Lent 4 – March 24th and 25th, 2017 – John 6:1-15
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
I want to start at the end of our Gospel Text. “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.” This text, the famous feeding of the 5000 thousand, ends with Jesus high-tailing it out of there because the mob wants to lay hands on Him and drag Him off to be king. How's that for a day? It had been a normal enough day for Jesus – a great crowd had gathered while He was preaching, and as usual Jesus decides He'll teach His disciples a bit. Okay Philip, how are we going to feed these folks? It's just a check up, a chance to see if the disciples are paying attention, know what is going on. John notes, “He said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.” This is the standard Jewish way of teaching – you present your students a problem that you know how to solve, but you evaluate how they would solve the problem. And they've got no clue. Andrew brings up the boy who has the two fish, the five loaves (really they're the size of dinner rolls, probably), and Jesus prays and give thanks and there's food for everyone and 12 baskets left over – an awesome miracle, a great sign! And the response? 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.
Think of all the things that could have been learned by the crowd. You've probably heard many of them in sermons – there's the fact that Jesus is true God who provides food, there's the miracle, there's the play off of Psalm 23 because Jesus made His people lay down in green pastures and fed them, there's the faith of the boy, there's the fact that Jesus knows what He's doing – this text is almost hard to preach upon because there's so much that we could focus on. Jesus is intentionally teaching with a miracle, it's rich. And yet – what gets learned? The crowd figures it should go and take Jesus and make Him King. By force. Here they see Jesus do an act of great power, of great kindness, of great generosity – and the reaction of the people is to try to twist His arm and tell Him what He should do and when He should do it.
Alright folks, time for today's hard question. It's not hard in the sense that we don't know what the answer is, mind you. We're just not going to like it. Today's hard question is this: How often do we act precisely like that crowd? Here we are in God's Church – we are the baptized, we know God's love and salvation – and yet how often instead of simply trusting in God to give us what is good, do we want, do we wish that we could just make Jesus do what we want Him to? How often do we wish that there were strings that we could pull with God so He would give us the early blessings we wanted right when we wanted them? Because that is the heart of every temptation – to place ourselves over God and to try to get God to dance to our tune. And even seeing His kindness, His goodness, so often our response will be to try to shake God down for more and more, for something else.
It's because we do not understand the word “our”. Jesus is our King. In fact, that's the folly of the crowd – Jesus was already their King – it's just that they wanted His kingship to be on their terms. Just like we often want God to be our God but on our terms. That word “our” is a possessive – it denotes either ownership or belonging. And the problem for the crowd was they wanted to own Jesus, the problem for us is so often we want to own Jesus, to have Him do what we want when we want it. But that's not what we should mean when we say that Jesus is our King. It's not that Jesus belongs to us – it is that we belong to Him.
So often we will confuse belonging with ownership – and when we do, everything goes sideways. With so many things. If we say, “This is my church” meaning that I own it and it had better do what I want – that's when things go sideways. Badly. If we say, “This is my church” meaning that I belong here, that I am fed upon the Word here, that I serve my neighbors here – then that's great. If someone says, “You're my spouse” thinking that this means they get to boss them around – things go badly. If “You're my spouse” means that I am called by God to love, serve, and care for this person – that I belong to them – things go smoothly. They are my friends, so they had better do what I want – bad. They are my friends, so I will help them out and love them – good. All across our lives, whenever we start wanting to be in control, that's when things go bad, that's when fights happen and things break. God gives us relationships not to Lord it over others, but to shape and direct our service – every relationship you are in is a relationship of service. Even me as a parent – I have authority over my kids (in theory), and that isn't to make them serve me but so that I can serve them. And really sin has at its core a desire to have control – it's the lie that a relationship should be about how you rule and make others do what you want, not how you serve. That's how Adam and Eve were tripped up in the Garden – they thought being like God meant they'd get to be in control.
Over and against that, Jesus shows us what it truly means to say that He is our King. “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.” No, Jesus will be our King, but that means He is going to do what is best for us, whether or not we like it, whether or not it is easier or better for Him. First, Jesus gave the crowd what they needed for their body, not what they wanted. They need food – alright, I'll give them their daily bread (more on that this Wednesday night), but when they wanted more, when they wanted a life of luxury on easy street with Jesus being the goose that lays them the golden eggs – no. That's not good for them. So He doesn't give that to them. Likewise, dear friends – Jesus is a good King for you, and He gives you your daily bread, He gives you what you need. Not necessarily what you want. He gives you what is good for you, so that you learn to remember that you are not everyone else's master, but their friend, their servant, someone who knows them in order to care for them. And in this, Jesus is wise. I've got a big enough ego as it is; I can't imagine what it would be if I were filthy rich on top of it. And as for you – think of the things you want, that you might idly daydream about. Now think of what sort of jerk you'd be tempted become if you actually got it. Oh yeah, if I got that beach house – I'd stay there and be no good to anyone. Our King gives us what really is good for us – and He is wiser than we are.
But we aren't just talking about stuff here. If you want to know what it means that Jesus is our King, ponder this. The crowd was going to make Him King by force – they were willing to go and fight and die for Him. They'd suffer to get Him on the throne – they'd go battle the Romans and stab them and kill them and then Jesus would reign after they shed their blood... do you get how backwards that is? Our King – He chooses to suffer and die for our sake, to give us life. Our King will not wear a golden crown, but He'll take up a crown of thorns. Our King won't shed any blood but His own, and He will shed that as the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
This is the thing. We major in minors. We get caught up in the fleeting, temporary things. The crowds worried about filling their bellies; Christ is focused upon seeing that they get eternal life. We worry about comfort and extra luxuries – Jesus is focused on dealing with Sin and Death for us. And even we here who know better, we can get so caught up in the temporary, the temporal, the earthly – yet Christ Jesus is your King, and that means that He is the King who is for you. When you are distracted – He's not. When you follow your sin down some rabbit trail, He stays upon the true path of righteousness, and He does what is righteous for you. He goes boldly to the Cross for you, He wins you life and salvation, He gives you what you need, what is actually good for you, not only now, but He also gives you eternal life. Because He is your King – and He knows that as Your King His job is to do all things for you good.
That's what Jesus teaches us. Philip gets asked the question so He can learn how far Jesus' care for folks extends. Then Jesus runs from the crowd for their own good – teaching them and us what is good and right. And Jesus teaches us this in our own lives, as by His Word and Spirit we learn to fight against our sin that would seek to control everything, as by His Word and Spirit we begin to see more and more that He is always our King, the King who is for us. He even feeds us today to forgive and teach us His love. God grant that He make us to know this more and more now, so that we live here by faith until we see His goodness for us perfectly for all eternity. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +