Lent 4 – March 5/6, 2016 – John 6:1-15
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
We are basically midway through Lent – three weeks down, three weeks to go – the midpoint, if you will. And so this week we take a pause from texts and lessons that deal intensely and fiercely with Christ's assault on sin and death, and instead we have a Gospel lesson that is about refreshment and being filled and satisfied, all so that we might be prepared to dive on into the rest of Lent. This Sunday in Latin is known as “Laetare” – Rejoice – the first word of our Introit. And so today we will see a miracle that will give us cause to rejoice, not only in this miracle itself, but in the greater miracle it points forward to.
So, what’s the situation? Jesus heads off beyond the sea of Galilee, “And a large crowd was following Him, because they saw the signs that He was doing on the sick.” Jesus had been healing people – and this was interesting, and so a bunch of people follow Him, even as He goes off into the wild, into the desolate, desert area beyond the sea of Galilee. And then we hear this: “Jesus went up on the mountain and there He sat down with His disciples.” With this verse, John is telling us that Jesus is going to be teaching us something very important. Whenever Jesus goes up on a mountain – there’s going to be some teaching. You have the sermon on the Mount, you have the Mount of Transfiguration. Teaching happens on mountains. And not only that – Jesus sits down. Teachers, at this time, always sat down to teach. We think of standing up to say something that everyone needs to listen to – just the opposite then. You would sit down to teach. So here we see in big, bright neon letters that Jesus is going to teach His disciples. And He does so in a very Jewish way – He poses them a question.
“Lifting up His eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward Him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘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 poses a question to His disciples – how are we going to feed these folks? Now, understand that this question would have put the disciples off guard. “We’re supposed to be feeding them – we were supposed to be thinking about that?” Let me tell you, as a teacher, few things are more delightful than posing a question that your students hadn’t even thought of. So, Phillip speaks – “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” Phillip doesn’t have a good answer – 200 denarii is 200 days wages – if all the disciples went and worked for 3 weeks they’d barely have enough to buy everyone a morsel. Or in other words – Phillip is stumped.
Andrew comes up next – “There is a boy here who has five barely loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Now, we hear this and think five, big crusty loaves of bread, and maybe a couple of big, 2 pound fish. No. These are tiny barley rolls – these are small little fish, like smelt or sardines – it’s what you’d pack for a kid’s lunch at school. There’s not really extra to share – some kind mother sent her son off with a packed lunch. That’s it. Andrew’s hope – well, maybe folks brought stuff. That’s it. Neither Phillip nor Andrew nor any of the Disciples really have any clue what Jesus is going to do, even though they have traveled with Him for so long. But Jesus has them make everyone sit down – which is the sign of meal time. You went to sit down for dinner – and then, “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.” We know what happens – Jesus feeds the 5000. The loaves and fish are multiplied, expanded. There is enough for all – 12 baskets of leftovers – bushel baskets of leftovers.
So then, what is the lesson? “When the people saw the sign that He had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’” Jesus is the promised Messiah – this tops what went on before in the Old Testament. This tops God sending Manna and quail, this tops Elijah seeing that the widow’s flour and oil don’t run out, tops Elisha feeding 100 people. This is a huge miracle – and so these people see and recognize that Jesus is the Messiah, the One promised to come. And here, with this miracle, we do see something very important about Jesus. He cares for our physical needs. He has compassion upon the hungry, He knows the weakness of the body, the fatigue we can face. And He cares for our bodies. This should be a great comfort to us, a great source of security. Indeed, the only real security we have in this life is knowing that Christ Jesus cares for us. That is indeed the only way any of us stand, the only away any of us endure in this life. We live, we exist only because of the bounty that God provides – whether He provides it in the spectacular way He did here with the 5000, or even just in His normal, providential care.
