The Feeding of the 5,000 usually gets all the attention. It’s recorded in all four Gospels. It’s a spectacular miracle, feeding over 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish. John’s account even ties it to the Lord’s Supper. But why is there also the feeding of the 4,000?
Since Jesus has already fed 5,000, why is a lesser miracle necessary?
Was it to give another sign from heavenofwho Jesus is? Immediately after this, the Pharisees are demanding such a sign, but the request doesn’t come from faith. There are plenty of signs that emphatically prove Jesus is the Messiah and Savior. (Matthew 12:1-42)
Was it just to “wow” the disciples and crowds with overwhelming numbers? Headlines are aimed to wow people with numbers: “A single Powerball ticket sold in Los Angeles matched all 6 numbers for the $1.08 billion jackpot.” (CNN) “New York City to pay $13M to Black Lives Matter protesters in historic class action.” (Syracuse NY). Magnitude speaks to people, but that’s not why Jesus feeds these 4,000.
He feeds them because they were people in need. It’s because they’re hungry and Jesus has compassion on them and the ability to help them! He doesn’t close His heart against them and let them “faint on the way.”
And He is a God who has compassion in an amazing way: He shares our flesh.
Jesus is greater than us because He is God. Our ability to help has limits: there’s only so much we can hand out, only so much in the charity fund at church. It’s frustrating, and crippling!
But as God, Jesus doesn’t just have head knowledge of hunger, thirst, weariness, or pain. He doesn’t impassively read the newspaper and click his tongue at the problem. He experiences those very things in His own person as well. “After fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry.” In Gethsemane, “being in a great agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” As He hung on the cross close to the end, He said, “I thirst”
The Apostle puts it, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” God knows our weakness in His very Flesh and for that He has compassion on us.
Martin Luther’s counsel to us is: “It is also useful that we form the habit of daily commending ourselves to God, with soul and body, wife, children, servants, and all that we have, against every need that may arise. So also the blessing and thanksgiving at meals and other prayers, morning and evening, have begun and remained in use.” Large Catechism, 2nd Commandment 73
This brings up a question for us as Christians today: Why do we pray for the things that we need? It’s because God sympathizes with our weakness and neediness. (He doesn’t sympathize with our sins, but He atones for them). And we go to Him because only He can deliver us. Truth be told, we daily find ourselves in a overwhelming situations, more than we can handle or answer. Our own futures are unknown, the stability of the economy unknown, our own safety is also unknown (if we’re honest). So, where can we truly look for confidence and peace? Nowhere, but the Lord!
Yet, Jesus is a God who desires more than to fill our bellies and dole out goodies. He desires us to know Him. That’s why the unbelief of the disciples is especially poignant. Jesus has compassion on the crowd, but only in a way that God can do. He wants the disciples and us to see that.
We struggle in our own unbelief of this truth. Later in the Sermon on the Mount (which we heard the first part of last week), Jesus tells us not to worry about what we will eat, drink, or wear…but we do! He tells us not to fear those who can kill the body but afterward can do nothing more, but we do fear them (Matt. 10:28). He tells us that if we had faith like a grain of mustard seed, we could command mountains to move, but our faith is weak. Therefore, we cry out, “I believe, help my unbelief!” and He gladly answers our prayer.
That way, when we are in need, what choice do we have but to call upon our God and Savior who is united in one-flesh with us? There is no want or pain which your Lord doesn’t empathize with.
Are you are tortured in your flesh with temptation?
Are you are in agony from a body broken by disease—arthritis, diabetes, or COPD?
Are you hurt for lack of work and poverty?
Jesus is the One who can truly say, “I know your pain.” He is your God and Savior!
Whatever the need, this miracle shows us that He is ready and willing to help with all His divine power. If you are in need, look to Jesus. He is your God and Savior for all things from daily necessities to freedom from the grave.
If you have prayed again and again for relief, wait on Him. He knows what He is doing. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”This He truly does. Whatever need you are in, look to Him and His compassion will be near to you. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.
Readings: Genesis 2:7-17 | Romans 6:19-23 | Mark 8:1-9
Text: Mark 8:1-6
What do you think about food? You like it? I do, too. I’m sure we could share some enthusiastic stories about our favorite meals.
What would you do to get it? When we’re children, it’s given to us. But when we get older and move out of the nest, suddenly food means work. Either you have to work more and afford the restaurant bill or the groceries and time to make food yourself. On a rare occasion, you may be invited to something where they just feed you for being there.
