Laetare (Lent IV) - John 6:1-15 - March 6, 2016
Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15Hymn #369 All Mankind Fell in Adam's Fall
Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of Thy grace may mercifully be relieved; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Collect for the Season of Lent
Almighty and Everlasting God, our Father, Who hatest nothing that Thou hast made and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent, create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of Thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with the Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Sermon on the Holy Gospel
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1) Looking out on the great multitude, five thousand men strong, Jesus turns to His disciple Philip and asks, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” St. John then writes these words by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, “But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.” What is intriguing about John’s statement is that Jesus asks Philip this for the purpose of testing His pupil. I think I’ve noted before that the word John uses is peira,zwn. This is an interesting word to translate. How it’s translated depends on who is the subject of the verb, who is doing the “peira,zw-ing.” When God does this verb it is translated “test.” If the Devil or man does this verb it is translated “tempt.” That is because “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone” (James 1:13). When someone is tempted he is tempted to sin, to disbelieve God’s Word, and to trust in himself and follow his own desires. God never tempts anyone to sin, to doubt Him, or to disbelieve His Word, for He is not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness, nor does any evil dwell with Him (Psalm 5:4). When the Devil approaches Jesus in the wilderness, he does to tempt Jesus to sin and cast off His mission of atoning for the sins of the world. When Satan approaches any of Christ’s Christians he does so to tempt them into misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice. It is the devil who tempts. Never God. When God tempts, when He peira,zwn He tests one’s faith to exercise it, to prove it, to strengthen it and purify it. This is what He does to His pupil Philip. He tests the disciple’s faith in order to exercise it, strengthen it, and purify it from human imagination and false beliefs about Him.
2) By this Christ shows us that He regularly tests all who are His disciples. Yet He never tempts you to sin. When you feel the allure of sin and the desires of your flesh to act against your conscience and the Word, that’s not Christ. That’s the devil. But when you are confronted with a situation which looks impossible, improbable, and hopeless, that is Christ testing you once again. When Christ tests the faith of His disciples He wants to show them again His power to save and do the impossible. The response He wants to elicit from such a test is faith! When Jesus asked Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat,” Jesus was looking for “You know, O Lord.” Philip instead responds, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.” Philip seems the impossibility of the situation. Philip’s eyes can only see their lack and the huge sums it would take to accomplish this feat. Andrew offers a weak response, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” Andrew sees what they do have at their disposal, which is incredibly small. John points out this small amount of food to teach us that it is precisely at this moment, when we have -nothing, Christ has everything He needs. This is not to say that Philp and Andrew fail the impromptu exam. They are disciples, after all, pupils, learners. So Jesus takes the opportunity, as He so often does, to teach them faith in His ability to save.
3) This miracle, and Jesus’ testing of Philip, was written for our learning. Christ allows us to fall into impossible situations. Often He leads us into scenarios where we realizes our own resources are woefully inadequate compared to the magnitude of the task before us. Everyone’s situations are different but the test is always the same. Do you worry about the salvation of a member of your family? Does the worry arise in your mind, “What am I going to say to them this time to get through to them?” Jesus allows this to befall you to test you, because He already knows what is necessary in that situation. He wants you to learn all the more to trust Him to give you the right words, but even more so to teach you trust His good and gracious will, and that He works through the gospel when and where it pleaseth Him. This test of faith is to strengthen your faith so that you trust that Christ will act according to divine wisdom and mercy. Do you worry about how to make ends meet in your home, or about how you will continue to live on your income as the world becomes more unstable? Christ allows this come upon you test you, because He already knows exactly how He is going to provide for you today, tomorrow, and for the rest of your life. He tests your faith to purify it from needless fretting about the future and to strengthen your confidence in His word, “Therefore do not worry, for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (Matthew 6:31-32). Do you see the empty pews of this church and wonder, “Will this church continue into the future?” This too is a test from Christ to strengthen your faith in His Word. He says of His church, “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” While that is not a promise made to individual congregations but the church universal, Christ wants you to place your confidence in that Word, so that you know that Christ will continue His ministry in this place according to His will, which we know is good and gracious in Christ Jesus. These are but a few of the tests of faith which many of us face regularly.
4) Like Philip and Andrew, we are but humble disciples, learners, and pupils. Like them we often fall into doubt by concentrating not Christ and His promises but on what we see with our eyes and experience in our hearts. But take heart, disciples of Jesus, He does not chide you for your doubt. Neither does He condemn you for being a little-faith at times. Look how He responds to Philip and Andrew. He does not answer their doubts at all. His response? “Make the people sit down.” He intends to teach about Himself, His person and His office, that is, who He is and what He has come do. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). There is testing of faith then there is teaching of faith to strengthen the disciples faith so their hearts puff up with confidence at the thought of what their Lord is able to do for them. Jesus takes the five barley loves and “when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down, and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted.” Jesus takes their lack and turns it into enough to satisfy all five thousand men’s hunger. Then He provides for the twelve disciples by telling them “Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.” He cares for the multitude at the moment but continues to care for His disciples with the leftovers. And even the leftovers confess the power of Christ to provide in an impossible situation. The “filled up twelve basket with the fragments of the five barley loves which were left over by them who had eaten.”
5) Did catch what Jesus just did? He does today what He refused to do in the wilderness after fasting forty days. In Matthew 4 the devil tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread, to use His divine power to serve Himself. Jesus refuses because “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). He will not turn stones into bread to serve Himself. But He will multiply five barley loaves and two small fish to serve man. This is the sort of God we have in Christ Jesus. The point of the miracle is far greater than simply, “Jesus can bend the rules of nature and the laws of physics because “in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9). That is most certainly true. This passage does show us this. But it shows us so much more. How does He use His divine nature? He uses it not for Himself but for man, just as He will do by suffering on the cross and dying, not for His own sake to be the “propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2). What does Christ teach His disciples here? He teaches them not only that He is able to provide for the needs of man but that that is the reason why He has come. He teaches Philip that “the things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:27).
6) In the moment of our testing, whatever it may be, Christ has no concern for what is lacking in the situation. He sees no improbability. He knows no impossibility. He desires to strengthen your faith by these moments so that you understand, by faith, not experience or hypothesis, that God is able to do all things. More than that, He wants to gently teach you once again that He will give aid, that He desires to deliver, and that He wants to give good things to those who place their trust in Him. He wants to purify our faith by removing from it the dross of doubt. He wants to strengthen our faith so that it is not a flabby faith, but a lively and active faith which boldly trusts God the Father for all good things, even in the worst of situations. He wants His disciples to rejoice in their adversities because they are opportunities for Him to fortify our faith so that it does not fail. In the moment of testing He desires that you turn to His Word and cling to that Word with all your heart, that His promise is not only true but that it is true for you. He wants you trust all the more firmly not only that God is gracious, but that He is gracious to you in Christ Jesus. This is what Christ seeks to teach Philip, Andrew, and all His disciples as they look out on the impossibilities and hardships of life and says, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?”
Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.