Sit Down and Be Fed
The text for today is our Gospel lesson, Matthew 14:13-21, which has already been read.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Those on the desert mountainside are weak. They cannot journey any further without food. The disciples realize this, but they wonder about their Master. Doesn’t He realize what is happening? Why does He let the crowd follow Him so blindly, so caught up in His miraculous healing and powerful Word that they forget about the very necessities of life? And now it is evening and soon the people won’t be able to find anything to eat anywhere.
So the disciples come to Jesus and say, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Imagine the nerve! Telling Jesus what to do. Ordering Him about as if He has come to fulfill your every whim and wish, to be at your beck and call. You’d never do anything like that, would you? Of course you have. I have, too. How many earnest petitions have you put forth, failing to speak and think as Jesus taught and prayed: “Thy will be done.”
But Jesus doesn’t take His disciples to task for their bossiness. He simply says, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Jesus knows exactly what He is doing. He has drawn them out to this desolate place on purpose. Still it’s important to remember: neither the suffering, the pain, nor the fear come from Him—they are a consequence of man’s fallen state. The truth be told, the crowd in the wilderness had followed Jesus, simply seeking earthly things, and they forgot to plan ahead. Now they are so far gone they cannot return home without getting some nutrition or they’ll faint alone the way.
Nonetheless, Jesus will use all of this to their advantage in His mercy. He draws them to a hopeless point. There, in the hopeless situation, He provides for them. He teaches them that there is only one place to look for sustenance. He demonstrates that He is hope for the hopeless. Thus, in suffering we learn faith.
You know that. This is nothing new. You’ve heard it many times, many Sundays, many sermons. And yet when you’re on the mountainside with grumbling stomachs, the pull of the flesh is so strong, the desolation is so intense, that your bones ache within you. You’ve most likely been through such times. Oh, probably not physical hunger, here in this land of plenty. God produces so much food through our farmers in this country that we pay them not to produce certain crops and we burn our grain as fuel for our homes and automobiles.
No, you probably haven’t been that hungry that you were literally starving, but you do know desolation. You do know the emptiness. You do know the deep-seated need of the Lord’s intervention and/or providence. You’ve been through it before; perhaps you are even now going through it. And, if somehow you haven’t experienced such desolation yet, let me assure you—you most certainly will.
In such times, irreverent questions will occasionally rise from your heart to your lips, “So what God? So what if you performed miracles and taught great things in the past. So what if the future looks good. Where are You now? Where are those spiritual high points, those emotional mountaintops? When will You multiply loaves for me? I cry and I cry up toward heaven, but the clouds just roll on by! What relevance in such desolation does the feeding of the five thousand have for me? How can I pray for relief, when it has been my ceaseless prayer for so long, and for so long has gone unanswered.”
How many times have you stood like Philip and said, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient.” That is, there is no hope. Or stood with Andrew and said, “There is a young boy here with five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” That is, “It is impossible, Lord. And while I believe all that Your Word says about You, when the black curtain of depression, despair, and desolation descends around me, cutting me off from loved ones and good things, it all seems irrelevant. Oh, You who conquered sin and death, can You not too conquer my pain? Can You not solve my problem? Can you not provide for my need? Well, then, why haven’t You?”
Dear sad, lonely, needy friends, the impossible things, the insurmountable obstacles, the historical briar patches that have stopped mere mortals, these things are nothing to God. For Him all things are possible. He can, He does, conquer. He has, He will provide.
In the Sinai wilderness He fed two million people with bread from heaven every day for forty years. On the mountainside, He fed five thousand men, plus women and children with five barley cakes and two fish, after spending all day healing their sick. And then there’s His greatest miracle: Rising from the dead three days after giving up His life on the cross for the sins of the world. From the most difficult of circumstances, from the smallest number of resources, from weakness and humility, indeed, even from death, Jesus grants the greatest gifts.
You say, “What am I to do? I am sad. I am lonely. I am sick. I am depressed. I am afraid. I am in need. I’m at the end of my rope. I’m facing an impossible situation. My problems are big and there is no where to turn.”
And the Lord says, “Sit down.” That’s what He says on the mountainside of miraculous feeding. He has the people sit. That is what He says to you. He says, “Sit down.”
Sit down and listen. Sit down and wait. You will be provided for in His own way, in His own time. He will provide. He will give you what you need, exactly when you need it. He came to save you, and not only for the hereafter, but also for the here now.
Jesus looks upon the five thousand men plus women and children who have come to hear Him and He has compassion upon them. They don’t ask Him for help. It seems that perhaps they don’t even recognize the dire circumstances or their great need. But at Jesus’ command, they sit down and He takes care of them.
Jesus’ purpose in feeding the five thousand and providing for your needs today is to point to His everlasting provision for your soul. Through that assembly He looks through the ages and down the centuries upon all His beloved children of all time. He draws you to Himself in love and compassion. He sees your hurt, your sorrow, your need. He hears you cry, “Lord, I hurt! I am in need!”
And He replies, “I know. This broken world hurt Me, too. I’ve suffered way beyond anything you need experience. I’ve been hungry. I’ve been sleepless. I’ve felt the loneliness and despair. I’ve been judged unfairly. I’ve been falsely accused. I’ve been mistreated. I’ve felt the icy cold grip of the fear of death. I’ve been tempted in every way as you are, yet without sin. I’ve drained the cup of suffering down to even the last dregs—death on the cross.
