Lent 4 Laetare 2024

March 10, 2024 A+D
St. John 6:1-15

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Jesus offers the 5000 eternal life, but they try to seize him for some bread. It is the same mistake that Eve made in the garden. It is the mistake we make every time we sin. We think what we really need is not Jesus and His Law but something material or temporary to make us happy, to take away our pain, or to satisfy us. To our fallen flesh it seems as though Jesus is both holding out on us and getting in our way. He is not.

He has come to give us life and that abundantly, that is to say He has come to give Himself to us and nothing less. His Flesh is our food. His blood is our drink. All who eat His flesh and drink His blood remain in Him and He remains in them. That is eternal. He is the Bread of Life sent for the life of the world. The manna and the loaves in that grassy place could only feed for a day. Then they were passed through the body. They needed no faith to do their work, but neither was their work enduring. They gave no greater reward than a continuance of this temporary state of living death. They didn’t forgive sins. They didn’t create peace. They didn’t give real life. But Jesus is the Bread from Heaven, the Bread of Life. He incorporates the eater into Himself. Whoever feeds on Him lives – not for a day, but for eternity. The eater is brought into the Body of Christ who is life. The eater is changed: the Bread remains the same. This is the Bread which came down from heaven. He who eats this Bread will live forever even though he die.

This should not be a difficult lesson. We want that Bread not just bread to feed the body. We don’t live by bread alone but every Word that proceeds from the Mouth of God. Eternal life in heaven is better than staying alive on this earth for another day. It is a difficult lesson for our fallen flesh and corrupt reason. We must learn and relearn every day until we are transferred to glory. The flesh seeks to avoid pain and gain pleasure. It only believes what it can see or feel. But we believe in Jesus. We believe He is the Bread of Life that takes away our sins and makes us whole.

Faith is essential. Jesus says “I am the Bread of Life” and offers no proof. You don’t have to believe it. You can deny it. Many do. But to those who believe He gives power to become the sons of God.

Do not think that this call is pollyannaish, blind optimism or a vain attempt to name it and claim it, to make it real by an effort of our will and concentration. This isn’t an animated Christmas special where our belief in Santa calls him into reality. Saving Faith is simply the recognition and acceptance of God’s Word. He tells us what is real and what endures and what we can trust. Men and flowers will be forgotten. Bell towers will crumble. Governments will collapse. The weapons of war will decay. The rich will die. Barring the return of Our Lord in glory, our souls will be separated from our bodies. We will face judgment. God’s Word reveals the eternal, pulls back the veneer of this temporary world, and shows us what really matters, while also showing us the heart of the Father in the Son.

Proverbs issues a warning about distinction between reality and our perception in chapter 3. We must repent, learning to rely on His Word and not our passions. The Teacher says:

5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
6 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and depart from evil (NKJ).

He continues in chapter 14:

12 There is a way that seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death (NKJ).

This call to faith is not just a call to certainty about what will be, in an eschatological sense, and already is, in the sense of Proverbs above, but it is also a call to subdue that within of us that is tempted by the false promises of the material world. That is to say that it is also a call to be faithful. This faithfulness is driven by love and faith. It wants to remain with Jesus and be like Jesus. It desires what He gives in His Body and in His Blood. It hangs on every Word that proceeds from His mouth. It trusts that He will give what He says, that He will sustain us through His gifts, that this world is not what matters and there are some things worse than poverty, loneliness, and death. Confident in grace, it seeks to squash the old man and walk on the path of the Spirit as directed by Jesus in His Father’s love.

The Old Man walks by sight. He trusts what he can see, taste, and feel. He figures he is smarter than most other people, has a better sense of how the world works, of common sense and street smarts. He thinks he knows how things “really are.” He is proud that he can see for himself, like Eve before him, what is good for food and capable of making him “wise.” He lives for the moment, which is to say, he lives for himself, grabbing what he can along the way. That is the way of the 5000 who wanted to seize Jesus and put him to work as their personal baker, a bread provider, that they wouldn’t have to work. They didn’t seek a Lord or a Savior but a slave. In contrast to this, faith sees Jesus working in the vineyard much in the way that a young boy sees his father working in the garden and looks around for a shovel, eager to help.

The Bread that is needed, that which is promised by Jesus, is not visible to the human eye. What do we see but words on a page, water in a bowl, bread on a sliver plate? We hear the history, but we cannot touch it. It took place on another continent, in a time that might as well be another planet. We have little in common with those people and their lives. But we do have this: they were dying and needed a Savior. So do we. They behaved badly, foolishly, because of their own pride and wicked desires. So do we.

As cliche as it sounds: Jesus is the answer. He is what we need. He provides a ram in the thicket for Abraham and Isaac. He provides bread and fish for 5000 in the wilderness. He provides the forgiveness won of the cross to us in His risen Body and Blood in the Sacrament. He provides as a father for his children, not out of our worthiness and for any profit to Him, but out of love. He is the Lord who provides, He is in control of history and all of creation. What cannot be bought in the wilderness, 200 denari of bread or the forgiveness of sins, He gives for free to faith. He is the Lord of Life, the Lord of the Living. He gives eternal life to all who believe in Him. Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough to feed so many. All the money in the world and all the strength and power of men would not be enough to rescue us from Hell. But the Body of Jesus, scourged and pierced, is enough. He gives it not only in the wilderness but also in the city, not only to the Jews but also to Gentiles, not only then, but also now, and even forever.

Jesus has come for more than to give us a free meal. He does not hold out on us. He is not in the way. His Law is not a burden but goodness. He comes to give Himself and in Himself, His Life, for us and to us.

In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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