Lent4 (Laetare) - John 6.1-5 - March 15, 2015
Order of Service - Pg. 15
Opening Hymn - 369 All Mankind Fell in Adam's Fall
Sermon Hymn - 347 Jesus Priceless Treasure
Closing Hymn - 151 Christ, the Life of All the Living
1) Jesus looks out and sees a great multitude swarming around Him and His disciples. Before He teaches the multitude, and even before any miraculous sign of His divinity will happen, Jesus tests His disciples. He turns to Philip, someone whom we don’t hear much about in the Gospels, and asks, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” Jesus already knows how He is going to provide food for these five thousand. So why does He ask Philip this? St. John writes, “But this He said to test him.” Specifically Jesus wants to exercise Philip’s faith, to see if Philip will look to Christ and His Word in this test or whether He will look to another source to provide. Philip answers, “Too hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.” Remember the parable of the workers in the vineyard. A denarius is a day’s wage. Two hundred day’s wages would not be enough to provide for this crowd so that they had even a tiny amount. Jesus had asked Philip where they could buy bread to feed the multitude and Philip responded that they didn’t have the money to buy that much bread. Andrew chimes in and says, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” The disciples are looking for an answer to this test. And in their search for an answer they do what any of us would do in a similar situation. In fact, they are a picture what humanity often does when the Lord puts us to the test. We look at every earthly option. We weigh all the pros and cons. We do the calculations and the “what ifs?” Often we do all of these things before we look to Jesus and His Word.
2) Jesus responds to their answers by telling them to have the crowd sit down. He will show them what they are to do in this situation. It’s as if Jesus said, “Where shall we buy bread that these may eat? I will show you. There is no need for you to buy bread. I will give them bread.” Then Jesus goes on to do something so miraculous that it is recorded in all four Gospels. He takes five loaves of bread, blesses them, and then through His disciples, distributes them. Human understanding compares five loaves of bread to five thousand men and sees nothing but inadequacy. And we all know how far two small fish will go among so great a number. But as the loaves and fish are distributed they increase. This small amount is increased so much that everyone had “as much as they wanted.” At the end of the meal the disciples are told to gather up the leftovers. Leftovers from five loaves and two small fish distributed among five thousand men! They are to gather up the remains so that nothing is lost, for Jesus teaches frugality, and they fill up twelve baskets, one basket for each disciple! Jesus proves Himself trustworthy in this test. The miracle speaks for Jesus, “Look to Me when your faith is tested, dear disciples! Remember that I can do all things and am able to give far more abundantly than you could ever ask!”
3) Too often we think of the test of faith as an academic test that is graded as pass or fail, as if the test is only a measuring stick for God to judge our faith and leave it in its current state. If we think of Jesus testing our faith as an academic test in school then we turn Jesus into something He’s not and we turn our faith into something it’s not. Faith is a gift from God, not something man works in himself by an act of the will or conscious decision, so that we can gauge it or grow it on our own volition. Nor is Jesus only a teacher who wants to measure our reaction to His Word to judge it adequate or lacking so that we can try harder next time. When Jesus tests His disciples it is to work their faith, to exercise their God-given faith through trial so that their faith clings all the more firmly to Jesus and His Word. His test is not a temptation to doubt His goodness and promises, nor is it temptation to sin, for God tempts no one, though we often turn God’s tests into temptations to sin. Christ tests our faith so He may continually drive it back to Him and His Word.
4) Consider what St. James writes in the first chapter of his epistle: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4) The Lord tests our faith through trials so that our faith may cling all the more firmly to Jesus’ promises. Through trials Jesus produces patience in you. This word can also be translated as endurance, steadfastness, or perseverance. Testing of faith isn’t so that God can grade your faith as adequate or lacking. Testing of faith exercises it to increase your endurance and perseverance under the cross and trials. This is why St. James writes that we ought to “count it all joy” when various trials come upon us. We don’t rejoice in our sufferings because we are masochists and enjoy suffering but because we know the reason, that Christ is exercising our faith and perseverance in the faith because these are His most precious gifts, much more precious than a one meal. Thus St. Peter writes, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7) God tests your faith so that He might prove Himself and His Word to you yet again so that your God-given faith is strengthened, confirmed, and established.
5) Consider Abraham. The author of Hebrews writes, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, "In Isaac your seed shall be called," concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.” (Hebrews 11:17-19) Like Philip’s testing in today’s Gospel lesson, Abraham’s testing made no sense to human reason and understanding. God had promised that Abraham would be a great nation and that this son Isaac was to be the first step toward making that promise happen. But then Abraham, having believed and rejoiced in the promised child, is commanded to sacrifice him. But Abraham does not falter at the test, but rather He increases in endurance and perseverance in the faith. What does He reason, according to Hebrews? “God has promised to make me into a great nation through Isaac, not Ishmael. God wants me now to kill the child of His promise? I will do so because I know that God who gave me this child in my old age is able to raise this child from the dead. God is faithful to His Word of promise and I believe this firmly and will not doubt.” So Abraham shows us how we are to stand up under testing and trial. We are to look to Jesus with confidence, trusting in the Words He has given us in the pages of Holy Scripture and in the preached Word and Sacraments.
6) God works our faith through trials so that He may call it forth to deeper trust and confidence in His Christ and His Word. Consider your own life. What trials have you experienced in the past? What trials are you experiencing now? These are not signs of divine disfavor. Nor are they signs that God has entered into judgment with you for your sins. Consider what St. James and St. Peter write. These trials are for the strengthening of your faith in Christ. These trials are to exercise your faith so that in these trials you draw closer to Christ. Are you assailed by doubt that God will provide for all your needs in this life? Do not fear but consider the great promises Christ gives you in the Scripture and consider the twelve leftover baskets of today’s miracle. Are you assailed by unquenchable remorse over past sins? Do not let Satan terrorize your conscience but cling all the more tightly to the Word of Forgiveness spoken by God Himself to you through His called servant, for Christ has said of the Office of the Ministry, “He who hears you hears Me.” (Luke 10:16) Are you ill and afflicted in body? Remember the prayer of faith from David in Psalm 73, “My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.” For every affliction, for every trial, there is a divine promise which will not fail, for the “Scriptures cannot be broken.” (John 5:29) Are you suffering temptation from the Devil, the world, or your own sinful nature? Of course you are. Do not despair that the Devil and your flesh does not relent in tempting you, either. For as a brother pastor recently reminded me, even these temptations are used by God for our good and the building up of our faith.
7) As you suffer trials of diverse kinds remember the words of Jesus to Philip. Christ tests His disciple so that He may strengthen His trust in Christ and thereby learn to despise what He sees with his eyes and experiences in his own heart. He wanted to teach Philip not to look at the crowd and be assailed by the great number of mouths to feed or to look to inadequacy of a boy’s small lunch of five loaves and two small fish. Christ exercised Philip’s faith so that after this testing Philip would say, “I am incapable of feeding all these people. But you, O Lord, are able to do it abundantly with one word. So I will wait on you and trust your mercy.” This is the intended outcome of every trial and testing the Lord allows to come upon you as well, that you cling to Christ’s love, Christ’s work, and Christ’s promises given to you more and more. Just as He provides bread in that wilderness, He will provide faith for you in this wilderness and that faith will overcome all trials and temptations, all sorrows and crosses, because the faith He gives is faith in Jesus. Amen.