The Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 30, 2014
St. John 6:14-15
Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, "This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world." Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone. St. John 6:14-15
Moses was the prophet. He wrote the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. These books were known as the Law. The Law of Moses was the written standard by which all subsequent prophets were judged. The Old Testament scriptures did not fall down from heaven. They were written by inspiration of the Holy Spirit here on earth over a period of about a thousand years. There were many writings after Moses that were not written by prophets and did not receive confirmation from prophets. These writings were not included in the Old Testament canon. Only the genuinely prophetic writings, judged according to the standard set forth in the writings of Moses, became a part of the Holy Scriptures. What is written in the Holy Scriptures was and is and will always be the standard by which to judge all teachers and teachings in the church.
Moses was the prophet. By Moses, God demonstrated his superior power over the false gods of the Egyptians. By Moses, God led his people Israel out of Egypt by the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea on dry ground. By Moses, God gave Israel the Ten Commandments. By Moses God led them for forty years in their wandering about the Sinai peninsula, raining manna from heaven, providing them with their daily bread, teaching them, disciplining them, that they might know that they did not live on bread alone by on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. Moses was the prophet.
But Moses was not the final word. The Ten Commandments of Mt. Sinai revealed the glory of God’s holiness. No one has ever been able to come up with a holier standard of conduct or a better description of the law of love than that set forth in the Ten Commandments. But the Ten Commandments stand in judgment against us because we have not obeyed them. We have set aside God’s standards for our own, attempting to remake him in our own image, as if God must conform himself to our will. This is sin. God’s voice from Mt. Sinai speaks thunder against the whole human race. God’s law causes spiritual pain. God promised to the people another Prophet who would be their answer to the law. We read in Deuteronomy 18:15-19,
Jesus is this prophet. This is what the people confessed after they saw him feed five thousand men, plus women and children, with two fish and five small loaves of bread. Like Moses, Jesus taught the people with divine authority. Like Moses, Jesus did signs no one else could do. Like Moses, Jesus fed the people by means of a miraculous feeding. Surely, the people thought, Jesus was the promised Prophet who would be like Moses, that God would raise up for Israel from among their brothers. So they tried to make Jesus their king and they would have done so by force had Jesus not left them and gone off by himself to the mountain alone.
You don’t make Jesus your king. You don’t decide what kind of a king he is, what kind of authority he exercises, or how he exercises it. The crowd wanted to refashion Jesus to meet their own desires and they would have done so if Jesus had let them. But he wouldn’t let them. He will never let them.
The feeding of the five thousand shows us who Jesus is. Only God can make something out of nothing. Jesus did what only God could do. Moses did not provide manna from heaven. God did. When Jesus fed the five thousand by a miracle that Moses could never do, he was teaching them and us that every good thing we have in this world for either body or soul is given to us by his mediation. When we think of Jesus as our Mediator we usually think of the spiritual benefits that Jesus provides. He obtains the spiritual blessings of forgiveness of sins, peace with God, deliverance from the power of death and the devil, and eternal salvation. But Jesus also obtains for us all our material benefits as well. He who invited us to pray for our daily bread ensures that we are fed. This miracle proves that.
And it is precisely as Jesus provides his disciples with their daily bread that he teaches them to put their affections first on the spiritual food that he wants to give them to eat. Later on in John chapter six, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” They sought from him food for their bodies. He promised them food that provides eternal life for body and soul. They wanted a king who would provide them with their material needs. They wanted the gifts from God that they could see, and touch, and taste. He had something far more precious to give them. He said:
The Jesus who taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” is the God who not only provides us with daily bread for our dying bodies, but who gave his immortal body into death for us so by his death and resurrection our dying bodies might become bodies that will never die.
He also taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come.” It is human nature to want to refashion Jesus to become a different kind of a king than he is. It is the nature of fallen and sinful humanity to put our bodily needs above our spiritual needs and to neglect our spiritual needs in favor of our bodily needs. There is no human trait more obvious that this one.
This is why Christians skip church. Whether they miss church because they have to work or because they want to play or because they’re just plain tired and worn out, they are in any event putting their bodily needs above their spiritual needs. This is what those people who tried to make Jesus their king were doing. But Jesus won’t cooperate. St. John records, “He departed again to the mountain by himself alone.” He won’t permit it. You want what Jesus has to give after you’ve taken care of your bodily needs? That’s not how it works. You’ve got the order wrong. In talking about the things we need to support our bodies and lives in this world, Jesus said: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
“Thy kingdom come” comes before “Give us this day our daily bread.” What is this kingdom? How does it come? Here is the answer the Catechism provides:
The words of Jesus are Spirit and life, he says. His kingdom is a kingdom he establishes by his holy Word. It is as his truth is proclaimed and believed that his kingdom comes. Whenever we try to supplant his holy word with something we would rather have we seek to overthrow his kingdom. This happens all over the place, but is often not noticed by Christians – even when it is happening right before their noses.
Recently a filmmaker, who makes no bones about the fact that he denies God and rejects the Holy Scriptures, made a movie about Noah and the flood that doesn’t come close to portraying Noah and the flood as set forth in the Bible, but rather makes up a story that conforms instead to the secular and godless orthodoxy of the film industry. Naturally, the real Noah is replaced with a fake Noah. And Christians are all upset!
Fine, get upset about some unbeliever who displays his unbelief on film. Nothing new about that! But far worse is when people in the name of the Church promote false and soul destroying doctrines that falsely portray Jesus and distort the nature of his kingdom. There is Jesus the social reformer who wants to refashion political institutions to empower the poor and feed the hungry. There is Jesus the non-judgmental therapist who wants you to discover your own truth within you whatever that truth might be. There is the entrepreneurial Jesus who will provide you with a good income, good health, a good job, and just a whole lot more than what falls under the category of daily bread. And of course, there is always the old standby: the moralistic Jesus who imposes on you spiritual principles that you must put into practice and when you do you will enjoy success in this life.
The real Jesus gives his flesh and blood for the life of the world. He marches into the kingdom of the devil and routs the evil one by taking away his power to accuse God’s children. By bearing in his innocent body the sin of all guilty sinners and by shedding his blood for the forgiveness of the world, Jesus purchased the right to rule over his kingdom. He wants to rule over you, not as you make him into your king, but as he made himself your king by being crucified on the cross to suffer and die the death of sinners to save sinners from death and hell.
After Jesus fed the five thousand and refused their efforts to make him king, he drove away disciples by the thousands when he said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood you have no life in you.” He wasn’t talking here about the eating and drinking of the elements in the Lord’s Supper, though we certainly eat and drink Christ’s body and blood when we eat and drink the Lord’s Supper. He was talking about faith as eating and drinking. Faith takes in and lives on the flesh and blood sacrifice that Jesus offered up to God on the cross. This faith recognizes its need for the forgiveness of sins. It knows that only Jesus can give the hungry soul what is necessary for life.
Is it possible that Jesus would shed his blood for you, bear in his body all the sin you have ever committed, die in your stead, suffer God’s anger against you to remove it from you and set you at peace with God and then forget that you need to feed your body and pay your bills? That’s impossible. But the promised Prophet would teach you. He would teach you that feeding your body is not as important to him as feeding your soul. It should not be as important to you, either. Hold him to your greatest need – your need for his pure and wholesome Word that imparts to you the forgiveness of your sins and gives you eternal life. Then watch him meet your lesser needs as well.
Rolf D. Preus