Lent 4 – March 22nd, 2009 – John 6:1-15
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Lent can be a hard and rough time, an intense time in the Church. I know full well that the sermons the past three weeks have been somewhat blunt and intense. That’s what happens in Lent. And I think that the intensity of Lent, the intensity of a focus on repentance can be a bit shocking to us today in America because we have forgotten that there is a cost of discipleship, that there is a weight and burden attached to being a Christian. It shows up in the old hymns. We sing in A Mighty Fortress - “And take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife”. We sing in What a Friend We have in Jesus – “Are we weak and heavy laden. . .Do your friends despise, forsake you? These are hymns that are describing the burden, the true burden in this life of being a Christian, of turning your back upon the world. . . and letting the world kick you in the backside. This is something that Christ though is blunt and honest about – we hear Him teach this, but somehow in America our mindset has gotten twisted. We think that because we are Christians we should have things easier, that if we are good little Christian boys and girls that we should get more toys. When we think of Saints, do we think of people who suffered all, even death, for the sake of Christ, or when we think of Saints, do we think of green beer or excuses for flowers and boxes of chocolate, or even a guy in a red suit bringing us presents because, gosh darnit, we’ve just been so good that we’ve earned, earned our presents.
In America we’ve sort of lost the expectation that the Christian life is hard and difficult – and as such, Lent seems insanely burdensome – the concept of giving something up astounding – and as such, we don’t understand what Christ our Lord teaches in the Gospel today – Refreshment Sunday – the pink Sunday of Lent. What we are going to do today is look at the feeding of the 5000, but in terms of burden and relief, in terms of trials in this life and being rescued. It fits well, and it is something we need to hear, need to be rightly focused on.
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following Him, because they saw the signs that He was doing on the sick. 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. 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 that these people may eat?” Here is the familiar set up. Jesus has been doing miracles, He has been preaching, and large crowds begin to follow Him. And Jesus sees the crowds, and Jesus asks the disciples a simple question. Where are we going to buy bread to feed these folks? Now, consider this. You’ve been walking all day, following after a person. Jesus had gone onto the other side of the Sea of Galilee, so you may have gone many, many miles following Jesus, eager to hear Him, eager to see Him in action. In a hot, dusty, rugged area. All the day long.
What would these people following Jesus here look like? They would be a mess, they would be tired, they would be hungry. There is a cost, a burden associated with these people following Jesus. Their bodies are worn. They’ve probably missed lunch, if not more meals than that. The money they would have earned that day – never gotten by them. They have made a sacrifice, their life is harder right now because they are in that crowd. Things of this life, they gave up, simply to follow Christ.
Now, as we observed a few weeks ago, Jesus knows quite well what it is to be like out in the desert, tired and hungry. And so we know that Christ will have compassion, that He will seek to alleviate their hunger. However, that doesn’t mean that they weren’t hungry. That doesn’t mean that there was no cost, no burden to the people. It is rough following Christ. Christ doesn’t make things easy – rather this – He will refresh and strengthen them, so that they can recover from this day, so that they can be prepared for the next.
The same is true in your life. Christ knows your life is hard, and He knows that the more you try to live as a Christian, the more you turn away from sin, the more you say no to the people of the world who want to do wickedness, the more you give of yourself so that others can have and rejoice – the more you do these Christ-like things the harder your life is. And so Christ will refresh you. He will bolster you on His Word, He will feed you on His Supper, He will encourage you, He will let you see joys in simple things, simple acts of compassion that the world will never know. But still, we can ask the question. Why the hard stuff in the first place? If Jesus was gonna feed these people, why’d He let them follow Him out around a lake in the first place? If God is going to give us peace and rest, why is there a burden in the first place? This text gives us two reasons, which we will see shortly.
First, listen to what Jesus says to Phillip. “Where are we going to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. Jesus knew what He was going to do – but here is the question. Did the disciples know? And the answer is no. Phillip mutters that a mound of cash wouldn’t do much good. Even Peter, top of the class Peter says, “Eh, a boy has five loaves and two fish, but that doesn’t amount to much.” The disciples didn’t know, they didn’t understand. If they didn’t know what Christ would do, how would they be able to be Christ-like, to do things like Christ? One of the things that we forget is that the Christian life is often compared to training, to learning, to improving. And that is hard. If you want to be a better runner you don’t sit on the couch eating bon-bons – you must run and often. If you want to be a better basketball player you don’t play XBOX or playstation, your Coach is going to send you through drills until you are worn out. If you want to be a better reader, you can’t just read nothing but Clifford the Big Red Dog books, you have to pick up harder and more difficult books, learn words you hadn’t known before. Learning math means you’ve got to do homework. Even in the things of this world, we grow in the face of struggle.
The same thing holds true in our lives as Christians. If we are to grow to be like Christ, we have to be put in places, be given opportunities to do Christ-like things. And that means difficulty. That means showing love even to your enemies, that means praying even for those who persecute you, that means making the care of others your top priority, even if it means a lack for yourself. Our Lord says in Luke that “a disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Recognize the trials in your life for what they are – for they are not simply burdens, but they are opportunities which Christ gives you in order for you to grow, to grow in love, to know in knowledge amd wisdom, to grow in understanding of Christ’s love for you. In this world which is full of sin, we will always need growth in Christ, learning how to struggle against sin, and it will remain a struggle, that is the way things must be here.
Then we know what happens in the text. Christ provides, and He provides abundantly. 12 baskets of leftovers are gathered. Christ does provide us with all that we need, the difficulties are endured and conquered, and we rejoice and give thanks. However, there is that verse at the end of the section that is also of note this morning. Perceiving that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself. The people have just been fed, have just received this wonderful blessing from Christ – and what do they want to do? They want to do the exact opposite of what Christ wants them to. They want to make Him King, they want more and more blessings, let’s just focus on our bellies and the here and now.
Let me ask a question. Do children who are provided every thing they wish, receive every whim that they desire grow in maturity – or do they become spoiled, miserable brats? The same thing holds true spiritually. You know yourself. If you never had any struggle, any toil, any difficulties, would you grow in your faith? Would you learn to trust God more, or would you rather end up putting your trust in stuff, in blessings? Would you want to see Jesus heal more sick people, show more love to others, or simply fill your belly?
Here is the wonder. Christ provides for us – but he provides what is good for us, what is proper for us, blessings to sustain us, but not blessings to make us lazy and lethargic. He acts in a way that is best for us. Don’t you think that in the text it is best for the people that Jesus withdraws from them there? He didn’t come ultimately to make them tasty bread, He came to win them life and salvation by going to the Cross. But at the moment, the crowd doesn’t see that, they are just focused on their bellies. Christ withdraws because His focus is right. Same thing in our lives now – Christ doesn’t want you focused simply on the pleasures and stuff of this life, this world. This life will never be the end-all be-all of your life, but rather you are being prepared and preserved for the joys of heaven. Christ will bless you, He will sustain you – but He isn’t going to spoil you and He isn’t make you lazy. Rather this – He will sustain you and support you throughout your struggles, indeed for your struggles so that you will conquer them in Him.
This is what we receive in the Word, this is what we receive in Christ’s Supper. Forgiveness strengthens us for life, strengthens us so that we might go out and live. We close this service with the benediction, so that our life in the world this week might be blessed. This is God’s care for us. And it is more than enough, more than we need, and it is given to us simply because He cares for us – but it is the right care, the good care, the proper amount of care, so that we are provided for and so that we also have opportunity to grow. Christ refreshes us, and then He sustains us in our time here in this life, so that we might grow ever more closer to Him. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +