Mark 8:1-9: In Compassion, Jesus Feeds Us

Tree Bearing Fruit (610x350)“In the beginning, God” (Genesis 1:1). “The Lord God formed the man from the soil of the ground.” The Lord God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” “The Lord God planted a garden in Eden.” There, the Lord God “put the man he had formed.” “The Lord God caused to grow out of the ground every tree pleasing in appearance and good for food” (Genesis 2:7-9). “The Lord God commanded the man… [concerning] the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” (Genesis 2:16-17).

The Lord God, the Lord God, the Lord God—He was doing the doing. God is the subject of the verbs; the man and the world are the objects, the receivers of what God did. The Lord God runs the verbs; the Lord God does the action.

And what did God do? Part of what He did was to create the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and put it in the garden. But why would God do that? Doesn’t that seem odd? God put such a tree there that we might learn how much good will come from following the Word of God.

God forms and man becomes. God makes and man is made. God breathes out, and man breathes in; God breathes, and man lives. God gives, and man receives. The Lord God makes food and man eats. The Lord God makes water and man drinks. And so we were to learn to look to God for every good. And in receiving the good from God, we were to learn who God is and what He is like—that He wants to give what is good. That is His joy and delight.

But man soon forgot. Instead of receiving from God, he decided to take what God had not given him. He believed the lie that God was holding something back—that God was keeping him down. So, the man decided to be the doer, instead of the receiver. Now, he would be in control, now he would be like God, knowing good and evil! And so instead of eating from the Tree of Life, the man ate from the Tree of Death, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

And that man is you. Oh, the story of creation is about Adam, but you are no different. You, too, have chosen the path of sin. Yes, you’ve inherited a corrupt seed from Adam. But you’ve also colluded in his in sin by continuing in it. And so, you, too, have metaphorically eaten from the Tree of Death, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And, since then, chaos and madness have never been far away, with death and sadness in our lives, without respite, without end.

And so Jesus comes to be born, to live, and become a man. And, today, we see a crowd following that man, Jesus. They have been with Him, in the wilderness, for three days! What are they doing? They are listening to Jesus preach. And they are so attentive to His words that they take little notice that they are running out of food.

What did Jesus preach—for three days? Mark doesn’t tell us. Did Jesus say that death had come to all people since all sinned in Adam? Did He preach that the wages of sin is death? Did Jesus proclaim that God was now fulfilling His ancient promise to send a Redeemer, someone who would remove the stain of sin, to give life in place of death?

Did Jesus preach that they were sheep who have lost their way? Did He say that He was their Good Shepherd who would lay down His life for them? In Matthew 6, Jesus told another large crowd: “Stop worrying about your life—what you will eat, drink, or wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25). Instead, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you, as well” (Matthew 6:33).

It makes sense that in those three days of preaching, Jesus must’ve said something like that to the crowd. And how do we know? Look at how they acted! They had been following Jesus for three days. And Mark doesn’t imply, in the least, that they were anxious about what they would eat or drink! They knew the area; they knew that they were too far into the wilderness to make it to town before collapsing from hunger.

So, what will Jesus do? Will He let their bodies die from starvation? No! He will feed this crowd of 4,000. But the disciples doubt, for although they had seen Jesus earlier feed a crowd of 5,000, they didn’t believe that would happen a second time.

But the people have more faith than Jesus’ disciples. They sit down and wait; they are even passive. That’s the Gospel. We do nothing, nothing but receive. Jesus does the work—always, for us, even when it seems impossible.

Did you follow the flow of what took place in our Gospel reading? The people faithfully listened to Jesus’ Word. Then, He fed them so they would not starve. Jesus did this by taking bread, giving thanks, breaking the bread, and then giving it to His disciples.

Hmmm, are you starting to see some parallels? This miraculous feeding foreshadows an even more miraculous feeding that Jesus gives to His Church throughout time and space, where He feeds us, not with loaves and fish, but with His holy body and sanctifying blood.

And the remembrance part of Jesus’ body and blood (that’s the “do this in remembrance of Me” part of the Lord Supper) is that it becomes that for us in His death on the tree of the cross. There, Jesus took all our worry, anger, restlessness, greed, lust, impatience, unkindness, and more. There, it all died with Jesus as He hung on the Tree of Death. But that tree, for us, has become our tree of life. For of that “fruit so pure and sweet the Lord invites the world to eat” (LSB 561: 4). For us, here is the bounty of the Tree of Life. Here, God shows us His compassion.

But doesn’t it seem excessive that Jesus had to die? Yes! But it had to be so, for our enslavement to sin was so complete that nothing else would do. That’s what we heard in today’s Epistle reading. God’s Word describes people as “slaves of sin”—slaves!

Sin holds a person in bondage, leaving him powerless to free himself. And this slavery to sin reveals itself in many ways. It can be a baby angrily tossing the food he doesn’t want to eat. It could be wanting to control others, to have your way. It could be obsessions with personal pleasure and indulgence. Maybe, it’s a spirit of pride, assuming you know better. Maybe, it’s anxieties and worries. In all of these acts, we fail in fully trusting that God is our God, and we fail in loving our neighbor as ourselves.

What makes it even worse is that we can’t fix our brokenness. Oh, we can patch and mend; we can put together some temporary workaround. But we can’t restore what we lost when we fell into sin. No amount of medicine can restore your fallen body to a pristine, sinless, eternal state. No amount of effort can heal your brokenness with God.

But Christ, our Savior, sees that you, like those people in the wilderness, are helpless. And so He comes—not to teach you how to be better but, in compassion, to give you what you need. Jesus comes to give you, as someone trapped in the wilderness of sin, the fruits of the Tree of Life.

And so a greater miracle than feeding 4,000 takes place among us today. After all, the One, who can make seven loaves feed thousands, can be, and is, present with His body in the bread. And He gives to us this great Sacrament for the same reason He fed the crowd: He knows that we are dying, and without His help we will perish.

And so Jesus comes to us that we may receive Him, not only for our bodies to eat, but for our souls to cling to God and receive His righteousness. He gives us what we could never get for ourselves. The wages of sin is death, but His gift in His body and blood is eternal life. Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day” (John 6:54).

But what is to come of it, after Jesus feeds us with such life? Early in our Gospel reading, Jesus said, “If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way” (Mark 8:3). So, what did Jesus do after He fed them? He sent them back home. And He does the same with us.

But what are we to do when we get home, fed with the eternal life of Christ? Is it to live the same way as before? Is it to continue as a slave of sin? No! Our reading from Romans said, “You were slaves of sin” (Romans 6:17). “Were,” that’s past tense. “And having been freed from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18). After receiving the fruits of His compassion, Jesus sends you on your way from here to live out the compassion that He has shown to you.

Colossians, chapter 3, tells us: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience… Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so also are you to forgive” (Colossians 3:12-13).

You are a Christian. That means that you are Christ’s and that you belong to Him. That also means that you are to be Christ to your neighbor. That is who you are. You serve God by serving those whom God has brought into your life. You serve those closest to you; first, your husband or wife, and then move outwardly from there.

All that comes, not from yourself, but from being with Jesus, from receiving His gifts. Apart from Him, you can do nothing (John 15:5). But you are never apart from Him. For you are baptized into His death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-5)! And so the way of Christ has become your way, in life, in death, and even in the resurrection to come. May it ever be so. Amen.