Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
God placed man in the Garden of Eden. Man could eat freely of every tree of the garden. Only the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was off limits. The tree was there as a way for man to honor God as his Maker, to acknowledge the holiness and the greatness of God, to show love for God by holding to His Word. This was man's worship. For him to eat of the tree would be to put himself into the place of God, and that meant death for man. "In the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die."
We all know the story. Man succumbed to the temptation. Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Mankind's rebellion brought a curse on him and on the creation God had given him. And yet it might appear to the casual reader that what God said would happen didn't. The Lord had said, "In the day you eat of it, you shall surely die." But Adam and Eve were still alive and kicking for many years and decades after they ate, even if life had become much more difficult. So what's going on here? Did God's judgment fail?
Of course not. Death from the eternal perspective has to do with a lot more than just the body giving out and the heart stopping and the brain no longer functioning. Death ultimately has to do with being separated from God, being cut off from His presence and His goodness. That's why hell is rightly called eternal death: it is the place where God and His grace are absnt. That's the place for those who think they can live without God. So while physical death is indeed the earthly consequence of sin, spiritual death is the ultimate consequence of sin. In the day that they ate, Adam and Eve did die. They were only hollow shells of what they once were.
When the Epistle reading says that "the wages of sin is death," we know it doesn't only mean that death will be coming to us someday in the future. We're already experiencing it. We experience it in our bodies in various troubles and sickness and aging. And we experience it in our spirits, too. Every sin brings death with it. Laziness brings boredom with God's creation and dissatisfaction His blessings. Lust and sexual immorality diminish people and ruin families and sear consciences. Overindulging in food or drink produces health problems and a sluggish spirit. Self-centeredness and impatience lead to destructive anger. Greed overwhelms good relationships. Don't ever think those pet sins of yours are no big deal. They're killing you. Indeed, the wages of sin is death, even before we die.
However, that's only the first half of the verse. The last half trumps the first half when it declares, "The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!" Notice the difference in terminology. The first half talks about wages; the second half talks about a gift. The first part talks about what we have earned; the second part talks about what God has freely given. Our working has led to death, but God's working leads to life through His Son.
In the Gospel we see a wonderful picture of how God worked to save us from death and bring us back into His life. We see Jesus in the wilderness with the people. After three days they were feeling the effects of sin's curse, being hungry and weary with no food around to refresh or sustain them. Man's sin had turned the world from the abundance of Paradise into a bleak and harsh place, and so Jesus entered into that harshness as a true man in order that He might undo the curse and restore all of creation. The Son of God took on your human body and soul and put Himself smack dab into the middle of this fallen world in order to rescue you and raise you up.
Jesus said, "I have compassion on the multitudes." That word, "compassion," in Greek has to do with the deepest possible empathy and feeling. So fully does Jesus empathize with you that He went so far as to suffer with you and to suffer for you in order to take your suffering away forever.
You can begin to see that taking place already in this miracle of the feeding of the 4000. Jesus produces bread in abundance apart from any sweaty or tiring labor. In this moment He restores the bounty of the Garden of Eden, where food is received in full measure from the gracious hand of God. Here you see God the Son beginning to break the curse of death and overcome the fall into sin. You see a glimpse of how it was in the beginning and how it will be even more so in the new creation of the age to come.
Jesus would complete His work of undoing the fall and breaking the power of the curse on the cross. That is where the deathly wages of sin and the abounding gift of life come together. The wages that you had earned by your sin Jesus suffered to death in His body. The judgment you had coming, He took on your behalf. Because of His sacrifice, the gift of life now flows to you and to all who believe in Him. Sin has been undone, and so have the wages of sin, namely death and hell. All that leaves for you is life.
Jesus took the seven loaves and gave thanks, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. In the same way still today, Jesus speaks His words of thanks and consecration and His ministers distribute the Sacrament of the Altar. The seven loaves were multiplied to feed and fully satisfy 4000 people. In the same way today, Jesus uses seemingly insufficient bread to multiply His grace and feed and fully satisfy the church with His very life-giving body. We have a glimpse of Paradise right here. As you receive the bread of life, you are being given a taste of heaven. Heaven is where Christ is; and Christ is here for you. 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.