Lent 4 2022 Laetare
March 27, 2022
Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID
It’s always seemed a little ironic to me that we hear about Jesus’ miracle of feeding the 5,000 during Lent. During a time of year when many people fast and refrain from eating certain foods, or meals altogether, we hear about people getting their fill of bread and fish. But then again, maybe it’s not so ironic. The crowds had been following Jesus, as are we. They were hungry, and in their time of need Jesus performs and amazing miracle to feed them, and so He does for us. In fact, the feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle, apart from the Resurrection of Jesus, that appears in all four Gospel accounts. It’s more than Christ showing His power, but signs pointing to Christ with the goal of faith.
Jesus goes over the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Now, this was no accident. He brings the disciples to a place for rest and teaching. But He also leads the crowds following Him out into the wilderness. John makes the unique note of when this took place. The Passover was at hand. If you remember, the Passover was instituted during the last of the 10 plagues during Israel’s enslavement in Egypt. As the angel of death was to come upon all the land and the firstborn of everyone and every animal would die, the people of God were to kill a lamb, a spotless lamb, smear the blood upon the lentil and doorposts of their homes, and the angel would pass over their house. They were then to eat the lamb as part of the Passover meal, after which they were to be led into the wilderness by Moses for the Exodus.
So now here is Jesus, the One whom John the Baptist declared to be the lamb of God, leading His disciples and great crowd out into the wilderness with no place to go for food. This was no accident, and Jesus knew what He was doing. And Jesus poses the question to Phillip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” Jesus knew that there were no fast food places out there in the middle of nowhere, and He knew that the disciples would have to turn to Him to a solution for an impossible situation.
This account should remind us of the way that God fed His people in the wilderness of the Exodus with manna. We heard about this in our Old Testament reading in Exodus 16. Israel had just been led out into the desert by Moses and they complain to Moses that he had led everyone out there just to die with hunger. They had no where to go, nowhere to buy bread anymore, nor get their fill of meat. So God tells Moses that He is going to rain down bread from heaven in the morning and in the evening provide meat to eat. He even gives them leftovers on the sixth day so that they don’t have to pick any up off the ground on the Sabbath.
Now, later on in John 6, when the crowds found Jesus as He had walked on the water of the Sea of Galilee to the other side, and they want more from Him, Jesus tells them, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” When questioned about this, Jesus says, “Truly, truly I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
What Jesus is getting at is simply this: God is the giver of all things, He is the provider of all food, and gives daily bread to everyone even without our prayers, even to all evil people. And so, of course, we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread…”, praying in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.
But also learn that man does not live by bread alone, but from every Word that comes from the mouth of God (Deut 8:3; Matt 4:4). And what is that Word of God the proceeds from the Father – nothing else but the Son, the Word made flesh. He who supplied the bodily needs of the 5,000 in the wilderness offers us an abundance of food to feed us unto eternal life. We eat of this bread of life when we put out trust in Him and His death and resurrection, and thus receive by faith all that the Gospel gives. To feast on Christ by faith, that as He is the true bread that comes from heaven, our very souls and eternal life are fed by believing in Him, and it is only when feeding on Christ that our souls are truly fed.
St. Augustine once quipped, “There is a God shaped vacuum in every man that only Christ can fill. The “God-shaped hole” is the innate hunger of the human heart for something outside itself, something transcendent. Ecclesiastes 3:11 refers to God’s placing of "eternity in man’s heart." God made humanity for His eternal purpose, and only God can fulfill our hunger for eternity.
The problem, though, is that humanity attempts to fill it with things other than God. Our sinful nature seeks to put a square peg in a cross-shaped hole. Sadly, too many spend their lives looking for something other than God to fill their longing for meaning—business, family, sports, whatever it may be. Maybe worst of all, people gorge ourselves on spiritual junk food, thinking that being a Christian is about health, wealth, and happiness, and then complaining when experiencing the wilderness of this fallen world, that the bread from heaven isn’t enough, doesn’t always leave a pleasant taste in the mouth, isn’t prepared exactly the way we want. It’s a complaint that God is holding back, that we had it better off as slaves to our sinful passions, leading us in our lives only to suffering and death. There is no doubt that many people looking to fill their bellies and their hearts things other than God achieve a measure of “happiness” for a time. But it doesn’t last because it doesn’t meet the hunger of the soul.
This miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000 teaches us that Christ and Christ alone has power to satisfy, not just the body, but the human heart, the deepest longings of your soul. Only our Lord can satisfy our human nature, and nothing else can do this – not the world, sin, pleasure, perversion, money, learning, exercise, or food.
The Sacrament of Holy Baptism in which we are made, like Isaac, children of the promise of God, descendants of the Jerusalem above, Mt. Zion. God and the Sacrament of the Altar by which the children of God are fed.