March 31, 2019
What kind of god do you want? That might sound like a ridiculous question, but it is exactly what people are thinking when they decide which church to go to or when they ponder what they believe about God. “What kind of god do I want?” This is how we choose which political candidate to support or which house to buy or what movie to watch, so why not ask this question about what type of god you want to worship? This is what the crowd did to Jesus. They wanted to make him their king, because he stuffed their bellies with bread and fish. They wanted a king to feed them, heal their illnesses, and basically make their lives comfortable. And that is basically what people look for in a god. And with the rise of biblical criticism, which is a way of studying the bible with the assumption that the bible contains many errors and contradictions, people can claim to be Christians and to worship the one true God while eliminating anything that Scripture says about God which makes them uncomfortable. So, religious people end up doing exactly what the scoffing atheists accuse them of: they create a god in their own image.
But it is important not to seek the god that you want, but rather to seek the God, who is. Jesus shows us the God who actually exists. Jesus himself is God, the Second Person in the Holy Trinity, apart from whom neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit work anything. By feeding the great multitude, Jesus demonstrates to us what we first learn about God in the Small Catechism:
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. What does this mean?
I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.
He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. ...
The God who is, is the God who created the universe and who still causes it to function in order to sustain life. God provides for every living creature. He controls the weather and climate. He causes seeds to grow, animals to reproduce. Every heartbeat in your chest and every hair that grows on your body is controlled by God. With this miracle in our Gospel lesson, Jesus is teaching his disciples to trust in God, who is always in control.
To teach this lesson, Jesus does what God often does to strengthen our faith: he tests them. It was Jesus, who chose this desolate place where there was no food to gather or buy. The large crowd followed Jesus up this mountain. And then Jesus asks Philip, a native of this region, “Where can we buy bread for all these people to eat.” Jesus knew the answer to this question. Jesus led a crowd of 5,000 men, not including women and children, which means that this crowd was likely much greater than 10,000 hungry individuals, to a desolate place where there was no food to buy even if someone could muster the money to buy it. Jesus sets up an impossible situation in order to show his disciples that God accomplishes the impossible every day.
Toward the end of the 18th century an economist named Thomas Malthus proposed a theory that the human population would grow at a faster rate than the supply of food could, meaning, unless the human population were put in check there would be mass starvation throughout the world, especially among the poor. Many countries even adopted methods to limit population growth in humans; methods, which caused great suffering to millions of people. However, Malthus was wrong. Around the time of his death in 1834 the world human population was around 1 billion. Now there are well more than 7 billion people in the world and although there is still and always has been hunger in the world, we produce more than enough food to feed the world. And in America we throw away an astonishing percentage of the food we buy.
Jesus fed well more than 10,000 individuals in the wilderness at a moment’s notice using only five loaves of bread and a couple fish. This was a miracle. Yet, God feeds billions of people every day. Despite major flooding in some areas, farmers are beginning to prepare their fields for planting. In just a few months tremendous amounts of food will come out of the ground, much more than was planted into the ground. God will create food quite literally out of thin air along with using water and sunlight. Farming is a lot of work, but no one can deny that it is God who causes the growth.
God cursed man in the garden when he said:
Cursed is the ground because of you;
In pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
And you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face you shall bring forth bread,
Till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken;
For you are dust, and to dust you shall return. (Genesis 3:17b-19)
Yet when God cursed man, he did not take away his blessing. God still feeds us. He just makes us work for it. But that does not mean that our labor is the reason why we eat. God is the source of every physical blessing.
Because we are forced to work for our food, we convince ourselves that what we labor for is most important. But what does Jesus say? “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 6:27) We are a very short-sighted people. We can’t think beyond our current problems. These people labored for bread. Here comes a man, who gives them bread without labor. So, they want him to be their god, so that they no longer need to labor. But Jesus doesn’t feed them, so that they will no longer need to labor for bread. Jesus feeds them to teach them where their bread comes from. It comes from God. Rather, they should seek a much greater gift from God, one, which leads to eternal life.
Everyone who ate the bread in the wilderness with Moses died. Every one. Everyone who ate the bread from Jesus on the mountain died. Every one. Everyone who eats by the sweat of his face returns to the dust. This is the curse of sin. But Jesus offers a bread that if you eat it you will live forever.