But we do, in this text, also see an error which we are to be warned away from. “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.” The text ends with Jesus basically running away. Why? Because people, seeing physical blessings, want to make Christ simply a king of physical blessings, simply a king of making our lives here and now better. They see the physical blessings and gifts that Christ brings, and they want Him to be simply that sort of king, a king of earthly stuff. Likewise, even today, so many Christians can become focused on wealth and material possessions. So much of American Christianity is focused on stuff. Let me give an example. If I wrote a book on how you could understand God’s forgiveness more and more, and then someone else wrote a book on how if you just said this prayer, organized your life in a purposeful way, had a positive attitude, did whatever - that then God would bless you with tons of stuff – which one would sell more? The one about getting stuff. As Americans, we’re rich, we have homes and food, so much food we have industries that teach people how to lose weight – we have closets full of clothes we don’t wear. We have so much stuff that we can afford to buy things that we use once and then throw away, like paper plates and napkins. And, given the culture we live in, we tend to focus on stuff. But that isn’t the real point, the real focus – our worship, our focus shouldn’t just be on stuff.
That is why Christ leaves this crowd – Jesus’ focus is not simply upon material things, upon temporal blessings. Where is Christ’s focus? It’s upon something far, far greater. John told us near the start of the lesson – a simple little line that just seemed to stick out and not fit in. Verse 4 – “Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.” This isn’t just any Passover – this is the Passover with the Last Supper, with Good Friday – the Passover that leads to Easter. That, dear friends, is where Christ’s focus is – that’s why we get this text in the middle of Lent. We pause and remember temporal blessings, remember God’s care for us now – but then we turn our eyes towards holy week, we dive back on into Lent – because it is there, in Holy Week, where everything happens. And even as Christ feeds these 5000 here in this text, He is already thinking about a much greater feeding – that which takes place on the night when our He is betrayed – His most Holy and Sacred Supper. What we have is a move from the lesser, the smaller miracle here with the 5000 to the greater and more wondrous miracle in the Lord’s Supper.
Consider – compare this feeding with what our Lord does in the Supper. “Jesus then took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed them.” This is familiar language – right? What are we going to hear in a few minutes right here in this place as we celebrate and participate in the Lord’s Supper? Jesus “took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples…” Jesus’ focus is upon the Passover, upon His passion – He’s training and preparing His disciples for that great meal by the feeding of the 5000. When they all hit the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday, the disciples are going to see and hear Jesus and know that He is doing something wondrous – something even more wondrous than what He had done with for the 5000. In His Holy Supper, Christ isn’t just giving bread to sustain physical life – instead – Take, eat, this is My Body, given for you. Take drink, this is My Blood, shed for you for the remission of sins. Instead of just bread given for the care of a person’s body now, along with the bread and wine Christ in His Supper gives Himself, His own Body and Blood, attaches Himself to us, brings us all that He does in Holy Week, His death, His resurrection – so that we have from Him the Life Everlasting that He wins and displays for the world to see on Easter Morning. And if you think taking a few loaves and feeding 5000 people is something – wait until you see the Lord’s Supper. Consider this day – we aren’t alone in receiving this Supper – Christ Jesus will feed tens of Millions, hundreds of millions of people with His life giving Body today. He comes to be our King, not just in this life where moth and rust destroy, but to be our King of Eternal life, who rules not just a few people 2000 years ago in Judea, but gathers His people from all places and all times unto Himself, a countless throng to be gathered before His throne, never to be separated from Him – a righteous people purchased not with denarii or silver or gold, but with His precious blood. That is where Christ’s focus is – upon His passion that wins us salvation, and upon His Supper that brings His passion to us whenever we are gathered to His table.
And so dear friends, as we too turn our eyes towards Holy Week, as we prepare to intensely ponder our Lord’s passion the rest of this Lenten season – be refreshed, be secure, rejoice in the salvation that Christ has given you. He has come not simply to be your king for a brief time, not simply your bread king for a day, but He richly cares for you, body and soul now, and He shall bring you to His eternal kingdom, where He will be your good and gracious king forever more. While the battles He takes to win you this salvation may be fierce, while the trials we see in this fallen world may be harsh – take heart, for Christ is determined to win you forgiveness – His eyes are upon the Great Passover of His Passion, where He rescues you from death evermore. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +