Mark 8:1-9; Romans 6:19-23; Genesis 2:7-17
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Full bellies, contentment, amazement, and wonder at His miraculous power and works – these, I suggest to you, are not the reasons that Jesus fed the multitudes in the wilderness. Jesus never did anything to glorify Himself, but only to bring glory to His Father. Nevertheless, men, in their fallenness and sin, are mighty impressed with spectacles and wonders, with full bellies, and with the satisfaction of the flesh, and thus, many walked away that day missing Jesus’ point.
But, if not to glorify Himself, then what was Jesus’ point? Jesus’ point was not the food, but the Provider of the food. Jesus’ point was not how they might devise to get food, but the fact that they could not possibly get food on their own. Jesus’ point was not that the multitude would realize their need and despair, but that the multitude would realize their need and, in realizing that God had provided for them all along, realize that they had no need to despair, but that their God who loved them and provided for them as His own dear children in the past would continue to provide for them in the present and into as many future days as He might grant them. Jesus had compassion on the crowd because Jesus is compassion – that is to say, Jesus is the love, mercy, and compassion of God in human flesh, dwelling in the midst of the men He created to live by His providence and to receive His love and return it.
However, as much as Jesus made this point to the crowds who had followed Him for days after experiencing a previous miraculous feeding and many other miracles and healings, His primary audience was not the multitudes, but, rather, the Twelve, His disciples. It was particularly to them that He said, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.” And, as in His previous Feeding of the Five Thousand, Jesus said this to them to test them, to see whether they would trust in Him and His Word or only in themselves and their own meager providence.
Perhaps this is why Jesus specifically stated that the crowd had been with Him for three days. Was there something significant about three days? Well, since it was our Lord Jesus who spoke these Words, of course there was something significant about them! Three days was enough time that those who followed Jesus would have exhausted their own resources. Moreover, Jesus had purposely lead them to a place where was little or no natural resources, a place the disciples described as desolate. However, the crowd did not appear to be restless or despairing. In fact, they seemingly followed Jesus willingly without concern for food or drink, clothing, and shelter. The crowds were riveted by Jesus’ Words, enraptured by it and in it, so that they were focused upon nothing else. Indeed, this test was much more for and about the disciples and their faith and trust in Jesus and His Word than it was about four thousand of a nameless multitude. The hoi polloi trusted in Jesus and followed Him. What about His disciples?
Jesus’ disciples, too, would find themselves without Him for three days, three days in which their faith would be tested, and in which they would all be found wanting – until the fourth day, or, the eighth day in another reckoning, the day of Jesus’ resurrection when He would openly appear to them all alive, God’s providence out of the desolation of death and the grave. Then they would all be changed, for they would be filled with the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus taught them, and they would sacrifice all, even their lives, to follow Jesus and to proclaim to all the world that He is Lord that all might believe and be saved, and God His Father be glorified.
Jesus would teach them to have compassion by learning that compassion comes from God alone – they would show, share, and shower Jesus’ love, mercy, and compassion upon others to the glory of God. He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They answered Him, “Seven,” already despairing that it was not enough. And, according to the flesh and the efforts of man, they were correct, it was not enough. But, as with the number three, the number seven is also symbolic, for the number seven is a divine and holy number meaning fullness and completeness. Thus, as little and insufficient as the seven loaves were from a fleshly and worldly perspective, they were nevertheless sufficient when the Word of the LORD was attached to them.
No, it wasn’t much, but that’s where true faith kicks in. Jesus wanted them, not to despair of their meager provisions, but to trust in Him and His Word. He was saying to them, “Don’t count the cost, just do the work.” “How many loaves do you have?” Seven? Seventy-seven? Or, Seven hundred seventy-seven? It doesn’t matter! Do the work! After Jesus’ blessing, after He attached His Word of power and grace to the meager provision, it was enough, it was sufficient – the multitudes “ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.”
Dear children of our Lord Jesus Christ – we too are like the multitudes in the desolate wilderness. We have followed Jesus this far and He has never failed to provide for us. And, though we might look around us now and be tempted to despair of our meager provisions, are we going to place our fear, love, and trust in material things, in human reason and wisdom, in mammon, wealth, and money? No, for our faith is grounded and founded in the unchanging, powerful, creative, and life-giving Word of God today, as every day in the past, to our fathers and our father’s fathers before us.
For, the first and the greatest commandment is to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. This was the commandment broken in the Garden by our First Parents, the original sin, and the origin of all sin. Did you catch who the subject was for all of the verbs in our Old Testament Lesson from Genesis today? The subject for each and every one of them is the LORD God: God formed. God breathed. God planted. God made. God took. God put. God commanded. Man did absolutely nothing, but was the receiver of God’s creative work by His Word alone up until God “put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Then God made Adam to be a steward, a manager, of His creation, to tend to the plants and the animals of the world, to use them in a God-pleasing way, recognizing that they were not his own but His LORD’s over which he was given management. In his care and tending for His Master’s provisions, Adam would demonstrate his faith and trust in his LORD and would share in his LORD’s work by sharing His love, mercy, grace, and compassion.
Though Adam was given stewardship over the Garden and all things in it, his most important task involved the tending of one particular tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. What stewardship of this tree really amounted to was where Adam would place his fear, love, and trust – in God’s Word and will, or in his own. For, it was the Word of God alone that made this tree’s fruit forbidden, not anything about the fruit or the tree itself. Moreover, this Word of the LORD set forth a choice for a way, a path, and a religion – the way of the LORD, or the way of the flesh. For, when it comes down to fundamentals, as confessed by early Christians in the Didache: “There are two ways, one of life and one of death! And there is a great difference between the two ways. The way of life is this: First, you shall love God who made you. And second, love your neighbor as yourself, and do not do to another what you would not want done to you.”
Satan’s temptation to our First Parents was to put their fear, love, and trust in themselves, and not in God’s Word and will. He was successful, and that has affected the fall of all humanity. Jesus’ Feeding of the Multitudes are, in a sense, a didactic reworking of that first temptation. Once again, Jesus’ disciples had a choice between trust in God’s Word and trust in themselves, but this was a teaching moment, a discipling moment, offered in love and compassion for the disciples and for all people. Jesus knew what He was going to do; He would not send the multitudes away hungry to their homes, to faint on the way. Did the disciples know what Jesus was going to do? Did they believe that He could and would do it? Do you?
Proverbs teaches that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” It is also true that fear of the loss of material possessions, wealth, bodily necessities, and even life is idolatry and the way of death. These things make you a slave, living in fear of loss and need. Jesus would have you live free as a slave of God. Free? As a slave? YES! For there are only two ways, the way of life, and the way of death; you are a slave – but, are you a slave of God and life, or are you a slave of sin, death, and the devil? St. Paul teaches you: “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness [that is, you were free from righteousness, meaning having none]. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Children of God, do not fear loss and need, but fear God and trust in His Word and in His will for you. This is a charge, not to be foolish, but to be faithful in your stewardship of what He provides you. Spending money you do not have is poor stewardship, for it displays unbelief in God’s providence through means and vocations and a foolish trust that God will provide in ways and means He has not promised. Likewise, fear of stepping out and doing what is necessary for the good of others and for the proclamation of the Gospel is also poor stewardship, for it displays unbelief in God’s Word and will for you and for His Church. Therefore, let us walk the way of life, in humble, obedient fear, love, and trust in God’s Word and will. For He is God, and He is life and all its providence. To God alone be all glory.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.