Preached November 21, 2010
St. John 6:5–14
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
We stand, this morning, at the end of one Church year and the beginning of the next. We look back across the long Trinity season for the year 2010 in which we have considered the Christian life in considerable detail. The Church has presented for us the full scope of its teachings regarding the development of the Christian life as the on–going process of sanctification of the soul in preparation for our eventual return to God. But now we look forward to the new Christian year 2011, beginning officially next Sunday with the first Sunday of Advent, and we find ourselves today already in a transition. We are looking to the new year, even as we are completing the old year.
The focus of Advent is on the coming of Jesus Christ, both on His first coming as a babe at Bethlehem and also on His second coming in judgment at the end of time. In order to turn our attention from the Christian life where we have been focused for the past several months now to the matter of the coming of Christ, we take our first lesson, not from an Letter written by one of the Apostles as we have been doing, but rather instead from a message given by the Prophet Jeremiah.
Consider what the Prophet says: Jeremiah 23:5-6a Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: Now Jeremiah was a prophet in Judah in the 7th century before the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The northern kingdom of Israel had already been destroyed by Assyria in 721 BC, so that Judah was all that remained of the previous Davidic kingdom. Thus when the Prophet speaks of raising up unto David a righteous Branch and a King who will reign and prosper, there are many implications. The Davidic kingdom has long since been broken apart, false religion has taken a firm grip on the nation, and there is no unity at all in the land. To raise up a branch or a shoot implies that this will be a new appearance of the Davdic line, a reappearance after it has been seemingly destroyed by external enemies and by internal corruption. This new branch will be a righteous branch which is to say that it will be perfectly aligned with the will of God. So the Messiah that the Jews are to expect will be a King who will be perfectly aligned with the will of God, who will come from the house of David, and who will provide a new security for both Judah and Israel, the entire Jewish nation. It is not difficult to see how the Jews of Jesus’ day could hear this prophecy and expect a nationalistic military sort of Messiah.
Of course, we recognize that the King of whom Jeremiah spoke was in fact, Jesus Christ, the Saviour of all mankind, and the protected nations are not simply the ancient Jewish nations of Judah and Israel, but rather the entire Church of Jesus Christ. His Church is intended to be an undivided people, without even the internal divisions suggested by the terms Judah and Israel. We know that within Christ’s Church there are to be no distinctions regarding race or nation. Thus the divisions that remain within the Church are a scandal and a great sin.
Much more importantly, the Kingdom of the Messiah is not a temporal Kingdom that will eventually pass away like all of the other kingdoms of the earth. Rather it is the eternal Kingdom of Heaven, and the Prophet tells us in Jeremiah 23:6b this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. There have been many different efforts to translate the Hebrew phrase here expressed as THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. The sense of it seems to be The Lord, the One Who Makes Us Righteous or Who Brings Us Into Right Relationship With God. We know that this is exactly what our Saviour does in fact do for us, so there is no surprise in this.
Speaking of the redemption that the Messiah will bring, the Prophet says Jeremiah 23:7-8 Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that they shall no more say, The LORD liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; But, The LORD liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land. He says that when the Messiah comes, His redemption will cause His people to forget about their original deliverance in the Exodus, because of what He will later do for them. In particular, they say that he will bring back the nation of Israel, the first Babylonian diaspora to the north. This prophecy of the final return of all the Jews has yet to be fulfilled, but it will be completed at the end of time.
The first part of the prophecy, regarding the loss of significance of the Exodus, is exactly true when you recall that the central act of Jewish worship, the Passover Feast, has been completely subsumed within the Christian Eucharist. Thus the followers of the Messiah no longer focus on the Passover Feast, which is not to say that we totally ignore it either, but rather we are focused on Christ, Our Passover, sacrificed for us in the Mass. Thus the ancient prophecy of Jeremiah has been exactly fulfilled, even if not at all as he might have expected it to be.
The Gospel lesson for today, the miracle feeding of the five thousand, from St. John 6, starting at the 5th verse is chosen to show the fulfillment of the promise that the world would receive a prophet King. Substantially the same lesson, beginning at the 1st verse of the chapter is chosen for Lent 4 for teaching the refreshment of grace. This miracle and Jesus walking on the sea is the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels. It is reasonable, therefore, to draw on all four Gospel accounts to get the most complete picture.
At the time that this all occurred, he had been talking about the Kingdom of God, Luke 9:11 And the people, when they knew it, followed him: and he received them, and spake unto them of the kingdom of God, and healed them that had need of healing. They hear Him speaking with authority about a subject He knows very well and no doubt they are thoroughly impressed by what they hear. At the same time, regarding John the Baptist, they have just heard that Matthew 14:10 And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison s0 John is dead. Now John was the only other person who might possibly have staked a claim to being the Messiah, although he never did any such thing at all, but rather was quite the contrary. It was apparent to the people that Jesus was the only possible leader in the country at that time. For the multitudes, the way that Jesus both taught and commanded them indicated that he was truly their King. It is no surprise that we find John 6:15 When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone. This was not the sort of kingdom of which Jesus spoke, and it did not suit His purposes at all to have the crowd try to force Him into the role of an earthly king.
The reign of Jesus confers two great blessings that are shown in this miracle feeding. The first is the security of His people. He bids us to seek first His Kingdom and righteousness, and He promises all things necessary for our needs will be provided. The people who followed Him into the wilderness on the mountainside showed evidence of doing just this, seeking after the Kingdom of God. He would not let them go hungry. He asks Philip, whence shall we buy bread that these may eat? but that was not at all for lack of knowing exactly how He would provide for them. With the Lord Jesus Christ, all our wants are fully provided long before we recognize their need. This is especially true of our spiritual needs.
The second blessing evident in this miracle is the generosity of the food provided. To be sure, our Lord began with only a little, five barley loaves and two small fishes, but that did not mean that everyone got only a tiny taste of the food. In fact, everyone ate their fill; no one was left hungry in the slightest degree, and yet there was an abundance of food remaining, enough to fill twelve baskets. This is the sort of bounty that only a King can provide. There is no sense of scarcity at all, although there is also care that there will be no waste as well. This is the sort of lavish spiritual provision Christ offers to His Church.
The duty of Christians is to receive the blessings that Christ confers upon us day by day. As we stand on a Sunday that represents the end of one year and the beginning of the next, we recognize that Jesus Christ has fed us throughout another year. We need to gather up the fragments that none be lost. We need to ask ourselves what are the results of another year of Christian teaching applied to our lives? If we have made good use of the past, we stand to make the most of the future. If not, now is the time to make a new beginning with a resolve to make more use of the teaching the Church offers us for our sanctification.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.