7th Sunday after Trinity + Mark 8:1-9 + July 10, 2016

Jeremiah 31:23-25
Romans 6:19-23
Mark 8:1-9

Collect for the 7th Sunday after Trinity
O God, Whose never-failing providence ordereth all things both in Heaven and Earth, we humbly beseech Thee to put away from us all hurtful things and give to us those things which be profitable for us; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with 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 the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         Your Lord Jesus offers you a great comfort in today’s gospel lesson. He shows you that He can and will provide for all of your bodily needs. He will not let you starve. He shows you this by how He deals with this great multitude that has followed him into the wilderness. This great multitude of people, “about four thousand,” have been listening to Jesus teach for three days. These people were not simply clamoring to get close to Jesus because they saw His miracles. Jesus says, “the have continued with me three days and have nothing to eat.” They stuck with Jesus for three days. They didn’t disperse because they wanted to hear His heavenly doctrine. It is similar to Luke 4:32, in Capernaum. The people “were astonished at His teaching, for His word was with authority.” These men and women have faithfully followed Jesus these days, but because of their faithful hearing of God’s Word, “they have nothing to eat.” Jesus then shows us His heart. He says, “If I send them away hungry to their own houses, they will faint on the way; for some of them have come from afar.” Jesus loves them enough to preach the gospel to them, for that is the very reason He came. But His compassion extends to their physical needs as well, for Jesus doesn’t just love man’s soul, but the entire man. He commands the multitude to sit down. He takes the seven loaves of bread, gives thanks, breaks them and gives them to the disciples to set before the crowd. He does the same with a few small fish. There in the desert, surrounded by lifelessness and lack, the Son of God takes “not enough” and turns it into more than enough. Christ provides their daily bread, so much so that they have leftovers. By this Christ your Lord shows you that He will not let you starve in this life. He will provide for you if only you trust His Word.

2)         Your Lord Jesus offers you another great comfort in today’s gospel lesson though. For though He demonstrates how He will not let you starve and will most certainly provide you with daily bread, your Lord Jesus also shows you how He provides you with spiritual bread for your soul. This miracle is a picture of the Christian’s life. This multitude is driven into the desert to hear Christ. In the Scriptures, the desert is often used as place of testing and temptation. The Israelites, after being baptized into Moses by crossing the Red Sea on dry ground, were led into the wilderness. In the wilderness they were tempted by the devil. He enticed them with thoughts of how comfortable their captivity had been. The devil taught them to yearn for the fleshpots of Egypt with all the luxuries that slavery contained. The devil sowed seeds of discontent in their hearts so that they grew to hate what God gave them and lust for the life they left behind. Generations later, the prophet Elijah, sick from the persecution of Jezebel and indifference of the Israelites, fled to Mt. Horeb in the wilderness. Leaving his servant at Beersheba, he walked into the desert a day’s journey and collapsed under a broom tree. Exhausted, his soul as dry as the desert that surrounded him, he prayed, “It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” (1 Kings 19:4). The wilderness, for Elijah, was a place of temptation as well, for He was tempted to despair of God’s mercy and imagine that He was the only true believer left, and a miserable one at that. More than these though, the temptation was to believe that he had failed and that the Word of God had failed, so that there was no point to go on living. An angel is sent to feed Elijah in the wilderness, and with that food the prophet is strengthened to go forty days into the wilderness to mountain of God where the Lord strengthens the prophet through His Word and sends Him with renewed purpose. For Israel and Elijah, the wilderness is where you go to be tempted by the devil.

3)         It was the same for the Lord Jesus as well. After His baptism in the River Jordan, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). There, Christ your Lord experienced all the temptations of Israel and Elijah, and your temptations. In the wilderness the devil tempted Jesus to doubt His sonship, for He asked twice, “If you are the son of God” (Matthew 4:3,6). The temptation was to doubt God’s Word spoken in baptism, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Jesus is tempted to believe that the Father will not provide for all His needs, thus the temptation to turn stones into bread. Jesus is tempted to believe that the Father will not protect Him, thus the temptation to test God’s truthfulness by hurling Himself off the pinnacle of the temple. Jesus is tempted to attain the kingdoms of the world by abandoning suffering and the cross, thus the temptation to worship Satan. And when the time of temptation is over, once Jesus has rebuffed Satan with the Word and finally cast Him out defeated, “the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him” (Matthew 4:11), just as angels ministered to Elijah, and just as in the Exodus “Men ate angels' food” (Psalm 78:25).

