Sunday, March 10, 2013

Lent 4 Sermon

Lent 4 – March 10th, 2013 – John 6:1-15

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
          God provides.  Even to sinful and foolish man, God provides.  Even to people who don’t understand, who complain, who are dismissive of His power, God provides.  We are in the middle of Lent, of a time of repentance, a time of reflection upon our own sinfulness, a time where we ponder the great and cosmic struggle for salvation that our Lord is engaged in for our sake.  And here, in the middle of Lent, we pause, we take time to remember and see a simple truth.  God provides what we need for this body and life – both now and for all eternity.

          “After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberius.  And a large crowd was following Him, because they saw the signs that He was doing on the sick.”  So, here’s the situation.  Jesus has been healing, and so the crowds are following Him, wanting to see what He would do next.  Miracles, signs, wonders.  That’s what has been going on – and as we see in chapter 5, Jesus getting into disagreements with the haughty and proud.  And so there Jesus is, and the people are following.  “Jesus went up on the mountain and there He sat down with His disciples.  Now, the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.”  And now here’s the full set up.  Jesus is sitting with His disciples, and John notes for us that Passover is coming.  Passover, the celebration of God’s deliverance of His people from bondage in Israel.  Passover – the start of the Exodus, where God would feed His people in the wilderness for 40 years with manna, with bread from heaven.  This is the setting, these are the things that should be in the back of the disciples minds as Jesus begins to teach them, to instruct them.

          “Lifting up His eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward Him, Jesus said to Phillip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’  He said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.”  And like any good teacher, Jesus begins to test His disciples.  He starts with Phillip.  Alright Phillip, where do we buy bread to feed these people?  And it’s interesting to see how Phillip responds.  “Phillip answered him, ‘Two Hundred Denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’”  And Phillip gets it half right.  Oh, he speaks correctly – a denarius was basically enough to feed your family for a day.  Let’s say that you could use that to feed ten people well.  We could almost feed 2000 people with the cash on hand, Jesus, but there’s more than 2000 there.  Phillip is thinking totally and completely in terms of money, in terms of commerce.  In that sense, there is no hope.  But the problem is this – the Passover is at hand, the time of focusing upon God’s deliverance of His people is at hand.  And this just connection, this point slides right by Phillip.

          Andrew decides to give it a shot.  “One of the disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barely loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many.’”  Andrew thinks again in terms of resources.  Maybe we can scrounge food off of folks – look, that little kid brought a lunch – what Andrew describes is basically two sandwiches – these are little rolls of bread, small fish.  It’s a pound of food, not 5.  And actually, this is the answer that a lot of the liberal scholars today give – oh, this story is nothing more than all the people seeing this boy bringing food to share, and then everyone share, isn’t that so nice, peace and love, kum bay ya.  Except that’s not what the text says.  Even Andrew is dismissive of the idea of gathering resources from the crowds.  Think about it – these are crowds running off after a miracle worker – they’ve dropped what they were doing and took off after Jesus to see if He was going to do something astonishing or amazing.  And sure, some nice mom packs a lunch for her kid who happened to have come home and ask permission before going, but that’s not the normal here.  There is no cash, there really are no resources.  And the disciples are thus stumped.

          “Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’  Now, there was much grass in the place.”  Of course there’s much grass in that place.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd, He makes me to lie down in green pastures.  John is telling us that something Messianic, something Divine is coming!  It’s on the eve of Passover, there’s been signs all over the place, it’s Psalm 23 come to life!  “So the men sat down, around 5000 in number.  Jesus then took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed them to those who were seated.  So also the fish, as much as they wanted.  And when they had eaten their fill, He told His disciples, ‘Gather up the leftovers so that nothing may be lost.’  So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with the fragments from the five barely loaves, left by those who had eaten.”  And the miracle occurs.  There, out and about, God provides bread, provides food for His people.  Abundantly.  With excess to spare. 

