The Fourth Sunday in Lent| March 22, 2009| Rev. Rolf Preus| John 6:1-15
After these things Jesus went over the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. Then a great multitude followed Him, because they saw His signs which He performed on those who were diseased. And Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples. Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near. Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.” One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” Then Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted. So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.” Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten. 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 6:1-15
“The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” So King David teaches the Church to pray. In today’s Gospel reading we see that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He is the LORD. He feeds thousands of people with just a little bit of food. Later in this chapter Jesus explains the meaning of this miracle. He calls himself the bread of life. He claims that no one can find true life unless he eats and drinks his flesh and blood. That eating and drinking is, of course, a reference to faith. Faith takes Jesus in. Jesus’ life becomes our life. Faith is not something that we do. Faith trusts in the doing of Another. Faith’s food is Christ’s flesh and blood. It is his vicarious obedience and death.
God gave Manna to the children of Israel as they wandered through the Sinai Peninsula for forty years. Just as God’s people were set free from Pharaoh through the waters of the Red Sea, so we are set free from the devil’s power through the waters of Holy Baptism. Just as God fed those whom he freed from Pharaoh with Manna from heaven, so we are fed by the bread of life, who is Jesus Christ himself. Just as the children of Israel couldn’t “stock up” on Manna for a rainy day, but needed to gather it every day as their daily food, so we need Jesus every single day. We need his precious Gospel. We need the words of life he alone can give. We need to take his flesh and blood into us by faith, as well as by eating and drinking the sacramental bread and wine, which are, as Jesus plainly teaches, his real body and blood.
What a wonderful history St. John presents to us! There he was – the Creator, standing before his creation, a man – a flesh and blood man. And to show them that he was indeed the Creator of all that exists, he worked a miracle that only the Creator could do. He created. Where there had been only five barley loaves and two small fish, he created enough food to feed five thousand men, not counting women and children, and with twelve baskets of bread left over. Consider who this man really is. He is God. He is the Creator of the universe. He is the One who sustains all things by his mighty power. He is the one who made us in his image, male and female. He is the one who rained Manna from heaven, and now has come down from heaven to be with us, never to leave us.
Two things we see clearly revealed here in John chapter six. We see that Jesus is our Creator God. And we see that Jesus desires to give us more than mere physical life. He wants to give us eternal life.
Jesus is our Creator God. He proved it. St. John, who recorded the events described in our text, was an eyewitness of those events. In the prologue to his Gospel John writes:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (St. John 1:1-3, 14)
Jesus is our Creator God. He has joined us in our own flesh and blood, that he might bring us back to him as pure, holy, and perfect saints. He came to do what we couldn’t do. He came to restore God’s lost and fallen creatures. He came to redeem us body and soul. See him do what only the Creator can do. It is our Creator who has joined us in our human flesh and blood by becoming a human being while remaining the Creator God. Jesus is true man. He is a man in every single respect. He is like we are in all things except that he never sinned because he could not sin because he is eternally pure and holy.
He created because he is the Creator. If we are to know him as the One who gives us eternal life, we must first know him as the One who has created life in his own image. When we think of creation we usually think of God the Father. But the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit work together. God is not divided. When we were created in the beginning we were created in God’s image. Jesus is God’s image. He reveals God’s glory and our true identity.
We did not come from the animals. We came from God. When the eternal Son of God joined his creation he did not become one with Lassie, Flipper, or Bambi. He became a human being: a male, a Jew, a Nazarene, the Son of the Virgin Mary. When he became a specific man to share the human nature of all humanity he sanctified all human life.
God values human life differently than our nation does. We live at a time when killing the living but unborn has been declared a civil right. When the Creator is denied the value of those created in his image is debased. Without a personal and loving God as our Creator we are left open to every kind of distortion and perversion of our nature. Homosexuality is not only defended but even promoted as a gift of God as churchmen dismiss the teaching of God’s word to conform to a politically correct orthodoxy that is hostile to Christ.
What is the common link that joins together the doctrine of evolution, the right to abortion, and the defense of homosexuality? They all deny the biblical teaching of creation. They deny that a personal and loving God has made us and by making us has defined who and what we are. We are valuable because God made us. We are either male or female and there is a difference and that difference is good because God is good and he made us. The God who made us is the God who has come to us in the Person of his Son.
Why do people live like animals? Why do they regard life so cheaply? Why do they discard traditional morality as hopelessly out of date? Why do they tolerate every sin and perversion while remaining inflexibly intolerant only of those who still advocate the permanent standards of God’s holy word? The reason is that they have discarded belief in their Creator. When God is no longer viewed as the Creator, the creation will be viewed as God. And this is exactly what has happened. This is why sex, youth, and sensual pleasure are worshipped as the greatest good, while self-denial, the life of Christian service, and the humbling of oneself before God, pleading for divine mercy are despised.
Cain persecuted Abel because Abel embraced the Christian faith. Hagar despised Sarah because all Sarah had was God’s promise, while Hagar had a child. Those who trust in their own flesh assume an amazing variety of forms. They may be very religious, trusting in their own faithfulness to God, despising the obedience and death of Jesus. They may be very irreligious, trusting in their money, power, connections, or general popularity. Whatever they trust in, they neither know nor want the flesh and blood of Jesus offered up on the cross to God as the sacrifice to take away God’s anger against them. They aren’t afraid of God’s anger. They are irreverent. They want to remake Christianity to enrich themselves in the things of this world. And so they follow those disciples who left Jesus because they came to him for bodily food and refused to admit their need for his holy teaching.
Today’s Epistle Lesson clearly presents these two opposing religions. The one is the religion of works, human achievement, and earthly glory. The other is the religion of faith in Christ’s body and blood, given and shed on the cross for the forgiveness of all our sins. The religion of works is the religion of the flesh and St. Paul reminds us that flesh and blood will not inherit the kingdom of God. The religion of faith looks only to Christ, and to his holy sacrifice on the cross. From Christ’s sacrificial body and blood, comes the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth. He comforts us with the gospel that gives us life, true life, abundant life, eternal life.
The crowd recognized Jesus as the promised Prophet. Sad to say, most of them rejected his word. They could not tolerate Jesus’ teaching. Jesus claimed that nobody could have true life except through faith in him, in his flesh and blood. That was simply too bold a claim for them. But that is precisely the claim on which our Christian faith must rest.
We believe in a Creator God, who feeds our bodies. We live in comfort and safety. We have food and shelter. God richly and daily provides us with all that we need to support our lives here on earth. Our heavenly Father is here among us today to teach us that we need Christ’s flesh and blood, his holy gospel and sacraments, his merits, his righteousness, his grace. We need him more than we need to make a living, pay a mortgage, or save for the future. This is why we need to go to church and Bible class, read the Scriptures, and take God’s word to heart. Jesus would have us believe that we need to listen to him more than we need anything else in this life, because by listening to him in faith, we receive everlasting life. Amen.