Jesus, Our Gracious God in Life
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
In those days, the multitude being very great and having nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said to them, 2 “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. 3 “And if I send them away hungry to their own houses, they will faint on the way; for some of them have come from afar.”
4 Then His disciples answered Him, “How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?”
5 He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” And they said, “Seven.”
6 So He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. And He took the seven loaves and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and they set them before the multitude. 7 They also had a few small fish; and having blessed them, He said to set them also before them. 8 So they ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets of leftover fragments. 9 Now those who had eaten were about four thousand. And He sent them away.
These are Your words heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your word is truth. Amen.
Dear fellow redeemed,
This crowd here certainly is very different from the crowd of Israelites who were delivered from their slavery in Egypt. In the book of Exodus, we hear the grumbling, not trusting in the gracious providence of the mighty God who delivered them from Pharaoh’s oppression. They spoke out against God’s servant Moses, crying out, “Why have you brought us out into this wilderness to die?” (Exodus 14:11; Exodus 16:2-3; Numbers 16:13; Numbers 20:4; Numbers 21:5) They did not trust in their merciful God, but trusted in their reason, which concluded, “We are in the wilderness. There is no food here to sustain us. Before long, we will all be dead.”
But here in this example we see a large crowd who had been following Him faithfully for three days, hearing His preaching. By hearing His word, they were spiritually fed by Jesus.
Jesus was always eager to preach, bringing His eternal kingdom into the hearts of the people through His word, creating and sustaining faith. Plenty of food was present there for their souls, but there was little food for their bodies. From the text there appears to be no indication that the people were grumbling against Jesus about their lack of food in the deserted place.
But Jesus, in His great love for the people assessed their situation. This large multitude of people had been away from home for 3 days. There was no food for them to eat in this wilderness in which they had been travelling. And if Jesus sent them home to get food, many of them would faint on the way. Some of them were even a very long distance from home. And so Jesus had compassion on the people.
This text shows that Jesus does not only care for the spiritual needs of the people, but He cares also for their earthly needs, and He shows that He is able to provide.
What a great comfort to know that our earthly and eternal wellbeing are in His gracious hands.
Of course, between the two, of utmost importance are the eternal gifts that Christ would give us. For that addresses our bigger problem. Starvation of the belly in the wilderness ends with physical death, which is bad enough, but our spiritual problem is eternal condemnation in hell on account of our sins.
Nowhere in this wilderness of the world can we find help from our poor sinful condition. But the source of our help, is Christ. By becoming flesh, living a sinless life under the law in your place, and suffering and dying innocently for the sins of the world, He has provided the world’s salvation. Sins are forgiven, and all the world is declared righteous. As He provided the food in abundance, so also He provides salvation abundantly, as Isaiah said, “She has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”
As Jesus sent His disciples among the people to distribute the bread and fish that He multiplied. So also He sent out His disciples, and pastors today, to distribute the abundance of His heavenly gifts, that souls may be fed, nourished and saved. He commands His called workers to pass out His forgiveness and salvation through the ministry of the gospel, so that all the blessings of His saving work may be yours through faith. Through baptism and the Word He brings us to faith and into the possession of His deliverance, and through the Word and the Sacrament of the Altar, He nourishes and keeps us in this true faith.
Therefore, my primary responsibility as pastor to you is to nourish and strengthen your faith through the preaching of God’s message of forgiveness and salvation, and through the administration of the Lord’s Supper which gives you eternal life!
And since you, as well as I, are people broken by the fall, who daily earn everlasting damnation, because of your sins against God and against your neighbor, your most important endeavor in life is to hear the gospel of your Savior Jesus Christ, and to receive His body and blood on your mouths for the forgiveness of your sins. Our eternal lives depend on this. And Christ freely and joyfully gives these gifts to you!
The great multitude in our gospel lesson provides a good example for us. Their primary concern was following Christ and hearing His preaching. They were so dedicated to the hearing of Christ’s words, that they neglected the feeding of their bodies. They became hungry and weak, and unable to feed themselves, because there was no food in the wilderness to feed the multitude. Yet, they trusted that He who keeps them spiritually also keeps them physically.
So also, we may be comforted to know that Jesus cares not only for our eternal wellbeing, but also for our temporal wellbeing.
With compassion, “He desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). With compassion He spoke to the crowd who were like sheep without a shepherd. With compassion, He gives up His life on the altar of the cross to take away the sins of the world. With compassion, He cares for the spiritual needs of the world. With this same compassion, He looks upon man and cares for our earthly needs.
And He is able to provide by His almighty power. For in His resurrection, our brother in the flesh was exalted over all things. He is King over all. And we can talk about His three-fold kingdom. He reigns over the kingdom of grace which is His Church on earth. He reigns over the kingdom of glory which is His Church in heaven. And He also reigns over the kingdom of power, which is all creation. Scripture says, “[the Father] raised [Christ] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the Church” (Ephesians 1:20-22). Even before His exaltation, by His divine power, He miraculously provided for the people in the wilderness by multiplying the loaves. By His almighty power He provides, particularly for the sake of His Church. He causes the crops to grow. He stocks the waters with fish. He fills the pastures and pens with cattle. Isn’t this a gift from God?
In Psalm 145, which works well as a prayer before meals, tells us of God’s gracious providence of His creation: “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.”
Because of His compassion and His power to provide, we can and should confidently pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” for He will give us what we need for our bodies and lives.
As Luther says in the Small Catechism, “Daily bread includes everything needed for this life, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, fields, cattle, money, goods, God-fearing spouse and children, faithful servants and rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, order, honor, true friends, good neighbors and the like.”
God promises to provide what we need. And He gives it to us by His grace, by His compassion.
However, sometimes, our reason may tempt us to be more like the grumbling Israelites who were freed from Egypt. We may look at our circumstances in life, and see how little we have, or how difficult our situations, whether it is a lack of food, money, health, or home. Reason tells us Jesus is not compassionate. He is not helping me or is not able to help me. We may be tempted to echo the doubts of the disciples: “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” But we must silence our reason, and trust in the compassion and power and the promises of our Lord Jesus.
The multitude, though going hungry and weak for a time, were miraculously provided by Christ. Jesus feeds the people as He feeds the world. In His due time, He provides in various ways, whether it is through a job, charity, or in some strange way that we sometimes find God working. Many of us can attest to this.
Though we may feel hunger, suffer want in this world, experience the evils and troubles of this godless world, we know our compassionate Savior guards and keeps us as we live in this world. We wait for His due time. We might not always understand His ways and His timing, but we know that He is compassionate toward us and loves us. We need not look farther than His cross to know this.
Let us give thanks every day to our gracious God, who provides for us in life. And remember that there is a time coming, in all our lives, where we will no longer need this daily bread. Our bodies will be dead, lying in the ground. On that day, our believing souls will be carried to heaven by God’s holy angels. And there we will live in unhindered joy and peace with our Savior, awaiting the reunion with our bodies on Day of Resurrection.
God provides us residence in His eternal kingdom, only by His Word. It is only because of the grace of God and the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel in Word and Sacrament that we will find ourselves there. For it is the gospel that is the power of God for salvation.
So have comfort each day in the precious Gospel of Christ, that through the forgiveness and salvation it offers, you have eternal life. He provides for your eternal wellbeing, and as we seek first His kingdom in His Gospel, He also provides for your earthly wellbeing. Thanks be to our compassionate and mighty Lord! Amen.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. Forevermore. Amen.