The disciples just got back from their first taste of trying this in the real world. I remember how that went. They have some concerns too. They really shouldn’t complain though. It went worse for John the Baptist. He died. To be more specific he just had his head cut off and paraded around a party for saying the things he was sent to say – the word of God. Things weren’t going great. The disciples are frustrated and scared. Even Jesus is hurting.
So Jesus pulls everyone back. Full retreat. You can call it a crises of faith if you want, but even if hate term, faith is under siege. Heartbreak. Fear. Sin. Suffering. Hate. Death. All of them chip away at it. It’s easier to talk about words like hope when you aren’t losing sleep over something. Or 5 somethings. It’s easier to maintain conviction when you’re the one in control and feel safe. It’s one of the honest criticisms of our faith that we’d rather ignore because it hits too close to home. It’s easier to think God takes care of you aren’t on a ventilator. It’s easier to talk about His commandments when you didn’t get caught breaking them. It’s easier to be pro life when you aren’t pregnant at 15.
When you’re not in control, when you’re not safe, when you’re best friend was just beheaded for preaching the same kind of sermon you’re supposed to preach and you realize maybe God has a different plan for your life than you do …then what? When you’re heartbroken and afraid and hurt and sinful…then what? We all still try to keep that conviction we had in better times, but our voices get shaky. God will take care of me…but…really?
You can see it as the crowds follow Jesus out to the wilderness. They want answers. They want hope. They want help. You can hear it in the disciples nervous answer. How are we going to feed so many? “We only have five loaves here and two fish.” You might even do it yourself in a few minutes. Look up at the host that is the body of Christ in some flatbread, listen to the promise, this is the peace of the Lord who is with you, and say…ok…but…really?
Then call it like you see it. Jesus didn’t save John’s life. He fed 5000, but that seems like a pretty small miracle in comparison no matter how many people Jesus picked up the check for. Especially since a verse later He left so He wouldn’t have to keep doing it as their king. He immediately gets into a boat and dismisses the crowds. Especially since He hasn’t done it for you. We know people hurting, dying, suffering, and Jesus isn’t helping the way we want. And if that’s all we have to go on, yeah, conviction will be in short supply. If you want to look at each problem, things look bleak. So instead of measuring God by every single problem, by everything you think you lack, look to who He is in the face of all of it.
It was compassion that moved Jesus each time. It was compassion for the loss of His friend drove Him to the desolate places to mourn. It was compassion for the people there drove Him to feed the people that followed Him. It was even compassion that drove Him away after. When He went, it wasn’t to abandon them. He carried their pains and fears and most of all their sins with Him. He wanted to do more than answer one fear after another as they arose. He wasn’t meant to be that kind of King. He left to snuff them out completely. His was to go into Jerusalem to wear a crown of thorns so that sinful desire and scared idolatry would not devour us, that enemies like death and the devil would be robbed of their sting. That the sinners would find mercy. That the dead would live. That those who hunger and thirst for righteousness would be satisfied. Even when everything looks like this. Maybe you don’t see Him still working in the middle of all your problems, but neither did the disciples surround by hungry mouths to feed.
In the face of fear and sorrow and a complete lack of everything needed, Jesus took bread, and after giving thanks, broke it and gave it to the disciples. 5000 were fed. It wasn’t dependent upon their conviction that everything would be ok when it didn’t look like it. It was dependent upon Christ’s mercy. The same love, the same mercy that drove Him to care for those saints drives Him to care for you, even if He does it different. 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish and 5000 people I never met honestly don’t make me sleep better at night in the face of what’s wrong in my life, but the God who had compassion on them does. He’s the same God who has compassion on us too. That’s the same God who, in a one time miracle, helped and saved us all, not because of our conviction, but because of His mercy. He bore one cross, one resurrection, one sacrifice for all of time and for all people. In that one miracle He conquered every enemy, forgave every sin, and destroyed every death. It was compassion that drove Him to that cross so that we can stop addressing each day like a brand new disaster. Because there’s always another problem. Always another fear. Always another tragedy and another loss. But there is a one time miracle that stands in the face of all of it. Christ was crucified for you. He is risen from the dead. Let the cross shape your hope for the future, not whether or not God dropped a pile of money from on high to pay off your mortgage. Let the compassion of God that has no end give you hope for tomorrow, not what you’re afraid He neglected. Eternal life guides cares of this world, cares of this world does not guide eternal life because the compassion God had to save your soul doesn’t disappear when it comes to what you don’t think you have enough of.
It worked for John. They cut his head off, but he stood beside Christ at the Transfiguration, alive and whole. Jesus says he is Elijah come again for those who will hear him. John is in heaven now. On the last day, he will rise, because Jesus did it first. Even a death like that could not separate us from the God who has compassion enough to join us in the grave to raise us from the dead. And in the meanwhile, when conviction is in short supply, see the same thing played out again. Jesus has compassion on His saints. Week after week, He takes bread, and after giving thanks, breaks it and gives it to you here until everyone is satisfied. It is His body, given for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins, especially the ones that make people look at you differently. You eat forgiveness. Be satisfied. It is His body, given for you, for the victory over death for you and all who believe. Even those gasping for breath. You will live. Rejoice. It is His body, given for you, as an answer steeped in compassion to every frustrated sinner losing sleep over one something or five of them.
It doesn’t mean we won’t ever go without. It means we can have hope even when we do. Because even when our conviction wavers, God’s mercy doesn’t. We won’t throw out the law that convicts and burdens us. We’ll embrace it to serve our neighbor. We won’t measure God strictly by His providence before our eyes, but by His miracles that give way to providence. We will be the sinners Jesus died for and the sinners Jesus fed. When conviction is in short supply, when you are afraid or burdened, guilty or ashamed, turn in here. There was one miracle that gives us hope. Christ, who was crucified for you, is risen from the dead. There is a new miracle here for you each week. God still takes bread, after giving thanks, breaks, gives to you.