Unless Jesus does something miraculous, the four thousand will die. Jesus doesn’t say that exactly, but you can connect the dots without much work. What Jesus says is that they will pass out from exhaustion. But before that He said that they have been following Him into the wilderness, listening to His teaching for three days. If you have a three-day journey just to get home, you have to go without any food or water and no rest stops or McDonalds’ or grocery stores, and you pass out along the way, what do you think will happen to you? These people are going to die unless Jesus does something. The same is true of you. Without the miraculous intervention of Jesus Christ, feeding you both in body and soul, you would die in this journey to your eternal home.
Think more about those people. For three days they did nothing but listen to Jesus. To put it into our context, they went to church for three days. They didn’t tell Him they were exhausted. They didn’t grumble about it taking too long. They didn’t say He preached too long or that His message confronted them for too many of their sins, that the hymns were boring or too long or not old enough or not new enough, that Communion took too long or wasn’t done slowly and reverently enough. For three days they listened, were taught, learned for what purpose Jesus had come, and they loved it. They were so engrossed that they didn’t ask him for a pit stop at the grocery store for some snacks or a meal for later. They wanted the Bread of Life, not the bread of the stomach. But eventually came the benediction, the last hymn, the candles were extinguished. They had a three-day trip to make just to get home. They didn’t sound like the Israelites a few thousand years prior, grumbling and claiming that God had led them into the wilderness to kill them. They trusted. They weren’t concerned about where their next meal would come from, what manna might appear, what stricken rock would give them a drink. They simply trusted, in reverent silence, knowing Jesus could—and would—provide for them.
They had a physical hunger greater than we can imagine. We can hardly go a few hours without a meal, let alone three days. Though they aren’t grumbling, they have to feel that impending sense of doom, the firsthand knowledge of what Jesus says, that they will faint along the way if they try to go home without being fed first. But they don’t complain. They don’t blame other people for their problems. They don’t curse God. They don’t try to find satisfaction in other places. But we sure do, don’t we! When things go wrong in our lives, we turn to so many idols. When we have discomfort in our life, think of all the things we want to make it better. We expect money, food, drugs, alcohol, friends, Facebook to magically make us feel better. We look for contentment from those and so many other sources. Instead of trusting God to sustain us, we look to other things to sustain us. We look for our greatest good, our greatest contentment in all the wrong places. Instead of enduring, instead of singing the refrain from our hymn: “To God all praise and glory!” we throw a temper tantrum. We turn to our idols and get mad when they don’t satisfy us, when they don’t live up to our expectations. But what do you expect? Is Facebook God? Are friends God? Is money God? Is alcohol God? No! Only God is God. Only God can get you through the roughest days of your life. Jeremiah taught that the one who trusts in man, who trusts in earthly things is like a shrub in the desert, dwelling in uninhabited places, cursed because he has turned away from the Lord (Jer. 17:5-6). Only God can sustain you when you feel like the only thing that can happen next is that you pass out from sheer exhaustion, from overwhelming stress, and die. Repent. Each and every one of us have feared, loved, and trusted in someone or something else instead of the Triune God.
So what hope is there for you, for me, for all of us who are on the verge of death, waiting for divine intervention? Trust in the Lord. The God who created your first parents in Eden, who fed them with perfect vegetation, with cool and clean waters, still feeds you, still waters you, still covers your sin and shame just like He did for Adam and Eve. That may sound like law, a command--trust, do this and things will get better. It’s not. That invitation, that Word, is pure Gospel. Just like those people in the wilderness with Jesus rejoiced when He said “Eat,” so can you rejoice when the Lord says “Trust.” Just like the four thousand couldn’t do anything to feed themselves, neither can you do anything to make yourself trust. That has been given to you as a gracious gift of God, the work of the Holy Spirit, calling you by the Gospel, enlightening you with His gifts, and keeping you in the faith. The Holy Spirit causes you to trust. He plants you by the water of life so you do not need to fear when the heat comes, when the trials and temptations of life come your way. What is necessary is given to you by the God who created you, who redeemed you, who keeps you in the faith and sustains you to life’s end. He forgives you for turning to other gods and gives you the strength and ability to look to the true God when crosses visit you.
The Lord is compassionate and kind. He looks upon you with His mercy. Your crosses and hardships, your pain and sorrow, every time in your life you have felt like the only next step is dropping dead—none of these are signs of His wrath or distance. They are His loving chastisements. By these He teaches you to trust Him more and more. He answers your prayer in today’s Collect: “put away from us all hurtful things and give to us those things that are profitable for us.” Pain and disappointments in this world send you running to the God who is constant in His love and keeps His promises. Every agonizing moment serves to direct your gaze on heaven. Like St. Stephen about to be stoned to death, you can confess in the face of evil, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). That’s because the Son of Man, Jesus, has miraculously provided for you. By His cross, His death and resurrection, He has given you forgiveness of all your sins, a promise, an uncancellable guarantee that heaven is yours, that one day He will take you on your journey home with Him for eternity.
So, always be dissatisfied with this life, aware that it is a desolate place. Until the trumpet sounds on the Last Day, find comfort here, in the Divine Service, where Christ Himself is present for you, where He bids you sit and be waited upon. Here He speaks to you, instructs you, and feeds you to give you strength for the journey. In this Divine Service find nourishment and satisfaction, a green place in the desert of sin and death, because here Jesus Himself takes bread, gives thanks, breaks it, and gives it to you as His own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins. He never shall forsake His flock, His chosen generation. He is your Refuge and your Rock. To God all praise and glory!
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.