Faith Feasts on the Bread of Life

Pentecost 11 + August 2 & 5, 2018 + Pr. Dale Reckzin                                               Download PDF

Text: John 6:24-35

Hymn: Jesus, Priceless Treasure (CW 349)

If I were not a pastor, there is one job I would like.  I would want to be a restaurant critic. Just think.  A restaurant critic’s job is to go out to dinner.  His “work” is what normal people do for fun.  If you were a restaurant critic, you get to eat at all the new restaurants.  You can order anything off the menu, including appetizers, desserts, and drinks.  And, no matter what you order, you don’t pay for it.  To make it even better, not only don’t you pay for your meal, you actually get paid to eat it.  How great is that?

Well, for as great as it would be to be a restaurant critic, Jesus shows us something even better.  Of course, when Jesus talks about eating, he is not talking about dinner at a restaurant.  He isn’t even talking about physical food for our bodies. Jesus says, “My Father…gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. 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.” (v 32-35)

Jesus spoke these words to a crowd of people. They had followed him because they had just eaten the bread and fish that Jesus miraculously multiplied to feed the five thousand.  They were amazed at Jesus.  They wanted more of Jesus.  But Jesus knew their unhealthy intentions.  Jesus said to the crowd: "you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill." (v 26)

The crowd knew that Jesus had performed a miracle.  But they focused on the result of the miracle—namely, the food.  They were more concerned about the result of the miracle than the meaning of the miracle.  So, Jesus had to explain.  Jesus tells the crowd: "Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval." (v 27)

 Jesus performed this miracle—actually, Jesus performed all his miracles—not as an end in themselves.  Jesus performed miracles to show that God, the Father, had approved of his Son, Jesus Christ.  Jesus performed miracles to show that he was the promised Messiah.  Jesus was the promised Savior.

So, Jesus told the crowd that the spiritual food he offers them was better than the physical food he had just given them.  That’s why Jesus said, "Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life." (v 27) So, once the crowd finally caught on to the spiritual nature of Christ’s ministry, they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" (v 28)

To their question, Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." (v 29)  Jesus told the crowd to believe in him.  But faith is not really their work.  A sinner without faith cannot do the work of God.  Rather, God does the work when God blesses a sinner with faith in Jesus.  So, God’s gift of faith is even more amazing than the miracle of feeding the five thousand.  Miracles do what is normally impossible to do. A miracle overrides the laws of nature and physics.

But, when God gives faith, he overrides and overpowers something stronger and more constant than the laws of physics.  When God gives you faith in Jesus he is overriding and destroying the power of your sinful, stubborn unbelief, and the power of Satan himself.  And only God can do the work of giving you faith.  Saint Paul says in Corinthians, No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit. (I Cor. 12:3) So, faith is God’s work in us.  But, once God gives us faith, we put our faith to work.  From our text we see what that work of faith is.  FAITH FEASTS ON THE BREAD OF LIFE.  

Now, since faith is God’s work in us and God powers our faith, the work of faith is like being a restaurant critic.  A restaurant critic’s work is what most people do for fun—they go out to dinner.  And restaurant critics get to eat the best food, and usually as much as they want. And restaurant critics don’t have to pay for their food.  Their company pays for it. And, even better, they get paid to eat that dinner.  So, at least from my perspective, you can hardly call being a restaurant critic “work.”

That describes the “work” of faith.  Faith is a free gift from God.  Jesus Christ, who is the food that faith consumes, is also a free gift from God.  When your faith feasts on Jesus, you don’t get money in a paycheck.  No, when faith feasts on Jesus, you get even greater blessings than money.

Feasting on Jesus gives you eternal life.  Jesus said, "Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you." (v 27) Faith in Jesus makes you live forever.  Faith in Jesus means that your physical death is not the end of your existence.  Faith in Jesus means you will spend eternity in heaven. 

