MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
602 (morphing to 623)-334-8014; firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Our single most significant emotion, the one that gives us the most problems, is fear. We often spend a great deal of time avoiding anything that would make us fearful or make us realize our worst fears. There is a cure for this, although the cure is hampered by our sinful nature. Nevertheless the cure is still valid, effective, and powerful.
The opposite of fear is not courage, but faith, specifically trust in God. This particular lesson is one that can give us a profound sense of faith in the goodness and power of God. The Word itself causes us to trust in God. The Word increases our trust in God.
But we should also be warned. The Word is so powerful that people who try to subject it to their reason will find themselves increasingly blinded to Gospel and hardened against it. We find this almost exclusively among the Biblical professors of the established denominations. They read this lesson and find everything except God at work. They make fun of it. That is not enough. They must make sure no one else believes it, either.
In one rare case a woman became quite famous as a typical Biblical scholar (Eta Lindemann). She published a famous article in a noted journal, not an easy task. Then she slowly became a believer. When I last read about her, she was a teacher in an obscure school.
The rationalistic objections to this miracle are obvious. No one can make food multiply. Those who explain this away must make it a legend based on everyone shamed into sharing their lunches when the boy offered his. And I recall, too, that professors make fun of two miraculous feedings, the feeding of the 4,000 and the feeding of the 5,000. They must have repeated the same “myth” (as they mistakenly claim). Since all of Mark can be recited out loud in about two hours, it is difficult to imagine Mark overlooking a second version of the same miracle. But that does not matter to unbelievers. For them, Biblical studies mean a seminar in creative writing.
The trouble with this miracle, and we should find this comforting, is that no one can reproduce it or explain it away. Healing miracles have been subjected to many imaginary explanations: psychological illness followed by psychological healing; perhaps the dead person brought back to life was only in a swoon. All these explanations are nonsense, but they keep people from trusting in God.
Here is the most basic fear. Babies cry out in pain and anger when they are hungry. Children and adults have various levels of tolerance, but no one wants to be without the basics of human life.
In this miracle, no one asked for food. Instead, Jesus anticipated their needs and provided for them. Why? Because He had compassion on them, compassion for their material needs. Although the disciples did not understand what the Son of God could do, Jesus still performed the miracle, to show His love and power, to continue their growth in faith.
Anytime we fear being short-changed in some way, in our material needs, we should think of this miracle. God already knows our needs and provides for them. I heard an unfortunate Christian show where children were taught that they would be blessed “if they did their best.” What a terrible lesson in the Law for them! God blesses believers and unbelievers.
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.
Unbelievers are cursed in that they do not see the blessings provided by God. They concentrate on how they have earned everything themselves. Because they have no faith, their fears are just as great, if not greater. There is little to fear if one has nothing, much to fear if there is a pile of loot for others to take away. Unbelievers are often haunted by their fears and their need to create more and more barriers against what they fear most.
Believers also have fears. Because of our sinful nature, our trust in God is shaken by unfortunate events or fears that another bad episode will happen again. Therefore, God constantly works on us through the Law and Gospel, to show us that doubting His goodness is a sin, and to reveal His lovingkindness for us at all times. His love is never condition. He loves the sinner who turns to Him in sorrow and contrition. He loves the believer who hungers for His Gospel of forgiveness.
I was talking to a Lutheran who is about to engage in a major project, one with a lot of risks and the potential for a lot of stress. Because of past events, certain fears come to the forefront. Then there is the basic fear – will there be enough money for this? If I read this miracle correctly, the answer is yes. God already starts providing before we even think to ask. He gives us more than we can even imagine.
Many times God allows our plans to be crushed before our eyes. We can plan everything correctly and do things well, only to have things blown to pieces by events and persons beyond our control. (Not that we are really in control. But we like to think so.) God allows these difficult times to come our way so that we are toughened up in some ways, but softened in other ways. Once we see how God can turn a disaster into a miracle of abundance, as He did with the feeding of the 4,000, then we have greater trust in His love and providence in the future. We get tougher, by God’s design, because our patience grows with faith.
Once I went with a woman to see a lawyer about his over-billing. He stood up, leaned on his knuckles against the desktop, and screamed at us at the top of this lungs. Later, I went with another woman to see a funeral director about going easy on her bill. He began screaming at the top of his lungs. After seeing this kind of routine a few times, it is increasingly amusing. Such people remind me of the gorilla who screams and pounds his chest when he is most afraid.
That is why older people are usually calm in the midst of disasters. Octogenarians today have gone through two world wars, the Great Depression, the transition from real horsepower to gasoline engines, electrification, the atomic age, and the computer age. I met an older woman who had gone through everything. Her greatest treasure was her collection of orthodox Lutheran books. She loved every one and read them.
The miracle of the feeding of the 4,000 should lay to rest anyone’s qualms about holy communion. When we ask how Christ could be physically present with the bread and wine, we are like rabbits wondering how a man can jump in a metal can and disappear in a cloud of smoke. We cannot explain human devices to a rabbit. God cannot explain His ways to us.
God teaches us in many ways. His Word is so rich in spiritual wisdom that no one has seriously claimed to know all that is in the Bible. And yet, God’s ways remain beyond our comprehension.
Holy communion is a miracle of abundance, the abundance of God’s forgiveness. We know from the revelation of the Scriptures that God has bound Himself to the Word and Sacraments. Wherever we find the Gospel, we find God at work in providing forgiveness and the fruits of the Christian faith, especially eternal life.
Recently I was happy to roll over my credit card debt to single digits, thanks to the Internet. Imagine how everyone would feel if a letter arrived in the mail and said, “You owe nothing on your car, nothing on your house, nothing on your credit card. All your debts have been paid in full. Send no money.”
If our debts are paid, we cannot pay them. Christ has redeemed us from sin by dying on the cross. This abundance of forgiveness comes to us in the Gospel preached and taught, in absolution, in baptism, and in communion. When someone counsels us about the Gospel, we also receive those benefits. Again and again, we receive the message: Christ has paid the price with His holy and innocent blood.
Our sinful nature fights against the true nature of forgiveness, so that God does not receive all the glory and honor. That is why we must hear the Law repeatedly and have our wrongful and sinful thoughts rebuked. That is why we must hear the Gospel and receive forgiveness through faith in the promises of God.
In our relationships with others, we will be blessed, and they will be blessed, if the Gospel predominates, which is God’s will. A condemning attitude will not perfect anyone but drive them to despair. Once I knew a mother who was extremely condemning and harsh. She was going to scold the world into perfection. The result was that her son became a skillful and polished liar. Once I knew both of them, it all made sense. If a child is condemned every day for every action, he may learn to talk his way out of everything.
Husbands and wives can drive each other crazy by being condemning and critical. Impatience and harshness can create an atmosphere of tension and fear. One would never guess that the Son of God died for the sins of the world when the toast is burned or the garbage was not taken out at the right time. Forgiving and being forgiven go a long way in promoting love, peace, and true happiness. That is why God gave us His Son, not to condemn the world but so the world might be saved.
John 3:17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.