“But My Father did not leave Me in the grave. He delivered Me from the depths of Hell. So, too, will I deliver you. My death is sufficient. It is enough. It covers all your transgressions, pays the debt of all your sin. ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in [Me]… The sufferings of this present time are not worthy comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to [you]… For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to [My] purpose’ (Romans 8).
“Hang on. Nothing shall separate you from My love. I am here for you where I have promised to be. There in those places is comfort, peace, and hope in these gray and latter days. There is strength for the journey. But only in Me. I am the only Name under heaven by which men are saved. No man comes to the Father but by Me. There is no solace, no healing, no peace anywhere else.
“So sit down. Stop your braying, your vain introspection, your silly little superstitions. Stop trying to make your own way. Stop trying to manipulate Me as though I were your genie ready to grant you your every wish. I am here to serve you, but not just with bread for this mortal body and life. Hear My words of life, of love, of forgiveness. Come. Kneel before Me. Let Me feed you with Bread that satisfies your very soul. And know this: I am coming back to get you.”
The Lord hears you. He knows your need. He answers your prayers. It is not the bare minimum, but abundant blessings. Notice: Jesus did not feed the five thousand with merely enough rations to ensure that they did not perish there on the hill side, or even just enough to get them all home again, but He gave so much that each person ate until he was filled, and still there were twelve overflowing baskets left over. Where God bestows His gifts, human vessels are filled to overflowing. They cannot contain it. The grace of God is bigger than your need.
But that doesn’t mean that He will always satisfy the cravings of your flesh. Jesus makes it clear that He is no Bread King, sent here to earth merely to keep your stomach, wallet, or social calendar full. While He keeps His promise to provide for your temporal daily bread, Jesus brings you so much more—the Bread of Life that endures to eternal life.
Jesus knows your weakness, your greatest need. He knows your sinful, lowly state. And He has done what you could never do for yourself—He has made full atonement for your sin. He has reconciled you to God and declared you to be perfect in the eyes of the Father. Though you remain weak and in constant need of repentance and forgiveness, Jesus never stops providing. How the disciples must have marveled at how Jesus, who began with a few barley biscuits, never ran out of provisions in the midst of thousands! So much more should you marvel at how Jesus, in the midst of a world of weak and sinful people, never runs out of grace, mercy, and love to forgive you and strengthen you for holy living!
Jesus comes to you today not because you’ve made a request of Him. He comes to you because He’s promised to give you your daily bread. Just as He supplies you with what you need to support this body and life, He also gives you what you need to prepare you for everlasting life.
Jesus feeds you with more than bread to nourish the body. He feeds you with the Living Bread that feeds your soul. In His means of grace—His Word and Sacraments, He gives Himself to you. He blesses you with spiritual nourishment here in His House, where you receive the forgiveness of your sins. He provides you with the faith to trust in Him and believe His Word.
And He does this through the hands of His called servants. Did you notice how Jesus fed the five thousand? He looked to heaven and said a blessing. He broke the bread and gave the pieces to the disciples. They gave the pieces to the crowds. This would establish the pattern whereby Jesus would continue to feed His Church through His disciples after He removed His visible presence from them. This is the way in which He continues to lavish His grace upon you today—through the Office of the Holy Ministry. Through the hands and mouth of His called and ordained servant, Jesus feeds you with the richest of fare.
He has given you His Word, read and preached. Listen to it! Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it. There’s comfort for you there. There’s life, abundant life, life to the full, there. There, you will find Jesus, because these Scriptures bear witness to Him. There, you find Jesus, because the man in this pulpit speaks for Him, in His stead and by His command, by His authority and in His place.
Christ also gives you His Body and His Blood through your pastor. Come to the Lord’s Table. There Jesus will strengthen and sustain you in this life, with preparation for the next. In, with, and under the Bread and the Wine, He forgives your sins, washes your soul clean, and brings you into perfect communion with Him. He gives you a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that will have no end.
In Absolution, Christ Himself, who represents you as innocent in His wounds before His Father, speaks through the mouth of His servant and you are pure and holy as He is pure and holy. He says to you: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
These are the means for grace! For the time being they do not take away all of your pain or suffering. They do not even cure all of your doubts. But they will give you the strength to carry on, to believe in the face of trouble. They will pick you up when you fall. They will keep you from fainting on the way. And they will lead you to your destination where the cross will be traded for a crown, to the place where there are no tears, no regrets, no fear, no guilt, no loneliness, no depression, no hunger or sickness, none of the desolation left in the wake of sin.
So come to the waters that satisfy, that cleanse and refresh. You have no money? Come, anyway. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Are you depressed? Lonely? Are you afraid? Are you in any need? Come. Sit down. Listen to Him. Hear His Words. Eat His Body, drink His Blood. These will feed you. These will restore you. These will heal you.
Eat what is good. Let your soul delight itself in Christ’s abundance, in His compassion, in His mercy. Let Him fill the empty spaces inside you. Incline your ear. Come to Him. Hear, and your soul shall live! Jesus gives nothing less than Himself—the Bread of Life, His Flesh for souls conflicted and suffering under the cross and awaiting glory yet to come. Come, for here, you are forgiven for all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.