Are You Worshiping A Bread And Circus Savior?





Text: John 6:1-15

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

Contrary to what you and I might think, I believe that most people have a favorable opinion of Jesus. I believe that most people not only appreciate but welcome the kind of Jesus that wows them and gives them good things.  Who doesn’t like to have a Savior in their corner?  The kind of Savior that does the miraculous is just the kind of Savior that many churches worship. A Savior who gives out free food?  Yes, that is the kind of Savior that many churches follow. 

In our reading from the Gospel of John, it is no different.  Jesus had been healing the sick and multiplying food to fill hungry bellies, which resulted in a large crowd following Him. Now, we must keep in mind that these signs of healing and multiplying food were not wrong or bad.  But unfortunately, as we heard in our reading, the signs did not have their intended effect on the people.  Instead of listening to Jesus, the people became little enthusiastic circus goers. 

Dear friends, we must keep in mind that Jesus is not just another act in a circus performance, where He heals the sick and multiplies bread.  He is not just another act before the juggler tosses fire and after the clown throws peanuts.  Jesus is not an entertainer.  Jesus is not a peanut thrower.  But unfortunately, the large crowd saw Him that way.  The crowd was all about bread and circuses. They saw the signs of Jesus as something to satisfy their most immediate entertainment needs and carnal desires.  And so, they could not see beyond the miraculous signs of Jesus. 

Dear friends, the signs of Jesus were intended to point the people to the one doing the signs.  The signs were a motive to listen to Jesus. The signs were designed to cause the people to look to the one doing the miracles; however, the people were shortsighted.  They could not look beyond the appetite of their belly and their superficial appeasements.  They were bread and circus consumers.   

Isn’t that how it works, though, with our sinful nature?  Doesn’t our sinful nature only look at what we can get?  It makes sense, doesn’t it, why the large crowd was tempted to grab ahold of the signs while not really caring about the Sign-Giver.  We can hear our sinful old Adam saying, “Give us the miracles, but we don’t need the Miracle-Giver!  Give us bread and circuses, not the Truth and Life.” 

But what happens after we get our fill of bread and circus routines?  Well, as we see in our Gospel reading, the large crowd liked the signs of Jesus so much that they came up with this ingenious idea to seize Jesus to make Him do more signs for them. They wanted to make Jesus their king by force.  They did not want Jesus to be a King according to God the Father, but they wanted to have Jesus as their king, so that they could shape Him according to their desires.  They wanted to make Him a king according to their cookie-cutter expectations and carnal desires.

Tragically, this same kind of temptation and tactic exists in the church. In the church today many seize Jesus and make Him into a king of preconceived desires and wishes.  For example, there is a dangerous movement in Christianity right now called the prosperity gospel movement. It is also known as the health and wealth gospel.  You can spot this prosperity theology in so-called Christian books at many major retail stores in America.  They typically have a well-dressed and smiling successful person on the cover holding discerning fingers to their chin.  The cover of the book communicates that if you adhere to the author’s theology that good things will be on the way for you.  As you read these books, the false theology will fixate you on the financial blessings and physical well-being that are supposedly given to you by God, but only when you are positive and faithful, like the author.  In other words, physical health and prosperity are signs of God’s favor and belong to Christians who have vibrant faith.  All a person has to do to get health and wealth is to name it and claim it from God with bold and positive faith. 

As a result of these books, hundreds of thousands of Christians pursue this poisonous prosperity theology chasing after health and wealth, while the Lord Himself is an afterthought.  Na├»ve and misguided Christians run frantically after the signs of health and wealth, while Jesus is treated as an afterthought. Jesus is only desired for the gifts of health and wealth that He supposedly gives. 

It is no wonder why thousands upon thousands of people flock into these churches. They are not seeking Christ, but the supposed health and wealth given by Christ.  And the churches that hold to this wretched prosperity theology?  They are either severely misguided or willfully deceitful, for they are using the signs of health and prosperity as a carrot on the end of a stick to string people along. 

Dear friends, it is important for us to keep in mind that Jesus did not perform signs and miracles on every single sick person in Israel. Jesus did not feed every single crowd that was hungry.  What this means is that Jesus did not exist for the sake of doing and distributing signs only.  Jesus was not a means to the end of healings, miracles, and signs.  But instead, the signs existed for the sake of Jesus.  Keep in mind that the people in that large crowd wanted to seize Jesus to get Him to do the signs that they wanted, which is completely backwards to the whole intent and purpose of the signs in the first place.

And so, if you have seized Jesus and made Him your king to keep Him around to answer to your bidding, you are not acting as a member of Christ’s church but act like a circus mob.  Christ is not some sort of genie in a bottle that answers to your wishes.  He is not like a vending machine that you use to get free food. He is not a circus act that is meant to merely entertain.

Dear Baptized Saints, Christ’s church is not a bread circus.  The Lord may not always help you in the way that you want. He may supply miraculous help, as He did with the five thousand hungry individuals in our Gospel reading, or He may give you a miracle even if you do not recognize it at the time. Or instead, you may experience something that seemed like a miracle, even though it may have only been God using natural resources to solve your problem. That is how the Lord works; He organizes and orchestrates events in precisely the right way and at the right time to help you.

Furthermore, what the prosperity gospel teaching fails to realize is that sometimes, instead of solving your problems and giving you your wildest dreams, the Lord may allow your problems to remain.  He may choose to have you suffer hardship for a time, even as He provides you the power to stand. This also is the Lord’s loving care.

But perhaps, the most important thing to realize is that the signs of the Lord are meant to point us to the character, mission, and identity of Jesus.

Think of it this way for a moment. That great crowd wanted to seize Jesus to make Him a king according to their desires.  But their desires of making him a King were so limited.  What they wanted was to take him to Jerusalem to be a messianic king over the Roman Empire.  But a mere messianic king over a tiny world Empire accomplishes nothing over mankind’s biggest problems of sin, death, and the devil. This is the reason why Jesus withdrew from their scheming and plans to seize Him as their King. Their plans were too shortsighted. Their plans were too narrow-minded.  Christ had more to give than mere physical healings and simple bread. 

Thus, instead of being seized, Jesus went on to Jerusalem on His own accord to accomplish the ultimate sign of a bloody cross and an empty tomb. 

What this means is that you have a Savior that is greater than what your limited desires want and need.  Think about that for a moment.  Let that sink in.  You have a Savior that is greater than what your limited desires want and need.

You want entertainment but are given so much more – a bloody cross of forgiveness. 

You want a circus but are given so much more – an empty tomb of life. 

You want health but are given so much more – eternal life. 

You want wealth but are given so much more – rich mercy and grace. 

You want prosperity but are given so much more – an identity in your baptism, a clear conscience in absolution, and assurance in the Supper. 

Baptized Saints, Jesus is not the king that you and I want but the King that you and I need... and have. 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.


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