In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
So if you were a good Jew in Jesus’ day you would automatically identify the number five with the Torah, with Moses, and with God’s Covenant made with Moses. And a few other important numbers come out of the Torah. Think of the first chapter of the Bible. What is seven used for there? God created everything in six days. He rested on seventh day. Seven is perfection. It is the goodness of the perfect creation at rest. Seven means God’s perfect rest that He gave Adam and Eve in Paradise before sin came into the world.
Six is the number of days God used to create all things. But six is also the day God created Man on. So six is man’s number (think of Revelation 13:18). Seven is God’s number, the number of His perfect rest.
Ten is a full number for God gave ten what? Commandments. Ten therefore, is fullness, the fullness of God’s Law. So if you times ten by ten by ten, you get a thrice full, or totally full number. 1000.
Four is the number of the earth; the four corners of the earth; the four directions; the four winds; the four waters of life that flowed out of the Garden of Eden to every corner of earth, etc.
Of course, three is also important. Three is the number of God's salvation. There are the three persons of God, and the three days Jesus rested in the tomb. Third days are always days of salvation in the Bible. Watch for that. It always pops up in the Gospels.
So let’s apply these numbers. Today Jesus feeds a great crowd. They’d been with Him three days listening to Him, being fed by His Word, which means we should be looking for the Triune God to do some miraculous saving, for it is the third day.
They have eaten up all their food. They have nothing left. They are out in the wilderness and many are hungry and won’t make it back to town before passing out famished. So Jesus has compassion on them. He wants to feed them. The Twelve disciples, as per usual, are incredulous. “How are we gonna feed all these folks?” It’s a strange response on their behalf. After all, Moses, the author of the five books of the Torah, fed millions with miraculous bread from heaven. And two chapters earlier Jesus had fed 5000 with five loaves, signifying that the Old Testament of the Torah is totally, completely fulfilled. There is no more need for Moses. For a new and better Moses is here. A new and better covenant is here through this One who is God Himself.
But as sinners are wont to do, they doubt. They forget. “How can we feed so many in this desolate place?” they ask Jesus.
“How many loaves you got?”
“Seven.” The number of God’s rest.
Seven loaves. So Jesus does His usual thing. He takes the bread, gives thanks, breaks it up, and gives it to them, giving us an image of the Lord’s Supper. For Jesus is always foreshadowing, always trying to prime the pump, trying to get us to recognize what He’s up to. And miraculously seven loaves feed everyone! Leaving seven baskets of leftovers. Seven. Rest. God feeds you and puts you at rest in His Supper that He gives to you, without any merit or worthiness on your part.
And remember that Adam was cursed so that he would not live on earth and eat except by the sweat of his brow, except by wearisome, backbreaking toil. And yet here God feeds them, giving them food without work, without labour, giving them rest both spiritually from His Word and physically from the labour that is required to eat. And He signifies all of this by the fun He is having with numbers. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
When is all is said and done 4000 eat. The last mass feeding fed 5000 to remind us the Torah is totally fulfilled. By contrast this seems less impressive. But 4000 is very important. Four is the number of the earth. Four is also the number of eyewitness accounts to Jesus’ life and death that got written by those who saw these things. Jesus commanded that this good news of His victory over sin and death—symbolized for us today by His reversing of the curse that sin brought on mankind of no eating without labour—go out into all the world, to the four corners of the earth, bringing life and salvation to all. And as that news goes it takes with it a meal that feeds you, that reverses sin and death, that brings God’s rest and peace, that restores you to paradise. A meal that miraculously feeds thousands. And though our wafers of bread don’t miraculously multiply on our altar, they do miraculously impart Jesus Himself. His body and blood. The medicine of eternal life. The gift of healing and rest from God through the forgiveness of your sins. This is a meal that Jesus, through the pastor distributes to you as He takes bread, gives thanks, breaks it and gives Himself generously to those who believe.
5000 shows us that Moses and the Old Covenant are fulfilled. 4000 shows us that Jesus is here to stay. A New Covenant is yours. A new bread from heaven feeds you. A new meal has come that imparts eternal life with the perfect rest from sin of God’s seventh day.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON