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How It Really Is

March 22, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this fourth weekend of Lent comes from our gospel text, where John writes, “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’ Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends …

Who is Jesus? That’s the question that echoes through the pages of John’s gospel account. Is He the Messiah, the Son of God? From the prologue where he declares that the Word was in the beginning with God and that the Word was God all the way through Jesus’s death and resurrection, John’s message is clear. Jesus of Nazareth, who is called the Christ, truly is the Son of God. And he shows it. John is a masterful storyteller, and his account is very dramatic to read, almost like a play or a novel. It sucks you into the action so you think you are really there at Cana or in the dead of night with Nicodemus or standing before Pontius Pilate. Today’s gospel text, the infamous feeding of the 5,000, is an excellent example – not only of John’s literary genius, but more importantly, of his demonstrating that Jesus truly is the incarnate Word, the Son of God.

In our text, Jesus has gone “away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias,” and because of the signs and wonders He had been performing of late, crowds of hundreds and thousands have come out to Him in the wilderness. That’s a problem, though, because the Passover was near, and they were all far off from anywhere that the people could get food. Already knowing what He would do, Jesus tests one of His disciples, Phillip, by asking how they would provide food for such a sea of people. Phillip responds that not even two hundred days’ wages would be enough to provide just bread for the crowd; nevertheless, Jesus takes a child’s lunch of five barley loaves and two fish, and He feeds the whole crowd. He feeds them, giving them all they could want, all they could eat, with leftovers to spare – twelve full baskets of leftovers. He provides for them, and the people perceive that something wonderful has happened to them, that it was thanks to this Man who had done the miraculous once again, but this time, for them. John tells us, “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’” They are thinking to themselves, “Know what? This guy would make a really good king!” Jesus, however, knows what they’re thinking, and He withdraws.

That’s where our text ends, but the story itself doesn’t end there. Jesus goes across the Sea of Galilee once more … but the people follow Him. Why did Jesus leave? Because the crowds didn’t get it. Jesus tells them when they finally catch up with Him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” Jesus had done something wonderful, a sign, a witness to who He truly is, and the people didn’t see it; they knew something incredible had happened, but they didn’t realize what it meant. They saw the food. They saw what they got. But they did not recognize who Jesus is, and that was the real point of all of it.

When Jesus makes plain what the point of all of this is – that He is the bread of life, the true bread come down from heaven, that people are supposed to believe in Him, that they are supposed to eat His flesh and drink His blood – then they understand … and most turn away. Most of them don’t believe, asking, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” and “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” They don’t believe that He is the Son of God. Sure, they saw the sign, and they understand what Jesus is saying, but they will not believe it.

This is another pattern you see though John’s gospel, Jesus demonstrating who He really is through these signs and wonders, and the people not believing. What about you? You’re not a member of that crowd that infamously dined-and-dashed. If I asked you if Jesus is the Son of God, I’ve no doubt y’all would answer with a confident “Yes” … but there is a difference between saying that and living it out. What was the issue of those who were fed with the five loaves and two fish? It wasn’t that they didn’t recognize what Jesus did as a miracle – they clearly did – but rather that they saw Jesus as the answer to all their problems. They saw Jesus, they made Jesus, into a means to their ends. Jesus wanted the food to be a means, a sign, pointing to His divine nature and His identity as the Son of God; the crowds wanted things the other way around.

And that sort of thing does happen today. We make Jesus into a means to our ends, probably more often than we think. We want to go to heaven; Jesus becomes the means to that end. We want forgiveness of our sins, and we make Jesus the means to that end. We make Him into the answer to all that troubles us, the solution to all our problems. Of course, Jesus really did feed those people, just as He really did heal the sick and raise the dead, and He really does give us the promise of life eternal and the forgiveness of our sins, but He didn’t come to be a mere instrument, a means to get what we want and even need. He came … as the Son of God. He came to represent, to speak for, to act for God. EVERYTHING runs through Jesus – even the things we want, need, and consider good. He didn’t come to make things right according to our desires, but to show how things really are! When He says something that is entirely contrary to what we see and feel, what He says is the reality! That’s what it means for Jesus to be the Son of God! The feeding of the 5,000 points to that reality and His resurrection from the dead was the ultimate sign that He gave that He is God’s Son, but He isn’t done giving signs!

Do you want to know how things are between you and Him? That’s what baptism is – a sign and a seal upon you, as one redeemed by Christ the crucified and resurrected Lord. Even when you don’t feel it, even when you don’t see it, that’s the reality, because Jesus has declared it to be so and has given you a new birth! You are a new creature because of it, completely washed of your sins!

Do you want a sign that things are good between you and Him? Even though we’re not currently able to partake in it, when Jesus gives you His very body and blood in, under, and with bread and wine, that’s Him promising that all who partake in faith have eternal life. He gave these promises back then, and He gives them to you now – definitely something to look forward to when we are finally able to gather in person as His people once again!

As the Son of God, as the One who speaks and acts for God, Jesus gives these signs to you! Not because He is a means to our end, but because, as God’s Son, Jesus gets to say how things really are. As John wrote at the end of his gospel account, these signs and wonders are given “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tags: John 6:1-15