Jesus is in Gentile lands when He feeds the four thousand. It’s a deserted place south of the Sea of Galilee, barren because it’s summertime, and in that part of the world nothing grows in the summer. There’s no rain and it’s too hot for anything to grow – it’s like Wyoming in July. When Jesus fed the five thousand you might remember that there was a lot of green grass in that place. Nothing like that here. It’s barren and desolate. And when He fed the five thousand you might remember that they had been with Him for less than a day, and so they really didn’t need food. But here they do. They’ve been with Jesus three whole days. Some of them have traveled from far away. And they have no food, Jesus says. And this is remarkable. Because they had had food before. They set out to travel from a long way off to hear Jesus and they had brought food for the journey. Maybe they thought they’d only be with Jesus a day, maybe two, and packed enough for that. But one thing is sure, at some point they realized they’d have to leave if they weren’t going to run out of food. But they didn’t leave. They decided to stay. They would rather go without food than lose out on hearing Jesus.
In this they are like their Lord. Every student, when perfectly trained will be like his master, Jesus says. And Jesus’ love for God’s Word would often make eating and any bodily pleasure an afterthought. You have the beautiful case of Jesus sending the disciples into a Samaritan town to get food, because he’s hungry, and he sits down at the well of Jacob to rest. And when his disciples come back and see Him talking to the woman at the well, they urge him to take food. But he says he’s not hungry anymore, he’s got food they don’t know about, because all his concern has gone toward teaching this woman.
This is what Jesus’ word does. It makes content. It satisfies as nothing else can. When Jesus fed the five thousand, they came back to Him to ask for more bread, because they weren’t content. And then he told them that he had a different bread to give them, a bread that if they ate would actually satisfy them and they wouldn’t be hungry ever again. That’s how Jesus describes Himself – I am the bread of life, he says, whoever comes to Me will never hunger and he who believes in me will never thirst. You want to be content in life? You want to stop your worrying and regretting and your desire for more, more, more? What’s going to satisfy you? Enough money? Enough food? Enough accolades? Enough accomplishments? No, it will all be enough, whatever God gives, however much and however little, so long as you have Jesus.
Jesus didn’t have to beg the four thousand to stay those three days. He didn’t have to use any gimmicks to bring them in or keep them listening. He just taught them. That got their attention. That’s what they gave up food to hear, what they risked their health to have. It’s become the trend in our days, as people become less and less interested in being saved from the eternal pangs of hell, to do whatever we can to beg people to come to church and listen to Jesus. So churches get rid of the liturgy and the hymns, so full of God’s Word, and they put up big screens and get praise bands to attract the youth. They send out surveys asking what people want in a church and then change what they do and what they teach to accommodate people’s felt-needs. Seeker-friendly is what they call it. Now there’s nothing wrong with begging people to come to Jesus. God pleads with his people all the time. “Come, let us reason together,” he says through Isaiah, “though your sins are like scarlet they shall be white as snow.” And through Jeremiah he says, “They say, “If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man’s, may he return to her again?’ Would not that land be greatly polluted? But you have played the harlot with many lovers; Yet return to Me, says the Lord.” He pleads and He pleads, come back to Me, and so St. Paul says, “We are ambassadors of Christ, as though God Himself were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
But this pleading is a pleading of the Word. It’s the rebuke of the Law and it’s the call of the Gospel. It compromises nothing. It’s the truth. Not some effeminate and powerless nagging, as if people would be doing God a favor by hearing His voice and eating the body and blood of the God-Man offered up to cancel the wrath of God against us. Of course not. It’s God who’s showing us unfathomable favor, love beyond our comprehension, that He comes among us to speak to us and rescue us from death and vanity by the blood of His Son. We need no gimmicks. We need no marketing techniques. We need only what drove four thousand men plus women and children to go without food to hear.
