Trinity Seven Sermon, July 26, 2009| St. Mark 8:1-9| Rev. Rolf Preus
In those days, the multitude being very great and having nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said to them, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their own houses, they will faint on the way; for some of them have come from afar.” Then His disciples answered Him, “How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?” He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” And they said, “Seven.” So He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. And He took the seven loaves and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and they set them before the multitude. They also had a few small fish; and having blessed them, He said to set them also before them. So they ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets of leftover fragments. Now those who had eaten were about four thousand. And He sent them away.
The large crowd of four thousand people had been with Jesus for three days. What had they been doing? They had been listening to Jesus teach them. Jesus taught with authority. He stated God’s truth with dogmatic certainty. Whenever he taught the Holy Scriptures to the people he was teaching them about himself. Jesus is the Bread of Life. While they fasted physically for three days, they were being fed spiritually. They obviously put greater importance on the word of God than they did on their daily bread. They needed God’s word more than they needed food for their bodies. We pray, “Thy kingdom come” before we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” It is to establish his kingdom among us and throughout the world that God keeps this world going and provides people – both Christians and unbelievers – with their bodily needs. Today’s Gospel Lesson teaches us God’s priorities.
The richer people become the less interest they have in the One who blesses them with their wealth. If you want to decrease church attendance, make folks rich. They’ll learn to substitute the worship of the creation for the worship of the Creator. In fact, they don’t have to learn this. Idolatry is the very essence of the sin that lives within our hearts. God knows how we naturally run into idolatry – worshipping the creation rather than the Creator. Fallen, sinful, human beings all have a limited knowledge of God from nature. But on account of our sinful nature we take this knowledge we have of God and we use it to create idols. This is how St. Paul puts it in Romans chapter one:
Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man. (Romans 1:20-23)
Folks love to create false gods and worship the creation rather than the Creator. They want something they can see and touch and feel and recognize. Most often in our day that consists in property, money, or the ability to make money. If knowledge of the true God gets in the way of accumulating more money and acquiring more material goods, well then going to church, attending Bible class, reading the Holy Scriptures, and learning more of the Creator of heaven and earth will just have to wait. First, we need to get more of that stuff that we can see, touch, feel, and spend. After all, we don’t want to go hungry.
God hates idolatry. He drove His own chosen people off of the land he swore to them on account of their idolatry. Yet this same God who cannot tolerate idolatry nevertheless loves his idolatrous children and by loving them draws them out of idolatry into the true Christian faith. It is as if God is saying, “You want something you can see? You want something you can touch? You want physical, visible, tangible proof that you can put your confidence in me and in me alone to care for your physical needs? Well, here it is!” And then he sends into this world His only begotten Son to take on our own human flesh and blood and to appear among us and to show to our eyes, ears, and other senses that he – God – is with us. God the Son becomes Immanuel: God with us. Conceived by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, he who was begotten of his Father before all worlds, now in time is born of a woman.
Look at this miracle! There were seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. There were four thousand people. It is not possible that seven loaves of bread and a few small fish can feed four thousand people. There was not enough food. Jesus displayed to them his creative power. Jesus is God. The proof is crystal clear. Only God can create something out of nothing. Jesus creates something out of nothing. Therefore, Jesus is God.
There are many self-proclaimed miracle workers who do impressive things. You can watch them on TV. They heal diseases. They get special revelations about who has what problem. They sell themselves as the cure to what ails ailing folks so desperate for help that they’ll trust anyone with a good line. But we know that they don’t really heal anyone and whatever miracles they actually perform are the kinds that are impossible either to verify or falsify.
Not so, with Jesus. He takes seven loaves of bread and feeds four thousand people. His disciples gather together seven large baskets of leftovers. They ate all they wanted and there was more left over than when they began. This was a miracle that proved Jesus is God. It wasn’t the first time, either. Not long before this, Jesus fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and afterwards they collected twelve baskets of leftovers. Jesus deliberately and repeatedly gave the people irrefutable proof that he was the Creator God who provides for his creation. Jesus did what only God can do and therefore Jesus is God.
