10th Sunday after Pentecost
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, “It was right in front of your nose the whole time!” Ever heard those words? A while back a friend of mine had given me a significant gift card as a gift. I had taken it out of the card and thought I had given it to my wife for safe keeping, maybe in her desk or purse or the safe. Well one evening I began to think about that gift card and asked my wife what she did with it. However, she said she had never seen the card. So after an hour or two of frantic searching everywhere, after trying to convince my wife that she was the one who had lost it, we started giving up. Then poor Lucas, our 13 month old, maybe it was Lucas, maybe he found it and it managed to end up in the recycling which I had just taken to the transfer station that day. So as a last ditch effort I headed out to the transfer station to dig through the dumpster and as I drove up, there was the truck just driving away with the dumpster. Uggh! So then stressed and depressed I decided to re-check a briefcase that I had already looked in and lo and behold, right in front of my eyes, and in a pocket right in front of my nose, there it was! So much grief and stress could have been spared, if only I had remembered or had only opened my eyes! I’m guessing you’ve all had similar experiences! J
Well the same is true for so many things in our lives. How much grief and stress and heartache and worry and anxiousness in our lives could be spared, if only we opened our eyes a bit. If only we’d look at the reality around us every day. If only we’d open our eyes and remember God’s generosity to us.
Our text for this morning gives us a lesson on God’s great generosity in providing for His people. It’s an account that isn’t very well known. In fact, I’m wondering if I asked for a show of hands not too many would remember this account from Bible history. Well, about 850 years before Jesus did the awesome miracle of feeding the 5000, Elisha did a similar miracle.
Remember that Elisha was the successor of Elijah. They lived during the time in Israelite history after the Israelites had taken the Promised Land, after the time of the Judges, after the time of King Saul, David, and Solomon. This is now when the nation of Israel was split between the Northern Kingdom ruled by one king and the southern Kingdom of Judah which was ruled by another king. After the nation split into two kingdoms, the northern kingdom went into fast spiritual decline. They began by mixing in the false religions of the nations around them with worship to the true God and then digressed to worshipping primarily false gods like Baal and Ashtoreth. But while the Israelites were unfaithful to God, God remained faithful he sent droughts and famines into the land to call them to repentance and continued to send prophets, like Elisha, to call them back to Him. We find Elisha in our text teaching God’s Word at a sort of school with 100 men, perhaps like a Seminary.
Remember this was a time of drought and famine and food was difficult to come by. But then here’s this unnamed man who comes to Elisha. All we know is that he’s from: Baal Shalisha. This shows us the spiritual condition of the time that they were even naming their cities after the false god Baal. But he was different, he trusted in the true God so much so that he brought his first fruits, 20 loaves of bread from his first fruits of grain to Elisha.
In appreciation for God and His Word and for Elisha who shared God’s Word with him he brought this offering. This was certainly a generous offering from one man, but remember it was 20 loaves, not 20 party subs from Subway. The barley loaves were probably not very big, they were probably small round loaves. They were small enough that one man could carry 20 of them at once. Then Elisha directed his servant, “Give it to the people to eat.” To this Elisha’s servant started doing the math- 20 loaves, 100 men, no way, “How can I set this before a hundred men?” Sharing it with so many would be silly, it might be enough for one or two, but now no one will get enough to eat!
In the Gospel this morning the disciples also did some math: “We couldn’t even buy enough bread for everyone to have a bite!” “How far will five small barley loaves and two small fish go among so many?” Yet, we, too, know all too well how to do that kind of math, don’t we? “How is this pay check going to cover the mortgage, utilities, bills?” “How will my social security check cover all these medications I have to take?” “How can I afford to these high fuel prices, these high food prices?” “I don’t know how I’m going to make it through this!”
