March 22, 2020
Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. (John 6:5-6)
Jesus tested Philip. He already knew what he was going to do. He already knew how he would solve the gargantuan problem they faced: thousands of hungry people gathered in a desolate place without food. Jesus is God. God tests his people. God tested the people of Israel in the wilderness when he let them depend on him for fresh water, bread from heaven and quale sent in by the wind for meat. They laid no plow to the ground during those forty years, yet their Heavenly Father fed them. Again, God tested Israel when he brought them into the Land of Canaan by leaving some of the pagan nations there and not driving them out in order to see whether Israel would stay faithful to Him or follow after the false gods of the Canaanites.
God tests his people. He does this in order to strengthen our faith. Yet, we are not to test the Lord. That is forbidden. You shall not put the Lord your God to the test (Deut. 6:16). This is a one-way street. God is perfect. We are not. God tests us, so that we can come closer to him.
Jesus tested Philip and the rest of his disciples, so that they would learn to trust in God for their daily bread. Jesus consistently teaches us this. “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”, Jesus preached in his Sermon on the Mount. And what does he do here out in the wilderness? He gives thanks to his heavenly Father before feeding this tremendous multitude. St. Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus looked up to heaven, as if to say, “The eyes of all look to you, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.” (Luke 9:16; Psalm 145:15-16)
This is why Martin Luther teaches us in our Small Catechism that God gives us our food, drink, clothing, home, wife, children, good government, good health and weather, and protection from every evil all out of his fatherly, divine goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness in us. For the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread” our catechism teaches us, “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.”
Indeed, God takes care of everyone! Even those who scoff at him and mock his people! As Jesus teaches, “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45) So, we should recognize that all good things we receive from our heavenly Father, who knows how to give good gifts to his children a lot better than we do to ours! And we should trust in him, especially when it looks like what we need is unattainable. God will provide for his children! He promises! And he will test us to see whether we truly believe that.
God is testing us! Make no doubt about it. He’s not very secretive about it. He tested our ancestors in the faith. He tested whether they would trust in him for food, drink, and clothing. He tested them to see whether they would worship him alone rather than follow after the alluring gods of the peoples. Jesus tested his disciples in the wilderness. And he’s testing us right now. And as it is with every test God gives, God knows how he will resolve it!
God knows how many people will die from the coronavirus. He knows how much damage this will do to the economy. He knows what you will eat today, tomorrow, and three months from now. He knows how you will pay your mortgage, your electric bill, and everything you need. Even more, he himself will provide all these things for you. He is our heavenly Father. His will is always good. We pray every day that his will be done. And we trust that his will is good in this situation as well.
Our faith in God teaches us to be content. St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (1 Timothy 6:7-9) What a profound and important message for us to hear! Have you food to eat? Are you wearing clothing? Thanks be to God! Be content! And St. Paul goes even further when he writes to the Philippian Christians from prison, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” (Philippians 4:11-12) Here Paul says, even if he loses his food and clothing, he’ll still be content! How can St. Paul be so content? What is there to be content with if you have nothing?
And this is the greater lesson that Jesus is teaching his disciples and us with this test. “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 Christians are content even with the loss of all earthly goods, because we have a heavenly Good that is much greater! Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life from heaven. Whoever comes to him will never hunger, and whoever believes in him will never thirst (John 6:35). Everything you eat, everything you wear, everything you possess will perish! You’ll lose it all! They’re just temporary goods. Naked you came into the world and naked you will leave. But you have a Redeemer in heaven, who has won for you eternal life! This is a treasure that will never pass away.
This is why we are so bold to sing in that great hymn,
“And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child and wife,
Let these all be gone,
They yet have nothing won;
The kingdom ours remaineth.” (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God TLH 262:4)
There is nothing you can lose on this earth that you cannot receive much more in heaven! There is no wealth or treasure or job that you can lose that will make a dint on your heavenly inheritance! God has made you rich by the precious blood and innocent suffering and death of his Son Jesus Christ. Through Christ you have eternal life. Whoever believes in him will live forever!
The forgiveness of sins, which Christ Jesus won on the cross for us all, is the greatest treasure we can possibly possess. Most of you will not die of the coronavirus. Even the worst-case scenarios from the most pessimistic experts would predict the vast majority of you surviving. But you won’t survive forever. You are all going to die. This isn’t news. You have less time left on this earth than you did a moment ago and it is only going down. Even if your investments start rising again, you can never keep the time you have left from dropping to the floor. Every one of us is going to stand before our God and Judge and give an account of all that we have done (John 5:29; Romans 14:12). The only way we can stand before God and live is if our sins are forgiven. Jesus Christ has won forgiveness for the whole world by paying our debt on the cross. We receive full forgiveness of sins when we believe in Jesus.
The forgiveness of sins is not something you need in the distant future. Your most immediate needs are not the needs of your body like food, clothing, shelter, and medicine. The needs of your soul cannot just be pushed off for later. No. The needs of your soul are your most immediate needs. You need the forgiveness of sins now. You need the Bread of Life now. You need Jesus now, tomorrow, and forever. There is no situation in this life that will make another need more pressing. Because only Jesus, the Bread of Life from heaven can forgive your sins and give you eternal life.
Many of you are suffering real hardship right now. Loneliness, lack of supplies, lack of transportation, fear, lack of money, sickness. This is real suffering. We are all being forced to be patient. We’re being tested. How do we pass this test? Cast all your anxieties on the Lord. He cares for you. Trust in him. Call upon him in the day of trouble. He will deliver you and you will glorify him (Psalm 50:15). God will provide for whatever you need. He already knows how he will provide this all for you. And if suffering for a little while in this life will bring you closer to Jesus, who guarantees for you eternal life, then blessed be the name of the Lord!
Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Jesus Christ has the words of eternal life. He forgives our sins. He gives us peace with God. He is our Bread of Life, which we cannot do without. Brothers and sisters in Christ, trust in the Lord. HE will bring us through this temporary trial. And much more, he will give us eternal life through Jesus Christ. Amen.