The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
Intentions are an interesting thing. People can be absolutely wrong and full of error in what they do or say, but if they're doing it with good intentions, we tend to be a little more loving and forgiving, don't we? We may even let the error slide. After all, it's not like the error was purposely committed with malice or deceit in mind. They had good intentions. They were just ignorant. They didn't know any better. However…what about after the correction has been made? What about after the error has been addressed? If people willingly continue to commit error after the ignorance has been removed, are we still dealing with good intentions at this point, or are we now entering into stubborn, thick-necked sin? What about when the intentions aren't good to begin with? How do you handle that situation?
As we turn our ear to the Gospel lesson for this morning, we hear of a group of people seeking out Jesus the day after He miraculously fed over 5,000 men with a few small loaves of bread and a couple of little fish. That's a good thing, right? This group knew that Jesus always traveled with His twelve apostles. This group had also watched those twelve apostles leave in their boat the day before, leaving Jesus there on the shore. Think about it. If one boat leaves without Jesus, and that's the only boat that is missing, then Jesus must obviously still be hanging around on this side of the sea. It's not like anyone is going to swim across (or walk across) such a great expanse of water, especially with the terrible storm that had ripped through the night before. And yet…Jesus was nowhere to be found.
This is what leads the people to get in their boats and make the trip across the sea to the other side. They were going to try and track down the apostles and find out if they knew where Jesus might be. Again, this is a good thing, right? Who could fault the people for this? These people should be commended for their tenacity. It is precisely because of this tenacious detective work that they were so surprised when they met Jesus on the other side. "Rabbi, when did you come here? What are you doing here? How did you get here?" As perplexed as the people were when they unexpectedly encountered Jesus, there must have been a bit of surprised joy and relief too. "Hey, now we don't have to track down the apostles and play a divine game of 'Where's Waldo.' Jesus is right here! We found Him! Let's get down to business!"
And that brings up a good question: Why were they seeking Jesus? What was so important that they felt it necessary to get into their own boats and make the journey across the sea so they could track down this single man? In a word: selfishness. That's not a good thing, is it? Not at all. John tells us in verse 15 of this chapter—right between the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus going away by Himself to pray—that the people were so impressed and happy with the miraculous sign of bread and fish that they were looking to make Jesus their "bread king." In fact, they were even willing to use force if it came down to it. This great, never-ending bread vending machine that was Jesus was going to be their king, whether He liked it or not!
Wow! This ugly little reality really shines a light on the true intentions of this group, doesn't it? It should come as no surprise to any of you that your Lord knew all along that this was in their hearts. In fact, He called them out in their foul, evil intentions with His first words to them. "Jesus, when did you get here?" Before they can even say anything else, Jesus lets them have it. Notice: He doesn't even bother to play nice and entertain their bogus questions. He goes right for the jugular. "Truly I say to you, you are seeking Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. You had your bellies filled and you want Me to do it again! Stop worrying about your bellies and start worrying about your eternal life!"
And how do the people respond? "What must we do to be doing the work of God?" Did you catch that? Basically, the people know that their true intentions have been exposed, but rather than repent, they try to work out a deal with Jesus. They assume that they have to earn the things they desire. Makes sense, right? That's how the world works. "Okay, okay. Let's work a deal here. We'll do something for God, and in return you'll give us what we want. How's that work for you? We'll scratch your back and you scratch ours." You tell me: Does God work on the "Let's Make a Deal" merit system? NO! Jesus again responds rather bluntly: "This is the work of God; that you believe in Him whom He has sent." Whoa! Jesus just preached faith alone in Christ alone. Jesus just preached against any and all forms of works-righteousness. What a radical!
And how do the people respond to this? "Give us some proof! If you want us to believe, then give us a reason to believe. Give us a sign so that we know that what you're saying is legit. Scratch our backs and we'll scratch yours! Wait…I know a sign you can do for us. Our fathers were given manna by God when they sojourned in the wilderness. Why don't you do that for us? That would make a great sign! Give us some manna—some bread—and then we'll believe!" Selfish, one-track-minded, belly-serving, impenitent fools! They had already witnessed all the signs they needed. God did give them signs. Jesus Himself said so. "You just witnessed a miraculous sign while on the other side of the lake. You yourselves were active recipients of this sign. You were fed, and yet that sign wasn't good enough for you. You want another sign—a sign that you want to see—so that you can have proof enough to believe. What's wrong with the sign I've already given you?"
Imagine: People not being content with God's means and ways and timelines. "Yeah, yeah, yeah…that was all good, but now do something I want. Give me what I want and then we'll talk." And yet…your Lord doesn't strike them down, does He? Oh…they've certainly earned it with their foul impenitent greed, but…who here hasn't justly earned the same temporal and eternal punishment? Who here among us hasn't dealt with God in the same selfish, stubborn way? I know I'm not the only one to have ever tried to cut a deal with God!
And that's just it. If we're faithfully honest, we can't help but admit that there are times in our lives when we're no different than any of those fools who were seeking out Jesus to get their bellies filled, their backs scratched, and things their way. We have our own plans. We have our wants and desires. Yes—sometimes our intentions are wrong and sinful. There are times when we call upon God, not as our Savior and Comforter and Deliverer, but as our bread king. "Gimme a sign, God, so I can know that all my sacrifice of time, talent, treasure, and faith is worth it. I know…do this for me and in return I'll do this for you!"
My fellow redeemed: Your God and Lord has already given you every sign you need to believe and trust and have eternal life. Just look to this cross and all the signs made manifest on that day—earthquakes and split boulders, darkness, the rending of the temple curtain, the dead resurrecting and coming out of their tombs when Christ proclaimed, "It is finished!" Honestly: Do you need anything else? God thinks so, which is why He gives us even more signs and proof. God Himself stations holy angels at the empty tomb on Easter Sunday morning when the sign of the resurrection was made manifest. "Why do you seek the living among the dead? Jesus has risen, just like He said He would." There's the ascension, with those divine words of promise, "I am with you always, to the very end of the age." These words point us to and ground us in the reality of the other signs and proofs of Christ in our midst—the reality of God with us in His Word, His Body, His Blood, and His Holy Baptism, all for the forgiveness of our sins. What more signs and proof do we need that God loves us? Isn't this enough for true and faithful joy and contentment and peace? Your Lord thinks so. In fact, all of this is what He refers to as "the peace that surpasses all human understanding."
Dear children of our heavenly Father: May this peace of Christ crucified and resurrected for you; this sure and certain sign and proof of God's love for you, which surpasses all worldly understanding and which is known only in humble, obedient faith, guard and keep your hearts and minds contented and filled up in Christ Jesus, now and into all of eternity.
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people. It is NOT necessary to ask my permission for any of it! In fact, you don't have to mention me at all. (I think it's highly problematic when pastors seek credit/glory for sermons inspired by the Holy Spirit!) Give praise to God for the fact that He continues to provide for His people.
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