“In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, [Jesus] called his disciples to him and said…’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 his disciples answered him, ‘How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?’ And he asked them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ They said, ‘Seven’” (Mark 8:1-5).
Don’t be fooled.
The problem in today’s Gospel lesson isn’t a lack of food.
Jesus feeds the hungry, but if He came only to feed the hungry—the problem of hunger would not remain.
If you’ve ever had to live off ramen noodles, popcorn, or government cheese, you know hunger can still be a problem.
So think about that for a minute.
What did Jesus come to do? What did He do?
What did Jesus come to accomplish?
What has He accomplished?
What don’t we have to worry about anymore?
If Jesus came to save us from hunger—we wouldn’t have to shop for food or budget for it.
If Jesus came to save us from temporal death—we’d have no need of funeral homes or baby-sized caskets. Nursing homes wouldn’t have to close, because nursing homes wouldn’t have to open.
If Jesus came to provide riches—there’d be no lottery, no gambling, no theft. We would all just have.
If He came to keep suffering away—we’d never have to hide the Preparation H under the MiraLax when we run into friends at Walmart.
And if He came to end grief—we would not, so often, grieve.
And while Jesus did make the deaf hear and mute speak, if He came only to do that, He failed.
Not all the lame will leap like deer.
This is how we have to talk about miracles.
Miracles aren’t miracles because they fill some material need.
Each miracle is, instead, a demonstration of the Creator interacting with His creation.
Now, Jesus does all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak (cf. Mk. 7:37).
But that doesn’t mean that He’s come to make us hear or speak or eat bread till we’re full.
The miracles identify Jesus as the Christ, the one who’s come to deal with the real problem of it all—because of sin, the world and man are not right with God.
That’s the real problem that Jesus has come to solve.
But, problematic, in Mark chapter eight, is that it doesn’t look like Jesus has come to solve that at all: He’s led this group of faithful people to a desolate place—without food.
And there’s plenty of apparent sin here: the disciples have forgotten that Jesus just recently fed 5,000 men with five loaves of bread and two fish. That was Mark chapter six. The disciples show their unbelief plainly: “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” (Mark 8:4).
The disciples don’t get it.
Jesus asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” (Mark 8:5).
And He asks because that’s the amount He’s going to use to feed the crowd. Miraculously.
Not only because He’s merciful.
Not only because they need to eat.
But because He is the Christ—who has come to reconcile the world and man to God—and these people need to know who He is.
So, Jesus asked, and “[The disciples] said, ‘Seven,’” (Mark 8:5). They answer thinking it’s impossible.
Today’s Gospel lesson is a wonderful example of what the Christian life can be: difficult, filled with pain, filled with doubt.
Jesus did those miraculous things then.
But He doesn’t do any of those same things now.
So is He who He really says He is?
The Scriptures teach that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), but it rarely feels like it.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1), unless I’m hungry, dying, poor, suffering, or grieving. Then, I want what people call “greener pastures” and lack what others call “still waters.”
These people followed Jesus for three days and had nothing to eat.
We might pity them for that.
But we shouldn’t.
That they followed Jesus for three days also means that Jesus led these people for three days away from comfort and into desolation.
The love of God recognizes that your need for a savior outweighs your need for comfort, happiness, long life, and even food.
That you would realize that—sometimes God will cause you to find yourself in a desolate place.
So you will trust in Him.
The point, again, is not that Jesus feeds the hungry or comforts the poor. He came to do those things but not just those things.
Remember when Jesus was anointed at Bethany?
From Mark chapter fourteen:
“While [Jesus] was at Bethany…a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment…very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. …Some…said to themselves…’Why was the ointment wasted like that? …[It] could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.’ And they scolded her. But Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For the poor you always have with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (Mark 14:3-9).
Doing what she could, she confessed her faith in the Lord: Jesus is the Christ, the one to reconcile the world and man to God—by dying.
That’s the most important thing you could ever learn.
And if God uses hunger or grief or even death to teach you what you need to know for salvation, that is the love of God.
I quoted Psalm 23 earlier. You know the verses: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:1-3).
That’s only true because of verse four:
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. I will fear no evil, for my Lord and Good Shepherd is with me.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.
Sometimes God leads us into a desolate place, a dark place.
He is still with you.
Today’s Gospel lesson shows us that, sometimes, God will lead you into a dark place just to renew your trust in Him.
That He has compassion on them and feeds them is great—but that’s so they believe that Jesus is the Christ.
The same can be said about Job’s situation.
It’s great that God restores Job’s fortunes, but the point is that God is the Lord. And Job needed to know that.
Perhaps God knows what’s best for you.
Perhaps you don’t.
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).
God has compassion on the faithful, even when it doesn’t look like it.
He doesn’t always remove every earthly obstacle.
And sometimes God plants obstacles like weeds.
Christ has removed the only eternally damning obstacle. He has reconciled the world and man to God.
That’s the point.
Believe in that. Believe in Him.
The debt of sin is satisfied in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
And satisfied doesn’t mean equal.
“[The four thousand] ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full” (Mark 8:8).
Satisfied, here, means—your cup runneth over.
In Christ, and with His gifts, the people are satisfied, completely full, with more left over.
God’s love is that way.
Mercy is that way.
Forgiveness is that way.
The Gospel is that way.
God’s love is not equal to the world’s hate. Nor is there just enough forgiveness for sin.
The free gift of God, eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord, the Gospel has no equal.
Though our sin abounds, Christ, His sacrifice, His love, abounds all the more.
”There were about four thousand people. And Jesus sent them away” (Mark 8:9).
It’s not that they’re fed that they can return home.
It’s that they believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that they can go.
Jesus feeds the hungry, yes.
More importantly, He reveals Himself to be the Christ, the Son of God, the one to reconcile God with the world and man.
Once fed, the people see who Jesus is and what He’s there to do.
He feeds them. He removes their hunger.
And He destroys sin, death, and satan—the causes of hunger.
There is no greater feast that they’re waiting for.
There is no greater teaching yet to be revealed.
They can go home.
And so it is with the Divine Service today and every Sunday:
Once fed, we very soon depart in peace.
Not because we’ve eaten.
But because there’s nothing left to learn.
Nothing left lacking.
The body and blood of Jesus Christ were given, for you, into death, shed, for you, upon the cross, for the forgiveness of your sins.
That we eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus means we believe that Jesus is the Christ.
We can always learn more about that.
But once we’ve learned that, there’s nothing left to learn.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
The Seventh Sunday After Trinity, 2018