Sunday, August 24, 2008

Revelation, Recognition, and Reckoning

Texts: Exodus 1:8-2:10; Romans 10:5-17; Matthew 16:13-20

HOW WELL DO WE KNOW the men who are running for President of the United States this year? One candidate, we know a great deal about his public career, but maybe not so much about his private life. The other candidate, we’re still learning who he is as a policy-maker and as a private citizen. One thing good about the way our American presidential campaigns seem to go on and on, it’s more likely that we’ll find out what we need to know about the candidates before the first Tuesday in November.

How are we going to find that out? I doubt any of us here know Senator McCain or Senator Obama personally.

Well, we can listen to their speeches and interviews, and to how they do in the debates this Fall. But how do we know if they really mean what they say, or if it’s all just political rhetoric?

Maybe we’ll rely on our gut feelings about how each man looks and how he carries himself. But haven’t we all known times when somebody who seemed really impressive at first turned out to be a real disappointment? How are we going to get to the real, honest, behind-the-scenes truth about our presidential candidates?

I guess we’ll have to rely on third party sources. Like the newspapers. And the TV news. And talk radio. And Internet bloggers. These sources have revealed a lot about these two men since they first started running-- when was it, sometime in the Teddy Roosevelt administration?-- and hopefully we’ll get enough reliable information from them before it’s time to vote.

But what do we do when there’s something we absolutely have to know about a certain Person, but there’s no earthly, human way we can find it out? What if it’s desperately important that we get a particular answer concerning this Man, and we don’t even know enough to ask the question? What if our very lives and futures--not just for the next four or eight years, but on into eternity--depend on knowing who this Man is and what He is doing? And what if the truth about Him were so cosmic, so unimaginable, that we’d never think or dream of trying to discover it for ourselves?

We’d really be stuck, wouldn’t we? Our own intellect couldn’t tell us what we needed to know. Our instincts and gut feelings couldn’t lead us to the truth. Human authorities and pundits would be no help to us at all. We’d go to our doom and die and rot in dark ignorance unless something more than human, something beyond the circles of this world comes to us and opens our minds and reveals to us the identity and true character of this most important of men.

There is a Man like that, and for the last two thousand years He has been asking men and women of every race and country, "Who do you say I, the Son of Man, am?" Jesus of Nazareth confronts us with His person and His work and demands that human beings confess and acknowledge who and what we understand Him to be. Our whole fate into eternity depends on getting the answer right, and our of our own human knowledge and initiative we never, ever can.

But, we protest, is it really like that? After all, isn’t Jesus like our presidential candidates? Can’t we just be reasonable about Him, too, if we’re deciding if this Man Jesus really is the Savior and Christ? It’s like, the Press gives us the information about the candidates, we make a choice. Same way, the Bible tells us about the teachings and miracles of Jesus, and we say, "Yes, on that evidence, our reason tells us that He is the Messiah and Lord of all." Isn’t it as simple as that?

Afraid not. In our passage in Matthew 16, Jesus and His disciples are making a retreat in the hills around Caesarea Philippi. As they sit there, Jesus asks the disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" Could they honestly answer that the people recognised Him for who and what He really was? No! All those crowds had heard the glorious teaching from Jesus’ lips. The people has seen the miracles our Lord performed. Countless many of them had benefitted from His wonders themselves. Did the crowds get the answer to Jesus’ question right?

No. The disciples had to answer, "Some say you’re John the Baptist raised from the dead. Other people say you’re Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the other prophets, brought back to life." The people had all the evidence about Jesus right in front of them, but their reason and gut feelings and human ability all rolled up together could never bring them to the deep truth of who the Son of Man is.

But then Jesus says to His disciples, "But who do you say the Son of Man is?"
And Simon Peter immediately declares, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!"

No human reasoning could have brought Peter to that conclusion. For one thing, Peter as a good Jew, who knew good and well that the Lord, the living God of Israel, does not have sons and daughters the way the pagan so-called gods were said to. The idea was totally beyond his imagining. But he declared it: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!" and it was the eternal truth. As John Calvin puts it, "Though Peter did not yet understand distinctly in what way Christ was the begotten of God, he was so fully persuaded of the dignity of Christ, that he believed Him to come from God, not like other men, but by the inhabitation of the true and living Godhead in His flesh."

