Pastor Hopkins preached the following sermon for the fourth Sunday in Lent, 3/22/2020. A recording of the Matins service, including this sermon, is available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Lent IV Matins
The texts for the sermon were the day’s gospel and Old Testament lessons. To read the Bible texts for the fourth Sunday in Lent, click here.
One of the things we learn throughout the New Testament is that you should think about your life as the life of Israel.
This is why learning the stories of the Old Testament is so valuable. It’s because they are, in fact, your stories.
St. Paul, for example, in 1 Corinthians 10, teaches how our lives are an Exodus story – a story of deliverance from slavery to freedom. That story, quite simply, goes this way:
You were a slave to sin… like Israel was enslaved under Pharaoh in Egypt. And so, like all slaves, you had no choice. Serving sin was the only option. And the reward for your labor was death.
But then the greater Moses came and brought you through your Red Sea, and gave you His Triune Name, and promised you a new home.
Thus Paul writes to the Corinthians, that Baptism is your Red Sea. And in that moment when you were delivered through the water, once and for all, your enemies were drowned; you were set free from sin; you were given the promise of a new home.
In total freedom, Jesus died in the place of slaves. Jesus died on the cross in your place. And so, you are not slaves anymore. You belong to God as children. For the sake of Jesus, your reward is holiness and life.
And so (t)here you are today somewhere between Egypt and that Promised Land. Between the slavery you once knew and the new, better Eden that awaits you. And like the people of Israel, like the crowds that followed Jesus in the wilderness, sometimes you get hungry.
Now when the people of Israel got hungry, they grumbled and complained; all the time, at every turn, at every opportunity. They would invent for themselves these vivid but false memories of just how great things had been in Egypt.
“Oh, that we had meat to eat,” they said. “We remember the fish we had in Egypt that cost nothing. The cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and garlic… But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” Numbers 11
Of course, none of that was true. Things weren’t great in Egypt. Start with the fact that they were slaves, and a people without a home. Add to that the fact that Pharaoh had no trouble murdering their sons, or keeping them from worshiping their God and Father. And suddenly we realize that really it isn’t a story about food at all.
Just like the whole account of Adam and Eve at the tree in the Garden was never really about what they were going to have for lunch. These are actually stories about slavery or freedom, life or death.
Hopefully by now you can see how Israel’s story is your story, too. Here you are somewhere between Egypt and the Promised Land, and sometimes you get hungry. And sometimes, like the people of Israel, what you hunger for is actually the old, familiar shackles of sin and death.
Of course it never appears that way. The devil has changed his tactics. Now that you are no longer a slave, now that you have been freed to live the wonderful, holy, and loving life that God has wanted for you from the beginning, now that you are free, now that you are not bound to serve sin, the Devil spends his time and effort making sin look more and more attractive.
So pick your temptation. It doesn’t matter what it is. What it offers is to satisfy you. To deliver what God seems to be withholding from you. To bring you safely back home to Egypt, back to slavery.
But you can see what a ridiculous idea that is, at face value. Once they were in the wilderness, Egypt had no claim on Israel.
Pharaoh is dead, and all his army have been drowned. But if Israel willingly goes back and lives like slaves again, or if they spend their freedom longing for the days of their slavery, then what was the point of the exodus in the first place?
Now, despite their freedom, Israel craved the meat that they had in Egypt, and so God gave them meat to eat. But it wasn’t good for them.
He fed 600,000 Israelites in the wilderness by sending them quail that covered the ground three feet deep in their camp. And while the meat was still between their teeth, God struck them with a plague. Numbers 11
Because, again, it wasn’t really about the food. It was about desiring death over life, and slavery over freedom. Israel had chosen; and so they got what they wanted.
Now, I tell you this story, this story of Israel in their exodus, because it illuminates the miracle in our Gospel lesson today.
It certainly is miraculous that Jesus feeds the crowds with the five loaves and the two fish. But it’s not completely unexpected. God fed the people of Israel – all 600,000 of them in the wilderness for 40 years with manna – the bread of angels. So what’s 5,000 for dinner? It’s not really that difficult for God.
And so, instead, notice this miracle. Notice just how different the crowds that follow Jesus are from the grumbling people of Israel.
Here they are in the wilderness flocking after Jesus, abandoning their homes, neglecting their stomachs, ignoring their appetites, practically dying to hear what He has to say, to be touched and healed by Him.
And they sit when He says sit. And they eat when He says eat. They are filled up completely with His food. And there is even more left over.
If you posed the question to yourself: Who do I want to be like? I suspect that you couldn’t help but say, “I wanna be like that.” I want to be like that crowd following Jesus. I prefer life to death. I prefer freedom to slavery. After all, it isn’t just a story about food. What you see in the crowds and what you perceive in yourself when you hear it, is a hunger for righteousness – a longing for this wonderful, beautiful, holy, and loving life that you have now been set free to live. This is the hunger God has created in you.
By setting you free in Baptism, by marching you through the Red Sea, by speaking to you in His Word, by feeding you with His Supper, and giving you again and again a taste of the feast to come in the Body and Blood of His Son, God has shown you how much better life is than death, how much better freedom is than slavery.
It should be obvious, but it is easy to forget in the wilderness. And the temptations of the devil can be incredibly attractive. Do not underestimate him.
He has the capacity to make even a brutal life of slavery look appealing. And so here’s what you should do as often as you can:
Follow Jesus every place He goes, and listen to His every word. For this hour ever week, as you’ve done today, set aside your appetites. Ignore your other hungers; and let Jesus create in you a new hunger. A hunger for righteousness.
Draw near so that He may touch you and heal you. Sit when He says sit. Eat when He says eat.
And the food that He gives you will fill you up completely, with plenty to spare. That is the story of Israel. That is the story of Christ’s Church. And it is all for you.