Coming tomorrow to a St. Louis city LCMS pulpit: This sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity, based on Mark 8:1-9, with an assist from Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 6:19-23, Genesis 2:7-17, and Hebrews 6:4-6.In his award-winning children’s book Millions, Frank Cottrell Boyce depicts an adorable little boy named Damian, who has visions in which saints appear to him. It’s a beautiful story. But when St. Peter appears to Damian, he tells him a version of today’s Gospel that is supposed to be wise, but really is foolish. According to this version, Jesus didn’t really make food appear out of nowhere when he fed the crowd. Rather, Jesus set an example of sharing that inspired others to do the same. Cottrell Boyce paints a word-picture of hundreds of people remembering the apple in their pocket, or the sandwich under their hat, or the piece of chicken tied up in their handkerchief. Instead of waiting for a chance to eat by themselves, they sheepishly took their own food out and shared with their neighbors. And that, says Cottrell Boyce, was the real miracle.
But Mark tells us that the multitude had nothing to eat. They had all run after Jesus unprepared, and now they were too far out in the country to get home without fainting of hunger. Seven loaves and a few fish were all they had. The disciples knew this would not be enough to feed everybody. But Jesus went ahead anyway. And after everyone was full, there were as many large basketsful of leftovers as there had been loaves to start with. This makes a mockery of Cottrell Boyce’s explanation. Even supposing some people in the crowd had a private stash of food, after they shared it with everybody, how do they have anything left over? Even suppposing there was a loaf of bread tucked up the back of every other person’s shirt, how do they end up with seven large baskets full of leftovers? If they had that much food to start with, why would Jesus be concerned? Instead of a miracle, or even a touching example, the feeding of the crowd would be a joke.
The miracle cannot be explained by science—not even social science. All attempts to make it jive with reason or the laws of nature, end in confusion. The story of Jesus feeding the crowd must either be believed or doubted. It speaks for itself. And what it speaks to those who believe is more than the fact that Jesus is powerful, or even that He is God. The message of this miracle is that JESUS IS ENOUGH.
There are a lot of ways you could take that statement. And some of them are clearly false. For example, you could take “Jesus is enough” to mean that if you believe in Jesus, nothing else really matters, and so you don’t need food, drink, shelter, work, or even air. But that would be absurd. God gives you those things so that you can live; without them you would die, whether you have Jesus in your heart or not. Or you could take “Jesus is enough” to mean that, once you’ve let Jesus in your heart, it doesn’t matter what you believe, teach, confess, or do. So none of our doctrines matter, especially when they involve differences with other Christians; none of God’s commandments matter, the difference between right and wrong doesn’t matter, and sin doesn’t matter, because we’re already saved. But none of these thoughts has anything to do with Jesus’ miracle of feeding the crowd, or what it means when it shows us that “Jesus is enough.”
Consider this week’s Bible verse from the “Congregation at Prayer” [a supplement in the Sunday bulletin] from Ephesians 2: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Now let’s look at Paul’s words more closely. You have been saved, he says. What have you been saved from? You have been saved from sin, from God’s judgment against sin, from everlasting death and punishment in hell. You have been saved by what? Paul says, “By grace.” That means totally for free, without paying anything or doing anything to obtain it. Another way to explain “by grace” is to say, “Because God is pleased with you.” How did you go from being a sinner, condemned to death and hell, to having God be pleased with you? Paul says, “Through faith.” What faith is that? Is it a quality in you, like an ability to endure troubles? Clearly not, or Paul wouldn’t have added, “not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Is it a virtue that you have, like being faithful to God? Clearly not, or you would not need to be saved for free. The faith through which God has saved you is the result of you being unmade and remade by God. So Paul says you are God’s workhmanship, created in Christ Jesus. God has drowned you and raised you from the dead, He has killed you and caused you to be born again by water and the Spirit, in baptism.
Faith is part of the new creation God has made you in Christ. And it is specifically through that faith that you receive God’s saving grace. The faith that comes from God in the washing of water and the word. Not a faith that bargains with God, or that is delivered to God as payment, but a faith that receives all good things from God as a gift, through Jesus. This faith relies on Jesus because He is enough. His incarnation in the womb of a Virgin makes make this one man’s obedience enough to cover the disobedience of all. It makes one man’s sacrificial suffering and death enough to end the curse of the Law against us. It makes one man’s resurrection from the dead enough to destroy the hold of death and hell upon us. It makes one man’s ascension to the throne of God enough to ensure that wherever God is present, Jesus can be there with His perfect manhood.
