Sunday, July 23, 2023

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity - Mk 8:1-9


Trinity 7

                                                                            Mk 8:1-9



          How could they not remember?  That’s the first question that arises as we listen to our Gospel lesson this morning.  It’s not as if the disciples had never faced this before.  Today’s text involves a large crowd and the need to feed them.  But this is actually the second time they have encountered this situation.

          In chapter six we learn that a great crowd had gathered to hear Jesus.  When he saw them, he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.  So Jesus taught them.  He taught all day long.

          When it was getting late the disciples came to Jesus. They pointed out that it was a desolate place and the hour was late. They told Jesus to send the crowd away to the surrounding villages to buy food. But Jesus had another idea.  He told them, “You give them something to eat.”

          The disciples protested that the cost was too much. They couldn’t possibly buy food for this many people. So our Lord had them check and see how much food they had.  There were five loaves of bread and two fish.  Jesus took the food, blessed it, and gave it to the disciples. They gave it to the people, and in a miracle the food never ran out until all were fed.  Jesus used the five loaves of bread and two fish to feed more than five thousand people.

          Our text this morning refers to that prior event as it begins, “In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat.”  Mark introduces the event in a way that immediately calls to mind the feeding of the five thousand.

          While there are similarities to the prior feeding, there are also differences. This time Jesus initiates the conversation as he calls the disciples and says to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” The people had been listening to Jesus for three days and any food they had with them was exhausted.  Our Lord saw this, and he had compassion on them.

          When Jesus raised this concern, the disciples responded, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”  Instead of the cost, this time the disciples pointed out that they were not in a location where it was possible to buy food.  Apparently, it never occurred to them that they had faced this situation before, and that Jesus was the answer.

          Once again Jesus asked how many loaves they had. He told the crowd sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves, and when he had given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples.  He also blessed a few small fish and gave them as well. Once again Jesus worked a miracle as the bread and fish satisfied the crowd which numbered four thousand.  In fact, there was such an abundance that seven baskets of left overs were gathered up.

The obtuse response by the disciples is actually not entirely surprising.  Immediately after feeding the five thousand, Jesus had the disciples return across the Sea of Galilee in a boat, while he dismissed the crowd.  Later when the disciples were facing a difficult wind, Christ came to them walking on the water. He got into the boat and the wind ceased. Then Mark tells us, “And they were utterly astounded,

for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”

          Their hearts were hardened so that they didn’t understand what the feeding miracle revealed about Jesus. Yet that is not the end of references to their hardened heart. Immediately after our text, the Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign from heaven in order to test him.  Christ rejects their unbelief and has the disciples get into a boat.  We learn that they brought only one loaf of bread with them. 

          Jesus said, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”  But rather than understanding Jesus’ reference to the teaching and influence of the Pharisees, the disciples began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. 

Jesus said, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?” Then Jesus had them review what had happened when they were with the five thousand and with the four thousand in our text.  He reminded them about how many baskets of left overs had remained each time.

The disciples didn’t recognize that Jesus was the answer because their hearts were hardened.  Although they had seen his miracles, they did not understand who Jesus is.  Because this was so they failed to trust in Jesus to provide yet again. 

The disciples’ response alerts us to the danger of forgetting who Jesus is – of forgetting what he means for us. 

When troubles and difficult circumstances like illness strike our life, it is easy to lose sight of Christ.  It is easy to focus on the problems and fail to trust Jesus to care and provide for us.

          Jesus provided bread in a desolate place.  This reminds us of how God provided manna – bread from heaven – to Israel as he brought them through the wilderness to the promised land.  This was part of God’s mighty action to fulfill the promise that he had made to Abraham to give his descendants the land.

          God’s saving action with Israel pointed forward to the even greater salvation that God would provide in Jesus Christ.  Our Lord’s second feeding miracle is part of his ministry to bring the kingdom of God – the reign of God.  Jesus has compassion on the people.  But he does more than just feel for them.  He also has the power to do something about it.  He uses seven loaves of bread and a few fish to feed four thousand people.

          All of Jesus’ miracles point to the culmination of his ministry.  In this same chapter we learn, “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.”  Jesus said that he had come to die.  He had come to give his life as a ransom for many.  He had come to redeem us from sin – to free us from its slavery.

          In the miracle in our text, Jesus uses what seems insignificant.  In the face of four thousand hungry people, he has before him seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. Yet because of who he is, this is more than enough to feed them and have left overs remaining.

          Jesus’ death on the cross seemed to be insignificant.  It appeared to be the death of one more Jew who was crushed by the might of the Roman Empire.  The sight of a man dying in helpless agony hardly looked like God’s mighty work.  However, because we know who Jesus is, we are able to understand what was really happening.

          The One on the cross was a man.  But he was not just a man.  Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary he is also the Son of God.  He is true God and true man.  As true man, Jesus stands in our place.  As true God his life is a sacrifice for our sin that provides forgiveness.

          It didn’t look that way on Good Friday.  Just as the disciples failed to understand who Jesus is in our text, so they did not understand when Jesus died.  But on the third day God vindicated Jesus as he raised him from the dead.  The risen Lord appeared to the disciples and demonstrated that he was alive.  In these encounters they came to understand who Jesus really is. They came to understand what Jesus means for us in the midst of every circumstance.

          The disciples hearts may have been hardened during our Lord’s ministry.  They didn’t understand who Jesus was. But the resurrection changed everything.  In the resurrection they came to understand exactly who Jesus is.  And they would never forget it.  They became Jesus’ witnesses who have shared him with us. 

          In our text, Jesus gives the food to the disciples and the disciples give it to the people.  As Christ’s apostles, they have done the same thing for us. They have received the Gospel from Jesus and have given it to us.  They met the risen Lord and shared him with us.  The apostles have acted as his authorized representatives who have revealed Jesus and the miracles that he performed in their midst.

          Through their word Jesus has called us to faith.  In order to sustain us in faith, Christ continues to work a miracle in our midst every Sunday.  This miracle partakes of the same character as Jesus on the cross. He uses what appears to be insignificant means – just like the seven loaves of bread seemed to be completely incapable of feeding the four thousand people. 

          In that miracle he used bread and fish to feed a great crowd.  In the Sacrament of the Altar he uses bread and wine to give us his true body and blood.  He places into our mouth the very price he paid for our salvation – his body and blood given and shed for us.  Though the means appear to be insignificant, Jesus’ word causes it to be what he says.  His word causes it to be far more than it appears, just as Jesus on the cross was far more than he appeared.

          Jesus does this to strengthen and sustain us in faith. He does this because his call to receive the Sacrament reminds us about who he is in our life. He is the Lord who suffered and died for us, and then rose from the dead.  Because he has done this for us, we can trust our Lord to care for us no matter what may be happening in our life.  We can entrust our present to him, even as we know that our future promises resurrection and eternal life with God.














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