“All You Can Eat” – Luke 9:1-36
Transfiguration Sunday – February 26, 2017
In three months, it’s going to be 35 years ago that Deanna and I got married. I’m getting older and I’m starting to forget some things, but there’s one thing from our honeymoon that I won’t ever forget. It was exciting. It was something that I looked forward to with great anticipation. It was something that, when it was all over, left me with a feeling of deep satisfaction. It was the “all-you-can-eat” Sunday buffet at the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City. We had seen it advertised, and it sounded and looked very good. Once we decided to go, I remember looking forward to it, even though I couldn’t have imagined beforehand what it would actually look like and taste like. But when we got there, we saw four or five tables spread out with all kinds of delectable foods. It was enough to start you salivating right there and then. And that was just the dessert tables. Oh, my goodness! I don’t remember paying attention to how many people took in that buffet, but I guess it was a couple hundred. Yes, we walked away from the hotel with a satisfaction deep down in our tummies, and we’ve never forgotten that meal.
- A mega-buffet!!
Our essential Bible passage for today is from Luke 9 and features Jesus putting on an all-you-can-eat meal for 5,000 – oh, and that was just the men! Add in another 5,000 women and throw in some children for good measure and you’ve got a mega-church congregation of 20,000.
The story is pretty simple. Jesus already had a reputation and a following because of His healings and teachings. At one point, He and His disciples withdrew from the crowds of people to get some R ‘n R near Bethsaida, a town on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee. But when the people found out where He was, they gathered again, in the thousands to be healed and to hear about the Kingdom of God. Evening was approaching and the disciples encouraged Jesus to send the crowd away for food and lodging. But Jesus challenged them, “You give them something to eat.” The disciples were at their wits’ end because, after taking inventory, they only had five loaves of bread and two fish. Those were the days when there wasn’t a McDonalds on every second street corner. Jesus had the disciples sit the people down in groups of 50, and then, taking the bread and fish, he said a blessing. Then the disciples distributed the food. Miraculously, those simple rations fed the entire crowd. Luke’s account of the story reports that “they all ate and were satisfied.” More than that, they picked up twelve baskets full of the leftover food so that it wouldn’t be wasted. (I hope the Chateau Frontenac didn’t just throw their leftovers into the garbage!)
- A deeper meaning
To fully understand this miracle, we must understand its context. Just like Jesus’ parables were earthly stories with a heavenly meaning, sometimes his actions had a deeper meaning than just what people saw.
As I mentioned, Jesus already had a reputation and a following because He taught with authority and because He healed people of various diseases. Just before this miracle, Jesus gathered the twelve disciples together, gave them power and authority to drive out demons and to heal, and then sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. It was like He was saying, “You’ve seen how I do it, now you give it a try.”
Some people today are offended by or frightened by the idea of evangelism. They think it means door knocking or standing on the street corner with a “Repent” sign or hard-core preaching Jesus to people at work and leading them to believe – complete with a prayer and another notch on their conversions belt. Or maybe a softer approach would be inviting a friend or colleague to an evangelism crusade – like the Franklin Graham crusade in downtown Vancouver next weekend.
But Jesus didn’t ask His followers to impose a set of personal beliefs on others. He asked them simply to share the Good News so that it would multiply in the lives of others, just like the bread and the fish that Jesus would multiply a few days later. What was that good news? In Mark’s Gospel, the first message that Jesus preached was simply: “The kingdom of God is near.” The reality was that IN JESUS the kingdom of God was near. What Jesus wanted was for His disciples to feed others – not with loaves and fish – but with the truth of God’s presence, God’s kingdom, God’s grace. The miracle of multiplying food was to underline how God’s kingdom is multiplied when the good news of the kingdom is shared.
b.Do good works
Another thing the disciples were to do was to have a practical Godly effect on people’s lives… in essence to do good works in Jesus’ name. The good works that Jesus gave them power to do were casting demons out of people and healing their diseases. The narrative in Luke 9 says they went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere. Then they returned and reported back to Jesus about everything they had done. Do you notice… no mention of casting demons out of people. I think that would scare the eebie jeebies out of most of us today. But when you remember that in Jesus’ day sickness was often considered to be evidence of the presence of and affliction by the devil, we could certainly lump casting out demons into the general category of healing. Preaching the gospel into people’s lives has the same effect of driving the devil away, for he can’t stand the name of Jesus. So, the good works of the disciples included bringing about spiritual and emotional healing in the lives of hurting people.
The other “good work” that is mentioned in this account is the social ministry of providing food for the hungry crowds of people. Jesus charged them with the role of giving the people something to eat. Although Jesus, Himself, multiplied the loaves and fish, the disciples were the hands and feet of Jesus distributing it to the hungry multitude.
c.Confessing Jesus as Christ
The third thing that Jesus challenges and invites His disciples to do is to proclaim Jesus’ true identity. Immediately after the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus conducts a little religious survey. He asks the disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” He wanted to get His thumb on the pulse of popular opinions about Him. After the disciples replied that some think Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead, or Elijah, or one of the prophets of old, Jesus turned the question to them: “Who do YOU think I am?” Peter – always the impulsive and brash one – answered first. You can just see him like a school child waving his hand frantically because he knows the answer. “You are the Christ of God, the long promised Messiah!” In Matthew’s account of this episode, Jesus responds by saying that Peter’s answer, Peter’s faith was revealed and given to Him by God, Himself. Then, in both accounts, Jesus commands them NOT to tell anyone. What? Does He want to be known or not? Well, He does want to be known, but, in general, people still had a misguided opinion of what the Messiah was supposed to be and do. They expected Him to topple the Roman rule over Israel and set up a kingship similar to David’s powerful rule 1,000 years earlier.