4)         The wilderness is a place of testing for Christ and His saints. For the Christian, the entire world is a wilderness because in this life we are perpetually under assault from the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. The world continually hammers Christians to adopt its deranged way of thinking and its religion of self-righteousness. Our own flesh, which is still sinful in this life, “lusts against the Spirit” (Galatians 5:17), desiring to be enslaved to sin once again, so that we exactly what St. Paul urges us not to do in today’s epistle lesson, “present our members as slaves of uncleanness” (Romans 6:19). The sinful flesh tempts us to all sorts of vices and sins, some which can be easily seen by others and others which no one sees but God. In the wilderness of this life, the devil fires his flaming darts at us each day to lead us into false belief about God, so that we begin to think of God as either aloof and uncaring or menacing and ready to damn us at a moment’s notice for our sins. The devil did this to Israel in the wilderness. He led them into lusts of the flesh, into idolatry, and discontent with God’s promises. The devil did this to Elijah in the wilderness, tempting him to believe that the Word of the Lord had failed. The devil did this to Christ our Lord, tempting Him to doubt God’s Word and abandon the cross. In this wilderness the devil daily attacks Christians, for he “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He wants you to doubt God’s promises given to you in your baptism. He wants you to throw away the gifts God promises in the Gospel. Then he can devour you.

5)         But fear not. Your Lord has led you into this wilderness. He led Israel there. He led Elijah there. He even led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. That seems counterintuitive, but God often works in ways that are opposite of what we think should be right. Why does he lead His Christians into this wilderness? John Gerhard answers this beautifully. “It is done so that we will understand that joy and trust of heart come from Him, and also that we will give Him higher honor and more diligently thank Him. Finally, it is so that we will long the more for the heavenly paradise, where there will no longer be such brevity but only enduring and everlasting solace and endless joy.” (Postilla Volume 2. Pg. 81). Just as the Lord provided manna and quail and water from the rock for Israel, so He will provide spiritual bread for you in your temptations to strengthen you so that you fight temptation and instead “present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness” (Romans 6:19). Just as angels were sent to minister to the despairing Elijah, so your Lord promises to provide spiritual bread to restore your weary soul’s lack of confidence in His promises. Just as angels ministered to Jesus after His temptation, so your Lord promises to provide you with faith that is the victory over the world and the devil. Jesus allowed four thousand people to follow Him in the wilderness so that He could miraculously feed them. He does the same for all His Christians. He wants to strengthen your faith through the bread that He offers.

6)         The bread that He offers is Himself. He says, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). He also says, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world” (John 6:51). So we feast on Jesus in two ways, the first is spiritually by faith. We hear His promise of the forgiveness of all of our sins, and faith feasts sumptuously on that promise and devours it hungrily. We hear that in Christ we have a God who is reconciled to us, a God who is for us and not against us, and a God who will not withhold any good thing from us, and faith eats those promises up by trusting in them. Christ offers freedom of conscious when we believe firmly that our sins are forgiven and that we are acceptable to God because of faith in Christ, not any work we do. Faith is how we spiritually feast on Christ. The second way we feast on Christ is orally in the Sacrament. Christ gives us bread which He says IS His true body and wine that He says IS His very blood. We eat His body with our mouths and spiritually when we believe His Words “ “this IS my body,” “this IS my blood given for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Thus Christ feeds us by His Word and His Sacrament to forgive our sins and strengthen our faith.

7)         Christ leads us into the wilderness, just as He Himself was led into the wilderness to face temptation. He does this so that we may learn to do what the great multitude did in that wilderness, continue with Jesus, hearing His Word, learning His Gospel, inwardly digesting His promises so that they nourish us and grant us relief, renewal, and rest. These things He will most certainly give us in this wilderness world. He gives us all this in His Word and in His Sacrament, for through these means He forgives all your sins, fortifies your faith, and strengthens your confidence in all His promises. He does so because He has compassion on the multitudes. He has compassion on you, His baptized child. Therefore you will not starve physically, nor spiritually, for Christ Jesus is your true bread and the true nourishment of your soul. Amen.

May the peace of God, which passes all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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