Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Bread That I Shall Give Is My Flesh

 John 6:1-15

✠ In the name of the Father of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    At the end of today’s Gospel, the people said about Jesus, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.”  When they spoke of “the Prophet,” they were referring to the promise that the Lord had made to Moses, when the children of Israel were afraid to hear the thundering voice of God on Mt. Sinai.  The Lord told Moses, “I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth.”
    And in that sense, the people were right.  Jesus is that promised Prophet, the New and Greater Moses, who speaks God’s words to His people, who leads you and feeds you and intercedes for you.  Just consider what happens in today’s Gospel.  In the same way that  Moses led the children of Israel through the Red Sea, so also Jesus goes across the Sea of Galilee (6:1), and a great multitude follows Him.  And why did they follow Him?  Because of His signs which He performed on those who were diseased (6:2), like Moses who had performed great signs in Egypt before Pharaoh.  And just as Moses went up Mt. Sinai with the elders of Israel, and they saw God and ate and drank, so also Jesus here ascends a mountain with His disciples, and in Him the people would see God and eat and drink (6:3).  Furthermore, it is written here that the Passover was near (6:4), the sacrificing of the unblemished Lamb whose blood protects from death.  In this Gospel, then, the Lord is teaching you that He is your greater Moses.  He alone is the One who sustains and leads you safely across the wilderness of this fallen world.  He is the One who comes after Moses, your Joshua, who leads you through death into the Promised Land and eternal life.

    Jesus is not only your Moses, He is also your manna.  He said, “I am the Living Bread which came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world (6:51).”  So when we hear of a miracle like the feeding of the 5000, we know that its significance doesn’t end with the earthly bread of that time and place.  No, here is pictured the true Manna, the Bread of Life which is still being distributed to the multitude today, to you in the Sacrament of the Altar.

    Seeing all the people coming to Him, Jesus asks Philip a question to test him.  Now when the Lord tests you, He does so not to find out information about you that He didn’t already know, but ultimately to direct your faith to the right place and strengthen it.  And so the Lord asks, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?”  In this way the Lord leads Philip to despair of his own ability to do anything to solve this problem.  “Even if we had 200 days’ worth of wages, we still couldn’t buy nearly enough food.”  The disciples were helpless to do anything.  The first thing about having the right faith is knowing what not to trust in.  The disciples were not to trust in themselves or their own resources.

    It’s the same way with you.   Jesus asks this question to show you that the bread of life is not something that you can acquire with your own spiritual resources and or by your own goodness.  You simply have no ability to come up with what is necessary to attain eternal life.  You must learn to turn way from and despair of your own resources to solve this problem.  You’ve got nothing to barter with to make yourself right with God.  You can’t purchase this heavenly bread.  Rather, God offers it to you freely in Christ.  His forgiveness and salvation are granted to you without cost; for He has paid the price.  As Isaiah 55 says, “You who have no money, come, buy and eat.”

    Only those can receive the bread of life, then, who acknowledge their spiritual bankruptcy before God, who recognize that of themselves they can lay no claim on God’s eternal gifts.  Those who think that they are worthy of the Bread of Life will not be given life at all.  For they are still trying to “buy” their way into God’s good graces with their own spiritual qualifications.  Only to the poor in spirit does the kingdom of heaven belong.  Our righteousness is like the rotting Old Testament manna that was kept overnight; it’s goodness doesn’t last.  Only those who hunger and thirst for the righteousness of Christ will be satisfied.  For His is the food which endures to everlasting life (6:27).

    One of Jesus’ disciples, Andrew, said to Him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?”  On the surface it appeared that this bread and fish would be useless to help feed the people.  But with Jesus it was more than enough to do the job.  It’s the same way with the Sacrament of the Altar.  Someone might ask, “What good can a little bread and wine do?  How can these elements help my soul or give me any eternal blessings?”  But in the hands of Jesus, such elements are more than enough.  For what counts is not the impressiveness of the bread and wine but the miracle that our Lord does with them.  You must focus not simply on the elements only but on the Word of the Lord who stands behind them.

    “Then Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’  Now there was much grass in the place.”  The Lord invites you also to do the same thing today, for the Psalm says, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall lack nothing.  He makes me to lie down in green pastures.”  Right here is your grassy pasture where He calls you to come for rest.  It is here that He leads you beside the still waters of His living Word.  It is here that He prepares a table before you, spread with heavenly food.

    “And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted.”  Here is the great miracle, that as the disciples handed out this food given them by Christ, there was always more and more.  The more they handed out, the more there was.  First there were five loaves in the basket.  Then, as this was distributed, the disciples would reach in and find more and more loaves ready to be given out.  And likewise with the fish.  Thousands upon thousands of people were fed, and the food never ran out.  Everyone was filled and satisfied; no one was left out.  The Lord more than covered all of their needs.

    Isn’t this also how it is with the gifts that Christ gives in Holy Communion?  In bread and wine He multiplies His body and blood, and through His ministers He distributes them to His people, that you may receive all that you want of Him who is the Living Bread from heaven, and that your souls may be thoroughly satisfied with His mercy.  There is always more and more of this Bread of Life to be given out.  For this bread is the flesh of God Himself; and there is no limit to God.  He offered up His body for you on the cross to purchase your forgiveness.  And now He offers up His body to you in Holy Communion that you may receive that full and limitless forgiveness.

    Like the five loaves and the two fish, our Lord’s love is ever-expanding.  It’s reverse mathematics; the more that He gives, the more that He has yet to give.  It can’t be measured; you can’t put a boundary around it.  So when you come to the Lord’s table in penitence and faith, you need never fear that the sin you bring is bigger than the Lord’s forgiveness.  The cross covers it all, and then some.  The shed blood of the Passover Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world.  When you eat the Living Bread from heaven in the Sacrament, you receive the fullness of Christ’s pardon, all that you could ever want.  And there is still more even beyond that.  For when you eat this Supper, you are partaking in the very life of God Himself.  Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day (6:54).”

    After the 5000 were fed, Jesus told the disciples to gather up what remained, so that nothing would be lost.  We also do the same thing here in Holy Communion.  What remains after the Supper is gathered up and placed into the tabernacle there on top of the altar.  From there it is carried out to our hospitalized and shut-in members.  In that way the Lord’s love also reaches out to them in their need so that they might be drawn in and joined with us in this same holy communion.

    Finally, when the disciples gathered up what remained, they filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves.  Five loaves became twelve baskets–more than when they started.  Five is the number of the Law, for there are five books of Moses.  Twelve is the number of the apostles.  In this miracle, then, we see a transition, from the old Israel, guided by the Law of Moses, to the New Israel, the Church, built on the doctrine and ministry of Christ’s apostles, as we say in the Creed, “one holy Christian and apostolic Church.”  It is written in Acts 2 of the early church,  “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers (Acts 2:42).”  This is what the 5 becoming 12 means for you: You have been freed from the judgment of the Law by Christ, who fulfilled it all for you; and your life is now to be found in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking and receiving of the Bread of Life, and in the prayers and liturgy of the church. 

    The multitudes back then wanted Jesus to be king–but only to keep their bellies filled and their appetites fed.  But you know that Jesus is much more than that.  He is the King who goes off to the mountain by Himself where He will be crowned with thorns, that His flesh might become the life of the world.  That’s the real Jesus–your Redeemer-King and your Manna from above.

    ✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