Here is my sermon from Sunday, in case you were unable to make it to church. If you were able to make it to church but didn’t go, I recommend that you make a greater effort to be there this coming Sunday.
God provides. It’s a lesson we learn our entire lives. And yet, it’s one that we already know. We learn it even when we are little children. We teach it to our children. But this world is so difficult and so distracting, that it never hurts us to learn it again. This week, we hear the feeding of the 4000 and get to learn it even better. And that’s a good thing.
There are two miraculous feedings in Jesus ministry. He feeds the 5000 with five loaves and two fish. That’s the 4th Sunday in Lent. And then in midsummer we have Jesus feeding the 4000 with seven loaves and a few fish. The 5000 gets more attention. Relatively speaking it’s a greater miracle. More people fed with less food. But a miracle already breaks the rules for how things work in this world. We can’t just magic up some food. So, it could be feeding 100 with those seven loaves, we are still not able to fill stomachs without going somewhere to get more. A miracle, however small, is still miraculous, still proof of Jesus divine power. It’s why the world rejects the idea of miracles. But these are not some children’s games. The people in Jesus day weren’t backwater rubes, easily fooled. They saw the lame walk, the blind see, the dead raised. And today, they feel their stomach’s filled. Jesus can make food at will, because he is the Word of God, who was with God in the beginning when all things were made. Without him, nothing was made that has been made.
So our Old Testament reading – the creation of Man and the planting of Eden – is about the work of our Lord Jesus Christ just as much as the feeding of the 4000 is. There was nothing, then God spoke and it was. The heavens and the earth, the sun moon and stars, the sea and land, the animals, plants, birds, fish. It was all created by the Word of God. Jesus was there. And when God said “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”, Jesus was a part of that divine conversation. The mystery of the Holy Trinity is far greater and deeper than the mystery of seven loaves and a few fish. And yet we confess this great mystery – the Father who creates, the Son who is with him in the creation, who is the Word of God itself calling forth light from darkness, and who was there when the Man was formed out of the dust of the ground, when the garden was planted in Eden. Our heavenly Father provides for us. But so does the Son. We can’t separate the work of one from the other in that way, as if the Father is the only one active in creation. John tells us in the Christmas reading, “The Word was with God and the Word was God, and all things were made through him, and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”
Here is God, dwelling among us. Bread isn’t a hard thing for Jesus. He made the ground produce every tree that is good for food. Not by going out and planting seeds, but by an act of his will. He willed it, and the trees came into being. Now, the plants produce the seeds to keep the food production going year after year, because God created them to do so. It’s all the work of God.
So, by the time we get to the desolate place with the 4000 and the seven loaves and a few fish, God has been providing for humanity’s needs for a few thousand years already. Each stalk of wheat, each new lamb or calf, each apple, all given by him. The disciples don’t know how they can possibly feed the people – even though Jesus has already done the feeding of the 5,000. So he repeats himself. He feeds the 4,000. Do you get it now? Food or no food is all the same to him.
This brings us to another point – Jesus can make food anytime he wants. When he turns down the temptation of Satan, “If you are the Son of God command these stones to become bread” – we see that he is not under the rule of Satan like we are. He has not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. That’s why he endures the 40 days with no food. Not because he can’t create food out of stones. But he hasn’t come to be comforted in his body and fattened up. Instead, he fasts nearly to the point of death. He has come to teach and perform signs and wonders not for his convenience, but as a sign that Jesus is the promised one from heaven, so that when he is killed on that cross, we would know that he died for us. That’s why Jesus came, and it’s what he does.
So, his own comfort and need, he denies. Others in need – he is distraught. He really is. He says “I have Compassion on the crowd…” The word for Compassion – is Splanknizomai. It’s the word for when you are so concerned about your neighbor that you feel a sinking feeling in your stomach. These people are about to pass out. He can see they are worried, they realize now what a mistake they made, and they are trying to figure out how to get safely back home. He is filled with hurt for them. He wants to help them.
These are people who came with him into the desert to hear him speak. They listened for three days – they ate all their food. You can almost hear them three days earlier, “This is certainly enough. We’ll be back tomorrow, maybe the next day at the latest. Otherwise, the basket will be too heavy.” And off they go. Listening to Jesus teach. What an example they are to us – listening for three days. He would have long since healed all the sick – they were in a desolate place, not a city where more and more would keep coming. They wanted to hear and learn the Word of God. May our ears be so attentive, may our hearts be open to receive the Word and promise of God at all times.
Three days in, this is going from pleasant jaunt into the fields straight to “potential catastrophe.” Jesus is moved with compassion for the crowd. And so, he tells the disciples to feed them. Gather some food, hand it to me, and wait while I multiply it. But that’s not how they see it. Not enough food here. We can’t feed them all.
It’s one thing to say, I trust in the Lord. It’s another to trust in him against all evidence and even what your own eyes see and your own reason tells you must be true. We don’t see miracles now like they did then. Don’t plant, the grain doesn’t grow. Don’t work, the food isn’t on the table. He doesn’t arrange for miraculous feedings like this anymore.
But then, he only did it twice in his ministry. And both times there were other reasons for it. It wasn’t because he was planning some food-commune where the people bowed down and then every day at 8, noon and 6 a meal was placed before them. They try that after the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus heads for the hills – literally. Now, he heads for the lake. He feeds them, then sends them on their way. This is the conclusion of the instruction. He crosses over the sea of galilee, and is immediately questioned by the Pharisees. They want a sign from heaven. He refuses and warns the disciples about the leaven of the Pharisees – which is a warning against false doctrine. The disciples think he’s giving baking tips, and complaining because they didn’t bring bread with them. Jesus next words are worth hearing – even though they are right after our reading.
And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”
This isn’t about food. The feeding of the 5000, the feeding of the 4000, was never about food. It was about God providing for his people. Jesus doesn’t need loaves. “We didn’t bring bread!” – they still can’t see beyond the things of this world. That will eventually change. Once the death and resurrection of Jesus are finished, once the Spirit descends on them, then disciples will be the apostles – the witnesses of Jesus to the ends of the earth. And they will proclaim him boldly, and will suffer much for the sake of the Gospel.
Now, we have this account recorded for us, so that we would not doubt the goodness of the Lord in our own day, when unbelief runs so rampant, and hearts are cold, and prayers are weak. We have this example so that we would set our minds on things above, not the things of this earth.
We spend our whole lives learning this lesson – that God provides for us and takes care of us and will never forsake us. And we learn it so that at the end, when we face death, we will not believe what our eyes see and our ears hear even as they fail, but we will know of the resurrection. We practice this at funerals – we lower the body into the ground in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. We practice this at the Divine Service, “Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word. For mine eyes have seen the salvation that thou hast prepared in the sight of all people.” That salvation is the body and blood of the Lord that we just took into our mouths at his command. We are given life through that promise.
We practice this because Satan never stops lying to us. “Did God really say?” Did he say “do this often in remembrance of me”. Aren’t we fine without this word and promise? Isn’t our faith strong enough to do without the services of the church? And he’ll wait until the end and say “Did God really say that if you repent and you turn away from sin then your sins are forgiven?” “Because you didn’t really turn away from your sin did you?”
And that’s when we must trust not what our eyes see or ears hear, or even our minds perceive, but we must trust the word and promise of our Lord Jesus who was there when we were formed from the dust, and who not only created, but recreated us in his death and resurrection. We must see with the eyes of faith that when Christ forgives sins through his Holy Church, those sins are forgiven. The guilt is taken away. And there is no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
And that’s the true lesson behind all of this. God provides for us. He provides food and shelter and clothing. So also He provides us with the redemption, the forgiveness of sins, he takes the sin away and gives us life in place of death. And our eyes can not see that in this world. Not until he returns and raises us to the new life he has promised us in his own resurrection. That’s why we confess this new life in the creeds, and why we continue to hear and learn that God does provide for us. So that we would not get caught up in the things of this world, but set our eyes, our minds, our hearts on things above.
So that, as we learn to trust him for daily bread, which he provides each day, so also we would learn that is gracious and merciful to forgive our sins, to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, and to raise us up on the last day.
Grant this Lord, unto us all.