Where are you in this episode? There are many truths to be learned in this account of the feeding of the five thousand, too many to cover in the short time we have this morning. So let’s try to focus on just one by finding ourselves in this text. We may be used to reading and hearing these biblical accounts through the eyes of an uninvolved observer. We watch the miracle unfold for other people. But maybe you can see yourself in the crowd, being served by Jesus. After all, that’s what Jesus does for us. He provides and he cares for us. But today put yourself closer to the action. Let’s become a part of this miracle so that Jesus can teach us. Where are you?
Are you Philip? Philip must have been tired. Jesus was too, in fact. This episode overlaps with last week’s Gospel reading and sermon. Jesus had been preaching to crowds, the disciples had just returned from their own preaching missions, they all had recently learned that John the Baptist had been executed, and they just wanted to get away and get some rest. But then this crowd followed them. Jesus, wanting to get away, turned…and had compassion on the people, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So now, because Jesus spent so much time with them, there was a problem. The people were hungry. They were out in a remote location and hadn’t eaten for a while. It was a problem, and Philip couldn’t imagine how it could be solved. “Eight months' wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” “It’s impossible! That’s not our problem!” Is that where you are? Are you Philip?
Or are you Andrew? Andrew was resourceful. He found five loaves of bread and two fish, but he recognized the limitations of his find. He didn’t consider how Jesus might be able to bless such a humble offering. Resourceful, an idea guy, but not a great memory. Hadn’t Jesus done wonderful things before, providing unexpected blessings in tough situations? But Andrew was thinking about the obstacles. Is that where you are in this episode?
Or are you the boy? Behind the scenes. Quiet. But with a connection to the Lord’s apostles. He couldn’t do much. He didn’t have a whole lot. But he offered all he had, and that made it a large gift. And look what Jesus did with that humble offering. Look what the boy’s gift accomplished. Not because it was a large gift—almost the whole thing fits on the parament below me—but because Jesus blessed it. Are you the boy, having resources to help others?
Maybe you are one of the other disciples. At this divine restaurant on the side of the mountain, the disciples were hosts, servers, and busboys. They directed the people to sit down, they helped distribute the food that was miraculously multiplying, and they cleaned up after the meal—they gathered more than they had started with! Jesus had solved the problem after all. He had performed a miracle, and he let his disciples be a part of it.
So where are you in this episode? And what can you learn from it? Here’s something: Look at how Jesus serves those who have a need. He didn’t snap his fingers and take away everyone’s hunger. He didn’t make juicy steaks appear out of thin air. He used what was there. He used the bread and fish that the boy already had and he used the disciples who were already there, and he blessed those things and those people in such a way that everyone’s need was satisfied. They “all had enough to eat.” Jesus used what was there and performed a miracle with those things.
There’s something else to notice here: Jesus allowed the people to get hungry in the first place! He wasn’t caught by surprise. He didn’t slap his forehead at the end of the day and say, “Oh no! You guys haven’t eaten yet, have you? I didn’t think of that!” No, he allowed them to stay there until there was a problem that seemed unsolvable. And then he solved the problem. He does that same thing many times in our lives. He creates or allows a need so that he can satisfy it for us. And he does it in the lives of the people in your life. And when he satisfies the need, so often Jesus gives his disciples an opportunity to help.
Andrew had the idea and found the resources. The boy shared. The great apostles cleaned up. So where are you? Jesus Has Recruited You to Serve, to be his agent in providing for the needs of others. Do you have the fish and bread? Can you help serve it if someone else has it to share? What are the opportunities in your life? What have you been doing with those opportunities?
Or maybe you’ve been too wrapped up in yourself to notice when God has allowed or created a need in someone else’s life. That sinful nature is still alive in you, isn’t it? This is more than just a minor vice labelled self-centeredness. This is more serious. This is the one great sin, the sin that has earned yourself damnation, separation from God. It’s the failure to do the simplest-sounding thing, “Love your neighbor,” because the last two words always trip us up: “as yourself.” We’d rather reserve our resources and our sympathies for ourselves, without considering that others might be struggling with needs or problems too.
It would make sense for Jesus to run away from people like that, people like us. And actually, we do see Jesus running away in the last verse of this section. “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” It would make sense if Jesus got out of there because he was upset at how ungrateful the people were, or because he was disappointed in their sinfulness. But why did Jesus run away? It’s because he cared deeply for them! And because he cares deeply for you! If he were an earthly king he would not go to the cross and he would not die for your sins. And that’s why he was born. So that you don’t have to worry about being separated from God. He removed that separation. He paid the penalty for your self-centeredness. He thought of you and your forgiveness and your free reward in heaven. That’s why he withdrew from these people. He was focused on the cross.
