The first time the Lord God led a crowd into the wilderness, the children of Israel were on their way to the Promised Land. Despite their complaints against Him, He had compassion on them. So He said, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you.” Our Lord satisfied them with the bread of heaven, not because of the murmuring that they made against Him, but because He was moved with compassion. It was mercy alone that prompted Him to act. Yet His intention also was to test them. For He said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not.” The test was whether they trusted Him and His mercy. And the test was whether they would live that trust by living according to His commandments. If they lived as they pleased, if they walked their own walk, if they made their own way—even if they boasted loudly about how faithful and pious they were—then it would demonstrate how little they trusted Him, how ungrateful they were, and how little they thought of His Word.
In the Gospel appointed for today, we hear that the Lord God again leads a crowd into the wilderness. Like the first time, it is near the time of the Passover. Like the first time, the Lord has done signs and wonders which draw them to trust Him. And so a great multitude follows Him, because they see His signs which He performs on those who are diseased. And like the first time, the Lord gives bread in the wilderness—not because a crowd follows Him; not because the disciples clamor for it; but because He has compassion on them. It is mercy, and mercy alone, that prompts Him to act. Yet His intention is also to test the disciples. He knew what He would do. So our merciful Lord says to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” With words like these, He urges Philip—and even you and me—to believe that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights.” And Our Lord also urges us to trust and obey, to receive and submit to Our Lord precisely because He is compassionate, faithful, and merciful. The more we see that, the more we understand that we are at a loss to give anything—except to give thanks; and to do anything—except to do whatever Our Lord commands. Notice, then, how it goes. When the disciples confessed that they were helpless to feed the multitude, Our Lord Jesus worked the miracle, and they came to understand the power of God.
And then what? Then, as He did centuries before, Our Lord Jesus rains down bread from heaven—not just food to fill the belly, but spiritual food: food from heaven given to strengthen you in the journey to the cross and grave, and through the cross and grave into eternal life with Christ. Our Lord gives bread from heaven so that we might all eat the same spiritual food and drink the same spiritual drink, which is Christ Jesus Himself.
The first crowd in the wilderness had a hard time believing this. The crowd was equally slow to believe and trust in Christ the living Bread. So are we. But our Lord continues to urge us on; He lays down His life to be our food; and He continues to invite us to rely and depend not on ourselves, not on our strength of will, but on Him. Yes, our Lord continues to test and try us, to chastise and discipline us. He does this to draw us to Himself; so that we would fix our eyes on Him; so that we might learn to live from Him and the Bread that He is; so that we might not lose our way, but rather walk according to His commandments. Then we shall not rejoice in ourselves but in His saving strength. To Him, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, belongs all glory, honor and worship, now and forever. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.