Trinity 7| Mark 8:1-9| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| July 23, 2023
Seven loaves of bread are not enough to feed 4,000 men! These seven loaves of bread were probably intended to feed Jesus and His twelve disciples. They wouldn’t be able to feed many more. There is only a finite amount of bread. Once it is eaten, it’s gone! Yet, with just seven loaves of bread, Jesus not only feeds 4,000 men, plus their wives and children (Matthew 15:38), but they ate until they were satisfied. What’s more, they filled seven baskets full of leftover bread! And these weren’t small baskets. Each could hold fifty loaves! This word for basket is used in Acts 9, when it says that they lowered St. Paul from the city wall in a basket. So, a grown man could fit in each of these seven baskets. So, with those seven hampers full of bread left over, they had way more food than they started with, and could have fed many more people!
How is this possible? Seven is a finite number. The more bread that is eaten, the less there is. Seven loaves cannot become seven hampers full of bread. Yet, with Jesus that is exactly what is done. Jesus is God. He can satisfy the needs of every living thing (Psalm 145:16). And what is more, it is Christ’s fervent desire to satisfy our needs! Jesus said to His disciples, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.” The word Jesus uses here for compassion comes from the word for inward parts. It means to have deep sympathy. We get the sense that Jesus feels the hunger in their stomachs and He is not satisfied until they are satisfied. So much does He care for His creation.
And we could end the sermon there. God cares for you; don’t worry. He is both able and willing to provide for you as He does for every living creature on earth. So, give thanks to Him, be generous, and seek first the kingdom of God. Yet, it is the kingdom of God, which this parable teaches us so much about. The Holy Spirit didn’t cause this story to be written simply to teach us that God cares for our bodily needs. He caused this to be written, so that you would see how Christ provides for the Kingdom of God and for you as a citizen of it!
St. Paul tells us that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23)! By death he means eternal hell, as Jesus teaches us (Matthew 25:41; 13:41; Mark 9:48). And so, we know that God sent His Son to take on our human flesh and suffer and die in our place on the cross to make satisfaction for our sins. But, wait a minute. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). All deserve the eternal fiery death of hell. Yet, God sent one man, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die for the sins of all. Well, if billions and billions of people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, yet God sent one man to suffer and die, how is it that the sins of all are paid for? Wouldn’t He just make satisfaction for one of those sinners? It’s like the seven loaves and the 4,000 all over again. Seven loaves cannot feed 4,000 men and their families. And one man cannot make atonement for the sins of countless people!
Yet, He does! St. John writes in the second chapter of his first epistle, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2) Propitiation means that He has made satisfaction for our sins. Christ Jesus, by His death, has made satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. Our debt has been paid! That is why He can give us eternal life as a free gift from God (Romans 6:23).
And this is exactly what this story teaches us. Numbers in Scripture often have a special meaning. Why did Mark write 4,000 when we’re told there were also women and children, making the number much higher? There is significance in the number 4,000. Four is the number of the earth with its four winds: North, South, East, and West. 1,000 is the number of completeness. By feeding bread to the 4,000, Jesus foreshadows that He will provide the Bread of Life for all people. Christ Jesus is the Bread of Life come down from heaven, who gives Himself to be feasted on through faith. We feast on this Bread of Life when we believe that God is reconciled to us for the sake of Christ’s suffering and death.
Seven is a holy number. Three is the number of the Holy Trinity. Four is the number of the earth. So, seven is God plus the earth, the number of the Church. Seven also symbolizes completeness. God created the earth in six days and rested on the seventh. By using seven loaves of bread, Christ shows that He will completely satisfy His Church with every spiritual need! And by the fact that seven large baskets of bread were left over, He shows that His Church will never run out of His grace to forgive, strengthen, and save.
Although Christ is just one man, His blood provides an endless flow of forgiveness. Although Christ is just one man, His body opens the grave for all bodies. How? Because He is God. His human nature does not limit His divine nature. Rather, His divinity empowers His humanity.
The finite is not capable of the infinite, said a smart man named John Calvin. Finite means to have bounds and limits. Finite can be measured. A twenty-ounce bottle can fit twenty ounces of water in it. It can’t fit 1,000 gallons. Once it surpasses twenty-ounces of liquid, it begins to overflow. Infinite means to have no bounds or limits. Infinite cannot be measured. “The finite is not capable of the infinite” is a logical statement, because an immeasurable amount of liquid cannot fit in a measurable container.
