Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Grateful Christian- First Fruits (part 1 of 3)

"A person completely wrapped up in himself makes a small package.”  Harry Emerson Fosduke

Even if you do not share my joy of gardening, you can understand that when we plant a garden, we are always anxious for the first things to become ripe, to harvest the first things out of the garden.  That's exciting!  However, we would be very frustrated and unhappy if that's all that ever happened, if everything else just dried up and blew away.

God is excited about First Fruits as well, so giving First Fruits can be likened to picking the very first ripe, red, juicy, Beefsteak tomato of the season off your vine and offering it at the altar to the God who brought it forth from seed.  Doing so with thanks for all the harvests of the past and with faith that before the season is over, your vine will yield an abundant crop.

Perhaps a better way to convey the idea of first fruits to those of you who are not a gardener would be in this manner.  Suppose that you are a author, who has just had a new book published, or an artist who has just sold your first print in a new series of watercolors, or perhaps a mechanic who  has always worked on Ford's but has recently learned how to fix BMW's; or even a stay at home dad who has decided to open a small child care at his home.   First fruit would giving of the first royalty check for the book or painting for the author or artist, the payment that the mechanic collects for fixing her first BMW, or the first payment  the dad collects for the first child at his new childcare business.  
However, before we go any further, let’s identify why God said, “THE FIRST FRUITS ARE MINE.”   The story is one of the most exciting in the Bible – in Exodus: The Israelites are leaving Egypt after 430 years of slavery.  God has rescued His ‘First Fruit of the nations’ and is preparing to kill all the first born of Egypt -  the last of the ten plagues - because Pharaoh would not let them go!  God then commands the entire nation of Israel to honor God by bringing the first crops of their harvest to the house of the Lord.  The people were forbidden to use any part of the harvest until the first fruits were offered to the Lord.  To neglect these first fruits offerings was considered robbery of God (Malachi 3:8)

Giving of the first fruits was an act of allegiance and gratitude to God as source of all of their provisions. However, too many of us only look at the blessing, but like every coin has two sides, do not forget that there is also a chilling truth right here: the Egyptians would not GIVE, so God TOOK!   First Fruits are a reminder that God brought you out of death with great power and sacrifice, but also a warning to those who chose their own way over God’s. 

The Feast of First Fruits marked the beginning of the grain harvests in Israel.  Barley was the first grain to ripen of those sown in the winter months.  Scripture specifies the Feast of First Fruits as Sunday "on the day after the Sabbath.” (Leviticus 23:9-11).  Each spring, Israel celebrated Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of First Fruits at the same gathering.  The following details will become highly significant in the following paragraph: On the 14th day of the 1st month, the Passover lambs were killed at 3:00 p.m. and prepared for eating.  At 6:00 p.m., the Passover began and lasted until the following sundown.  At 6:00 p.m. Saturday (the start of Sunday), the day of First Fruits began.  On Sunday morning, a sheaf or handful of early barley harvest was reverently cut and the barley removed, filling a bowl.  It was then taken to the Temple and waved before the Lord.

During the Holy Week, Jesus and the disciples gathered in Jerusalem for Passover.  After the Passover meal was eaten, Jesus was arrested, crucified at noon on Friday, and entombed prior to 6:00 p.m., when the Sabbath began.  Jesus lay in the tomb Friday evening and Saturday and arose from the dead on Sunday, the very day of the Feast of the First Fruits.  Thus, Paul refers to Christ as the first fruits of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20).  In this reversal, God has given us God’s first fruits, God’s only begotten Son, that we may have eternal life.

First Fruits and understanding 'what is a Christian', begins with a Grateful and submissive heart.

To be continued….

Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence 

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