March 26, 2017
St. John 6:1-15 (HoTD LSB 743)
In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Lenten fast has now reached beyond the half-way point. During these past 25 days, the assigned readings have taught us about the meaning of our crosses, temptations, heartaches, and sufferings that we endure. It is true that “because of our evil deeds we do worthily deserve to be punished,” (collect) but our Lord in His wisdom also uses them to our eternal good so that “by the comfort of His grace we may mercifully be relieved.” For His desire is that we turn from our sin, return to Him; that we rely on His holy Word, that we are persistent in our faith, that we pray for His mercy, and that we keep our eyes ever fixed on Him. When life goes smoothly, we tend to forget our dependence upon the Lord and His salvation. But when trouble and turmoil assault and assail us, then the Lord uses these to draw us closer to Himself, to remind us that He truly does care for us, is with us in all circumstances, and deepens our faith and hope in His endless mercy.
Where is that mercy found? Where can we go to find much-needed rest and shelter from the devil who entices, the world that threatens, and the flesh that is weak and susceptible to attack? Where does our Lord make good on His Word to deliver us? His promise to save? Where does the Lord refresh and strengthen us when the journey seems long and we feel weak and weary?
He does it right here at the Divine Service. For here is where our Lord meets us and provides for our need. This is the mountain on which the Lord retires to rest and converse with His disciples, to comfort them at the loss of dear brothers and sisters (death of John the Baptist). Here is where our Lord preaches to us not some motivational speech empty of true power, but His wholesome, never-failing Word. This word is sometimes heavy and somber. It’s not airy and vapid. It’s always serious and meaty. It’s what real people need, especially those with real challenges and real issues. Here is where our Lord leads us to the green, abundant pastures of His compassion. And here, at the Divine Service, is where our Lord feeds us with the food which endures to everlasting life.
The account in John 6 tells us to turn our heads away from despair, away from hopelessness, away from self-pity, complaints, and away from quick fixes and worthless schemes. John’s account beckons us to seek the Lord while He may be found, and call upon Him while He is near. So gently, but firmly, the Lord’s word turns-and returns-us to our Lord Jesus Christ. He is here for you on this altar with His disciples and angels gathered at His side. He sits there, because He seeks to save and refresh. He sits there, because He Himself will bless and break the bread of God…who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
All four Gospels record the feeding of the 5,000. They paint a description of the circumstances surrounding the miraculous feeding. Jesus sent out the 12 to preach, teach, and work miracles. They returned ready to tell Jesus all the things they had accomplished at His sending. John the Baptist had just been beheaded by Herod. The Passover was near. At that time, Jesus takes the 12 aside to instruct them further regarding His mission and work.
It’s no wonder that crowds streamed into the wilderness after Him. The short missionary trip of the disciples, coupled with the execution of John the Baptist has all the people seeking comfort from the Messiah. He expands His sermon to the multitude teaching them and healing their sick—doing the work of the Messiah, comforting sheep who have no shepherd. The feeding of the 5,000 flows naturally from all of these events. The people have nowhere else to turn. They would faint on the way back home if they tried to return unaided. They are desperate and needy. There’s nothing else to do but listen to Jesus and receive what He gives.
And this is what He says, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. I am the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”
That is the message our Lord preached to the crowd, not in words only but in actions when He healed their sick and fed them with a superabundance of food distributed from five loaves and two fish. This is the sermon our Lord preaches again to you, this day, both in word and in action when He says, “This is My Body and this is My Blood for the forgiveness of sins.”
So rejoice that our Lord leads you to His Divine Service. And be glad when you hear, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.” (Introit)
Now of course the devil throws everything he has against Christ, His word, and his actions. He opposes the Bread of Life and the invitation to eat and to drink. Although he’s been crushed and defanged, yet he still seeks to pollute your mind and turn your spirit with lies about what the purpose and goal of this life is. The Lord did not come into the world to live in luxury and consume the best things the world has to offer. He didn’t come to suck up to the rich and powerful, so the world hated our Lord and turned on Him. So why should it surprise you when your family or friends, your work and your craft, and even your own body cause you increased grief and fear? The more you appreciate what the Lord gives and reject what the world offers—The more diligent you are in your prayers, the more insistent you are in hearing the Lord’s Word, and the more you desire and even crave for the Lord’s Body and Blood, the more the devil and the world will war against these divine things.
For this reason, our Lord never wavers in His invitation to all who are burdened and heavy-laden. Just as He also never wavers or hesitates to hear those who cry to Him, and help those who trust in Him. He doesn’t turn away the needy, or leave you to faint along the way. For your Lord knows-and you also know-that there is no other help, there is no other relief, there is no other peace and calm, and there is no other true and lasting bread but that which your Lord gives here, at His altar, for here is where He “refreshes us through this salutary gift; [and by His] mercy strengthens you through the same in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward one another.”
Let us press on, even as our crosses become heavier and more burdensome. For it is ultimately the Lord’s cross, and He bears the weight to the full. And because of that cross, He is now your food and drink which nourishes and strengthens and preserves you in this life, even to life everlasting. The Lord uses things of this world for your eternal benefit. He used water to cleanse you from your sins. He uses intelligible words to forgive you. He uses bread and wine to give you the true bread which came down from heaven. He can even use your pains and your sufferings to mold you into His beloved children.
That is the Christian Church’s confession during this half-way point in Lent. Listen carefully to it, and eat what is good. You may feel weary now, but your Savior will not allow you to faint on the way. Let your soul delight itself in heavenly abundance.
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.
The Rev’d Michael N. Frese
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana