Throughout the season of Lent, during these midweek services, we will be taking a deeper look at the humanity of Jesus. Specifically, we will look at it from the context of Pontius Pilate’s line: “Behold the Man”. As Jesus was put on display before the crowd, it was made known to all that Jesus was in fact, human. But as we know, Christ has two natures: He is both God and man. His divinity is what comforts us in knowing that He carries authority over the powers of sin, death, and the devil, and that He exercises that authority on our behalf and for our benefit. His humanity comforts us in that we know that we have a God who does not remain distant. Rather, He humbles Himself by entering into our sin-stricken life to experience all the things we do, from temptation, to pain, to hardship, and ultimately death. It is this reality of Christ’s humanity which will be the focus of our attention over the next six weeks as we “behold the man” Jesus Christ.
Tonight we focus on a God who hungers. It goes without saying, that hunger is a powerful force in our world. Our stomachs rumble and grumble as we think about, smell, or see any of our favorite cravings. Be it Minnesota hotdish, Chicago style pizza, Tex Mex, Kansas City BBQ, New Orleans Cajun or Creole, and so on. It seems like no matter where we are from or where are at any moment, our palettes can be pleased by the plethora of food options that are out there. But due to so many options and accessibility, rarely have any of us ever truly experienced what it means to hunger.
I am reminded of being in Kenya talking to a man by the name of Chepkoni. Chep, as he is called, cares for the livestock and the gardens at the Lutheran School of Theology just outside of Nairobi, Kenya. While Chep and I were talking, he leaned down and picked up a rather large beetle out of a pile of cow dung. He then proceeded to tell me that back in the mid 1980’s when the drought was at its worst, this is what the people would eat to curb their hunger. Now that’s hunger. To eat a beetle picked up from a cow pie.
As this season of the church year begins each year, we hear of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Immediately after Jesus is baptized in the River Jordan, the Spirit casts Him out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. In that reading, we hear that Jesus had been without food for forty days. Then comes one of the most, if not ‘the’ most obvious (‘Duh!’) statements in all of Scripture. The text says that after forty days without food…he was hungry. Such a statement seems unnecessary to make. However, it is yet another piece of evidence that points to the fact that God had become fully man.
Behold the man who hungers. Behold the man, who just like you and me, would get hungry. Behold the man who had taste buds on His tongue, an esophagus, stomach, intestines, and the whole works to process the food that he took in. Behold the man who no doubt enjoyed special dishes that his mother Mary would make for him. Behold the man who probably had his own fair share of food cravings and likes. Behold the man who was fully and completely human just like us. Behold the man, who was in no way immune to hunger.
Because He was familiar with hunger, He was known for having compassion on those who also hungered. In compassion, He ate with tax collectors and sinners. He had compassion on a group of 5,000 men, plus women and children when they were far away from a place for food and were obviously hungry. With five loaves of bread and two fish, he fed them all, with leftovers to spare. Then again, he with a few loaves and fish, He fed a group of 4,000 men, plus women and children. All because He had compassion, and He knew what it was like to hunger.
Yet, here in our text, the God who hungers references fasting, assuming that His hearers are practicing fasting. And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:16-18).
It is probably safe to say that ‘fasting’ is a foreign concept to us. Outside of a doctor saying we need to fast before blood work or surgery, we don’t get its purpose. If you are like me, you can’t go 20 minutes without thinking about food, let alone 12 hours without actually eating any.
I just had my annual physical. And before going, I had to fast the night before. Believe it or not, I had to have Emily remind me that I was fasting on more than one occasion, and I had to stop myself at least a couple of times so I didn’t accidentally grab a late night snack…a favorite bad habit of mine.
Fasting, from our perspective, does not make sense. However, as Luther tells us in the Catechism portion on the Lord’s Supper: “Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training.” He goes on to say: “It teaches us to say no to things we crave and to say no to temptation. It teaches us to discipline ourselves. It also gives us time for prayer, self-examination, and time in the Word.”
Both Jesus and Luther present fasting not as a command, but as a beneficial spiritual discipline. It is not because it makes one better than anyone else. It is not a good work that will somehow earn greater favor before God. But, what it does is discipline the body from over indulgence and gluttony to focus oneself on repentance and prayer. With each rumble and grumble of the stomach, the one who fasts can be reminded to turn to God in repentance and prayer recognizing that it is God alone who truly delivers satisfaction.
But this topic of fasting is difficult for us because we are a people that so often lacks any self-control. We have everything at our fingertips, while living a life with little restraints. So there is nothing to keep us from indulging, and often over-indulging. We are often downright gluttonous when it comes to our food consumption. But it doesn’t stop with food. We spend more money than we have. We binge watch countless shows then claim we don’t have enough time for faith and family. We have more stuff than we will ever need.
Such over indulgence, food or otherwise, needs to be confessed. We are sinners, living in a sin-filled world, and more often than not it just doesn’t seem to bother us. We seem satisfied with continuing to live a life gorging in gluttonous fashion on all that this world has to offer. But the truth of the matter is, none of it will truly ever satisfy us. To buy into this world’s cravings is like trying to fill a bottomless pit. It can’t be done.
The only thing that will truly ever satisfy is the One who brings satisfaction. The One who endures the wrath of God in our stead. The One who lays His life down for us. The One who suffers, bleeds, and dies our death. The One who hungers for our righteousness.
You see, hunger is that great reminder that we humans are in need. We can’t survive without food. But food for the stomach only satisfies so long. We need more to survive. We need a daily diet of repentance and forgiveness for all the times our diet was about self-consumption. We need a daily diet of God's Word, inwardly digesting it like our life depended upon it…because it does. And here at Zion we are privileged to be fed with a weekly diet of Christ’s body and blood that brings the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. These gifts meet our greatest need and truly bring us satisfaction.
Though fasting may be foreign to most of us, to fast from God’s gifts of repentance, Word and Sacrament would be detrimental to both our body and soul. The daily bread our God provides in His House is essential to our eternal survival. It is as we hear at the end of communion: “The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and protect you in both body and soul to life everlasting.” Here is where God is located for us to eat and drink for the forgiveness of our sins. Here is where the food of His body and blood is located that will last until eternal life.
Behold the man who hungers for you. Behold the man whose stomach aches for your righteousness. Behold the man whose greatest craving is for you to be with Him for all eternity. Behold the man who satisfies your hunger for righteousness. Behold the man, Jesus Christ. In His name. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.