Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
March 19, 2023
Jesus asks His disciple Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He asked this to test him. The goal of testing is to strengthen one’s faith. God does not tempt us into sin. God tests us, so that our faith will be stronger.
So, how is Jesus testing Philip, so that his faith will be stronger? And does Philip pass the test? There is a crowd of five thousand men. St. Matthew tells us that this did not include the women and children (Matthew 14:21). This means that this crowd could have been as large as twenty thousand people! Jesus asks Philip where they will buy bread, so that this humungous crowd could eat. Philip answers as anyone could expect, “Two hundred [days’ wages] would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” Yet, with these words, Philip failed the test.
Jesus is God. The Jews are already angry at Jesus for calling Himself the Son of God. Philip should have answered with the Psalmist, “The eyes of all look to You [O Lord], and You give them their food in due season. You open Your hand; You satisfy the desire of every living thing.” (Psalm 145:15-16) And indeed, this is exactly what Jesus does. As the eyes of all look to the LORD, so Jesus’ eyes look at the needy and He cares for them. With just five loaves of bread and a couple fish, Jesus distributed the bread and fish to the crowd, as much as they wanted, so that they ate their fill. Jesus proved Himself to be God, who not only created the universe, but continues to preserve it. As God fed the children of Israel in the wilderness with mana from heaven, so Jesus feeds the children of Israel in Galilee.
Yet, Philip isn’t the only one who failed this test. All the disciples failed this test! The evangelists Matthew and Mark record how after Jesus fed the five thousand and then the four thousand, His disciples still squabbled over not having enough bread! (Matthew 16:6; Mark 8:16) And in fact, the great multitude, which ate their fill of the loaves and fish failed the test as well. They wanted to seize Jesus and make Him their king, so that He would continue to feed them bread and fish.
The crowd caught up to Jesus the next day and Jesus said to 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 6:26-27) Here Jesus teaches them and us that He has something much more important to give us, a Bread that isn’t eaten and expelled, but which grants eternal salvation. This Bread He is speaking of is Himself. Jesus says later, “I am the Bread of Life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)
After Jesus had fed the multitude with bread and fish, so that they were not hungry for a day, they decided to seize Jesus and force Him to be their king. Jesus would not permit them to force Him to be a bread king, so He withdrew to the mountain by Himself. Yet, later the Jews would seize Jesus, and force Him to wear a purple robe and a crown of thorns, and they would lift Him up on a cross with an inscription, “King of the Jews,” where they would mock Him until He died. And Jesus let them do it! Jesus refused to be made a bread king here on earth to satisfy our carnal desires, so that He could reign from the cross and earn for us that Bread, which does not pass away.
Jesus again said to the crowd, “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 comes down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
God took on our human flesh, so that He could fulfill God’s Law in our stead and suffer and die on the cross for our sins. We die because of our sins. Our sins merit us eternal damnation. Yet, Jesus died to take them away. That is why He is the Bread of Life, which grants eternal life to all who believe in Him. Jesus still gives us ordinary bread. But that isn’t really what’s important. All who eat ordinary bread will die. Jesus is the Bread from heaven, which gives eternal life to all who consume it. And we consume this Bread through faith.
All who fail the test keep missing the point that Jesus is the Bread of Life. Those who fail the test can’t get over the loaves of bread Jesus fed them in the wilderness. These loaves of bread represent everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, as when we pray for our daily bread. We’re distracted by our need for daily bread so much that we neglect our need for the Bread of Life!
Indeed, we need daily bread. We pray to God for daily bread. Jesus tells us to pray to God for daily bread. And God gladly gives us daily bread. Yet, we should not crave daily bread so much that we neglect the only Bread, which grants eternal life: Christ Jesus, who suffered and died for our sins!
Day after day, we strive and worry. Some are sick. Some are old. Some are in financial trouble. Some need a new job. Some are struggling in school. Others need to fix their house or car. And we think that if we just get this taken care of, then we’ll have peace. If I can just pay off this bill, if I can just get over this sickness, if I can just finish this project, if I can just get the kids through school. That is how we think, but our struggles never end. We get over one hump, and then must climb another, like a hamster running on its wheel, exhausting itself without ever getting anywhere. You’re never going to get caught up on this earth. There is always going to be something that you’re going to care about once you take care of the thing you’re currently caring for. This is why Jesus says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and the rest will be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33) Don’t worry about tomorrow.
So, the question really isn’t whether Philip or the other apostles passed the test or even if the multitude passed the test. The question is whether you have passed the test. Are you hungry for the Bread of Life, which Jesus alone can give you, which grants eternal life to all who consume Him? Or have you hungered and labored rather for that bread which perishes? Has your pursuit of earthly bread prevented you from receiving the heavenly Bread? Have you been more concerned about giving your children financial advice or pushing them toward a more lucrative career than you have been to bring them to church to eat the Bread of Life from heaven, which alone can grant them eternal life? We know when we’re hungry for food. It captivates our whole mind. We know when we want or need something for our body, but are we aware of our need for our soul? If you could look in the mirror and instead of seeing your body, well-fed and healthy, you saw your soul, what would you see? If you have been neglecting Christ’s Word, then you would see a starved person, emaciated, malnourished, desperate for food. Yet, the food you need is not for the belly, but for your soul!
Jesus again said, “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. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him… This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53-56, 58). The language Jesus uses here sounds like the Lord’s Supper, which is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink. However, Jesus is not speaking here strictly of the Lord’s Supper, but of faith. To eat Jesus’ flesh and to drink His blood means to have faith in Jesus’ crucifixion for your sins, where He delivered up His body to death and shed His blood for us.
Yet, this spiritual eating of faith is necessary in order to properly receive the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is Christ’s body and blood, whether you believe it or not. Jesus’ words make it so. However, if you do not believe, then you eat the body and drink the blood to your own judgment, as St. Paul warns “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1 Corinthians 11:27-29). This is why the Lutheran Church along with the historical Christian Church practices closed Communion. We do not give the Lord’s Supper to people before they have been examined and absolved, nor do we give it to those who are living in open sin without repenting, or those who commune at altars, which teach false doctrine. Otherwise, those who would come up to eat the body and drink the blood of the Lord would do so to their own judgment and harm, and not for the forgiveness of sins and strengthening of faith. It is out of love that we withhold the Sacrament of the Altar until people have been properly examined, just as a pharmacist does not give prescription drugs to a person without a prescription, lest he take it to his own harm.
Yet, Jesus did not institute the Sacrament of the Altar for people to stay away from it! Neither did He suffer and die on the cross for you to ignore the preaching of His crucifixion, which is the very feeding of the Bread of Life from Heaven! And the fact that Jesus bids us to come and eat and drink in faith, means that we need it! Jesus is our great physician. He knows that we are sick. He knows that we are starving. We can’t say to Him, “Oh, don’t worry, Jesus. I’m doing fine. I’m just busy. I’ll get around to you soon.” No. You aren’t fine. You’re starving! You need the Bread of Life, which alone gives eternal life. You need Jesus! You need to repent of your sins and believe in Christ Jesus, who died for your sins!
The disciples at first failed the test. Yet, later when everyone left Jesus because of His hard teaching, the twelve disciples refused to leave. St. Peter explained, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69) So, if you have failed the test, and have valued food which perishes over the Food which endures to eternal life, repent, but do not despair. Jesus still desires to feed you, so that you will live forever. Come, and feast on the Bread of Life. Amen.