Feast of Firstfruits 2001
Sabbath Day Sermon: Saturday 14 April 2001
I wonder how many of you remember two years ago when we were given our first chickens for this community? There were only four of them - a cock and three hens, two brown and one white. It wasn't many but we were excited nonetheless. A lot of hard work went into making the hen-house and getting things ready. The next exciting event, especially for the small children, was when they laid their first eggs. And although it was the chickens who had done all the work, and although there weren't many eggs, there was a sense of achievement on our part.
Built within human-beings by God is the need to achieve something worthwhile and to receive praise for that achievement. This is not something that has "evolved", as the secularists teach us, but is actually a clue as to the nature of Yahweh-God Himself. You only have to look at the delight in the face of a small child when it has managed to create something whether it be a drawing, a model, or be it a task accomplished. There is within man the need to be creative - to be adding something to the world by our own efforts and intelligence. It's in all small children without exception and it develops in different ways in adults.
It is no accident that Yahweh is called the Creator since everything in the spiritual and physical realms has its origin in Him. But He has gone one stage further than human-beings: He has created other mini-creators ... Us. And whilst creating the universe gave Yahweh tremendous satisfaction, as we read in the book of Genesis where He exclaims "Good!" After each day's work, the ultimate creative act was to make living beings in His image with the capacity to do similar things though on a smaller scale. God delights in seeing us being creative as He is creative.
This creative impulse is even seen in the animal and plan world. Life has been given the commandment to multiply and fill the earth, and so all living things follow this irresistible impulse to multiply. Animals and plants go to great lengths to reproduce - from beautiful coloured flowers to attract pollinating insects to the extraordinarily complex mating patterns of some birds. There is this deep-seated urge to multiply, multiply, multiply.
In the New Covenant Church of God we call this the "Multiplication Principle". And it's not only about multiplying the species which is something more-or-less 'automatic' once you have found the right mate. It's not just about multiplying our skills and talents, important though these are too. It's not just about multiplying human communities - making villages, towns and cities. And it's not just about multiplying creature-comforts. The most important "Multiplication Mandate" is what we call "multiplying the Light of Christ" - it's about spreading the very life-principle itself throughout creation.
It is one thing to make something, but it's quite another looking after it. You might think that the greatest effort comes in making something, and in a way that's true. Yahweh made this world, at least, in six days, and rested on the seventh. But does that mean He has been asleep since? Of course not. He has been even busier just maintaining everything that he has created, and especially the apex of His creation, man.
Building a house is a fantastically exciting thing to do, something we shall do eventually in our family when we can afford to. But looking after it is arguably a much more difficult thing to do and - from the point of view of our creative impulses - may appear less satisfying. Houses must be washed, dusted, hoovered, repainted, repaired, and so on. There is a never ending stream of maintenance duties to perform to keep things going. If you don't, your home slowly disintegrates. In Science we call this the Second Law of Thermodynamics which, put another way, tells us that unless we put work into what we create, it will slowly and spontaneously disintegrate. Scientists calls this "entropy", which is the tendency of ordered material things to get progressively more disordered.
To be successful as a human being means not just being able to create but maintaining what we have created. There's no use building a town if you don't look after it by installing a local police force to control crime, a fire service to deal with accidents with fire, a medical service to look after injured and sick people, a waste disposal system to get rid of our rubbish, a sewage system to get rid of our water, and so on. You can thing of many other essential maintenance services. Everyone takes these things for granted on the physical level but when it comes to the spiritual level many people seem to assume that our spirits will just run themselves without policing, emergency service, waste disposal, and so on. It is not so. Our spirits need maintenance services just as badly as our bodies and communities.
One of those services is the Sabbath Day which we honour today. God didn't make the Sabbath for Himself but for us. And the Sabbath isn't just about resting our physical bodies - it is just as much about spiritual maintenance too. This is the time when we break our weekly routine of work, school, leisure, etc. and do things completely differently. It's our weekly spiritual spring cleaning.
