7th Sunday after Trinity + Mark 8:1-9 + July 30, 2017
Hymn # 288 Lord, Help Us Ever to Retain (St. 1-2)
Hymn # 288 Lord, Help Us Ever to Retain (St. 3-4)
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
1) In today’s Gospel reading a great multitude, four thousand strong, gather to hear Jesus’ teaching. We often think of crowds flocking to Christ to see a miracle or that they migrate to where He is because He’s recently done a miracle. But that’s usually not the case. The people came to Jesus because “He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Matthew 7:29). Such was the case in today’s Gospel reading. This multitude goes out into the wilderness of all places to hear Jesus preach. They remain with Him, listening to Him, for three days as He preaches about repentance, faith, and the kingdom of God. This multitude listens to Jesus for three days. These four thousand souls feast on rich spiritual food Christ gives them to eat, for His doctrine is the heavenly doctrine which creates and sustains faith. The crowd could have dispersed and went home at the end of the first day, but they refused. The multitude had come to understand what Peter had confessed in John 6:68, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” The multitude was with Jesus in the wilderness because they understood what the Lord had said through Moses in Deuteronomy 8:3, “man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.” It is on the third day that Jesus says to His disciples, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And 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’ compassion is upon those who do not despise His preaching but gladly hear and learn it.
2) The disciples are thrown into confusion by Christ’s compassion though. Jesus wants to feed this multitude so that they don’t faint from exhaustion on their way to their homes. They respond, “How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?” The disciples did what anyone does when they experience lack. They looked to the external surroundings and judged the situation with their senses and experience. Looking around, they saw that they were in the middle of the desert! “How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?” The word evrhmi,a in Greek is often translated as wilderness but also desert. Texans are familiar with what’s in the desert: a whole lot of nothing. No water. Nothing edible. Only dangerous beasts and unrelenting heat exist in the wilderness of the desert. It’s not a place where food can be grown. It’s the opposite of civilization where food can be bought. The disciples look out around them and see nothing to work with here. Their eyes were fixed upon what they could see. Their ears were tuned only to hear the sounds from the stomachs. This is everyone does in a time of lack, when they are surrounded by nothing. They forget that the Lord, with whom all things are possible, is with them in the wilderness. They also assumed that the one who had graciously fed their souls with the bread of His teaching was now incapable of giving them physical bread as well.
3) This is precisely what the Israelites had done in the wilderness. The Lord brought them out of Egypt with a mighty and outstretched arm. The Lord had defeated the Egyptians in the Ten Plagues. The Lord baptized His people into Moses by bringing them through the Red Sea on dry ground. Yet as soon as they look around and see that they’re in the middle of the desert wilderness they abandon faith in the One who brought them there. They cry out, “Oh, that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Exodus 16:3) Israel only saw what they didn’t have at that moment. The transitory, the things they could see with their eyes and the experience of their stomach was the only true thing for them at that moment. Psalm 78:19 sums it up well, “They spoke against God: They said, ‘Can God prepare a table in the wilderness?’” And that is precisely what the Lord did. He said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not.” He promised bread and promised it in a very particular way to provide for Israel’s need but also to test their faith to see if they would trust God’s promise. This gracious provision of daily bread from heaven lasted the entire time Israel was in the desert, as it is written in Exodus 16:35, “the children of Israel ate manna forty years, until they came to an inhabited land; they ate manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.”
4) The disciples experience the same doubt that the Israelites had done in the wilderness. Blinded by what they could see with their eyes and by what reason told them, they wondered, “Can God prepare a table in the wilderness?” And that is precisely what Jesus does. Having fed their souls with the spiritual food of His doctrine, in compassion for them He feeds their bodies as well. Using seven loaves and a few small fish, Jesus gives thanks, broke the seven loaves, and distributes them to the disciples, who are then to distribute the bread to the masses. And it works. He feeds the crowd four thousand strong. But He does more than feed them. He fills them up. He does not rain manna from heaven that the throng must go out and gather by the sweat of their brown. He appoints His disciples to place His provision directly into their hands. He takes a holy number of loaves, seven, and multiplies that so that after everyone is satisfied there are seven baskets of leftovers as a sign of His goodness to His people. St. Mark records this episode to teach you that the Lord feeds His people in the wilderness. He feeds you with His Word, which is the most important nourishment. He also gives you your daily bread. The Holy Spirit caused this to be written for your learning, so that you, like the disciples, continually learn to trust that your Lord will care for all your needs of body and soul.
5) We so often do what the disciples and Israel did. The Church is the New Israel, the people of God who have been baptized not in the Red Sea but in water combined with God’s Word in Holy Baptism. Like Old Testament Israel, the Church lives in the desert wilderness of this sinful, barren world. As it was for Israel, so it is for us. The Church is surrounded by a whole lot of nothing in this life, nothing that can enrich her people or nourish her children. The world is a desert not only of morality, but anything good and God-pleasing. The Church cannot be nourished by the empty calories of worldly business models because she is not a worldly business. Christians cannot be enriched by the wisdom of this world, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1 Corinthians 3:19) and the world’s wisdom runs contrary to the ways of God. Christians can only be fed and nourished by the promises of God purely preached and Christ’s sacraments administered according to His institution. “For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel” (AC V). The Lord Jesus still provides spiritual bread from heaven. He 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). Jesus offered His flesh on the cross to pay for every sin committed by every sinner. That Gospel is the only bread from heaven that truly nourishes Christians and the Christ’s Church, that message given through preaching and through Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
6) This miracle shows us how Christ will always provide food for our souls, as He did for those four thousand souls. It also shows us how Christ will provide our daily bread. Christ does not only want us to be spiritually alive. He cares for our bodies and earthly lives and well because He created us that way. The daily bread He promises is more than food, but as Dr. Luther teaches us in the Small Catechism, “Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, yard, land, animals, money, goods, a pious spouse, pious children, pious workers, pious and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.” The Lord graciously promises to give us what we need, when we need it. He promises this to us individually and also corporately to His Church. Each of us can see how God has graciously given us everything we have, so that we can agree with St. Paul who says in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive?” Indeed. Everything you possess in this life is a good gift from God your heavenly Father, who “knows that you need all these things” (Matthew 6:32). We may feel at times as if we do not have enough. We may worry that God is not true to His Word to provide us with everything we need for this body and life. We may, like Israel, ask, “Can God prepare a table in the wilderness” of this life? But faith does not look at what we lack, at external things, or circumstance. Faith looks to Christ alone and is confident that He is true to His Word, for He “is not man that he should lie” (Numbers 23:19).
7) You will most certainly face challenges in this life. You will suffer much for the sake of the kingdom of God. You will bear affliction and lack at various times. But fear not, your Lord is with you in the wilderness and He is a compassionate and merciful Lord who promises to give you what you need. First and foremost He gives you the forgiveness of your sins through faith in Christ, and secondly He promises you your daily bread. Rejoice, Israel of God, your gracious Lord is with you in the desert wilderness of this world. Amen.
Now may the peace of God, which passes human understanding, guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.