[Picture: Multiplication of the Loaves, from The Bible Panorama, or The Holy Scriptures in Picture and Story: Arranged for the Instruction and Entertainment of Children, as Well as Older Persons; Illustrating the Principal Events of the Old and New Testaments, With Descriptions of Them in Easy Words, by William A. Foster (1891)]
Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on the Seventh Sunday After Trinity, 8/4/2019. The texts for the sermon were the day’s gospel and Old Testament lessons. To read the Bible texts for the Seventh Sunday After Trinity, click here.
It only takes St. Mark nine short verses to tell us the whole story – how on one day, when again a great crowd had gathered to hear Jesus teach, He fed them. But while Mark’s account of this event is brief, the gifts God provides in it are superabundant, boundless, and overflowing.
I don’t even simply mean the amount of food provided to the crowd. I mean that in this account, there is not one miracle, but several. And each of them tells us something about God’s provision for us – His providence.
The obvious miracle takes up the bulk of the text, even as it receives the bulk of our attention. Jesus takes seven loaves and three fish, and He multiplies them. He miraculously takes a little, and turns it into a lot. This is marvelous and important, but we actually aren’t ready to talk about it yet, because like every other miracle Jesus performs, it doesn’t stand on its own.
The feeding of the 4,000 is not an end in itself; rather it is utterly connected to the entirety of Jesus’ ministry. Again: it isn’t even the only miracle going on. It’s actually just one in a series of many. The first miracle, you might say the “primary” miracle, is this:
There are 4,000 people and not zero people. Those 4,000 people are located in a desert, and not an empty, formless void. There are seven loaves and a few fish, when there could be no loaves and no fish period. The fact that there is anything instead of nothing is actually a bigger miracle. And its why we heard from God’s Word in Genesis this morning.
That reading comes near the end of God’s work in creation, when He didn’t take something and make more of it; but He actually took nothing and made everything. From nothing God spoke all of reality into existence. And He did not do this for Himself or for His own benefit. But…
Out of the ground, the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. Genesis 2:9a
God did not create Adam to watch Him starve. He provided for him. That’s what God does. So when Jesus provides for His people this morning, He is showing Himself to be the God by Whom all things were made.
But its even more than that. In this miracle, where Jesus speaks, just as in the beginning, Jesus actually shows us what God is like.
He is compassionate as He recognizes His peoples’ suffering. He is merciful by providing for all their needs of body and soul, even in a desolate place. He is patient. He does not scold them for questioning how so little will feed so many, even though He had only recently used less to feed more.
You may recall that in the feeding of the 5,000, only two chapters previous, Jesus used only five loaves and two fish to feed even more people. But He bears with the disciples in their weaknesses and their short memories.
I said a few minutes ago that this miracle doesn’t stand on its own since no miracles do. And this is what I mean. The end of this is not a full stomach, but the strengthening of faith. The third miracle in play here is that the people believe, that they have faith in Christ.
They have been with Jesus for three days in the desert with nothing to eat. His Word and teaching are so much more to them than food, that they have paid no mind to their bellies. They ignored the fact that they have taken in so little physical nourishment, that they could easily die on the way home. They have gathered around Jesus in the wilderness to the neglect of all other needs.
This is because the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, has created faith in them. In faith they listen to Jesus for three days before the miracle that is recorded here even happens. By that faith they know that Jesus will provide for them every necessary thing.
In all of this, the teaching and the miraculous feeding, Jesus is not pointing them to the cross, but He is preparing them for it. They will need to remember these three days, and how at the end of it God provided for them. Because when those three days come, when the Word who feeds them now goes silent, where shall they turn? How will they understand what is happening?
With this Word and meal, Jesus is strengthening their faith, and He is fixing their eyes on Him. These 4,000 look to Jesus for every need of soul and body, and He has delivered them. How, then, will they ever look away?
They are the Church, who keeps her eyes firmly set on Jesus. And they will understand this even more fully when in a desolate place outside of Jerusalem, Jesus provides for them again – for the forgiveness of their sins, for life and salvation.
On the cross, the sin that entered into His perfect creation is undone. On the cross, the death that ruled over us is put to death. On the cross, Jesus works backwards, making death, sadness, and hunger come untrue.
The feeding of the 4,000 was a glorious miracle that showed us Jesus more fully; as our God, our Provider, and our Messiah. But that miraculous feeding had a beginning and an end. Nevertheless, God is still working and still feeding, and it is every bit as miraculous.
By His Almighty power, God continues to uphold and sustain His creation. Even in its fallen state, Christ will not withdraw Himself from it. If He were to do so, the world would not merely become unfruitful, it would cease to be. For
And now again this morning, and every morning in these days since His side was pierced, Jesus feeds His people. Like Adam in the Garden and Israel in the wilderness, like 4,000 men, women, and children in a desolate place, Jesus feeds His people.
The Tree of Life stands in our midst. He gives to us His Body and Blood: a Feast in a wasteland, by which our sins are forgiven, and our faith strengthened.
By the working of God’s Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament, we know God rightly as the one who provides for all our needs of body and soul, in this life and the next. For
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32