How did Peter know? How was he persuaded? Jesus says this: "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven!" God alone, by the power of His Holy Spirit, was able to reveal to Peter and the other disciples who and what Jesus of Nazareth was and is and always will be. Not the opinion of the crowd, not the judgement of the religious leaders, not even the reasoning of Peter’s own mind could have brought him to recognise that truth, only the revelation of the Father in heaven.

Our Lord goes on to say, "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it."

The name "Peter" means "a rock," like we might call someone "Rocky." So is our Lord now saying that He will build His salvation community, His church, on the flesh-and-blood man Peter? Some Bible interpreters think so, and they give pretty persuasive answers why. But others point out that everywhere in Scripture only God is described as the Rock of our salvation, and upon Him alone must we ground our faith, for by Him alone we are saved. Jesus has just blessed Peter for recognising what His Father in heaven has revealed to him, and does Christ now undo that and give His glory to a mortal man, however enlightened? Does He say, "You are Peter, Rocky, and on you I will build my church?" No, our Lord says, "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church," that is, upon the Holy Spirit-revealed recognition and declaration that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Jesus says, "The gates of Hades"-- all the powers of death and the grave-- "will not prevail against" His church. How will He effect this? He says to Peter: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

This word "you" is indeed singular. For Peter is the first representative of how God would use His power on earth to open the kingdom of heaven to mankind. Peter was the first in the church to receive God’s revelation of Christ as God and to confess that it is so. Peter was appointed by God to be the first to preach the word of Christ crucified for our sins and risen for our new life, on the day of Pentecost when he commanded the people to repent and be baptised for the remission of sins. Peter was the first to declare to the Jewish authorities that the name of Jesus Christ is the only one given under heaven by which we must be saved. He was the first to enter a Gentile’s home and open up to him and his household the riches of grace that seemed to be reserved for the Jews.

In all these things, Peter uses the power of the keys, which is nothing less than the preaching of the Word of God, calling people to believe and be saved. It is by the preaching of the Word of God that the Holy Spirit opens the minds of sinners and reveals the saving power of Jesus Christ.

Peter was the first to do this, but he was not the last. What does it say in our Romans passage? "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" For "faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ." Through the preaching of the Word the Lord our God goes on revealing to His elect people who and what His Son Jesus Christ is, and what He has accomplished on our behalf. With His Word preached comes the blessing of His Holy Spirit, to bring people from unbelief to belief, from self-righteousness to the righteousness of God.

But with this revelation there comes a reckoning. The Word of God preached can bind as well as loose. For as Paul says in Romans, "Not all have obeyed our good news." When the word of God is preached, not everyone recognises that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. They go on thinking He’s only a human prophet. Or a Great Teacher. Or a Good Moral Example whom they can come up to, if they just try hard enough. Sadly, there are those who keep wanting to pull Christ down out of heaven to their level. Others feel Jesus needs their help, as if they needed to pull Him up from the dead. At the end of days, the Word of God will witness against such people in the judgement.

In the days before Moses was born, the King of Egypt stopped recognising the greatness of Joseph. He was blind to the special blessings the Lord had laid on His chosen people, the Hebrews. In fact, he was jealous of God’s people, and set out to destroy them as a separate nation. He certainly wouldn’t have recognised anything special in the infant Moses. But God was working in the Hebrews and He was working in the life of Moses, preparing him to be the one who would reveal God to His people and to all who would recognise the Lord and believe. At the same time, the word spoken by Moses brought judgement to Pharoah and all Egypt with him.

Even more, now, God calls us to hear Him as He reveals Himself in His Son Jesus Christ through His Word read and preached. By His word He brings us to recognise Jesus Christ for who He really is, and to become like Peter, ready to confess with our mouths that Jesus is the only Lord, risen from the dead for our salvation.

It is on the rock of divine revelation recognised, confessed, and proclaimed that Jesus Christ builds His Church, such that the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. God reveals Himself and opens the kingdom of heaven by the means He has established, now and forever. Not by the church’s good works. Not by praise bands or well-rehearsed choirs. Not by meetings and conferences and general assemblies. Not by dressing up or dressing down, not by candles and incense or by the latest sound systems or high-tech extravaganzas. These things can support and promote the Word-- or they can detract from it. Despite all our human devices, the God of power and might still reveals the truth of Christ in the way He always has: in the preaching of His word by fallible, erring human beings like Simon Peter, human beings who have been inspired by the Holy Spirit to confess before the world, "You, Jesus, are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."