Jesus doesn’t run from sinners. He doesn’t run from you. He bought you. He forgives you. That’s how he made you his disciple. And since you are his disciple, he wants you to be his agent. In today’s reading from Ephesians, it says that Jesus “gave” some people to be pastors and teachers. That means he gave them to us as gifts. Pastors and teachers are gifts from Jesus because they teach us and build us up as parts of the body of Christ so that we can reach spiritual maturity. In the same way, Jesus has given you as a gift to at least someone, and probably someones. You are all gifts of God to others because he has put you in their lives so that he can satisfy some of their needs through you. You are one way God can keep his promises to other people. Each day we can pray for those in need, and then we might even get to be one of the Lord’s agents through which he answers your prayer and satisfies that need.
We started with the question, “Where are you in this episode?” The boy who had something to share? The disciples, who were empty handed but were able to serve? Let’s close with this question, “Where are you right now (in your life)?” God has a habit of using things and people that are already in place to help those in need. Where has he put you? What has he given you to use? What are the needs of the people who surround you each day? Don’t overlook those right in front of you this week. And don’t underestimate the resources God has given you, as Philip and Andrew did. Jesus Has Recruited You to Serve, and he can make even the most humble gifts be of great service to others.
Dear Friends in Christ,
When I was a teenager, I worked a few times on a friend’s pig farm helping store bales of hay in the barn during the summer. It was hot, sweaty, itchy, heavy work. We wore jeans and flannel shirts in the middle of summer in a hot barn as we took the heavy bales of hay off of the flatbeds and threw them up to the loft in the barn. It seemed like we were at it all day, but it probably only lasted 2 or 3 hours at a time. One of the things I looked forward to most was when we would go into my friend’s air-conditioned house and he would hand each of us an ice cold Pepsi. It was simply revitalizing to sit down as we consumed our refreshment.
You can relate, no doubt. After you have put in a hard day around the house or at work, you are ready for a nap, or you’re ready to sit down and eat or drink something that refreshes you. When you do, you also realize that this doesn’t mean all the work is done. You know there’s more ahead. But this rest helps you physically and mentally prepare for what’s to come.
In the words before us, we see that kind of rest going on. Rest to recoup and to revitalize. But there’s more to this rest that is going on than may immediately meet the eye. And that’s because of the one offering the rest to begin with: Jesus. Just as Jesus offered rest to his weary disciples and to ignorant crowds, Jesus also offers you real rest.
Do you have those days when you are physically, mentally, and emotionally drained? You put your heart and soul into something and now you are just plain exhausted. That seems to be the case with Jesus’ 12 apostles or disciples. They had just returned from their first ministry trip.
Jesus had commissioned them to go out 2 by 2. They were to preach and teach, to evangelize. Their message was repentance. If you don’t think that’s exhausting, just ask a pastor how he feels after preaching a sermon. Most that I’ve talked to say that they’re tired after preaching and often catch a nap on Sunday afternoon. It’s physically, mentally and emotionally draining.
Not only were these disciples preaching and evangelizing, they were traveling from place to place. Meeting different people. While it was, no doubt, energizing and exciting work that they were doing, once the adrenalin left, they would be tired from their experience.
Now couple that with something else that was going on at this time. They would have just gotten word that John the Baptist had been beheaded by Herod. Keep in mind that two of their number had actually been disciples of John the Baptist before John urged them to follow Jesus. The other 10 may or may not have known him personally, but they certainly knew who John was and what he was all about. Not only would they have been grieved by his loss, but they most certainly would have had concerns that they might be the next victims of Herod.
It was with this mixed bag that they would have met up with Jesus once again. Grief over John the Baptist; discouragement over the difficulties they met; and joy over their successes. So they simply unloaded to Jesus. They let him know all that they had been through.
But that sharing moment in Capernaum didn’t last long. They were barely able to eat, let alone converse about everything that was going on. There were so many people around that they didn’t even have a chance to beep down. So Jesus extended the invitation: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
Jesus knew what they needed. The Son of God had become human so that he could save us. And now, as a human, he experienced what they did, and so he knew from experience what they needed. They needed some time alone. Away from the hustle and bustle of the activity of the people.
Your life, too, becomes so full of activity. Even when you’re retired, right? You and I understand the value of rest, don’t we? Whether it is sitting down for just a few minutes, or whether it is a week-long vacation. We value that time.
