Sunday, August 23, 2009

Pentecost 12 Sermon -- Mark 7:1-13 (LSB Proper 16B)

August 23, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

Jesus said to them: “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

Jesus’ statement of judgment is not limited to the Pharisees and scribes who came to investigate Him and His disciples in Galilee. It is meant for all who make the gross error of substituting human intellect and reason for Divine Wisdom. He speaks against all who “[make] void the word of God by [their] tradition that [they] have handed down.” It is especially pointed for those who claim membership among the Lord God’s people, but through their actions put that identity into jeopardy.

Jesus quotes the Lord God’s statement of judgment delivered to the leaders of Jerusalem by the Prophet Isaiah. You heard more of that statement in the Old Testament Reading this morning. The prophet brings condemnation against the people of Jerusalem because they had forsaken the proper worship of the Lord God. They had been made a covenant people, given the Lord God’s promise of salvation. But instead of worshiping Him in spirit and truth, instead of adhering to His way of life, they had sought after other gods, other teachings which pleased their desires. Yet, they still continued to go through the motions of the covenant worship, offering their sacrifices in the Temple, making the required offerings.

But such faith is worthless. It is vain, as the Prophet Isaiah declares. It does not receive the salvation which the Lord God must give to people who lack His righteousness. The structure of faith is there, but it remains empty. It lacks what is needed: the all-encompassing trust in what the Lord God does and what He promises. Instead, the structure of faith was filled with inventions and innovations. The people abandoned the Lord God’s way of life for what they thought was good, right, and salutary, even better than what the Lord God had to offer. Isaiah’s audience is condemned for their idolatry and apostasy, their hypocritical way of life.

For the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus’ words of condemnation have the same character as Isaiah’s message. Jesus quotes Isaiah’s words; the error that He condemns is similar to the sin of the Jerusalem people, but is a more subtle form. The Pharisees and scribes had not sought after a different deity to worship. They still believed that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the One who delivered the Israelites from Egyptian bondage; He who promised a great Messiah was the One and only true God. They claimed the identity of being set apart by the Lord God, made separate and holy from the world.

But the issue of what that identity meant and how to maintain it brought the Pharisees and scribes into error. The Gospel writer records the judgment of the Pharisees and scribes about Jesus’ disciples: “They saw that some of His disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. . . . And the Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, ‘Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?’” They accused Jesus’ disciples of being “defiled,” of forsaking their identity as the Lord God’s holy people. Because Jesus’ disciples ate with unwashed hands, not walking according to the tradition of the elders, the Pharisees and scribes judged that Jesus’ disciples were no longer set apart by the Lord God, but part of the general population. It is this erroneous judgment which Jesus condemns.

The error of the Pharisees’ judgment of Jesus’ disciples is exposed in Jesus’ words: “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men. . . . You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” Though the Pharisees and scribes had good intentions in establishing their traditions, and man-made traditions can be helpful to the faithful people of God, they had erroneously given their traditions too much credit. They had leapt to the conclusion that adherence to their humanly-established traditions made and kept an individual one of the Lord God’s people. Thus, justification and sanctification—being made and kept righteous and holy—depended upon obeying and trusting the word of man.

Jesus accuses the Pharisees and scribes of a false faith, of “making void the word of God by [their] tradition that [they] have handed down.” Their trust in humanly-devised works for salvation was condemned by Jesus. Such warning needs to be heard by the Lord God’s people, by you. Jesus’ words are meant for His people for all times and in all places. He desires to keep His people reliant on Him and Him alone for salvation, to trust His words and actions, not their own intellect and reason, not their own sensibilities of what is good, right, and salutary. Jesus’ words of life tell how salvation comes to sinners who lack perfection: it is earned by His acts which atone for every sin that is committed; it is delivered and maintained in those who hear and believe His gracious words and works of absolution.

No matter how good the intentions of the Pharisees and scribes were or the intentions of anyone who establishes traditions to follow: when they take the place of what the Lord God had established, they are sinful, “making void the word of God.” Those who have been created by the Lord God, who gives them their identity as His people, must never usurp His place. Isaiah’s prophecy states that in memorable words: “Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, ‘Who sees us? Who knows us?’ You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?” That usurpation began with Adam and Eve who desired to be like God, though it was not given to them to be that way. It continues in all their descendants. It is a sin which is found in all, as sinful human beings desire to be their own Law, to be their own head.

But the Lord is clear about the proper relation between His people and Himself. It is submission to the Lord and His will and order. The Apostle Paul writes that way: “Christ is the Head of the Church, His body, and is Himself its Savior. . . . The Church submits to Christ.” It is Christ who made sinners righteous and His own people, not their own actions: “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” In their proper role, the Church cannot usurp Christ’s role or His authority.

That submission to Christ includes the assent that His will is good and right, that His tradition which He hands down is to be totally accepted by all His creation. It includes submission to the order that He gives to the world He created, including the intended relationship between male and female: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” It includes submission to Christ’s will that salvation comes only through belief in His identity [being the eternal Son of God] and the merits of His works [His perfect life, His sacrificial death, His glorious resurrection] which are delivered in the ways that He instituted [Holy Baptism, the preached Word, the Lord’s Supper, Confession and Absolution].

That submission to Christ also includes the setting aside of human judgment or intellect, while receiving the wisdom that He gives—even when it seems hopelessly out-of-date, culturally irrelevant, illogical, or even foolish. Hear again what the Lord God promised through Isaiah: “Behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.” There will be an establishment of what is truly good by Christ: “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.”

So it has taken place among you through the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of Christ. Christ’s Word has made you hearing and seeing, enlightening your hearts and minds to believe in Him. Christ has given you a new identity by calling you to discipleship. Christ has washed you and made you clean from all guilt, not with a man-made ritual washing, but by His Word included with baptismal water. Christ feeds you with holy food, with His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins, delivered by ministers for you to handle and eat with formerly-defiled hands. Christ gives you words for your lips to worship Him in spirit and truth. These are not “the traditions of the elders,” but what He established.

As these divinely-commanded and ordained traditions are kept, your proper role and identity is maintained. They are what the members of the Church do as they walk according to the way of life laid out by their Heavenly Father and His Son. Honor Him not with your lips only, but with your cleansed and revived bodies. Worship and revere Him according to His commandments, not making void His Word. Constantly listen to His Word which reveals what He has done for you, granting you eternal life. Receive His gifts which are donated, not earned. For by His grace Christ has made you truly clean, setting you apart to be members of His Body, and promising that you will eat together in His eternal wedding feast, pure and undefiled.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Pentecost 11 Sermon -- John 6:51-69 (LSB Proper 15B)

August 16, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

[Jesus said]: “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the Living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on Me, he also will live because of Me.”

The invitation to dine goes out from Jesus’ mouth. It is found in His words, the words which He says “are spirit and life.” He desires you to come and eat, because you must do so in order to live. Starvation is a terrible way to die, as one lacks what is necessary to live. The Lord God does not want His people to suffer in such manner. Rather, He wants them and you to be filled with good things—“true food and true drink.”

But what does Jesus offer on His bill of fare? Not fishes and loaves. They were already given, but only to those who sat on the hillside in Galilee’s wilderness. Not manna from heaven. That was meant only for the patriarchs on their travel to Canaan: “The fathers ate and died.” Instead, Jesus gives His Body to eat and His Blood to drink. He promises eternal life for those who consume them: “Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

Yet the invitation which Jesus gives—“Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”—is difficult. The Gospel writer includes that fact when he recorded the people’s reaction to Jesus’ invitation: “When many of His disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” The same reaction was found in others within earshot of Jesus: “The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us His flesh to eat?’” Such reactions show a lack of understanding, a lack of knowledge. People hear Jesus’ words, His gracious invitation to life itself, but they cannot accept them.

Why is Jesus’ statement rejected? Why can’t His words be received by all? Those questions cannot be fully answered by us. But Jesus does provide an explanation: “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father.” Jesus’ words “are spirit and life,” especially His words which invite people to partake of the true source of life. But only those granted wisdom by the Father can receive them and what the Son offers.

You heard of such people in the Gospel Reading in the midst of rejection. John tells you: “After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.” Some abandon Jesus and His teaching and way of life. But Peter doesn’t. He believes that Jesus is the source of his life, that Jesus’ words inviting to eat and live forever are good and meant for him.

Simon Peter states his belief in Jesus, because “it was granted him by the Father.” So it is with all the other true confessions made about Jesus. Peter says other times about Jesus: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,”—language very similar to his confession that you heard today. And what does Jesus say? “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” It is just as Jesus says: “No one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father.” And further: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail.”

Those who are granted favor by the Father hear those words of Jesus and they recognize that they “are spirit and life” for them. They hear Jesus say: “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” Hearing this, they believe that Jesus can and does such a thing because He is the Incarnate Son of God who gave His life into death and took it up again in the resurrection. They hear Jesus say: “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day.” Believing this, they receive the same in Jesus’ Holy Supper which gives forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. They hear Jesus say: “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” Trusting this, they know that Jesus is present with them.

