Laetare (Lent IV) 2019
Rejoice! In the midst of the Muller report, in the midst of knowing that another election cycle is about to begin; in the midst of measles outbreaks; in the midst of legislation targeting the most vulnerable, rejoice! In the midst of the season of repentance and fasting, in this violet season, rejoice! Today you are given a glimpse of a brighter color; the violet is lightened to rose. This is a reminder that, for you, dear Christian, heaven is not far off, for God is with you. The light pierces the darkness. This world and its troubles will soon pass away. The God who is in control of it all sees to all of your earthly needs. He teaches you this through simple bread and fish, earthly food with a greater implication, that if He takes care of something as mundane as food, how much more will He take care of that which really matters?
God’s gifts and a heavenly miracle were present on the mountain for the multitudes that followed Jesus. They followed Him because they saw signs, not because they believed in Him. So He led them to a place where there was no food, at the end of an already long day, and then asked them where they might get food. There was no Meijer, no convenience store, no food pantry, no neighbor whose hospitality might be taken advantage of. Jesus knew what He was about to do. He did this, not on accident, but to show them their weakness, their frailty, their complete dependence upon Him. He did it so that they might seek the Bread that does not perish, not earthly bread that only leaves one hungry again. In our hopelessness, God always has the solution, He always provides. There on the mountain He tested them. He taught them. He fed them.
But there wasn’t enough food. Given the circumstances, it’s really fair to say there was no food. There were 5,000 men, plus women and children. The situation looked hopeless. But it certainly wasn’t the first time. Like Isaac bound as a sacrifice and Abraham’s hand raised with the knife, it didn’t look good. Like Israel with the Red Sea before them and Pharaoh’s army behind them, it didn’t look good. Like Israel, freed from slavery but now left in the desert without food, it didn’t look good. These people listening to Jesus, left to their own devices, they would not have survived. In Andrew’s voice we hear the helplessness of man. Looking at the crowd and the five loaves and two fish—nothing greater than pita bread and sardines—he panics, “But what are they among so many?”
But God delivered Isaac. So it is said that on the mountain of the Lord, He will provide. He is the God who sees. He saw Israel’s troubles. And God delivered Israel by His mighty hand, parting the Red Sea waters. He did it miraculously; He did it to save them. He did it to teach them that they learn to trust in Him before anything or anyone else. Then, on the other side of the Red Sea He performed the miracle of the manna from heaven. He gave them heavenly bread so that their bodies were sustained. On the mountain where there was no food, it was exactly there, exactly then, when they were helpless, that the Lord did what they could not do. He saw. He provided. Before His bewildered disciples, with food not even enough for half of them, the Lord fed the multitude. He fed them until they were full. And there was more left over than they had started with. That’s how God is. His grace is superabundant, His mercy beyond our understanding. His love knows no limits.
But it’s not only Isaac, not only Israel, not only the disciples and the multitude who have known helplessness. This is what the Lord does for you in this Lententide. In this world you are tested, you are taught, and you are fed. God’s Word shows you your sins. The Lord makes you know that without His gracious provision you would surely perish.
You, too, have been surrounded. Or, it is better said that you have surrounded yourself. You have surrounded yourself with sin, the deep sea of your transgressions. So you find yourself much like Israel—the fatal sea of sin in front of you and the holy Law of God pressing close behind, and it doesn’t look good. Left to yourself you would simply perish. Not only temporally, but eternally. That same concern, that same hopelessness in Andrew’s voice is in your own. Looking at the vast multitude of your sins and then looking at your few good works, and even those tainted by sin, you too ask, “What are these among so many?” It is the question of your insufficiency and helplessness.
But the Lord provides. Though the situation didn’t look good for you, the Lord turned it all around. Jesus Christ came to redeem you, body and soul. He Himself knew hunger, providing for others that which He denied Himself. Like the ram He provided in the place of Isaac, God provided His only-begotten Son, the true Lamb, the perfect Sacrifice. He took on flesh to suffer and to die in your place, that, believing in Him, all your sin forgiven by His shed Blood, you might be a child of Abraham, a child of God by faith. Like Israel on the banks of the Red Sea, He delivers you from death to life by bringing you forgiveness and eternal life as you pass through the waters of Holy Baptism. By this watery rebirth He makes you like Isaac, a child of the freewoman, the one holy Christian and apostolic Church, a child of promise.
And today you can rejoice because God still provides. In love He provides your daily bread and all that you need for this body and life. The one born in Bethlehem, the House of Bread, has come to be the true Bread which gives life to the world. In the greatest of miracles the risen and ascended Christ feeds you and the multitude of the redeemed the fruits of His cross. He feeds you with bread that is His Body and wine that is His Blood. He bids you take and eat, take and drink what is good and your soul delights in the abundance.
Rejoice! When it seems as though there is no hope, the Lord provides. He knows what He will do to preserve you. He knows what He has done for you to guarantee your eternal future. Rejoice because no matter what this world may bring, what earthly consequences your sin may carry, you are redeemed. The Lord Jesus Christ has fed you with His Body and His Blood, and will forgive you and sustain you in this life until you are rejoicing with Him in life everlasting.
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Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.