Sunday, March 10, 2013

Why Does God Give Us Daily Bread?

Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 10, 2013
In the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This petition is nestled in between petitions that go to the heart of God’s grace and mercy for us. That His name is holy, that His Kingdom comes, that His will is done, that He forgives our sins, that He guards us in the time of temptation, and that He delivers us from evil. In this light, the Fourth Petition almost seems out of place. In the midst of these spiritual and eternal blessings He invites us also to pray for such a mundane thing as daily bread, namely, those things in our daily lives that meet our physical and temporal needs. So why does God give us daily bread? Is it simply so that our needs in this life are taken care of? Or is there more to it than just this? Today’s Gospel reading answers this question.

In the Gospel reading John shows us what our Lord giving daily bread is. It is a sign. Now, to be sure, it is most definitely a means by which we are taken care of. In the Old Testament reading the Israelites were taken care of by God with daily bread. Each morning they had their fill of manna and each evening a nice quail dinner. In the Gospel reading Jesus saw the crowds and knew a long day was ahead. They had rushed to follow Him and so forgot to pack sack lunches. No worries, though. The one they were following they were following because, as John says, “they saw the signs that He was doing on the sick.” The one who had performed the signs on the sick would perform a sign for them as well. He would give them regular old bread and some fish to go with it. They would have a nice lunch on their outing.

The thing about signs, though, is that you can see them and totally miss the point. The sign isn’t so much the thing. It’s what the sign is pointing to. The people had seen the signs. They had seen Jesus miraculously healing the sick. They saw the sign He had performed in that desert area. But they misinterpreted the signs. When He fed them, thousands of people, with only a few loaves of bread and a few fish, they realized they had something good in this miracle worker. This was the Prophet who had come into the world. Let’s take Him by force so that He can be our king!

No, sorry. That wasn’t why I fed you. It was a sign, all right. But it was pointing to something you don’t quite understand yet. But you will in time. The thing about His signs in the Gospel According to John is that they were pointing to one ultimate thing He would perform. His death on the cross. That wouldn’t do for a king. The people needed a king who would continue to provide for them in these miraculous ways.

This is where we learn what our Lord is getting at when He teaches us and invites us to pray the Fourth Petition. Our God loves to give us our daily bread. He loves to provide for us, as we see from forty years of that in the wilderness for His people the Israelites. We can see that in all the many blessings He gives us in our daily lives. But think about how He truly provides for us. He gives us these things not only to care for us and our needs, but also as signs. And what do signs do? They point us to things. To something greater. The sign is great and all. But what it points to is greater. What it points to is what we ultimately need.

And so it is with daily bread. With all the things our God blesses us with in this life, we are grateful and see how generous He is in providing for us. But ultimately, He provides for us eternally. Think about parents and their children. It’s obviously a blessing that parents feed their children and provide a warm bed for them and good clothes to wear each day. But these things point to the love the parents have for their children. True love is what the children ultimately need.

Jesus said in Matthew 6: “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” He doesn’t warn us not to seek the things we need in this life. Just the opposite. He does; as we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” But don’t seek these things first. And certainly not only. Seek first the Kingdom of God. And all these other things, the daily bread, the things you need in this life, will be added to you.

The bread and fish Jesus fed the thousands on that day was icing on the cake! It wasn’t the main course, it was an extra helping. It was added on to what our Lord truly had come to bring them. They wanted to make Him their king, He wanted to be their Lord and Savior. The daily bread was added on to His suffering and death for all of their sins.

When we pray the Fourth Petition, we do so having prayed the first three, well, first. We seek first the Kingdom of God, and then we pray for our earthy and daily needs. We seek first blessings we need eternally and spiritually, only then to pray for those things we need temporally and physically.

It was a nice grassy area where those people were on that day. A much nicer setting than the Israelites had found themselves in. The desert, wandering around with no food in sight. And yet, while the people in the Gospel reading had grass, being as they didn’t have the same diet as cows, that wouldn’t have made much of a lunch. They needed food. And so God saw the Israelites in their need. Jesus saw the thousands before Him in their need. God fed the Israelites with manna and quail. Jesus fed the people with bread and fish.

