sporting events. We might think that this is a more modern phenomenon, but it is not. It has been going on for thousands of years. In Paul’s day, and throughout the Mediterranean world, it was a familiar sight to see physical trainers with their charges. Everyone knew what was involved in training for the enhancement of physical powers. Paul points out that there is a precise parallel phenomenon in the spiritual realm and draws upon that parallel in his statement. Just as with the physical, there is a specific round of activities that we must do to establish, maintain, and enhance our spiritual power. If we neglect these we will likely be a casualty in the war of the worlds – the war between Christ’s kingdom and Satan’s.


One must train as well as try. An athlete may have all the enthusiasm in the world and may even have a lot of knowledge about his sport, but knowledge and enthusiasm is not enough to win the prize. One must practice!


Similarly, the disciple of Christ must live up to his name. It is not enough to talk about one’s faith. (We ought to, though. Sadly, there are some Christians that never let others know about the gospel. All they do is go to work, or work around the house, and watch TV! It is questionable whether a person even has saving faith if they never share it.) Nor is it enough to simply know what our faith is about. We must train wisely and intensely. How do we do that? We use what is known as the spiritual disciplines, without which we may fail in our walk with the Lord.


Solitude is one of the spiritual disciplines.


As a spiritual discipline, we may define solitude in this way: It is the purposeful abstaining from interaction with other human beings in order to draw closer to God.


John the Baptist practiced it.


This wilderness that John was in, was it like the wilderness across the street from a group of houses? Or, was it separated from others? If it was just what we would call “the woods” down the street, then wouldn’t it be an easy thing for him to eat whatever was in the market? Yes, it would have been. But he ate bugs and honey. He was really in the wilderness and he was by himself. He was alone. He engaged in solitude and it may be that this was one of the reasons for the power of his preaching. Like Jesus, the crowds would begin to come to him anyways. But, at first, he was alone.


Jesus practiced it.


After he feeds the five thousand, we read:


And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,[3]


This was a regular practice for our Lord:


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. [4]


Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.[5]


He was led into the wilderness and was there for forty days and nights fasting. Jesus exercised two spiritual disciplines together: solitude and fasting. The wilderness, the place of solitude and deprivation, was the place of strength and strengthening for our Lord and it was the Spirit who led him there to ensure that Christ was in the best possible condition for the trial. It goes without saying that he would be in the best possible condition spiritually, not physically.


I like the comments that the great teacher, Dallas Willard, made about this passage:


In that desert solitude, Jesus fasted for more than a month. Then, and not before, Satan was allowed to approach him with his glittering proposals of bread, notoriety, and power. Only then was Jesus at the height of his strength. The desert was his fortress, his place of power. Throughout his life he sought the solitary place as an indirect submission of his own physical body to righteousness.[6]


Just as the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, he will lead you.


Paul practiced it.


“But then something happened! For even before I was born, God had chosen me to be his and called me—what kindness and grace— 16 to reveal his Son within me so that I could go to the Gentiles and show them the Good News about Jesus.

When all this happened to me I didn’t go at once and talk it over with anyone else; 17 I didn’t go up to Jerusalem to consult with those who were apostles before I was. No, I went away into the deserts of Arabia and then came back to the city of Damascus.”[7]


Paul did not consult with anyone – not any other human being. Rather, he went into Arabia. Arabia is mostly wilderness. We learn from Acts that there is a three-year period missing in Paul’s life after his conversion. This must be the time that he dwelt in Arabia. This does not necessarily mean that he spent the entire three years in the desert. Yet, since he did not consult with anyone, he likely did live in Arabia in solitude, preparing himself for his mission. This is also the time that he had his experience of being transported to heaven, which he describes in 2 Corinthians 12.


Solitude is a place and time where the presence of God can be realized in a more intimate way.


Solitude frees us from distractions. Human interactions are a good thing. Conversations can be pleasant and companionship is a favorable possession. At the same time, they so easily distract us from our pursuit of God. This is true even if all our friends and family members are believers because the mundane things of life take so much of our thought and time.


To compound matters, in the modern era of electronics we are barraged by the radio and television; and the internet beckons for us to touch the keyboard. How easy it is to turn on the idiot box (tv) and have our senses stimulated! But it a distraction to godly pursuit. To remove ourselves from both human interaction and the constant noise of electronic voices and music frees us from distractions and allows us to seek the face of God.


Solitude strengthens us. Solitude and prayer strengthened the Lord Jesus. It will do the same for us for we are his followers. It strengthens us in two ways. Jesus was strengthened to resist temptation through his fasting, prayer, and solitude. We, too, will discover strength to resist temptation as we are alone with the Lord. Jesus was strengthened to accomplish his calling through his time alone with the Father.


