St. Mark 8:1-9
July 19, 2015
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, X and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The feeding of the 4,000 is another miracle in the long line of Trinity Season teaching, parables, and miracles of Jesus. In this season of the Church, the people of God are fed by every word that comes from the mouth of her Lord. She is reinvigorated by every miracle that He works as the Creator and Messiah; she marvels at every parable describing how much and in what way God loves His people.
The feeding happened in this way: Jesus leads a largely Gentile group of 4,000 men (not to mention women and children) out into the wilderness near the upper shore of the Sea of Galilee, not far from where He had just fed the 5,000 a little while before. The crowd had followed Jesus because of what He was preaching and what He was doing. He was telling them of the kingdom of God. He was healing their sick and casting out their demons. They were so lost in His gracious Words that they did not care that they were getting hungry, and after three days did not even have enough strength to get back home.
At this point Jesus approaches His disciples and tests them again. They had not caught on to who He was or what He was capable of. Maybe because they too were tired and hungry, but they did not remember the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 and how He multiplied 5 loaves and 2 fish enough to feed a larger crowd. “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” “One” can feed these people, if “one” is the Lord, the creator of heaven and earth. The disciples were slow in understanding these things.
Last week and this week, there has been a common theme in the actions of Jesus. He is isolating people and making it clear that only God can rescue them from dire situations. Last week it was an isolation of the inward man. The Law is put under a microscope and shown to be impossible for anyone to keep, except the perfect Son of God, who did not only keep it for Himself, but fulfilled it for everyone. The proper use of the Law isolates sinful man and always accuses the old Adam. There is no hope of salvation in the Law. All hope must be placed in Jesus Christ, who came to complete the Law and remove the curse of the Law from His people. He isolated everyone spiritually to point people to the way of salvation, His death and sacrifice. This week Jesus isolates the people physically. He leads them out into a desolate place, so that all hope in the flesh is lost. The people could not get back home without fainting on the way, because many of them had come from a long distance. It was at this point, when they had no hope inside or even outside of themselves for sustenance, that Jesus shows himself to be the creator and sustainer of life. He provides food where no one except the true God could provide food in this sinful world.
The combination of leading people to despair of themselves and their flesh, and His gracious teaching about himself and His Messianic purpose work faith. It is still so today.
Even a cursory glance at your inward man in honest reflection will make you realize that you cannot save yourself. Everything in us either wants to sit in smug self-satisfaction and pretend that we have it all together, or in total despair and think that God could never love someone as evil as I am. One part of us, thanks to sin living in us, wants to ignore our need for God. The other part of us, due to our inward depravity, gives up all hope for salvation, because we see how terrible our thoughts, our words, and are our actions are. Depending upon the day, either one of those parts tries to push God out of the picture and replace Him with our own idea of who He should be.
Jesus’ teaching, parables, and miracles constantly displace both of those parts. To one part, He leaves no room for confidence in the flesh. He preaches salvation only in Him. To the other part He gives healing balm and shows himself to be a merciful and gracious God, having compassion.
That’s what we have in this text today. When Jesus saw that they had nothing to eat, He had compassion. Compassion is a divine attribute in the New Testament. The word is used of God in all 12 of its NT uses. He had compassion because He saw that people were like sheep without a shepherd, He had compassion and healed the sick. He had compassion and fed the hungry, cast out demons, and raised a widow’s son. The use of this word also gives us insight into two parables as well. It shows us the divine figure in the parable of the Good Samaritan and the parable of the prodigal son. Both the Samaritan and the Father have “compassion” showing us the nature of God.
God’s compassion isn’t a bleeding heart, look on for the outside, helpless pity—what we have when we see our children fall and bonk their heads; what we have when our fellow parishioners and friends are losing or have lost loved ones. No, the fact that we have compassion in those instances is a mere shadow of the divine compassion of God. His is not helpless. His is powerful and active. His compassion expresses itself in sending His Son into the world to redeem the world. Causing the one who knew no sin to become sin for us, to be tempted in every way that we are tempted, but to remain steadfast. His compassion sent Him to the cross to die our death in order to give us His life. He takes us from being slaves to our sin and makes us partakers in His righteousness. And because He frees us from sin, the “fruit” as St. Paul calls it, leads to sanctification and it’s fulfillment—eternal life. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Jesus has compassion on His people. He knows your deepest needs and provides for them in the Gospel of peace that He himself preaches. As Creator, He also cares for your earthly needs and will not cease to provide for them in a way that benefits your souls. The body serves the soul. Whatever you suffer in the body is meant for the soul’s good, whether hunger, or pain, or sorrow, or grief. These things serve to point you to the only one who can offer help—Jesus Christ our Lord.
I do not merit favor, Lord,
My weight of sin would break me;
In all my guilty heart’s discord,
O Lord, do not forsake me.
In my distress this comforts me
that You receive me graciously,
O Christ my Lord of mercy! (LSB 625—HotD)
But it’s not all doom and gloom on this side of heaven. There is joy to be had along the way. He grants us times of joy in sometimes unexpected circumstances. He provides for us in surprising ways that we did not expect. He causes us to realize blessings that we didn’t know we had. Maybe it’s in the comfort and support you receive from a conversation with a friend or family member. Maybe it’s in the embrace of a spouse or a child. Maybe it’s the deep conversation that you have with one of your children after you had to discipline them for an infraction of family rules. Maybe it’s in the satisfaction you get when you step back and admire the work you did to the best of your ability. Maybe it’s having a job that can support your family, or school work that is preceding a career or vocation. Maybe it’s having a neighbor or an employee who went the extra mile for you. Maybe it’s savoring your favorite food after a long day. These are First Article gifts that your Creator provides in this world. This is what we pray for in the Fourth Petition. These are the things that we accept from God’s hand in humble thanksgiving. These are the things that cause us to internalize, or even vocalize the words in the Introit: “Clap your hands all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph…Sing praises to God, sing praises: sing praises unto our King, sing praises.”
Despite the challenges and hardships we face in this world, it is God’s world. He is king. He created and still sustains it for your benefit. Come this morning and receive earthly elements that God elevates for your spiritual good. Come receive His very body and His true blood under bread and wine. Dine with Him on food He has prepared for you this day, even if right now you are in a desolate place in your life. He will not let you faint on the way. He has compassion for you. Return to your homes rejoicing that the Lord is good and His mercy endures forever.
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.
Rev. Michael N. Frese
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana