Martin Luther commends the use of Psalm 145:15-16 to begin asking a blessing before meals:
“The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand;
you satisfy the desire of every living thing.”
It is a wonderful prayer most of all because it reminds you that, as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, life is “more than food, and the body more than clothing” (Mt. 6:25). For the psalm says God does more than merely satisfy physical hunger, but “you satisfy the desire of every living thing.” This is why the Lord’s feeding of the 5,000 in the wilderness was so memorable—not just because of the miracle itself, but because of what it said about Jesus, who He is and what He came to do which is more than to provide food for the tummy, but to satisfy the deepest desire of every living thing; the desire for life not threatened by death, the taking away of the fear of death, the desire for reconciliation with God.
The first desire spoken about in today’s Gospel, however, is not ours but God’s. God desires that all should come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). God desires not “the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). So, as of first importance, our text reports that when Jesus heard of the murder of John the Baptist, this was a sign and reminder of His own destiny and goal, the giving of His life into death on a cross so that all might be reconciled to God, freed from sin’s slavery, raised to new, eternal life. As much as His human nature recoiled at the horrible thought, this was His ultimate goal and desire—to offer Himself as the one-and-only pure and perfect sacrifice for the sin of the world. So now He withdraws from His more public posture of preaching, teaching and healing. He heads “to a desolate place by Himself.”
Martin Luther, in his Christian Questions with their Answers for Those who Intend to Go to the Sacrament, asks, “What motivated Christ to die and make full payment for your sins?” The answer: “His great love for his Father and for me and other sinners.” So now, when Jesus came out from his short, private retreat and saw the crowds that had followed Him out to that desolate, desert place, the compassion He felt for them was for a deeper need than merely physical healing and food—it was that gut-wrenching compassion for their need of forgiveness of sins, deliverance from death, the gift of eternal life and salvation. But first things first. Before making the people sit down for preaching and teaching, they needed healing and feeding.
Now if satisfying hungry stomachs was the only issue, Jesus could have just made food appear on a giant buffet table and told the people to help themselves. But everything He did and taught aimed ultimately at the deeper need. The deepest need is for the gift of faith; and not just any faith, but faith in Him. So when His disciples came to Jesus, saying, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves,” to their surprise Jesus said, “They need not go away.” Then he gave them a seemingly impossible challenge, saying, “you give them something to eat.”
Faith faces seemingly impossible challenges. The disciples’ first and natural reaction was to look and take inventory of the measly few loaves of bread and couple of fish they had on hand. I’m sure they wondered if He was serious. From their point of view, they looked at the situation and couldn’t figure out how Jesus could make such an impossible demand of them.
We all have seemingly impossible challenges all around us. There’s the constant challenge of “making ends meet” financially. Or take Jesus’ command to love one another, or to forgive one another including even your enemy. Whatever the impossible situation you face there is one more possibility that is overlooked except by faith. It was standing, that is He was standing right in front of the disciples. Here was a moment for faith. Jesus told them to bring the bread and fish to Him. In His hands things happened. Matthew tells us Jesus took the food, looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Do you think? Could it have been words such as “The eyes of all wait upon You; and You gives them their food in due season. You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of ever living thing”? Then he gave pieces of the bread to the waiters, that is his disciples, who gave them to the crowds. They must have come back a whole bunch of times, and each time they came back Jesus gave them more bread to distribute.
We’re not told the reaction of the disciples. The only thing we’re told is that the crowds ate and were satisfied. Though they got their bellies filled, however, there were deeper needs and desires that could be satisfied only by faith in who Jesus is and what He came to accomplish. But His disciples—did they get it? Did they get faith?
Faith is what we need. For our truly deepest desires can be filled only by way of faith in Jesus our Savior. Forgiveness of sins is our greatest need. “God gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people.” Giving bread is the easy part. Our bodies have a way of letting us know when we need bread. But we have a problem when it comes to knowing our need for forgiveness and life.
The only way we can discover our truly deeper needs and desires is when God sends His Word. Through the prophet Isaiah we heard the Lord God ask today, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” The answer is God’s Word, as He says, “Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good…. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live” (Is. 55:2-3).
By His mighty Word He had given the promise, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). Not like an anxious parent who gives whatever the child wants just to quiet him down. No, the promise is that “He will give you the (very) desires,” the right desires, His desires—the desire for reconciliation with God by faith through the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Christ.
Delight yourself in the Lord. That is, as the Apostle Paul says, “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:5). When you do, then you will be able to see that the greatest miracle was not the filling of the bellies of more than 5,000 in the wilderness that day. The greatest miracle is that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son to redeem it, to offer His body and blood as the ransom for sin, and that when this message is preached and proclaimed, the Holy Spirit works through the Word of the Gospel so that people actually believe it! Believe what? Believe that, for Christ’s sake, their sins are forgiven and that nothing can ever separate them again from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:39).
True satisfaction comes in this way: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Mt. 5:6). Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (Jn. 6:35). Here is what truly satisfies; here is Who truly satisfies—Jesus Christ, our saving Lord.