Sermon for Laetare, the Fourth Sunday in Lent, AD 2022

John 6:1-15

Paintings and movies don’t usually do justice to what it was probably like at the feeding of the 5000. Usually it seems to be depicted as everyone sitting or standing all orderly and quiet around Jesus. Yet how many groups of 5000 have you seen that are orderly and quiet? There was probably yelling, pushing, screaming children, people talking among themselves, all sorts of chaos. In the midst of this chaos is Jesus, ready to have compassion, ready to satisfy this huge group.

They have all been following him because of the signs he was doing on the sick. Now, a sign is something that points to a greater meaning. We understand this even with street signs – a stop sign is not important as a red metal octagon about 5 feet in the air, but it is important in it’s meaning, that cars which approach should STOP there. This mass of people was impressed with Jesus because of his signs – miracles he had done. Like the stop sign, the miracles were not the end goal, but pointed to Jesus. The miracles give a message about who Jesus is – he is the Messiah; he is the Son of God. The chaotic crowd did not understand the meaning of the signs, they just wanted to see more of them. So much so that when Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee on a boat, they were willing to walk all the way around to follow him.

The chaotic crowd of the world only seeks in this way. The spirituality of the world is interested in signs and wonders, in impressive feats their senses can take in. Our world sees spirituality as something you see, feel, and experience. The more impressive the better. Even non-believers are impressed with Bach cantatas and beautiful cathedrals. Yet if Bach is just background music on your stereo, or a cathedral is just a museum of impressive architecture, the sign is overtaking what it is pointing to. Bach wrote and the cathedrals were built to the glory of God, to the beautification of the worship service, and to teach Christ. In teaching Christ, their purpose is to strengthen trust in Him.

Jesus looks upon the crowds and is concerned about what they will eat. Even thought they are coming for the wrong reasons, even though they have done nothing to deserve a meal here, Jesus wants to feed and a provide for them. Even despite our blindness to the truth, Jesus wants to come to us and feed us and sustain us. He came to this world to give his grace to a world that did not deserve it and did not even know it needed it. Only because in our lost estate he came to us and saved us through baptism and the Word do we recognize Him and trust Him. Otherwise we would be just like those crowds, focusing on the wrong thing.

What about the disciples, the Christians? Do they understand Jesus? We get the answer here as Jesus tests them. Jesus requests from them an impossible task – how can we feed these people? Now this is 5000 men plus women and children. Forget they are in the wilderness. Forget this is a time before mass food production. If you were told, “we have half the town of Lockport coming over in a few minutes, please find a place where we can get enough food for all of them to eat,” you would simply be unable to do this! So much less the disciples when Jesus asks them.

The disciples focus on the question as a command and see themselves as fulfilling it. Philip says, there is no way they would have enough money to even give everyone a little food, much less a meal. Andrew starts searching for food that might be around and despairs and finding five loaves and two fish, maybe a small meal for ten people, not even enough for the disciples.

The disciples want to find the needed food to please Jesus, but they are missing the point. The question is not about them, it is about who Jesus is. That has been the point of all these signs that Jesus has been doing. The disciples are not alone, we also act the same way. We know Jesus is the Son of God, we confess how great and good he is, we say he can do anything, yet then we live as if Christianity was about us. As if Jesus saved us and got us in the club, and now it is our job to keep things running. So when Jesus tells us to do things, we assume we can do it on our own. We think if we know the commandments we can be husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, employers, workers, citizens, Christians, all on our own, or that he is there to prop us up a little bit from time to time.

No! Repent of this attitude! Jesus does not only save us once but is the source of all our life. He sustains us every day. As we live by faith, we do not grow increasingly dependent on ourselves, but realize our dependence on Jesus more and more. This is what Luther realized when debating his opponents. They claimed that if God commands us to do something, then that implies that we must be able to do it on our own. Yet this is not true, even in the command Jesus gives to the disciples. Every moment of our lives exists in dependence on God. We could not take a breath without his sustaining us. We could not do anything without His will holding the world together. We could not last a moment if Christ’s atoning blood was not constantly forgiving us. We should not just say that God is great and the source of all things, but actively trust that this is true.

What the disciples did not see was that Jesus was showing himself as the provider of all things. It was near Passover, the celebration of the Israelites fleeing from slavery in Egypt. This chaotic crowd was in the wilderness, just like those Israelites wandering toward the promised land. And who provided for them in the wilderness? Moses? Even greater than Moses, the Lord himself. The Lord rained down manna from heaven and fed all those people. So if Jesus is the Lord, the disciples should be looking to him to provide. The correct answer to Jesus’ test would be to turn to Him and say, “You will provide, Lord. As you always do.”

Jesus provides even without our prayers, all we need and more. Greater than the miracle of the manna, where each person had just enough food for each day, Jesus provides more than needed to feed all this crowd, even 12 baskets full. When we seek him, He provides what we need and more. When we don’t seek him and don’t realize it, He still provides all we need and more. His provision is not based on us, but on his love for us. It is based on his goodness, his grace. For on the cross he has not only paid for all our sins and through baptism given us a clean slate of righteousness, but always does over and above. He paid for your sins, gave you new life in the resurrection, gives you life every day, and blessings even besides.

So while Jesus provides this without our prayer even to the ungrateful and the evil, let us receive these things with thanksgiving. For there is nothing that we can bring to God but our thanks and praise. Even as we come to worship him, he sustains us in faith in him. We are not strong enough to be Christians on our own. No one can sustain himself as a Christian, apart from Christ’s Word, his forgiveness given in the sacraments. So let’s not think that knowing the goodness of Christ we then turn to our own efforts. Our Lord is here, as He was before the disciples. He has provided for us more than enough of His body and blood. Come to his table, eat and drink and be filled with Christ.

Some may look on these things and only see bread and wine. Some may only see this as a duty. See this as the source of life. See this as your Lord coming to you through the chaos and giving more grace and forgiveness than you even knew you needed. The more you depend on him and receive, the more you see your need for him – but he never lessens, he never runs out. He is ready to sustain you ever more and even unto the age to come. Amen.
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