God gives this message to everyone who believes. We’re not all called to be ordained preachers, or Bible study leaders, or Sunday School teachers. But God instills in every Christian the word that is near us, on our lips and in our hearts, the word of faith that Peter and all the apostles and every faithful preacher has always proclaimed: Jesus Christ is Lord, and all who call upon His name will be saved.

Who do you say the Son of Man is? Believe the good news that your Father in heaven has revealed to you! Recognise your Savior in love and obedience, and may it always be reckoned to you as blessedness, now and in the world to come.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Great Physician's Diagnosis

Texts: Ezekiel 36:22-32; Matthew 15:1-20

WE'RE A VERY HEALTH-CONSCIOUS nation. One way we raise health awareness is by dedicating certain weeks or months to some disease or other. Like, February is National Heart Month. So all through every February the Heart Association runs public service announcements urging us to take care of our hearts. You'll hear about the symptoms of heart attack and heart disease and congestive heart failure, and always you'll be urged to go see your physician to get checked out if you're experiencing any of these.

In the same spirit, how would it be if a nonprofit action group-- let's call it the Church-- would run a PSA something like this (cue the ominous music and the caring and serious announcer):

"Sluggishness in doing good. Rebelliousness against God. Evil thoughts. Evil deeds. Murder. Adultery. Sexual immorality. Theft. False testimony. Slander. These are all symptoms of Hard and Dirty Heart. Think you don't have any of these symptoms? That's a sure sign of Pride--the most dangerous symptom of all.

"100% of all people everywhere are infected with Hard and Dirty Heart, and without treatment, the condition is 100% fatal.

"But there is hope! Make an appointment with Jesus Christ the Great Physician at your local church this coming Sunday. He has the medicine to cure Hard and Dirty Heart and make your heart clean towards God and soft towards your fellow man. Don't delay! Remember, without Jesus Christ, the death rate is 100%. With His treatment, your cure is 100% guaranteed!

"This announcement has been brought to you by the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church."

Think that'd go over on KDKA or Froggy 104? Or would the listeners think it was over the top?
They shouldn't. And we shouldn't. Of all health awareness announcements, it's the one where we can be assured that the statistics are totally accurate and the advice is sure.

Jesus Christ is known as the Great Physician. That's largely because of His healing ministry when He walked this earth. But even more, Jesus is the Great Physician because He's the only one who can diagnose our basic human sickness-- without error or mistake. He's the only doctor who can deliver an absolutely effective cure.

And every last human being is or ought to submit to His care and be His patient.

When you're a patient, you're the one being acted upon. The physician is the agent. He's the one giving the medicine, running the tests, performing the surgery. Now today, we're urged to be "partners" in our medical care, and not just patients. And to a great extent that's a good thing. But there comes a time when you're a patient, pure and simple, and there's no arguing about "partnership." When you're under anesthesia, you're not cooperating with your surgeon, it's all up to him or her.

If that's so for our human physicians, how much more is it true for the Great Physician, Jesus Christ, the Son of God!

Our reading from Ezekiel should open our eyes to the truth of this. The Lord God of Israel, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is speaking to the exiles in Babylon. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, He's also speaking to us. Notice this: all through this passage it's all about the Lord and what He will do and why He will do it. He will show the holiness of His great name. He will take His people out from among the nations and bring them back into their own land. He will make them clean. He will put His Spirit in them. He will cause their land to be prosperous. And so on and on. The Lord God is the Great Physician of His people Israel, and the only role they have as His patients is to loathe themselves for their disease, for their sins and their detestable practices.
There's a joke that goes, "What's the difference between God and a surgeon?" Answer: "God doesn't think He's a surgeon." Well, here in Ezekiel 36, the Lord God begs to differ. He is Israel's surgeon, and He's taking on their case strictly for the sake of His holy Name. With a human physician that would be insufferable. For God, it is only just and right. He alone is worthy of all honor, glory, and praise. The universe will be healthy and whole only when every creature gives God the worship due His name. But here, God's own chosen people have caused Him to be blasphemed among the Gentiles. The pagan nations were saying, "Ha! The Lord God of Israel, He isn't much! He took on that miserable people, He gave them His laws and covenants and put them in that fine and fertile land. And all they've done is disobey Him and make Him look weak! Those people were so bad, He couldn't keep His promises to them and had to kick them out of their promised land! He must not be so holy as He claims!"

Do we think we're better than our ancient ancestors the Jews? We don't dare. How often do unbelievers say that kind of thing about Christians today? Is the Lord's name profaned in the world because of our hard and dirty hearts? I'm afraid too often, it is.