In contrast, Jesus explained in no uncertain terms what the Messiah was supposed to be and do. He said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Suffer? Die? That’s not what people expected of their national and religious hero. Rather than a rule of might and political power, Jesus’ rule was to be a rule of love and grace and forgiveness. It would only be after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and after His ascension back to heaven, and after He sent the Holy Spirit that the disciples would get it right, and would get the power to proclaim Jesus’ true identity and purpose. In Luke’s sequel – the book of Acts – this is how Peter got it right: “There is salvation in no one else [but Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Later, Peter again proclaimed Jesus’ identity, saying that the Jews “put Him to death by hanging Him on a tree, but God raised Him on the third day… that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.” There is His purpose… to bring God’s true and full forgiveness to sinners. That was the role of the Saviour.
- The Transfiguration
That role was demonstrated visually for three of the disciples in the next story in Luke 9. It’s called the transfiguration of Jesus, and today is the Sunday of the Transfiguration which forms a bridge between the season of Epiphany and the season of Lent. We already heard the story from Matthew 17. Jesus took Peter, James and John up a mountain to pray. There the appearance of his clothing and face were changed, transfigured. He became dazzling white, which I like to say was like heaven’s door was opened a crack for the disciples to see the true divine splendor and glory of Jesus. Two Old Testament characters – Elijah and Moses – appeared with Jesus and spoke of His departure, His death, which was soon to take place in Jerusalem. Finally, before the episode was over, God’s own voice spoke from a cloud saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One, listen to Him!” That demonstrated for the disciples in a very powerful way who Jesus really was, and must have effectively bolstered their faith. It truly was “all-you-can-eat” in a spiritual way. They got their fill of Jesus that day. In fact, as we heard Peter was so “satisfied” that he wanted to build some tents and stay for a while.
Through the miracle of feeding the crowd, and through that quintessential “mountain-top experience,” Jesus was driving home an important message: “I am God in the flesh. I am here to establish a kingdom that must grow. I want you to tell others about it.”
- What about us?
What is Jesus challenging us to do? Jesus is calling us to do the same things, really. He is calling us to “feed” others by simply sharing the good news of His kingdom so that it multiplies. I can imagine that each person on the hillside that day took some bread and fish from the basket, and then passed it on to the next person. There was always some left. That’s what we can do. Take some of God’s grace and forgiveness in Christ, have the kingdom of God feed us, but then pass along that message of who Jesus is and what He did to others so that it feeds them, too. You don’t have to be a learned theologian to share the kingdom. You just need to be able to say things like:
Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so, OR
God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes will have eternal life, OR
This is a trustworthy saying… that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, OR
God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
The message of the Kingdom is pretty simple, and it multiplies as it is given away.
Jesus is calling us to do good works in His name. If we understand Jesus to be saying, “You’ve seen how I do it, now you give it a try,” then we know that as we immerse ourselves in Jesus’ life and ministry in the Bible by osmosis those good works will find their way into our lives.
Some of you who took the “Joining Jesus” book last fall will remember this story Greg Finke told.
A pastor friend of his in Chicago was trying to reach out in friendship to a neighbour, who really wanted nothing to do with him. He didn’t want religion and figured that’s what the pastor-neighbour was peddling. Then one Saturday the neighbour knocked on his door and asked, “Can we talk.”
He sat down at the pastor’s kitchen table and talked about what had happened the night before at a ceremony at the local high school. A young lady with autism was receiving an award and gave a speech telling a bit about her story. But a good deal of her story revolved around Ben, a school classmate who just happened to be the pastor’s son. He was a senior and a big lineman on the football team. But every day Ben made a point of coming up to this autistic young lady, getting her attention, smiling, and wishing her a good morning. A simple act of goodness, but one that inspired and encouraged this young lady who needed to summon the courage just to face another day at school. But thanks to him she did. Not only was the young lady blessed by Ben’s actions, but his simple act of daily goodness slipped past the neighbour’s shield keeping Jesus at arm’s length. There emerged a new opportunity for spiritual conversation between the pastor and his neighbour.
The third thing that Jesus calls us to do is to proclaim Him with our lives. It might be your regular and sincere weekly worship – something that your neighbours notice when you pull out of the driveway each Sunday morning, saying with your actions what Peter said in words, “Lord, it is good that we are here.” It might be your wholesome speech that stands in stark contrast to the course and colourful language that your co-workers use. It might be your bold declaration, when the opportunity arises, to confess – again with Peter – that you believe Jesus to be God’s promised Saviour. People today are no different than they were in Jesus’ day. They have many opinions – many false and misguided opinions – about who Jesus really is. It is important that we point them to the truth: He is God’s chosen one, who was crucified, but who rose from the dead, for our forgiveness and our salvation. That’s an “all-you-can-eat” statement that will satisfy you for all eternity. Amen.