And heaven is the only place where real, true life exists.  Life, as God intended it to be for us, can only exist in heaven because in heaven there is nothing that can hinder or harm our life.  In heaven there is no suffering, no pain, no disease, no arguments, no crime, no fear, no hatred, no war, and no problems, whatsoever.  Heaven is life as it is meant to be because in heaven we will have a perfect relationship with God. Flowing from that perfect relationship with God, we will also have a perfect relationship with everyone else in heaven. 

Heaven is ours because Jesus lived, and died, and rose again to pay the penalty for our sins.  Heaven is ours because Jesus ascended to heaven to prepare a place for you and for me and for every believer.  Heaven is yours because Jesus rules over all creation and he will not let life, nor death, neither the present nor the future, nor any power separate you from the love of God. (Rom. 8:38) Heaven is yours because Jesus is coming again to judge all humanity. Then he will take you and all believers to that paradise of God’s everlasting love, glory, and peace. That’s what faith feasts on.  Faith feasts on the bread of eternal life and eternal life is Christ Jesus, our Lord. 

Now, the word, “feast” means to have a big meal of celebration.  A feast has an abundance of food.  After a feast nobody should ever say, “There wasn’t enough to eat.  I’m still hungry.”  Well, when faith feasts on Jesus, it is satisfied.  As Jesus says, "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.” (v 35) Jesus always satisfies all our needs for life and for salvation.

Unfortunately, we don’t always want to feast on Jesus. We let the guilt of past sins block our spiritual appetite.  We think, I am not worthy to feast at God’s banquet of salvation.  So, I’ll just have a morsel of grace and sip of forgiveness.  That’s all I deserve.  Or, fear and doubt keep us away from the banquet of blessings.  We think, My faith is so weak.  I want to be a firm believer.  But so many times, the Bible does not make sense. I struggle to understand God.  I struggle to believe in God. And far too often we just let our sinful nature kill our spiritual appetite.  We think, I don’t like the menu at God’s restaurant.  I want to feast on all the pleasures of this world. I want to feed my ego with stories about how great I am and how much I am worth and how I deserve the best for just being me.  Yes, guilt, doubt, and ego all interfere with feasting on Jesus, the Bread of Life.

But praise be to Jesus.  He loves us too much to let our guilt, our doubt, and our egos prevent us from feasting on his blessing of life.  So, Jesus increases our spiritual appetite by calling us to repentance.  He shows us our sins.  He even makes us suffer in this world so that we know nothing in this world can satisfy our hunger and thirst.  And then, as he always does, he forgives us.  He restores us.  He invites us to the banquet of salvation through his Word and sacrament.  And he feeds us.  Jesus feeds us himself.  He gives us his life so we can have eternal life.  And then, with Jesus, our faith has a feast.

Amen.

Christ Rules His Church His Way (The Right Way!)

Pentecost 10  +  July26 & 29, 2018  +  Pr. Dale Reckzin

Text: Mark 6:1-15           

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David was a young Hebrew shepherd.  Goliath was a super-sized Philistine soldier.  Goliath struck fear into the hearts of Israel’s soldiers. Goliath shamed the Israelite army with his taunting. As the army of Israel faced the Philistine army in the Valley of Elah, Goliath boasted: “This day I defy the ranks of Israel!  Give me a man and let us fight each other.” (I Sam 17:10)

For forty days Israel’s soldiers stood there, frozen in fear.  But then young David comes along.  He hears Goliath’s challenge. David cannot tolerate this pagan Philistine mocking the God of Israel.  So, David tells Saul, king of Israel, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; (I), your servant will go out and fight him,” (I Sam 17:32)

King Saul didn’t think diminutive David stood a chance against gigantic Goliath.  But, to give David a fighting chance, King Saul gave David his own armor, helmet, sword, and battle clothes.  But Saul’s warrior wear was too big for David. So, instead, David used his slingshot.

