Rejoice! That’s The Church’s message today. Lent is a time of sorrow over sins, of reflecting on the reasons our Lord suffered and died, of realizing it is my fault and salvation could not happen any other way. But today The Church wants us to lift up our heads to see Easter is coming soon. Joy follows sorrow. So rose roses are on The Altar, and in some churches the minister wears rose vestments today, like the rose candle on the Advent wreath for Advent 3. The Lord died, but then He rose again. Rejoice!
Easter was near. It was not the year of His Passion but the time was quickly approaching, perhaps only a year away. In the previous chapter He told the Jews a few months before that His Father had sent Him to do great works: to raise the dead and give them life, which He shall do on the last day when He returns to judge the living and the dead. He told them they did not believe in Him because they did not believe in Moses. He told them to search The Scriptures for Him, for He is found throughout them. But they would not listen. They prepared to kill Him.
So now He was back home in Galilee. He had been healing the sick, so people started to follow Him around. They wanted to watch every minute of “The Jesus Show.” They didn’t care what it was about – they just liked the entertainment. But as long as they were still willing to watch and learn, He was willing to let them follow Him, that He might have opportunity to preach His Word to them.
That opportunity came. He crossed the sea for time alone with His disciples, but they followed Him. He went up a mountain, and they kept following. So He preached to them. He preached all day. It was supper time, time for them to go home, but they had no food. They’d never make it, and there was no store nearby! What were they to do?
He knew what He was going to do, but He tested them. He asked Philip for advice. Philip simply said they didn’t have anywhere near enough money to buy food for all the people there. It would cost far more than half a year’s salary. After all, there were 5000 men along with their families. Andrew had seen a little boy who had brought a little bagged lunch: 5 loaves of bread made out of barley, not the best bread, and 2 little fish – enough to feed him and nobody else. It wouldn’t do. There was no point. Might as well send them all home hungry. They never should have followed them out there like that in the first place. Just wasn’t smart.
But follow they did. So Jesus cared for them. He accepted that food from the little boy and prayed. Then He had His disciples hand out the food. And from that little meal was found far more than enough to feed the huge crowd gathered there – so much that they filled 12 large baskets with bread afterwards. But the people did not believe the preaching. They wanted to seize Him and make Him their Bread King. They would make Him their figurehead; they would be in charge and He would be forced to obey them lest they harm Him. They did not rejoice in Him as their Savior. Instead they simply wanted God to be their slave.
Three weeks ago we heard Jesus tell the devil: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes out of God’s mouth.” Food is good. God designed us to get strength and energy from food and drink. The best foods give us the most energy, and the worst ones may hurt us. Too much may harm us, while not enough will cause trouble too. But we need food; without it we’ll eventually die.
But food is not most the important thing in life. God does not want us to be utterly consumed with pursuing it. He has promised to provide it. We need not worry. He does provide through our daily work, but too much focus on work and food turns them into gods in whom there is no joy. They become slavemasters urging us to do their bidding, and they give no contentment because you can never have enough of them.
In a way, this is what the Jews in today’s Gospel wanted. They wanted Jesus around for themselves alone. They wanted Him to be their feeder and doctor. Then they could do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted and not deal with life or share Him with the world. But they would never be content because they’d always want Him to do more. And since they’d have a perfect life, they’d never bother to care about that pesky little problem called sin.
But Jesus did not come to be a healer or a feeder. He came to forgive sins. He did His miracles to prove He is God’s Son, sent by His Father to save us. He did them to show He came to do away with sin. Therefore He came to do away with all the effects of sin. Sin brought sickness and death into the world. So He healed the sick and raised the dead to show He was going after the root of the problem. He fed them food to show He came to feed us the bread of life.
What is that bread? God’s Word, Sacred Scripture. It is no mistake we pray that we may read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it. True joy in life does not come from earthly possessions. Joy comes from faith in the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. It comes from knowing we have a loving Lord Who died for us, Who cares for us, Who provides us with all we need, Who will keep His promise and bring us to life everlasting. All this is told us by Sacred Scripture. That is the sole source of this message.
For Scripture teaches us Jesus died for us. At a future Easter He allowed Himself to be seized and crowned with thorns as King of the Jews. That title was placed above His Head on His Cross. Israel’s King died on that Cross. But He rose again and brought life and immortality to light. He alone gives this life and immortality through the preaching of His Word and through the Sacrament of His life-giving Body and Blood.
So we rejoice. Though the world around us is very evil, though the devil attacks us, though our flesh wants to sin, we rejoice. We rejoice not from our own strength or power, but out of the grace God has given us. We rejoice that Christ has died for us and risen again, that He has forgiven our sins and gives us eternal life.
This rejoicing is the purpose of the Lutheran chorale. Before the Reformation people did not get to sing much in church. Choirs did almost all the singing. Luther changed that. He began to write hymns. What was his purpose? He wanted to sing The Faith into our hearts. St. Ambrose wrote his hymns, like “Savior of the Nations, Come,” to combat the Arian heresy which denied our Lord is God from all eternity. He wanted to teach us Jesus is God’s eternal Son Who was born to save us. Luther wrote hymns to teach us, both young and old, how we are saved: not by works we do, but by Jesus’ holy Passion.
That’s what the praise of God is all about. St. Peter tells us to tell the praises of Him Who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. He’s telling us to tell what He has done. When we sing hymns, we are telling God what He did for us. We are telling Him we believe it. We are teaching ourselves what to believe and to revere God for stooping down to save us sinners. We are singing the comfort of the Gospel, of Christ Crucified, into our hearts, in both good times and bad. Rejoice, this Lent, and always. You have a Savior: Christ, the Lord.