Laetare – The Fourth Sunday in Lent
“Not That Kind of King”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
St. John 6.1-15
27 March 2022
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
On the First Sunday in Lent the Christian Church reads Matthew 4, the temptation of Jesus. Satan tempted our Lord three times in the wilderness. In the last temptation Satan showed him the kingdoms of the world and said, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” It wasn’t Satan’s to give. In fact, none of it belonged to him. He stole it. Here once more that temptation raises its ugly head. Satan has worked through the people, not merely with words, but with actions. They would take Jesus by force and make him king. The kingdom without the cross, but it would be no kingdom at all, but mob rule.
The only thing that Jesus could do was to get away from this crowd who wanted nothing more than bread for the belly. Luther expands the definition of bread as the starchy loaves we eat to include “everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body. Then goes on to list 23 more identifiable things when he concludes with “and the like,” meaning that there are still more things which could be listed as bread.
Earlier this week I was running some errands in Indianapolis and I drove past a very large church. They probably have thousands of members judging from the size of the buildings. A large banner was in front with these words: “Softball, Baseball, & Flag Football. Sign up now.” One might have expected a banner with a Lenten theme, but it had nothing but belly offerings.
It’s not unusual to see these things. In an attempt to gain members many churches have resorted to offering bread to the masses. They offer a Jesus who takes care of every physical and emotional need people can list. Like the crowds that followed Jesus because of the miracles/signs he had performed, so it is no different in our day. Our Lord gave them yet another miraculous sign but they failed to recognize the true nature of who Jesus is. They did indeed eat their fill of that bread and the fish, but they became hungry again hours later. They cared only about the bread that perishes [John 6.27]. They cared not for the Bread of everlasting life.
When the crowd saw this great sign they exclaimed, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world.” What were they thinking? Who is this Prophet? The most obvious explanation is Moses because Moses fed the people of Israel with manna [Ex. 16.2-21]. Yet, it was not really Moses who fed Israel but God himself.
But Jesus is not that kind of King. The people thought that the golden age had arrived but it was not what they thought. Giving these people bread was not Christ’s real mission. Taking care of their bellies was not why he became incarnate, but the belly was all that these people could see. So Jesus got away by himself to the mountain to pray. Wisely, Jesus removed himself from the temptation to popularity and earthly kingship.
You know that Jesus was not that kind of king. Before Pilate our Lord defended himself by saying,
36 “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (Jn 18:36).
Samuel Johnson, the famous English writer of the 18th century defined gratitude as “a lively sense of favors to come.” The people would force Jesus to become king and then they could control him, make him do what they wanted him to do. They would use Jesus to fulfill their dreams about what life should be. Perhaps they thought they could harness Jesus’ power for their own desires. They wanted him for what they could get out of him.
It happens today far more than we might be willing to admit. We must confess that we often want Jesus to be what we want him to be and not who he is. Are we ready to accept his will or do we pray, “Lord, give me strength to do what I want to do?” You see, that is our sin, that we seek to manipulate Jesus for our own ends. We want to force him to become the kind of King we want and not as he has come to be. These people followed Jesus as long as he gave them bread, but as we read further in John’s Gospel most of them fell away, so much so that Jesus asked his disciples, “Do you want to go away as well?” [6.67].
Jesus came to go to the cross. He came to die for the sin of the world. He came to give his life in a shameful death so that we would be brought back to his Father in heaven. He did not come to give you “your best life now,” as Joel Osteen preaches. Osteen promises bread for this life but not for the life to come. Myriad are the churches who promote Jesus as the King who fixes everything wrong in your life. Nary a word is said about repentance and forgiveness and bearing the cross as Jesus has promised those who follow him.
Jesus is not a King only for your belly. He is not a Bread King. He will not solve all the problems of your life. He is the only-begotten Son of God who gave himself into death to pay for your sin so that you could enjoy eternity with him. His kingdom doesn’t belong to this world. The real problem is much more profound.
“ . . man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord”, said our Lord quoting Deuteronomy 8.3. Life is more than food and clothing, said our Lord in exhorting us not to be anxious about the things of this life [Matt. 6.25]. Rather, we are to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness as the true good in this life and the next. [Matt. 6.33]. The most important issue is having a gracious God who forgives your sin.
The Lenten discipline reminds us to seek those things that are above, the true treasures—forgiveness, life, and salvation. God does not always give us what we want, even that for which we pray with tears. Sometimes he takes our dearest earthly treasures from us to show us that his kingdom consists of much more than bread issues. Those who are spiritually blind seek earthly bread as the highest good, but you see the highest good in the abundance of God’s grace and mercy in Christ. Here in the Blessed Sacrament he feeds you with real food, his body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. This food satisfies your soul now and forever. The refrain from the hymn sums it up well:
You satisfy the hungry heart
With gift of finest wheat.
Come give to us, O saving Lord,
The bread of life to eat. [LSB 641 refrain]
In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.