Thursday, April 4, 2013

Breakthrough! First Fruits Revealed

Five days a week, I wake up in the morning and prepare for my 26-mile trek through the concrete jungle of Houston, Texas in my trusty eleven-year-old, two-door coup. It's often a battleground, a place where all my claims to spirituality and holiness are put to the test. So you can imagine my surprise when, as I barrelled, ducked and dodged down the highway at high speeds just a few mornings ago, I was overcome by the spiritual implications I saw in a scene that looked, well, much like this...

There, on the side of this dreary, colorless highway, up through the cracks, life emerged - seemingly quiet, so lovely, and so powerful it broke through stone. And as I passed it, the image resonated in my mind, and God spoke to my heart:

No power can stop the life which YHVH intends to bring to His world.

It was then that I thought of Jesus and all in this world that tried to snuff out His precious life - the men who plotted, the enemy that attempted to distract, the huge stone barrier covering His tomb following his death... I felt the heaviness of the defeat which the family, friends and followers of the Lord after He died. How could such powerful, 'concrete' obstacles be overcome? Yet despite barriers and the perceived weakness and defeat...then there was life. After three days, the radiant victory of His resurrection, His emergence from the darkness, brought hope and life to us all.

I'll say it again: No power can stop the life which YHVH intends to bring to His world.

The timing of this could not have been better, as this week was the celebration of the Feast of First Fruits, which is the third of the 'moedim,' or appointed times, in God's calendar. We have looked at a few of these so far and seen how they foreshadow and memorialize important events in the redemptive history of Israel and of mankind: Passover, we found, represents the death of Jesus; Unleavened Bread is emblematic of His burial and the burial of our sins;  and now we come to the celebration of His resurrection - First Fruits.

Leviticus 23:9-14

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, 'When you enter the land which I am going to give you and reap its harvest, then you shall bring in the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest. He shall wave the sheaf before the Lord for you to be accepted; on the day after the sabbath the priest shall wave it....Until this same day, until you have brought in the offering of your God, you shall eat neither bread nor roasted grain nor new growth. It is to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places."

An Agricultural Event

What we notice from the scripture is that this festival is designed to mark an agricultural event: the barley harvest. Barley was harvested in the spring each year, right around Passover. That's just when it ripened. It was the first thing to be harvested each year. Up to this point, people would have been living on preserved grains that were left from the last of the fall harvest from the previous year. It was definitely an occasion to celebrate. New life! New grain! Continued provision! A reminder of how good the Lord is, and how faithful He is to provide for His children.

On the surface, it's very easy to see that God wants us to keep in mind before we enjoy something who it is that provided it. Are we conscious that the homes, incomes, pleasures and material goods we possess are not truly our own? Are we living in gratitude for each year of continued gain, success, provision? This holiday is a time to remember to be thankful to the Lord for new and continued blessings.

A Sheaf of the First Fruits: Our Messiah

By now you know that with these festivals, there is more going on than there appears to be at first glance. We have learned that God uses physical, tangible, earthly things to teach spiritual concepts. In keeping with that, it sparked my curiosity that there was the stipulation that no part of the new barley harvest could be consumed until this 'sheaf of the first fruits' had been brought before the Lord. What could that possibly represent?

Well, a sheaf is also called an omer. That was a weight of dry measurement, like a cup, for example. Now I have no idea how much that was in today's terms, but we see the omer a little earlier in the Bible, in Exodus 16. And that might provide some insight. In context, Exodus 16 tells of how the now redeemed Hebrews find themselves in the wilderness, hungry and afraid. After an outcry, for food, for survival, for comfort...God provides:

...and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew evaporated, behold, on the surface of the wilderness there was a fine flake-like thing, fine as the frost on the ground. When the sons of Israel saw it, they said to one another, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, "It is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded, 'Gather of it every man as much as he should eat; you shall take an omer apiece according to the number of persons each of you has in his tent.'" The sons of Israel did so, and some gathered as much and some little. When they measured it with an omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no lack; every man gathered as much as he should eat."

An omer per person was all that was needed to satisfy each individual, great or small. Eventually, Jesus would sit among His believers to explain the spiritual meaning of this bread from heaven in John's gospel, chapter 6:

"I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”

Belief in Jesus causes Him to become our manna, our omer, all that satisfies and sustains. We all, great and small, get the same portion of Him through only our faith and trust and obedience.

Hopefully you are beginning to see that there is a connection between this first sheaf, or omer, of the barley harvest, and the Lord Jesus. Let me drive the point home for you now. The omer of the first fruits had to be brought up and sacrificed to the Lord before any other part of the harvest could be enjoyed. In the same way, Christ foretold that His death was necessary, for through His sacrifice and resurrection a new day would dawn, and a new harvest would be made available to all - forgiveness, peace with God, eternal life!

The First Fruit/First Born Connection

So now we understand what that first sheaf is representative of. But what - or who - is this first fruit that the sheaf is taken from? And what is so special about the first part of things? There is definitely a connection between God and first borns, and I would like to explore it with you here.

Technically, this first part of the barley harvest is the first of it to be 'born.' Going all the way back to Genesis we can easily see that the first borns were treated differently. First-born sons, before the priesthood, had the special status of carrying out the rituals for the family. They were, in essence, the family priests. They were the inheritors of the wealth and titles of their fathers. It was a highly coveted thing to be a first-born son, and if you need evidence of that, just look at the encounter with Jacob and Esau regarding Esau's lost birthright or the constant squabbling of Jacob's twelve sons and their mothers. There was power in it, authority, and status.

When we look at first-born sons, an interesting trend emerges. Think back to Abraham's sons, Ishmael and Isaac. While Ishmael was Abraham's first-born son, God chose Isaac to be the son of promise. You may have always chalked that up to the fact that Ishmael's mother was not a wife but a servant and surrogate. Yet years later, Esau was the first born of twins, both legitimate sons, but still his younger brother Jacob inherited the status of first born, before the children were ever even born! What's more, beginning in Exodus, the first-born sons lost their privileges as priests of the family and it became the duty of the Levites, the sons of Aaron, the new high priest, to perform these rituals and to be set apart. And all of these changes were according to the Lord's choosing. What is God trying to tell us? What does God have against these first borns? Why does any of this matter?

What God is trying to communicate to us is that 'first born' status has nothing to do with birth order, and everything to do with His choosing. And that is significant to us as redeemed people. It is according to God's choosing that we become His children, part of His great harvest, that we have become His first fruits:

"You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit..."
John 15:16
He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
James 1:18

They were purchased from among mankind and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb.
Revelation 14:4

Now I understand why that little sprig of life bursting through the concrete touched my heart in such a powerful way. For just like the life of that little flower, nothing can stop what the Lord is doing through you and through me. Though we were condemned to death in our sin and darkness, in spite of that we were chosen to carry the privilege and the duty of the first borns of YHWH; and it was all made possible by Jesus, the first of resurrected. Despite the enemy's attempts to keep it from us and us from it, nothing has been able to keep us from the LIFE God has intended for us. And that, Beloved, is what First Fruits is all about.


I hope that you are reading this and feel inclined to celebrate God's victory in your life today. His death and resurrection mean life for us! Relish in the awareness of that gentle and persistent strength that He has placed within you - you are a conqueror, a first born of the Most High God! And with that great privilege comes responsibility as well. Are you living a life of victory, of gratitude, of fruit-bearing, a life worthy of that call?


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