It is a Sign

Sermon for Laetare based on John 6:1-15

Dear people fed by Jesus: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

John does not use the word “miracle” to describe Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand. In fact, John doesn’t ever use the word “miracle” to describe Jesus’ many acts of healing, casting out demons, or even raising the dead. He uses the word “sign.” To be sure, Jesus feeding the five thousand was a miracle, but John is pointing us to the fact that it is more than a miracle. Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand is a sign.

“Sign” is a word of revelation, as these events and miracles make known the presence of God. So, as the Israelites grumbled against God for bringing them out of Egypt to die in the wilderness, God gives them a sign. He miraculously gives them quail and manna. He gives them a sign that He is with them. He will feed them. He did not bring them out of slavery in Egypt to kill them of starvation in the desert.

The problem was the people of Israel didn’t trust God. They didn’t believe that God would continue to provide for them even though He promised them He would.

Even when God had given them the sign that He had promised – He sent them quail and manna – still they did not believe. God had told them to gather manna only for the day and not to leave it over until the morning. But they did not listen. They left some until the morning because they did not trust God to keep His word. They did not trust that God would give them manna again the next day. Their day-old manna bred worms and stank. God was teaching them through this miraculous sign to trust Him and His Word; that He was with them, that He would provide for them, and that He keeps His Word.

Jesus feeding the five thousand was also a sign of God’s presence. As Jesus provided bread for the Israelites to eat in the wilderness through Moses, so Jesus provided bread in the wilderness through this miraculous sign.

The word “sign” is also used of those events and miracles that fulfill Old Testament prophecy. Jesus’ miraculous provision of bread in the wilderness did make the people say, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” They concluded rightly that this is the Prophet foretold by Moses, but they did not understand exactly what this meant.

They therefore wanted to make Jesus an earthly king by force. Why? Because they realized that this sign meant that He is God and that He is with them? No. It was because they wanted more free food. They wanted more handouts. Here, they thought, was a politician who doesn’t just promise free stuff, but actually gives it out. Jesus would have none of that and withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.

Jesus is God, therefore He is the one who provides us our daily bread. We don’t pray that God would give us this day our daily bread to remind Him of our need. He knows our need, and He gives it to us even without our prayer. He gave bread even to the grumbling unbelievers who whined to Moses and He gave it to the those who followed Him merely for free food. We pray for our daily bread so that God would lead us to realize that He is the One who provides it to us, and so that we would receive it with thanksgiving.

God will answer our petition. God will not leave us in hunger or thirst. As David writes, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for food.” (Ps. 37:25) And as Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33)

Sometimes it is difficult for us to remember this and to believe it. Mark records that the disciples came up to Jesus and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” (Mark 6:35-36) There were five thousand men plus women and children. They were far from any food. Perhaps the disciples even considered the character of the people and how many times they came near to stoning Moses when they had nothing to eat or drink. They thought it best to have Jesus send the people away to find food for themselves, as if Jesus cares about their spiritual nourishment but not their physical nourishment; as if Jesus is an inconsiderate man who has no regard for the poor or hungry.

Before Jesus responded, He already knew what He was going to do. But He nevertheless asked Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” Sometimes we need a little testing and a little hunger to be reminded that God knows already what He is going to do and how He is going to take care of us. Our response might be like Philip’s, “We don’t have enough money to do that!” But God provides.

This miraculous feeding was not just a sign to demonstrate His power or to elicit awe and wonder. It was both a sign of God’s presence and an event that fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. On top of it all, God also provided through this sign. He gave the people real food. He fed the hungry and filled them with good things.

Jesus still feeds His people. He gives us food and drink, and all we need to support this body and life. But He gives us even more. He gives us Himself, the bread of life. Eating the bread of life not only supports this body and life, but it brings us to eternal life. He satisfies all our needs and the deepest longings of our hearts. He is the source of our life because He is the source of forgiveness. He is the source of forgiveness because He is the one who died on the cross for us, earning us forgiveness by paying the price of our sins for us.

And Jesus gives us His body and blood to eat and drink. This also is not just a sign. It is a sign of God’s presence with us and it is a fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, but it is not only a sign. It is real food. He gives us His true body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sin. He provides us what we need. He strengthens and nourishes our faith. He feeds the hungry and fills us with good things.

It is a miracle. It is a sign. It is eternal life. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

What the Prophets Foretold

Sermon for Quinquagesima based on Luke 18:31-43

Dear saints calling to Jesus for mercy: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus foretold His suffering and death on multiple occasions to His disciples. He clearly and specifically told them what must happen to Him in Jerusalem. This should not have been news to them. It is the same thing the prophets had preached and written for thousands of years. It is the same thing that was preached in the synagogues and wherever the Word of God was read.

Jesus told them on this occasion, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.”

The disciples understood none of these things. The disciples were content to follow a great teacher and miracle worker. They could not see Him as a sacrifice.

The blind man could see what the disciples could not. Mark provides his name to us: Bartimaeus. Blind Bartimaeus called out to Jesus for mercy. He prayed for Jesus to have pity on him and show him compassion because He is the Son of David – the Son promised to David who would reign forever (cf. II Sam. 7).

To Bartimaeus, Jesus was not just a great teacher and miracle worker. He was the promised Saviour of the world, the eternal king who reigns in grace and mercy, the Son of David on His way to Jerusalem to be the sacrifice for sin.

Thus, Bartimaeus would not be hushed. Even as the crowds rebuked him and told him to shut up, he would not be deterred. He cried all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” He didn’t care what the crowds thought of him. He didn’t care what the crowds said to him. He cared only for Jesus to have mercy on him.

Sin has infected all of us. It causes our behaviour to to be out of line with what is good and right. It causes evil words and wicked thoughts. It causes discontentment, anger, lust, jealousy, pride, and every other sinful desire.

Sin also causes ailments of body and mind. It is the cause of blindness. It is the cause of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and every illness of the body. It is the cause of dementia, Alzheimer’s, depression, and every illness of the mind. Thus, there really is no distinction between physical and mental infirmities and the affliction of sin which afflicts us all.

Bartimaeus believed that Jesus was his Saviour from sin, which meant that he believed that Jesus was his Saviour from all the effects of sin, including his blindness. When Jesus forgives sin, He also removes all the evil and harm that sin causes. We will not realize the removal of all evil and harm that sins causes until these bodies of ours that are corrupted by sin rise again, but Jesus forgives our sins now so that we have His promise to which we look forward.

This is why Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and this is what the prophets had foretold about Jesus. Through His suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus restored all that was lost in Adam. He overthrew the devil, killed death, destroyed hell, opened heaven, and restored life again. He conquered sin and all the effects of sin, whether mental, physical, or spiritual.

By pointing to the writings of the prophets, Jesus shows also that the Gospel is not a new teaching. There has never been any way to be received by God except through the mercy of the Son of David. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not saved by their works, but by the mercy of God through the promised sacrifice for sin yet to come. So also we are not saved except by the mercy of the promised sacrifice for sin who has come and been sacrificed for our offences.

Jesus headed to Jerusalem willingly, even though He knew what would face Him there. The disciples did not understand why Jesus was going to Jerusalem or why He had to die. Jesus went to Jerusalem and died for them anyway. He suffered and died for those who did not understand His clear words and the words of the prophets predicting what would happen, and He saved them.

Afterward, they would understand. They would understand and take this good news of victory over sin to the ends of the earth. They followed in their Saviour’s footsteps, picking up their cross and following Him, which meant that they too would suffer for His name’s sake, and all but one be killed by those who hated Jesus.

Once their eyes were opened to who Jesus is, they too realized with Bartimaeus that nothing else matters as long as Jesus has mercy on them and gives them eternal life.

The world will act like the crowds acted to Bartimaeus. The world will tell you that you are wasting your time praying to Jesus. You’re not important enough for Him to help you. You’re just a poor, blind beggar on the side of the street. Be quiet. Of course, the crowds telling Bartimaeus to be quiet didn’t believe that Jesus was anything more than a good teacher, so they may even have suggested to him that Jesus cannot help him.

Jesus cast all this aside and called for Bartimaeus to be brought to Him. Jesus healed him and said, “Your faith has made you well.”

Despite what the world tells you, Jesus also calls you to Him. In Baptism He put His name on you. In Absolution He forgives your sin so that its effects will one day no longer afflict your mind, body, and soul. He gives you His body and blood to strengthen you to life everlasting.

Therefore, you will continue to call to your Saviour for mercy. You will continue to praise Him, glorify Him, and thank Him more emphatically, so long as He gives you breath. And He will continue to show mercy to you and take you to Himself, that where He is, you may be also. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


Are You the One?

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent based on Matthew 11:2-10

Dear people who have good news preached to you: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our expectations of Jesus often miss the mark. We are often tempted to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” He doesn’t always do what we expect Him to do, even when we think it is obvious what He should do. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways (Is. 55:8).

John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus that question, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” John was in prison for preaching repentance. He was in prison because he had been preparing the way of the Lord as sent by the Lord. If Jesus is truly the promised Saviour, surely He would rescue John from prison, right? But God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways.

John himself had said concerning Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (Jn 3:30) John had been pointing his disciples to Jesus saying that He is the Christ; that He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29). But John’s disciples were jealous when they saw that Jesus was baptizing and that everyone was going to Jesus instead of John and following Jesus instead of John. Thus, John told his disciples, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

John was only the forerunner. His task of preparing the way of the Lord was completed. As Jesus started His public ministry and was performing miracles and the crowds were going to hear Him preach, it was time for John to decrease. It was time for John to stop baptizing and for Jesus’ disciples to start baptizing. It was time for John’s disciples to become disciples of Jesus.

John ending up in prison was part of him decreasing, but it was a tough pill to swallow. Surely Jesus could have just let him go retire on some Mediterranean island, but that was not His plan for John. His plan was for John to end up in prison until he was beheaded by Herod the tetrarch.

“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus answers John’s question in two ways. First, by His works, and second, by His words. He did the same thing when the Jews surrounded Him in the Temple and said to Him, “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” (Jn 10:24) Jesus responded to them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me… even though you do not believe me, believe the works.” (Jn 10:25,38) Jesus speaks God’s truth and His works prove that He is the Christ promised by the mouth of the prophets. See what God spoke by the prophets concerning the Saviour, and see that they are fulfilled in Jesus.

To John’s disciples, Jesus quotes from the prophets. He quotes a prophecy from Isaiah about the promised Christ, how through Him the blind will receive their sight and the lame will walk, how the lepers will be cleansed and the deaf will hear, how the poor will have good news preached to them. Jesus ends with saying, “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Jesus’ words and deeds prove to John’s disciples that He is the promised Messiah, the very Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. John never did the miraculous signs and wonders Jesus was doing. Neither did anyone else. Further, these signs and miracles were foretold by the prophets. Therefore when they saw these signs that the prophets had foretold, they could be assured that Jesus is the one who is to come and that there is no sense looking for another.

The Jews, even today, look for another. Jesus is not what they expected, so they rejected Him and they reject Him still. They are offended by Jesus, so they still wait for a saviour (except of course for those Jews who have given up waiting altogether and expect no saviour to ever come).

All the promises of God are founded on Christ who preached good news to the poor. Without Christ you have no promises of God and you have no fulfilment of prophecy. It is therefore in vain if anyone, like the Jews, expects the fulfilment of divine prophecy without Christ. Christ is the fulfilment, and all of God’s promises are only through Him. Only He has good news for the poor.

In fact, Christ’s preaching of good news to the poor is the most important of the promises of God as foretold by the prophets. The blind receiving their sight, the lame walking, the lepers being cleansed, and the deaf hearing are all insignificant deeds compared with preaching good news to the poor.

Those filled with pride and self-conceit will disagree. Those who do not understand the wickedness of their own hearts or how great their sins are don’t care for the preaching of the Gospel. They only want healing in this life and care nothing for eternity. They want comfort and pleasure in this life and do not want to hear that they are spiritually poor children of God’s wrath and deserving hell.

However, those whose hard hearts have been crushed by the Law desire nothing more than to hear good news preached to them. Their pride and self-conceit has been crushed by God’s Law. They don’t look to themselves to save themselves from their sins. They know it would be futile. They look to and see Jesus, the promised Saviour, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. They hear the good news that their sins were put on the Lamb of God who was led to the slaughter without complaint. They hear the good news of the undeserved promise of eternal life. They would rather be blind, lame, leprous, and deaf than have the good news taken away from them.

What more joyful tidings could a poor sorrowful heart hear than his sins are forgiven, his conscience is at rest, the Law is fulfilled, and at last eternal life is granted to him as his inheritance? Such a heart cannot stay sorrowful and troubled. Sin, death, hell, the world and the devil are scorned, derided, and held in contempt. Joy fills such a heart because iniquity is forgiven and sins are covered by Jesus’ blood.

This is the good news Jesus sent to John and that He sends to you. Jesus takes misguided expectations and gives His promises that exceed all expectation. If you want to know what to expect of Jesus, look to His promises. Jesus will never fail you. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Him. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.