In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
The word “how” is one of the most dangerous words that there is. It can be cold, it can be cruel, it can be full of doubt and despair. Listen to the disciples use it in a dangerous way. How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place? Does that seem like a dangerous question to you? It is – spiritually it is one of the most dangerous questions the disciples have ever asked. How – how can, one, that is, how can Jesus do anything here?
So, here is the situation. Jesus has been preaching out in the wilderness, and He has been preaching for three whole days. That is an ordeal. That’s not only a long time to preach, but it is a long time to listen, to pay attention. The people are worn out mentally. They also didn’t bring a ton of food – most weren’t expecting such a long of a time of preaching – so they are hungry, they are worn out physically. And Jesus sees this, and so He turns to the disciples and says, “I have compassion upon the crowd, because they have been with Me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some have come from far away.” This is the problem that Jesus poses to the disciples. I want to feed these people.
And then the disciples ask their dangerous question. How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place? Do you hear the danger in that question? It’s full of doubt, it’s full of disbelief. Oh sure, it’s nice that you have compassion on the crowd, Jesus, but a fat lot of good that’s gonna do! They need bread, they need food – and just how do You think that You are going to do anything for them in that department? How? A question of doubt, of disbelief, a question of a lack of trust.
Jesus hears this question. Hears the disciple’s skepticism. So Jesus asks how many loaves they have. Only 7. Even the disciples were running low themselves – and they were used to wandering and traveling around with Jesus. Maybe the disciples own hungry bellies rumbled their way into making them more skeptically. Be that as it may, we know what Jesus does. He takes the bread, blesses it, has the disciples hand it out – and all are fed. 4000 people. And there are leftovers. 7 loaves of bread feed 4000 with 7 baskets full of leftovers. The snide question of “just how are You going to pull this one off, Jesus” has yielded to simple amazement. Jesus feeds the people, and then, He sends them away. I’ve had My compassion upon you, now you can head back to what you need to do.
This is our Gospel lesson. So, what do we learn from it today? Well, how often have you found yourself in the position of the people from the lesson today? I don’t mean that literally – I don’t expect that any of you have gone and listened to a three day sermon; in fact, I firmly expect that if I were to go over even thirty minutes you probably would start chucking hymnals up here at me. No, I mean this. Have you ever gone where the LORD has led you, have you ever struggled to follow Him, to do His will – and been worn out in the process? Worn out mentally, worn out physically, worn out emotionally? Have you struggled to do what is right, and gotten to your wit’s end? That’s where the people, that’s where the disciples are in today’s text. They’ve been following Christ – and they are plumb tuckered out. It’s been hard upon them. Being a Christian, living as you ought, beating down your sinful flesh and showing love to your neighbor is a hard, wearing thing. The Christian life is not Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. It is hard, wearing labor sometimes, is it not? It is easy to get worn down.
And here is where the danger pops in. Here is when Satan attacks. When you are worn and weary and worried and full of concern and fatigue – Satan will whisper a word of worry into your ear. How? How am I going to get through this? How am I going to be able to go on? How will we get through this?
Think about how we end up using the word “how”. All too often, how isn’t a word of confidence – it isn’t I know that God will see me through this, I’m just wondering what He will do – how He will do it! No, so often it becomes a word of doubt. How is this possible? How can this be? I’m at the end of my rope and there’s nothing that can be done – how will I ever get through this? Doubt and fear and forgetfulness.
Yes, forgetfulness – because when we are tired and worn, we are quick to forget, quick to forget the many ways in which God has supported and sustained us in the past. The disciples in the text had seen miracles before – but they forgot them, and they worried, they doubted, they feared. You, dear friends, every one of you, looking back on your life can see countless times where God has upheld you and supported you through all sorts of trials – financial, mental, emotional – how many things has He seen your through? And yet, what is the danger? When we get in the moment – “Alright God, HOW are you ever going to be able to get me out of this one?”
There is a truth that we must remember. Our Lord says, “I have compassion.” Compassion. Do you know what Christ is saying to you when He says that He has compassion? He says, “I share in your sufferings, I share in yours burdens, I know them, and I desire to support you through them.” That is what compassion is – to suffer with, to suffer alongside of. And this is the attitude that God has towards you. And if we only remembered this, if our eyes were continually focused upon Christ’s compassion, how much pain and doubt would we be spared? Doesn’t mean that our trials are any less sore – but we would remember how they all end – with our Lord having compassion upon us – with our Lord doing what is necessary to support and relieve us – to give us our daily bread, to give us strength to forgive others just as He has forgiven us – to make us lay down in His green pastures. This is what the Lord does for us, in all trials, in the face of all problems that we encounter in this life. When we remember what Christ has done, when we see His promises, our doubts about His care drift away, and we take heart and courage even in the midst of the struggles we face, the difficulties and challenges we face. We slug through them, or perhaps more accurately He slugs us through them. We know that God has compassion upon us.
There is another aspect of this text that we should ponder, another application. Can we be tired, can we be worn out Spiritually? We are not just bodies, not just hunks of meat running around in the world, but we are also beings with a Soul, with a Spirit. Can you get worn out Spiritually as well? Quite often the more stressed we are bodily, the more stressed we are in the world, the more stressed we can be as regards our faith. Times are tight and tough, and we can forget God’s love. People are rough, and all thoughts of forgiveness, including God’s forgiveness towards us, can go out the window. Mentally we get beat down – and the promises of God don’t seem all they are cracked up to be. And we can begin to doubt – not just about how God will get us through life – but we can actually start to doubt God’s Word. Oh, it doesn’t start off that bold or brash – but just in little bits and pieces, doubt chipping away at faith.
Remember this, at all times, over and against Satan’s efforts to beat you down - that God has compassion upon you, and that the highest form of His compassion rests in the forgiveness of your sins, won for you upon the Cross. His forgiveness for you is something that God never wants you to doubt. But we live in a day and age of doubt. God gives us tangible promises, tangible signs of His forgiveness and love, and people in the world try to tear them down. He has given you the gift of your Baptism – attached the promise of forgiveness to water, washed you in it. Yet how many people will say, “How can that do you any good – especially if you are a kid.” Doubting the promise of God. Or the Lord’s Supper – Christ’s Body and Blood, given to you under bread and wine for the forgiveness of your sins – a great and wonderful gift. And what’s the question that goes up? Well, how can that be? Again, doubting the promise of God. Even with the spoken Word of God, people want to bring in doubt. In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins. Well, how can a simple human pastor do that? We live in a world that is full of doubt about the things of God – where Satan wants to tear down any promise of God.
Listen to the Word of God, and trust in its promises. Baptism now saves you. This is My Body, given for you. This is My Blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Peace be with you – as the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you. And when He had said this He breathed upon them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven. All of this, the very Word of God – all of it, designed and intended to make sure that you always receive forgiveness and know that you are forgiven – all of it designed to make sure that you know that just as Christ supports your body and life, He protects and nourishes your faith. Do not doubt His Word, but believe. Hear again what He has declared to you, receive again the forgiveness that He gives to you.
Because, dear friends – that is what the true cure for doubt is. Hearing God’s Word of compassion – His love and His care for you in both Body and Soul. The Lord provides you what you need for this life, and He will sustain you and see you through any trial you encounter, just has He has already seen you through the trials of your past. And more than that – He will also grant you rich and sweet forgiveness, washing away your sins and also alleving your doubts, giving you strength to face the trials of life, giving you strength to show the love that you ought. God grant that He always draw you unto Himself by the power of His life giving Word of forgiveness. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost + Amen.