When you look at Jesus feeding the four thousand you are looking at the only God there is. You see he’s with people, pays attention to them, cares for them. That’s God. There is no god out there who isn’t with us, who doesn’t pay attention to us, who doesn’t care about what we do and what we suffer. That god just doesn’t exist. It’s easy to imagine he does when you allow yourself to be ruled either by your reason or by your feelings. Reason, which was never supposed to go rogue, was never supposed to think of God outside of God’s Word, sinful reason likes to imagine that God is so far above us that He can have nothing to do with us really. This is “nature’s God,” as Jefferson called him. Or the “unmoved mover” as Aristotle so coldly described him. He set things in motion, but he is no friend to sinners. And our feelings can imagine up this god too. When we feel alone, when it seems because of our pain or because of our grief that God is not near and doesn’t care, because otherwise why would you be suffering what you’re suffering, then your feelings imagine up this non-existent god. But whether reason or feelings, they’re wrong. That cold, distant god literally doesn’t exist. The only God who exists is the God who is close, who speaks, and who is with us.
The Bible shows us who this God is. God made our reason and our feelings to submit to the Word of the Bible, and it is the fulfilment of our very nature as human beings to do just this. Look at God, who He is and what He does. He walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden, He personally warned Cain not to let anger get the better of him, he cared that Abel’s blood was shed, He walked with Enoch and talked with him for three hundred years, He brought Israel through the Red Sea in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, He spoke His word to them on Mount Sinai, He is the present God who speaks and cares, through all time until He comes and is born of the virgin Mary and is our Immanuel, the only God, who is with us, and so you see this Jesus with the four thousand, speaking to them, caring for them, having compassion on them, feeding them. This is God.
The other god people like to invent is the god who might be present and might care, but only cares for the righteous and for the good. This is the god the guilty conscience likes to make up. It imagines a god who gives up on sinners, becomes too disgusted with them to deal with them, who might forgive some sins, but not this one, and not this one committed so many times. But that god doesn’t exist. There literally is no god out there who doesn’t eat and talk with sinners, who doesn’t want to forgive them and lead them in the way of righteousness. That god doesn’t exist. The only God who exists is the God who promised a Savior to Adam and Eve as soon as they sinned, the God who spared David and forgave him for murder and adultery, the God who became a man not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance, who ate and drank with sinners, and still does, four thousand sinners in our Gospel and a couple hundred of us here.
The god who doesn’t care about your body, only about your soul, that god also doesn’t exist. There is no god who teaches four thousand people for three days and then leaves them to fend for their bodies afterward. There’s no god who forgives you here and teaches you here but then doesn’t care about your body when you leave these doors. That god doesn’t exist.
That is first of all a comfort. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you. God will provide for your body, for everything that you need. He is the God who has a body, who has become a man like you in every way except sin. The entire Bible is full of God taking care of bodies – he plants a garden in Eden, tells them to eat of all the trees. He avenges the blood of Abel. He feeds His people in the wilderness. And the entire Bible is witness to God looking forward to becoming a man. The Son appears again and again in human form, to Abraham, to Jacob, to Joshua, to Isaiah, until finally He becomes a man and possesses a human body, a body which has now risen from the dead and now reigns in heaven. He cares about your body and He will raise it immortal on the Last Day and transform your lowly body to be conformed to His glorious body. He will provide for everything your body needs, He has counted every hair on your head, He has felt bodily pain and bodily hunger and bodily anxiety, and sleepless nights, He has real compassion on you, because He has suffered it Himself, knows what you are going through, and will relieve you from it in His good time.
This also means that the only God who exists is the God who cares what you do with your body. The feeding of the four thousand is a picture of Christian life. They go to church, they hear Jesus preach and teach for three days, and then Jesus feeds them and sends them home. So when God sends you home from here, after teaching you and feeding you with His body and blood, He cares about your body and what you do with it. He cares that you work hard at whatever job you have, whether at home or in the workplace. Children, He cares that you help mom and dad out at home and don’t sit around like bums doing nothing. Young men and women, He cares that you preserve your virtue until marriage. Ladies, he cares that you wear modest clothes and don’t show what should not be shown in public. Gentlemen, He cares that you keep your body disciplined and don’t cave into fleshly sins. He cares that governments protect their people and make laws upholding the worth of human life and lifelong marriage between one man and one woman. He cares about the body.
