Sermon for Lent 4, March 26, 2017
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and from His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, sacrificed for you on the cross, dead, and buried, yet risen to live and reign forever. Amen.
Exodus 16:11-17 The LORD said to Moses, 12 "I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, 'At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.'" 13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, "It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat. 16 This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Each one is to gather as much as he needs. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.'" 17 The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little.
May the Bread of Life be your daily food.
Dear lowly sinner-saints,
Have you ever wondered why God picked Abraham’s descendants to be His chosen people? I think most of us would guess that God chose to make that people a great nation because of their loyalty and faith, or at least that of Abraham who was credited with righteousness for believing God’s promise. However, when you read the histories of Abraham and his descendants, it really makes you wonder what God saw in them.
Consider Abraham, who is remembered for his great faith. Though he believed God, on at least a couple of occasions, Abraham was afraid that the Lord wouldn’t protect him, so he had his wife become a concubine, or worse, for Abraham’s preservation and benefit. Surprisingly, it seems that Abraham was even rewarded quite well for his deception.
Going down the line from Abraham, we meet Isaac who displayed little greatness, next is Jacob who for personal gain cheated his brother and deceived his father, and later married four wives. The following generation was no better, for ten of the sons conspired to sell the favored son, Joseph, into slavery, but only after deciding it was more profitable to sell him rather than simply kill him.
Four hundred years later, at the time of the events of our text, Abraham’s descendants were being led by God through the wilderness to the Promised Land. They had just witnessed numerous great miracles on their behalf. They had been enriched by the plunder of Egypt as God delivered them from slavery, and still, every time their journey got a bit uncomfortable, they turned against the Lord and grumbled. Immediately before our text, when their food supplies ran low, the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, but in fact, their mumbling was really against the Lord God who had made Himself their Savior.
Considering that history of a lack of faith in God’s promises, you have to wonder, why did God keep helping them? Why did God chose to provide food for this complaining, rebellious people? Why didn’t God just let them die out in that wilderness and pick someone more worthy of His love?
Now, maybe you never have thoughts like that. Maybe i’s just me and some other despicable sinners I have met. But the truth is, many of us sometimes get the feeling that we deserve better than what we get. And, it seems to be the condition of sinful man that whenever things aren’t exactly as we would like in any particular moment, we start to complain. Furthermore, whenever we complain about our situation in life, the actual, ultimate target of every complaint is the Lord Almighty. Thus, whenever we complain about anything, we find ourselves to be exactly as undeserving as those Israelites who were grumbling and complaining out in the wilderness.
So, are you a complainer too? Well, look back on your days. Ladies, have you ever grumbled that your husband forgot your birthday or anniversary? Do you ever complain that he doesn’t pay attention to you like he should? Men, have you ever grumbled (even just to yourself) that your wife didn’t do something just the way you would like it? Do you ever consider her “the old ball and chain”?
But, you don’t have to be married to be susceptible to this sin. Did you ever complain about your job? Or your boss? Or your teacher, or homework? Or the weather, too much rain or too little, too hot or too cold or too humid? Are the markets ever too low to suit your needs? Or the taxes too high? Are you always perfectly happy with the political leaders elected over us? Have you ever complained about being sick? How many of us can honestly say we would thank God if we got cancer? Can we thank God about our situation if we suffer from depression, heart disease, or chronic pain? Can any of us even comprehend thanking God when we lose a loved one to death? Is there ever an occasion when bad things happen to us that we don’t say, “Why, Oh God, why me?”
At the beginning of this sermon, I addressed you all as lowly sinner-saints. Now, I understand that you maybe could take a little offense at that. However, that is what all of us truly are. You see, as long as we live in this world, we are corrupted with sin, and that makes us think and do and say things that are offensive to God or, at least, should be. That also is why we complain, and why we sometimes question God’s love and care for us, just like those Israelites.