You know what happened.  David met Goliath in the Valley of Elah.  David let his stone fly.  That stone sunk into Goliath’s forehead.  Goliath fell dead. David chopped off his head.  Israel rejoiced.  But David gave credit where credit was due. Just before David killed Goliath, he said to him, “It is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s.” (I Sam 17:47)

Fast forward a thousand years and a hundred and twenty miles north from the Valley of Elah to a hillside on the far shore of the Sea of Galilee. A descendant of King David finds himself facing a throng of Israelites.  But this Israelite army is not facing threatening taunts from a nine-foot Philistine.  This army is facing a much more common enemy.  They are hungry.  They had come from all the towns in the area to listen to the miracle-worker.  It got to be late afternoon.  Then they were really hungry.

And just as young King David faced nine-foot Goliath, so this descendant of David faced what seemed like an impossible problem. How do you feed five thousand people when you are out in the middle of nowhere?  Some of his friends analyzed the solution.  Philip [said], "Eight months' wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!" … Andrew… spoke up, "Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?" (v 7, 9)

Just like King Saul thought that diminutive David did not stand a chance against gigantic Goliath, so, too, Philip and Andrew thought that there was no chance—there was no way to feed so many people in the middle of nowhere.

But eliminating the giant crowd’s hunger happened the same way David eliminated the giant Goliath.  “It is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s.” (I Sam 17:47)

So, just like David did not use Saul’s armor, this descendent of David did not use the ancient Israel version of food trucks, Domino’s delivery, or even Amazon drones to drop food on the crowd.  You know what happened.  Saint John tells us:  "Jesus said, 'Have the people sit down.'...The men sat down, about five thousand of them.  Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated…. He did the same with the fish.  When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, 'Gather the pieces that are left over...'  So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over." (v 10-13)

 Jesus performed the miracle of feeding the five thousand.  Jesus did not let an impossible problem stop him.  Jesus did not listen to the pessimistic prognosis Andrew and Philip gave him.  Like his ancestor, King David, King Jesus called on his heavenly Father.  In compassion for these five thousand people and using God’s miraculous power, Jesus fed the five thousand.

But many of those five thousand people got a bad idea stuck in their head.  Our text says, "After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, 'Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.'  Jesus [knew] that they intended to come and make him king by force, [so he] withdrew again to a mountain by himself." (v 14)

The crowd wanted Jesus to be a bread-king. They thought, If Jesus can feed five thousand of us with two small fish and five barely loaves, then Jesus can do anything.  He can heal our diseases.  He can pay our bills. He can make our problems disappear. He can drive out the Romans. He can make Israel as glorious as it was a thousand years ago under King David.

Well, Jesus came to be a king, but not a bread king. And Jesus did not perform miracles so that he could be Israel’s sugar-daddy.  Jesus did not come to set up an elaborate welfare program, meals on wheels, universal health care, social security, and a twenty-five shekel an hour minimum wage.  Yes, Jesus performed miracles.  But miracles were never Christ’s standard operating procedure. Instead, those miracles displayed Christ’s compassion for his suffering people.  Those miracles also demonstrated that Christ had great power—yes, God’s almighty power—to solve problems that humans cannot possibly solve themselves.

So, we have to be careful when we consider how Jesus uses his power for our benefit. For most of our everyday problems, Jesus expects us to use the brain power and skills God gave us.  So, do you have a health problem?  Well, don’t expect Jesus to cure you instantly.  Instead, go to the doctor.  Lose weight.  Start exercising.  Eat better. Quit smoking.  Do you have huge debt or other financial problems?  Well, don’t expect Jesus to reveal the winning Powerball numbers to you in a dream. Instead, make a budget and stick to it.  Stop spending money on foolish, impulsive purchases.  Stop living beyond your means.  The same is true for family problems, work problems, and almost every normal problem we face.  Jesus never promised us a “miracle button” to press whenever we don’t feel like working out our own solutions.

However, there are some problems you can’t solve no matter what you do. You take care of your health but still get that diagnosis of terminal cancer.  You love your spouse but your spouse abandons you. You manage your finances wisely but you still end up in bankruptcy.  So, why doesn’t Jesus step in to help?  Why doesn’t he use his miraculous power to spare your life, save your marriage, or keep you out of the poor house?