The same Jesus who nursed at his mother’s breast depending on her for food several times a day is the Jesus who feeds the hungry by his almighty creative power. He felt compassion for the hungry crowd that had neglected their bodily needs for their spiritual needs. He acquired for them that for which their souls hungered. It was not just a matter of him talking. Every promise he made to that spiritually thirsty crowd of thousands was a promise on which he would have to deliver. He would have to purchase the life he promised to give to them. The price would be dear. It would be his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. He would pay it, not only for them, but also for the billions upon billions of starving people who could never find in themselves their way to God. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) So wrote St. Paul in today’s Epistle Lesson. The gift of God is freely given, but it did not come without cost. It had to be purchased.
Perhaps you’ve heard folks talk about cheap grace. There is no such thing. Grace is expensive. In order that you and I might receive God’s grace today in our need, God the Son had to bear all of our sin in his body on the cross. Look and see! See the Creator, who causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall, the crops to grow, the jobs to be created, and the retirement to be secured. See him set aside any use of creative power and instead becomes weak and apparently helpless as he suffers for the sin of the world. Make no mistake about it. The One on whom we depend for our daily bread and every breath we take is the One whose blood is shed on Calvary to wash away our sin. And he is the One as well who tells us that we shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that he speaks to us because his words are spirit, life, and truth.
The text before us this morning is a powerful indictment of our generation as well as a wonderful assurance that God will always provide for his people. Can you imagine leaving behind everything you ordinarily spend your time doing and spending three days out in the hot sun listening to a man preach? There was no clever come on to bring them in. Jesus didn’t offer them popular entertainment. He used no gimmicks or special measures. He talked. He taught.
He told them what was right and wrong in the eyes of God and how they were not right but wrong. He taught them a higher morality than anything anyone else taught. He showed by his actions that he had power over sin, death, disease, and the devil himself. He claimed the authority to forgive sins and to give eternal life. He didn’t offer them the riches of this world, but taught them of the riches of heaven. He shunned the approval of the prestigious teachers and religious leaders of His day while welcoming unworthy sinners into fellowship with God. He taught with authority, and the crowd loved it. They couldn’t get enough. They stayed and stayed until their food was gone and they were hungry.
Martin Luther explains the meaning of the Sabbath commandment for Christians in these words: “We should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and God’s word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” Through Moses God gave this command to his people:
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. (Deuteronomy 6:5-8)
God did not give us his words so that we would keep them confined between the covers of a book. He gave us his words so that they might be in our hearts. He speaks to us because he wants us to receive his words in faith. He wants us to love His promises and so to love him. He wants us to teach his words to our children and talk about them wherever we go and whatever we do. The words that come to us from God are our lives because they reveal to us our God. Jesus prayed to His Father, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3) The reason God’s word gives us eternal life is because God’s words to us enable us to know him and knowing him is to know eternal life.
To lack a hunger for God’s word is therefore to lack a hunger for God. Those who do not want to be fed with God’s word do not want God as their Father. And yet, as Jesus says, “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45) The God who gives us life, sustains our lives, protects us from all harm, feeds us, clothes us, and shelters us from the elements is our Father. The world doesn’t know what this means. We Christians do. We know that God feeds, preserves, and cares for all people for the sake of his holy Christian church. Everything God does he does always from a fatherly heart. When we doubt this, we look to where his Son, whom he loved from eternity, was lifted up to suffer. Then take to heart these words of St. Paul: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
God is not beholden to the demands of fallen and sinful humanity. He cares for us because he loves us. He is our Father. He wants us to know him as children know their loving Father. This is why he sent his Son, and why, through his Son, he continues to feed us body and soul, for life in this world and for eternal life in heaven. Amen