Kings not by force. Laetare 2014. St. John 6:1-15
Kings not by force
You see here that this Jesus, our Jesus, your Jesus, has far more power than just to work wonders and impress men. This isn’t a stunt designed to get people to go home and tell their neighbors, “You know what I saw that wonderful prophet Jesus do?”
This is the work of the Creator, Who caused life to multiply on the earth, fish to fill the sea, livestock and beasts of the field and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.
Who still renews the face of the earth and waters it and makes one grain fall in the earth and bear a thousand.
He feeds the young ravens when they cry. All the beasts of the forest are His, and the cattle on a thousand hills.
He governs the earth still, and holds the hearts of the rulers of the world in His hand.
The Lord multiplies bread on the earth every day. He’s been doing it every day since the first day life appeared on earth. And He does it even though we hardly ever consider it much less thank Him for it.
So He doesn’t do this little wonder of multiplying the barley loaves and the little fish to get fans. He doesn’t accept honor from men; the same sinners who want to make him king today will complain about Him tomorrow when He tells them He has come from God to give them bread which a man may eat and not die.
The multiplication of the loaves and fishes shows Jesus’ power—the quiet, effortless power with which the Creator provides food for His creatures.
The miracle is impressive. But the actual food provided? People want more than barley bread and sardines. Barley was used to feed animals and poor people. Even if the people would have been more than happy to have an unlimited supply of barley loaves and sardines back then, eventually they would have wanted more, especially if they knew Jesus could give more.
Today a meal of bread and sardines even with a miracle might cause some complaining. We’re used to more food and better food even for poor people in our country.
That’s what the gods of the modern world have provided for us.
Jesus fed 5000 people by a miracle. But we drive down the street and see a sign that says “Billions and Billions of people served.” And even though Mc Donald’s didn’t exactly work a miracle to do this, it’s still pretty impressive. And the food they made tastes a lot better to most people than barley bread and sardines.
If Jesus was a competitor you can bet that McDonald’s would have done a study on how Jesus’ food compares to a Big Mac, fries, and a coke in terms of taste. I bet if you gave those people from Galilee the choice between the bread and fish and a Mc Donald’s value meal, they’d go for Mc Donald’s too.
This is the problem for Jesus. Even though He can do anything He doesn’t give people what they want. Isn’t that why the parts of the world that have been Christian for hundreds of years now seem to have grown out of Christianity?
Jesus gave bread and fish and healed the sick, and He did some other miracles too. But mostly He taught the Word of God. And today that’s almost all He does—not many signs and wonders and miracles seem to be happening.
Is it a surprise that people worship the Beast and his image, to quote Revelation, instead of Jesus? The Beast gives people cell phones, Facebook, HD tvs, chocolate, exotic fruit and organic vegetables for the health conscious, cars, social security, credit cards, heart medication, contraception, video games, You Tube, cable, “free love,” divorce.
The beast knows what people want. People want security and pleasure. If you can give that, we are willing to have you as a king or even a god.
The gods of our time are very good at providing security and pleasure. We have better quality food and medical care than any other time in history. Entertainment and conveniences are available to more people than at any other period.
Even though people do not seem to have become more happy, very few would give up these benefits from the gods of the modern world—for anything. That would seem like giving up the little happiness we have and throwing away the chance at true happiness.
That’s the reason why the children of Israel grumble in the Old Testament reading.
God has just finished the first Passover, where after sending plagues on the Egyptians, He took every firstborn son from them but passed over the houses of the Israelites because of the blood of the Passover lamb. Then He led Israel through the Red Sea, and when the Pharaoh tried to chase them down with his chariots, God destroyed him and his army, having the sea drown them after Israel had passed through it on dry land.
But only a little while afterward the Israelites are complaining and blaming Moses and Aaron for taking them out of Egypt to starve to death in the desert.
It’s as if God didn’t exist or hadn’t just proved that He was with them and would provide for them. They have to wait a little bit for food and they’ve already had enough of God.
And later on they complain about the miraculous food God sends them from heaven. “It was better when we were slaves in Egypt, because then we had more than just bread to eat. We had onions, and garlic, and melons. We had variety.”
God had brought them out of slavery to make them “a kingdom of priests [to Him] and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:6) But they didn’t want this honor. What they wanted was to be like all the other nations, except to be powerful instead of slaves.
And this is finally what got Jesus scorn, betrayal, and death. It wasn’t that people didn’t see His power. It’s that He didn’t use it to give people what they want. Judas seemed to realize what the other disciples didn’t—Jesus was never going to make him rich and powerful. Not in this life. That’s why he betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.
It wasn’t that people didn’t see that Jesus had the power to set up a kingdom. But He never did it. He just preached God’s Word to the poor and healed people. He didn’t curry favor with the rulers but was found among the untouchables, the outcasts, the poor, and the sinners.
That’s nice for awhile, but that’s not how things get done in this world. Not by preaching and showing mercy to individuals. Things get done by governing, by wielding power or influence.
Because Jesus didn’t seem to get this, the leaders of the Jews considered Him a threat to the nation (and even more importantly, to themselves and the good thing they had going).
And when they made their move to have Him arrested and put to death quickly, and He didn’t use the power He had to resist them, all His disciples left Him too.
This isn’t what we expect out of our kings and our gods. We expect power, not weakness. Splendor, not lowliness. They’re supposed to provide stability and security and pleasure.