Well, Jesus allows problems to overwhelm us because all our unsolvable problems are indicators of our greatest unsolvable problem.  It’s a problem more gigantic than a nine-foot Philistine.  It’s a problem larger than feeding a hungry crowd.  You know this problem.  It is the cause of all other problems.  That problem is sin and everything sin causes:  pain, sorrow, suffering, disease, death, and damnation. 

Sin - that’s the real problem Jesus came to solve.  And Jesus is the one and only solution to your sin.  But Jesus didn’t destroy sin with a sling shot and stone.  Jesus destroyed sin with three nails and a wooden cross.  Jesus doesn’t destroy sin by miraculously multiplying two small fish and five loaves of barley.  Jesus destroys sin by multiplying God’s grace wherever sin flourishes.  Jesus doesn’t destroy sin and damnation by letting you live on easy street.  Jesus destroys sin once and for all when he takes you to the place where the streets are paved with gold, where the sun never sets, and where "there will be no more crying or mourning or death or pain." (Rev 21:4)  

So, for the sake of your life and your salvation, don’t try to force Jesus to be the kind of king you think he should be.  Let Jesus be the kind of Savior-King he came to be.  This is the truth that comforts you, forgives you, and saves you: Christ rules his church his way (the right way)! When Christ rules his Church with his grace, his forgiveness, and his salvation, then you are blessed for all eternity.

Amen.

Only God's Righteous Branch Can Be Your True Shepherd

Pentecost 9 + July 19 & 22, 2018 + Pr. Dale Reckzin                                                                  Download PDF

Text: Jeremiah 23:1-6

Hymn: Behold, A Branch Is Growing (CW 47)

Jeremiah had a tough job. He was a prophet to the Kingdom of Judah during its last years.  His forty-year ministry left him abused, exhausted, and lonely.  But his ministry began on a positive note.  Jeremiah had been the close advisor to good King Josiah. Josiah had rekindled the spiritual life of Judah.  Josiah led his people to abandon idolatry and immorality.  Together, Josiah and Jeremiah brought God’s true Word to the Jews.

But King Josiah died in battle.  From then on, Judah only had evil kings. Judah quickly slipped back into idolatry.  Greed, materialism, and injustice filled the nation.  Furthermore, the Babylonian empire was growing in power and breathing down Judah’s neck.  But all the while, false prophets assured the people of Judah that they were doing just fine.

The Lord commissioned Jeremiah to preach against Judah.  For being faithful to the Lord, Jeremiah suffered frequent imprisonments under the last four kings of Judah.  The false prophets also agitated the Jewish people to mock and reject Jeremiah. But Jeremiah did not give up. Jeremiah kept proclaiming the true Word of the Lord.  Jeremiah kept preaching God’s holy Word whether Judah wanted to hear it or not.

So Jeremiah says, "Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!" declares the LORD.  Therefore, this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: 'Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,' declares the LORD." (v 1-4)

The Lord blasts the shepherds of Judah.  These shepherds are the wicked kings and false prophets who had tormented Jeremiah for most of his ministry.  But the wicked kings and false prophets also destroyed and scattered the people of Judah. They did this by promoting idolatry, injustice, and love of money.  All the while they told the people, “God loves you and everything in Judah is just fine.”

Well, it wasn’t fine. The Lord was going to destroy these evil kings and false prophets by sending Babylon’s mighty armies against Judah.  And that’s what happened.  In 586 BC the Babylonians overran Jerusalem and destroyed it.  The Babylonian armies demolished the temple, tore down the city walls, and dragged thousands of Jews off to exile in Babylon.  The Kingdom of Judah was dead and gone.   

Now, there are similarities and differences between Jeremiah’s situation and our situation today.  First, America is not God’s specially chosen nation.  Judah was. America is not. America is also not on the brink of political annihilation the way Judah was.  America is the world’s super-power. 

But there are similarities. The true worship of the one true God is in rapid decline in America, just like it was in Judah during Jeremiah’s ministry. Christian denominations are shrinking at an alarming rate. More and more Americans are bowing down to the false gods of materialism and self-centered existence.  “Regular” people are expressing new and twisted ways of wickedness.  And people applaud them for their “courage.”  Furthermore, anyone who takes a stand for God’s Word and God’s morality swiftly earns condemnation from the “enlightened, progressive” elite.  If you proclaim God’s Word, you get the labels of, bigot, homophobe, racist, hater, and insensitive brute.

