Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. The discussion of identity has never been more relevant than it is today. In fact, I would like to suggest that we, as a nation (and I mean this primarily on the individual level), are experiencing an identity crisis. Most people are confused about who they are. There are any number of examples of this from the teenager struggling with the looming decision about college and “what to be when they grow up” to the man or woman who experiences a mid-life crisis. But perhaps the most striking manifestation of this identity crisis is in the group of people who identify as transgender. The terminology usually used in this case is “gender dysphoria”, although I wonder if the older terminology of “gender identity disorder” might be a more apt description. The point is these people are experiencing an identity crisis. Now, it’s easy to look at the world around us and observe the identity crisis going on, but it’s not just people “out there” who are confused about their identity. Sadly, many Christians are confused about their identity, too. Sadly, many Christians ground their identity in what they do for a living or in the talents that they have. But identity is not found in what we do, rather identity is found in who we have been made to be.
2. God’s Word is very clear about who we have been made to be, so we don’t need to be confused about our identity. The First Article of the Creed teaches us, as Martin Luther makes clear, that:
God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them . . . All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.
In short, the First Article of the Creed teaches us to look externally for our identity. Identity is not found primarily in what I do, but in who I have been made by God to be. In other words, my identity is first grounded in who God is. With this in mind:
Our Gospel Reading for this morning shows us who Jesus is so that we can rightly understand who we are:
1.) Jesus is the creator; I am his creature,
2.) Jesus is my provider; I am dependent, and
3.) Jesus is the redeemer; I am redeemed.
3. First, we consider how Jesus is the creator and I am his creature. We heard in our Old Testament Reading a portion of the creation account from Genesis 2 where we see the Lord God forming Adam from the dust of the ground. The Lord God breathes upon the man and gives to him his blessing to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28) as he is invited to live in the perfect seventh day rest created for him by the Lord. But, of course, our Old Testament Reading ends with the ominous words, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16b-17). And Adam and Eve do eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the perfect seventh day rest is destroyed as humanity falls into sin and is sentenced to live in the wilderness away from paradise. And so, in our Gospel Reading, our Lord Jesus demonstrates that he is the creator God of Genesis who has come onto the scene to begin restoring his creation and to bring his people into the ultimate seventh day rest. And so, we see in our reading that the crowd is with our Lord out in the nothingness of the dusty desert wilderness. The provisions that they had brought with them from home have run out and they are hungry. So, our Lord takes loaves of bread from his disciples. He breathes out his blessing upon the bread and in so doing demonstrates that he is the creator God of Genesis whose word has the power to create. The loaves of bread were multiplied such that the crowd numbering 4,000 men ate their fill with 7 large baskets left over. And so, we see that just as the crowd is dependent upon our Lord in this reading, so too are we in our lives. Jesus is the creator, and I am his creature.
4. This leads seamlessly to the second point: Jesus is the provider, and I am dependent on him. Creatures are by nature dependent. And thankfully, our Lord demonstrates himself to be the kind of creator who is also the provider for his dependent creatures. Notice how in our text, in contrast to the feeding of the 5,000, it is not the disciples who identify the need of the crowd. It is our Lord himself who is paying attention to the needs of the people. He is the one who recognizes that their provisions have run out. He is the one who cares for these people so that he looks out for their physical needs. Notice how our Lord says in verse 2:
“I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat” (Mark 8:2).
It is the compassion that our Lord displays here which is of most note. The Greek word for compassion is the great word σπλαγχνίζομαι (splangchnizomai). It’s a deep, visceral feeling love, affection, and compassion. It’s a deep-seated feeling which motivates a person to notice the interests and needs of another and to act in such a way as to meet those interests and needs. Here we see that our Lord not only feels compassion for the crowd, he feels a compassion which drives him to action. He is the provider for these people. And so, notice that even as our Lord has met the spiritual needs to these people by teaching them for three days, he now meets their physical needs by providing food for them in the wilderness. And it is the physical provision that our Lord offers the crowd which is the main point of this text. Our Lord knows all things. He knew that the food provisions which they had brought from home had run out. In fact, he knew that all along. He could have sent the crowd home before their provisions ran out so that they would never have reached such a predicament. But I would suggest that our Lord kept the crowd for three days precisely so that their food would run out. He wanted to provide for their physical needs. He wanted to demonstrate concretely to them and to all who would read of this miraculous story that he is the one who provides for the physical needs of all people. Our Lord Jesus is our provider, and we are dependent on him.
5. Finally, we must consider the third point: Jesus is the redeemer, and I am the redeemed. As I mentioned, this passage is primarily focused on how our Lord provides for physical needs. But there is also more than a hint that our Lord provides for spiritual needs as well. There, of course, is the matter our Lord teaching the crowd for three days, which I briefly mentioned. But the more significant point in this regard relates to the language of what Jesus does with the bread. And notice, too, that the fish is an afterthought. It is the bread which is of primary concern. Pay careful attention to the language used in verse 6:
[Our Lord Jesus Christ] took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples… (Mark 8:6).
What does that language remind you of?
Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said… (The Words of Our Lord, LSB 197).
I’ll stop there because I’m sure you see the connection. St. Mark, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is very deliberate about the language he uses here. He wants us to see in this miracle a foreshadowing of not just the Last Supper, but he also wants us to see a foreshadowing of the cross. After all, it is our Lord’s cross which begins the restoration and redemption of mankind, as we sing on Good Friday:
For behold, by the wood of Your cross joy has come into all the world (LSB Altar Book 522).
The Lord’s Supper is the meal which delivers to us the benefits of the cross. Every time we receive the Lord’s Supper, we receive afresh the gifts of redemption which Christ won for us there: namely, forgiveness, life, and salvation. See, by these deliberate words, we are meant to see this miracle as more than simply a reminder of our Lord’s ongoing provision for us physically. We are also meant to see in this miracle a foreshadowing of the miraculous meal in which we will participate at this altar where our Lord tangibly comes to us and says: “I am your redeemer, and you are my redeemed. I have forgiven all of your sins on the cross, and I continue to be your provider as I provide for both your physical and spiritual needs in this life.”
6. And so, we return to the question of identity. The world understands identity primarily in terms of what we do. But for us Christians, our identity is grounded in our Lord Jesus, that is to say, our identity is grounded in who Christ is and in who he has made me to be. I am God’s creature. I am dependent on him. I am redeemed by him. This is the foundation for how I understand myself and my identity. Anything which is contrary to this must be disregarded. My identity is grounded in my creatureliness, my dependence, and in my being redeemed by Jesus. And “For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.” And so, I thank the Lord regularly for his ongoing provisions. Whether that is in the morning, at mealtimes, or at the end of the day, I thank him regularly for all his provisions. I praise him for who he is and what he has done for me through Psalms and hymns and prayers. And I serve and obey him by looking to him for all good things—both physical and spiritual—knowing that he is the rock on which I stand.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.