Jesus himself is this bread of life. Whoever comes to him will never hunger and whoever believes in him will never thirst. Jesus teaches us that we must feed on him spiritually, that is, we must believe that he gives us eternal life through his death for our sins. Jesus says to some of the same people, who ate the bread on the mountain, “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)
Here Jesus teaches us that he is the fulfillment of the sacrifices of the Old Testament. In the sacrifices of the Old Testament, the blood was separated from the flesh of the animal. The priests would then eat the flesh of the animal and God would accept them. Jesus teaches that he is the sacrifice to end all sacrifices and that his blood would be poured out of his body for our sins. Jesus also teaches that he will rise from the dead. God forbids in the Old Testament anyone to eat blood. The blood of sacrifices had to be used to make atonement on the altar. But Jesus’ blood, after making atonement for the sins of the whole world is made to live again. Jesus is alive. And he invites us to drink his living blood, so that we can receive life from him.
We eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood in two ways. The first is spiritually. The second is orally. Spiritually you feast on Christ through faith. That is when you believe that Jesus’ sacrifice for your sins makes you whole, forgives your sins, and gives you eternal life. When Jesus speaks of eating his flesh and blood, he is speaking primarily about having faith in him. He wants you to desire his words as more important for you than the food you eat.
The second way to eat Christ’s flesh and drink his blood is orally, that is, with your mouth, physically. This is done in the Lord’s Supper where Christ feeds us his body and blood under the bread and wine. Only those, who feast on Christ Spiritually should eat the Lord’s Supper, otherwise they will eat and drink to their own judgment. But, if one truly believes the words of Christ and repents of his sins, then the Lord’s Supper is a wonderful meal that forgives sins, strengthens faith, and increases your love for your fellow Christian.
Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. If you can truly believe these words, then you truly know the God, who is. God feeds you. He clothes you. He gives you shelter. He does everything you need for your body and life, millions of things you haven’t ever thought of, but God takes care of them. And God wants you to trust in his word more than the food you sweat for. God wants you to hunger for his words more than food. God will take care of your body. And he desires to save your soul as well.
But material goods continue to block our ears from God’s word. We strive after things that lead to the grave instead of that which leads to heaven. God makes some rich and they in turn trust in their riches and ignore God’s word. God makes others poor and they in turn lust after other people’s money and keep their eyes on what God has not given them instead on what God willingly offers, Christ Jesus, the bread of life. But, this true hunger for that which gives eternal life can only be had as a gift of the Holy Spirit. We hunger for something greater than bread or gold when we see the cost of our sins. When God’s word reveals to you that you indeed deserve to die and go to hell, your hunger turns from food to something spiritual. And when the Holy Spirit reveals to you that Jesus is the only one, who takes your sins away, then you hunger for the true bread of heaven. And God will not stop feeding you until you are satisfied.
Jesus told his disciples to gather up the fragments so that nothing may be lost. This has both a physical and a spiritual meaning. God does not want us to waste the goods he gives us. He gives us more than enough food to feed the world, but we throw food away while others hunger. God indeed feeds and clothes the poor, but he may very well use you to do so. St. Paul in encouraging the Corinthians to give generously to the needy in Jerusalem tells them that God is willing and able to supply whatever they lose by their generosity. This applies also to giving to the church. All your goods come from God. You won’t lose anything by giving to support the ministry of the word. God will make sure that you are fully supplied.
Spiritually, Jesus does not want us to waste the living bread either. Jesus pours himself out generously to us. He doesn’t want us letting it go to waste. He wants you to hear his word, consume his bread with your heart continually throughout your life. And share it. Share the heavenly bread he gives you, which gives eternal life to whoever eats it.
The life-giving bread from heaven does not run out. Even as Jesus was able to feed 5,000 men plus women and children and still have more left over, so does Jesus feed the souls of millions and millions through his body nailed to the cross and his blood poured out for our forgiveness. His body will never run out. Neither will his blood. Jesus’ forgiveness and life, which he gives to his church will never stop flowing and satisfying sinners until the end of the world. And Jesus bids us not to put it to waste, but come and take generously. Have your sins forgiven. Hear and believe his comforting words. Receive eternal life. Here is true food, which if one eats of it, will never die, given to you the God who actually exists. Amen.