But the Lord our God is holy. He is able to cure Israel of their deadly disease, and He is able to cure us. And He will do it, not for our sake, but for the sake of His holy Name, so all the nations round about, so all the unbelievers who doubt His power will know that He and He alone is the great and Sovereign Lord.

The Great Physician diagnoses our problem and its cure in verses 25 and 26. He says, "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols." The Pharisees in Jesus' day were concerned to the point of panic with ritual uncleanness: God Almighty is concerned with the dirtiness of our thoughts and deeds. Our hearts and minds are filthy with idols and their worship. True, we don't physically bow down to idols of wood and stone. But we're still idolaters. You know what idol every one of us worships every day? The idol of Self. It's the idol Satan set up in the hearts of Adam and Eve way back in the Garden of Eden, and we humans have been burning incense and making sacrifices to Ourselves as gods and goddesses ever since.

The Lord knows we need to be cured of the dread heart disease of Self and Sin, because it's 100% fatal. The Lord says in verse 26, "I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh."

Think what it means to have a heart of stone. Can a heart made of stone beat? Can it pump blood through the body to keep it alive? Can it feel compassion towards its neighbor? Can it swell with joy towards its Lord and Creator? Can a heart of stone even be alive? No, no, no, no, no, and no! A heart of stone is dead. A heart of stone can do nothing, simply nothing to change or soften or cure itself.

And a heart of stone is what every man, woman, and child ever born on this planet starts out with. We all are born hard-hearted and unclean, caring only about ourselves and what will make us happy and fulfilled. And if anyone else gets in the way, watch out!

Our only hope is the merciful intervention of the Great Physician. Our only help is the Lord God making us His patient and giving us a new hearts of flesh instead of our old hearts of stone.

And here is the good news! The operation doesn't depend on me or you! The Holy Spirit comes to us while we are still dead in our sins and makes us alive in Jesus Christ. God Himself takes all the initiative, He does all the work, God in Christ suffered all the pain. The Word of God is the Great Physician's scalpel that cuts away our disease. The shed blood of Christ is the medicine that washes out our impurities and makes us healthy and whole.

The new heart God promised the house of Israel in Ezekiel 36 is the same one He gives to us-- it is the new and clean heart of Jesus Christ Himself. His heart is the one that makes us alive. His heart is the one that now beats in us with compassion towards our neighbor. His heart is the heart in us that we lift up with joy, thanks, and praise towards our Father in heaven.

Some people might say, "I don't want the new heart of Jesus Christ in me. I'm offended because God says He's going to save me only to vindicate His own holiness. I'm insulted because He says there's nothing special or good or deserving in me that forces Him to come and cure me. I'm going to be saved on my own terms, or not at all!"

Oh, you silly human! Don't you realize that you can't be saved on your own terms? Don't you understand that when the Great Physician operates on you for the sake of His holy Name, that's the best and most wonderful thing He can ever do for you?

The benefits of God's surgery were wonderful enough under the Old Covenant: Plentiful crops, prosperous towns, plentiful livestock, and a burgeoning population. Under the New Covenant in the blood of Christ, it's even better! We have gained nothing less than eternal unity with the holy heart of God! For now for Jesus Christ Himself keeps God's laws and decrees within us. Jesus Himself, by His new and clean heart working within us, does in us what is pleasing towards God, and brings us every blessing of obedience.

But there is still one big problem, of course. Our new and true heart is the heart of Jesus Christ, yes. But our old dead, dirty, stoney hearts keep wanting to push Jesus aside and go back to running the show. They tell us all sorts of deadly lies about how things can be. And here's the deadliest lie of all: It's when our old sinful hearts whisper, "Hey, I've got it under control! Jesus has saved you, but now I can handle it by myself! I can keep God happy with you. I'll just use Jesus as a Good Example and make sure you keep all the rules about how to be good and acceptable to God, no sweat! Whaddya say?"

This is a lie from the pit of Hell. This was the false cure the Pharisees were perpetrating in Jesus' day. They thought they were the nation's spiritual physicians, but their prescription was all wrong. They thought people could be holy before God by following outward rules. Wash your hands a certain way before you eat! Set up a trust to send all your spare cash to the temple fund, even if it means Mom and Dad will starve! No, you can not haz cheezburger--that's milk and beef in the same meal! The Pharisees were pushing all these outward practices like magic pills to make the people pleasing to the Lord. They'd totally forgotten that the outward laws and ordinances given through Moses were always about what a person was like on the inside. It was always about having a clean and loving heart before God and man. The ceremonial laws were never supposed to be a substitute for true inward spiritual health. But that's what the Pharisees had made of them.

