Read Deuteronomy 26:1-11
God is a gift giver. He likes to give special things to special people.
He gave many gifts to his chosen people.
· An identity, to include a sign in the flesh for the men
· The Law
· A way to worship
· A land that had been promised to them
In Deuteronomy, Moses offered sermons or speeches to prepare the people to go into the land promised to them. It had been a long wait between leaving Egypt and this time when the people were on the verge of realizing what was promised to them.
Moses would not accompany these people into the land. He would be granted a brief visit much later, but Joshua would lead God’s Chosen People into the Promised Land. Moses would prepare the people. He restated the law that had come from God and he instructed the people what to do in response to God once his people had realized this gift of the Promised Land.
He told them to gather some of the first fruits from their harvests, put them in a basket, and take them to the place where the Lord, your God, will dwell in the land.
Before we consider anything else, we need to unpack these first two verses.
The people were to bring a first fruits offering. We don’t understand a first fruits offering these days. We tithe. We look at our monthly income and discern what 10% is and write our check before we pay our bills. This is being faithful in the tithe today.
We make other offerings as well, but none of them resemble a first fruits offering.
When the people entered the Promised Land and produced a crop, they took those grapes or figs or dates that ripened first and brought them as a first fruits offering. They didn’t wait for the harvest to be completed and then figure out what percentage to give. Moses told them to take their first fruits and place them in a basket and take them to the place where the Lord would choose for his Name to dwell.
The first fruits offering was an offering of trust. The rest of the crop might not make. It might be damaged in a storm. The people knew what locust could do to just about any crop. The crop could of course produce a good return or even be a bumper crop, but those first fruits belonged to the Lord. The people made this offering trusting fully in God.
There were other instructions on the tithe and there were other offerings prescribed for specific feasts and festivals, but the first fruits offering was truly an offering of trust. Previously, most cultures believed that good crops were the result of gods of fertility or special fertility rituals; but when God’s people entered the land and realized their first crops, they would not only acknowledge God but trust him for all things.
The next thing that we realize is that there would be a place to worship and make sacrifices and offerings in this land promised to God’s people. There would not be a temple until the time of Solomon, but there would be a place of worship. It would be attended by the Levites. The people would know this place and this is where they would bring their first fruits offering.
But they wouldn’t just come and drop it off.
There was no drive through window. The collection plates weren’t passed around for people to drop their figs and dates into.
The people came to see the priest and they didn’t just say, “Here’s our first fruits offering.” There were words prescribed for this occasion. People came to the priest with their offering and said:
“I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.”
The translation may be a little awkward for us today, but the people are declaring to the Lord that he did exactly what he promised to do and that the people and their offering were evidence of this promise fulfilled.
Then the priest would take the offering and place it in front of the altar and whoever brought it would then declare:
“My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the first fruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.”
The first fruits offering is about trust but these words are an affirmation of the story of God’s people. It is a strange sort of affirmation. God sometimes identified himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but when God’s people identify themselves, the wording is a little different.
My father was a wandering Aramean. Really? That just doesn’t have the same ring to it as I am a son of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
This affirmation talks mainly about Jacob for it was through Joseph that Jacob’s family came to live in Egypt. But we must remember that Abraham came from Ur, spent some time in the Syria and Lebanon area, and then came through the Promised Land enroute to Egypt. He did return to the land that was promised. If you ever wanted to meet a wanderer, it was Abraham.
But it took Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to get God’s people to Egypt, but why not used the names of these men?
Jump ahead to the ministry of Jesus. Jesus shares some wisdom with the Jews gathered to hear him speak.
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
Now Jesus was talking about eternal freedom from sin and death, but we should consider what the thinking of the Jews was at the time Jesus came.
· It’s all about being sons of Abraham. It is about their status.
· The story of being held captive and mistreated in Egypt seems to be absent from the identity of this generation.
The affirmation that Moses gives to the people doesn’t put any single person on a pedestal. The language about my father being a wandering Aramean was either intended to introduce country music to the world or to remind the people that it was God, not Abraham or Isaac or Jacob or even Joseph or any tribal head that was responsible for being selected as God’s people or from liberating them from slavery.
There are not many these days that claim to have ancestors who came to America on the Mayflower. We don’t place too much stock in this stuffy sort of ancestry. In fact, we often hold in higher esteem the 14 year old kid that clung to a piece of driftwood for 2 weeks escaping from Cuba in order to get to America.
What we find in this affirmation is that not only is there no room for ancestral pride; the words include an affirmation of a very proactive God.
The people cried out to the Lord, and the Lord heard them and took stock of their situation. Then without any mention of Moses or Aaron or Joshua, the people are given an affirmation of what God did.
So God brought them out of Egypt with:
· A mighty hand
· An outstretched arm
· Great terror
But God did more—or at this point was about to do more for his people. He would bring them to a land described as flowing with milk and honey.
The people would conclude this affirmation by saying, “and now I bring the first fruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.”
This first fruits offering began by saying, Lord, I have received what you promised me. It concludes with, now I bring you an offering of trust.
Lord, you fulfilled your promises to me. Now I will trust you in everything and I will remember where I came from and what you did for us. In the heart of this affirmation is a story that was never to be forgotten by God’s Chosen People.
Many forgot it anyway.
Many placed their stock in a bloodline that went back to Abraham, the fact they could whip out the name of Moses when needed, and forgot what God had done for them.
What are our lessons for today? What are our lessons for this post modern century?
We need to make affirmations of what we believe. We need to affirm what we believe. We might do this from time-to-time with the Apostle’s Creed or with something from our Confession of Faith or some other mantra that might be more ecumenical, but all Christians should affirm one belief every day.
Yes, it is good to know about a virgin birth, walking on water, feeding 5000, and dying on a cross, but daily we should affirm that Jesus is Lord.
We need to affirm that God loved us so much that he sent his Son to die on the cross for our sins. We need to recognize the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We need to profess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead.
Jesus is Lord!
We need to understand that our story goes all the way back to a wandering Aramean, but need to affirm daily that Jesus is Lord!
Our story includes the words that we are sinners saved by grace, but our identities are that we are children of God. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We remember our journey from death to life, but our affirmation in this day and in this age is that Jesus is Lord.
We need to place the same amount of trust in our tithes and offerings that those entering the Promised Land were expected to do with the first fruits offering, but our words of affirmation are that Jesus is Lord.
God heard his people and reached out and rescued them and provided for them. Moses told his people to respond to what the Lord had done for them in word and in deed. The first fruits offering was what they would do—their deed. It would be accompanied by an affirmation of what God had done for them—their word spoken aloud.
In today’s world, we sometimes give testimonies as to what God is doing in our lives. These are often spontaneous. They are most often individual affirmations. They are shared in worship, during missions, during witnessing, and in small groups. This is a different age. We have both individual and a corporate relationship with God through Jesus.
We worship individually and together.
We pray in private and with each other.
We serve God individually where the Spirit leads us. We serve God as the Body of Christ in so many missions and ministries.
We witness and testify as to how God is uniquely working in our lives.
But we all should affirm every day that Jesus is Lord!
That is our story of God intervening in our lives. It is our testimony that God heard our pleas and rescued us with his mighty hand. This is our affirmation of God living not only with us but inside of us.
Jesus is Lord!
If you had lived over 2000 years ago, you might have affirmed what God had done for you and begun by saying, “My father was a wandering Aramean,” but we live today, and affirm what God has done and is doing for us with the words, JESUS IS LORD!
Read Jesus is Lord