March 11, 2018
"When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, 'This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!' 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 crowds gathered in such great mass around Jesus, because he was healing the sick, who were brought to him and teaching great things. When they realized what he had done, fed 5,000 men not including women and children (Matthew 14:21), they were certain that they knew who Jesus was.
They called him the Prophet. The Prophet is a designation given to the promised Messiah found in Deuteronomy 18, where God says to Moses, "I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him." The crowd was right that Jesus is the Prophet promised by God through Moses! The crowd was also correct that Jesus is a king. Scripture promises that the Messiah will be a great king when God spoke to King David in 2 Samuel chapter 7, "When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever." That is why when people (or angels) called Jesus the Son of David, they were calling him the promised Messiah and King of Israel.
And we will hear in two weeks on Palm Sunday, from John chapter 12 as Jesus processes into Jerusalem upon a donkey, the crowds shout to Jesus' approval, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!" And Jesus himself calls himself the king of the Jews when questioned by Pontius Pilate (John 18:37).
So, the crowds were correct when they recognized that Jesus is the Prophet and the King promised by holy Scripture. Yet, the crowds were very wrong about Jesus. The next day the crowds finally found Jesus again, yet he answers them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you." (John 6:26-27a)
Jesus tells us why the crowds were wrong. They wanted to make Jesus a bread-king here on earth. They saw the signs, but they didn't recognize their true significance. The signs pointed to Christ's work of salvation. Yet, the people were concerned more with their bellies.
You can see why the crowds thought this way though. They had seen Jesus heal every ailment brought to him. Perhaps they had even seen him raise the dead, which we know he did do on multiple occasions. St. Matthew tells us the 5,000 he fed did not include women and children, which means that Jesus with just 5 loaves and 2 small fish fed in surplus of 10,000 individuals without any preparation! And not just did he feed them, but they "had eaten their fill," "as much as they wanted!" What a fantastic king he'd be! Could you imagine a nation with zero hunger? Where everyone had free healthcare, and not just free, but you actually got healed of whatever sickness you had? Who wouldn't gladly fight in his army? Certainly, this is the king of Israel, who will throw the yoke of Rome off their nation!
And this is a problem with many religious today. People want to make Jesus their Lord and Savior, but on their terms. "Do you want a happier life? Do you want more purpose in your life? Do you want to get out of your financial difficulties? Do you want to be stress free? Do you want to be healed of your diseases? Then claim Jesus as the Lord of your life and all these things will be yours!" And so, even today people try to force Jesus to be their king, but not the king Jesus has come to be.
The crowds missed the lesson from the healings and the multiplying of bread and fish. Jesus certainly showed in a remarkable way that he is God with all of God's powers. Yet, Jesus really didn't do anything different than what God does every day. Jesus healed many sick people. Don't people recover from illness today? God heals millions of people from countless ailments every day. Yes, he uses medicines and medical procedures, but that is still God working. And even miracles are known to happen from time to time, when doctors give up hope, yet through the power of prayer God baffles the medical experts and spares the life of someone at death's door. Jesus fed 5,000 in our lesson, yet how many billions does God feed every day? Jesus multiplied bread and fish, yet God is constantly multiplying grain in the fields, fish in the sea, cattle, pigs, fruits and vegetables, and all that we need to support our bodies.
So, it was quite silly that these people wanted to make Jesus a bread-king. They showed how short sighted they were. Yet, everyone who eats the food, which God graciously provides each day, dies. Jesus wants to feed them with that, which will give eternal life. Jesus says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." (John 6:47-51)
Jesus is the living bread that comes down from heaven. He has freely given his flesh and blood as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. The priests ate of the sacrifices offered in the temple and all Jews ate of the annual Passover lambs and unleavened bread. Yet, if anyone will have life that will last for forever, he must eat of this sacrifice, as Jesus says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." (John 6:53-54)
But how do you eat of Jesus' flesh and drink his blood? Jesus tells you. "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst." You feast on Jesus, the bread of life from heaven, through faith in him. Jesus is teaching the crowd and you to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you, and "Man shall not live by bread alone, but from every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Faith subordinates your physical needs to your spiritual needs. Jesus fed the crowds, so that they would learn that everything they receive they receive from God by his grace and so they would focus on the words of eternal life, which Jesus was feeding them. The most valuable food Jesus gave them on that mountain was the words of eternal life he spoke to them. But they got distracted by the bread. And they wanted to force Jesus to be their bread-king. And people today still try to force Jesus to be their king.
Jesus must be your king, but you cannot force him to be your king. Jesus must be your king, but he must become your king on his terms. So, how does Jesus become your king? First, you need a change of heart. Jesus tells us that no one can come to him unless the Father draws him. Your heart is naturally of the flesh, meaning, you are focused on things that will pass away, like bread and fish, cars and homes, sports and entertainment. God must change your heart. He does this through his Word, particularly in Baptism, where he gives you a new birth by the Holy Spirit. And having your heart changed by God, you must eat and drink the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. That is, you must have faith in Christ's work of salvation for you. You must repent of your sins, despair of your works, cast out the slave woman and her son, and cling to Christ for true nourishment.
To guard this true faith, you must destroy your false gods. This includes especially the false god of the love of money. God provides you with all that you have and need, so that you will trust in him and come and eat the bread of life, not so that you will worship the lesser gifts he gives you. St. Paul warns, "But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs." (1 Timothy 6:8-10)
Jesus fed well over 5,000 people with just five barley loaves and a couple fish. And had there been 5,000 times 5,000 Jesus would have easily been able to feed those as well. And God feeds many, many more than that every day. Likewise, Jesus, the bread of life, offered himself up for the whole world on the cross. His blood ran down to drown our sins. And all sins have been drowned. And even as people continue to increase and as sins continue to multiply in horrifying numbers and ways, the tides of Jesus' blood continue to wash these sins away. Jesus' death upon the cross produces forgiveness that multiplies over and over and over again. You should have no fear that what you've done or some sin that bothers your conscience will somehow rise above the drowning flood of Christ's blood or overpower the healing flesh of Christ.
Jesus provides forgiveness for countless sinners, even as he daily feeds countless hungry mouths. And we experience this sign every Sunday when we receive Holy Communion. Although Jesus is one man, with one body like any man, his body and blood are able to feed countless millions. The bread and wine are given to hungry Christians thirsting for the forgiveness of sins week after week. And Christ's body and blood have yet to run out. He continues to feed us until we are satisfied. And we will be fully satisfied, when we rise to new life in our King's kingdom. Amen.