A less comfortable question, How long could you go without it? and What would happen to you if you had to go without it? These are unpleasant things to consider, and it’s this situation that the crowd in the Gospel finds themselves. Jesus gathers a crowd around Himself, into a wilderness place, knowing full well that they have nothing to eat, not just for several hours but “now three days.”
It’s in this privation that our Lord is unveiling just who He is and what kind of God and Savior He is. Though their hungering and isolation, God is showing that
WITH SINFUL HEARTS AND BODIES, WE ABUSE AND FORGET GOD’S PROVIDENCE, BUT JESUS CAME IN THE FLESH TO HAVE COMPASSION ON US AND MAKE US TRULY AND ETERNALLY ALIVE.
God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we beseech our Father, “give us this day our daily bread,” which seems like a very mundane request. Didn’t Jesus also teach, “your heavenly Father knows you need all these.” (Matt. 6:32) Of course He knows it. The Old Testament lesson (Genesis 2:7-17) brings us back to our origin and gives us insight about why we desire and need food: God made this world, and us in it. He created us to be dependent on Him.
Do you know what is most successful at attracting people to an event? Food. That’s because even in our sinful state, all people recognize that food is necessary and most of the time, eating is enjoyable. But because of what happened in Genesis 3, we don’t recognize that this desire is the result of our created nature. Yet all people, from the moment they are born, know the urge.
Lutherans, after the humor of Garrison Keillor, are teased for always having food close at hand. Rightly understood, good food can be enjoyed with thanksgiving to God (as I hope we will do after service today). But when that is taken away, what happens? Our sinful nature lashes out in complaint, forgetting all ways God has supported us undeservedly these many years.
Similarly, because Martin Luther lived in a time of much beer, many followers of his theology also enjoy what some affectionately call “cold Lutheran beverages.” But like the full belly resulting from fellowship meals, we are prone to gluttonously crave the enjoyment of the gift and despise the giver of that gift.
But we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.
So, what is Jesus up to with this feeding miracle? The answer to that is found in looking back through the last couple chapters before this in Mark, beginning with the Feeding of the 5,000 in Mark 6. In a string of encounters, each of them contribute to the understanding of just who Jesus is, so that we creatures don’t worship gifts apart from the Giver of them.
In the feeding of the 5,000, in a desolate place, Jesus provides food for a great crowd, thus showing Himself as the originator of divine Providence. When Jesus walks on the water, He shows His disciples that He is the Creator Himself, come with human feet. Across the lake in Gennesaret, the incarnate Creator visits man under the shadow of death and rolls back for a time the curse of death.
When He debates with the Pharisees He begins to take up the topic of the body, food, and worship of the one, true God. Here, He shows them that worship does not happen through the food, but by a heart cleansed from the true defilement of hardness and sin.
The reverse of hardness of heart is displayed in the Syrophoenician woman, an alien to Israel, but who acknowledges her unworthiness and faith in Jesus, whereby Jesus commands the unclean spirit and her daughter is freed of the devil’s tyranny.
That brings one to this text. Again a crowd, again no food in a desolate place. But, the Lord of creation is present, and it says He is moved with compassion for this mass of trembling sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. This same God of Providence, the Lord of all Creation, who “took our illnesses and bore our diseases” (Matt. 8:17, Isa. 53:4), who desires to rescue all mankind from sin, death, and the devil—has come to this crowd. Even though sin may have blinded many of them to what was happening in their midst, we have been given the Holy Spirit to see and worship Jesus for who He is for us.
This portion of the Holy Gospel is catechesis meant to bring us back to the Garden. There, Adam and his wife were provided for so richly that they truly had “not a care in the world.” So, for us who are to be heirs of the world to come, whom God has “ransomed from the futile ways inherited from our fathers” (1 Pet. 1:18), this is how He sanctifies and restores us to a right knowledge of us as creatures, He as our Creator. Who is the one who is the giver of food and drink, clothing and shoes, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all we have? And if we recognize Him for that—and that none of us deserve even one crumb because of our disobedience—then how much we ought to thank and praise Him for every earthly gift!
Even more needed than the things for this body and life, are the things for our soul.
The lesson of the Feeding miracles is not merely that Jesus is a wonderworker or a divine vending machine. It’s meant to awaken our faith that God cares for our souls through our bodies. By faith, we understand that every piece of “daily bread” which He provides is a reason to worship and adore Him for His goodness and faithful care. The list of things meant by daily bread in the Catechism—”food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors”—are an intentional exercise in seeing our God compassion for us in our bodily life. By faith, we see ourselves as more than material, more than just sentient hunks of flesh. We are creatures of God—and beloved creatures at that!
This little word, “compassion,” in the Gospel speaks to just what an intimate act the incarnation. As I’ve mentioned before, it means to have your guts wrenched. It’s a word which doesn’t appear anywhere in the Greek Old Testament, because something monumental happened—“the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” (John 1:14) The Creator took on our created nature. He is intimately involved, intimately invested in our existence. This cannot be said of any other creature in the universe! (This is how I respond to questions about intelligent life on other planets. If there is, they aren’t as important to God as mankind, nor is their redemption for them.)
And you can take this compassion to its fullest, even to the cross: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32) For these ungrateful, slow of heart, rebels, God gave His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Not perish in the sense of starvation, but in the true worst fate: being cut off from God eternally.
Just as God’s mercy is enacted bodily in His Son, so our spiritual life is lived out in the body. Your faith and your creaturely life are bound up together. With your ears, you hear the Word of God and the Holy Spirit creates and renews faith. With your mouth, you pray and sing and proclaim the saving work of God to others. With your possessions and income, you support the ministry of the Gospel and show mercy to those in need. And, contrary to the unbelieving flesh, we see that the whole foundation of our lives is not the created stuff we can measure and handle; it is in the Creator who declares to us, “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut. 8:3) Whenever we start believing this lie, our Father is gracious to correct us, even making us hunger if necessary, that we might repent and learn this truth once more.
So finally, I’d like to ask the questions I did at the beginning, but not about food. I want to ask them about the Word of God:
What do you think about the Word of God? “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Ps. 1:1) God has given you a spirit to delight in God’s Word, to crave it, to be nourished by it as true satisfaction.
What would you do to get it? If you knew of a place where the Word of God was being proclaimed, would you come out in droves as the crowd did to listen to Jesus? How far would you drive in order to have this imperishable portion for yourself and your family? “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live.” (Isa. 55:2-3a)
And now, How long could you go without God’s Word? Here, this calls for somber self-reflection. If you have ever deprived yourself of God’s Word, you’re playing with a deadly kind of anorexia. There is great danger in “learning to do without” when it comes to the Word of God. Man does not live without every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Yet away from the Word, your dull senses, the world, and the devil are overjoyed to tell you that you actually live by the things of this life. But He who purchased and won you knows better, and regenerates you with this kind of appetite: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (Ps. 42:1-2)
So now come, creatures of the living God, redeemed and forgiven by the precious blood of Christ, washed and renewed each day by the Holy Spirit, and taste and see that the Lord is good, and He is here for you both in body and soul. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.
 2 Macc. 6:8 uses the pagan sacrificial sense of the word: “Moreover there went out a decree to the neighbour cities of the heathen, by the suggestion of Ptolemee, against the Jews, that they should observe the same fashions, and be partakers of their sacrifices”
Recently in the news,
there has been a story about a USDA rule change that would render 3.1 million
people ineligible for food stamp benefits.
Of course, an outcry ensues, because food is important for people to
have. Every sane human being would agree
that it’s vital to have enough to eat.
In fact, as those who know the Lord, we know a bit more about this. Hunger is part of the curse of sin on this
creation—“cursed is the ground
because of you…by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to
the ground.” (Genesis 3:17-19)
It’s also true that
hunger and lacking in the things needed for life is unpleasant, and we try hard
to avoid it. If given the choice, we’d
much rather have our choice of what and how much we could have, than to be
restricted. But that’s not always
possible because of finite resources.
People are right to be
concerned with making sure everyone has enough to eat, especially children who
rely on adults to provide for them.
Speaking of fathers and children, hunger is important to God as well:
In those days, when
again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his
disciples to him and said to them, 2 “I have compassion on the
crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. 3 And
if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some
of them have come from far away.”
It’s true. Hunger is a
problem, but the curse of sin did more than make food harder to come by. It
changed the way we think about food—and really all the things we need. Bigger than the problem of world hunger is
the problem of covetousness in your heart and mine.
Covetousness looks at
what we have and doesn’t think it’s enough.
It wants to reach wide and gather as much as it can and still have
enough for what we fearfully assume the future will bring. Covetousness looks at the things we do have
and says they’re not good enough and not the “right” things. We look at our car and find all of its flaws,
our spouse and see nothing but negative, one crack in the screen and suddenly
we need to have a new cell
phone. In Colossians 3, the Apostle Paul
admonishes us to “Put to death what is
earth in you” and two of the examples he mentions are “evil desire and covetousness, which is idolatry” (3:5) Those evil desires (evil lusts) combined with
turning our eyes to things we aren’t given, constitute idolatry. Why?
Because it’s a denial of who the true God is and what He is always
doing. Whenever you blame God for not
giving enough or taking away what you have, you’ve set up in incompetent fool
for a god who wishes you evil.
The Feeding of the Four
Thousand shows us that scarcity is not a problem for God—never has been and
never will be. He is the God who created
out of nothing, so why are we such materialist fools to think our lives are
limited to what we see at this very moment?
No, it’s not scarcity that’s the problem; it’s our weak faith in Him and
contentment with what He actually has provided each of us.
It says in the
Explanation to the 4th petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “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.”
Daily bread means a whole lot more than just flour, water, oil, sugar,
and yeast; it “includes everything needed for this body and life.” The lack is less in the daily bread, than in
the faith and thankfulness.
This is one of our
biggest weaknesses as people, trusting like the birds of the air or the lilies
of the field that God really is a faithful provider. It’s more than we can comprehend that God is
able and willing to provide for all
of His creation. The Lord teaches man in Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own
understanding.” And, yes, this
applies to our daily bread, too. While
we’re busy fretting about our lives by the smallness of our vision and vastness
of the future, God is at work from eternity.
Understanding has its part in planning that belongs to us, but faith leans
on God to do the actual provision.
In Psalm 104, after listing a series of activities
God actively does to care for His creation, the psalmist summarizes: “These all look to you, to give them their
food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open
your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are
dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.”
(Psalm 104:27-28) God even provides for those whose hearts are far from Him,
because He still has a Fatherly goodness and mercy toward them. But for us who do believe, it’s still a
lifelong battle of putting to death what is earthly and letting the Spirit
renew our hearts.
The fear of not having
enough is serious. When your job or your
living situation are on the rocks and the future of your family is in limbo,
that anxiety can do some real harm. If
you’re one of those people whose Oregon Trail benefits are in question, you’re
wondering how you’ll meet your needs on an even thinner shoestring. And none of us is in a place to judge another
for their lack of faith, because we all struggle with doubt, especially if it
was happening to us.
Repent, all of us,
before God gives us a scarcity both of daily bread and of His mercy. Open your eyes and take a fresh look at what
you do have, and if there is
scarcity, learn how to make faithful priorities. God will provide what we need for this body
and life. Take that as a constant,
because it is His solid promise. Jesus
was not commanding us to pray, “Give us
this day our daily bread,” in vain. But
then pray God for a trusting and thankful heart, that doesn’t measure His
infinite power by finite quantities and our own inability to foretell
his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in
this desolate place?” 5 And he asked them, “How many loaves do
you have?” They said, “Seven.” 6 And he directed the crowd to
sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks,
he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they
set them before the crowd. 7 And they had a few small fish. And
having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. 8 And
they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over,
seven baskets full. 9 And there were about four thousand
As much as God is
gracious to provide for our bodily needs, His mercy gushes out to care for our
souls. Through Jesus, He has satisfied
our true hunger—the one we often don’t identify correctly—the forgiveness of
our sins, the need for our hearts to be cleansed and made anew, so that our
minds think of Him and what He has provided rightly, and our appetites are
content with the daily bread He gives.
But now, come, receive
the food and drink which feeds your souls and strengthens your mortal
body. It is Jesus’ own Body and Blood,
given and shed for you. It is no
coincidence that the Lord uses bread, the food of the curse made by the sweat
of your face. But this is not your daily
bread, liable to lost tomorrow; it is the Bread of Life, and even though a
small quantity, its benefits never expire.
Eat and drink, for in this you have life and salvation.
To conclude today, I’d
like to end with a sung prayer from hymn 774 – Feed Thy Children, God Most Holy:
Feed Thy children,
God most holy;
Comfort sinners poor and lowly.
O Thou Bread of Life
Bless the food Thou here hast given!
As these gifts the
May our souls in graces flourish
Till with saints in
At Thy feast due thanks we render. Amen.