The god who doesn’t care about these things, who just gives you a spiritual high and assures you He loves you with some undefined and nebulous love, but who is wholly uninterested in what you do with your body or how it goes at your home or what laws the government makes, that god doesn’t exist. He’s a figment of sinful imagination. Jesus cares for your body and your soul, all of your life, all of you.
Finally, the only God who exists is the God who helps the helpless. These four thousand are in real trouble. They have no food. They are in the wilderness. There are no fields of grain. No town with a Walmart. Some of them have very far to go. If they try to go home without food, they’re going to die. It’s like a man who hiked too far into the mountains and got lost without food and without water. He’s dead without a miracle. That’s the situation these people are in.
There is a popular interpretation of this parable that says it’s no miracle at all. Instead of Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishies and miraculously feeding the four thousand, it becomes a story about sharing. People did have food after all and the kid’s generosity of giving his bread and his fish moved everyone’s hearts to start sharing their food, till everyone was fed. So the moral of the story is that we actually do have it in us, that no one would go hungry if we just learned to be generous, a perfect social gospel lesson.
This interpretation is destructive for two reasons. First, because it ignores the words of the Bible. It assumes the Bible’s words are wrong, that the Bible is not the inspired Word of God and free from all error. That’s always dangerous. Without the Bible we don’t know who God is. The Bible is clear and perfect. We are not masters of it, it is master of us. It is God speaking. We listen, we don’t mess with it.
But it’s destructive for another reason too, maybe even more important, and that is that it completely reverses the meaning of the story. It makes Jesus into the god who helps those who help themselves, the god who helps those who aren’t helpless, but who really have it in them to do what needs to be done. They just need a little push from Jesus, and they’ll be alright. Here is the Jesus who becomes a mere moral teacher, whose role is to facilitate your making the world a better place. That god doesn’t exist. The only God who exists is the God who helps the helpless.
And this is what Jesus teaches above all in His feeding of the four thousand. Of course you should share. Of course you should be generous. But no matter how you share and no matter how generous you are, no matter what you do, you can’t get out of the predicament of your sin and your sinful existence and the corruption of your body and your death. The people have nothing to share. There is no food. Just seven loaves of bread and a few fishies. They are helpless. They cannot help themselves. Jesus comes in as the God who helps those who would die without Him. That is the only God there is.
This is the God who is with us now. He saves helpless sinners. He sees us and has compassion on us. He sees our bodily needs. He isn’t blind to them. He has provided everything you need and He will continue to do it, because He cares for you. And He doesn’t separate your body from your soul either. What is good for your soul is good for your body. When Jesus forgives you, He is doing more for your body than the healthiest meal could possibly do. When He gives you His body and blood in the Sacrament, He is doing more for your body than chemo or radiation or any medicine could ever do. He is giving you life that does not end, a life with God, a life of body and soul.
Because the only God who exists is the God who died your death and rose to life for you. The only God who exists is the God who now comes to you and makes His death your death in your Baptism, and shares His resurrection with You. His life and death reconcile you to God who made you body and soul. He forgives you and baptizes you and joins you to Himself as His Bride to be His body, united in one flesh with Him. The food He feeds your soul is His body and His blood, and that is the very glorious body to which you will in the end be conformed, with no sin and no sign of its corruption.
Those four thousand went home satisfied by that bread and those fishies until they were hungry again. But the word they heard for three days satisfied them forever. This is the Word you hear from the same God. And it will consistently satisfy you who trust in your Lord Jesus to save the helpless. He is with you, your sins cannot keep Him away because He has already met their horror on the cross, and His care for you extends to both your body and soul, to time and to eternity. God forbid that anything in all this world could ever satisfy us but our Lord Jesus Christ, who alone with the Father and the Holy Ghost is the one God forever and ever. Amen.