Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Economist Milton Friedman once wrote: “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” And he’s right. Someone has to pay. Somewhere, sometime. The five thousand who Jesus fed in our Gospel reading might disagree. They certainly got a free lunch, didn’t they? Christ generated fish and bread right out of thin air! It was an occasion where the need far surpassed the available resources. It was also an occasion where Jesus had to perform “a sign” to satisfy the want. A sign is not just a miracle. It is a miracle that tells you something about Jesus. The question before us this morning: what does the feeding of the five thousand tell us about Jesus’ identity?
Jesus Feeds Us
John tells us that the Jewish feast of Passover was just around the corner. It was late in the day. The sun was going down. Soon it would be dark. And the crowd of diseased and demonised and curious was there. The place was set, the table was about to be prepared.
“How are we going to feed all these people?” Jesus asked his disciples. He knew how, but he was testing them. They saw him turn water into wine. They saw him heal the blind, the lame, the demon-possessed with nothing more than a word from His mouth. Jesus was looking for some slight sign of faith from his disciples.
We tend to see things in the way of Philip and Andrew. Money and resources. Philip thought in terms of money. They did not have enough money. “You’d have to work over six months to feed this crowd, and even then, they’d get barely more than a bite.” Philip saw the problem as a problem of the numbers – money. He knew how much bread cost, and he knew that there was no such thing as a free lunch. Someone would have to pay for it, and the disciples’ wallets were too empty.
On the other hand, Andrew thought about the resources. He found a little boy carrying his lunch bag – five barley loaves and a couple of dried fish. Maybe the kid was bringing them home to his mother. And now some guys were talking about how they could feed this massive crowd of people with his lunch! Andrew points out that it was not enough. You could barely feed one or two people, let alone 5000. How far will these go among so many? They didn’t have enough resources.”We don’t have enough money to do that,” we say with Philip. Then with Andrew we say, “We don’t have the resources, and what we have is way too little.”
The need far surpassed the money and resources. What the disciples had in the moneybag was insufficient for their needs. Money was not the answer. Resources were not the answer. The situation called for Jesus. Human solution were inadequate, and that is the point. He can make five barley loaves and two fish enough for five thousand.
Jesus assumes responsibility for these people. He has the people sit down and rest. After all, he is good. He came not to be served but to serve. No crowd is too big for Jesus to feed. This is Jesus’ mountain, and on Jesus’ mountain, there is such a thing as a free lunch. Bread without a sweat. Fish without fishing. Here, all the people had to do was sit there on the cool, green grass.
Jesus took a little boy’s lunch and turned it into a feast for 5000. Notice how He works through means – ordinary, humble means: a little boy’s lunch. Christ doesn’t turn stones into bread. He was tempted once by the devil to do that when He was hungry in the wilderness. But that isn’t Jesus’ way to do things. He works through the creation, not around it or despite it. And so He takes these humble means, five barley loaves and two fish, and He multiplies them far beyond what they could accomplish.
This was free bread. Enough to fill over 5000 growling bellies that day. The little boy even got his lunch back. This was without any cost to the consumer. This is bread no one works for, free, gracious bread. To drive home the point for the slow of heart to believe, the disciples gathered a perfect twelve baskets of leftovers. One for each disciple. They ate with God in the Flesh on the mountain, and their baskets were filled to overflowing.
That’s who he is. That’s the abundance of his grace. He is the one who feeds us abundantly and freely. He does so without cost to us., He feeds us both physically and spiritually. We’ll look at spiritual food in the coming weeks, but for today, I want us to note how the Lord feeds us physically. Luther put it best in Catechism on the First Article of the Creed. “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.” That’s your God. The God who feeds you. The God who daily and richly provides for you, freely, without any merit or worthiness in you.
Jesus is the Promised King
The crowd received enough food to fill their stomachs. How did they react? They interpreted the miracle as revealing who Jesus is. They call Jesus the Prophet. They mean the ‘prophet like Moses’, predicted in Deuteronomy 18, the coming great leader who would do for the people what Moses did, leading them from slavery to freedom. They were looking for a king who would deliver them, not from sin, but the tyranny of Rome. Thus, the people intended to re-establish David’s throne in all its former glory.
Jesus’ hearers quickly make the jump from ‘prophet’ to ‘king’. If Jesus is the great Prophet promised so long ago, then he will lead the people now. The people wanted to make Jesus king that day, by force if necessary. And who wouldn’t? Make Jesus king, they said, and he’ll put a chicken in every pot and a loaf in every bread box. Put Him in charge of the food supply, and we’ll never be hungry again. Set Jesus in charge, and world hunger would disappear in a heartbeat. An endless supply of free bread for all. Now there’s an economic plan that’s sure to please the voters! A man who could feed 5000 could do anything! In their mind’s eye, the masses probably saw Jesus multiplying swords to help fight the Roman legions. They could see the image of Caesar on their coins replaced with that of Jesus. Of course, the people wanted Jesus to be their king. Who would not want to be subject to a bread-king, a man that will gratify all your desires?
Like the crowds, we have been fed by God’s grace, fed with God’s mercy and care and covenant love, and, like them, we often fail to see what God is doing among us. We can look for the “wrong” kind of Jesus. We can look for a Jesus who will simply serve our programs, desires, and wishes. This passage reminds us to look at the real Jesus.
Yes, Jesus is the Prophet and the King, but not in the way the crowd thinks. Jesus will not be a bread-king. His kingdom is not of this world. Yet, despite their confusion, they are right. The sign that Jesus displayed in our reading declares him to be the Prophet and King. This sign points us to the identity of Jesus: he is the Prophet like Moses; he is the offspring of David. Jesus is the feeder of the multitude, healer of the sick, Savior of the world, bringer of new birth by the Spirit in Baptism, builder of the torn-down temple, maker of wine from water, and walker who treads the waves. But, that isn’t the king the crowd wants.
Milton Friedman was right. There is no such thing as a free lunch, including this one. Someone always has to pay. Jesus did. That’s the kind of king you have. He picked up the tab and paid it in full. The feast is on Him, and He is the feast. It was free to the diners, but it was costly to Jesus. Every miracle, the healings, the feedings, cost Jesus His life. Yet it is precisely this king—the Crucified King—that we must worship. The cross shows the kind of king that he is, fulfilling everything he promised as the Prophet. Jesus has come, the new Moses, the new David, prophet and king, incarnate God who walks on water. This miracle shows us that the kingdom of God has broken into this world with His coming. True and living bread had come down from heaven. He is the king who feeds us daily and richly. Jesus is showing us in word and deed how he rules and reigns. Instead of being served like a king, he serves food to the crowd. He’s a king who daily and richly provides for you, freely, without any merit or worthiness in you. He is the king who feeds you freely, but at great cost to himself. He is the king who continues to come to feed you, even today, with the very bread of heaven so that….
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, may guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.