But it’s not just “those people out there” who are rapidly falling away from the Lord. It’s happening even in the small, conservative circles of our Wisconsin Synod. What used to be a scandalous sin is now just another behavior we barely notice.  Just like the people of Judah kept ignoring Jeremiah’s call to repent, you and I keep thinking, “I don’t have to change the way I live.  The Lord loves me just the way I am.  God would never punish me.  He chose me to be his own at my baptism. So, I’m good.  No worries here. Everything’s just fine.”

But none of us are “just fine.”  We all fail miserably at despising our sins and turning away from our sins.  We judge our culture’s open immorality and godlessness.  We hide our sins under the façade of our faithfulness. We excuse our hidden greed, lust, pride, anger, jealousy, and laziness.  Those sins quietly ferment in our heart and silently spread their poison to the point of smothering our faith.

So you and I need to listen to Jeremiah’s warning.  We do not want Satan’s armies to drag us into the captivity of impenitence, unbelief, and damnation.  We need to hear Jeremiah’s message. We also need to take to heart Jeremiah’s solution to our problem and the problem that plagued Judah.

Speaking on behalf of the Lord, Jeremiah says, "'I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,' declares the LORD.  'The days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.  In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.'" (v 5-6)

 After the Lord punished Judah for its sins, the Lord would comfort and forgive his people.  He would scatter them under the Babylonian captivity.  But he would bring his people back home.  He would remove their wicked leaders and replace them with honest, loving, and righteous leaders.

Jeremiah is not describing a political resurgence for the nation of Judah.  He is describing the time of the Holy Christian Church. Jeremiah is describing how Jesus would be the true King of the Jews and how only Jesus would be the true, loving, and perfect shepherd of all believers.

Jeremiah calls Jesus, “the righteous Branch.”  That’s also how the prophet Isaiah described Jesus. The image is this: a dying tree is cut down.  All that’s left is a stump.  But from that stump a new, healthy branch emerges.  Well, in 586 BC the Lord used the ax of the Babylonian army to chop down that dying tree called Judah. Then, 586 years later, Jesus was born to be the king of the Jews. To do that,  Jesus was a descendant of King David.  More importantly, Jesus was God’s one and only Son. 

And as true God and true man, Jesus did what no other Jewish king or prophet of Israel could ever do.  Jesus was righteous.  He was perfect.  He was sinless.  And then Jesus did something with his perfect righteousness.  He gave it away, for free.  So, now, everyone who has faith in Jesus also possesses that perfect holiness of Jesus.  So, to describe Jesus, Jeremiah says, "This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness." (v 6)  So, Jeremiah tells us, only God's righteous branch can be your true shepherd.

 Only Jesus can serve as the perfect shepherd.  Only Jesus can feed you with God’s pure Word so that you have no appetite for the junk food of materialism and self-indulgence.

Only Jesus can quench your spiritual thirst as he leads you through the desert of this world’s poisonous spirituality.  Jesus quenches your thirst with himself—with his holiness and with his salvation—because Jesus himself is the water of life. 

Only Jesus can calm your fears of God’s judgment and the terror of hell.  That’s because only Jesus disarms the arrows of God’s holy accusations against you. Jesus disarms God’s law by obeying that law and then by taking the punishment of that law in your place.  Only Jesus died to pay for all your sins.

And by his mighty resurrection from the dead, only Jesus has the power to drive away that roaring lion called Satan.  Only Jesus can use his unlimited strength and his unending love to guard you, to keep you, and to open up heaven for you.

So, only in Christ’s flock of believers and only in Christ’s righteousness are you safe.  In Christ alone are you perfectly at peace with God and eternally blessed by your Father. In Christ alone are you God’s dearly loved lamb.  In Christ alone are you holy, righteous, and forgiven.  To Christ alone be the glory.

Amen.