Trinity 7 Sermon, 2017
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
I’m really excited about Lutheran theology.
I don’t think that surprises anyone.
I’ve said in bible classes and sermons and conversations that we—Lutherans faithful to the historic, Evangelical Lutheran Church—actually have the Gospel.
The implication, there, is that other church bodies don’t.
Today’s Gospel lesson provides a good example of what I mean.
What is the point of the miraculous feeding of the four thousand?
If you search Google for sermons on these verses, generally speaking, this is what you’ll find.
I’m going to quote from the conclusion to a sermon available online: “This miracle reminds us that Jesus is more than sufficient to meet the needs that exist in His people’s lives…He is able to meet the needs in your life…It doesn’t matter how big your giant; how tall your mountain; how deep your valley; He is more than sufficient for the need! He is able to give you comfort through all the storms of life. He is able to empower you to do His will. He is able to walk with you every mile of the way. He is able to be exactly who you need Him to be in all the stages of your life…This miracle teaches us that great things can happen if we can just get the need into His hands! A small amount of bread and fish became sufficient for a multitude because they got it into His hands. Do you have a need? Get it into His hands today!”
This is not the Gospel.
Telling people to “get it into Jesus’ hands” is not the Gospel. Understanding the miraculous feeding of the four thousand as a reminder of Jesus’ sufficiency is not the Gospel. This miracle does not teach that great things can happen if we just get the need to Jesus.
The sermon I just quoted is available on a website that has over seventy-four million hits.
Thinking this way about the miracles of Jesus is common. But such thinking does not include the Gospel.
As nice and friendly as that message sounds, here’s where it fails.
“Do you have a need? Get it into Jesus’ hands today.”
Tell that to Charlie Gard’s parents.
They had a need. Little Charlie had a need. So did they fail? Or did Jesus?
They must have dropped their need before Jesus could take it from them, or perhaps Jesus was busy with the family from Ohio whose son died riding one of the rides at the state fair.
He must have not brought his needs to Jesus, given that he died tragically.
What do you say to a family mourning the death of a child if you say of Jesus’ miracle, “Great things can happen if we just get the need into His hands”?
When great things don’t happen, either you failed or Jesus did.
That’s not the Gospel.
But it gets worse.
How many of you want your spouse to be “able” to be faithful to you?
Would you rather your spouse “be” faithful to you?
From that Gospel-less sermon, I read: “[God] is able to give you comfort…Able to empower you…Able to walk with you…Able to be exactly who you need Him to be.”
Charlie Gard needed a practitioner of medicine knowledgable of a treatment that would save his life.
Tyler Jarrell, the eighteen year old who enlisted in the Marine Corps two Fridays ago and died on Wednesday on a ride at the Ohio State Fair, needed protection from an impossible-to-plan-for accident.
While able to be exactly who we need Him to be, God obviously wasn’t exactly who Charlie and Tyler needed Him to be.
What hope do their families have if that’s the message that’s proclaimed?
Okay, enough with that.
Don’t read the Scriptures thinking they’re about you.
You’re not David fighting Goliath.
You’re not Esther facing a judgment of death for the sake of her people.
You’re not Noah, hearing God’s voice and obeying.
You are a sheep in the Good Shepherd’s fold, a face in the great crowd, upon whom Jesus has compassion.
This is the miracle.
This is the Gospel.
Jesus says, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away” (Mark 8:2-3).
The problem isn’t hunger.
Jesus didn’t come to eradicate earthly hunger—otherwise we wouldn’t have to subsist, from time to time, on crackers and government cheese, ramen noodles, and popcorn.
The problem is—Jesus led a crowd of four thousand people into a desolate place without food.
Why? Why would Jesus do that?
Had I asked, to begin with, if God ever led a group of people into an impossible-to-overcome-situation, what would you have said?
To ask the same question a different way, does God lead us into temptation?
The answer is yes.
Consider the Exodus.
“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’ But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea…Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, “They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.” And I will Harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.’ And they did so” (Exodus 13:17-18; 14:1-4).
How many times do we think about the exodus and not realize what God did.
He purposely led Israel away from safety.
He purposely led Israel between Pharaoh and all his hosts, a rock, a hard place, and the Red Sea.
He led them into temptation.
“When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt?” (Exodus 14:10-11).
Why would God do such a thing?
Thus says the Lord, “I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host” (Exodus 14:4).
And Moses said, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:13-14).
And, we know, Pharaoh and all his host were drowned in the Red Sea.
God led the people by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night into temptation.
So that He could deliver them from evil.
The Lord fought for them. They had only to be silent.
The same is true in today’s Gospel lesson.
Jesus led this crowd into temptation.
The disciples, like Israel, were afraid: “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” (Mark 8:4).
They’ve forgotten who the Lord is.
In Mark chapter six, Jesus fed the five thousand. Today’s Gospel lesson is from Mark chapter eight. They’ve forgotten.
And Jesus has already said, He’s just said, “I have compassion on the crowd” (Mark 8:2).
It’s not “I will have compassion” and it’s certainly not “I am able to have compassion” but simply “I have compassion on the crowd.”
God’s compassion and love are not without action.
God doesn’t love standing still. He doesn’t love sitting down. Here, loving a hungry crowd, He has compassion on them and feeds them miraculously.
But this isn’t about hunger.
And it’s not about giving our needs to Jesus.
It’s about God’s love for sinners—giving and providing and doing all that is necessary to truly save the world.
When Jesus teaches us the Lord’s Prayer, we pray it this way, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
I’m not suggesting we change the words.
But Jesus does want us to understand Him this way: God does lead us into temptation. It happened in the Exodus. It happened in the desolate place. It happens, in our life, when a child dies, when we lack, when we need, when we hurt, when we hate.
The Lord will get glory over all who hate Him.
Believe in the Lord, Jesus Christ, and though you die, yet shall you live, to the glory of God.
He has compassion on the crowd, on us. God loves the world; He loves us.
Setting our earthly hunger and satisfaction aside, Jesus “emptied himself, by taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).
What is the Gospel?
It is the power of God for salvation to all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
You don’t have to give your needs to Jesus for Him to know what you need.
Your Lord fights for you. He loves you. He has compassion on you.
And whereas Israel had only to be silent—and wait for God to deliver them.
We can rejoice—that God leads us not only into temptation, but, most importantly, He has delivered us from the evil one.
For Charlie’s family, and Tyler’s, and yours and mine, that is hope eternal.
And something to be excited about.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!