Yet we realize that the vacation or brief rest doesn’t mean the end of our activities. It’s simply a time to re-gather ourselves and get ready for the rest of the day or the next few months. It refreshes us so that we can go on.
After all, we recognize that remaining faithful to God is hard work. We daily struggle with ourselves to do the God-pleasing thing. We look for opportunities to serve God. And that’s all hard work!
Thankfully, we have Jesus who invites us to take a rest. No, he’s not telling us to take a break from our Christian life. He’s inviting you to rest by coming to listen to him talk to you. Let his soothing voice calm your restless heart and reinvigorate your soul.
When you don’t do that, don’t you feel something missing? Maybe you can’t even put your finger on it. But what’s missing is that valuable close time that you have with your Savior.
When you go on vacation, it can be a temptation to take a break from God too. That would be a big mistake. It’s at those times that you want to stay close to God. Don’t forget church! Our WELS website has a simple feature that allows you to find Wisconsin Synod churches in the area you are visiting. And it won’t be long and you will be able to view our worship services online. No matter where you go, God is there. Stay in touch with him.
And it is really important for you to do that on an individual basis too. Each individual person needs to connect with their Savior alone. I’m talking about a devotional life. Family devotions and devotions with couples are great and important, but each one of us needs to spend some alone time with Jesus. To report to him what we’ve done, good or bad. To hear his calming voice, assuring us of his love for us. There are so many ways to do that. Meditations booklets. Meditations on your computer, tablet or even phone. If you’ve never really done that or aren’t currently doing that, I challenge you to start. If you are doing that, I urge you to keep it up and look for even more ways or more time with your Savior. Rest in the voice of his Word.
After all, your Savior wants to talk to you. He goes out of his way to do so. He showed that with the clueless crowds of people that followed Jesus after Jesus climbed into the boat with his 12 apostles. Jesus sailed along the shore of the Sea of Galilee with his disciples only a few miles so that he could go with his disciples to a remote place. The crowd of people followed the boat along the shore, and met Jesus and his disciples.
This crowd of people were uninvited guests. You could say they were rude for intruding on the time that Jesus and his 12 enjoyed. So what did Jesus do? Ignore them? Tell them to go away? Not a chance. Jesus saw that they were like “they were like sheep without a shepherd.”
What a picture that is! Sheep without a shepherd are in trouble. They have no one to lead or guide them. Left to themselves, they’ll either starve, run off a cliff, or be eaten by a wolf. This crowd had no direction either, and if it remained that way, they would be in great trouble.
So Jesus had compassion on them. His heart went out to them. He went to work on the crowd, because he knew exactly what they needed, even though they didn’t really know what they needed. You can be sure he taught them about the rest from their sins that he had come to provide them.
That’s the same rest that we have too. This rest comes to us because of what Jesus has done. He lived for us. That means that the LORD is our Righteousness, as Jeremiah proclaimed in the Old Testament lesson. And Paul reminds us Ephesians that you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. His death brought us rest from our sins, so that we could live in the presence of God.
We all need rest. Rest from our labor. Rest to recharge so that we can get back at it. Spend time taking Jesus up on the rest he offers. Remember that not only does he provide you rest for your souls here, but he promises you that an eternal and perfect rest is waiting for you. That’s a rest worth waiting for! Amen.
Fellow members of the evangelism committee,
“Share your faith.” You’ve heard that said before. You’ve been instructed to do that. “Tell others about Jesus.” You and I have been conditioned to think that we are supposed to do that. But there’s something not quite right about the way it’s said at times. “Go spread the Word to others.” People say that and make it sound like it’s such an easy thing. But I’m guessing that you know otherwise. You may never have even tried to explain the gospel to someone who doesn’t know it or believe it. It’s not easy to start. Or you may have tried and felt like a complete failure after. It doesn’t go as smoothly as we sometimes portray it in church or Sunday School. It’s easy to say it here, “Go tell others.” It’s anything but easy to actually do it out there.
Is this a new problem? Of course not. Amos spoke the Word of God, and the king and a priest thought he was just trying to make money and didn’t really mean what he said, so they told him to stop bothering them. When Jesus sent the apostles out for the first time, he gave them instructions assuming that people would not listen to them. And how do people view Christians today? The same way they did when Amos and when Jesus were walking the earth.
And so when someone says casually, “Now tell others about Jesus,” we probably feel a little uncomfortable. “You say that like it’s so easy, no big deal. Have you actually ever tried?” These encouragements can easily turn into guilt trips. Then we simply ignore them. Then we try to make ourselves feel better by telling ourselves that that’s not our job or our role. Let the pastor do that, or the evangelism committee, because I’m just not good at that sort of thing.