This is what the Father grants people to receive. By His favor, He grants them the ability to hear His Son’s words and not be offended by them. He grants them sense and insight which they did not have in themselves, so they can receive the “spirit and life” which Jesus has to give them. Granted this, they come to His Son and confess about Him: “You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.”

You are present here, you have come to Jesus, because the Father has granted it to be so. You have heard His words and you find spirit and life in them. Such wisdom has been granted to you, just as the Teacher describes: “Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town, ‘Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!’ To him who lacks sense she says, ‘Come, and eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight!’”

The poetic description from the Proverbs describes you. The Father has given His Wisdom, Jesus Christ. He has granted you to hear and believe Jesus’ “words of eternal life.” Those words of spirit and life come to you, and you receive their message. Jesus invites you to eat of the bread of heaven and the finest of wines, telling you to eat and to live. And you can see in faith what He truly gives you: “My flesh is true food and My blood is true drink.” You are taken out of your sin-caused simplicity and ignorance and unbelief. Instead, you are made wise to salvation, given true learning.

That true learning comes from “the Spirit who gives life,” the Spirit present in Jesus’ words of eternal life. The Teacher says: “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Such wisdom and knowledge is yours, granted to you by the Father, so you can make the true confession about His Son: “You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.”

Your confession is dependent upon divine acts: the Father has granted you His favor; the Son has spoken His words to you; the Holy Spirit has given you life through belief in these words. But such faith which leads to life must be maintained. Those divine acts must continue to be done to you. You must continue to receive the life which the Lord God gives to His people.

You have been made wise to salvation. But recall what the Teacher said in his proverb: “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.” The apostle also gave warning: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things, the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. . . . Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise. . . .” Jesus’ words of spirit and life are to be continually heard by you; His true food and drink must be consumed by you. Through such acts life is given and sustained in you.

Jesus says: “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the Living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on Me, he also will live because of Me.” Eating the bread of life which comes down from heaven, you will continue in what makes you wise to salvation. You will receive the eternal life that the Living Father’s Son has to give to you. You will hear and believe His words of spirit and life. He will abide in you and you in Him. You will leave your simple ways, and life, walking in the way of insight.

That is what the Father has granted it to you. So you have received salvation, as you have come to His Son through whom He has been reconciled to sinners. So you shall receive it again today, as you eat of the Son of Man’s flesh and drink of His blood through which He abides in you. So you will continue to receive it, as you hear and believe Jesus’ words through which the Holy Spirit gives life. That is the intent of His Bread of Life Discourse which you have heard the past three Sundays. Believe and receive what is given here for you: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Pentecost 10 Sermon -- John 6:35-51 (LSB Proper 14B)

August 9, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

[Jesus said]: “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the Last Day.”

The Son of God comes down from heaven with a purpose. That purpose is very clear: to bring life to those who had none in them. He brings life to them by taking on human nature and dwelling on earth. That human nature includes the ability to suffer death, so that others might live. So Jesus says: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”

To suffer death for the life of the world, to suffer death to give life to you: that is what the Father requires of His Son. That is His will for Jesus. So Jesus makes clear throughout His ministry on earth. In one of the clearest statements about this, Jesus tells Nicodemus: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Life for the world requires that the Son of God be crucified, be dead, be buried, and rise to life again.

That is the heart of the Gospel, the Father’s desire to have you saved from your sin, delivered from eternal death, rescued from Satan’s tyranny over you. Jesus accomplishes this by giving His flesh for the life of the world. This is why we confess in the Nicene Creed about the Son of God: “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man.” Coming down from heaven, being incarnate, made man: that is how the Son of God took on the flesh which He will give for the life of the world, for your life.

But note how the crowds acted when they heard Jesus speak about this: “So the Jews grumbled about Him, because He said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ They said, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, “I have come down from heaven”?’” The crowds had wanted the Bread of Life. Jesus had said: “The bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to world.” And the crowds had said to Him: “Sir, give us this bread always.” But when Jesus says that He is the Bread of Life and that He has come down from heaven to give life to the world, the crowds will not have it be so. It runs contrary to their senses and sensibilities.

Remember what Jesus had said to the crowds: “I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe.” The people had seen the miraculous sign that Jesus had performed. They had seen Jesus bless the loaves and fish. They had eaten and been satisfied. They had believed that Jesus could repeat the miracle, that He had a divinely-given ability to do this and more. But what they saw did not lead to faith in Jesus. In fact, what they saw ran contrary to what Jesus said. The crowds knew Mary and Joseph. They had seen Jesus living in their house, being obedient to them. This did not mesh with His words: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”

But such is the nature of the Gospel. It is not something experienced or reasoned. It is not a logical proposition which is proved by intellect to be true. No, it is only received by those who are chosen by the Father and taught by Him. Jesus alludes to this with His statement: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out.” Jesus makes it explicitly clear when He answers the grumbling of the people: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the Last Day. . . . Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.”

