Seventh Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| St. Mark 8:1-9| July 22, 2012
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. St. Mark 8:1-9
They have spent three days listening to Jesus. They hadn’t planned it. They didn’t make the necessary preparations. But his teaching captured their hearts. They listened to him. He spoke with authority, not the bullying, legalistic authority of the scribes, but the gracious authority of their loving God. Listening to Jesus they heard the voice of God.
They hadn’t planned on running out of food. What were they thinking? Clearly, they weren’t planning ahead. They should have brought food along with them instead of wandering off in the desert, far from home and from anywhere they might buy food. Perhaps you’ve heard of these popular words of wit: “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.” You made your bed. Lie in it. You should have thought ahead.
But they weren’t thinking of feeding their bodies. They were thinking of feeding their souls. Imagine that! They actually believed that the soul is more important than the body. They saw their true need. Many of them had probably heard Jesus preach in his Sermon on the Mount:
Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:30-33)
They were seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. They had more important concerns than where their next meal would come from. They came to understand the words of Moses to the children of Israel, recorded in Deuteronomy 8:3,
So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.
These were the words that Jesus used when he was hungry and the devil tempted him to turn stones into bread. Those hungry people understand what it meant to live on every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD. They hungered for the word of God.
The feeding of the four thousand was a sign. Jesus did many signs. Signs signify. The signs signify the teaching the teacher wants to teach his students. That’s what a disciple is. He’s a student. Jesus is the teacher and his disciples are his students. All Christians are disciples of Jesus. He is our teacher and we are his students. Jesus chose twelve men in particular as a group of disciples that he sent out to teach his teaching to the whole world. The feeding of the four thousand was particularly instructive for them and through them for us.
Christ’s signs are also miracles. He does what no mere man can do. Jesus is a man. Make no mistake. He hungered, thirsted, ate, slept, suffered pain, and felt both joy and sadness. But Jesus is no ordinary man. He is also the eternal and almighty God. He is the God-man: God in the flesh. This is what his signs signify. They signify that he is God because he does what only God can do. Only God can raise the dead. Jesus raised the dead. Only God can control the wind and the waves. Jesus controlled the win and the waves. Only God can feed four thousand people with just seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. Christ’s miraculous feeding of the four thousand signifies that he is God in the flesh.
And it signifies furthermore what God is like. Why did God become a man? St. Anselm of Canterbury wrote a book on the subject near the end of the eleventh century entitled, “Why God Became Man.” He gave a clear presentation of the Christian teaching known as the vicarious atonement. Christ, the God-man, took our place under the law and as our substitute satisfied divine justice. We learn in the Catechism to confess what it means that Jesus Christ, true God begotten of the Father from eternity and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is our Lord. It was to redeem us. It was to purchase and win us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. All of Jesus’ miracles are signs of this good and gracious will of God to rescue us from our sins and to make us God’s dear children.
Why did Jesus miraculously feed the four thousand hungry people? He explained why before he did it. He said:
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.
“I have compassion.” Compassion means to suffer with. Jesus suffered with those people. He understood physical hunger. Immediately after his baptism the Spirit led him into the desert where he fasted for forty days. After forty days he felt the hunger of imminent starvation. He knew hunger. He knew what those people felt. He knew that if they were to go home in their condition they would faint on the way. He felt what they were feeling.
And he feels what you are feeling. When you are without, when you face a difficult future, when you suffer loss, when you are hungry, thirsty, in pain, or facing sickness and even death – Jesus knows how you feel. Your suffering is his suffering.
But Jesus does more than feel sorry for you. He provides you with what you need. What good does sympathy alone do? How can someone’s feelings help you? But Jesus does more than feel for you. He is the almighty God. He who became your brother to redeem you by his blood, to cover all your wrongs with his obedience, and to suffer all your sins in his innocence is your God.
Everybody has a god. It’s human nature to have a god. Even self-proclaimed atheists have their gods. What does it mean to have a god? Listen to Luther’s clear and biblical answer to this question in his discussion of the First Commandment in the Large Catechism:
A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need. To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart. As I have often said, the trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true God. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you have not the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God.
So then, who or what is your god? What do you need? Who will give it to you? In whom or in what do you trust?
You have a lack. Who is going to meet it? You have a need. Who is going to provide it? You have a problem. Who is going to fix it? You have a future. Who is going to secure it? That’s your god. Whatever or whoever you think will give you what you need – that’s your god. So what do you need? And how much do you need it? Where is your faith? In what do you trust?
They went without bodily needs because their spiritual needs were greater and more pressing and they knew it. Jesus provided for both. He gave them more than they needed. They did not do without. They put their need for Christ’s words and signs above their need for their daily bread. Jesus showed them that their heavenly Father provides for all their bodily needs. How? How did he show that? By doing it personally.
The miraculous feeding of the four thousand is significant because Jesus is the One who is doing it. The One who shed his blood for us is the One who is providing us with our daily bread. If we want daily bread, we go to him. God cares for his children. He feeds and clothes them.
Listen to the words of King David from Psalm 37,
I have been young, and now am old;
Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken,
Nor his descendants begging bread.
He is ever merciful, and lends;
And his descendants are blessed.
Busy people, conscientious people, planning out their affairs, making sure their future is secure, and, well, going to church and receiving the word and sacrament does not always fit into the schedule. They think they are in charge of their lives. But they are not. Nobody is in charge of his life. His god is. And when your God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when your faith looks to Jesus and clings to his word, you receive from him that righteousness by which you are righteous before God. The One who healed the sick, raised the dead, fed the multitudes, and felt compassion for everyone in pain or want, is the One who went to Calvary to suffer and die for you, taking away your sins, and opening the door to heaven.
Would he give his own life for you and leave you empty of what you really need in your life? It is unthinkable. He fed thousands of people who went to him for spiritual nurture and care. He feeds you. Here he speaks his words of eternal life to you. Here with the sacramental bread and wine he gives you food and drink that give you eternal life. He never sends you away hungry. Amen