You are the evangelism committee. Each one of you. Those who have the Savior share the Savior. That’s a true statement. But let’s stop making it sound like it’s such an easy and natural thing. It’s not easy. It’s not always painless. So why do it? Today’s lesson from Ephesians gives us the reason. God Has Chosen You.
It does not say that God chose you to be a missionary. No, it’s deeper and much richer than that. We start with this truth: “He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” So before the world even existed, before there was an earth, before there were people, before there was time, God knew you. That by itself is incredible. You could walk around your own neighborhood or walk through downtown or walk into a store, and not only might no one know you, but no one will even look at you or acknowledge you. Most will have their heads buried in their phones, and it would make no difference if you were there or if you didn’t exist. In stores you are just a number or a customer, forgotten as soon as you leave. Friends move on, family members move away, and contact becomes less frequent. And you start to wonder, does anyone even remember me? The God of the universe does. He knows you. Even before creation, he could say your name.
Not only did he know you, he chose you. And it wasn’t a random choosing. In verse 5 it says that God chose you, or “predestined” you, “in accordance with his pleasure and will.” That means he wanted to do this. He wanted to choose you; he did it intentionally. And it was fun for him! This was his pleasure. He enjoyed thinking about you and saying your name.
And he didn’t just choose you to exist; it was more specific. He chose you “to be holy and blameless in his sight.” Does that describe you—holy and blameless? Or does your conscience start to poke you when you hear that? He chose you to be holy and blameless, but have you ruined that? Has your life made God look bad for making you his choice?
Not at all. There are two little words that change everything: “in him.” God “chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless.” The “him” is referring to Jesus. We were chosen “in Jesus.” When God chose us he was seeing us through the filter of Jesus. He chose you to be one for whom Jesus died. He chose you to be forgiven of your specific sins. He chose you, he “predestined” you “to be adopted as his [family member] through Jesus Christ.”
And that’s the reason you have faith. You have faith because God chose for you to be forgiven and saved from your sins. And so he made sure, as he guided and shaped the history of the world, that you would come to be baptized and to hear the gospel, so that you would come to faith—so that you would know and trust that Jesus is your substitute in life and in death. He chose you to be holy and blameless, and so he made it happen.
This is what is sometimes called “the doctrine of election.” It’s the Bible’s teaching (doctrine) that God chose and knew in advance who would be saved. How can you be sure that you are truly one whom God has chosen? It’s really not something to worry about. The proof is in the gospel: Jesus died for you. Jesus is the reason God has chosen you—remember, it was “in him.” And Jesus has done everything necessary for your salvation—living the required life in your place, dying the death that was your punishment. It’s clear God has chosen you.
So what does this have to do with evangelism—with telling other people about Jesus? No guit trips. You see, the responsibility of changing people’s minds and hearts is not on you. You are not the one who will convince or fail to convince anyone that what you believe is true. Remember, God has chosen those who are saved. That includes the people around you. God has already chosen those who come to faith. The salvation of other people does not depend on you.
So how do those people come to faith? God has arranged it so that people come to faith by hearing the gospel, the message of Christ, and that’s where we do come in. Our work is not to convince people or force people. Our work is just to announce and proclaim this great grace of God in Christ so that by it those chosen will hear and be gathered into the family of God. Those who come to faith praise and thank God for it. Those who do not have only themselves to blame. Jesus died for all.
Does this truth make it easy to share your faith? No, not at all. It does take the pressure off, but it still does not make it an easy thing to do. So God has provided two things to help you. One is the group that’s sitting around you, to provide encouragement, shared experiences, and help. That’s why you’ve been hearing encouragements about your FRAN network (friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors). Some of your leaders are trying to organize things that will be easy for you to invite someone to. It’s the first step, and you have to take one step before you can be comfortable walking.
The second thing God has provided to help us in our evangelism efforts is his grace. In his grace, his love, he has chosen you to be his own. He’s not leaving you alone. And he offers that grace richly and repeatedly in his Word and sacrament. Learn and hear more for yourself, and it will start to flow from you to others.
There’s a portion of today’s communion liturgy that is taken directly from Ephesians 1:3. Near the beginning of the communion portion, Pastor Roekle will say, “Praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In love he has blessed us with every spiritual blessing.” Every spiritual blessing. Everything you need, because he’s chosen you. Fill up for yourself. Then let it spill over for others.