Today is about refreshment, real refreshment, from the Lord of life Himself. For three weeks in Lent we’ve been hearing about the heat of battle. First, it was the battle against temptation. Next, it was the battle of faith. Last week, it was the battle against the devil himself. Are you feeling weak and worn down yet? Well, today we get a refreshment break. That’s why today is also called “Laetare”—“Rejoice! Sunday.” It comes from Isaiah 66(:10-11): “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast.”
Can we really rejoice in the middle of Lent, though? Isn’t Lent all about repentance and reflection? Yes, and that’s why we had the battle imagery for three weeks. But today we get a little pause for refreshment. We need this refreshment, because starting next week we will go down into the valley of the shadow of death with our Lord Jesus. So, let Jesus refresh you here today. You see, when Jesus feeds you on Himself, He gives you real refreshment for both body and soul.
Today we hear the story of Jesus feeding and refreshing over 5,000 people. The Gospel of John links this event to the Passover celebration in Jerusalem. That reminds us of Old Testament Israel as each family sacrificed a lamb, then roasted it, and then ate it in haste. After all, once supper was over, they quickly had to get up and escape from their Egyptian slave masters. It was a refreshing meal of God’s salvation and rescue.
The other gospels also tell us that Jesus had been teaching all day. So He and His disciples and the large crowd were physically exhausted. It was also a meal of physical refreshment. Jesus comes to feed and refresh both soul and body.
Jesus looks at the hungry, tired crowd and asks a question of His disciples: “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” Yes, Jesus knew exactly what He would do, but He also wanted to see if His disciples could figure out how to trust Him. It’s as if He threw them a hot potato. And everyone knows that you don’t hold on to a hot potato. Instead, you toss it back. But the two disciples tried to hold on to that “hot potato.” Philip worried about and lamented the great need. “Two hundred [days’ wages] would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little,” he complained. Andrew, on the other hand, worried and complained about the meager resources. “Lord, we only have five little barley rolls and two small ‘fishies.’ It’s merely a boy’s lunch.” One worried about the great need. The other worried about the meager resources. But neither of them looked to Jesus, the Bread of Life.
Now, isn’t that just like you and me? We do that all the time. Not only is our habit of worrying a sin against God, and not only is our complaining a sin against God, but such fruitless activities also exhaust us and wear us out. Take your time, for example. When Monday morning rolls around, you look at the great need of things you have to do through the week. Shuttle the children to school. Rush to work and do all those work tasks. Go to the doctor and have those tests taken. Rush home. Fix dinner. Eat dinner. Do the grocery shopping. Oh, and help with homework, clean the house, and get everyone ready for bed. Then you look at your meager resources. Only 24 hours in a day and only 7 days in the week. How will you get it all done in such limited time? And if one more thing gets added to your “To Do” list, you feel like your head will explode. But you forget to look to Jesus. Is it any wonder you are worn out?
Or take another example: your family finances. First, you worry about your great need—all those bills, all those expenses, all those unexpected things like car repairs and medical bills. Then you worry about your limited, meager resources. How will you make that paycheck stretch through the next two weeks, especially when most of it seems to evaporate within hours after you deposit it? You worry about your great need, then you worry about your meager resources. You might even throw in a little complaining for good measure. But you keep forgetting to look to Jesus. Is it any wonder you feel tired and worn out?
We can also apply this to our life together in the congregation. We worry about the great need—conducting services in the Lord’s house; educating our children in the Christian faith; supporting our workers who bring us the Gospel in word and song; paying the bills for heat, light, insurance and other needs; making needed repairs. Oh, and did I mention setting aside and giving away money to promote the Gospel and help other people around the globe? But then we look at the meager resources. How will this week’s offerings look? Next month’s income? How many bills must we hold before we pay them? It doesn’t help, but we still worry. It doesn’t help, but we still complain. And we keep forgetting to look to Jesus!
Yes, Jesus knew what He would do. He just wanted to see if His disciples would learn to trust Him. He knows exactly what to do with you, your life, and our congregation. He also wants to see if we will learn to trust Him. And, as we see in today’s refreshing story, Jesus takes care of all of our great needs even with the most meager of resources.
Jesus told His disciples to have the people sit down on the grassy hill. He took the five little barley rolls, gave thanks, broke them, and gave them to His disciples so that they could distribute them to the hungry people. You can almost hear them as they give out the pieces of bread: “Take, eat … given for you.” Then Jesus took the two little ‘fishies,’ gave thanks for them too, and gave them to the disciples to give to the crowd. Now, can you imagine how the disciples must have reacted? They dole out little pieces of bread and fish, and yet the bread and the fish don’t run out! They just keep on doling out the little morsels. And it’s an all-you-can-eat feast! And everyone ate until they were full!
What a great picture Jesus gives of Himself! In fact, after this feast, He said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst” (Jn 6:35). There were 12 whole baskets of leftovers. There’s always plenty of Jesus, the Bread of Life, to go around. Remember, He is the bread born in Bethlehem, the “house of bread.” He is also the bread that was baked and broken in the hellish heat of the cross. You see, He gives His Body for food and His Blood for drink. The very Body broken and Blood shed on the cross are also given to you in a most refreshing Meal. As Jesus also says, “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him” (Jn 6:54-56).
The disciples worried about the great need, but Jesus showed them that He meets every need. They worried about the meager resources, but Jesus showed them that they had food enough to feed the crowd, and plenty to spare. The twelve baskets left over tell us that there’s always plenty of Jesus to go around. There’s plenty of real refreshment with Jesus. Remember, Jesus also says, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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” (Mt 11:28-29). You see, in Jesus, there’s plenty of rest and refreshment because in Jesus you have full and free forgiveness. In Jesus, all of your worrying, all of your complaining, all of your forgetting to look to Him–it’s all forgiven.
You know, it continually amazes me. So many of us these days lament and moan about how frazzled and frustrated we are, about how little time and money we have, and about how many demands are made on us. People are just plain fed up and worn down. Is there any real refreshment? Many people look to more activities—such as sports events, spendy vacations, or shopping sprees. But often these things only add to the frazzle and frustration, especially when the bills come due, when the fun is over, and when life’s demands come rushing back.
Would you like some real refreshment for your troubled souls and hectic lives? Here it is: Jesus the Christ, who gives His Body and His Blood for you to eat and to drink. “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Ps 34:8) When you have Jesus, you have real refreshment. And when you look at your time, your finances, and your congregation, you need not worry or complain over the great needs or the meager resources. Instead, look to Jesus, the very Bread of Life. As we will soon sing: “O living Bread from heaven, / How well You feed Your guest! / The gifts that You have given / Have filled my heart with rest. / O wondrous food of blessing, / Oh, cup that heals our woes! / My heart, this gift possessing, / With praises overflows” (LSB 642:1). Amen.