Why does Jesus “give thanks” before He distributes the bread?

And why do we “give thanks” before meals?

The first question is, for some, a difficult question, because if Jesus is God, is He praying and thanking Himself? That would be odd: “Dear Me, thank Me for all that I’ve done for Me.”

But while the second question might seem to have a simple answer, maybe it doesn’t. Christians are to pray. And Jesus “gave thanks” before certain meals, so we should, too.

But this really isn’t an example of understanding something or answering a question.

Like saying the Bible is “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth” or that the parables of Jesus are “earthly stories with heavenly meaning,” you’ve answered a question without answering a question.

Why does Jesus “give thanks” before He distributes the bread?

Why do we “give thanks” before meals?

If you say, “Because we’re supposed to pray” or “Because Jesus did,” you’re answering a question without actually answering the question.

If you need another example of what I mean, it’s like giving the answer, “I don’t care,” when you’re asked, “Where would you like to eat?” Or “Anything,” when asked “What would you like to watch?”

Jesus gives thanks—He prays—before this meal for the same reason that we do.

He prays—we pray before meals—because Christians are never in crisis-mode.

How many of you routinely—pretty much always—pray before meals? You should.

How many of you have ever had a hurried lunch—where you’ve got a lot to do or there’s a lot going on or you forgot about something important and the only thing you have time to eat is a microwavable pocket of boiling hot lava?

Did you still pray?

If you’re routine is to pray before meals, even when you’re rushed, even when the rest of your day is in crisis-mode, even then, you still pray.

Why?

Consider today’s Gospel lesson:

“A…large crowd was following [Jesus], because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. [He] went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples…Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?’” (John 6:2-9).

The parallel accounts of this from the synoptics, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, describe the place as “desolate.” We see quite plainly that the crowd’s in great need.

It’s a logistical nightmare to feed fifty people at a moment’s notice today—when we have more food than we know what to do with.

My dad’s taught me to make jokes at the most inopportune times, and so I have the bad habit of asking the new waitress if she has room for fifty people—who are in the parking lot right now and about to come in.

I think it’s a funny joke…I do.

But we treat feeding fifty people on a moment’s notice as a crisis.

Jesus puts his disciples to the test, saying to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (John 6:5).

And Philip responds with must have been the look of a deer mesmerized by an oncoming semi: “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little” (John 6:7).

Fifty people are hard to feed without planning.

But several thousand? There’re about five-thousand men (cf. John 6:10), so we can reasonably expect the total to approach ten thousand as there would’ve been wives and children and whole families present.

Where do you buy bread for ten-thousand people?

Philip’s concerned, of course, with how to afford it?

Andrew, Peter’s brother, is distracted, rather, by the sheer impossibility of the need. He says, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” (John 6:9).

To all of this unbelief, Jesus says, “Have the people sit down” (John 6:10), and what He really says is, “Have the people sit back. Lay down. Recline.”

You would only do this before a meal when you were about to be served. Having them “recline” is telling them to get ready—the first course is on its way.

“Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted” (John 6:11-12).

In the midst of impossible hunger and startling unbelief, Jesus directs the people to relax and be fed from His own hand.

He gives thanks to God, because there’s no such thing as a crisis.

Not only is God responsible for the bread and the fish, the rain and sun it took to grow the grain, and the worms and bugs it took to grow the fish, He also caused that patch of desolation to have grass enough for ten thousand people on that day and at that time, that they might recline more comfortably.

More than that, Andrew’s question “What are they for so many?” could be asked in another way: why would Jesus need that much to feed them all?

In the midst of hunger, Jesus takes a break, a pause, to thank God for the insignificant amount of food they have.

And then, He causes it to be distributed to the multitude such that they eat their fill and twelve baskets full of fragments are collected.

At this, Jesus says, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost” (John 6:12). And in this we see what kind of Lord we have:

For Jesus, there’s no such thing as a crisis.

He prays, thanking God for what we all know looks insignificant.

And He sends His disciples out desiring that none would be lost.

That word—lost—is the same word from John chapter three where Jesus says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish [that is, should not be lost] but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Jesus sends His disciples to gather the fragments, that none would be lost.

That’s the kind of Lord you have.

Following Him looks, at times, like a crisis.

Hunger, pain, and desolation can be the cross He gives you to bear.

There might not be enough money in the world to fix your problems, and what is all you have for so many problems?

But into this, Jesus comes, speaking and giving peace. He has us sit, recline, relax. He prays, He takes His time. He teaches us to do the same.

And what He gives, insignificant though it may seem, fills us such that our cup runneth over.

We pray before meals for the same reasons—that we may know that God is the Lord, that our Lord is good, and that we will not be lost—no matter how it may look.

Give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good.

Rejoice, Jerusalem. Eat, and be satisfied.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Laetare (Lent 4) Sermon, 2019
John 6:1-15
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Today’s Gospel lesson, Luke chapter eleven verses fourteen to twenty-eight, occurs immediately after Luke’s account of Jesus teaching the Lord’s Prayer, where “One of [Jesus’s] disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray…’ And [Jesus] said to them, ‘When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come…”’” (Luke 11:1-2).

Jesus shows us by example and in teaching us to pray that this is what faith does: faith prays, confessing the faith. Faith speaks.

Specifically, faith confesses that God is holy—hallowed be Thy name. Faith beseeches God for mercy, imploring Him that His kingdom may come upon us also—Thy kingdom come.

That Jesus teaches us to pray, and what He teaches us to pray, also teaches us what faith itself says.

That the demon is mute, that Jesus casts out the demon and the mute man speaks, shows us what unbelief does: unbelief is silent, content with nothing being said, specifically content with no confession of God’s holiness, no request for God’s kingdom to come upon us.

That the demon is mute and that the mute man spoke, teaches us, again, that faith speaks and unbelief is silent.

In today’s Gospel lesson, unbelief is expressed this way. “Some of [the people] said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,’ while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven” (Luke 11:15-16).

Some of the people accuse Jesus of being in league with satan. That is, some of the people accuse God of being unholy.

This is what unbelief does—it speaks something similar but ultimately opposite of what faith and God speaks.

Some of the people keep seeking from Jesus a sign, that they would know that heaven is in their midst. That is, some of the people want not for the kingdom of God but for the kingdom of man to be in their midst.

God’s kingdom comes among us by and according to His Word, and when you want God to be your Burger King, when you must “Have It Your Way,” it’s no longer God’s kingdom but yours.

“Give us a sign from heaven” is a prayer desiring not the inch God may give but the mile your heart and will wants for itself.

So to us Jesus speaks the parable of the Stronger Man: “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil” (Luke 11:21-22).

The strong man is the devil. Unbelievers are under the influence and effort of satan. When you were baptized, the influence and effort of satan was drowned and killed, and the Holy Spirit took up residence.

But your house, so to speak, must be more than swept and in good order, because the devil seeks to re-enter.

The stronger man is the Holy Spirit. Believers are under the care and protection of God. When you were baptized, you were marked as one redeemed by Christ the crucified, and as God fought to win you for His own possession, so He’ll fight to keep you.

But your house must be more than swept and in good order. There are no neutral parties. There’s no such thing as a house between God and the devil.

Either the Holy Spirit resides in you—or not.

Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Luke 11:23).

When you were baptized, you were brought into the Church Militant—the Church on this side of the Resurrection—the Church at war with satan, where the fighting is real, the fatigue is felt, and few are those who find the way to eternal life (cf. Matthew 7:14).

Against you fights the strong man, fully armed.

And though satan is a defeated enemy, what he advertises still sells.

The song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” is actually a great example of what I mean.

Looking for a soul to steal, the devil jumped up on a hickory stump and said, “Boy let me tell you what…If you’d care to take a dare, I’ll make a bet with you…I bet a fiddle of gold against your soul ‘Cause I think I’m better than you.

The boy said, “My name’s Johnny and it might be a sin, But I’ll take your bet, you’re gonna regret, ‘Cause I’m the best there’s ever been.”

Of course, you know how it plays out.

The devil bowed his head because he knew that he’d been beat, And he laid that golden fiddle on the ground at Johnny’s feet.

Johnny wins. The devil loses.

That’s what Charlie Daniels and the devil want you to think. But, of course, when Johnny dies, he’s going to hell.

The devil’s armor is his false humility.

He only pretends to lose. He got Johnny to acquiesce to sin—and—to think himself victorious. With Johnny, the devil wins.

The devil’s content with false peace. He’s content with silence. He’s content with words and songs and creeds and deeds. He’s even content with not being the only god worshipped.

He only needs an inch to get the mile.

If satan came to you and said, “Sacrifice your friends and family, sacrifice your job and money, sacrifice all your stuff, and I will grant you an everlasting life of poverty,” we’d easily resist.

But he knows how to appeal to us.

He tempts us with what we want, hoping we’ll believe that we can worship “God and…” instead of “God alone.”

When satan comes to you and says, “Keep the twenty, give the five. Sleep in. Eat another course. You don’t have to apologize. You’ve done nothing wrong. You deserve this. I’m proud of you.” we like it.

That’s what we want to hear.

The strong man’s armor—satan’s armor—is his false humility. He’s content to lose as long as he brings you down with him.

But—so that we would hear and believe unto everlasting life—Jesus tells us of the Stronger Man, the Holy Spirit, God Himself.

The Stronger Man attacks and overcomes. The Stronger Man takes away the false humility of the devil and divides his spoil.

The Stronger Man has stronger armor and better weapons—the truly humble sacrifice and death of Jesus Christ.

He doesn’t win by accepting the devil’s challenge—he knows better than Johnny does.

Jesus muzzles the devil by means of His cross and death. Jesus silences all that satan says by speaking to us all the words of eternal life.

That is, Jesus shows us that the Lord’s Prayer is true:

God is holy.

In Christ, the Kingdom of God, the power of God, the finger of God, has come upon us.

To help us, heal us, and have us forever.

Jesus silences satan and sets us free to speak, to pray, to confess—that Jesus is the Christ, the only Son of God, and that we who believe in Him have life in His name.

The strong man, the devil, may have gone down to Georgia.

But Jesus sets His face to Jerusalem.

He goes to Calvary—to fight for you—and win.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Oculi (Lent 3) Sermon, 2019
Luke 11:14-28
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

When you have a request, an important request, and you’re ignored, how do you handle it?

When you have a request, and the one to whom you make your request speaks ill of you in your presence, or dismisses you with a word, “Whatever,” how do you react?

When you have a request, and you’re insulted by the one who’s there to help and support you, how do you go on?

Be honest—you don’t handle that so well.

But what if it’s God?

What happens when you make your request known to God, and He ignores you?

Have you ever had an unanswered prayer?

What happens when you make your request known to God, and the response, from the Words of God Himself, speak ill of the desires of your heart? How do you react?

And what happens when you make your request known to God, and you perceive, through the words of Christian friends, insults? How do you go on?

Be honest—you don’t handle that so well, either.

Unbelief responds to God’s Word in various ways, of course, here’s one:

Thus says the Lord, “You shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13).

And right now there’s bill in the Senate that seeks to prevent the wrongful slaughter of…kittens.

The Kittens in Traumatic Testing Ends Now (KITTEN) Act would prevent not research but the destruction of the animals.

Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, argues that America “must stop killing kittens.”

Of course. Who’s so diabolical that he’d kill kittens?

But nigh a month ago, the same Senator from Oregon, spoke against the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act that would require doctors to administer life-saving care to human babies who survived a failed abortion attempt.

“Save the Kittens. Kill the Babies. Vote Jeff Merkley.”

Unbelief responds to God’s Word in various ways, inevitably calling good, evil and evil, good.

We are stewards of God’s Creation and should treat animals humanely, but if your house is on fire, I will let every animal die if it means that I could rescue you—and that’s true for animals I like and animals I don’t like—and people I like and people I don’t like.

When our requests are ignored, when we’re spoken ill of, when we’re insulted, we hate it. And like as not we’ll respond in kind.

When God ignores us, when God’s Word says what we don’t want it to (or when it requires more than a passing glance to understand), or when our Christian friends say true but hurtful things to us—we abandon ship.

The Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel lesson is one of two examples in the New Testament where Jesus Himself praises another’s faith.

He says, today, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire” (Matthew 15:28).

She makes her request known—and suffers for it.

But she relies not on her self, not even on her faith, but on God. And she prevails.

“Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon” (Matthew 15:23).

We don’t know exactly what “severely oppressed” means, but the daughter suffers terribly, because of demonic powers, and this mother begs the Messiah for help.

She knows who Jesus is. She calls Him “Son of David.” “But he did not answer her a word” (Matthew 15:23).

When you’re ignored, how patiently do you wait?

Do you tisk or harumph or sigh? Do you loudly set your empty glass on the table’s edge so that next time she’s sure to see it?

This Canaanite woman begs on behalf of her demon oppressed daughter, and Jesus straight up ignores her.

Faith calls out after Jesus, after His disciples, after the One who can help.

“And his disciples came and begged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’” (Matthew 15:23-24).

You can make the distinction that Jesus came to the Jews first and sent His disciples to the Gentiles.

You can make the observation that both people praised for their faith by Jesus are Gentiles.

Or you can jump to St. Paul’s definition of Israel (cf. Romans 11:26), which means all Christians.

Regardless of how we understand what Jesus says now, what He says shuns the Canaanite woman.

He speaks to them—but not to her.

When you’re just as easily dismissed as this woman, how hard do you stomp, how quickly do you slam the door?

But faith endures. “She came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ And he answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs’” (Matthew 15:25-26).

The word for “dogs” in Greek is a diminutive, so we can say that Jesus calls this woman a “little dog,” but that doesn’t improve matters.

Any time you make a comparison between a woman and a dog, no matter the dog, it’s an insult.

When you make your request known and are insulted for it, how do you react?

Faith endures these things, choosing to see God’s love in the midst of frustration and anger and pain.

Faith catches God in His Words—and holds Him to what He’s said—what He’s promised.

“You call me a dog? You say I can’t have the children’s bread? Yes, Lord. But no master stops the dogs from eating the crumbs that the children drop. Don’t treat me like one of the children, I’m not one of the children.

You call me a dog—treat me like one of the dogs.

I’m satisfied with the crumbs.

Don’t do anything for me. Heal my daughter.

I know you to be God With Us.

I know you to be the Christ, the Son of David.

I know you to be merciful.

So all of this, all of what you give me, is so that I would more fully rely on You.

Ignore me.

Insult me.

Disagree with the desires of my heart.

Call me a dog, and tell me that I’m not worthy of what you are and have.

Give me a cross to bear—I’ll bear it.

I’ll never stop asking for it to be removed—but—and—I’ll never stop confessing You to be merciful.

I agree! Yes, Lord!

Now can I have my crumbs?

The crumbs that the dogs eat?

Now can I have my daily bread?

The bread that we need for each day, for which You, Yourself, have taught us to pray?

Unbelief responds to God’s Word in various ways, inevitably calling good, evil and evil, good.

Faith receives from God all that He gives.

Faith makes its requests known.

Faith trusts that all God does He does for our good.

Faith clings to our merciful God—who bears His cross to Jerusalem—to passion and death—to grave and hell—and back—to save us all.

So bear your cross patiently. In faith. Trusting that it is for your good.

Pray that it be removed. But even if it’s not, pray that our Lord would have mercy on you. Pray that he would help you. Pray that He will raise you up on the Last Day.

Pray that He will say to you what He said to the Canaanite woman: “Great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire” (Matthew 15:28).

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Reminiscere (Lent 2) Sermon, 2019
Matthew 15:21-28
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

The last verse of Matthew chapter three reads: “And behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:17).

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1).

That is to say, God the Father led Jesus the Son into the wilderness by God the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil.

The temptation of Christ is a Trinitarian act.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record the temptation of Jesus this way, and I think that’s a bit of trouble for us, because temptation is bad—we’d do away with temptation altogether, if we could, “God tempts no one” (James 1:13)—and—here, God leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He leads Jesus into a place of demonic temptation. He leads Jesus into temptation—in chapter four—and then, in chapter six, Jesus teaches us to pray, “And lead us not into temptation…” (Matthew 6:13).

Now here’s a problem.

Jesus teaches us to pray that our Father would lead us not into temptation right after our Father, with the Holy Spirit, drives His beloved Son, with whom He is well pleased, into the wilderness in order to be tempted by the devil.

Is this a pious hypocrisy? Does our Father in heaven lead Jesus into temptation so that we’ll do as God says but not as God does?

The temptation of Jesus has always been fascinating to me. Somewhere I picked up this image of the Holy Spirit beating the bushes around Jesus, chasing Him into the wilderness, towards the devil. That’s how Mark records it: “The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12).

Drove Him. Herded Him.

The temptation of Jesus is strange to us if we think that God would never or could never do such a thing as lead us into temptation.

 And the Lord’s Prayer, in its simplicity, seems to say as much, so clearly, that we have no problem moving right along.

But here’s what’s going on in the temptation of Jesus: He’s showing us how he delivers us from evil—by beating down satan under his own feet—so that satan is even beat down under our feet.

Here’s what I mean, and I know I’ve brought this up before, but this is really important: when Jesus teaches us to pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13), He’s not teaching us to ask God never to put us in a position to be tempted.

To do that, to ask God to prevent us from ever being in a position to be tempted is to ask God to prevent us from ever being able to put our faith into action.

Consider the times you’ve witnessed of Christ to your friends or family. When your friends, your children come into town over the weekend, and you say, “I always go to church. We—leave at 9:30.”

Are you not tempted in those moments to say, “I usually go to church, but…”

To pray, “Dear Father, never give me the opportunity to confess you before men,” is to pray “out of” and not “in” the name of Jesus.

If you look at it all together, it’s not a lack of temptation that we’re to pray for but a deliverance from evil. And that’s what Jesus has us pray next: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13).

It’s as if Jesus says—it’s as if He means us to pray—“Lead us not only into temptation but most especially deliver us from the evil one.”

That’s honest. That’s true.

We face temptation every day. Every visit from family and friends.

Don’t raise your hands, but this Easter—who plans on having family over? Who expects company? Who’s already thinking about the BBQ, the drinks, the Cadbury Crème Eggs, or those frightening pictures of children with gigantic, man-sized rabbits?

Now, who plans on hearing the Word of God and receiving the forgiveness of sins on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, at the Easter Sunrise service (7am), and again at the Resurrection of our Lord (10am)?

Will it be “I always go to church” or “I usually go to church”?

Especially when you are tempted, pray that God deliver you from the evil of agreeing with that temptation.

That Jesus is driven into the wilderness in order to be tempted by the devil shows us what He’s fighting for, what’s at stake.

What standing does the devil have?

Where does he stand with you?

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus beats down satan under His feet. Hear again how Jesus responds:

“’If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But [Jesus] answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by ever word that comes from the mouth of God”’” (Matthew 4:3-4).

“’If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you,” and “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”’ Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”’” (Matthew 4:5-7).

“’All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve”’” (Matthew 4:9-10).

There is no more perfect rebuttal, retort, or refutation of satan’s use of scripture than the pure word of God.

The devil has no standing with you, he can accuse all he wants, but he’s potsherd dry, his teeth are broken, his strength is cut off.

Jesus is led into temptation, and He delivers defeat to satan.

So that when we’re led into temptation, we can remind satan of how our Lord and Savior, our God, our Christ has already delivered us from every evil.

“Dear Father in heaven, lead us not only into temptation, but most especially, remind us of our deliverance for Christ’s sake. Deliver us from evil.”

“Then, the devil left [Jesus], and behold, angels came and were ministering to him” (Matthew 4:11).

The devil leaves.

Angels minister to our Lord.

Because now is not the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified. That hour is yet to come, when the Son of God is lifted high for all the world to see—that all the world would be saved.

Today, this Lent, and every day, bind yourself to Jesus the Christ. He endures temptation, cross, passion, and death that you would be spared the wrath of God against sin.

That’s true.

Believe what’s true, and you will be saved.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Invocavit Sermon, 2019
Matthew 4:1-11
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt