✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
Today’s Gospel concludes by saying that the people tried to take Jesus by force to make Him king. They had finally found the leader they were looking for from among all candidates that were out there. Politics and theology were running close together in the people’s minds. Jesus had developed quite a following through His teaching and His healing. Now, by feeding the 5000 in this miraculous way, Jesus was the instant frontrunner to lead the people. While some seemed to understand who Jesus really was when they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world,”–referring to the Messiah Moses had prophesied–most seemed to be more interested in the power and the miracles. They followed Jesus not for salvation, not for forgiveness of their sins, not for reconciliation with God, but rather for free food and health care. Here’s a guy who could really help my economic circumstances, and my medical needs, and maybe do something about those foreign Roman occupiers, too. This is about as close as they could get to an election. The people had spoken.
Now at this point, Jesus would be the envy of every politician running for office. His poll numbers were strong, and He had proven he could deliver on his promises. Church politicians would be thrilled with Jesus, too. Jesus really seems to have hit upon a successful evangelism program; just look at the crowds! (Of course, by the end of this chapter, after Jesus had talked about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, He went from having thousands of followers to only a dozen. But that’s another sermon.)
Just because the majority speaks, it doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily right–whether it’s the 99% or the 51%. The notion of a democratic republic wasn’t handed down from heaven as the way to run states or countries. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, democracy is a lousy form of government; it just happens to be the best one available in this fallen world, since power (which inevitably corrupts) supposedly doesn’t get concentrated in the hands of a few. But majority votes are sometimes not too far from mob rule, as we are seeing in North Africa and the Middle East, where majority rule has meant the persecution of Christians; or in this country where majority votes have meant the normalization of sexual perversity. So also with the majority in today’s Gospel–other agendas were at work that didn’t belong to Jesus, political agendas that weren’t the Father’s design for His Messiah king.
That’s why Jesus goes to the mountain all alone and shuns the voice of the people. For Jesus understands that while presidents and prime ministers are elected by the people, kings are not. The king is who he is by virtue of his birth, by virtue of his person–regardless of the voice of the people.
There is a temptation offered here to Jesus that is not unlike what the devil had offered earlier when he took Jesus up on the mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “All these I will give you,” the devil said. But to attain such glory would require a deal with the devil, which our Lord Jesus would never do. His kingdom is not of this world, it is from above. And His kingship is not subject to the will of the people but the will of the Father.
Jesus was all alone on the mountain, which is the way I’m sure Moses felt in the Old Testament reading as the people grumbled against him. When they were in Egypt, they groaned against their yoke of slavery. And once liberated, they groaned against the burden of freedom. And this is right after God saved the children of Israel by opening the Red Sea to them as an evacuation route, and drowning the army of their enemy. With very short memories, they now tell Moses they would rather be back in Egypt–note just how fickle public opinion can be! If the Israelites could vote, Moses would surely have been recalled.
And yet, God does not oust Moses. The Lord alone is the deciding vote. He gives the people that which they don’t deserve; in spite of themselves He rains bread from heaven upon them, manna, literally giving them their “daily bread.” Of course, the children of Israel would later complain even against this generosity of God. They wished they had more variety in their free meals and not the same old manna every day.
Likewise in the Gospel, our Lord Jesus provides miraculous bread for the 5000, even for these people who did not have in mind the things of God but the things of men. For God gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people. He send rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous, that we may learn to receive His undeserved gifts with thanksgiving.
And again notice here how this calls to mind the wilderness temptation of Jesus. Back then, Jesus would not turn the stones into bread to feed Himself, in faithfulness to His heavenly Father. But now, perhaps very near the same spot where He had earlier been tempted, Jesus does use His power to produce bread, not for Himself but for others in their need. Jesus is focused not on Himself but on others in the way of love.
And this is where we often fall short. We must confess that we get turned in on ourselves and have sometimes grumbled and complained against God for the way He’s provided for us or hasn’t come through for us as we wanted. We want God to fit our agenda, and when He doesn’t, we become disappointed or upset. Too often we let the voice of the majority affect our desires more than the voice of Jesus, the only divine voice of His Word. It’s the opinion of our peers that drives us, a desire to fit in and keep up with the world, to have the approval of those who are considered important. We are by nature people pleasers rather than God pleasers. For this we must repent.
And so must the church at large, which is constantly facing the temptation of watering down its confession and practices to make itself more amenable to the world–with market driven megachurches and success driven preachers. We must ever be reminded that Jesus is Lord, not public opinion or financial pressures or human votes.
And we must also be reminded that God is still at work in the midst of all these things, turning even evil for the good. Even the rebel will of the majority becomes an instrument of the will of God, both for judging and for saving. Sometimes the worst judgment that can befall a people or a country is for the majority to get its way and suffer by its own doing. And our salvation also came through the rebel will of the majority. You recall that when Pontius Pilate placed Jesus and Barabbas before the people, and asked them which one they wanted him to release, there was something of an election. They shouted for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be crucified. And the murderer was set free while the Lord of life was sentenced to death. Though this was a grave injustice humanly speaking, yet it was precisely how divine justice would be carried out. For Jesus had come to take the place of us sinners, to bear the judgment for sins He did not commit, so that we would be forgiven. And so the voice of the majority was indeed the voice of God the Father Himself, speaking through the people saying, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” It was the will of God that His Son die for the people in spite of themselves. Because of that sacrificial love of God, we Barabbases are released from sin and death. We are now children of God in Him who is the Son of God.
When politics and theology become indistinguishable, people die. In the Gospel, the people were going to take Jesus by force to make Him king. And in the end the crowds did just that when they forced Him to the throne of the cross, where He was crowned with thorns. That is where Jesus is lifted up and exalted in all His royal love for us. It is from the cross that we hear the true voice of God which trumps all other voices: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!”
Jesus said in John 6, “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the Living Bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this Bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” Jesus is our Manna, given over to the cross for the life of the world, given out to you in Sacrament of the Altar.
Thanks be to God for this, that our Lord does not give in to the mobs to become an earthly king. For His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom to which you belong in baptism. Jesus is more than a bread King; He is your Redeemer King, the very Bread of Life Himself. Thanks be to God that His mercy overcomes our sin. For in spite of our grumbling, our Lord also gives us that which we don’t deserve. Not only does He give us our daily bread and the things we need to support this body and life, He also gives us the bread of immortality, His own flesh and blood. Again, Jesus said later in John 6, “I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. . . Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” We have our own greater miracle from Christ right here in divine service: the Bread which is His body multiplying His forgiveness to you so abundantly that it never runs out. Those who eat here are filled and satisfied with the goodness and mercy of the Lord.
Let us, then, come continually to where we may truly hear the voice of God–not in majority votes, but in Christ’s Word, in His sacraments, in His preached Gospel. Let us gladly hear and learn the words of Jesus, for they are the words of eternal life.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
(Some of the above was adapted from a sermon by the Rev. Larry Beane.)