The Fourth Sunday in Lent| March 15, 2015| 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. John 6:1-15
As the church in America gets smaller with a larger and larger portion of the population growing into adulthood with little if any knowledge of the Christian faith, Christians turn to marketing experts to see what they can learn about marketing the gospel more effectively. But the gospel cannot be marketed like sugar, oil, beef, or pop music. Why not? The market doesn’t demand it. What Jesus says is the most precious truth, the most vital and necessary truth is not a truth that is sought by the religious consumer. Religious folks already know what they need from God, and they’re not inclined to let God tell them what it is.
Consider this familiar account recorded by St. John. Jesus miraculously fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two small fish. St. John tells us that the crowd was gathered around Jesus because they saw the signs he had done on those who were diseased. Jesus healed thousands of people. He was sought after. He was filled with compassion for those who were suffering. So he healed them. He cast out demons. He even raised the dead. And on more than one occasion he miraculously fed thousands of hungry people with just a very little food. Five barley loaves and two small fish could not feed more than a dozen people. But Jesus fed five thousand and he had more left over than when he began.
The crowd wanted to make him their king. It’s not that they were completely ignorant of the Bible. They recognized that Jesus was the prophet that Moses had promised. In Deuteronomy 18:15 Moses writes,
The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear.
But that’s just the problem. They wanted Jesus to be their prophet and king. They just didn’t want to listen to what he had to say. They already knew what they wanted Jesus to be. Their wants directed their faith. They felt certain needs and they put their felt needs at the heart of their faith. They projected upon Jesus the prophet and king they wanted him to be. They sought miraculous signs from him. They wanted signs that proved God would provide for their bodily needs. They wanted their bodies to be healed and fed. They wanted health, food, bodily security – the kinds of things that religious people have always sought from God.
If you read on through this chapter of St. John’s Gospel, you witness a wonderful conversation. You see, the crowd caught up with Jesus later on, wanting him to provide them with what they figured they needed most of all. But Jesus offered them more. He offered them the bread of life, the food that if you eat it you will live forever. He offered them his own flesh and blood for food. True faith lives on the flesh and blood of Jesus. His holy obedience, his perfect love, his bitter suffering and death, his sacrifice on the cross where he bore in his body the sin of the world: this is the food that faith craves. Faith lives on Jesus, the bread of life from heaven. Listen to what Jesus, the true Prophet, the final Prophet promised by Moses, said to the crowds who wanted him to feed their bodies. Later on in verses 48 through 51 of this chapter, Jesus said:
I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.
Jesus, the final prophet, fed them with bread just as fourteen hundred years earlier, when they followed the prophet Moses throughout the Sinai wilderness for forty years, God rained manna from heaven. The manna in the wilderness was a wonderful sign of God’s fatherly care. When Jesus fed five thousand men with just five loaves of bread and two fish, he identified himself as the God who had rained manna from heaven. The God who fed Israel in the wilderness was the God standing before them in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ.
But he had much more to give them than food and health or any other bodily need. He offered himself, his own flesh and blood, as the living bread that comes down from heaven. When they asked how Jesus could give them his flesh to eat, Jesus replied, in verses 53 – 58:
Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.
Jesus speaks very plainly and directly. We think our greatest need is what our body craves. Well, who can argue with hunger? And when you’re sick with a fever you know that if only that fever would go away and you could breathe freely and easily again, you will be alright. Our felt needs speak powerfully. They direct our faith to what the body wants.
Jesus, the true prophet, the Word made flesh, who is God’s final word to us, knows that what our body desires is what we will elevate as our greatest good in life. He who bore our sin and weaknesses in his own body and was tempted in every way as we are without sinning knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows the demands the body makes upon our faith, insisting that its felt needs must trump all other needs. Jesus who offered up on the altar of the cross his holy flesh as a sacrifice to God to take away sin understands sin, unbelief, doubt, and despair.
And he teaches us what we really need. He provides for the needs of our bodies. As he does so he teaches us what we really need in life. We need life itself. Life is more than food. The body is more than clothes. Good health is here today and gone tomorrow. Our lives are all headed for the grave.
Everyone who ate the manna God rained from heaven died. Every one of the five thousand that Jesus miraculously fed died. We need life. We need true life. We need eternal life. This is more than life without end. It is life lived at peace with the Creator of life. It is life lived under the shelter of the cross where the God become man, Jesus Christ the Lord, offered up his flesh and blood for the life of the world.
There were five loaves of bread. Then there were twelve baskets full of bread. There are five senses, signifying the needs of the body. Christ meets our bodily needs. He says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” “All these things” refer to our bodily needs. Five loaves, five senses, all our bodily needs met.
Then there were twelve baskets full of bread. Twelve is the number for the church. Christ teaches his church. He tells her that he, not she, knows what she needs. We look around and diagnose our needs by consulting our feelings. He tells us to listen to him. He knows. We don’t. What we need is the forgiveness of our sins. What we need is his flesh and blood offered up to God for the life of the world. We need him. We need his righteousness as our robe. We need his words of life. We need his washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. We need his body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. We need him, not occasionally, but constantly; not when we feel the need, but even when we don’t.
Jesus, priceless treasure
Source of purest pleasure
Truest friend to me,
Ah, how long I’ve panted
And my sould hath fainted,
Thirsting, Lord, for Thee!
Thine I am, O spotless Lamb,
I will suffer naught to hide Thee;
Naught I ask beside Thee. Amen