Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Fourth Sunday in Lent (Laetare) + March 11, 2018
Text: John 6:1-15
The Lord provided for the Israelites in the wilderness with manna and quail. Moses reminded them of this in Deuteronomy 8: “2Remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. 3And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers knotw, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:2–3)
Not long after manna and quail appeared from the Lord, Moses said to Aaron: Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord to be kept throughout your generations.” (Exodus 16:33) The Lord was seeing to it that the Israelites never forgot Who provided for them not only in Egypt, but also during their journey through the wilderness as well as in the Promised Land, even in the wilderness.
It is a fact that God provides. Scripture tells us it’s true: “15The eyes of all look expectantly to You, And You give them their food in due season. 16You open Your hand And satisfy the desire of every living thing.” (Psalm 145:15–16 NKJV) Our experience tells us it’s true, too. Jesus holds up the example of the birds of the air. Our own experience also includes what we see happen for other people.
But there are two places the truth that God provides fails. One is circumstance, and the other is the state of our faith.
In John 6. Jesus has been teaching His disciples in the wilderness for a while. The wilderness is the best place to be taught about God’s providence because it’s free of earthly clutter, and you can see what you do have more clearly. You couldn’t be farther from a place to purchase food and other supplies.
Being in the wilderness is one thing. Providing in the wilderness is another thing. Jesus knows what is on the hearts and minds of the Twelve. That’s why He asks Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” Jesus is testing Philip when He asks this question. He knows how Philip will answer. He knows that Philip’s answer is also our answer. Philip replies, “Two hundred denarii (almost seven months wages) would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” Andrew has a solution, but immediately discounts it: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”
Circumstance. Philip thinks this is a hopeless case. He is partially right. Left to his own ways, there is no way Philip can provide food for 5,000 men. This is the wilderness. There are no places to buy food. Philip can’t do it. Andrew sees a little possibility, but ultimately concludes the same thing as Phillip. However, standing in front of Philip is the Man Who can provide food for 5,000 men. The question is whether Philip and Andrew actually believe Jesus can do it.
That brings us to the other place God’s providence fails to be true: in our faith. God has shown that He provides—the manna in the wilderness, the Promised Land, a planet that is able to support billions of people at once, families with 10 kids or 2 kids or no kids. God provides, regardless. “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt. 5:45) He provides whether or not the recipients thank Him, whether they use it responsibly or squander it, whether they are generous or hoard it. The Twelve disciples forget that Jesus is able to provide for temporal needs. They, like you and me, forget that Jesus not only takes care of sin and death, but also takes care of food, clothing, shelter, and other earthly things.
So, do you and I believe that God can provide? That’s a good question. We call it being realistic because we’re facing the facts of circumstance. But the wilderness teaches us that the facts are not the thing to have faith in; God is. Man certainly does not live by bread alone. Yes, it may be that God doesn’t provide everything our greedy hearts desire. You have to go without some things because the Social Security COLA doesn’t keep up with your property taxes or the prices at the grocery store. What do we actually need for daily living? What can wait until next year? How much should I set aside for an emergency? These are questions asked also among younger generations. That cell phone upgrade your carrier is pushing is not necessary. Having the best of everything on credit is certainly not necessary. What is necessary is a redefinition of what it means to be content.
You are content in Jesus Christ alone. That’s the secret to life that unbelievers cannot see. God provides for them as He provides for you, but they refuse to recognize or even believe that God opens His hand and He provides for every living thing. Saint Paul tells Timothy, “If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (1 Tim. 6:8) Contentedness does not depend on how much or what quality of stuff you have. Contentedness is trusting in Jesus Christ to provide for temporal and spiritual needs even in the most improbable circumstances.
If our Lord is able to feed 5,000 men with five barley loaves and two fish, if He is able to provide manna and quail, enough only for that particular day, then certainly He can and will support you in this body and life. Circumstance does not overwhelm He who created heaven and earth.
It’s not the circumstances which need to change. It’s our heart. Our heart is filled with a bottomless hunger that daily bread can never satisfy. What can be done? Repent. Let your sinful flesh be put to death; there’s no other way to fix our hunger. The problem is not God; it’s us. Only the One who provided in the wilderness can give us satisfaction—in the forgiveness of our sins.
We believe that Jesus provides forgiveness of sins and eternal life in His holy Word. For some reason, that seems to be the easy part of the Christian faith. But don’t take this as a small thing! Count the cost of the Savior’s death and resurrection! He bled and died a horrible, cruel death for you—in your place—that you might live with Him forever.
Jesus quickly disappears from the scene after the feeding of the 5,000 because He perceived “that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king.” Believing He is your Savior from sin and death does not mean that He will also give you a constant flow of earthly riches and earthly happiness. There will be hard times yet to come. You will die (unless our Lord returns first). Your things, no matter where you bought it or spent on it, will break. You will suffer illness, and the day will come when the doctors don’t have a solution. You will have to bear much bad news.
Yet, God is there through it all. He is there in His Word to bring to your remembrance that He is the One who cares for you in all circumstances. He is there with His Holy Spirit, to strengthen your weak faith. He is there in your Baptism, where He daily drowns your sinful nature and raises you anew as His beloved child. He is there in Holy Communion, where Christ’s true Body and true Blood is your Living Bread that comes down from heaven. Where Christ is, there is your contentment, even in all the wilderness of this life. This is most certainly true. Amen.