Whenever we visit England we are often picked up at the airport by a man from a taxi service. I often chat with the driver and he tells me about his life as a taxi driver. Now in his particular profession he has to be on-call day and night seven days a week - or at least he has chosen to live like that, and every now and then he takes a holiday and his work mates take on his driving. He once told me how shattering it was not just physically but mentally to be doing the same thing day in and day out with a break and there have been times when he has been quite ill because of it. He told me of a work colleague who worked seven days a week relentlessly until he had a complete collapse. It was just too much.
Whether we like it or not, we were built by God to live our lives in rhythms. The animal world knows all about these things though they do them unconsciously. Unlike them, we have a will to override these impulses, and often we do so at great cost to ourselves. You will find that the most settled and happy people are usually those who have regular habits: the go to bed at a sensible time, get up at a sensible time, eat at fixed times during the day, and so on. I've met many people who are very irregular in their habits, eating snacks throughout the day, sleeping and getting up at different times all the time, and who eventually make themselves ill.
God has so carefully engineered our Solar System - the rate at which the earth spins, the cycle of the moon, etc., that we can and should regulate our lives using similar patterns. The Hebrew calendar we now follow at home and in our Church is based on the moon and is called the Lunar Calendar. The cycles are regular and predictable. Psychologists know that animals run their inner clocks on the moon and biochemists have discovered that certain chemicals in our body are more active at certain times of the month than at others. Women with their menstrual cycle know all about this. But did you know that our digestive system works better at certain times of the month, that our blood clotting mechanism likewise works better at certain times, and so on. Long before Biochemists discovered these things in the last century, Yahweh revealed in His Word that the best time to circumcise a baby was on the eighth day when blood clotting was at its highest peak of efficiency. You will find all kinds of interesting scientific truths in the Bible like that. The Bible knows all about plate tectonics and about the extend of the stellar universe, things which geologists and astronomers discovered only within the last 400 years.
I have mentioned the annual Sabbath cycle. But our bodies work according to other cycles too. We have seasonal cycles in our part of the world - autumn (fall), winter, spring and summer with different lengths of daylight and changing temperatures, to which our bodies are sensitive.
Right now we are getting used to the introduction of Yahweh's annual cycles of feasts and celebrations. A week ago we celebrated Passover and today we are on the last day of Unleavened Bread. And although I have spent a lot of time trying to show you the deeper meaning of these festivals I have barely scratched the surface. This evening we conclude this particular spring cycle by celebrating the Feast of Firstfruits. All these three - Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits are connected into one mini-cycle that teach us about the death and resurrection of our Lord Yah'shua (Jesus). But there's more to them than that which, if I have time today, I want to touch upon, so that you can see the genius of our God.
In ancient Israel the Day of Firstfruits was the day on which the first of the barley harvest was brought as an offering to the priest in the Tabernacle/Temple. The priest would present the first of the harvest unto the Lord by waving them back and forth. This reminded the Hebrews that God gave them the land, and the harvest belonged to Him. The Bible teaches very precisely that the first of everything we produce belongs to the Lord and not to ourselves. This is the basis of the Law of Tithing. One tenth of the best of our income belongs to God. It isn't ours. When we refuse to pay Him His tenth we are in fact thieves and robbers. To not pay God back 10% of what we receive is to actually reject Him by saying that everything we have done is by our own efforts alone, forgetting that it is He who not only gave us life but who sustains it in the first place. The only reason you and I are alive and haven't collapsed into a heap onto the ground and started disintegrating is because of the "Life Principle" in us called the "Light of Christ". It isn't something you find in matter. If it was, ordinary matter would start turning into living things, which it doesn't. When a person refuses to give God his Firstfruits by paying his tithe he is actually declaring that the life principle within him is his own. Not only does that make him a liar but also an idolater, because he is, in fact, declaring that he is his own god. Refusing to obey the Law of Firstfruits is to actual participate in the original rebellion of Satan in heaven and the rebellion of Adam and Eve inspired by Satan. To refuse to acknowledge that the life principle in you isn't your own is to make you a thief, liar and idolater. The person who does not pay his tithe is in fact proving that he is in rebellion against God and not one of His disciples.
If you think about it, this is no different from a citizen refusing to pay tax and yet still expecting the local government to provide police, fire and medical protection, empty our trash cans, empty our sewage tanks, provide roads for our cars to drive on, and so forth. Now I am not saying that man's tax laws are necessarily fair but it's the principle that's important. God, on the other hand, is scrupulously fair. He is pouring His gifts upon is, the two greatest of which are life and eternal life. Life is pretty well automatic, though He has the right to take it back whenever He wants - we do not know our life spans. But eternal life is not automatic -
It's a free gift like life only you have to go and get it, and then you've got to make sure you keep it by following God's manual of eternal life.
Yah'shua haMashiach (Jesus Christ) is described as the Firstfruits of the Resurrection. He was the very first Person to be resurrected. He was the first physically immortal human being. Each year, as I mentioned, the Israelites would symbolically wave a sheaf though they never knew what this ritual meant. Yah'shua (Jesus) is the firstfruits of the harvest of human souls who have been saved and will enjoy eternal life in the Kingdom of Yahweh. Like Him we shall one day be resurrected, receiving our physical bodies back in an immortal condition, never to know death, pain, disease or suffering again. I suppose that's one reason that resurrection-life is called "eternal life", not only because it will last forever in terms of time, but because each moment will actually feel eternal.
The Festival of Firstfruits always takes place on the same day in the lunar calendar each day - Nisan 17. There are eight very important historical events which took place on this precise day:
- 1. The safe landing of Noah's Ark on Mt. Ararat (Gen.8:4);
- 2. It was the day the Hebrews entered Egypt (Ex.12:40-41);
- 3. It was the day that Moses led the freed Israelites through the Red Sea 430 years exactly after they entered Egypt (Ex.3:18; 5:3);
- 4. It was the day that Israel entered and ate the fruits of the Promised Land (Josh.5:10-12);
- 5. It was the day the walls of Jericho came crashing down (Josh.5:13);
- 6. It was the day Hezekiah cleansed the Temple 800 years after entering the promised land (2 Chr.29:1-28) - that was the Scripture I read to you at supper last night;
- 7. It was the day that Queen Esther saved the Jews from extermination (Esther 3:12; 5:1);
- 8. It was the day that Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) was resurrected.
Eight important Firstfruit events - that is one of the reasons the number 8 is a symbol of the resurrection. All of these are rather special days because all are DELIVERANCES:
- 1. The first was deliverance from the judgement of the flood;
- 2. The second was deliverance from famine in Canaan;
- 3. The third was deliverance from slavery in Egypt;
- 4. The fourth was deliverance from being homeless;
- 5. The fifth was deliverance from a menacing obstacle that stood in Israel's path;
- 6. The sixth was deliverance from pollution caused by idolatry;
- 7. The seventh was deliverance from extermination; and
- 8. The eighth was deliverance from death itself.
In this light we can see how very important the Day of Firstfruits is. As you meditate on this list you will see that everyone has personal application to your lives. Yahweh has performed eight supernatural deliverances or rescues to show us the eight areas in our lives that need His attention because we can't do the deliverance ourselves. You will see a parallel with this and the eight days of Hanukkah. The ninth and completing number of Yahweh Himself which is why at Hanukkah we have a nine-armed menorah.
The Day of Firstfruits is all about waking up. Yah'shua (Jesus) is described by the apostle Paul as "the firstfruits of those that slept" (1 Cor.15:20). The reason a branch was waved by the ancient Israelites is because Yah'shua (Jesus) is called the "branch of Yahweh" (Isa.4:2) which was then presented to God. And so, as it is written in the book of Proverbs, we are taught by this Law of Firstfruits to "honour Yahweh with our substance, and with the firstfruits of all our increase" (Prov.3:9). The first tenth of all the money you earn, the increase of your harvests - everything - belong to Yahweh who prospered you with these things in the first place. Indeed, the Israelites weren't even allowed to eat their newly harvested corn until Yahweh's part had been offered to Him out of it (v.14), for we must always begin with God in everything - begin our lives with Him, begin every day with Him, begin every meal with Him, begin every affair of business with Him, and give our first financial increases to Him. That is what it means when Yah'shua (Jesus) said: "Seek first the Kingdom of God". It isn't just a mental exercise but affects every aspect of our living, for our living is His life.
