Laetare, the Fourth Sunday in Lent: Blessed Beyond Measure

Lessons: Exodus 16:2-21, Galatians 4:21-31, John 6:1-15
Hymns: 571, 743, 774, 622, 422, 643

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      Last week’s Gospel ended with Jesus saying, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28).

      Many in the world disagree with this statement. Some hold to another religion. Some feel the Bible is merely a book of myths written some 2000 years ago. Others think it contains worthwhile sayings and good advice on life, but see in it nothing more than that. Still others think of the Bible as repressive or antiquated. Bill Nye the Science Guy claims that if we teach our children Christianity (in particular creation), then we are holding our children back and preventing them from thinking critically. He claims America will lose her edge in science if we teach Christianity to our young.

      But even within the church, there are many who disagree with the words of our Lord, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” If all Christians firmly and truly agreed with Jesus, they would always be present on Sunday morning for the Divine Service. Those who have careers which require work on Sundays would make sure they have no less than one Sunday off each month in order to make it to church. Basically, if Christians agreed with Jesus, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it,” then those who are on the church membership roster would be in church Sunday after Sunday.

      Sadly that isn’t happening, here or just about anywhere. Why not? Some simply have lost their faith and see no value in church attendance. Others, have fooled themselves into thinking they can still remain a Christian and yet not hear God’s Word or go to His altar.

      Many are offended by God’s Word—especially the words you’ve just heard in which Christianity and church attendance go hand-in-hand. You see, people naturally don’t want the Law to accuse them. As a result, they don’t want the Gospel either, which is given for free. They don’t see how God’s doctrines are good for us and how blessed people are when they abide by God’s Word.

      So how are we blessed when we hear the Word?

      We see several examples in today’s Gospel.

      First, the people gathered around Jesus. Even if we learned nothing new, even if nothing happened in the Divine Service, even if the service seemed to be one big downer, here is an important reality that we have to recognize in the Divine Service: when we gather for church, we gather in the presence of Jesus. Look at the multitude! There were 5000 families present when Jesus performed His miracle! They were in the presence of Jesus.

      There is no one you need more than Jesus. He is your Savior. He delivers you from the millions of sins that you have committed. He rescues you from Satan’s kingdom and places you into His family. He gives you the gift of eternal life. Behold, your King comes to you! Today, He comes to you through His Word, through the Absolution, through Baptism, and through the Lord’s Supper! He is truly present. He has promised, “Where two or three are gathered together, there I am in the midst of them!” (Matt. 18:20)

      Just as the 5000 needed Jesus—and needed to be in His presence, so do you. Without Him, you cannot be saved.

      And Jesus is not merely a crutch to get you by. He has done the entire work of saving you. You don’t meet Him part way. Instead, He’s the One who took on your sin, He’s the One who shed His blood for you on the cross, He’s the One who rose from the grave, He’s the One who sends you His Spirit today, He’s the One who guides you into the light of life and salvation.

      And you can see that in today’s Gospel. Look at the people. They were in the wilderness. They were unable to care for themselves. They didn’t have food. They couldn’t just run to the market to get some food. Philip rightly pointed out that working 200 days wouldn’t be enough to buy even a little for everyone. They needed Jesus.

      He saved the day by performing a great miracle. He did the entire work. He gave them what they did not have. He used 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish to feed the multitude. The crowd didn’t throw in bits and pieces here and there. Jesus did the entire act.

      And that’s how it is for your salvation. He does it all. Blessed are you to receive this marvelous gift!

      Also, in today’s Gospel, Jesus shows that God does not forsake those who seek God’s kingdom. The multitude was gathered around Jesus because they saw the miracles He performed. On another occasion, Jesus fed the 4000.  He performed that miracle after they had been with Him several days and they ran out of food for they were listening to Him preach the Word. These people were with Jesus and sought God and His Word. God could not—and would not—forsake them. So He performed this miracle that they would not go home hungry. He would not let them die of starvation. God takes care of His people.

      In fact, God takes care of all people. He supplies daily bread to all, even to evil people. But God certainly does not forsake those who follow Him. Life may not be easy. Things may not always go our way. But God is still with us. He hears our prayers and answers them all according to His will. He has the same love and compassion on you as He did for the multitude.

      When St. John received His revelation of Jesus Christ, he saw in heaven a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes. They washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:9-17).

      That’s the compassion Jesus has on you! He shed His blood for you. He died on the cross to pay the penalty for your sin. He suffered God’s wrath so you can escape it, He died so you can live, He shed His blood so you can be forgiven.

      Forgiveness means life and salvation! Forgiveness means peace with God! Forgiveness means you will stand before God on the Last Day guiltless, blameless, faultless.

      And this forgiveness comes to you through the Word of God as it is proclaimed to you and given to you. Blessed are you!

      It’s interesting that Jesus makes the people sit down on the grass before they eat. The Scriptures compare grass with the Word of God. St. Peter quotes Isaiah when he writes, “since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” (1 Pet. 1:23-25, quoting Is. 40:8).

      God’s Word—which is a blessing for you to hear and keep—endures forever. Grass withers. Flowers fade. Even flesh dies—we die. But God’s Word never dies. It endures forever. And this Gospel is preached to you. This Gospel is a gift of God. It gives you life.

      So, have you despised preaching and His Word? Have you had no hunger or thirst for the Sacrament? Have you misused your Baptism, living a life contrary to God’s Word? Repent!

      And receive the blessings God gives you in His Word. Forgiveness is yours. Jesus even forgives the sins of indifference and neglect of God’s Word.

      But realize also how repentance and faith work. If you wish to be saved, you cannot just say, “I believe in Jesus” and then go on ignoring God’s Word. For if you believe in Jesus, you would listen to Him. And to believe is to live in repentance. To live in repentance is to turn away from your sins and to your Savior. True Christians are horrified by their sin and they want to do better. They have every desire to turn away from their sin in repentance.

      That’s what the baptismal life is all about. Dying to sin. Rising to live before God in righteousness and purity. Turning from sin. Turning toward God, His Word, and the forgiveness He offers.

      The Christian life is the best life. It means you know where you’ve come from, who you are, and where you are going. It means you have a God who loves you and a church family who supports you. It means you are not left alone in this world. It means you have peace with God.

      It also means you can have some level of peace here on earth. When Christians keep the Word, Christians live in peace and harmony with one another. They believe and practice the same things. They bear each other’s burdens.

      So, blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!

      Blessed are you, when this Word rescues you from sin, death, and devil, and delivers you forgiveness, life and Jesus.

      Blessed are you for God has compassion on you and gives you His Word, the Absolution, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.

      Blessed are you that God has given you your Church, pastor, and fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

      These are all treasures of God, sent from Heaven.

      You are blessed indeed. Amen.

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen