05 August 2018

Living on the Bread of Life Alone

Do not worry about what you will eat or what you will wear.  For the Lord your God provides you with the daily bread that you need for this body and life, solely out of His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.  He is the Author and Giver of Life, and He is the One who created your body, so He knows what you need, and in love He opens His gracious hand to feed and clothe you every day.  For all that, it is your duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him, to the glory of His Name.

Unfortunately, it is an ever-present danger that you are tempted to receive and regard the good gifts of the Lord without acknowledging Him as the Giver.  How easily you “fear, love, and trust” in things and creature comforts, in other people, and in your own wisdom, reason, and strength, instead of worshiping the one true God.  When you have what you want, you are smug and secure in your world, the skies are blue and sunny in your eyes, and sailing is smooth.  You easily forget about God and hardly care whether He even exists.  In apathetic ease, you take Him for granted.

But let those things all be gone, your possessions, your position in the world, your parents, spouse, and children, and then you are convinced that all hope is lost.  The skies are dark and stormy.  The deep waves roll over your head.  And in the depths of your despair, you curse the Lord your God as though He had deserted you.  Forgetting all His benefits, you long for the fleshpots of Egypt.

When your car starts making not-so-funny noises; when your plumbing backs up; when termites are eating your house and home; when the cupboard is bare, the bread basket is empty, and your Sugar Daddy “Bread King” hasn’t come through in the way that you expected, then you find that you are no different and no better than those crowds in this morning’s Holy Gospel.

When you do go looking for Jesus, it is too often in the wrong way and for all the wrong reasons.  Instead of perceiving His miraculous “Signs” as revelations of the divine Glory of His Cross, and as the promise of His Gospel, the forgiveness of your sins, and the free gift of Life and Salvation, you follow your senses and feelings in pursuit of the perishing goods and services of this world.

So the people then were “satisfied,” initially, with the bread and fish that Jesus had provided in the Feeding of the Five Thousand.  But they were already hungry for more of the same, in the hopes of keeping their bellies fed and filled and happy.  That is the hunger that drove their interest.

But that is not the purpose of the Lord Jesus.  He has not come to cater to the god of your belly.  He has not come to feed you with bread alone, but with the Word of God and His own Flesh.

He thus directs you away from the perishable things of this body and life to the eternal Life that God the Father grants to you and all the world in the Body of the incarnate Son.  The Lord Jesus teaches you to hunger and thirst for the Food that endures unto Life everlasting in body and soul.

He preaches to you this morning, that you should be turned away from your illusions and your selfish desires, from the lusts of your flesh and the growling of your stomach, to the good gifts of the Spirit of God.  That you should recognize the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus and hunger and thirst for His Righteousness and Holiness, rather than investing yourself, your time, your energy, and your money, in the pursuit of things that will not last and cannot save you.  This body and life and the good gifts of God that sustain this body and life are not to be despised or demonized, to be sure.  But neither are they to be idolized and worshiped.  The Gospel bestows something better, something divine and eternal.  The Gospel is nothing less than the Gift of God Himself in Christ.

But as soon as you recognize that there is something more and better to be sought than miraculous bread and fish for your belly, you also begin to ask the question: “What must I do to be saved?” “What must I do to work the works of God?”  You’re always picturing yourself at the center of the equation, and you think in terms of bargains and deals, contracts and negotiations, by which you would trade what you have for whatever it is that you want and need, both temporal and eternal.

It is true, of course, that in this life you do have work to do.  Even before the fall into sin, the Lord gave the man and the woman the blessed task of caring for and cultivating the Garden of Eden.  And after the fall, the Lord declared that man would eat by the toil of his hands and the sweat of his brow.  In the New Testament St. Paul indicates that those who lazily refuse to work should not be given to eat.  The birds of the air do not have barns or granaries, true, but they do go out to find and gather the food that God provides.  So you do have work that you are given to do in this life.

And yet, for all of that, you would end up with nothing for your efforts, if not for the gracious gifts of God.  He provides seed for the sower and bread for the eater.  He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the evil and the good, and He gives daily bread to all people by His grace.

Not to recognize that He is the One who daily and richly provides for all that you need, and not to give thanks for all His benefits in this body and life, is bad enough.  But it is far more grievous when you close your eyes to the gracious presence of the Holy Triune God and His eternal gifts to you in Holy Baptism, the preaching of the Gospel, Holy Absolution, and the Holy Communion.

When you regard those precious Means of Grace as something you must do for yourself, or as some kind of favor that you do for God, then you turn the Gospel inside-out and upside-down.  Likewise, when you think of going to church as a tedious burden you must bear and carry, or as though it were an impressive work and sacrifice on your part; if you go to earn brownie points from God, to impress others, or simply out of habit, then you have missed the point entirely.

The Lord commands you to sanctify His holy day, to hold His Word sacred, and gladly to give attention to the preaching of His Gospel, but not as though He needed anything from you.  It is not for His benefit but yours, for the sake of your salvation, that He calls you to Himself, gathers you in His Name, sanctifies you by the Liturgy of His Word and Sacrament, and thereby enlightens you with His Holy Spirit.  Not that you should serve Him, but that He should serve you by His grace.

