Laetare, The Fourth Sunday in Lent: Temptation to Make Christ Small

The Feeding of the 5000
A boy provides Jesus and his disciples with five loaves of bread and two fish to feed the multitude of 5,000 (John 6:1-15). From a book publishing Martin Luther’s sermons, 1530.

Lessons: Exodus 16:2-21, Galatians 4:22-5:1, John 6:1-15
Hymns: LSB 433, 743, 774, 622, 642, 661

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

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

      At our midweek Lenten service on Wednesday evening, I quoted CFW Walther, who was the first president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. In a lecture to seminary students, he said that if you make your sins small, you make Christ small. That is, if you minimize your sins by trying to explain them away, give what you feel are rational explanations for your sins, make excuses, pretend your sins aren’t really sins, or figure certain sins are no longer sinful in the 21st century, then you are trying to do the same to Christ—explain Jesus away, give rational explanations for why you don’t think you need Jesus, make excuses from hearing Jesus, pretend Jesus isn’t really the only Savior, or figure Jesus is no longer relevant in the 21st century. I know people often don’t intend to do this to their Savior as they try to save face from their sins, but that is the end result. Any attempt to remove your sin apart from Christ is to remove Christ from being your Savior. The only way to have your sins taken away is through Christ.

      So don’t make your sins look small. Don’t pretend you’re just a petty offender against God’s Law. Recognize the seriousness of your sin. It leads to eternal death. It put Jesus on the cross. Your sin caused Jesus to suffer the wrath of God. Your sin is why Jesus was forsaken by His heavenly Father as He bore your sin in His Body on the cross.

      When we attempt to make our sins out to be but small, insignificant sins in the face of what others do, then we have forgotten that Jesus says we have planks in our own eyes. As God’s children, we come before God in repentance, pleading guilty of our many sins. And He readily and fully forgives us.

      Now, this does not mean we should be shouting out our sins from the rooftops or seeking to win awards for committing the biggest sins. As Christians, our desire is to follow God’s Law on Christian living. In thanksgiving for what Jesus has done to take our sins away, we want to minimize our actual sins. We are to love God and our neighbor, which is the fulfillment of the Law. It is written, “Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God” (3 John 11).

      In addition to making Christ look small because we’re often so busy making our sins look small, we also make Christ look small by trying to minimize the supernatural events that take place in the Bible. Since God does not lie (Titus 1:2), everything that is recorded in the Bible is true. When we hear of the Ten Plagues, Jonah in the belly of a great fish, or the Feeding of the 5,000, many are tempted to think that those events didn’t really happen. Some try to explain them away as parables. Others figure the ancient people were superstitious so superstitions like these were added to the Scriptures. Many today simply do not view the Biblical narrative as historical. This gets worse when it comes to the Creation account. They think they’ve heard scientific facts concerning the age of the Earth, and so they figure man is right and the Bible is wrong.

      But then they do not believe Jesus’ own words when He teaches that the miracles in Scripture really happened. Jesus references the Creation account when He said, “From the beginning of the creation that God created until now” (Mark 13:19). When asked a question about divorce, Jesus replied by confirming the Genesis narrative on the creation of man and woman, not billions of years after the world came to be, but at the beginning of God’s Creation. Jesus said, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:4-6). Concerning Jonah, Jesus declared, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). When people cannot accept the notion that Jonah was swallowed by a great fish and spit up on dry ground three days later, how do they believe Jesus truly died and was raised from the dead on the third day?

      Another miracle Jesus references is the one we heard in today’s Old Testament lesson. God fed His people manna throughout their 40-year wandering in the wilderness until they arrived safely in the Promised Land. Jesus confirms this wondrous act of God not long after our Gospel when He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:47-51). In these words of Jesus, He not only confirms the miracle of feeding the Israelites in the wilderness with manna, but He also teaches that the true way to eternal life is through Christ. He is the Bread of Life. We must feed on Him in faith in order to be saved. As we hear in the Scriptures, there is only one way to salvation and that is through faith in Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). After rising from the dead, Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). St. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, declared, “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead… There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:8-12).

      And when it comes to the moral law, that too, is commonly dismissed. Sometimes people want to reject the portions of the moral law which Jesus doesn’t address—like homosexual acts and abortion. They think they can go against the Bible’s teachings on these matters because the Gospels do not record Jesus saying anything about them. However, as we have heard, Jesus validates the writings of the Bible as He quotes the Scriptures.

      Others do not like certain doctrinal statements in the Bible. This is especially true when it comes to some of the things written in St. Paul’s epistles. Closed Communion and the prohibition of women into the pastoral office are most clearly taught by Paul. Many deride his writings “as Pauline.” Yet, the ascended Jesus personally and directly called Paul into the ministry, even while Paul (then named Saul) was seeking to destroy Christianity. Upon his conversion to Christianity, Paul worked tirelessly to advance the very Gospel that he once rejected, proclaiming the pure Word of Christ.

      When people want to pit Paul against Jesus or reject the miraculous portions of Scripture, they aren’t really trying to uncover the real Jesus after getting rid of the supposed superstitious shroud that conceals the truth. Instead, they are seeking to define God on their own terms and establish truth not according to an objective standard, but according to their own thoughts, feelings, and observations.

      Ironically, they masquerade themselves as enlightened thinkers, illumined by what they feel is true wisdom, when in reality they remain in darkness, so long as they do not cling to the entire Bible as divinely revealed, inspired, inerrant Word of God. They are trying to turn the Almighty God—the one true Triune God—the maker of the heavens and the Earth—into a small god who is weak and even incapable. They don’t realize it, but they are attempting to turn God into an image of themselves—small, imperfect, and dishonest.

      My friends, it is easy to fall into this trap. As our society becomes increasingly hostile to God’s truth, a temptation we face is to join the scoffing masses who look down upon faithful Christians with scorn. Let this not be so among you. Instead, realize who God truly is and who you now are in Christ.

      God is not a small, weak God. By His voice, He brought all things into being. He defeated Satan through Christ’s sacrificial death. He overcame death and the grave through our Lord’s triumphant resurrection. He has taken our sins away through the shedding of His Blood. Jesus fulfilled all that the Scriptures said of Him.

      Jesus demonstrated His lordship over all creation, His divine omnipotence, and even His tender compassion for mankind when Jesus used a few loaves of bread and couple of fish to feed 5,000 families. He produced much out of a little. Everyone ate as much as they wanted. Not wanting to waste anything, the leftovers amounted to more than what they started with. What an amazing miracle of God!

      The Bible prophesied that He is the Prophet. Recognizing this, the people tried by force to make Jesus king after He miraculously fed the 5,000. But Jesus did not come to be some earthly king. Instead, He came to fulfill His Father’s will in redeeming mankind so that He can be seated at the right hand of the Father and all enemies become His footstool. Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords.

      Truly God is not small, but He is our great God who has won for us the victory. He performs miracles, even today, through His mighty hand. The greatest is reconciliation with God for eternal life, being received into His divine favor through faith in Christ. God is certainly great and powerful. He is also loving and compassionate. Amen.

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