But Jesus provided a simple, lowly meal of barley and sardines.
And you may have noticed, the ones who believed and were closest to Him first served and then ate.
This crowd was not going to become followers of Jesus. They were out looking for miracles, for a guy who would provide security and pleasure. Just like their fathers. It’s the same reason they built a golden calf when Moses was on Mt. Sinai for forty days. It’s the same reason they demanded a king from Samuel.
But the disciples had to serve them, even though they would turn their back on Jesus as soon as they didn’t get their way.
The Holy Spirit draws our attention to the fact that there were exactly 12 baskets of broken pieces left over. One basket full of broken pieces of bread for each disciple.
Further confirmation that Jesus doesn’t give people what they want. His faithful disciples serve first and eat last. And when they eat, they eat the leftovers of the big crowd that will soon turn their back on Jesus. They eat broken pieces of bread that have been in people’ s germy hands and touched their germy mouths. Maybe pieces of sardines too.
How thrilled would you be to eat the crumbs, the food that a crowd of 5000 dropped on the ground?
But there is something more surprising: if there were 12 baskets, that left one person out—Jesus. He seems not to have had any food at all.
Jesus has come to make people kings and priests with Him. He has come to gather His holy people, who are redeemed from all wickedness and eager to do good.
You and I want an idol who will satisfy the lusts of our flesh. Who will make us comfortable and happy in our alienation from God.
Jesus has not come to do that; He has come to bring us to God and make us kings and priests together with Him.
That means that He hasn’t come so that instead of having basic cable you can have all the channels. He hasn’t come to entertain us or to make us secure and unafraid in ourselves, even though our selves are corrupt, constantly turning away from God and subject to death.
Jesus has come to make you a king with Him, so that you reign with God. He has come to make you a priest with Him, so that you bring other people before Him and bring Him and His gifts to other people.
He doesn’t do these things by making us powerful and rich but by giving us His Word.
When God told Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, He said that they were going out into the desert to celebrate a religious festival—to worship.
Pharaoh said no. The people were just lazy.
Some people don’t want to hear God’s Word because it’s not to their taste. They’re busy with their other gods—entertainment, pleasure, buying stuff. Or they’re working and they say, “I can’t go to hear God’s Word because I have to work.”
Other times Christians think that they have to work all the time for God.
Jesus does this miracle to show His disciples that He will provide for our earthly needs. Our first need is to let Jesus serve us with His Word. Without His Word we can’t serve Him. We will say, “Jesus, how on earth am I supposed to feed five thousand people with 5 loaves and two sardines?”
But through His Word Jesus gives us faith that He is the King. Even though He doesn’t use His power to do the things the world and our flesh think He needs to do to protect us. Through His Word He gives us rest. “Give the loaves to me,” He says.
I am Your King and Your God, Jesus says. I give you what is good. I will make sure you have enough to eat if you take a day off to rest and receive My Word. I will make sure you have other things too. You can even have cable.
But the reason why Jesus’ main work was to preach the kingdom of God and Himself as the Savior was because that was more important than healing and feeding, casting out demons, and other miracles.
Through Jesus’ preaching we receive the knowledge of our sins, which is our real problem. Not that we’re bored, depressed, don’t have enough money…our real problem is that we are dead in our sins and condemned as enemies of God.
But Jesus proclaims the forgiveness of sins to us. He proclaims reconciliation with God. It comes through Him; He fully atones for our sins through His agony and His death on the cross.
He serves us with this. And then He leads us in the way of true joy.
He makes us grow up into His image.
He makes us kings with Him: kings “not by force.” Kings who serve others. Priests who serve others.
He calls you to a task and puts you to work; he calls you to be a father, mother, child; wife, husband, single person, widow; employer, employee; pastor, or hearer.
And there you get to join with Him in being king over creation. You get to serve with Him. And you get to pray to the Father whenever you see the needs and suffering of others.
This part is hard—the part where we learn to live like a royal priesthood instead of as slaves. Because to live in Christ is to live in love, because God is love. He gives. He serves His creation.
This crowd didn’t want what Jesus was giving. When they found out that He wasn’t there to provide them with free food, but with the bread of life—His flesh, which He would give for the life of the world—they left.
Yet Jesus served them anyway. He did a miracle. And the disciples, to whom Jesus was going to commit His kingdom, also served. The crowd that didn’t believe ate first. The disciples ate their leftovers. And Jesus, apparently, didn’t eat at all.
That is true happiness and life—not to be served, but to serve. The one who loves has joy and life because the one who loves and serves the most also receives the most from God.
But before love and serving comes being served. Jesus did this by becoming the true Passover lamb. He did not eat because He came to be eaten. He came to give His life for us, and because He died, the righteous for the unrighteous, a king without force, God receives us as sons together with Him. He justifies us, counts us righteous.
Now Jesus serves us with His Word, and He teaches us how to pray, to come through Him to the Father for everything we need and also for the needs of the people He has given us to serve.
He has taken all our ingratitude and misery on Himself and saved us. He sends us out to do the same for others. When we tell them God’s Word and they don’t listen, we get to serve them some more—pray for them.
As we do this, God provides us what we need also, just like the twelve baskets.
It’s not fun to bear other people’s burdens and ingratitude. We can only do it as we grow in faith that Christ has borne all of our burdens and ingratitude.
And so He brings us out to the wilderness to rest; to hear His eternal word.
Soli Deo Gloria