In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When Herod heard about Jesus and what He was doing, he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptizer. He has been raised from the dead, and therefore the powers are working in him.” Herod thinks that John, whom he beheaded at the request of a dancing girl, has come back from the dead, and because he has been resurrected, he has special or miraculous or divine powers, and that’s why he can do the things he’s doing. Herod is right about the connection between resurrection and the miraculous things that are happening, but he’s wrong on just about everything else.
Jesus obviously is not John the Baptizer resurrected. But Jesus is the one who is going to raise up John on the last day. It’s true that resurrection is connected to the things that Jesus is doing, but it’s not the resurrection of John. It’s because Jesus will rise from the dead and because He will raise bodies that He heals the sick. Because Jesus will rise from the dead and will raise up bodies, He casts out demons from bodies. Because Jesus will rise from the dead and will raise up bodies, He feeds the hungry. Because Jesus will rise from the dead and will raise up bodies, He has compassion on people, both body and soul. If someone doesn’t have a body or a soul, then that person is less than the human being whom God created. So Christians don’t long for some day when we will finally be rid of our bodies and just be souls. That would be longing to be less than human. Christians long for the day when we will be rid of the sin that infects our bodies, souls, and this whole creation; we long for the day when there will be no more death or the symptoms of death: sickness, weakness, hunger. Jesus has a body in which He lives, dies, rises again, and is glorified, so He has compassion—He feels it in His guts—when people suffer and struggle. So He heals the people. He casts out demons from people. He does not rest, not because His body doesn’t need to rest, but because the people need Him to keep doing His work. So He will not rest until that greatest of Sabbath days, when He rests in the tomb after completing His work.
After a long day of healing as many people as come to Him, His disciples ask Him to send the people away so that they can find food in the surrounding villages. It could be because they are tired of the people; it could be because they don’t want Jesus to run out of energy; it could be because they’re just hungry themselves and need a break so they can eat. But maybe it’s just as likely that they’ve learned something from Jesus about what it means to have compassion and care for people. The people don’t ask to be fed. The disciples see them hot and tired and hungry and thirsty and they ask Jesus to send them to get food because maybe they, too, care about the people.
Jesus does intend to feed the people, but not by sending them to find food for themselves. He tells His disciples, with emphasis, “You yourselves give them something to eat.” You yourselves give them something to eat. And His disciples say, “But all we have are these five loaves of bread and two fish.” In John’s Gospel, they say, “And what is that for so many?” What do the disciples have with which to feed all these people? Exactly what the crowds have: nothing. They may have learned something about compassion from Jesus, but they still don’t seem to have learned fully who He is and what He can do. So He is going to teach them and show them that He is their sufficiency.
He says, “Bring the fish and the bread to Me.” He takes them, He looks up to heaven, He blesses—probably not the food, but God. A blessing is a good word, and He speaks it to His Father, who gives all things. He breaks the fish and bread, and gives it to His disciples. He gives it to His disciples. And then they give it to the crowd. They keep coming back for more, and more, and more, and they never run out. The people eat, and they don’t just eat, but they eat until they are satisfied, filled up to the brim. No one goes hungry on this day. And the miracle keeps getting bigger and bigger: first He heals the sick, then He multiplies food, then He feeds the crowd, then the crowds are completely satisfied, then the disciples gather twelve baskets of broken pieces—one for each of them. Then, we hear the number of people: 5000, plus women and children.
The disciples do, in fact, give the people something to eat, and they have more than enough to give, as well as more than enough for themselves. But the clear fact is that none of it comes from them. They can only give to the crowd what Jesus gives to them. There are at least a couple thoughts for us here. One is for pastors. Pastors, like the disciples, have exactly what the people have: nothing. The only thing that pastors have to give to people is what Jesus has already given them. A glass can only spill what it contains. Who cares about pastors’ opinions or preferences or clever insights or humorous stories? None of those things give life, or forgiveness; none of those words can save. None of those things are God’s Word.
So as a pastor, I have no intention of wasting time with what is not Jesus. I pray God that I only give you Jesus and His Word. As a pastor, I only have Jesus to give you in your home; I only have Jesus to give you in your hospital bed; I only have Jesus to give you in your nursing home; I only have Jesus to give you on your death bed. Because only Jesus is life; everything else is no better than death. I don’t have the power in myself to make water save you, or have my words forgive your sins not committed against me, or make bread and wine convey the Body and Blood of Christ to you. But Jesus has that power in Himself and has promised to do what His words say. Jesus says that a scribe, a worker with the Word, who has been trained for the Reign of Heaven brings out of his treasury what is old and new. The treasury is what Christ gives, and it is always both old and new.
But it’s no different for you in your family, with your kids, in all of your relationships with other people, in the particular place God has put you. You yourself give them something to eat. But what do you have? Nothing but what the Lord gives you. A glass can only spill what it contains. So if you need to encourage, or warn, or forgive, you can’t do it from yourself. Hear the Word of the Lord, be in the place where He forgives and gives life. Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest His Word. Mull it over in your mind; consider it; meditate on it; memorize it so that it’s always with you. Every physical gift as well, anything that you might share with people for the care of their physical bodies—food, water, money, time—it’s all been given to you already by the Lord. He gives more than enough for you, and more than enough for you to give away.
Neither you nor I have anything of ourselves; Christ has everything and He multiplies what appears to be nothing until it more than satisfies. Today He does it again, with this nothing-looking bread and wine, as close to nothing as five loaves and two fish for 5,000-plus. But as the one who is risen from the dead and with all the power of His Father, He multiplies His own Body and Blood until it feeds thousands, millions, all those hungry and thirsty for righteousness. He is all we have, but He is more than enough. He feeds us with the daily bread of earth as long as we live in this creation, but He does more: He feeds us with the bread of heaven that lasts into eternity. He who is risen from the dead and will raise up bodies has compassion on us and all people and cares for us in both body and soul—from this creation to the next.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 8/5/17