Satisfied in the Wasteland. 7th Sunday after Trinity 2014.
They left their homes, business, fields and trickled out into the wasteland. In the rocks and the dust they found a sea of hungry, burnt people. And in the midst of them, Jesus.
They stayed three days. No conveniences. No bathrooms. No food. Just the thousands. And Jesus.
After a day or so they could have gone home and gotten something to eat, but they didn’t. They were hungry for something else. For what? For Jesus.
How blessed was that ragged, dusty, famished four thousand! How blessed we would be if we were in the wasteland, burning in the sun, fainting from hunger, with no place to lay our heads, with nothing but Jesus!
But we aren’t in a wasteland, sadly. We’re in a pleasure garden compared to first-century Galilee. We’ve never even had to go hungry for a day. And have we ever been that hungry for Jesus?
We try to satisfy ourselves in the garden of earthly delights, but Jesus satisfies us in the wasteland.
If we lost our conveniences, electronics, cars, and all the amenities of life in America, would Jesus really satisfy us? Or would life be empty if all we had was Jesus?
Outside the church it’s no surprise when people live saying, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die,” when they live their lives trying to be satisfied with food, drink, cars, cash, toys. Outside of the crowd that listens to Jesus’ word there is no knowledge of the God who satisfies. Apart from the man in the wasteland, who died on the barren wood, there is no God. There is only an endless hunger and restlessness that can be suppressed but never satisfied.
In the church we confess the God who satisfies; God the Father, the maker of heaven and earth, and His Son, who had compassion on the hungry crowds. But how often our lives express faith in something else!
How often Christians’ lives are consumed by what the world calls needs but which are in reality only desires, lusts. I have to go into debt and work all the time because I need to live in a town with good schools. I need to have my kids in activities on Sundays. And the kids, learning from us, start saying they can’t go to church because they need to work.
And we neglect the one thing needful, the one thing we really need, that can really satisfy us—the Word of God. We may neglect it by not coming to church, or we may go to church but never have time for it apart from Sunday morning.
And we are restless, just like the world. And the world sees our doubt that Jesus is really able to satisfy us even in the wasteland, because we hesitate to go to Jesus until we are sure we can take all our stuff with and are certain that lunch will be provided.
As the standard of living has gone up in our country, hunger for God has decreased, or people have found ways of suppressing the hunger besides going to hear Jesus’ word. We all know this can’t go on forever. God doesn’t overlook the despising of His Word, not even in this world, much less the world to come.
But it’s not the despising of Jesus done by those outside the church that we have to worry about. “Judgment begins with the house of God”, says Scripture. “To whomever much has been given, much will be required.” The more we have heard God’s Word, the more guilt we have when we try to satisfy ourselves with earthly comforts and neglect the one thing needful. The restlessness and dissatisfaction we see in ourselves are just the beginning of the eternal pangs of hunger and regret that will belong to those who do not let Christ’s word satisfy them in this life.
If only we were in the wasteland like the four thousand, and had a hunger for God like theirs!
Jesus is still receiving people in the wasteland, and He doesn’t require a hunger like theirs. You don’t have to measure up to someone else’s qualifications. You just have to be a sinner who will be damned without Jesus and who wants to be saved.
He will receive you, whatever the state of your heart.
If you are not as hungry for Him as you should be.
If you know that your heart is tied up in love for earthly things, and that often you love those things more than you love Jesus, He will receive you.
If you really just want to avoid the fiery wasteland of hell, and you’re not sure you even love God, Jesus will receive you like that.
If you’ve heard Jesus’ Word and rejected it, He will receive you now.
If you’ve heard His word and believed it, but grown lukewarm and allowed yourself to be drawn away from Him by the love of other things, He will receive you.
Even if you aren’t aware of anything against yourself, and yet you want to be saved from the sin that lives in you, Jesus will receive you.
And what will Jesus do when you let everything else be second and come to Him to hear His Word?
He will satisfy you.
He satisfies you with good news from God, with His Word of grace.
We come to Him saying, “Lord, I need salvation. I have an idolatrous heart; it craves and worships earthly pleasures, wealth, and honor.”
And Jesus says, “I am your salvation.”
And He is. Because when He was in the wasteland, He loved and trusted His Father and never went aside after anything else. Not even in His heart. That is the righteousness He credits to your soul’s account.
He says in His Word, “My faithful heart’s righteousness is yours, and your unbelieving heart’s idolatry is mine.”
That was why He was led into the desert to hunger and be tempted by Satan for forty days. Because He was serving to pay for your unbelieving heart’s lusts for other gods. And He stood firm in the wasteland, just as He stood firm later in the arid wasteland of God’s displeasure in the garden of Gethsemane. He stood firm even though He received no relief in response to His pitiful cries to His Father. He stood firm in trust and love of God, even when God was silent and left Him, not in a paradise, but in a wilderness where He was kissed by the betrayer and embraced by the icy sweat of death. God left Him to be surrounded by murderers spewing false accusations, to be forsaken by those who should have defended Him, to be put to an accursed death as a blasphemer against God. All this was the bitter reward of our restless craving.
But on that barren tree, Jesus satisfies us in the wasteland. He satisfies the judgment against us, and He satisfies our hunger for righteousness, burying our transgressions with His body in the tomb, breaking the bands of death to live as our righteousness.
There He turns our wasteland into a garden, a paradise, as He steps out of the tomb hewn from the rock. He has turned our condemnation and the wrath against us into pardon, grace, acquittal, and justification on the barren tree of the cross. In His Word He satisfies you with this. He says, “This is yours. You are justified.” That word is life.
Today He is doing the same kinds of unthinkable miracles—satisfying in the wasteland, turning judgment into grace and death into life.
Today Liam and Anna became sharers in Jesus’ cross, His death, and His burial when they were baptized. That hardly seems like something to be happy about, that two little people became participants in crucifixion and death! But as often as we turn to our Baptism into Jesus’ death and the grave we will find it a gate to new life, a gate into the resurrection of Jesus, a doorway into freedom from sin’s curse and dominion, the gate of righteousness. The water in which we are buried with Jesus is living water that springs up to eternal life.
And Jesus does another miracle today in His holy Supper, confounding our fleshly understanding. In the midst of our utter weakness, He speaks His Word and mightily joins His body with the bread and His body with the wine. He makes this ordinary food and drink food and drink that gives indestructible, immortal life, food and drink that brings God’s forgiveness of all sin. It is food that gives eternal life to those who are dying.
When Jesus leads us into the wasteland, it isn’t because He wants to take away all comfort and pleasure. He wants to give us real comfort and pleasure, to lead us into the eternal paradise of God where we taste the fruit of the tree of life. We can’t know how that food can satisfy us when we are still gorged on earthly pleasures. So Jesus leads us into the wasteland where earthly comforts don’t grow, so that we can see that He is the one who provides what we need for this life, and that He provides what truly satisfies—Himself for us, broken and distributed in the Word of the Gospel and in the bread and wine of the Sacrament.
May He feed us with this food and strengthen us by it to lay hold on eternal life.
The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria