Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The miracles of Jesus always startle and surprise us. That is because they take us, for a moment, from our world of sin and weakness into the world of the completely divine. And so it is that the miracles of Jesus tell us who He is. If we had no other reason to know that He was the Son of God, the miracles should do that for us. He once told the Pharisees that even if they would not believe His Words, by believing His works they could learn that He was truly the One sent from God.
So often, however, we focus our attention more on what the miracle is or does, which really means that we focus attention on ourselves, for we are the ones who receive the benefits of the miracle. While the substance of a miracle is not unimportant, to be sure, what is even more important is that we never lose sight of the One who does the miracle. The wonder of the miracle itself and the joy it does give us should always direct us to the supreme miracle, that God has taken on human flesh in Jesus Christ, and has come to this world to redeem us and all the world from sin and its horrible consequences.
To help set our eyes on Jesus in this miracle, perhaps it would be good to compare this miracle to an event in Jesus’ life that we may not readily associate with this miracle, and that is His temptation. The purpose for the temptation of Christ was to prepare Him for the ministry He would carry out, one that would be full of temptation and frustration, and would eventually lead to the cross. As you will remember, part of His temptation in the wilderness was physical hunger. For forty days, in the searing heat and the loneliness of the wilderness, He was without food. He endured His temptation in the presence of both the Father in heaven and the great adversary, Satan. Of course, Jesus could have easily satisfied His own hunger. Satan knew this, also, when he tempted Jesus to turn stones to bread. Such a miracle would have shown Jesus to be God, as He truly is, but it would also have thwarted the Father’s will to send redemption to this fallen world.
The way Jesus responded to that part of His temptation tells us something of immense importance when it comes to understanding this miracle of the feeding of the 4000. He told Satan, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” The significance of the miracles of Jesus, whether it be this one or another, goes well beyond the thing that is done. The miracles open before our eyes the divine, the work of God, His power and glory and might, which are always meant for salvation. Whether the miracle is the provision of bread, or the giving of sight, or even the raising of the dead, it is not merely the what that is important, but the who! Who provides bread? Who gives sight to the blind? Who calls the dead to life? It is not bread alone that matters, but every Word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, endured hunger as a part of His temptation. He did so that He might understand our needs as He feeds us not only daily bread, but also the Bread of Life, Himself, in both Word and Sacrament. His redemptive work was to restore and make whole that which was squandered and broken by our sin.
Those who were the immediate recipients of this miracle were in the midst of a temptation of their own. We have difficulty holding our attention to a service that may last a bit over an hour. Our minds want to wander. "When does golf coverage begin?" "Did I remember to turn of the oven?" "I hope this sermon will be short so I can call Tommy and we can play baseball." Can you imagine being with Jesus for three days in which much of the time was spent simply listening to Him? The supply of food they had brought with them was nearly gone by now. What could be done? To send them away would have been dangerous to them. Many had come a long way. This “desert place,” as it was called, this place of isolation, was a long way from any supplies of food. The disciples ask in their bewilderment, “How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?” Surely, the same thoughts were running through the minds of at least some of the others who were there.
Whether or not they recognized it, the disciples were perfectly positioned to receive the greatest benefit from the miracle about to be done. It may sound trite, but it is still true that when things are at their worst, at least as we see them, God is at His best. When we are weak, God is at His strongest. When our need is greatest, God’s provision is at its most abundant. When we are in the presence of Jesus, there is always an answer to every need, to every concern, to every pain, and to every sorrow. Again, what He does is important, but what is even more important is that He is who He is; the eternal Son of the heavenly Father, the One sent to redeem us and all the world from sin, death, and hell, the one who is Himself the answer to every question, the solution to every problem, and the provision for every need. And this One who broke bread with them and satisfied their hunger is the very same One who feeds His Church now.
Our needs, of course, are very great. We are more like those people in the miracle than we may realize. We can be as isolated as they were. Theirs was, of course, a physical isolation, while ours is most often spiritual. We may be surrounded by others, as we are at this moment, and still be isolated. Sin is a wilderness that separates us from God and even, at times, alienates us from each other. We can be surrounded by the goodness of God, both His material and spiritual blessings, and yet have no sense of that goodness. And that is, to be sure, an isolation of the worst kind.
And, like Jesus’ disciples, we find it very hard to see how our needs are going to be met. But, He breaks bread with us. It is of the greatest importance that we keep this order straight. We cannot meet our needs of body or soul. He meets them. He feeds us both in body and soul. We have been taught this in the Lord’s Prayer. Remember Luther’s explanation: “God gives daily bread indeed without our prayer, also to all the wicked; but we pray in this petition that He would lead us to know it, and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving."
Jesus also breaks with us the bread of His own body, His life given for us. Our ears and hearts feed on His Word, and then, as He will again this morning, He gives us His very body, nailed to the cross, and the very blood that flowed from His wounds, all given and shed for the remission of our sins. He feeds us with these until all our needs are met; until we are fully satisfied. Jesus feeds us, and our isolation is over. Jesus feeds us, and our wilderness breaks forth in life and joy. Jesus feeds us, and we see His hand in all of life, and we rest finally in the hope and confidence that He will never fail to meet our every need until He gathers us together in that Paradise of the new heaven and earth. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.