MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
KJV Mark 8:1 In those days the multitude being very great, and having nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples unto him, and saith unto them, 2 I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat: 3 And if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way: for divers of them came from far. 4 And his disciples answered him, From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness? 5 And he asked them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven. 6 And he commanded the people to sit down on the ground: and he took the seven loaves, and gave thanks, and brake, and gave to his disciples to set before them; and they did set them before the people. 7 And they had a few small fishes: and he blessed, and commanded to set them also before them. 8 So they did eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets. 9 And they that had eaten were about four thousand: and he sent them away.
This Gospel lesson reminds us that the Bible records two miracles of feeding the multitudes, not only the Feeding of the Five Thousand, but also the Feeding of the Four Thousand. In this miracle selected for this Sunday, the Gospel emphasizes how Jesus cares for our bodily needs. From this one brief story we can see how kind and loving our Savior is. We crave the assurance given by this miracle. It awakens faith in our hearts and satisfies our faith in Him.
The setting for this miracle is very simple. A vast multitude followed Jesus for three days, listening to Him teach. That alone gives us a glimpse of how compelling people found our Savior to be. Thousands of people hung on His words, knowing that He spoke with the authority of God. They had plenty of work to do, so giving up their daily tasks was a sacrifice they were willing to make. Perhaps they took along some food, as people often do when planning a big event. But no one took along enough food for three days. Most importantly, a multitude would never say, “Now we are hungry. Let’s ask God to feed all of us miraculously.”
Before anyone thought to ask for food, Jesus was already concerned about their needs. He brought up their inability to reach home. “They will faint along the way.” Those of us who live in the desert know how difficult it is to get work done in the burning heat. A Chicago native said, “The first thing I learned was not to mow the lawn at 2 in the afternoon.” Fainting in the heat is easy to imagine when someone daydreams about his next glass of ice water during a meeting. Or when a cup of 100 degree water left in the car is swallowed eagerly.
Jesus brought up the problem, already knowing the solution He would provide. But His disciples said, “How can anyone feed all these people in the wilderness?” Thus we can see how different the Scriptures are from human records. An official church history would have the disciples say, “Yes, Lord, you can do anything. You are the Word of Creation. You are the true Son of God.” But the Bible records them as doubting whether the people could be fed at all. Therefore, the disciples serve men expressing our doubts in the same kinds of situation.
When I suggest that pastors do the right thing, the ministers reply, “Yes, but who will feed me?” Whenever I have seen a congregation attempt to carry out a minor project, the anxieties set in. How can we do this? People won’t support it. The bank won’t give us the money. Someone will be upset and quit. General George S. Patton called this taking counsel of your fears. If we listen to our fears, our fears will advise us not to trust in God.
This miracle comforts us by showing us how Jesus cared for the material needs of the people before they even thought of asking Him. In the same way He still cares for our material needs, before and even without us asking. Yes, He is generous and loving toward unbelievers as well. Unfortunately, they do not realize it.
KJV Matthew 5:45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
Fear is the opposite of faith, as Luther often observed. Being anxious about our daily needs is the same as not trusting in God to provide for us. Whenever we listen to stories about Jesus during His earthly ministry, we need to remember that His human nature gave Him a special compassion about our needs. He knew what it meant to be thirsty (John 4) and to be hungry (The Temptation of Jesus). He was mocked, scorned, and physically attacked. He continues to have His human nature united with His divine nature, so He understands our needs completely.
As I mentioned before, Jesus knew the needs of this multitude and planned for their needs before they could ask, beyond His own disciples’ comprehension of His power. When you worry about your income, physical health, and other material needs, think about this miracle. Jesus has already seen your need and has planned an answer for your needs before you thought to ask.
Then why should we pray for our daily bread? The catechism reminds us that we pray for what God provides so that we will be thankful for these blessings and number them as coming from God rather than ourselves. Then, when we consider what matters most, we praise God for giving us what we need so generously and for denying us what we do not need in His wisdom.
Few parents with any wisdom will say that we should give children what they want, when they want it, all the time. Parents will even allow children to face certain hardships in order to prepare them for adult life and responsibility. If children learn to face frustration by having tantrums, they never progress beyond having fits to get their way as adults. When Bjorn Borg had a tantrum on the tennis court, his parents made him lock up his tennis racket for a year. He was famous for never shouting insults at refs during games, even when his trained eye saw a miss or a foul differently. He was so polite that the TV commentators were shocked that he looked a few seconds at a ref who made a bad call. That was in the days when some overgrown brats screamed at refs, hit tennis balls at them, and used obscenities.
So we should not look at God’s discipline as hatred but rather as love toward us. This miracle comforts us by showing us first that our material needs are provided by God before we even ask. Then we can understand more completely how God also takes care of our spiritual needs, which are not so obvious and can be easy to overlook. If someone does not eat for three days, he can only think of food. If he skips worship for months, he may say, “I am fine. In fact, I am doing better than ever. I still believe and I have saved time by not getting involved in all those little matters.”
We are poor judges of spiritual matters on our own. If we were so wise, we could worship once a year. But all of human history tells us that we quickly forget our Creator, that we take for granted what our Savior Jesus has done for us, that we receive spiritual wisdom from the Holy Spirit and then thank ourselves for being so intelligent. Here is one small example. The world observes a 7 day week. Why? Most people do not believe in the Six Day Creation. Why not have a 5 day week or a 10 day week? Why would the entire world follow this pattern set up by Genesis? Could it be that we have a world-wide acknowledgement of the Creation and yet a vast forgetting of that Creation?
Rip Rehwinkel has an interesting observation in his book “The Flood.” It relates to what I said above. He pointed out the existence of a death holiday across the world. Every culture has a holiday where people seem to remember and defy a time of universal death. These holidays feature skeletons and they all fall at the same time, the end of October. Rehwinkel wondered if this was a remembrance of The Flood. And yet today, we can celebrate Halloween, but we cannot talk about The Flood seriously, or people start discussing how hard it is to build an ark as large as a battleship and then fill it with animals. Difficult yes. Impossible? We have monumental construction from ancient times that we cannot reproduce today with our best and most powerful tools.
So whenever we see God placing a cross upon us, we have to say, “My Old Adam does not like this one little bit, but I must need this experience in some way to serve God’s purpose.” God told Noah to build the ark in the midst of a jeering population. No one listened to his sermons about the impending disaster.
KJV Hebrews 11:7 By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.
The entire building of the ark was grievous to Noah and his family, building a battleship sized ship on dry land. He was a failure in saving others, but Noah’s ark became an important lesson in teaching us about the effectiveness of baptism.
KJV 1 Peter 3:20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water 21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
Noah built the ark in faith, not for a few months or years, but for 120 years.
KJV Matthew 24:36 But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. 37 But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, 39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
So we can see in the miracle of the Feeding and in Noah’s ark, God’s plan to take care of the material needs of people in advance. Then we know how completely God has planned for our spiritual needs as well. It is a good feeling when someone looks to our needs in advance. When someone has shown us dozens of examples of kindness, we are inclined to listen to that person when he offers us advice. We are inclined to trust a person who has anticipated our needs and provided for them. Children will often clamor for something, anxious that their demands will not be met, sounding like robins in the next, all cheeping at once with their mouths wide open. Then they learn that mother and father have already provided for them and they settle down to enjoy what they longed for, whether it is food or a special event.
Jesus is our answer for the most important aspect of our lives – the forgiveness of our sins. Just as He provided an abundance of food, and far more than enough (7 man-sized baskets of leftovers), so also He gives us a superabundance of forgiveness through His atoning death on the cross. He rose from the dead (Romans 4:25) to show us that He alone is the One who conquers sin, death, and the devil.
This is where many people become confused, so we cannot think about it too much. How does one become forgiven of his sins? Almost everyone agrees that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world. He redeemed the world, paying for all sins. Forgiveness was accomplished through His atoning death and resurrection. However, this forgiveness is distributed to every single person through the preaching of the Gospel and the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.
Once again, (just as we see with the Feeding of the Four Thousand) before we even knew we were sinners, God provided for the forgiveness of our sins, our salvation and eternal life. Whenever the Gospel is proclaimed and taught, people believe in Christ as their Savior and receive the forgiveness of their sins. Whenever and wherever the Gospel of Christ is believed, death is overcome by eternal life through our Savior.
Many things will happen in the next decades to tempt people away from the Word of God. Satan tempts believers and not unbelievers. The believers will be few at the end of time, as Jesus taught us. “When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith?” Because the time of Satan is short and the believers are few, the rage of the devil will be all the greater against God’s Kingdom. When things become more chaotic and tribulation increases, we must remember that our trust is not in men or institutions but in the Gospel of forgiveness. In the wilderness to come, we will be fed by the Word.
“So they did eat and they were filled.” They were filled to such an extent that the entire multitude, as many as 12,000 people (if we assume 4,000 men, their wives and children) ate as much as they could but were unable to consume another 7 baskets of fragments. They were famished and faint from hunger but God provided an avalanche of food, just as He freely offers us an avalanche of blessings with complete and total forgiveness of sin.