Trinity 7| Mark 8:1-9| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| July 31, 2022
In our Gospel lesson Jesus feeds four thousand people. If you have a good memory, you may remember that we learned how Jesus fed a crowd of five thousand back at the end of March on Laetare Sunday. But despite what some might think, this is not a repeat of the same story with a minor difference in the number of participants. Both Evangelists Matthew and Mark record both the feeding of the five thousand and the feeding of the four thousand, and Jesus reminds his disciples of both separate feedings to exhort them to trust in him and focus rather on his pure teaching. These are two separate events with distinct lessons.
The feeding of the five thousand took place on the western coast of the Sea of Galilee where there were many Jews. He fed the crowd with five loaves and they had twelve baskets left over. Five is the number of the Jewish Scriptures, because Moses wrote the five books of the Law. Twelve is the number of the twelve tribes of Israel. Even the word for basket here is different than with the four thousand, referring to a type of basket used especially by the Jews. The feeding of the four thousand happened on the eastern coast of the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis, where many Gentiles, that is, non-Jews lived. He fed the four thousand with seven loaves and there were seven baskets left over. The number four refers to the four winds, which cover the whole earth. The number thousand signifies absoluteness. So, four thousand symbolizes the entire earth. Likewise, the number seven refers to the seven days of creation, so using seven loaves and having seven large baskets full of bread left over signifies how God provides for the bodily needs of the entire creation.
Jesus fed the five thousand after having compassion on them, because they were scattered like sheep without a shepherd. By providing for them in the wilderness, he proved himself to be the Prophet, whom Moses prophesied would be like him and would rise up among the Jews (Deuteronomy 18:18). Yet, most of them did not want Jesus as their spiritual leader. Jesus fed the four thousand, because he had compassion on them, because they had been with him for three days and had nothing to eat. This shows that Jesus is not only the God of the Jews, but he is the God of the Gentiles. Jesus, who proved himself to be God by this creative miracle, has become man for the sake of all mankind.
God cares for his whole creation. Not a bird drops from the heavens without his notice, and he feeds them all. And he cares for all peoples. Even as our Lord fed this great multitude with just a few loaves of bread, he was providing enough food for all people throughout the world. He causes his sun to shine on the just and unjust and his rain to fall on the good and the evil.
Yet, Jesus’ interest in these four thousand is not simply to fill their bellies. Why are they out there in the wilderness with him in the first place? They are there to hear the preaching of the Gospel. Sure, they first began to follow him, because he healed the sick and cast out demons. Yet, why didn’t they go home after their ailments were cured? They stayed to hear Jesus’ preaching. And after unexpectedly staying with him for three days, they ran out of food and were in danger of dying on their journey home. And this shows that Jesus’ compassion for this crowd extends much farther than their bodily needs. Jesus has compassion on their souls. That is why he spent three days preaching the Gospel to them.
And this is a central point of the Gospel. God desires to save all people. The compassion Jesus feels for this crowd, because they are hungry is the same compassion he feels when he sees them spiritually lost and without a shepherd, and is the same compassion he feels for all mankind, which brought him to earth in the first place to bear our sin and shame on the cross. Jesus feeds the hungry, because he cares for their bodies. He preaches to them, because he cares for their souls. And the fact that he would preach the Gospel to them proves that his suffering and death is for their sake as well.
Jesus never lies. He commanded his disciples to preach the Gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15). Why would he have done that if he did not intend for them to believe it? But Scripture clearly says that God desires for all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4) and that Jesus has made propitiation for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). And so, Jesus preaches to this crowd, many of whom are Gentiles, to demonstrate that the salvation he has come to win is for them as well.
The fact that Jesus feeds them also shows that he desires to save their souls. Why on earth would Jesus have compassion on them so that he feeds their bodies only to let their souls perish with their bodies in hell? No. The very fact that he feeds their bodies proves that he desires to feed their souls. He feeds their bodies for the purpose that they may live to hear the Gospel. And that is why he feeds your body, so that you too may live to hear the Gospel and be saved.
