As we consider Our Lord’s miracles, we often divert our attention away from the miracle itself and towards eternity. Especially when we look at the healing miracles, we’re quick to say that it reminds us of the perfection we will enjoy in heaven when we receive our bodies back perfected. It’s our way of telling ourselves not to look for or expect a miracle like Jesus performed during His earthly ministry. While that’s understandable, maybe it’s not the best thing to do. God has not sent His Son to die merely for our future spiritual good. He has sent Him to redeem us, to make us His children now. He who was crucified and is risen from the dead has done that in order to be with us, to keep on feeding us. And He is concerned with all of us, our bodies and souls, our spiritual lives and our family lives, our churches and our cities, and everything else. Still today, He has compassion on us and He acts on it, He delivers that compassion to us in real time in Word and Sacrament.
The key word in all of this is compassion. For Our Lord, this is more than a mere emotion or a thought. He sees us, just like He saw those four thousand, and has compassion. He sees your need. He sees your depression, your anxiety, your uncertainty, your poverty, your illness, your anger, your addiction, your sin, and He has compassion. He is completely moved to His very core at what you endure. So He steps into the fray. He comes to you to feed you with Himself.
That’s why you’re here today. You’re here because, whether you feel it today or not, you’re hurting. We all are. It’s not a bad thing to admit. We all need something because sin and the devil have left us on the verge of death. So each of us are here today because we desperately need something from the Lord. Just like those four thousand, we cannot endure the continued journey. If we try to go it alone, to continue as if everything is okay, we will perish on the way. Jesus knows that, so He has come to give you Himself, in Word and Sacrament, to sustain you on your way. And He puts people and things in your life that will help you with the physical problems you know all too well—your diseases and pains and wants and fears. Jesus isn’t only concerned with your spiritual needs. He cares about you physically as well, just as He did for the four thousand that He miraculously fed. So, regardless of what you need, Jesus is here to be with you in every way, to deliver it to you.
That doesn’t mean you’re going to see without glasses, walk without a walker, or turn in your resignation tomorrow morning because your bank account has suddenly sent you to the top tax bracket. It could. Jesus can do anything. But it’s not how He ordinarily works. Remember that our God is a God of means. He places everyday, ordinary people in your path who help you get better or see better or walk better. He places everyday, ordinary people in your path who employ you, who give you a chance to put all of your excellent, God-given skills to work to serve your neighbor in the way only you can. Little by little, God provides for you. Just like He did for the widow of Zarephath who thought she only had enough flour and oil to make a tiny loaf of bread for herself and her son as their last meal, God provides little by little, day by day. It’s difficult, but God calls us to trust Him patiently.
However, from time to time, God tests us. He allows things to happen that make us question everything so He can remind us where to turn in trouble. We often forget that we are completely dependent upon God for everything we enjoy in this life, even things as forgettable as air and light. So, sometimes God exposes our need. He allows us to suffer need so the flesh is reminded that it needs God. This is what happens to the four thousand. Jesus’ sermon comes to an end and suddenly they realize that they have been listening to and following Jesus for three days, and now food is nowhere to be found. But unlike their forefathers, the Israelites in the wilderness, they don’t grumble. They don’t accuse Jesus of leading them out into the wilderness to die. Instead they trust patiently and know that Jesus will take care of their needs.
In that way, they are a lesson to us. For three days they went to church. For three days they listened to Jesus preach. They didn’t make demands of God, that He had to fit into their schedule. They didn’t complain because the air conditioning was too cold or the heat was turned up too high. They didn’t grumble because no one brought anything for the coffee hour or because the line at the restaurant was too long because they didn’t get out of church on time. They lived not on bread alone but on every word that proceeded from the mouth of God. And everything turned out okay for them, didn’t it? The point is, letting God order your life works out. Now, I’m not saying blow off work tomorrow just to come sit in church. I’m not saying skip school or homework to read the Bible. That’s not responsible, and it breaks Commandments. Instead, let these four thousand be your example. Allowing the Word of God to play a central role in your life will not hurt you. Reordering your life to fit in more time in God’s Word, better church or Bible Study attendance will not make you starve to death. Rather, you’ll be fed in the most important way!
And that’s what God wants for you, too. He wants you to be in the Word and the Sacraments, because that’s where He comes to you. Remember where this sermon began? Jesus has compassion on the multitude. And that’s not just an eternal, someday when you get to heaven, compassion. It’s a here and now compassion. And this place is where Jesus the most directly gives you the result of His compassion. He knows your sin, your heartache, your need, your struggle. And here is where He feeds you with Himself. He comes to you to give you His Body and Blood given and shed on the cross for the forgiveness of your sin. He makes His home inside of you to strengthen your faith. He comes here to walk alongside you, and gives you a Christian family who does the same. Here Jesus delivers the compassion He has on you, His child.
The world around us is a desolate place. It doesn’t have the things we truly need for our peace. In the world we have tribulation, we have crosses, and we have sin. This is the place where all of that is alleviated, even if only for an hour. Here Jesus is present for you. He causes you to sit down and be waited upon. He speaks forgiveness to your sin, strength to your weakness, and compassion to your struggle. He forgives you and brings you back to Himself. He takes away from you all those things that are hurtful and gives you what is good for you. Jesus has compassion on you, and His mercy endures forever.
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.