Above and beyond these important things, though, is the fact that the Messiah's resurrection is the firstfruits, or promise, of the believer's resurrection. The reason our Holy Order is called the Chavurah Bekkorot is because of this principle. The Hebrew root for bikkurim (firstfruits) is the same as that of bekhor (firstborn). The firstfruits are dedicated to God because the first of everything, including the firstborn of man and beast, belong to Yahweh. The Order's Name, Chavurah Bekorot literally means "Assembly of the Firstborn" or "Church of the Firstborn", the firstfruits of Yahweh's crop of believers who wish to give everything to Him.
Yah'shua (Jesus) was the Firstborn. He was the firstborn son of Miriyam (Mary) and was consecrated as such (Mt.1:25). Paul wrote: "For those Yahweh foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the Firstborn among many brothers" (Rom.8:29). We who follow Christ are also called the firstborn, being the "many brothers" who are Christ's devoted servants. The Chavurah Bekorot or as we sometimes call it, the Holy Order, is that part of the New Covenant Church of God (or B'rit Chadashah Assembly of Yahweh) to which the 100% consecrated and dedicated Priesthood of Yahweh belong. Everybody is called into it because all believers are supposed to be part of the Royal Priesthood, but not many are willing to make the sacrifices that membership entails. Whereas NCCG is the "harvesting ground" of those who wish to become purified, the Holy Order is where the husks of the wheat are threshed off.
The Bible tells us that God is eagerly awaiting the fruit of His creation, mankind, who He planted on earth. He has been patiently waiting for it for millennia (Jas.5:7). Unfortunately, though, while Yahweh is focussing on fruit, we are often focussing on other things. Sometimes we even focus on the gifts which God has given us instead of the fruit which we are to produce as a result of God's gifts in our lives.
Every latent talent that you have isn't ours, just as life isn't ours. We didn't earn it. It has been given to us, though, so that we can make fruit for Yahweh our God. In fact, nothing belongs to us - not our bodies, not our talents, not our money, not our wives, husbands or children - nothing. It is all His and yet He blesses us so that we can enjoy them all. What He wants from everyone is recognition that this is so, not just because that is the right thing to do, but because if we don't we have the tendency to grow conceited, proud, boastful, and ultimately rebellious, just as Satan did. In order to maintain our proper view of things, Yahweh commands us to consecrate all that we have. What that means is to view all that we have as being holy. And the word "holy" means to be "set apart" or "put to one side" for Yahweh's use. It also means to dedicate one's time and talents to His service, recognising that when we are in His service that we are, in truth, only doing what is natural for us and which therefore is that which leads to peace and happiness. To consecrate our life, talents, possessions, and time to Yahweh also means to look at them with deep respect, knowing that they are the property of the Creator.
Finally, Firstfruits is also a visual lesson on how Yahweh wants us to change through Yah'shua (Jesus) who is the Unleavened Bread we have been eating this past week, which represents a life without sin (yeast). When a man or woman accepts Yah'shua (Jesus) as the Passover Lamb who died for our sins, our position before Yahweh changes to sinless (without yeast) because Yah'shua (Jesus) took away our sins. We are righteous, not through our deeds, but through Yah'shua (Jesus). Unleavened bread teaches us to put off the old man and Firstfruits teaches us to put on the new man. Paul said: "Put on the new self created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph.5:24, NIV). We do this - putting on the new man - by allowing the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) to live a life of Christ through us. As Paul said in Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (NIV).
Changing in Christ is an exciting experience - like seeing those first eggs the chickens laid. It is sad watching people never really changing much in their lives when a life of newness and spiritual adventure lies ahead.
The next festival after the Day of Firstfruits this evening and tomorrow is Pentecost, in 50 days time. That is all about receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit which is the instrument of change in a Christian's life. In the meantime, let us remember the words of Paul who said:
"Be imitators of Yahweh, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to Yahweh" (Eph.5:1-2). Amen.
This page was created on 8 May 2001
Last updated on 8 May 2001
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