Genesis 2:7-17; Romans 6:23; Mark 8:1-9
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
At the beginning of creation, there was no death. Animals did not eat one another; Adam and Eve did not eat the animals. Food was provided freely by God to all living things from the fruit of the trees and the plants He had created. Everything was good. But then through sin, death entered into the world. All creation fell under the curse of man’s rebellion. Life become only temporary. The ground produced weeds and thistles. The animal world became red in tooth and claw. Man in many ways became like an animal, instinctually seeking self-interest and survival. God’s sentence on us was “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”
And yet it might appear to some that what God said would happen didn’t. The Lord had said, “In the day you eat of it, you shall surely die.” But Adam and Eve were still alive and kicking for many decades after they ate, even if life had become much more difficult. So what’s going on here?
Death has to do with a lot more than just the body giving out. Death ultimately has to do with being separated from God, being cut off from His presence and His goodness. In the end that’s what hell is, eternal death, the place where those who want to live apart from God and His words get exactly what they asked for. So while physical death is indeed the consequence of sin, death ultimately is spiritual. In the day that they ate of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve really did die. They were only hollow shells of what they once were.
Sadly, that’s how it is also for us who are their children. Every sin causes a little death in us. Laziness brings boredom with God’s creation and an unhappiness with the blessings He provides. Pornography and sexual immorality diminish people and ruin families and sear consciences. Overindulging in food or drink produces health problems and a sluggish spirit. Impatience leads to relationship-killing anger. Gossiping leads to conflict and broken friendships. Greed and the love of control overwhelms human connections. Skipping church leads to a growing callousness toward God’s life-giving Word and preaching. Those who embrace sin are actually embracing death. Sin empties us of life and hollows us out–like the empty stomachs of the 4000.
Repent, then, and take to heart the words of today’s Epistle which declare, “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!” Notice the difference in terminology there. The first half talks about wages, the second half talks about a gift. The first part talks about what we have earned, the second part talks about what God has freely given without our earning it. Our working has led to death, but God’s working leads to life through His Son.
In today’s Gospel we see a wonderful picture of how God worked to save us from death and bring us back into His life. For there we see Jesus in the wilderness with the multitudes. After three days they were feeling the effects of sin’s curse very concretely, being hungry and weary with no food around to refresh or sustain them. Man’s sin had turned the world from the abundance of Paradise into a bleak and harsh place, and so Jesus entered into that bleakness and harshness as a true man in order that He might undo the curse and restore humanity and all of creation. The Son of God took on your human body and soul and put Himself smack dab into the middle of this fallen, desert world in order to rescue you and raise you up.
The key thing that Jesus says here is, “I have compassion on the multitudes.” That word, “compassion,” in Greek has to do with the deepest possible empathy and feeling. So fully does Jesus empathize with you and feel for you that He went so far as to breathe in your sin-poisoned air. He knows what you’re going through. He knows how discouraging and demoralizing it is to be constantly bombarded with negative headlines in the news about what’s going on in the world and in our own communities. He knows what it’s like to be tired and weary of it all. He knows what it means to be rejected and alone. He knows what it’s like to experience bodily pain and to be forsaken. Whatever it is that you’re dealing with and going through, Jesus has been there, for you. In His great mercy He came into the world to suffer with you and to suffer for you in order to take your suffering away forever. He has real compassion on you. He made Himself a part of the mud and the blood in order to redeem you and revive the fallen creation in which you live.
You can begin to see that taking place here in this miracle of the feeding of the 4000. The curse on Adam had been, “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.” But now the second Adam, Jesus, reverses the curse and produces bread in abundance apart from any sweaty or tiring labor. In this moment He restores the bounty of the Garden of Eden, where food is received in overflowing measure from the gracious hand of God. Here you see God the Son beginning to break the curse of decay and death and overcome the fall into sin. You are given just a small glimpse of how it will be in the new creation in the age to come.
Jesus completed His work of undoing the fall and breaking the curse on the cross. There He actually turned the curse into a blessing for you. The wages of sin is death; and so Jesus took the wages you had coming and died your death for you. Sin’s power was broken in the body of Christ the crucified. And therefore, the gift of life now flows to you and to all who believe in Him. For if sin has been undone, so also are the wages of sin undone, right? Death and hell have been taken away from you through the cross. All that remains for you now is life, full and free, through Jesus’ resurrection on the third day, just as He performed this miracle on the third day.
Jesus took the seven loaves and gave thanks, broke them, and gave them to His disciples to set before the people. Still today, Jesus speaks His words of thanks and consecration and His ministers distribute the blessed Sacrament of the Altar. Bread, which was a sign of death in the beginning, is now a sign of life in Jesus. Jesus uses seemingly insufficient bread to multiply His grace and feed and fully satisfy the church with His very life-giving body. Jesus said, “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.”
One final point: when all had eaten, there was more left over than when they started. Seven small loaves became seven large baskets. This is a sign that the Lord’s compassion does not fail or run out. It only grows and gets better. And the number is important here, too. The seven loaves stand for the seven days of creation. The seven large baskets stand for the even greater creation to come at Christ’s return. The Lord is exalting you to a status even greater than Adam and Eve knew. The new creation being prepared for you surpasses even the Paradise of Eden. For all things are fulfilled and brought to their pinnacle in Christ.
So even though we see the signs of death in us and around us, we are also given to see the signs of Christ’s life in us and around us as well. For just as sin bears the rotten fruit of death, so forgiveness bears the salutary fruit of life–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Though man ate of the tree that brought death, there is now the tree of life, the cross, from which we may eat and never die, never to be separated from God and His goodness again.
Like the 4000, you glimpse Paradise here in this place. As you receive the bread of life, you are being given a taste of heaven. For heaven is where Christ is; and Christ is here for you. “The poor shall eat and be satisfied.” “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who trusts in Him.”
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