Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” (John 6:1–15, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
It was the Fourth of July. Well almost. That's what the Passover was for the people that Jesus fed on that hillside that day. The Passover was near. It is the most significant event in the life of the people of Israel. It was especially heightened by the Roman occupation. The great crowds that followed Jesus were certainly expecting God to do something like he had done in Egypt. And what Jesus does here, in the feeding of these thousands, is so closely connected to what God did through Moses that the people's reaction is only to be expected. They wanted to make Jesus King.
The Passover was all about God's deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt. Remember, Moses was sent to Pharaoh, "God says, 'let my people go!'" And when Pharaoh refused, God convinced him with the plagues. And of course, the last, the killing of all the firstborn living in Egypt, was the greatest. The people of God were spared by sacrificing a spotless lamb whose blood was smeared on their door posts. Moses led the people through the desert to the promised land. God fed them with bread from heaven. Every morning the people went out to pick up the manna from the ground. And the ate it every day until they crossed over the river Jordan fulfilling God's promise. They were free people, all they needed was provided by God.
But not now. Roman soldiers patrolled their streets. King Herod, no Jew, sat on the throne a puppet for Caesar. Taxes were high. Cost of living was high as well. Philip's answer to Jesus question about buying food could have just as easily been said, "If I worked for 200 days, although it might feed my family for six months, it would never feed this crowd!" And so in light of their hardship, in the shadow of the Passover, when Jesus feeds the people with bread from heaven (Exodus 16:4), of course they want to make him king.
The people, the crowds gathered around Jesus, were expecting a miracle working prophet. It was in fact God's promise through Moses.
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” (Deuteronomy 18:18, ESV)
There they were, gathered on a mountain. A multitude of people nearly 20,000. Sitting down on the green grass. Jesus takes five small barley loaves and two fish and multiplies it so that everyone has enough to eat, and more. The 12 disciples, gather up 12 baskets of food left over, one for each of the 12 tribes of Israel. The Passover was in their minds. God was raining bread from heaven. Jesus was the new prophet. It was more than a sign. It was a call to revolution. A call to reestablish his role as the kingdom of God. They must make Jesus King.
The thing is, they can't make Jesus King. Jesus is King already. The church father from Africa, St. Augustine says, "For he ever reigns with the Father, in that he is the Son of God, the Word of God, the Word by which all things were made. The prophets had foretold his kingdom." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, volume IVa) But Jesus' kingdom is not the kingdom they think it is. It is not a kingdom of political power. One that would overthrow the Roman soldiers by force of arms. The people are, in fact, missing the main point of the kingdom, and Jesus kingship. Jesus doesn't come in power but rather in weakness.
Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate accused by the Jews of sedition. Pilate had political power. He held Jesus' life and death in his hands. He asked Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews?" And Jesus answers, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews." (18:36) Jesus will not establish his kingdom by force but rather through loving obedience to the Father's will. That is to become the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The people on the mountainside see Jesus and Moses as the same. But where Moses instructed the people to sacrifice a spotless Passover lamb, Jesus makes himself the Lamb who is slain. John the Baptizer knee-deep in the Jordan River said "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." Jesus comes up out of the baptismal water, and heads toward the cross of Jerusalem. He does signs and wonders to prove himself to be the King of King's. He feeds the people. He destroys Satan's power everywhere he goes. But he goes to the cross. He offers himself as the sacrifice to save the people from slavery. He is a spotless Lamb. The perfect sacrifice for sin. His blood is smeared on the wood of the cross. And the angel of death passes over those who have faith in the King on the cross. It was more than the people could see.
And then, there's you and me. We see Jesus on the cross. We know he was crucified for our sin. We know that he provides well more than we can ever need. And yet, we have a faith crisis when we think God is not providing what we think we need. Look at what Jesus does with the feeding on the mountainside. They have gathered around him to hear what he has to say. There followed into a place where they cannot feed themselves. There's nowhere to go to get food in the amount needed. And the need is great. 20,000 people is a large city. So Jesus cares for their physical need. And he provides for them in abundance. Not just enough so that everyone has a little to eat. He provides all that is necessary, everyone eats their fill. And then 12 baskets full are collected of the leftovers. What's left over is even more than the five loaves that were the seed meal. This is exactly our prayer when we say "Give us this day our daily bread." Give us what we need every day for our living. And it is provided, and more than we need.
There is no way to separate this providing physical food from the providing that St. John wants you to see in this account of Jesus feeding people. He provides more than is necessary for the people to eat. He provides more than is necessary for the people to be saved. Jesus death on the cross is a complete and total sacrifice for sin. Your sin no matter how great is forgiven. Your neighbors sins no matter how great are forgiven. Your neighbors sins against you no matter how great are forgiven. Even the sins of those who care nothing about what Jesus provides have been forgiven. It is all there in the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world hanging on the cross.
And as he looked out across the crowds gathered on the mountain he knew what they needed. They needed to be fed. They needed to be forgiven. He knew what he was going to do. He took the bread and broke it and gave thanks to God, the Father, and gave it to the crowds to have the food they needed to eat. He took himself to the cross, and his body was broken. The there hanging at the top of the mountain he looked out over the people and he knew what they needed. "Father, forgive them!" He said and he died for the sins of the whole world. And we give thanks to God, the Father, for all that our King has done for us. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.