Beloved. We are now half way through Lent. The Gospel readings in the first three weeks of Lent have shown us Jesus’ battles against the devil and His conquering and overcoming the devil—first by Jesus overcoming the devil’s temptations to sin and then the next two weeks we saw that Jesus is the stronger One, who casts out demons. By this Jesus showed that if by His own power He could drive out the demons, the evil angels who are in league with the devil—that they must yield to Him and in shame give way—then certainly He can drive out their prince, the devil, and cast him and all his demons into the eternal punishment and fire of hell.
The next two weeks after today of Lent are called Passiontide. In these final two weeks of Lent our attention shifts and focuses on Jesus’ suffering for us and for our salvation. Next Sunday, we read in the Gospel how the nation turned away from and rejected Jesus. And, of course, the following Sunday is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, the week that ends with Jesus’ suffering and death for the sins of the world.
Today’s Gospel, however, is the account of Jesus feeding the 5000 with only five barley loaves and two small fish. So today’s Gospel is a sort of a respite from the “serious heavy duty” themes of Lent and has been given the name “Refreshment Sunday”. But this certainly does not mean that today’s Gospel has nothing to say to us in the midst of this Lenten season. Instead, as we examine today’s Gospel briefly this morning, we will see in it the theme of Jesus’ kingship. We see that He is king already because He is true God—the true God come from heaven to us; and then we will see that He gathers us into His kingdom, the Church.
We especially focus in on the end of our Gospel account, the result of the miracle. Here the holy Evangelist writes: When the people saw the miraculous sign Jesus did, they said, “This really is the Prophet who is coming into the world.” When Jesus realized that they intended to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. Notice what they wanted to do: to come and take him by force to make him king. But what had just happened? Jesus had just fed the 5000 miraculously, with only a few loaves of bread and a few fish. But what is that whole scene about? It is really an illustration of what St. David writes about the Lord in the psalm [Ps. 145.15-16]: The eyes of all look expectantly to You, and You give them their food in due season. You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
It was late in the day and the people were hungry. So what did Jesus have this crowd do? Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, so they sat down. There were about five thousand men. They were sitting in groups of hundreds and fifties, as the other evangelists tell us, and certainly all eyes were on Jesus as He took the loaves and, after giving thanks, he distributed pieces to those who were seated. He also did the same with the fish. The psalm was literally fulfilled: everyone was looking expectantly to Jesus. And what did He do? He opened His hand and gave them food, satisfying their desire. He distributed pieces [of bread] to those who were seated. He also did the same with the fish—as much as they wanted. Notice: as much as they wanted, not as much as there was.
With this miracle Jesus was showing the people that He is indeed the true God, for it is the Lord God, the one true God who is addressed in this psalm: The eyes of all look expectantly to You, and You give them their food in due season. By fulfilling this miracle in their midst, it is crystal clear just exactly Who it is that is before them that day, in their midst—the very God Himself, their Maker and Preserver.
Jesus feeding the crowds that day in the wilderness also pointed the people back to the days of their ancestors who spent 40 years in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land. And what did God do for them to preserve them those 40 years? He gave them manna, the bread from heaven, to sustain them on their journey. Here that scene is replicated—the crowd miraculously receives bread, its nourishment for that day. Again, by this miracle Jesus shows Himself to be the true God, the God of the OT who was with His people, providing for them.
If Jesus is the true God—as this miracle of the feeding of the 5000 shows—then it means that He is already King. It shows the foolishness and wrong-headedness of the people who intended to come and take [Jesus] by force to make him king. The simple fact is that Jesus didn’t need anyone to make Him king. He is the true God who is king over all, who is the king of kings and Lord of lords. Because of who He is, He is already King. That’s something that the wise men “got.” By faith they could come to Jerusalem and ask King Herod about the infant Jesus [Mt. 2.2]: Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? He isn’t made, anointed or crowned King. Instead He comes already as King; He is already born a King.
When the people saw the miraculous sign Jesus did, they said, “This really is the Prophet who is coming into the world.” When Jesus realized that they intended to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. Notice the crowds wanted to make Jesus king on their terms. Because He had fed them, they figured He could do this for them and the nation; they figured if He could do this, then He could lead the nation and make Israel great again like it was under Kings David and Solomon. The people knew a bit about the OT Scripture and the prophecies. They knew that Moses had prophesied a Prophet—that is, the Messiah, who would come and proclaim the Lord’s word. But even though Jesus was that Prophet and proclaimed the Lord’s word, the people were only earthly minded and wanted a political/ worldly ruler. They were so desirous of an earthly Messiah/ Savior that they wanted to make Jesus king only after they were filled with earthly things. Later on in His sermon, Jesus points this out to them [John 6.26]: Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. They wanted Jesus not for the sake of Jesus, their Savior from sin, but for bread.
This is precisely the sin that we must be on guard against with ourselves: are we looking to Jesus as only an earthly Messiah? Certainly no one calling him/ herself a Christian would him/herself guilty of that sin. But around us the so-called “prosperity Gospel”, which really is no Gospel at all, is being proclaimed. The prosperity Gospel says that if you are a Christian and truly believe, God will have to give you everything you want—every earthly desire you want; if you have faith, you name what you want and claim it and God has to give it to you. That is a very crass form and easily recognized as false.
But there is a more subtle form that affects many more Christians. It shows itself, for example, when we complain about the way God is dealing with us: why am I suffering so much, going through such and such, have to put up with such and such, lack this or that? What’s behind it, first, is some sort of works righteousness—“I’m a Christian and deserve better because I’m better than so-and-so who gets off scot free.” And the other point behind this way of thinking is that God should give me what I want, instead of trusting the Lord to deal with us in His wisdom. Not only is that arrogance, but that is making God some sort of “bread-king” like the crowds wanted to do with Him here. The devil whispers this into our heart and it finds a willing accomplice in our old sinful nature.
This Lent, dear Christian, let us search our hearts and lives and root out this sin of looking to Jesus as some sort of “bread king”. Let each ask him/ herself: do I look to Jesus and love Him for the sake of Jesus who loves me and is my Savior from sin, or do I look to Him for what earthly blessings I think I can get from Him? One way that shows itself is this: do I think of Jesus often throughout the day and praise and thank Him for who He is and the gifts and blessings—both earthly and spiritual-- He has given Me, or do I look for Him and only go to Him in times of trouble, as a last resort? When times are good do I remember Him? Do I praise Him in the midst of trouble and trial? Is He my King always—or do I make Him king on my terms? How important and serious are our Lenten self-examination!
But there is good news for us here! We don’t “make” Jesus King but instead He came already as King for us in order to bring us into His kingdom. Not only is Jesus King, but in grace He is our King. His is a different Kingdom and Kingship. Although Jesus came already as King, He set up His Kingdom and was enthroned on the cross. When Jesus’ cross was raised on that first Good Friday, Jesus was enthroned and His kingdom established. Jesus said earlier in St. John’s Gospel about Himself [John 3.14-15; 12.32-33]: Even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish and have eternal life; and later on Jesus says: And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” and then St. John comments: This He said, signifying by what death He would die. Jesus sets up His kingdom, the Church, by His suffering and death on the cross and now He draws people—us—into it; Jesus brings us into His kingdom where there is the forgiveness of sins, eternal life and peace with God.
We don’t make Jesus King—He already is King—and this king of grace and mercy gathers us into His kingdom, the Church. When the people were full, he told his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over so that nothing is wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with pieces from the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. Not just the feeding of the 5000 but this gathering of the fragments is the miraculous sign, a sign pointing to who Jesus is and what He does. The feeding of the 5000 definitely showed Jesus is the true God who preserves His creation; it shows Him to be the God of the Israelites who fed them manna in the wilderness for 40 years. But far from this gathering the fragments being a nice but unnecessary add on, or a lesson in “waste not want not,” it, too, is a sign—one that shows that Jesus will gather people, wherever they may be scattered, into His Church. What did Jesus do? He told his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over so that nothing is wasted.” There we see this as a sign of the Great Commission Jesus gave to His apostles and the Church to go out and make disciples of nations, that is, to gather people into the Church by the preaching of the Gospel and by baptism. So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with pieces from the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. Dear Christian, you and I have been gathered and help fill the 12 baskets of the apostles. This gathering goes on all throughout the NT era until the last day when the last piece is placed into the basket, that is, until the last of the elect is brought to faith and brought into Jesus’ eternal kingdom, the Church. What a glorious sign we have in our text—the scattered fragments are gathered together. We, dear Christian, at one time were scattered, far from Christ, separated from God, in the devil’s kingdom of sin, death and hell. But by the preaching of the Holy Word of God, by the waters of holy Baptism, Jesus gathered us into His Kingdom, the Church, where He now feeds our faith and strengthens us by His holy word and sacrament, gives us every heavenly and divine gift. We don’t make Jesus king, but He brings us into His kingdom. INJ Amen