In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.[8]


The Lord went to the mountain alone and spent the night in prayer. Then he knew who, among the many who were following him, would be his apostles. To disciple others was one of the callings of the Lord. Likewise, when we are alone with the Lord we are strengthened to accomplish our calling.


Solitude strengthens us both to resist temptation and to fulfill our calling.


It settles us. A Christian woman named Ruth Barton was faithful. By faithful I mean that she was a good mother to her children, a dutiful wife, and was at church whenever the doors were open. In fact, she was a leader to other women in the church. But she sensed that not everything was right. She experienced a lack of love for both her husband and her children. She felt a lack of peace and a hunger for God that was not satisfied by her routine prayers and bible studies. These experiences concerned her so she went to a friend for counsel who was a professional counselor.


Her friend told her, “Ruth, you are like a jar of river water all shaken up. What you need is to sit still long enough that the sediment can settle and the water can become clear.”


Ruth, at first, didn’t like what she heard because she could not imagine her life without a flurry of activity. But she soon realized her friend was right. Our lives are not only crowded with voices and noise outside of us, but they are crowded with voices and noise within us. Sometimes these are a distraction as much as, if not more, than the outward things.


As Ruth began to practice solitude and silence her inner life did begin to settle. She began to experience peace, love, and an intimacy with God. She eventually wrote this: “…my journey into solitude and silence has been the single most meaningful aspect of my spiritual life to date – a pretty strong statement for one who has been a Christian since she was four years old!”[9] And, she wrote a whole book on the subject!


Solitude settles us if practiced in the right way.


We should practice solitude because our exemplars did in the New Testament. Practically we ought to practice it because it frees us, it strengthens us, and it settles us.


How do we practice solitude?


We need a sacred place. We have already seen that John, Jesus, and Paul went into the wilderness or the mountain to be alone with God. If we had time we could look at some of the OT prophets and see that they, too, went to a desolate place to commune with the Living God. The outdoors, the woods, a secluded meadow – these types of places are ideal for solitude because, obviously,


  • you seldom find other people there,
  • but also because the beauty of creation testifies to the goodness of God in the midst of our pursuit.
  • More, it is quiet except for the sounds of the wind gently blowing through trees and birds singing.


Another place can be in your own home if you set aside a place to create a quiet environment without distractions.


We need a sacred time. This simply means that you schedule a time when you will be alone with the Lord and you do not allow anything to break the appointment. It is not enough merely to have an intention. Write it down on your calendar. Start with a modest goal, especially if it is a new practice for you. Fifteen minutes, twenty minutes, or a half hour might be good starting points. Once you become accustomed to being alone with the Lord the time with Him can be hours and even days.


We need sacred practices. What do we do? I mentioned spiritual disciplines. Solitude is one. Prayer, fasting, and silence are others. They can be exercised together. But, you may wish to reserve fasting for longer periods. Thus, when beginning, you may wish to divide your time between verbal prayer (prayer using your voice rather than silent prayer) and silence.


At first, do not allow your prayers to consist of asking for things. Even if they are things that you think you need. Rather, let your prayer be one that involves your relationship with the Lord - one that expresses your desire or need for God. Ruth Barton recommends that you use a short phrase and use it repetitively. I concur with her recommendation. Jesus did not deny the use of repetition in prayer. (See Notes on Matthew, Part Thirty).


Why a short phrase as a prayer? Because it will help in reducing our own mental distractions. In conversational prayer, it may be that our minds are racing just as they often do at other times of the day. This does not mean that you must restrict your prayer to just a few words. You may begin with a short phrase and move into conversational prayer once our minds are settled.


During the last portion of your time, simply be in silence. Rest your body, mind, and soul. This may be the hardest part of what we do. We are so used to activity that we may find it hard to simply be still and know that He is God.


End with a prayer of gratitude for God’s presence.


Finally, resist the urge to judge yourself or your experiences during your time. The purpose is simply to be alone with Him. Whatever your time was like, it will become better the more often you practice it.


What am I advocating? I am advocating that you withdraw, as Jesus did. Solitude can actually be difficult if you are someone who always seems to need “background noise” in your living environment. But, remember what solitude is. It is a discipline. It is a kind of training. This means that you start small and build up. If you are not accustomed to it, do not try to start with three days of solitude. I suggest that, if you are not already practicing solitude, that you begin with a short time. Maybe just one hour or two. As your mind becomes accustomed to this beautiful discipline, you can extend the time later.


This very day, when you get home, look at the calendar and choose a day, a place, and a time to withdraw from everyone and be alone with the God who loves you and seeks your consecration! Then do it!



[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 14:13–14). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (1 Ti 4:7–8). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 14:23). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mk 1:35). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 4:1–2). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] Willard, Dallas; The Spirit of the Disciplines, Harper & Row, 102)

[7] The Living Bible (Galatians 1:15-17)

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Lk 6:12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[9] Barton, Ruth Haley, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, IVP, 17)