Jesus calls the Pharisees "blind guides." He could've called them "quack doctors," too. He told Peter and the other disciples not to follow them, and He tells us, His modern-day disciples, the same thing. We don't need rules and regimens for holy living, we need the radical heart surgery performed exclusively by the Great Physician, Jesus Christ.

Once Jesus has done His work in us, the only follow-up directive is for us to wholly rely on Him. He is in us, by His Spirit, living His pure life of obedience within us and through us. Always, continually, refer all your troubles, all your temptations, all your fears back to Him and His finished work on the Cross. He will make sure that the fruit of a clean heart, like pure thoughts, affirmation of life, faithfulness, sexual purity, respect for others' property, truthfulness, gracious speech, and every other virtue-- that all these will proceed out of you without your being able to stop them!

For Jesus did not save you then just walk away. No, He sustains His new life in you by the power of His Holy Spirit. He ministers to you by His means of grace; that is, by the preaching of His holy Word and by partaking in His Holy Sacraments. Maybe you'd never thought of Holy Communion as a health tonic. But it is. Here at the Lord's Table Jesus feeds us with His body and cleanses us with His blood. Here our hearts are lifted up to Him and we and all His saints are joined more closely to His eternal life. Here we are filled with a new sense of what our Lord did for us when He died for our sins on Calvary and what He keeps on doing for us, day after day after day.

Believe the Great Physician's diagnosis. Accept the new heart He died to give you. Live in the joy of His Holy Spirit. Jesus lived and died and rose again to make Hard and Dirty Heart a disease of the past. In humility and thanksgiving, for the sake of God's holy Name, come, receive the Cure He offers you, and be healthy and whole, alive and utterly, joyfully clean. ________________________

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Sunday, August 3, 2008

Giving What We Have Received

Texts: Isaiah 55:1-8; Romans 11:25-36; Matthew 14:13-21

THERE’S AN EXPRESSION THAT goes, "You can’t give what you haven’t got." It’s used a lot in business and education. It stands to reason: If, say, you don’t know beans about differential calculus, you can’t teach it. If you have no authority to give orders, you can’t give someone else the authority to give orders.

But there’s another side to it: It’s not just that you can’t give what you haven’t got, you also won’t and don’t and can’t give what you don’t know you have! I imagine a lot of job seekers sell themselves short telling interviewers they can’t do something they’re perfectly capable of, if they only knew they had it in them.

But once you know what you have, and you know there’s a need for it, will you give it? That’s the question that faces us in our Gospel lesson today.

St. Matthew begins by saying, "Now when Jesus heard this." That is, He’d heard that King Herod had cruelly and unjustly put to death John the Baptist. John was Jesus’ own cousin, and Jesus Himself said John was the greatest prophet God had ever sent to His people Israel. Jesus knew He needed to get away and mourn for John, and to think and pray about what John’s death would mean for the next stage in His own ministry.

But the crowds didn’t care about Jesus’ loss or Jesus’ needs. Poor souls! They were eaten up with needs of their own. So they ran around the margin of the lake, and by the time the boat got Jesus there, there were all the people, waiting for Him.

Matthew tells us that Jesus our Savior had compassion on them. If He were merely human, He might have said, "This is too much! I have nothing left to give." But Jesus continually received power from His Father in heaven. The Holy Spirit was One with Him, empowering Him, strengthening Him, giving Him the divine patience He needed. Jesus knew what He had, and He was able to give the crowds what they needed. And so throughout that long day, Jesus healed their sick, and as Mark and Luke tell us, He taught them about the Kingdom of God.

But then it was evening. The hour was late, past time for supper. "We’re done here!" our Lord’s disciples say. "It’s time for the crowds to go away and buy themselves something to eat!"

That wasn’t a breach of hospitality; it was simply facing reality. The crowds weren’t the disciples’ guests; they weren’t even a properly assembled congregation. Each person was there to get his own needs and wants met, not to be part of a unified group. In the ordinary way of things, the disciples had no obligation to these people whatsoever. In fact, the disciples were actually being kind to them, by asking Jesus to dismiss the crowds and let them go.

But Jesus doesn’t do things in the ordinary way. He responds, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat."

Whaaaattt??? The disciples are supposed to give all these people supper? How can Jesus ask that? It’s a good chance the disciples had planned to buy food for this retreat in the villages, themselves! How can Jesus tell them to give what they hadn’t got?