Would the Israelites see this food for what it was, as a sign? Would the people see the bread and fish they had received for the sign it truly was? Both groups were out in desolate places. There was no taco stand to grab a quick bite. They were where they either needed to go back to civilization, or they would end up going hungry. The Israelites grumbled. They blamed God for their being out where there was no food. The people in the Gospel reading were following a guy who could bring about miraculous healing.

The God who fed the Israelites was the God who became flesh. God became a man, and that man was what the manna pointed to, Bread from Heaven. Jesus is the Bread of Life. Did the people who received bread and fish from Jesus see this? No. They saw the sign but missed the point.

Jesus Himself had been in the desert. He Himself had gone hungry, fasting forty days. The first temptation from the devil was food. Satan came to Jesus in His hunger and said, “Dude, You need daily bread. You’ve got the power. Take these stones and turn them into bread. It’s what you want; it’s what Your Father wants for You, to give you daily bread.”

We may miss the signs. But not Jesus. He was hungry, but He saw beyond what His stomach was telling Him. He saw what His Father truly wanted for Him. Without hesitation He retorted to Satan: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” He lived by the Word of God, not merely by food. Even so, guess what happened after Jesus’ fasting for forty days? He ate food. It was never the intent of God the Father to starve His Son to death. But what did Jesus do? He sought first the Kingdom of God, and all these thing were added to Him. He lived by bread, but not by bread alone. He lived, rather, first and foremost by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

So what do we learn from this? We learn why God gives us our daily bread, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. What we learn is who our Lord is and what He has come to do. Who is our Lord? Is He our king who will reign over us by performing those miraculous signs we would so love to see Him perform? Is He the kind of God that will give us everything we need in this life so that we are never in want or never in need? You could think of multiple ways right now how that’s not true. You have lots of needs that don’t seem to be taken care of. You pray to your Heavenly Father to help you in those needs. There are some things in your life where it seems as though He’s putting you to the test as He did with Philip in the Gospel reading.

What kind of Lord do we have? We have a Lord who is God. This isn’t a generic observation about Him. He’s God. He brought all things into being. He can do anything. It’s significant, though, to look at just exactly what it is He has done. He became a man. He took on human flesh, as we were created in. He is our King who makes us sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father by the most miraculous sign of all. The reason the cross is the most recognizable symbol of Christianity is because it’s the sign that clearly and simply points to who Jesus is and what He has done. All the other signs point to Jesus as something else than who He is if they don’t point to the cross.

And so the people saw His signs of miraculous healings and they saw in Jesus something other than who He really is and what He ultimately came to do. When we see the daily bread our Lord gives us we give thanks. But there’s so much more! It’s not just that He provides for our needs. It’s that these blessings, food, home, family, and many more, point to our Lord who gave the ultimate gift. He gave Himself on the cross. Daily bread is a sign that ultimately points us to the cross. On the cross the Living Bread from Heaven was given in sacrifice. On the cross our eternal need was met.

God provided food for His people in the wilderness. Jesus provided food for the people who were camped out one afternoon. He provides for you. He feeds you in body and soul. As He gave His body into death on the cross, so He gives to you His body in and with the bread on the altar that is connected with His word. As His blood was shed for forgiveness on the cross, so His blood is given to you to drink in and with the wine on the altar that is connected with His word. He is always giving. And even if you don’t have enough in this life to meet your daily needs, even if you struggle to get by, even if you are in want or need, you are always fed by your Lord in His meal He invites you to.

Why does our Lord give us our daily bread? He loves us. But that’s almost too easy. There’s actually more. He graciously and abundantly provides for our needs of body and soul, thus freeing us up to serve others. When He fed the thousands with the loaves and fishes, He brought much out of little. Everyone had more than enough. Not only that, there was a lot left over! That’s how our Lord gives. He gives in abundance. He gives to you and there’s overflowing blessings. So you are not only blessed, but your neighbor is too. For you love your neighbor. You serve your neighbor. You care for your neighbor in His need. You help him in his needs of body and soul, helping him in his physical needs and caring for him in his spiritual needs by showing him who Christ really is and how Christ gives to him in abundance by giving of Himself.

So that Fourth Petition doesn’t seem so out of place after all. Far from being merely a petition for physical and temporal gifts in a prayer awash in spiritual and eternal gifts, we see that our prayer for daily bread goes beyond simply what we need in this life and points us also and ultimately to what our Lord has given in abundance: forgiveness, life, and salvation. Amen.


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