          So, what then do we learn from this?  What then do we see?  What is the lesson we are taught?  Well, the first and obvious lesson is that yes, God does provide.  When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we aren’t just whistling Dixie.  God does indeed provide for us all that we need to support this body and life.  And this is something that God is interested in doing, that He delights in doing.  When Jesus sees the crowds, His question is not whether or not they will be provided for, but how.  It is to be assumed that these folks will be provided for, because that is what God does.  And indeed, this is something that we should ponder and rejoice in.  God has provided for us.  Amidst all the dangers of this life, in the middle of uncertainty and rough weather, God has provided, and it’s only our greed, our selfishness that would lead us to think other wise.  And note this – Jesus doesn’t provide for the crowd because of anything they have done, or because they are good – He is going to have to flee from them in just a few moments.  Rather, He provides simply because He is God and He is good.  This is what we confess when we confess that God is our Creator – not just that He made stuff way back when in Genesis, but that He has made me and all creatures, that He still provides for me, even to this day, all that I need to support this body and life.

          But again, this is only the start, the beginning of God providing for us.  Yes, He provides the normal, everyday things that we need… but we need more than just food and clothing to support this body and life.  Man in a fallen world cannot live by bread alone, for we are oppressed by sin and Satan and death.  We are in need of the promised Savior, the Messiah – and the crowd gets this, almost.  They do get that what Jesus does in Messianic.  “When the people saw the sign that He had done, they said, ‘This is the Prophet who is to come into the world.!”  Again, because we aren’t as versed in the Old Testament as they were, we sort of miss this.  We today understand that the feeding of the 5000 is a cool miracle, but what the crowd understands is that with this miracle, with this sign, Jesus sort of just tops everyone in the Old Testament.  Yes, there was manna in the desert, but that appeared on the overnight and we had to pick it.  Here Jesus just gives.  Yes, when Elijah lived with the widow, the flour and oil never ran out, but that was food for three.  In one fell swoop Jesus upstages both Moses and Elijah, He tops them, He trumps them.  The wonders of the Old Testament give way to what Jesus does.

          But then, the crowd misses the point too.    “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him King, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.”  I know last week was the “no good deed goes unpunished week,” but how do you like this?  You feed the people, and suddenly they become a rebellious mob wanting to overthrow the government.  This is emblematic of what happens so often – there is the sign, and people are amazed… but then they want to run off in the wrong direction.  They see the sign, and think that this should point not to redemption and forgiveness, but rather to leisure.  If Jesus feeds us for a day here on this grass, imagine what could happen if He were to rule the world!  They wanted Jesus to be merely a better version of the Roman Emperors, giving better bread and better circuses.  But again – not the point.  God provides.  God provides what we need, truly need, both for now, but also and even more wondrously for eternity.

          All those things in the Old Testament – the Passover, the Manna in the wilderness, Elijah caring for the widow, they point forward to the coming of the Messiah, who would not merely provide for our body and life for a brief time in this life, but redeem our bodies from sin and death and give us true life, life that lasts through all eternity.  It was not an accident that this takes place on the Eve of Passover – for that is the great foreshadowing of Christ’s death for the sins of the people, the spotless Lamb whose blood will lead us out of bondage to sin and death.  It’s no accident that John writes, “Jesus then took the loaves, and when He had given thanks” because Christ our Lord gives us life and salvation in His own Holy Supper, in His Body and Blood even to this very day.  God is not content to merely care for you for a few 70, 80, 90, 100 years.  He is determined to be your God and Lord and Savior for all eternity, and so Christ Jesus will not let Himself be made merely into an earthly king, not merely a distributor of blessings.  Oh, He will give blessings, but that is no effort at all for Him – for all of creation and all that is in it is His.  No, the greater, the larger wonder is this.  Christ comes to be our Savior, who provides for us what we need both now and for eternity.  When we fail to see this, when we forget this, He will remind us again, He will teach us, and over and over He will distribute to us His life giving Body and Blood so that we too might have life in His name.  All thanks be to Christ Jesus our Lord, who shows us such wondrous love.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen.

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