So, Calvin reasoned that Christ’s body and blood could not be present in the Lord’s Supper, because Jesus’ human body is finite, as all human bodies are. Jesus’ body can be measured and is bound by limits, just as all human bodies are. And, as with all human bodies, Jesus’ body can only be in one place at one time. So, He couldn’t possibly be on countless altars and in countless mouths while He is up in heaven. Nor could His blood be separated from His body while it still flows in His veins. So, Calvin thought.
And perhaps Calvin is right that the finite is not capable of the infinite. However, the infinite is certainly capable of the finite. You see, when we speak of Christ, who is true God and true man, we do not speak of His limits according to His human nature. Rather, we speak of His limitless power according to His divine nature. St. Paul writes in Ephesians 3 that He is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” So, Christ, who is true man and true God in one person, can in human flesh do everything God can do. So, if He wants His body to be present at many altars at one time and to be able to be consumed by the faithful without tearing His body apart, He can do it. And we know that He wants to do this impossible thing, because He stated in no uncertain terms, “This is my body; this is my blood.”
So, just as Jesus was able to satisfy the hunger of 4,000 men, plus women and children, with just seven loaves of bread and have even more left over, and just as He was able to make satisfaction for the sins of billions and billions of people with His one body on the cross, so is Christ able to feed His entire Church on earth His true body and blood in the Sacrament. The bread and wine used over the past 2,000 years in countless observances of the Lord’s Supper would measure in millions of pounds and gallons of bread and wine, yet as the seven baskets were filled after everyone was satisfied, so Christ still has more to offer us, to sustain us on our journey here on earth. When Christ gave thanks and broke bread in the wilderness, providing an abundant meal with much left over, He foreshadowed that He would provide an abundant meal for His Church when He gave thanks and broke bread on the night in which He was betrayed.
This morning Brexley, Kolter, and Walker were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It was only a little bit of water used, not even enough for a bath. It couldn’t have cleaned very much dirt off their bodies and is probably already dried off. Yet, here again we must remember that the Infinite is capable of the finite. That water poured on those three children was not just plain water, but it was the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word. God works through His Word. So, as God is infinitely powerful, His Word is infinitely powerful. St. Peter writes in 1 Peter 3, “Baptism now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (v.21) So, the appeal to God for a good conscience does not dry off as the water does. The infinite has been joined to the finite. We don’t consider the weakness of the water, but the boundless power of God’s Word.
Through Baptism, God washed those little children clean in the blood of Christ and filled them with His Holy Spirit. He granted them a new birth and clothed them in Christ’s righteousness. As long as they believe this promise from Holy Scripture, they possess it.
The crowd stayed with Jesus three days, so that they had no food even for their long journeys home. Jesus wasn’t the only one to notice this lack of food. Surely, each of those 4,000 men was aware that his bag was empty and he had nothing left to feed his kids. Surely wives were nudging their husbands saying, “Benjamin, we’re out of bread.” And apparently, his reply was, “Where else are we to go. This man has the words of eternal life.” And so, from this crowd, we learn what our greatest need is. We are finite creatures. And we are obsessed with the finite, especially when they are running out. We’re concerned about paying for food and clothing and our homes and health care and other needs of the body, which will fade away. But we neglect our need for Christ’s Words, which will never pass away, even if the heavens and earth pass away. We must remember that we worship the Infinite God. He can provide for your bodily needs and He always does. He feels your hunger. He is compassionate. Yet, He desires to satisfy a much greater need. He desires to grant you food for your soul, so that you may live eternally.
Your sins are your greatest problem. They are rooted deep into your flesh, so that your old self continues to strive toward wickedness as long as you live. And your sins merit you eternal damnation in hell! And your sins combat your faith, striving to pull you away from Christ. Your bodily hunger is of zero importance next to your need for the Bread of Life from heaven! If you do not feast on Christ in faith, then you will perish eternally in hell! The crowd spent three days with Jesus, neglecting their need for food for their bodies, yet most can’t get through a fifteen-minute sermon without thinking about what they’re going to have for lunch.
You have a tremendous spiritual need, yet not an infinite one. The Infinite is capable of the finite. Christ can and does satisfy your spiritual need, so that you may have certainty of eternal life. So, let us to not neglect this need, but come to Him who satisfies for eternity. Amen.