That is one of the most difficult things for anyone to understand.  It clings so stubbornly to your sinful flesh that you must “do” and “work” something for God.  And you do not even realize that you are dead in your trespasses and sins, that you are lost without the forgiveness of Christ and His free gift of Life, and that you are utterly incapable of saving yourself or satisfying God’s Law.

So the Lord Jesus teaches you by His Word and Spirit that Life with God, now and forevermore, is given and received by His grace alone through faith alone; and that faith itself is not something you can “do” or “decide” for yourself, but a gracious gift of God that He works within you, where and when it pleases Him, by the preaching and ministry of the Gospel of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son.  No one comes to Him or believes in Him, except by the Word and Spirit of God the Father.

Apart from that divine gift of faith in the Gospel, you will never be able to understand the Lord Jesus, nor recognize Him for who and what He is, even as He comes to you here in His Liturgy.

It’s easy enough to criticize those who failed to receive Him as their Savior then.  But you are no different and no better.  You have the Word of God more readily available than ever before.  You have the preaching of the Holy Gospel, the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Holy Supper, the Word of Holy Absolution.  Yet, for all of that, you still long for the things of this dying world.

It is in His tender mercy, then, that Jesus patiently continues to come, to reveal Himself by His Word and Spirit, and to catechize you with His Law and His Gospel, unto repentance and faith in Him.  For the Holy Scriptures are all perfectly realized in Him, in His Body of flesh and blood, crucified and risen from the dead.  That is the testimony of God the Father and of the Holy Spirit, from the Baptism of the Lord Jesus to His Resurrection from the dead.  Thus do His Signs reveal.

So it is, for example, that the Old Testament Manna — as miraculous and beneficial as it was for Old Testament Israel — pointed beyond itself to the Christ who was to come in the Flesh, the Seed of the Woman.  For He alone is the true Bread of Life, who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made Man.

His Feeding of the Five Thousand was likewise far more than a single meal for all those bellies.  It, too, was a Sign that pointed beyond itself to that Living and Life-giving Bread from heaven, the Spiritual Meat and Drink indeed, which is nothing else and nothing less than Christ Jesus Himself.

He is the Word of God in the Flesh, who has sacrificed His Body and Life upon the Cross for you and poured out His Blood for your atonement; who now gives you His Body to eat and pours out His Blood for you to drink in the Holy Communion, that you might live in Him, and He in you.

And yet, how blind you are, striving for the bread that perishes at the expense of your life in Christ, and seeking a supposedly “spiritual” banquet and paradise of your own devising apart from Christ Jesus, even while He is standing right in front of you, spreading His Table with His Feast, given and poured out for you and your salvation.  You stand and stare, and dare to ask, “What is it?”

“Is that all there is to it?”  This “Manna” on the ground, which no one had ever known before the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh?  This little piece of what is supposed to be bread but tastes more like cardboard, and a single swallow of wine?  Where are the flesh-pots of Egypt, the choice cuts of real meat?  Where is the beef?  Where is the golden calf?  Where is the real party?  And where is your “Bread King” with the food and prosperity that you demand from your gods?

But Christ Jesus declares that He is right here with you, granting you Himself and all His benefits, His forgiveness, His Life, and His Salvation, despite the fact that you are so sinful and stubborn.

Do not go looking anywhere else.  You will not find salvation from your sin and death, and you will not find the Food and the Life that endure forever, because you will not find the only true God, “out there” somewhere; neither will you find any of that hidden away in your heart.  But the Lord is here with you and for you in the preaching of His Gospel, in the waters of His Baptism, in His spoken Word of Absolution, and in the Supper of His own holy Body and His precious Blood.  Thus does He invite you to feast upon this Meal He provides, that you might live forever in Him.

The Word and Promises of Christ in the Liturgy of His Gospel do require faith to be received and understood for what they really are.  They are what they are in any event, whether you believe it or not, but you are not able to recognize them or benefit from them apart from faith in Christ.  For the whole world and your own fallen flesh are not able to comprehend these holy things.  But faith comes by the hearing of the Word of Christ, as He opens your ears, your heart, and your mind, to receive the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.  Give attention to His Word, therefore.  Hear and heed His preaching.  Rest yourself in His forgiveness, and eat the Food with which He feeds you.

Christ here invites you to a Meal which delivers you from death and gives to you eternal Life.  Anyone who eats of it will live by faith in Him; so that, even if all deaths were combined into one and they all attacked you at will, you would still have nothing to fear.  Death cannot harm you, not when you have received this Cup and eaten this Bread.  Though death and hell combine to do their worst, attacking you most fiercely — with cancer and strokes and heart disease, arthritis, infection, or what have you — they are not able to consume you or devour you.  For Christ will resurrect you on the Last Day.  Even if you are buried miles underground, torn apart and eaten by wolves, or burned and scattered to the winds, yet shall you live in Him, both body and soul, forever and ever.

Therefore, take and eat this Food that Christ now sets before you; drink this Cup that He pours out for you here.  It is not a work that you must do, but a Meal you are given to eat and drink in peace. For you there is nothing else but to give thanks, since everything here at His Table is a Gift freely given by the grace of God in Christ.  Here there is the free and full forgiveness of your sins, so that nothing is counted or held against you.  There is no condemnation for you in Christ Jesus.  Though your own body may betray you, and your blood may run slow and thin within your veins, His Body and Blood will never fail or fall short, but shall bestow upon you the Life that endures forever.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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