What Earth Could Never Buy

Text: Matthew 14:13-21
Date: Pentecost VIII Proper 13A + 8/3/14

The title of today’s sermon is, once again, from the hymn of the day reflecting on the Gospel of the Feeding of the 5,000.

My Lord, You here have led me
To this most holy place
And with Yourself have fed me
The treasures of Your grace;
For You have freely given
What earth could never buy,
The bread of life from heaven,
That now I shall not die. (LSB 642:2)

We are here because the Lord has led us here. This is a most holy place because God Himself is present. Here He feeds us with faith, forgiveness, hope and all the treasures of His grace. While His gifts are priceless He gives them to us for free as Isaiah says, “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Is 55:1b). The bread of life is Jesus whom when we receive Him gives us eternal life.

I’m relatively certain that “the crowds” that followed Jesus on foot from the towns “to a desolate place” that day never thought of that place as particularly holy nor that with which He, admittedly miraculously, fed them was anything more than merely a marvelous sea side picnic of sea food sandwiches. They could have gone into the surrounding towns, I suppose, to buy for themselves as much food as they wanted. But the issue wasn’t the bread of the mixing bowl and the oven. As Jesus would later say of their ancestors who ate the bread, the manna from heaven, that they would die (John 6:49), now, here the hymn reflects the deeper understanding as when Jesus pointed beyond the fish and loaves to Himself and said, “I am the bread, I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:48-51). Mmm-hmmm! Okay. And all the Lutherans ask the catechism question, “And what does this mean?”

There were no Lutherans in the crowds that day and they never asked that question. Still Jesus miraculously gave them all the bread of life from the earth they needed that would sustain them at least until the next morning. But we are Lutherans. And so we ask, “what does this mean?” Surely we’re not supposed to see some connection with the sacrament of Holy Communion here, are we? For here we have bread and wine, not, as there, bread and fish. Even though we receive the “bread of life” in the sacrament, nevertheless we will die. So what, indeed, does this mean?

In the historic record book of the then 125-year-old Trinity Lutheran Church of Jackson, Michigan, the old record books record with the pastors’ beautiful script that the majority of funerals 125 years ago were mainly newborns and infants! I’d like to get the records to find out how many funerals I have conducted in the past thirty-five years. Since I have been your pastor I have conducted four funerals. The point is the seeming contradiction between our daily experience of death and Jesus’ words here, “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” So, in a sense, we’re in the same boat with those crowds in the desolate seaside place that day.

And don’t let the apostles, that inner circle of disciples, off the hook either. They could only think of bread from Kroger or Meijer when they suggested Jesus should send the crowd away “to go into the [local mall] and buy food for themselves.” Yes, the Lord led them to this desolate place. But it wasn’t a particularly holy place, they thought. They thought He was speaking about regular bread. And, indeed, the crowds, sitting on the grass, did have a picnic. But this by itself isn’t the real reason Jesus performed this miracle.

That’s okay. That’s okay, you know. It’s okay because God has worked out His good and gracious will for you and for every sinner regardless of your awareness or understanding of it, in spite of the ignorance, blindness and darkness that sin has cast over every person. That’s what makes God’s love and salvation “grace” after all, doesn’t it? As St. Paul figured, “even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:5).

But yes, you are right in thinking that the account of the feeding of the 5,000 in the wilderness has to do with much more than merely our “daily bread.” The disciples would remember this event and the other one(s?) especially after the Lord’s institution of and command to repeat the Passover sacrament of His body and blood. For in the sacrament, indeed, “par excellence,” the Lord leads us and make this a most holy place. He here feeds us not with mere bread and wine but with Himself and the treasures of His grace.

What are those treasures? To God’s people of old, the Jews, St. Paul told us today those treasures included “the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.”

“The adoption.” The Israelites became God’s children in the same way that you do today. He brings us into His family as sinful aliens. The adoption procedure is through the legal declaration of forgiveness for the sake of faith in Christ.

“The glory” is all those appearances of God’s presence through clouds and fire. We view His glory the more perfectly in the image of the crucified Christ. But even that is but a glimpse of the glory that awaits us. So says St. John, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

“The covenants” are all those blessed promises God made with His people from the covenant of the rainbow with Noah to the covenant of the promised Messiah hinted at already in the Garden of Eden, spoken to His servant Abraham, faithfully kept through the Exodus, King David to Joseph and the blessed virgin Mary. So also has God made a covenant with you through Christ His Son, the baptismal covenant of the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.

“The giving of the law” is the glory of Israel. With them God puts into words His perfect will and purpose for us. God gave His people “the worship,” that is, the ritual and ceremonies, the words and actions by which they could see and hear the words of His grace. One participant in last week’s worship institute made the comment about the red rubrics and words of the Divine Service, saying, “Read the black, do the red.” The greatest promises are all the messianic prophecies come to fulfillment now in the incarnation, birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Therefore Paul finishes his list saying, “But above all to them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” Notice here and in other places he just cannot speak of the glory of God in Christ without praise.

The Lord continues to lead us to the holy place of His presence in Word and Sacrament where He continues to feed us with faith, forgiveness, life and hope. What’s more He tells us His grace, His love, His salvation is a totally free gift. “What earth could never buy” is Jesus, “the bread of life from heaven.” Whoever eats this bread will never die. We have been given the New Testament adoption and glory and covenants, the law of love, the worship and promises that lead us to eternal life. Let us never leave or neglect this gift but remain faithful unto death so that we may receive the crown of righteousness.