Sermon audio here.
When something great happens, you can feel like you’re on top of the world. By Mark 8, you’d think that’s how the disciples would have felt. They’d already seen Jesus cast out demons and heal the sick. Once when they were in Capernaum four men brought their paralyzed friend to see Jesus. On the way into the house he was bedridden and had to be lowered in through the roof. On the way out, he picked up his bed and walked out the front door (St. Mark 2:1–12)!
If that and the healing of the man with the withered hand weren’t amazing enough (St. Mark 3:1–6), there was that time when Jesus spoke to a dead girl and brought her back to life (St. Mark 5:35–43). Then He went on to feed a massive crowd with a meager five loaves of bread and two fish. Then He did one of His most remarkable miracles of all, one that actually terrified His disciples: He got on a boat. Now getting into a boat isn’t all that special unless it happens to be in the middle of the sea and you get to it by walking on the water (St. Mark 6:45–52)!
So we come to today’s Holy Gospel, and once again Jesus finds Himself surrounded by a crowd of starving people. But this time there’s only 4,000 of them instead of 5,000, and now they have seven loaves instead of five. It’s only logical: if Jesus could feed a larger crowd with less food, feeding a smaller crowd with more food is a piece of cake!
But instead of saying, “Here you go, Lord—seven loaves. Do your thing!” the disciples were in a panic. They actually said, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”
After all they’d seen, still they doubted and worried. That’s how stubborn the sinful flesh is. You could see miracles that defy the imagination and still doubt. Every Sunday Jesus gives you His flesh and blood to eat and drink—His greatest feeding miracle of all—but still you worry. Even when the Holy Spirit works faith, the sinful flesh continues to doubt every step of the way. This is why you can’t ever have too much of preaching or the Sacrament.
So Jesus fed the crowd, and they had to have been feeling pretty good. Not only did they just have what was probably the best bread and fish they’d ever eat in their entire lives, they got to see Jesus feed all 4,000 of them with only seven loaves and a few small fish!
As great as the crowd was feeling then, soon they would come back to reality. They would go back home only to be greeted by all the same old troubles. Their pantries would never miraculously fill up with bread and fish. Some undoubtedly longed for another miraculous encounter with Jesus so badly that the rest of their lives seemed like a gigantic letdown by comparison.
Scripture bids you to rejoice always (Philippians 4:4), not only when life’s good. The wise don’t go to pieces when things are bad (AE 15:112). In Christ, there’s a happiness that’s bulletproof, a joy that death cannot end any more than it could keep Jesus in the grave. As long as Jesus died for your sins, rose from the grave, and lives and reigns to all eternity, you always have a reason to rejoice, even when life feels like a living hell.
Solomon describes this bulletproof happiness in Ecclesiastes 7 when he says, “For by sadness of face the heart is made glad,” (v. 3). This sounds absurd! Sadness makes the heart glad? It’s common sense: being sad is the opposite of happiness! But God’s Wisdom doesn’t always agree with common sense—and more often than not, it doesn’t.
Scripture wasn’t written to tell you what you already know. It was written to point you to Christ. If the Bible’s teachings often sound strange, that’s only because it’s showing you Christ, and there’s nothing more unnatural for sinners than to look to Him.
Nothing can rob you of the joy that is found in Christ, not even that terrible illness of the brain called depression. Faith in Christ will no more cure your depression than will faith cure your cancer. Thank God we have doctors and medicine to help with these things! But neither will medicine bring you the joy that is found only in Christ. Get medical help when you need it, but rejoice always that you have a Savior, no matter how badly you feel.
But rejoicing in Christ doesn’t come naturally to sinners. Let’s be honest: reading the bible or praying isn’t as fun as sex, or shopping, or watching sports, or doing whatever it is you like to do. Those things are all good so long as you use them as God intended, but they can easily become an addiction. Instead of bring you joy, they leave you miserable. Even when you enjoy worldly pleasures rightly, they can never bring you the joy that only Christ can give.
We think “Life would be good only if…” and then we fill in the blank with things like money, health, maybe to go back to a happier time. Whenever you set your heart on something other than Christ, you’re worshipping an idol, and idols will gladly trade you a few hours of pleasure for an eternity of suffering.
Unlike idols, there is joy in Christ even when you are in the worst of circumstances. If anyone has ever had a reason to be miserable, Paul & Silas had it. Acts 16 tells us they were dragged before the authorities—never a pleasant mode of transportation—for the “crime” of speaking the Name of Jesus (Acts 16:18–19). With some help from the crowd they were beaten with rods (v. 22). Then, nice and bloody, they were thrown into prison, and their feet were put in the stocks for good measure.
You could only image the pain they were in that evening. Come midnight, they weren’t sleeping—but it wasn’t because nobody gave them Advil. They were up singing hymns!
Praising God while you’re in excruciating pain and prison makes absolutely no sense to the world, but that’s only because the world doesn’t know Jesus. In Christ, there’s always a reason to rejoice, even in prison, even when you’re in hospice, and even at funerals. On the cross, Christ bore all of your pain His body and put an end to suffering on the Third Day. His resurrection is the assurance that everything that troubles you will eventually be no more.
The psalmist writes, “This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your promise gives me life,” (119:50). There’s always comfort in Christ. His Gospel of healing and salvation brings comfort in every need. As our hymn says, “In my distress this comforts me, that You receive me graciously,” (LSB 625; st. 4). That Christ receives you graciously is the sweetest, most profound comfort there is—and it’s a comfort that’s exempt from no distress.
The Psalm says, “Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!” (Psalm 47:1). These words aren’t just for those times when you feel like rejoicing; they’re for every time, especially the difficult ones. They’re for the high school student who didn’t make the cut and the laborer who’s just been laid off; for the cancer patient, widow, and parent who’s just buried a child. There’s always a reason for joy in Christ. He puts you on the heavenly rolls even though you didn’t make the cut.
Our hymn (LSB, 819) reminds us that the best thing we could ever do—our highest good—is to sing praise to God. This is why it’s good for us to sing when we come together, and it’s not something we could ever do enough. It’s funny, when we love doing something the time seems to fly and you never tire of doing it. But when it comes to praising God, we’re about as enthusiastic to sing anything over 4 stanzas as we are about going to the dentist!
The dentist may not preach the good tidings of the Gospel, but the third stanza of our hymn does. It begins by describing what looks like a hopeless situation. Not only does trouble seem to find us often, there are those times when we’re powerless to do anything about it. As the hymn says: “We sought the Lord in our distress; O God, in mercy hear us. Our Savior saw our helplessness and came with peace to cheer us.”
Notice how the hymn mentions the trouble, but doesn’t dwell on it. It acknowledges the problem, puts it in God’s hands, and moves immediately to praise: “For this we thank and praise the Lord, Who is by one and all adored: to God all praise and glory!”
It’s not like singing to God will give you a magic solution to all of your problems. But it will put them in proper perspective and show you that they’re never as hopeless as you make them out to be.
You’re in God’s hands, and that’s not a bad place to be. He works all things for good—even when it seems impossible (Romans 8:28). Trouble is always in abundant supply in this life—Satan makes sure of that. But in Christ, trouble gives way to peace and adoration. As St. Paul says,
“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong, (2 Corinthians 12:9–10).”
Jesus brings peace and joy in every circumstance (even during long hymns and at the dentist!). The radiant are not the wealthy or the powerful or those who meet our culture’s very distorted standards of beauty. The radiant are those who look to Christ (Psalm 34:5)—whether you’re hungry or well-fed, sick or healthy, needy or prospering. When you’re looking to Christ, you can’t help but be content in any and every situation (Philippians 4:11–13).
As Luther once said when He preached on this text, “If I believe, nothing can harm me.” Or, as he put it in his famous hymn, “and take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, our victory has been won; the kingdom ours remaineth.”
To God be all praise and glory!
Soli Deo Gloria
 Sermon for Trinity 7. Church Postil, 1523.
 A Mighty Fortress is Our God, stanza 4
+Rev. Eric Andersen
St. Mark 8:1–9
The Seventh Sunday after Trinity, 2015: “Bulletproof Happiness”
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