MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
KJV John 6:1 After these things Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias. 2 And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased. 3 And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples. 4 And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh. 5 When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? 6 And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, saith unto him, 9 There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? 10 And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. 12 When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. 13 Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. 14 Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world. 15 When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.
MIRACLES OF ABUNDANCE
This is a miracle of Jesus that transcends any possible explanation, and the abundance shown in the miracle of feeding indicates how God gives us far more than we could ever think or imagine.
First of all, when we consider this passage, it is good to realize that we have so many witnesses to it. Liberals always pretend to be shocked when a clearly taught doctrine can only be found in two Gospels. They point to the supposed silence of John and Paul about the Virgin Birth and even say, in their arrogant way, “I believe what John and Paul believe about the Virgin Birth. And they do not say a thing!” John’s Gospel begins with Jesus as the Word of God in the flesh, creating all things. Paul is silent? I know of many liberals who complain that the apostle took an ordinary teacher and turned Him into God. Paul does not have a birth narrative, but he was not addressing those issues. Notice how Romans begins.
KJV Romans 1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, 2 (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) 3 Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; 4 And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:
That sounds like the Two Natures of Christ to me: the seed of David according to the flesh, declared the Son of God according to the spirit of holiness. The Virgin Birth is another way of expressing the truth of the Two Natures, a true man, born of woman, yet True God, conceived by the Holy Spirit.
I am mentioning the Virgin Birth because scoffers claim only two witnesses. But the miracle of feeding has four witnesses: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But this does not satisfy skeptics, either. This is worth mentioning, because younger people need to be inoculated against the rationalistic assumptions they will hear when they grow up. They take the abundance of the Gospel for granted when they have an orthodox congregation at home and then later attend the university chapel or campus ministry program at a state school. All of the sudden they hear a nice friendly minister, a cool guy, say all kinds of things that are brand new.
The context of this story is the need to take care of a vast multitude of people. To set up the disciples, Jesus asked them about buying food. There is some humor in this. It would be like a presidential candidate addressing a stadium full of people and then saying, “How are we going to buy them lunch?” Philip answered that a large amount of bread would not be enough to feed everyone. But Jesus already knew what He was going to do.
First we have to ask ourselves: Did the crowd ask to be fed? No, they did not. They could not even imagine being fed by that one Man teaching them. Did they plan or pray or set goals? Not at all. They loved to hear Jesus so much that they stranded themselves, such a large horde that no one could begin to take care of the mass of hungry people.
Therefore, we can see that this miracle shows us how God has already decided to take care of us before we even know what our needs will be. When we get anxious about our needs, we should remember this. The Holy Scriptures contain this passage so we remember the abundance provided by God and planned before we can ask for it.
In the explanation of the Lord’s Prayer, Luther emphasizes this in many different ways. Our prayer does not gain or earn us daily bread, but we pray for those needs so that God will help us be thankful for them: food, clothing, good government, good neighbors, a pious spouse, and so forth. Take away one of those and we are in a crisis. God provides everything each day and we seldom stop to think about it or express our thanks to Him.
In this particular miracle, people first hungered for the Word of God. Then they were starting to realize their need for food. But they only had a little. Andrew said, “There is a boy here with a little food.” Then Andrew spoke for all the pessimists who inhabit the visible church, who judge everything according to their senses and human reason. Andrew should have said, “You are the Incarnate Word, Who created the universe, you can do anything with these fragments of food.” Instead, Andrew said, “What are they for so many people?”
The spirit of Andrew is alive and well among many Lutherans today. They say - What do we amount to among so many? How can we do anything with so little money? Even if we had a lot, it would not be enough. God can do anything, and He chooses to do the most with a little, with the weakest, to reveal His overwhelming power and the abundance of His grace, love, comfort, and forgiveness.
KJV 2 Corinthians 12:9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
The first area of abundance we should consider is the miracle of God’s forgiveness through the cross. One ancient government (Greek or Roman) had a mountain with so much silver in it that they called it the Silver Fountain. That one mountain supported their economy for many years. The more they dug, the more silver they took from that one place. The cross of Christ is like that mountain, but far greater. Where do we go for forgiveness? We go to the cross, knowing that Jesus has already paid for our sins.
I was reading some of Luther’s comments on justification. In one comment he said that Jesus was perfect and without sin, yet He obeyed the Law perfectly. That is why we speak about the righteousness of Christ as an alien righteousness. It is outside of us. Jesus was perfect and actively obeyed the Law, fulfilling the Law even though He was beyond the Law. So we receive this righteousness, this unending treasure, through faith in Christ.
This unending supply of forgiveness is taken for granted in many different ways. Most people ignore it and make fun it, including the vast majority of leaders in the mainline denominations. All those who love the Church Growth Movement also deny the cross by being silent and ignoring the issues of sin and forgiveness.
"The building is modern, but features no crucifix or other religious symbols that might alienate newcomers." WELS Evangelism Workshop IV, LOCATING THE LOST, Tom Valeo, "Market Wise Pastor Strikes Deep Chords with Soft-Sell Pitch," Crain's Chicago Business, January 16, 1989 p. C-2. WELS and LCMS leaders pay their pastors to study at Willow Creek.
"'I hate God,' the woman screamed, 'Who have I been praying to?' Or the sketches can be comical...Only after 30 minutes of such entertainment does Mr. Hybels appear, prepared to deliver an upbeat sermon that, he says, has 'high user value.'" WELS Evangelism Workshop, p. C-3.
We can also take the atoning death of Christ for granted because of the abundance of forgiveness. Yes, we know about the abundance, but then we have so many ways of hearing about the Gospel that our thankfulness diminishes. We care about food when we are hungry. We are thankful for food when we are starving and there is no food in sight. Once we were driving late at night between Saginaw and Columbus. We knew that we would be lucky to eat at our favorite restaurant or anywhere. We got to the Chinese restaurant just before it closed. We were happy to take anything in a cardboard tub. We could not eat inside. We had to eat in the cold car. We opened the tub of steaming hot food and shared a tiny plastic fork. It was the best Chinese meal we ever ate. And we were so happy to get it. I can still see the steam rising from the rice in that freezing Aerostar van.
We love the Gospel when we experience our sinfulness and our lack of faith. That is one of the striking aspects of Luther’s sermons. He does not rail about carnal sins but describes our lack of faith in God’s Word. He also shows how lack of faith in the Word leads to the sins against the Second Table (the last 7 commandments). Luther’s Law passages are so vivid that the Gospel is even more comforting than anyone could imagine. That is why we read Luther’s sermons 470 years later and his alone. Those he influenced are also good to read. Today people still read Gerhard, Reu, Walther, and Lenski.
Jesus took care of the spiritual needs of the multitude and then He fed them with an abundance of food. In the same way God provides for our forgiveness through the Means of Grace and also takes care of us. We are heading into the greatest era of prosperity the world has known. In my opinion, it will continue for some time because all the rules are changing. The danger is that the overflowing of God’s blessings will make people less grateful rather than more thankful. We can have different reactions to the same miracle of abundance, as the people did in the time of Jesus. Some asked for another miracle. Some walked away when Jesus explained how He was the bread of life.
When God blesses us with an abundance of forgiveness and material blessings, we have plenty for ourselves and to share as well. The more we experience forgiveness, the more we will be forgiving toward others. The more we are thankful for God’s blessings, the more we will enjoy sharing them. When Jesus was done feeding the multitude, they had more left over than when they started. That is how God works through the Gospel.