How often aren’t we filled with stress and anxiousness as we consider providing for our daily physical needs? It’s all because we fail to open our eyes to what is right in front of us. We fail to remember the promises God has given us. We so often blind ourselves from seeing the beauty of God’s concern and God’s providing care in our lives. We focus our attention on ourselves and how we can solve our problems. And that always leads to worry, doubt, and fear. We too easily forget the many blessings God has placed all around us and worst of all fail to thank Him with gratitude in our hearts for all He has done and given us.
This servant of Elisha didn’t know what to do, Jesus’ disciples didn’t know what to do, we often face problems and don’t know what to do. But notice what Jesus did. While we might worry and fret over what we can do, Jesus already had in mind what He was going to do. While we often fail to praise and thank God for the blessings He’s given us, Jesus took the boy’s meager offering and gave thanks to God for it. In every way that we have failed, for every time we have looked in all the wrong places, Jesus always looked in the right place. And He did so for you! He was perfect in every way for you! Now He gives you the strength to look in the right place, to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all of these things will be given you as well!
God continually provides for you and me and God wants us to see that. Sometimes it takes a miracle for God to get our attention. With even less provision than Elisha had and with far more people to feed than 100 men, Jesus provided for the multitude of people and there were leftovers! There’s a miracle going on all around us too and it involves a “math equation”. You see, God who is both perfect and holy ought to have nothing to do with us humans who are totally sinful. Yet the same Jesus whose hand distributed food for more than 5000 people gave the same hand to soldiers who nailed it to the cross. Why? So on that cross He could pay for our sins in full, so He could bring us back to God, so He could make us God’s dear children. And that is what we are! If God didn’t care about us, we would simply cease to exist. But just open your eyes and see! It is God who blesses us with minds to think and reason, it’s God who blesses us with hands and feet to do things and to work, it’s God who gives us our health and abilities to accomplish things, it’s God who gives us air to breathe and a peaceful society to live in, it’s God who causes seeds to sprout and plants to grow to provide us with food, it’s God who causes air to exist and the sun to shine in order that things can live on the earth, finally every physical blessing we have is a gift from God’s gracious hand for us!
Certainly God who created the laws of nature and who gives them their power is not bound by them. God can provide for us in supernatural ways and through miracles like He did with Elisha and by feeding the 5,000. Perhaps we’ve even heard of people who have been cured from some illness without any medical explanation. God can use miracles, He hasn’t directly promised us He will, but He can. But let’s not let that distract us from what God does do all around us every day. We eat food and it satisfies us not simply because it does, but because of God’s command and His will that food should fulfill that purpose. We take medicine or herbs and they heal, not because of their power, but because of God’s command and His will that they should carry out certain functions. If God withdrew His power and His will no food would satisfy nor any medicine heal. So in everything around us if we just open our eyes we will see God’s continual care and constant concern for our lives.
And notice something else. Notice that God used this unnamed man, during a drought, to bring his first fruits to someone else. See how God used that man’s gifts to give leftovers to 100 men! See how God used a young boy’s 5 loaves and 2 fish to give leftovers to over 5,000 people! God could have had Elisha snap his fingers and take the hunger away from the men, Jesus could have done the same, but He chose to use people. And He wants to use you and me too! He wants to use you to be a blessing to someone in need, to help someone who needs help, what a joyous thing, what a marvelous blessing, what an awesome privilege for us to be God’s agents through whom He gives blessings and leftovers to other people!
But that can be difficult for us to do! So what does God do? He gives us examples like these. He gives us His promises. Notice that Elijah said, “According to the word of the Lord.” You see, God never goes back on His word. Trust in His promises. Trust that He will continue to provide for you as he has done your whole life and as He has done for His people throughout history. We know He will provide for us and take care of us. How so? Because He has taken care of our most important need: He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will he not along with him graciously give us all things? You see, in Jesus God’s paid for your debt of sin, freed you from sin’s prison, rescued you from eternal death, provided for you eternally in Jesus your Savior. If He’s taken care of that need, He’ll take care of the rest as well. So be thankful and trust in God’s faithful promises and open your eyes and see God’s generosity all around you! Amen.