They reply, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." That’d be something like small pita breads, and the fish would have been dried and salted and pretty small, too. But what is that among so many? You can’t give what you haven’t got, and when it comes to feeding maybe 15,000 people all told, five little loaves and fishes are like nothing!

The disciples had nothing to give! That was the problem! Or was the real problem that they weren’t giving something they didn’t know they actually had?

Jesus said, "Bring them [that is, the loaves and fish] here to me." And He orders the crowds to sit down on the grass.

Let’s not rush by this. First of all, Jesus is giving the people rest. The custom in that time was that the teacher sat to teach, and the learners stood to hear him. Only if you were crippled or absolutely infirm did you sit down when the rabbi spoke. If you want to get an idea of this, attend a Greek Orthodox service. Even the most elderly will stand for hours, out of respect for the divine Word given them in the liturgy.

So Jesus gives them rest, by ordering them to sit down. But He gives them something else. By commanding them to sit down in His presence, He makes of them a single family, sitting down to table with Jesus Himself as the father of the family presiding over the meal. Before they’d had a single bite to eat, Jesus gave these people something they didn’t have before: Community, oneness, family unity in the presence of God. It’s something He could give, for He has known it from eternity in the communion of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

They sat, and Jesus took the bit of food into His hands. Our translation says "He blessed and broke the loaves." But there really should be a comma after "blessed," because by the original Greek and by the ancient custom of the Jewish father at a family meal, Jesus surely blessed God for the food and for God’s power that was about to be demonstrated in and through this food. We must not visualize our Lord saying some sort of special holy words over this bread and fish, that magically caused them to multiply! No, what Jesus did here He did in the power and communion and fellowship of His Father in heaven.

And once Jesus had broken the bread and the fish, He gave it to His disciples. And now, they had something to give and they knew they had something to give! And they gave, and gave, and gave, until every last man, woman, and child had eaten his or her fill and every disciple was in charge of a full basket of leftovers to take home.

But did the disciples understand then and there what it was they really had to give, there in that deserted place on the other side of the Sea of Galilee? Do we know what we have to give, when Jesus sends us into the world as His church?

After our Lord’s death and resurrection, they knew. They knew they had much more to give than mere physical bread. No, beyond any physical food, the disciples learned they possessed and could give away the most nourishing Food of all: Jesus Christ Himself, the Bread of heaven. This is the Food which if anyone eats of it, he will never hunger again. This is the eternal food that we and all Jesus’ disciples have received to give to the world.

Isn’t that what the Holy Spirit says through the prophet Isaiah? He says,

"Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live."

Jesus Christ is the banquet to which we are called. Jesus Christ is the heavenly Bread sufficient to feed the hungry soul. His blood is the heavenly wine that washes away the thirst of desperation and sin. His body was broken and torn on Calvary’s cross to offer us eternal food that truly satisfies; His blood was poured out to gives us salvation and peace without money and without price.

As Jesus commanded the disciples that evening long ago, so now He commands His Church: "You give them something to eat." And God has given us such an abundance to give away! Jesus Himself is the One we have received, and He is the One we give. Jesus Himself nourishes us through His Word and Sacraments, and with Him we nourish the lost and hungry people of this fallen world.

We don’t have to belong to big churches with money and members and ministries tumbling out the windows in order to satisfy the deepest needs of the crowds at our door! People of God! Every church where Jesus Christ is faithfully preached as crucified for our sins and risen for our life has something to give! Every church where the feast of God is spread in the royal banquet of Holy Communion, every church where sins are shown to be washed away in the waters of Baptism can satisfy the needs of the hungry world! Every church that knows that the living Christ dwells among them, every church that faithfully believes and proclaims Christ and Him crucified-- that church has all it needs to offer the crowds in its time and place. For it is giving what it has received: Jesus Christ, the Bread of heaven.

What is more, that church can offer the sin-sick, heart-hungry crowds community in Christ. That church-- no, this church can offer the lost, hurting, and hungry people of Butler County membership in a family, where Jesus Christ sits at the head of the Table and breaks and gives His own body to satisfy and heal us all.

You don’t have to send people away to be fed elsewhere. And you don’t have to work and labor to buy the bread your soul needs. Jesus Christ has paid for it by His blood. Jesus Christ is the Bread that satisfies the hungry soul. He is here among you, given to you by grace, received by you in faith. Delight in Him, feed on Him, and turn and joyfully give what you have received.