So, why did God pick Israel to be His chosen family by which to bring the Promised Savior into the world? Maybe because they are exactly like every other family that has ever inhabited this earth. They were sinners in need of a Savior, just like you and me. Thanks be to God, He chose a people by which He would fulfil His promises, and thanks be to God, He has rescued us from our slavery in sin. Because, the truth is, we are sinners who need a God who will love us in spite of our faults, who will feed us even when we complain, who knows our needs and hears our prayers even before we remember to pray. Thanks be to God, He sent His Son as the Bread of Life who is both the message and the means of our salvation. Therefore, dear friends, May the Bread of Life be your daily food.
Whenever we find ourselves comparable to grumbling, stumbling, ungrateful sinners like the Israelites, we can be thankful that Jesus didn’t come to save holy ones but sinners. We can rejoice that because we have been brought to faith in Jesus, wherein we confess that we truly are sinners who deserve nothing from God’s hand but punishment and death and have done nothing to deserve His favor, yet, in that Christian faith, God counts us as holy for the sake of the suffering and death of His own dear Son.
Because we are all sinners, we all have to be cleansed of our sins. We all have to grow so in faith that we learn to be content with whatever God gives us. To our sinful flesh, that seems extremely hard, even impossible. There are just too many hurts, and too many ways the world troubles us, for us ever to stand faithfully before God on our own.
In our Gospel lesson, we heard of the great miracle by which Jesus fed over five thousand people. The Israelites were so enamored of the miracle that they ignored the message of salvation Jesus was preaching, and instead, hoped to make Him their king to provide easy bread for them. Just like their forefathers in the wilderness, they still didn’t understand how God works. While God certainly knows our physical needs, He isn’t just concerned that we have full bellies and nice houses to live in. God wants you to live forever in mansions that truly far surpass anything here on earth.
Jesus had to leave those crowds behind the day He set that table in the wilderness. They didn’t want the salvation He offered. The question for us is, “What bread do we want?” Do we want a false god who is mostly concerned about making this world a better place, or the true God who wants us to live in His family and His mansions forever?
When Abraham’s descendants wanted God only for cheap bread, Jesus said, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me will never go hungry, and he who believes in Me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35) The food we need to live forever isn’t the groceries we bring home from the store, or the wheat and corn we grow in our fields. It isn’t the medicines that cure diseases or the surgeries that cut out cancers. It is the One Man who would and could live a perfectly holy life in our place and still be willing to take the punishment and death we deserved for our complaining and lack of faith.
Whenever you might be troubled with wants or fears or even sorrows, remember what St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Roman congregation, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:28-32) Jesus answered that question by saying, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8) And, “Do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33)
Paul also wrote, “Not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:16-17) The Good News Paul referred to is everything God tells us about what Jesus did to redeem us, to cleanse us of sin, to rescue us from the forces of darkness and from the sentence of everlasting death. All of that is found in Jesus. Therefore, Jesus wants us to hear His message and believe it. He wants us to be consuming that Good News every day of our lives so the devil can’t steal our hearts away.
How powerful is our Savior? Powerful enough to provide all the bread millions of people would need to sustain them through forty years of wandering in the desert, placed outside their tents on a daily basis with the dew of the night. Powerful enough to turn a young boy’s “five barley loaves and two small fish” into a feast for over five thousand people with twelve baskets of leftovers. Powerful enough to take on the devil’s temptations and win. Powerful enough to suffer the death and hell we deserved yet rise up from the grave on the third day to live and reign forever at His Father’s side in heaven. Powerful enough to be our Bread of Life, our Savior and Redeemer, our hope for everlasting life, and our sure confidence for everything we need in this world.
Dear friends, we are not just sinners. In God’s eyes, we are saints, set apart to God through faith in Jesus to live and praise Him forever. Our Jesus was powerful enough to endure every trial, every moment of hunger, every pain, every sorrow, every loss, even death on the cross without ever once complaining or questioning His Father’s plan. Jesus did that for you. He did that so God Almighty would count you as one of His holy ones and welcome you into Paradise. Make this Good News your daily joy and hope. May the Bread of Life be your daily food. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.