Fourth Sunday in Lent

Readings: Exodus 16:2-21 | Galatians 4:21-31 | John 6:1-15

Text: John 6:1-15

We began Lent in the wilderness. Jesus is alone and hungry. Then, the Devil comes along and tempts him. Hunger is evil, he seems to say: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread to feed you in this wilderness”. The feeding of the five thousand echoes this temptation of Jesus. In the first wilderness, Jesus was starving in the wilderness, on the verge of death. To Satan, He quoted Moses: “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4)

The wilderness is known as a place of testing. When that testing is in the hands of the devil, it becomes a place of temptation. Satan is influential in this wilderness by tempting the disciples to despair and the people to love bread and the stuff of creation above the Word. “Philip answered him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little’…[Jesus said,] Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” (John 6:7, 26)

As far as temptation goes, just like our first parents and unlike Jesus, they fail. They sin. They don’t want a Savior from sin, they want a bread king. 15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” If they have full bellies, they feel no hunger for the Word.

Jesus has come for the sake of these failures. The Word made Flesh [John 1:14] provides bread not from stones or manna, but by an abundant multiplication of the boy’s gift distributed by the apostles. This foreshadows how He will give His own risen Body through bread.

This all brings together the providence, patience, and grace of God, which comes for the unworthy through means.

Vulnerability and Need:

1. Like the people in the wilderness—both Israel of Old and those people who came out to hear—we often don’t recognize how weak we are, that our every breath comes from God, and that we are easily killed. We wander about without a plan, stumble into spiritually harmful situations, while thinking we have it all under control. We will do well to identify with the Israelites and those crowds in the wilderness. It’s only to our detriment when we think we’re a higher caliber of human being than them.

Our trouble today is that we have an arrogance which calls itself “common sense,” (how pragmatic!) thinking it is actually superior to others. Related to that, we think that most people, unlike ourselves, are stupid. We suffer from incredible biases and pride.

This bias and this pride mislead us and deceive us by false comfort and cause great harm to ourselves and to others.

2. Unbelievers simply call this ignorance, but they find no serious fault in it. Not so with us Christians. We should know the Creator and His mercy. Therefore, our guilt is greater. Our vanity comes from a hardness of heart against God’s revealed will which we know.

What this looks like is when ee ignore or hush His Word and then assume it will always be there when we want it. “Of course,” we say, “God will always rescue us!” When we take God’s providence and patience for granted, we commit blasphemy and idolatry.

3. Worst of all is our abuse of grace. When we behave as though God’s mercy and grace is deserved, that He will forgive us no matter what. That is, when we commit premeditated sin willfully, repeatedly, without true remorse or any effort to amend our ways, we mock God and the gifts that He gives. This is highest blasphemy. It is anything but “walk[ing] in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness” (Ephesians 4:1-2) Such abuse is poisonous, and I warn you, if left untreated it will destroy faith.

4. Therefore, we rightly learn to see ourselves in the wilderness in our present day, on the cusp of destruction. We have foolishly paid no attention to spiritual matters. We have been misled by our pride and wicked men. We are starving for what God gives, in desperate need of His grace. There is nowhere else to turn. Without you, we perish, Lord. Save us. As we prayed last week in the hymn, “Naked, come to Thee for dress; Helpless, look to Thee for grace; Foul, I to the fountain fly; Wash me, Savior, or I die.” (LSB 761:3)

God’s providence, patience, and mercy revealed is in the miracle of feeding the five thousand.

1. What do we do with the historical events that happened there for these 5,000+ people in the wilderness? So far removed from these eyewitnesses, and with “common sense” as their guide, liberal scholars teach people to view this miracle as an inspiration to share with the needy.

2. This is not completely wrong. Jesus did use the means of the boy’s bread for the miracle. The boy’s generosity was inspired by the teaching and love of Jesus. We ought to be careful not to despise the smallness of any gift. This boy gave to the need that was presented to him. That is, he gave it to the Church, in love and what he gave away is no longer his. That is okay because he gave it in love.

3. But the idea that Jesus is simply teaching us how to share is blasphemy, because it treats Jesus as simply a moral teacher, not true God. Yes, He is an example worth emulating. Yet, if that’s all we take way, how sad our state! What’s more, He is the Giver not the sharer. He is the Almighty and His miracles are real. He works through means, but it is He alone who multiplies loaves and fish.

What was it that moved Jesus to act that day? Consider the heart of God first of all. It was His compassion: Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”  Not simply that they needed a meal for a day. They needed life-long spiritual care. In another place, Jesus also looks at the crowds and this is what He sees: 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36). What does He do, but rescue the people from their helpless and ignorant condition? He gave them what they needed, more than nourishment: He gave them, “the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)

This is to say He showed them that “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.” Not only did He resist Satan in his temptations, but He also steers us against the dangers of faith-destroying unbelief. Unbelief will steal everything from us. We will lose everything—the temporal gifts of God that our bodies enjoy, but also the eternal gifts of His grace and a place in His eternal Kingdom. May He preserve us from such a dreadful condition! In the Naem of Jesus Himself, who overcame in the wilderness, and showed His willingness to save us in our own need.


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