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C.F.W. Walther on Lent 4 – John 6:1-15

by pastorjuhl ~ March 28th, 2011

Walther’s Gospel Postil takes a different tack on the multiplication of loaves and fishes. He focuses on the last couple of verses where the people try to take Jesus and make Him king by force. The title of Walther’s sermon is “Even Now Many Want to Seize Jesus and Make Him King”. Here are a couple of extended quotes from the sermon.

The condition for entry into the kingdom of Christ is far different than for entry into a political state.

One becomes a citizen of a state by going to the place where the state is. One will become a citizen by taking the oath of citizenship, swear allegiance, obey the laws of the land, pay taxes, and, if it becomes necessary, join the army for the defense of the land. The officials do not ask in what conviction, with what sort of a heart one does this.

It is far different in the kingdom of Christ. This is an invisible, spiritual, heavenly kingdom, a kingdom of hearts and souls. It is everywhere; one can be in this kingdom everywhere just as well as outside it; wherever a person is, he can enter into Christ’s kingdom; on the other hand, wherever he may go, he nowhere comes into the kingdom nor closer to it. One enters it only through receiving a new heart. Everything external either does not belong in this kingdom or is only a means, which works the inward change of heart and through which a person should join this kingdom. One can by no good work enter this kingdom. He may work for it ever so earnestly, give ever so much, fight for it ever so hard, yes, suffer ever so much for it, and even let himself be burned, if he does not have the new, changed heart, he would be a tool, a worker, a mercenary, but not a member, not a subject, nor a citizen of this kingdom. Wherever you find hearts in which sin no longer rules but is ruled by them, in which Christ really and truly has set up his throne, and which he moves, controls, and rules, there and only there is Christ’s kingdom. Whoever has not yet experienced this change of heart, or has lost this changed heart again is not a citizen of Christ’s kingdom. If he still wants to be a citizen, he is one who in a foolish way seizes Christ and wants to make him king. But love’s labor lost! As Christ did not then let himself be seized, so he does not let it happen today.

All of you who do and suffer much for the kingdom of Christ, work and sacrifice much, have earnestly separated yourselves from the world, have denied yourselves much, but who in so doing have no new heart in which Christ rules, yes, you who have absolutely nothing to show for your attachment to Christ’s kingdom except that you are baptized, go to church and communion, yet live like the children of this world, ah, don’t be such big fools as to take it for granted that you have become members of Christ’s kingdom. You are still outside! Christ does not want to be seized by you; and if you remain without a changed heart, you will in eternity see with terror that, as he according to our text once vanished from the Jews, he will vanish from you forever and will leave you alone.
How does it happen that although Christ had done the greatest miracles before, made the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dumb speak, the lepers clean, yes, the dead alive, that the people had not wanted to make Christ king but only after he fed thousands for the second time with a little bread and a few fishes? This undoubtedly happened because they concluded from the repetition of the miracle, that in Christ’s kingdom one could without work find a well spread table, freedom from want, war, cross, and trouble, in short, ease and good days. Yes, that was the reason why they hurriedly wanted to proclaim Christ king, crown, anoint, and swear allegiance to him as once they did to David.

This sketches a true picture of most so-called Christians. This seems to be an extremely severe judgment. But judge for yourself! How many baptized Christians are there who are serious about salvation? God’s Word says, “Strive first for the kingdom of God and for his righteousness, in order that all these things will fall upon you” (Matthew 6:33). “But when we have food and clothing, then let us be satisfied. But the ones who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and hurtful lusts, that drown men into ruin and damnation. Because miserliness is a root of all evil; some have lusted and have gone astray from the faith and pierce themselves with many pains” (1 Timothy 6:8-10). If we compare those who bear the Christian name with this word of God what do we find? What do most so-called Christians do? Do they really seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness? By no means! They want to be rich, rich! And even Christianity must serve that end. What they save by not joining in the costly worldly pleasures because they want to be Christians, that they do not give to God; they do not give or lend to the poor, the needy, nor for the purposes of God’s kingdom; they quietly save it that their pile might become bigger and bigger; thus they can look into the future with more tranquility and “to the gold nugget say: My confidence” (Job 31:24)! Yes, they secretly practice the most shameful usury and pretend to their needy brethren that they are poor. They say: Yes, my dear brother, I would gladly help you but believe me, I have nothing myself. But they do not say, that everything which they have left over, they have quickly loaned out at interest.

Others are satisfied if they always have enough bread and fish, like the Jews in our text. A secure, carefree, comfortable life, that is the heaven which they seek. God’s Word says, “So now let sin not reign in your mortal body, to do obedience to it in its lusts” (Romans 6:12). “Crucify the flesh together with lusts and desires” (Galatians 5:24). “And if someone is fighting, is he not crowned unless he rightly struggles.” (2 Tim. 2:5) But what do most so-called Christians do? Are they concerned about their sins? Do they seek to understand them ever more clearly? Do they battle against them? Do they in spite of their flesh diligently watch and pray, hear and read God’s Word, that all sins may be purged from their hearts and life and thus grow in sanctification? Not at all! Most of them think: To be that worried about sin in enthusiasm. That is pietism and Methodism. That is false legalism.

Many also think that they had once before repented and experienced the pain of contrition. Thank God! They are finished with that. What do they really search for in Christ’s kingdom? Nothing else than ease and good days, as the Jews who once wanted to make Christ king after he had miraculously fed them. To them, however, Christ said when they later on hunted him out, “Truly, truly I say to you: You seek me not because you saw signs but because you had eaten of the bread and had become full” (John 6:26). Thus Christ must say even today to many thousands of Christians: You do not want to be Christians, you do not want to hear my Word, use my Sacraments, keep your distance from the world, and cling to my church because you have experienced my grace and power against sin but because you seek ease and good days for this world.

Can we believe that such Christians are citizens of Christ’s kingdom? Never! Their whole Christianity is only a pretense whereby they deceive only themselves. To be sure, they suppose that they had faith, and therefore must be citizens of Christ’s kingdom. But they are mistaken. Their faith is an empty pretense and self-deception. Yes, yes, my friends, it is written, “No man can serve two masters: either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will cling to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24). “He who does not forsake all he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters; also even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

May God have mercy on us all that no one tries to straddle the fence, clings half to God and half to mammon, and divides his heart between Christ and the world. May we all seek only that one thing needful and in such striving not spare ourselves in our earthly calling, live to ourselves, but only for our King and Lord, Jesus Christ. Thus we will also have joy when he is revealed, and not become an object of shame before him in his coming. Amen.

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