In the feeding of the five-thousand, there were five loaves, two fish, and twelve baskets full of pieces.
Five is Moses’ number—like the Pentateuch.
Two calls to mind the tablets, inscribed with the Ten Commandments by the finger of God that Moses brought down from the mountain.
And twelve is the tribes of Israel.
The feeding of the five-thousand in Mark chapter six was for the Jews.
As St. Paul writes: “[The Gospel is] the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the [Gentile]” (Romans 1:16).
But the feeding of the four-thousand in Mark chapter eight, today’s Gospel lesson, is for you.
Four calls to mind the four winds, the four cardinal directions, the four corners of a map—all of which stand for the entire world.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the four evangelists for this reason: Jesus says, “[As you are going,] make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them” (cf. Matthew 28:19).
Four accounts of the one gospel proclaim the reconciliation of God to the world redeemed in Christ.
And there were seven loaves—a perfect number.
The people ate and were satisfied such that there were seven baskets full of pieces left over—again, a perfect number. That’s what seven is—perfect and complete.
In six, literal, natural, evening-and-morning, twenty-four hour days did our Lord create the world and all that’s in it. But He rested on the seventh—not because He needed it but because we do, and so, seven is the number for full and complete things, like a week.
A week full of work is not yet complete until it also includes rest and hope.
That’s true for a week and the life of a Christian. Both work without faith and faith without works is dead.
In feeding the people, Jesus gave thanks and blessed the fish. All that we have is a gift from God—and all that God gives is a blessing, for our good.
Against our flesh we make that confession.
And against the false-god of fallible autonomous human reason, we receive this miracle as God intended it.
Miracles show God’s power and command over nature, His transcendence.
But they also show His mercy, His compassion.
In feeding the hungry, we see that God’s heart is turned to you and all the world, and what He gives doesn’t merely address the problem—it solves it.
They ate and were satisfied with baskets leftover.
“Cast your cares upon the Lord and He will sustain you” (cf. Psalm 55:22), we pray in the Psalms.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden,” Jesus says, “and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
That’s what we learn from the feeding of the four-thousand, and that is most certainly true.
But—woe to that pastor who fails to tell you that the Christian life is more complicated and more difficult than that.
The Gospel according to St. Mark is always doing a combination of at least three things: 1. Proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God, telling us who Jesus is. 2. Calling sinners to repentance and faith, saying what Jesus says. And 3. Teaching us to take up our cross and follow Jesus, showing us what our lives will look like.
Christian preaching must proclaim Jesus as the Son of God or it’s worthless and unchristian.
Christian preaching must call sinners to repentance and exhort them to a living faith or it’s worthless and unchristian.
And Christian preaching must prepare the saints of God for the tribulation that is being wrought right now.
Cooped up for months, surrounded by constant fear-mongering, with physical death—always nearby-enough to sink our spirits anyway—now, seemingly closer still, how well-prepared are you to take up your cross and follow Jesus?
The pandemic has been good for us, because it’s shattered the illusion that we’re guaranteed a pain-free life. Christianity in general, and Lutheranism specifically, is no longer some box you check by rote memory on a form. It’s the faith you live out at home—at church—and everywhere else—or it’s not.
On every page in the Gospel according to St. Mark, we find the cross.
After the feeding of the four-thousand, St. Mark records that the Pharisees demand a sign.
Of course they do. Jesus has just fed the five-thousand, walked on water, healed the sick, taught with authority, healed a Gentile woman’s daughter, healed a deaf man, and fed the four-thousand.
But the Pharisees seek a sign.
They don’t know who Jesus is or care for what He has to say, but the disciples are no better.
They forget to bring bread with them, having only one loaf. “And [having only one loaf] they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread” (Mark 8:16).
Jesus rebukes them for their lack of faith.
“Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?” (Mark 8:17-18).
At the feeding of the five-thousand there were five loaves and twelve baskets full.
At the feeding of the four-thousand there were seven loaves and seven baskets full.
“Do you not yet understand?” (Mark 8:21).
Jesus, next, heals a blind man and we’ll come right back to that.
Peter, then, confesses Jesus as the Christ—which is great—but then he ruins it by rebuking Jesus for teaching the gospel, that “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31).
Jesus teaches the Gospel—and Peter rebukes Him.
So consider now the blind man that Jesus healed.
“[Jesus] took the blind man…and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’ And he looked up and said, ‘I see men, but they look like trees, walking.’ Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly” (cf. Mark 8:23-25).
That’s not a failed first attempt. That’s two miracles.
St. Mark is always doing a combination of at least three things, one of which is teaching us to take up our cross and follow Jesus.
And in the context of miracles, Pharisees, disciples who don’t get it, and Jesus foretelling His own death and resurrection, we need to know what that might look like.
And, having compassion on us all, Jesus heals the blind man, twice.
He sees men as trees walking.
He sees men carrying their cross, following Jesus.
He sees men struggling to understand or deal with who Jesus is and what He says. But he sees those men following Jesus, walking. They do not depart from Him.
Ten verses after the man sees men as trees walking, Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (cf. Mark 8:34-38).
It’s three times in the book of Acts that the cross is called a tree.
St. Paul writes in Galatians: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13).
And it’s St. Peter, of course, who writes that, “[Christ] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
The tree is known by its fruit, and Christian trees walk, following Jesus.
So take up your cross, and take heart.
Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
But He adds to that: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30).
Jesus’ burden wasn’t light for Him, but He carried it and completed it out of love. The light burden He gives you to bear is not His heavy burden but the benefit of Him having carried it.
Cast your cares upon the Lord, and He will sustain you. Go to Him, all who labor and are heavy laden, and He will give you rest.
Behold, the Son of Man takes your burdens away and lays on you the benefit of His work: forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation.
Take His yoke upon you, and learn from Him, for He is gentle and lowly in heart. Follow Him, and you will find rest for your souls.
Work the week, but know that it’s not complete without rest and hope.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Trinity 7 Sermon, 2020
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt