I. God Satisfies Our Physical Hunger / Thirst
A. God Feeds His Children
If there’s one thing that becomes obvious the more you read the Scriptures, it is that God loves to feed His people. He hates to see dear children go hungry. He’s like a mother whose always checking to see if we have enough to eat and always putting more on the table that we could possibly stuff into our mouth.
It’s been like this from the very beginning. The first thing He shows His Adam in the Garden of Eden is the food pantry. “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” (Gen. 1:29).
And in the background, you can almost here the angels chanting, “mange, mange.” (Well, the Italian angels anyway).
B. Jacob to Egypt.
When Jacob couldn’t feed his family because of a famine, God put Joseph in charge of the food supply in Egypt and Joseph stockpiled enough food to feed his family and the whole world all that they could eat.
C. Manna in the Desert
As the children get bigger they get harder to feed. 70 people went down to Egypt with Jacob to eat. 2 million people left Egypt to return to the land God had promised through Abraham which is described in ‘edible’ terms as “A land flowing with milk and honey.”
Along the way, they get hungry. It takes a lot of food to satisfy 2 million people with an appetite –especially the teenagers. The land can’t support that kind of demand and the locals get stingy about sharing their bread with 2 million travelers.
The children complain. And God hears their growling bellies and HAS COMPASSION ON THEM. That word ‘compassion,’ ‘splagnidzo’ in the Greek, has a lot to do with the belly. It literally means ‘an ache in the gut.’ In this case, it’s GOD’S BELLY that is growling with love and pity for His people.
He feeds them with bread from heaven. All of our food comes from heaven actually. It all comes from God and we should be thankful to Him for all of it. But most of it comes to us through the ‘natural’ process that involves tilling the ground, planting the seed, growing the grain, harvesting, milling, baking, and so forth. But in the desert – He skips the NATURAL PROCESS and feeds His people SUPERNATURALLY.
And not just bread either – although that would have been enough. BUT WITH GOD THERE’S ALWAYS MORE THAN ENOUGH. There’s meat to eat too. Quail fall from the sky. Just gather them up, roast them over a fire and enjoy. Bread and meat – all you can eat – every day – for free. The only expectation is to say ‘thank you Lord.’
D. Elijah and The Man from Baal-shalissha
There’s an interesting little account from the book of 2 Kings about the prophet Elijah that I came across this week in connection with this text. There was a famine in the land and the prophet Elijah came to Gilgal where there was a seminary for prophets. The students are all hungry and so Elijah prepares a big pot of stew. But one of them thinks he’s going to be helpful and gathers some herbs from a field. But they were actually poisonous and throws them into the pot and the stew is inedible. Elijah throws in some flour and says “mange, mange.” And it’s all good.
But here’s the interesting part of this account. Just then, a man shows up from a nearby village with 20 loaves of barley bread for Elijah. Elijah tells the man to pass it around to all the prophets. And the man says, “How can I set this before a hundred men?” So Elijah repeated, “Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the LORD, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’ ” So he set it before them. And they ate and had some left, according to the word of the LORD.” (2 Kings 4:43-44).
AND GOD IN HIS HEAVEN LAUGHS AND SAYS, ‘THAT WAS FUN. I SHOULD DO THAT AGAIN SOMETIME.’
E. Feeding 5,000
Which brings us to our gospel for today. The GREATER THAN ELIJAH is present. This time there are 50 times the number of hungry men on hand as were present with Elijah, not to mention their wives and children. And Jesus only has a quarter of the bread as Elijah had to work with.
Jesus’ disciples want to solve the problem of hunger by simply dismissing. “This is a desolate place, and they day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”
But Elijah’s Lord replies, “they need not go away. You give them something to eat.” The disciples can only see the IMPOSSIBLILITY of the situation. Jesus can only see their hunger. And He has COMPASSION for them. Five loaves and two fish are nothing. But God knows how turn NOTHING into EVERYTHING. And with God – it’s always more than enough and plenty to satisfy.
“He said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.” “And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.”
And the Father’s laughter and delight fills all of heaven as He says, ‘Boy, I haven’t had that much fun since yesterday when I fed the whole world.’
F. Daily Bread
It may seem a bit strange to us that with all the huge issues that God has to deal with – like keeping the stars and the planets in their place and making sure that the seas come no further than should and directing the governments and ruling powers of this world – that He should also be so involved in something so mundane as providing our ‘daily bread.’
And when Jesus teaches His disciples how to pray, rather than directing us to pray for all of the ‘BIG ISSUES’ of our day, Jesus says, “when you pray, say, ‘Our Father in heaven…give us this day our daily bread.”
But then again, how would we ever learn to trust in God to provide for us in all of the BIG ISSUES of our life if we don’t look to and trust in Him for this MOST BASIC NECESSITY of life such as ‘daily bread.’
So the Psalmist teaches us how to pray before we eat, saying “The eyes of all look to you and you give them their food at the proper time. You open you hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.” (Ps.145:15-16).
II. God Satisfies Our Spiritual Hunger / Thirst
A. Spiritual Hunger and Thirst
But our ‘hunger’ is not just about or belly, is it? It’s not just bellies that growl because their empty, hearts growl also – and they too need to be fed or they too will starve. We can spend big bucks on the healthiest foods and still “hunger and thirst for righteousness.”
How often does our heart GROWL with guilt or regret or sorrow or despair or loneliness or meaninglessness? How often do we hunger and thirst for peace and contentment and some real joy in our life. We long to be ‘SATISFIED’ – but are so often ‘EMPTY.’
Our problem of course is that we try to satisfy our HUNGRY HEARTS with what doesn’t ‘satisfy,’ just like we do our bellies.
The devil is always trying to imitate God. God showed Adam all the trees that were good for food – and the devil imitated Him by showing Adam and Eve a tree that, he said, ‘was good for food.’ But it was ‘junk food’ of the worse kind.
The devil feeds us a lot of ‘food’ that promises to ‘satisfy’ us but it’s just ‘junk food,’ it’s just a lie. And yet, we like it and keep eating it up because all around us and looks so appetizing. It may be DEVIL’S FOOD – but it’s our favorite cake and we love to eat it.
But there is ONE MAN who is not fooled by the DEVIL’S DIET – a 2nd ADAM.
Recall that episode when Jesus is in the wilderness just like Israel was and just like the 5,000 were in the wilderness. And He’s hungry with a 40 day hunger growling in His belly. And the devil comes to Him and offers to satisfy His hunger – and with bread no less. “Turn these stones into bread.”
But Jesus knows that though this may satisfy His belly – His soul would be forever starved of the One who ALONE can fill it with true satisfaction. “Man does not live by bread alone – but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Mat.4:4).
And the Lord your God HEARS YOUR GROWLING HEART – and has COMPASSION on you. And in our hunger and thirst for righteousness – He feeds us with the BREAD OF LIFE that comes down from heaven. “Take and eat. This is my body given for you.” “Take and drink – this is my blood – shed for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins.” Here is the true ‘SOUL FOOD’ that alone, satisfies the hungry heart.
A French philosopher named Pascal once wrote that “there is a God shaped void in each of us that only God can fill.” Today, here in THIS wilderness, your Lord has COMPASSION on you and satisfies your hunger – not with 20 loaves or even five loaves – but with the ONE LOAF of His body from which we all eat. From those ‘nail-scarred’ hands of His, He feeds us today with all the forgiveness and mercy and peace and joy that our hearts can hold.
And with God – there’s always MORE THAN WE CAN EAT. Even here in this meal, there’s enough of His love and grace left over for us to take home with us to share with others.
B. The End of All Hunger and Thirst
There will come a day when all hunger and thirst will be gone for the children of God. St. John sees the end that awaits us in his revelation saying, “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.” (Rev. 7:16).
Until then, the cry goes out continues to go out, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” (Is.55:2)