He can fill each of us, and live in each of us, and give His body to each of us, and He remains whole. However much He is needed, however far apart the faithful may spread, however deep and dark and sordid and sick and earthly and fleshly and weak and unworthy our condition may be, Jesus is there with us. His forgiveness is enough for whatever our sins. His body and blood are enough, no matter how desperate our need. His Word is enough. His strength is enough. His faithfulness, His compassion, His power to change hearts and to comfort the afflicted can never be exhausted.
All of this seems to violate the principles of mathematics, science, the laws of nature and reason. If you take away from anything, it cannot remain the same. If you divide something up, it cannot remain whole. If you consume something, you can’t end up with more than you started with. It’s just like dividing seven loaves and a few fishes between four thousand eaters. Reason and nature militate against the possibility that all those people could have been filled on that small amount of food, even supposing that some of them brought a few morsels to share with each other. Certainly there could not be more left over than there was to start with. But in this, Jesus shows that He is above nature and reason. He made them, He can unmake and remake them, and He exists outside of them. And so whatever He promises you, even if the thought of it being true is inconceivable by any stretch of the imagination, nevertheless that promise is true.
It is true that your sins are forgiven. And that means more to you than perhaps you know. For as Paul points out in today’s Epistle from Romans 6, the wages of sin is death, just as God warned Adam and Eve that the penalty for breaking His command was, “you shall surely die.” Now Paul does not say, “The wages of sin was death,” but “is death.” Sin is still sin, and it is still deadly, even for you. Your sinful desires still lead to sinful acts, and both can still destroy you; in fact, both will damn you, without the gift of God in Christ Jesus. This danger does not disappear when you are baptized as a Christian, or when you profess faith in Christ, or when you ask Him to be your Savior, or ever—until your present life comes to an end.
In fact, the danger is worse for us as Christians, because we have so much more to lose. For we were once citizens of the kingdom of Satan, and like all our fellow citizens, we were enslaved to him, hand and foot. All of our members, every part of our body, and even our soul belonged to sin, and served sin as slaves. But now Christ has freed us by His death and resurrection. He has given us God’s grace and a rebirth in faith. He has delivered us from bondage to sin, and made us slaves of God whose fruit is holiness, and whose end is eternal life. To have tasted the heavenly gift of the Holy Spirit, the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then to fall away again, would be a terrible loss.
The wages of sin is still death. So we still need Christ to save us, and to feed us. We are still like that crowd who could not make it home unless Jesus fed them. We have nothing in ourselves that can sustain us for the journey. It must come from Him. But what comes from Jesus is enough. Though our daily sins still carry the wages of death; though the world we live in plagues us with temptations to give up our faith; though Satan is trying harder than ever to destroy us, we have Jesus through Word and Sacrament, and Jesus is enough.
He might not be enough if He was far away, shackled to a chair in some hermetically sealed vault in the distant heavens. He might not be enough if we could only have him in us through our feelings, our dreamings, our imaginings, or our memories. He might not be enough if He was only present as a spiritual influence, or as an example for us to follow, or as a giver of wisdom and advice and rules for living.
But Jesus is more than all of these things put together. He is God, and He is Man, a person that no science or philosophy can comprehend. He is fully present here and now, personally and bodily, in His Word, in His Sacrament, in me and in you, though how this can be passes all understanding. But He is also the one who has ascended high above the heavens, that He might rule over all things. He is not limited by physics or calculus, by what we can think or what we can imagine. He is truly acting, loving, living, and giving to you all that you need, and overflowingly, abundantly more. He is now speaking to you, and if this were a Communion Sunday He would soon be feeding Himself to you.
How you can know this and not hunger for Him is beyond my understanding. If you were half as sinful as I am, you would pine for the body and blood of Jesus every day, let alone every week. You would feel that you needed His forgiveness again an hour after receiving it, if indeed that long. But beyond our understanding, yours or mine, is the fact that though we need Him every day, every hour, every minute to save us from the wages of our sin, Jesus is always with us, and what He gives us is enough and more than enough. And it remains enough, even after we have slipped and stumbled again, because He has borne our sin once for all; because He reaches out with His forgiving Word and Spirit and Body and Blood from an eternal throne that is both intimately near us and infinitely separate from our concept of time and place.
There are any number of realities we do not know, because God has not revealed them to us. We do not need to know them, perhaps we can never understand them, but this He makes known to us through the miracle of feeding the crowd: Jesus is enough. And that miracle is only one of many ways He has made this known. Without Him we are lost. But in Him we are saved. And though He has now created us anew for the purpose of doing good works, we know that we are not at all saved because of good works, but only because of Jesus. We know this because “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And to have that life, it is enough to have Jesus.