At the beginning of Mark chapter 8 we read about Jesus miraculously feeding a great crowd of four thousand people. With only seven loaves and a few small fish a multitude of people “ate and were satisfied” (vs. 8). After this, Jesus got into the boat with his disciples and went to another region.
If only we had the ability to do similar miracles today. Today there are millions of people who do not know where their next meal will come from. Such a situation is lamentable and is the sure byproduct of sin. Our denomination has a history of tackling this issue head on, and has no doubt sent millions of dollars worth of aid to fight hunger around the world.
And yet, the problem persists. Why? Perhaps the solution is to send more money and food. That will surely solve the problem, right? After all, there are many who have more than enough money, and if they all just gave a little bit more, the problem would be solved. Maybe governments should raise taxes on wealthy citizens in order to give more food to the poor. Or perhaps the solution is better education regarding food waste – after all, we in North America live in a very wasteful society. If only we could educate the average person regarding food waste, we would surely have enough food to go around.
I am skeptical that any of the above solutions will do anything. In fact, I believe it is an utter pipe dream to think that we can even solve the problem of hunger in our own affluent continent of North America, much less the rest of the world. So what am I saying. . . don’t give food to the hungry? No, I am not saying that. Instead, what I want to do is challenge our focus.
I have noticed a general trend in the CRCNA which seems to place a very strong emphasis on fulfilling people’s temporal needs. We love to talk about “redeeming creation,” causing people to “flourish,” and all sorts of other buzzwords and phrases to basically communicate the idea that we want people to have better lives here on this earth. We want people to have better housing, better pay, better food; all in the name of seeing people “flourish.” But we have to ask ourselves a couple of questions: 1) what is a person’s greatest need, and 2) what does it mean to “flourish"?
This is where Mark 8:36 comes into the picture. Keep in mind, earlier in the chapter Jesus has just fed 4,000 people in a miraculous way. We read that the people were “satisfied” (vs. 8). Jesus, in his great power surely caused the flourishing of at least 4,000 people – for a time at least. And yet, with all this said, he has striking words for us in verse 36 where he asks a rhetorical question that penetrates to the very heart of what we do as a church:
“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole word and forfeit his soul?”
The answer to Jesus’ rhetorical question is an obvious “nothing.” Nothing is as precious as a soul. No need is as great as the need for our souls to find rest in God. If a person receives the best education, a well-paying job, a nice house, and is free from discrimination all their days, and yet does not find rest for their soul, what have they really gained? Is this not the conclusion of the Psalmist in Psalm 73? After lamenting the prosperity of the wicked, God’s Spirit reveals an important truth to Asaph (vs. 19):
“How they are swept away in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!”
When all is said and done, in the light of the final judgment, one’s earthly prosperity (or lack thereof) matters very little. What is infinitely more important is whether their soul has found rest in God. But that raises another question: Do we even believe in a final judgment? CRCNA member, do you believe that God will judge the world through his Son and that his judgment will be swift and terrible? As we read in Psalm 2:
“You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
And as we read in John 3:36
“whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
CRCNA member, do you believe these scriptures? Do you hear them proclaimed from your pulpit? Do you realize that God’s wrath abides on anyone who does not believe in the Son? Does this concern you? Or are you more concerned with world economics, food distribution, and other matters of “social justice”?
Am I saying that these things are not important? No, I am not. What I am saying is that we need to realize that the most fundamental need of every human being: being reconciled to their Creator through Jesus Christ. Giving them food does not do this. Giving them housing does not do this. Giving them education does not do this. Only through the preaching of the gospel is this reconciliation possible, as the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, regenerates hearts, and applies the work of Christ to the accounts of God’s elect. When this happens, “shalom” comes. But that “shalom” firstly is between God and man. From the peace between God and man flows naturally peace among men.
This is why when Paul came to Corinth he did not try to solve all the social problems in the city – he knew better than that. Paul knew that sinners sin, and that a society of sinners will produce dreadful consequences. Instead of battling symptoms, he battled the deadly disease at the root. That is why he says in 1 Corinthians 2:2
“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
Paul did this because he understood that if one gains the whole world and yet forfeits his soul, that person has gained nothing.
As the CRCNA continues to travel the well-worn path of liberalism, it is more and more evident that many in this denomination simply do not believe Jesus’ words in Mark 8:36. Thankfully however, many still do. Let us examine our lives and our churches. What is proclaimed from our pulpits? What do we believe?
We may give lip service to the needs of the soul, but do our actions bear out our testimony? Are we so focused on pursuing the bread that perishes that we neglect the food that endures to eternal life? Let us refocus our energy. Let us look around us and see poor souls that desperately need to know the Grace of God. Let us be bold in speaking the truth of gospel because faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.