And so our pleading with ourselves or with others to listen to Jesus, to be in church, to read the Bible, to pray, to love the Lord more than food or money or anything else in this world, has to take the form of God’s strong pleading. And this pleading is in the face of Jesus Christ. Look at Him. He is God, the Son of God, exerting His eternal power to create bread and fish for the crowds. And this God stands in human flesh and blood, your brother, a man suffering through three blistering summer days in a desolate place to be with a bunch of sinful Gentiles. And He cares for them completely. He pities them, not Himself. His concern extends to both soul and body. He teaches them for three days because He loves them. And then He cares for their bodies because He loves them, wholly, completely. And so He will suffer in His body for them and shed His holy blood, and His soul will be burdened beyond measure as He bears the guilt of their sin. And He will rise body and soul from the grave for them and establish His church for them, so that they will see his disciples breaking bread again and distributing it again, but now not simply to fill their bodies but to satisfy their souls with the flesh and blood of their Savior and their God.
They were Gentiles. This was unexpected that the Jewish Savior would come to them. He was sent, He said, only to the lost tribes of Israel. But He is with them. The Jews were there at the feeding of the five thousand. And they, most of them, they walked away in unbelief. He came to His own and His own did not receive Him. They were bored, dissatisfied, took being God’s people for granted, wanted other things – political power, food, personal peace and comfortable living. This is the great warning to us who are in the church. We have heard the Gospel for a long time. It has sometimes passed through our ears without us even paying attention to it, as if this were just some bit of information that our Creator became one of us and lived and suffered and died for us. Our minds are distracted by the care of the body, the pleasures we can have – so many, some good, some not, and the pains we have to endure, some our own fault, some not. And it is the devil’s constant temptation to think that Christ’s Word is not the answer, is somehow irrelevant to our daily lives. I do not say that you should hear the Gospel every time like it’s the first time, because that’s impossible and totally undesirable. Sounds like a corny country pop song. But I do say that you should hear it like those Gentiles heard it – O who am I that for my sake my Lord should take frail flesh and die? As St. Paul continued to hear it, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief.” Hear it as the source and center and goal of all your life. Think on it every single day. Read the creed and its meanings in your catechism. Read through a chapter of the Gospel every morning and night. Eat it up, and then pray to the God who has spoken to you and given you life with Him. The more you hear it the less you will take it for granted, the more your spirit will groan to be with Jesus and hear His voice.
And then you will be satisfied. Not only with Christ, but with life, with everything. Why were those four thousand satisfied with the bread and fish? Why did they enjoy it? Because they knew who gave it. They knew finally who they were and where they were going and how they should live and why it mattered, because they were God’s dear children and God so loved them that He sent His Son for them and to them. Why can you be satisfied? With your food, with your abilities, with your husband or wife, with your life? Even with trials and pains – as St. Paul says, I have learned in every situation to be satisfied. Because you have Jesus. He doesn’t feed you like He feeds the heathen; His care for you is not simply some general providence of God, that the rain falls on the just and the unjust. No, you have your God’s special attention. You trust in His Son. You call on Him as Father. You have His Spirit. You hear and love His Word. And so He is anxious for you and visits you and listens to your prayers and sends His angels to watch over you. And when you know this, the bread and fish taste better and the jobs and duties of life become pleasanter and the yoke is light, as your Lord promises. You are satisfied. Because it is finished. The victory has been won. The Kingdom ours remaineth. The Lord Jesus reigns, resurrected, glorious, and He teaches us and He feeds us with the bread of life from heaven.
I know a man who lost all of his retirement. Gone. Hundreds of thousands of dollars he saved up over forty years. I saw him recently and I’ve never seen him happier or more content. I’ve never seen him less worried or less anxious, never heard him speak so much about how God has blessed him, never witnessed him read God’s Word more or sing hymns more or pray more. It almost made me want to lose all my money too. Because it taught him to trust in better things, to be content with what no one could take away. But in fact this is what every Christian does. We give everything up to God, we say from the heart, I’d go without food, without house, without money, without family, without earthly life, without anything, only to have the Lord Jesus and reconciliation with my God, and then we receive everything back from Him, our food, our homes, our money, our families, our life, now and forever to live satisfied and content in what Christ our Lord gives us. In nomine Jesu. Amen.