It happens again that there is a large crowd which is hungry and has no food to eat. And they have no money to purchase what they need. But they are gathered by and for the Word of Jesus, and they are taught to rely upon His Word and to live in body and soul by the food that He provides.
Previously it was the crowd of five thousand men in Jewish territory, along with their women and children, whom the Lord Jesus fed and satisfied from the five loaves of bread and a few fishes. All four of the Holy Gospels include that story, the miraculous “Feeding of the Five Thousand.”
Now it is another feeding, this time of four thousand Gentiles in Gentile territory. And though it may seem odd to our way of thinking, the Evangelist St. Mark has made of point of providing the statistics, that is, the numbers of things involved, and to make a comparison of the two stories on that basis. In the Bible, such numbers are often significant of theological concerns.
The five loaves of bread that fed the five thousand call to mind the five books of Moses, which Jesus fulfills in Himself as the promised Messiah of Israel. But the seven loaves of bread with which He now feeds the four thousand — and the seven baskets of the broken bread remaining — signify the seven days of the creation story, and therefore the whole world, brought into being by the Word and Spirit of God, and given Sabbath Rest in the completion of His good work.
So, too, the sevens of this feeding story point to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, whom Christ Jesus pours out upon His Church on Pentecost Day, and by whom He renews His good creation.
The number seven also has Gentile connotations. For example, there are the seven deacons in the Acts of the Apostles, appointed to serve the tables of the Gentile Christians; and seven letters in the Book of the Revelation, which St. John addresses to the seven congregations of Asia Minor.
Likewise, the number four thousand suggests the four corners of the globe — East and West, North and South — multiplied by the number of completeness, that is, by 1000, which is 10 three times over (like the Ten Commandments of the Holy Trinity). It embraces all the nations of the world.
There were in the previous case twelve baskets remaining from the feeding of the five thousand, signifying the twelve tribes of old Israel and the twelve Apostles of the New Israel of Christ. And now the seven baskets remaining from this feeding of the four thousand signify that Jesus feeds His entire Church on earth, both Jews and Gentiles, and disciples from all nations, including you.
Jesus is the Lord, the great Good Shepherd of His sheep, who leads His flock by His Word, even through the wilderness, into the green pastures of His Church. Even in the midst of sin and death, He feeds His lambs and sheep with food from His Table, as He does for you in His Holy Supper. He provides the living Bread and life-giving Meat and Drink for both your body and your soul.
The Lord Jesus is not limited by the limited resources of this fallen and perishing world. You have heard, for example, how He fed those who were with Him for three days in the desert wilderness. And you have also been called to live with Him under the Cross — to be crucified, dead, and buried with the Lord Jesus, by your Baptism into His death, as you heard from St. Paul last week — in the sure and certain hope of His Resurrection from the dead. Already now, by faith in His crucified and risen body, you do begin to live with Him and to walk with Him in newness of life.
You live with Him, and the desert actually becomes a kind of paradise, because Christ Jesus provides an overabundance of all that you need, with room to spare and always more left over. Indeed, His Cup of Salvation is poured out for you and overflows with His forgiveness of sins and His gift of life. He supplies more than enough for all the nations; for the people of all times and places; for all the men, women, and children; for His one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church.
Along with this gracious general Providence of God in Christ, the feeding of the four thousand also teaches you concerning the Lord’s Supper. In both cases, both then and now, He takes the bread, He gives thanks, He breaks the bread, and He gives it to His disciples. As He fed the bodies of that hungry crowd, so does He feed His people with His own holy Body and precious Blood.
By His grace and power, there is never any lack. The Food that He provides never runs out. What is more, that divine Food with which He feeds you is more than sufficient to feed your body and soul, to nourish your Christian faith and life, and to carry you home to life everlasting in heaven.
Notice that Jesus makes a point of giving the food that He provides to His disciples — that is, to His holy Apostles, the Ministers of His Gospel — that they should give this food to the people.
Even though His own disciples often do not understand what He is saying and doing — and they may forget the feeding that He has previously done (such as when He fed the five thousand) — nevertheless, He calls them into His service, and He sends them to His people to act in His Name.
In the same way, think about how the Lord Jesus has always fed and clothed and cared for you in every way, for your body and life on earth, and for your life and salvation in the Kingdom of God. And yet, how often do you also wonder and worry, and doubt, and question where and how your needs will be met tomorrow and the next day? You are as slow to catch on as those disciples were.
In each and every case, it is the one Lord Jesus Christ who feeds His flock. But He continues to do so through His called and ordained servants of His Word, also to this day and in this place.
In the words and actions of His servants, in their preaching and ministry by His Word, Christ the Lord is speaking and acting to feed you with His gifts of life: forgiveness and life and salvation.
All of this Jesus does out of His divine compassion for you and for all people, who are lost and helpless without Him, like lambs and sheep without a shepherd to feed, protect, and care for them.
Such “compassion” is a divine attribute. For the Lord, the one true God, is moved with such compassion in the very depths of His Being, in the depths of the Father’s Love for His Son, and in the Son’s Love for His Father in the Holy Spirit.
This word compassion indicates that His guts (His intestines) churned within Him on account of His tender grace and mercy toward the helpless, the hopeless, and the hurting.
The same root word for guts (or intestines) has sacrificial implications on the basis of the Old Testament animal sacrifices. But here it is pointing to the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Himself. To be sure, the Lord’s deep compassion for you and for all people took Him to the Cross on your behalf, to sacrifice Himself, His body and life, His guts and intestines, for your salvation.
It is from His Cross, with the fruits of His own Sacrifice there, that He now and always feeds you here within His Church on earth through the ministry of His called and ordained servants, who are your shepherds in His Name. He feeds you on the green pastures of His Word in their preaching of His Holy Gospel, and He feeds you with His own Body and Blood in the Holy Communion.
As I have said, the Lord Jesus does all of this out of His deep divine compassion for you, so that you are not condemned to death and damnation, but you have life and salvation in Him forever.
With such tender compassion for you, Jesus has suffered and died in your stead for the forgiveness of all your sins. And He is risen from the dead for you, in order to open up heaven as your home.
To this day, and even to the close of the age, in His steadfast love and mercy for you, He feeds you with the Bread of Life, which is His sacrificial Body given for you, and He pours out for you the overflowing Cup of His Salvation, which is the New Testament in His own sacrificial Blood.
Eat well, therefore. Be nourished, satisfied, and sustained in body and soul by this Food and Drink that Jesus provides for you from His own hand, which your pastors give to you by His authority.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
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