By nature, no one can believe in Christ and His works of salvation. What the senses perceive and what the intellect discerns will not be the Son of God taking on human nature and living among us and offering His life in sacrifice for sinners. Those who have fallen from righteousness, those who have committed sin, those who have the flaw of sinfulness in them do not have such understanding. The Apostle Paul describes such people: “You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” The apostle uses the term “Gentiles,” but such description applies to people of all nations. The description applies to you.

But the Lord God does not leave you and others in such state. He draws people. He teaches people. The will of the Father is clear: “That everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and [Jesus] shall raise him up on the Last Day.” His Son fulfills that will by His incarnation, His obedience, His crucifixion, His burial, His resurrection, and His ascension, making eternal life possible. His Father’s will is fulfilled for you by the work of the Holy Spirit teaching you through the Word of Christ, so that you may believe in the One whom the Father has sent.

So the Apostle wrote to the Ephesians: “That is not the way you learned Christ! – assuming that you have heard about Him and were taught in Him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” That is what has been made known to you through the Word of Christ, but not just made known, it is made so for you. As you have received the Word of Christ and the Holy Spirit’s work through it, you can believe what Jesus says about the Father’s will for you: “All that the Father gives Me will come to me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out.”

Because you have been taught by the Father, you can believe what He promises through His Son: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the Bread of Life.” You can receive as true what Jesus says about Himself: “I have come down from heaven.” The crowds could not accept such a thing, insisting that Jesus was not divine; but you can confess that He is indeed “the Son of the Most High God.” Your intellect and senses know that once life is gone, it does not come back; but you can trust the promise which Jesus makes: “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the Last Day.” Jesus says to the crowds: “You have seen Me and yet do not believe;” yet, you can rely on His statement about you: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

All this is what the Father has chosen for you to receive. It is what He has called you to have. His desire is for you to “look on the Son and believe in Him.” He has sent His Holy Spirit to teach you His good and gracious will, but not only to teach it, but to make it so for you. That good and gracious will is to have the life which only He, the Author of Life, can give. And so the Father has made it so by the sending of His Son: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”

That bread which came down from heaven and gives life to the world is here for you. It was first present at Christ’s Incarnation. It hung from Calvary’s cross. But now it is present when the same Jesus speaks: “This is My Body given for you. This is My Blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” As you have been drawn by the Father to Christ and taught by Him to believe in Christ, so you can receive what your senses cannot comprehend. You may accept what the One who came down from heaven has to give you: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

That is His Father’s will, the will which Jesus fulfills for you: “That I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the Last Day. That everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise Him up on the Last Day.” So you have been chosen by the Father to receive; so the Son has made possible for you to receive; so the Holy Spirit delivers to you to receive. Eat of the Living Bread that came down from heaven; for by coming to Jesus and receiving Him, you shall live forever, as His Father--your Father--so wills it.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Pentecost 9 Sermon -- John 6:22-35 (LSB Proper 13B)

August 2, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

Jesus said: “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on Him God the Father has set His seal.”

The Feeding of the 5,000 was not the first time that Israelites had been provided bread in the wilderness. Their ancestors had their stomachs filled with manna sent daily from heaven. They ate and were satisfied. Their grumblings of belly and mouth came to an end. In His mercy, the Lord God provided for His complaining people: “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”

Every morning, the people of the Exodus had their dietary needs met. Every morning, their faith in the Lord God was tested, as He said: “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My Law or not.” Did the Israelites believe that the Lord God would provide? Reliance on His providence and trust in His daily ability to give: that was the Lord God’s desire for His people. Such was found in the faithful Israelites.

When the descendants of the Exodus people received similar benefits from Jesus, they also exhibited a reliance and trust in Him. They believed that Jesus could feed them again, that they would have bread and fish provided daily, just like their forefathers. The morning after the Feeding Miracle, the people went searching for Jesus: “Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum seeking Jesus.” The crowd wanted another feeding, to be like Moses’ pilgrim band.

But what does Jesus say to the crowds who look for Him? Does He commend their initiative? Does He welcome them all and tell them to clean up for today’s meal? Does He ask for five loaves and two fish? No. Instead, Jesus rebukes the crowds: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” Jesus shows the flaw in the crowds’ faith. He says they missed the point of the sign that He was giving to them in the miracle.

In the Exodus, the provision of manna and quail was a means to an end. The Lord God daily provides the food, so the people would trust in Him and His pledge to bring them to the Promised Land. He gives the food, so the people do not continue with their unfaithful complaint: “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into the wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” The Lord God had led the people into the wilderness neither to kill them nor to feed them. They were on their way to what the Lord God had in store for them in a place and destiny better than their Egyptian bondage.

Likewise, in Jesus’ ministry, the provision of bread and fish was a means to an end. He feeds the crowd, so they can see His grace and mercy and so they can trust in Him. But that trust is not belief that Jesus will be there everyday to miraculously provide meals. Rather, Jesus wants the people to see the miraculous sign and know that He is the trustworthy source of life—life for body and soul. So He says: “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on Him God the Father has set His seal.”

A false understanding, a false belief of the Lord God’s identity prevents one from receiving “the food that endures to eternal life.” Any false understandings exist, including some which you may have held. Foremost of these false understandings is the belief that Providence is equal to God, or that “God” is only a personification of the natural cycle of the cosmos which lead to the ability for life to exist. Such false understandings make the same error that the crowds who sought Jesus made. It turns preservation of what is created into the prime motive, if not only motive, of the Deity.

Certainly, the Lord God is providential and generous. So the Psalmist describes Him: “The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food in due season. You open Your hand; You satisfy the desire of every living thing.” But the Lord God is much more than that. He has a much greater blessing to give you, just as He had a much greater provision for the Exodus people and the Galilean crowds. The Feeding Miracle is a sign to confirm that Jesus is present to bring His people, including you, to a Promised Land, to salvation.

Jesus wants you to be fed. He desires to provide you with everything that you need. But that need is much greater than food to eat, water to drink, clothes and shoes to wear, house, land, or animals. Praying for daily bread is but one petition which Jesus instructs you to ask. Forgiveness of your trespasses, being led safely through temptation, and deliverance from the Evil One are also His to give to you. And these great things are accomplished as His will is done for you and all His people, as His kingdom comes to you and you receive the full measure of the Lord God’s grace and mercy. You receive this as the work of God is done: “that you believe in Him whom [God the Father] has sent.”

The crowds’ action of seeking out Jesus was not intrinsically wrong, but it lacked the proper motivation. When the right rationale exists, then the action is truly good. And what is that right rationale? It is belief that Jesus Christ is the source of eternal life sent by His Father for you to receive. So Jesus says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” And so the people don’t miss His point, Jesus says further: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.”

Jesus’ presence in the world is to fulfill your true needs, to meet eternal wants. He was sent from heaven to bring life, but not physical life alone. That is why He does not intend the crowds of past and present to seek Him out a sort of magic Wonder Bread Man. The Lord desires that people believe that He gives life where no life was found, that He brings salvation to those who were eternally lost, that He brings forgiveness for those who have broken any and all requirements of the Divine Law.

The Psalmist wrote and you prayed: “The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear Him; He also hears their cry and saves them. The Lord preserves all who love Him, but all the wicked He will destroy.” These are statements about much more than earthly providence. They are testimonies of what the Lord God does for you, His people, in His acts of redemption. It is the result of receiving the One “who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” by His suffering hunger and thirst while suspended in crucifixion and by rising from death to prepare an eternal banquet for you.

That Bread of Life says to you: “Whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.” As you have been led to Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit, that statement is true for you. Do you desire salvation? Christ provides it through His death and resurrection. Do you need a clear conscience? Jesus gives it through His absolving words which purge away sin. Do you want a greater fate, a greater destiny than this worldly existence? The Lord provides it through His calling you to follow Him and His way of life. Do you long for freedom from your failures, your foibles, your faults, your frailty? Jesus promises it to you. What Jesus gives is heavenly and eternal in nature. It is yours to have as you receive Him who came down from heaven for you.

Turning to Jesus for these things is what God the Father desires for you. Jesus tells you: “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on Him God the Father has set His seal.” Receive it as you do the work of God: “Believing in Him whom He has sent.” Jesus has descended to the lower parts of the earth and ascended leading a host of captives and He has given gifts to you. You have life that comes from His work and is handed to you through His words: His words spoken by those who are called by Him, His words connected to water, His words connected to bread and wine. “He is faithful in all His words and kind in all His works,” so that He may strengthen and preserve you in body and soul unto life everlasting.

So eat “the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man gives to you.” Eat and be eternally satisfied. That is His desire for you, why He “gives you this bread always.” On this morning, you shall see the glory of the Lord. And in His everlasting kingdom, you shall bless His holy name forever and ever.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.