There’s a particular Scripture passage that comes to mind when we think of the events of today’s Gospel reading, and it has come to mind for many people throughout the Church’s history. Here you have a great crowd that gathered to Jesus. They have been with Jesus for three days and their food supplies have run out. This hasn’t phased them. They’re still with Jesus, because they value his Word above everything else. They realize that life is more than food, and they don’t bother themselves with thinking, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” Their heavenly Father knows what they need. And thus the Scripture passage that has come to mind for so many is this: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
In the feeding of the four thousand we have proof of this Word of Jesus. The crowd sought first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. They pursued Jesus, hung on his words, ignored their bellies, and devoured with their ears the sweet food of heaven that Jesus spoke to them. They didn’t worry about food. And yet there it was miraculously. They concerned themselves with Jesus’ Word and Jesus concerned himself with their bellies. He had compassion and brought up their need before they did, and he provided bread and fish in a desolate place.
What place then is left for worrying? There are but two things in this world that we can rightly worry about: we can worry about hearing the Word of Jesus and we can worry about each other. And these worries are not worries in any bad sense, but are the natural actions of faith and love: faith concerns itself with listening to Jesus, and love concerns itself with caring for one another. But worry about this life, the belly, the body, food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home – Jesus is obviously willing to concern himself with that for us, so what’s the point of worrying about it ourselves?
Ah, yet we are so like the disciples. They hear Jesus express his care and concern for the people, and they doubt that anything can be done because their eyes don’t see the resources by which it would be accomplished: “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” Even with Jesus standing right there―God in the flesh, with a belly of his own, sympathetic in a very physical sense with his creatures, almighty over his creation, he who already fed five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish―even with Jesus standing right there and speaking graciously to man, the disciples are still plagued by unbelief and do not see that Jesus is sufficient.
So it is with us. But think of what goes on around us on a daily basis. God has established the sun to govern the day and the moon the night. Through this regular interchange of light and darkness he structures our days and regulates heat and cold on earth, so that we neither scorch nor freeze. God made the plants to yield seeds according to their own kinds, tiny little seeds. God has arranged it that man can bury these tiny little seeds in the dirt, and from these buried, dirty seeds, God brings forth food for all the earth. The feeding of the four thousand may be a different means of accomplishing this. This miracle gets our attention because it’s not God’s ordinary means of providing for man. But the feeding of the four thousand is no more a miracle than what God constantly does for us in raising up our food from the dirt.
And he has arranged the seasons in regular rotation. He sends rain on the earth, gives clouds or clear skies as he sees fit, gradually raises temperatures in the spring and lowers them again in the fall. Man may get bread by the sweat of his brow, but this doesn’t mean that God needs man’s labor in order to make creation work. Go hike the Bridle Trail in the late summer and early fall and look at the wild raspberries growing out of rock. Those raspberries don’t need man. They’re tended by God, and they taste like it.
And what of the animals? God made them according to their kinds, and he made them to procreate according to their kinds. From this we get all manner of animal husbandry: flocks and herds and ranches. Like the plants, the animals go through their predictable cycles, and they bear their young. We still cannot fathom the mystery of procreation. All our microscopes and observations and chemical analyses and descriptions have only increased our wonder at procreation, not diminished it.
Through all of this our Father in heaven provides us with our daily bread. He maintains an orderly and stable world, he gives seed to the sower and bread to the eater, he sees to all our bodily needs. We confessed this in today’s prayer: O God, Your “never-failing providence orders all things both in heaven and earth.” From the largest planet to the smallest seed, our Father arranges creation for our good.
And this isn’t even the greatest guarantee of our daily bread! How can we even call God “Father” and know that he will care for us apart from his Son? Jesus stands in the midst of a crowd, in the midst of his disciples, and he stands there as a man―no less God―but certainly a man, who knows the hungry belly and the parched throat, not just from afar, but because that hungry belly was his belly and that parched throat his throat. He hungered in the wilderness, being tempted by the devil. He cried out, “I thirst” as he hung on the cross. The Son of God was not pleased to know our sorrows and sufferings from afar, but, as it says in Hebrews 2, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things.”
What great mercy is this! It was our sin that brought hunger and thirst into the world, our depraved eating that emptied our bellies, our disobedience to the Word of God that caused all the problems we see in today’s Gospel. Yet there stands the Word of God in our flesh, feeling the consequences of our sin. If the crowds were hungry, Jesus was more so, for his care was that they eat, not that he eat. If the crowds were thirsty, Jesus was more so, for he was the one preaching to four thousand people for three days and parching his throat. Yes, the Son of God came down from heaven and looked at all the misery we had brought on ourselves by our rebellion against his Word and his reaction was to have compassion on us, take up our plight in his own body, and satisfy our every need.
We see the greatness of Christ’s mercy in that he bowed the heavens and came down to feel our hunger and serve us bread. The length of his love is clear in the lengths to which he went to do something as simple as feed us. But you well know that Jesus’ mercy is even more apparent in the fact that he didn’t stop there. He was willing to be the cure for all of man’s ailments. Hunger and a lack of food were symptoms of our sin, and Jesus wasn’t content merely to treat symptoms. He took care of sin. He was reckoned as the offender against God, and he suffered all that we deserved, and he tasted death so that we wouldn’t have to. He made peace by the blood of his cross. He’s the reason we call God “our Father who art in heaven.” He’s the reason we can pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” And he’s the reason we can confidently expect to receive it. If the Son of God had stayed in heaven, if Jesus had come down from the cross, if Christ had not been raised from the dead, then we would have cause to be worried about this life, what we would eat, and about eternal life, for we could only anticipate hell. But Jesus has shown great mercy. “I have compassion,” he said. And that compassion gained us the forgiveness of sins, deliverance from the devil, peace with God, and eternal life.
“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?” Repent of the unbelief that causes doubt about this to rise in your heart. Repent of being oblivious to God’s provision. Our Father in heaven cares for the earthly life of the two sparrows, and not one falls to the ground apart from our Father. Those two sparrows are sold for a penny, but you were bought with the blood of God. He can bring water out of a rock. He can rain bread from heaven. He can make the ravens bring bread and meat. He can multiply food on earth. He will provide for you, for he cares for you.
As for you, you care about his Word. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Our sinful flesh rebels against this. The flesh would like to sleep in on Sunday morning. The flesh would like to be somewhere other than sitting on a hard pew. The flesh would like to make money instead of coming to church. Keep your flesh in its place. Take a lesson from the crowd in today’s reading. Jesus says of them, “If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way.” Except he doesn’t use the word “hungry.” There’s a perfectly good Greek word for that, and that isn’t the word used here. Jesus does not say that the people are “hungry,” but that they are “fasting.” That’s the word he uses here.
What does it mean that the crowds were fasting? It meant that when their bellies said, “You need to stop listening to Jesus and go get some food,” they told their bellies, “No, the Word of Jesus is more important!” This is the sense that fasting has in the Church: we tell the belly “no,” and instead of eating bread with our mouths we feast on the Word of Jesus with our ears. More broadly, we imitate these crowds anytime we say “no” to the flesh for the sake of hearing Jesus’ Word. Beds and boats and bank deposits can all wait. You have something better.
And while we’re saying “no” to our bellies, it’s just as good to say “no” to our minds. Our minds are prone to worry, and the worry is needless, as you’ve heard this morning. Instead of indulging a runaway mind that faithlessly doubts God’s provision, when your mind is concerned about the things of life, then tell your mind, “No. Stop it. Why are you worried? Christ has bought me with his own blood. He has engraved me on the palms of his hands. He has called me by name and I am his. If he is both willing and able to rescue me from sin, death, the devil, and hell, then he’s more than willing and able to provide for this earthly life. So stop worrying. You have something better than worries.”
Yes, you have a merciful Lord who promises to take care of your life. And see from the feeding of the four thousand that he does not stop at basic needs. He doesn’t make you subsist on the bare minimum, but what did you hear? “And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.” And these baskets were the size of clothes hampers. This was a feast and abundance. When Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you,” he is not talking about giving you a crust of stale bread and a sip of warm water. No, he will care for your life better than you could ever care for it yourself. What comfort is here! What an easy yoke and a light burden! Jesus says to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and in doing so we hear such gracious things as the Gospel of Jesus Christ and our Father’s promise to take care of us. O blessed ears that get to hear such things! O glorious Word that takes all worries away! May our heavenly Father give you full satisfaction in the Word of his Son and preserve your faith by the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.