I was at a conference this past week, and I attended a workshop on preaching funeral sermons. The classroom was filled with pastors who wanted to learn to preach better funeral sermons. Do you know what that tells me? Their members are dying. Of course, they are! We’re all dying. We eat and expel what we eat, day after day, year after year, and finally, despite how much food we’ve eaten, how delicious or healthy it was, we die. Well then, what was the point of all that eating? So that you could live another day to hear the Gospel. Why does God keep the wicked alive? Why does he continue to feed them and clothe them? So that they might have time to hear the Gospel, to repent of their wickedness and believe in the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake, and so live forever.
And that is what you need to remember for yourself. So often we are distracted by the needs and wants of the body. We think we eat simply because it feels good. We act as if God put us on earth so that we can enjoy the pleasures of this life while our bodies are still capable of feeling pleasure. We eat, because it tastes good. We sleep, so that we can enjoy the pleasures of life tomorrow. We have children in so far as we think they will give us pleasure. We work, so that we can enjoy the weekend. In short, we live like a bunch of apes with trousers on. But we’re not apes. We’re not dumb beasts that will die and pass away like grass. God has created us with immortal souls. His design for us is to live forever. That is why God the Son himself took on our flesh, lived under the law in our place, and died a horrid death to save you from eternal death. That is why Christ preaches the Gospel to you, so that you would believe that your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake and trust in him alone for salvation. And that is why he feeds you and clothes you, so that you may live long enough to hear this Gospel and believe it, so that you do not perish eternally.
Every time you eat you should be reminded that God is feeding your body, so that he may feed your soul. In this way, you may remember that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. In this lesson we learn to pray for and expect our daily bread from our heavenly Father. Daily bread includes everything that has to do for the support and needs of the body. Yet, Jesus teaches us to ask for bread only in the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer. He teaches us to pray that God’s name be holy in the first petition. That means that before we pray that God would feed us or clothe us, we pray that his word would be taught to us in its truth and purity and that we as the children of God would believe it and live according to it.
This is why this crowd of four thousand is such a great witness of the faith to us. They were out in the wilderness with Jesus for three days. They ran out of food and still they remained with Jesus. They risked fainting and dying with their wives and children out in the wilderness! Why? Were they being reckless? Were they a bunch of shortsighted fools? No! Rather, they had their priorities straight! They knew what was the one thing needful! They needed the food Jesus was feeding their souls more than they needed the food that feeds their bodies. And just as Jesus promised, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and the rest will be added unto you,” Jesus fed their bodies as well when they needed it.
Some might think I’m too intense. I want every member of our church to go to church every Sunday. Don’t go to work. Don’t go to the lake. Don’t compete in some tournament. Don’t sleep in. Go to church and hear the Word of God instead. You’ve got six days and an afternoon to work and sleep and play. Take a morning to devote to God’s Word. That is what you need the most. The food you eat will keep you alive for a day, until that day when no food or medicine can keep you alive. Only the Gospel that Christ Jesus has paid the punishment for your sins and is risen to declare you forgiven before the Father forever can save your soul. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven. Your food and clothing and house and car and 401K cannot save you. Only the bitter suffering of Christ and his innocent death can make atonement for your sins. And only through faith in this Gospel can you gain eternal life.
The crowd that forsook the needs for their body for the sake of the Gospel was not put to shame. Rather, God fed them as he promises to do and they received salvation through faith. You won’t lack anything if you treasure the Gospel as the most urgent and necessary thing in your life. Rather, you’ll gain eternal life while every need of your body is cared for.
It is good for us to give thanks to God every time we eat. Not only because God is the source of every meal we enjoy, but in order to remind us that the food we need for the body is less important than the food we need for our soul. When we give thanks for our daily bread, we should remember the thanksgiving Jesus did for the bread he broke and gave to his disciples, and so continues to provide us today with his body and blood, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins. And as the disciples were left with seven large hampers full of bread after feeding the crowd with seven small loaves, let us remember that as long as the sun and moon endure, so will Christ’s grace never run out for us. As Christ abundantly provides for your food each day, remember that he feeds you so that you will go and receive your spiritual nourishment, his Word and Sacrament, which although is provided from one man who died on a cross, will always have enough to satisfy another sinner. Amen.