Preached November 25, 2012
St. John 6:5–14
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
It is now late in the natural year, and today is the last Sunday of the sacred year, the Sunday next before Advent. The natural year is particularly marked by summer time and the autumn harvest, and they are both at an end now. In the same fashion. another season of grace is come to an end, with all of the opportunities for coming to salvation, for growth in prayer and personal holiness, for growing in the Body of Christ, all of these things are now laid by in the storehouse of eternity. As our Gospel lesson emphasizes, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.
The search for personal holiness inevitably leads us to seek righteousness, the Righteous One. So the first lesson for the day, taken from the prophet Jeremiah writing at a time before the Babylonian exile, points us toward our source of righteousness, the Saviour we have from God, and thus leads us toward Advent. The prophet says, Jeremiah 23:5 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. The image of the Branch had been used previously by the prophet Isaiah 4:2 In that day shall the branch of the LORD be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel. It is used again after the Babylonian exile by the prophet Zechariah 3:8 Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, thou, and thy fellows that sit before thee: for they are men wondered at: for, behold, I will bring forth my servant the BRANCH. The idea of the Branch is that it is the essential nature, the root from which everything else springs. This is most certainly a reference to our Lord Jesus since from the time before the Babylonian exile until the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, there was no king who reigned in earthly prosperity over the Jews. But He has taken our nature upon Himself, to be made man of the family of David, to be “the Son of Man.” As He has taken on our poverty, He has given us His spiritual riches and transformed us with the name Christian, that we might be “branches” also, even as described by John 15:5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. In Him, we become partakers of the Divine nature, becoming sons of God.
Jeremiah 23:6-8 6 In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. 7 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; 8 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. Here is Jeremiah, preaching before the Babylonian destruction of the Jews, saying (1) that Judah will be rescued, (2) that the children of Israel will no longer have as their primary recollection of deliverance the exodus from Egypt under the protecting hand of God, but rather (3) they will recall a new deliverance from Babylon and other countries to which they have been dispersed, so that they are now recalled to live in their own land. We know that the Jews did return from the Babylonian exile and the rebuilding of the Temple is recorded in the Book of Ezra. We know that they have customarily greeted each other with a reminder of God’s deliverance in the exodus. What we don’t know about, that is, have yet to see, is the third item of which the prophet speaks, the gathering of the Jews to live in their own land. This appears to be an event yet to come. It is debatable whether the present day nation of Israel is this gathering, or not. More likely, this will happen when the Great Shepherd will feed all of His flock, including us, on the hillsides of Israel, at the end of the world. This takes us right into the Gospel lesson for the day in which we find Jesus on the mountainside feeding His people. He is the Prophet that was to come, and the connection is fully apparent.
Before the Reformation, the first lesson for the day was the same as what we have now, but the Gospel lesson was taken from Revelation 20:11-12 11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. This is fully fitting for the final Sunday of the Kalendar, a point in our lives when so many aspects of the books of our lives are closed, only to be opened again at the Last Day when our Lord Christ comes to judge the living and the dead. This is precisely the scene described in this passage from Revelation.
But at the time of the Reformation, the Gospel lesson was changed to our present reading, the account of the feeding of the five thousand on the mountainside, beginning with the five barley loaves and two small fishes. This is the same Gospel lesson that we have for the fourth Sunday of Lent; but here we see it in a different light. This account could have been taken from one of the other Gospels, but it is significant that it is St. John’s account of the miracle that we have before us. We need to remember that, in reading St. John, every word is significant, if we can only fathom what it means.
Just before the Gospel lesson begins, Jesus has crossed over the Sea of Galilee to the east side and is sitting on the mountainside with His disciples. A large crowd has followed Him to the place where He sits on the mountainside. Jesus sees the crowd, and he says to Philip, Whence shall we buy bread that these may eat? Jesus is raising the question as to how are all of these people to be fed, a question that still concerns us today, particularly in spiritual terms. How are all of these people to receive spiritual food? You know the rest of the story of the miracle of the five barley loaves and two fishes, how the five thousand were fed and twelve baskets were filled with the fragments that remained. Where did all of that food come from? Remember that there were only five barley loaves and two small fishes to begin, but it is Jesus Himself who feeds the five thousand, who gives Himself to feed them. This becomes more clear in what follows.
Why did St. John relate this miracle story at this point? I submit that it was to point to a later event in Capernaum, described a few verses on: John 6:26-35 26 Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. 27 Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. (28…30) 31 Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. 32 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. 34 Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. 35 And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. In this astounding discourse, Jesus spells out rather plainly the spiritual meaning and intent of the miraculous Bread, His own Body and Blood, with which He intends to feed His people until the end of the world. No one present to hear the words spoken understood what they were hearing, but we can see clearly now what our Lord was saying. Even while He lived, He was telling us that the Holy Communion which He would institute on Maundy Thursday would be the means for His people to feed on Him until the end of time. Lord, evermore give us this bread.
Our Lord Jesus has given Himself for our salvation, that we might be saved. He has provided the Lord’s Table that we may be able to feed on Him, to the nourishment of our souls and our growth in holiness through out our lives. He feeds us today, just as He fed the five thousand on the hillside above the Sea of Galilee so long ago by giving us the Bread of Life, His own Body and Blood. He wills that none would be lost, and that none of the means of grace that He has provided should be wasted. It is He that has made us righteous before God, something we are totally unable to do for ourselves. It is He who continues to feed us through out this life and on into the next as we progress in holiness toward our eternal home in Heaven. The Lord is our Righteousness, the true Bread of Life.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.