Sermon for Laetare – Lent 4
John 6:1-15 + Exodus 16:2-21 + Galatians 4:21-31
The familiar title of today’s Gospel is “The Feeding of the 5,000.” That’s a fine title. It’s what Jesus did for the 5,000 men (plus women and children) who had followed him over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He fed them. Before they even asked, before they ever realized they had a need, Jesus foresaw the need they would have and he took care of it in that kind and loving miracle in which Jesus multiplied 5 loaves of bread and two fish into enough food not only to feed a bite to each of those 5,000 plus people, but to fill them up and have 12 baskets full of pieces leftover.
But you could just as well put other titles to these verses from John 6. “The beginning of the end for Jesus.” “Jesus’ last day of being liked.” “The day before everyone abandoned Jesus.” Or how about this? “5,000 proofs that God is never enough.”
That’s been the story of human history since the very beginning. What more could God have given Adam and Eve in paradise? They literally had everything, even God himself – everything, except for a piece of fruit from one tree. And God wasn’t enough for them.
What more could God have given Israel in the wilderness? Less than three months before he had rescued them from slavery in Egypt with a mighty hand and outstretched arm. He had given them the Passover – the blood of the Lamb to mark their doors and save them from death. He had rescued them from Pharaoh’s armies, brought them through the Red Sea on dry ground, gave them a miraculous supply of water in the desert and his promise to bring them safely into the Promised Land.
But it wasn’t enough. They grumbled and complained. Where’s our food, you evil wicked Moses, you evil wicked God? So God gave them manna, bread from heaven – bread that would appear on the ground every day for forty years while they wandered through the wilderness, every day except for Saturdays, one day a week, because he gave them twice as much miraculous bread on Fridays to get them through the Sabbath. And still they went out on Saturdays looking for it – “Hey, God, where’s our bread?”
What more could God have done for the people of Israel at the time of Jesus? In the Person of Jesus the Christ, God had given them Himself. Himself, in the flesh, to teach them with a human mouth, to heal their diseases, to cast out their demons, to give them words of eternal life, words that would save their souls from death and forgive them their sins so that they could stand before God in peace and safety.
But the people of Israel weren’t really interested in the words of life that Jesus spoke. John tells us why they followed Jesus that day in droves: because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. No matter. Jesus taught them anyway, and at the end of the day, he said, These people have followed me out here and they will be hungry. I’ll provide food for them, just like I did at the time of Moses.
And just like at the time of Moses, the people were very impressed – for a moment. And then they wanted to seize Jesus and force him to be their king, to provide bread for them like this all the time, to do for them whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. What they didn’t want from Jesus, as we find out on the very next day – was Jesus’ Word. What they didn’t want was to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God. They didn’t want to eat his flesh or drink his blood, as he said they must if they would see eternal life. They wanted Jesus to provide them with bread, but they didn’t want Jesus to be their Bread of life. They wanted Jesus to provide an earthly safety net for them, but they didn’t want Jesus to be their Safety from divine wrath. They saw Jesus as a means to an end – the end being a better, happier, more comfortable life on earth. They wanted the things Jesus could provide for their earthly lives. They just didn’t want Jesus.
As I said before, this was the beginning of the end for Jesus. The day after he fed the 5,000, most of his followers abandoned him. John tells us in this text that the Passover was near – not the Holy Week Passover, but the one before. Over the course of the next year, the people of Israel would grow to hate Jesus more and more, until, at the following Passover, Jerusalem would put the Bread of Life to death.
The name for this Sunday is somewhat ironic. Laetare! Rejoice with Jerusalem! The irony is that, in the Person of Jesus, God gave Jerusalem every reason in heaven and on earth to rejoice. But she didn’t. And that’s the way it always goes. God is never enough for Jerusalem.
Ah, but, who is Jerusalem? This is where it really hits home. Jerusalem is the Church of God. Jerusalem is you.
So there’s no need for you to pretend that God is enough for you, that is, for your sinful nature. There’s no need for you to pretend that you actually are perfectly and always satisfied with God and what he gives, that you truly worship him with your whole heart and would gladly go hungry and starve to death rather than abandon him. You don’t need to hide from the truth that you’re only willing to follow him just so far, to give up just so much for God – and then after that, no more. The 5,000 in our Gospel today lived from day to day on signs, signs they could see with their eyes in order to keep believe in Jesus and following Jesus. You may not need signs every day, but you know that you crave them, these visible signs of God’s goodness in your life, and if you don’t see the ones you really want to see, if God doesn’t provide in the way you’d like him to provide, or if God allows tragedy strikes, you know that the doubts arise, and that part of you wants to leave Jesus, too. And many Christians do.
Let’s give that a name. It’s called idolatry. It’s the worship of self. To keep the First Commandment is to fear, love and trust in God above all things, so that if all things and all people were taken away you, you would still be perfectly content to have God. But deep down in your corrupt, sinful nature, it isn’t God you crave above all things. Instead, it’s God whom you blame for not having the things you crave.
But God already knows that, doesn’t he? He isn’t surprised or disappointed to “find out” that you really don’t love him with your whole heart, in spite of all his goodness to you, just as Jesus was not surprised when the 5,000 men he fed ended up abandoning him. Jesus knew what he would do on the day he fed the 5,000, and he also knew what they would do. And he served them anyway.
God knew what Adam and Eve would do in the Garden of Eden, but he created them and provided for them anyway, and then, after they rejected him, he chose them again and promised to send a Savior to rescue them from their wicked rebellion.
God knew that Israel would rebel against him in the wilderness, and yet he rescued them from slavery in Egypt anyway and he provided bread from heaven for them anyway and kept proving to them over and over and over again that he was good, even though they were not, that he was faithful even when they were faithless. He provided not only food for them, but the means for making atonement for their sin – through the multiple bloody sacrifices offered by the priests, in the tabernacle, on the altar that God provided.
And in our Gospel, while the people had their eye fixed on their daily bread, John shows us where God had his eye fixed – on the Passover that was at hand. On providing, not only bread for one day, but the bloody sacrifice of his Son, our great High Priest, who, within a year, would make satisfaction for all of man’s idolatry, for all the sin of men, in the tabernacle that God provided – the body of Christ, on the altar that God provided – Calvary’s cross.
So, God is never enough for Jerusalem, and yet he is. He is enough. He has done enough to wash away all your sins and iniquities, to wipe your idolatries away out of his sight, to make you into his dearly loved children. By sending this Gospel to your ears and his baptismal waters to your body, God has done enough to call you to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, so that you do not turn out like that crowd of 5,000 that followed Jesus around like a dog looking for a treat. Instead, he calls you to trust in Jesus, not just for bread, but for life; to look to him, not just for this or that thing, but for the daily forgiveness of sins, because he knows how weak and frail you are. God gives himself to you to eat and to drink, so that you may have life, even life in abundance, his life, his promises, his fatherly wisdom to protect you and provide for you in just the right way, every time. God gives himself to you, O Jerusalem, and God is enough.
Which Jerusalem are you, then? The one for whom God is never enough, or the one for whom he is? Paul spoke of two Jerusalems today in the Epistle, didn’t he? There is the Jerusalem from below and the one from above. There is the group of people who call themselves Christians for whom God will never be enough, and then there is that group of Christians who feel exactly the same way, and yet have been convinced by the Gospel to repent each day of their idolatry and to believe in the God who is enough, and more than enough, because they know the love of Jesus who loved us and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. For those who know his love revealed in the Gospel and handed out in Word and Sacrament, Jesus isn’t just barely enough, is he? There are 12 baskets full of pieces leftover, 12, the number of the Church, enough to see you through every dark day of this life and safely into the next. The love of Jesus is enough, not just to feed a multitude of unbelievers, but to preserve for himself a remnant of believers, a Holy Christian Church on earth, a Jerusalem from above, Christians who know good and well that God will never be enough for Jerusalem – even for their own sinful hearts, and yet, the death and resurrection of Jesus have convinced them, that he is enough, and then some. Let it be so for you. Amen.