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The Feast Of First Fruits

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Twenty-Sixth Anniversary Message

The Feast Of First Fruits

Preparing For The Harvest

Leviticus 23:9-14

        It seems like only yesterday, when I was struggling to perceive, receive and obey the calling of the Lord with respect to this church, but it was on March 6, 1974, with me Sister Cathy, my wife, Sister Johnson, my mother, and Sister Sewell, who is now deceased, that The House of Prayer For All People was organized.  Shortly thereafter came Elder Johnson and then Pastor Butts and his wife, Jewrusha, and we were incorporated as The House of the Lord.

        Now here we sit, twenty-six (26) years later, tremendously blessed by the providence of Almighty God, and it is marvelous in our eyes.  Anniversaries are a good time to look back and see where God has brought us from, but they are also a good time to look forward and see where God wants to take us.  Hindsight ought to lead to foresight!  God has been our rearguard, but He is also our vanguard!!!  We usually spend our anniversaries looking back, because we have grown so rapidly that there are people who do not know our story and our history.  And when a person or people do not know their history; they do not know who they are—they have no sense of authentic presence.  Therefore, in the motif of the Children of Israel, we periodically review our history.  After the Children of Israel were delivered from Egypt, they were to commemorate their deliverance with a feast, festival, or celebration and recount the story of

·        How God delivered them with His mighty arm;

·        How He opened up the Red Sea with the blast of His nostrils;

·        How they marched through the Red Sea on dry ground;

·        How God drowned Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea;

·        How Miriam and the women of Israel went forth in the holy dance to praise Jehovah God.

It is important that we celebrate:

·        The many souls that have been changed.

·        The many people that have been ministered to.

·        The spiritual moves that God has taken us through.

·        Our beginning in my parent’s home on Douglas Street.

·        Our first church building and corporate miracle on Thornton Street.

·        Our second church building and corporate miracle on Brown Street.

·        Our camping in front of the Promised Land at the J. C. Penney’s building and the associated miracle.

·        Our first new building here at 1650 Diagonal Road

·        The various buildings we have built since.

·        The present construction project.


        But, God has been showing me over the years and has continued to teach me that celebration is vitally important in His economy.  I have neither the time nor the inclination to define “celebration” this morning.  So, let it suffice to say that the word “worship” deals much more with the substance of worship, while the word “celebration” deals much more with the outward observances, rituals, and ceremonies of worship.  The word “celebration” also denotes the festive, merrymaking, grateful, happy aspects of worship.

  God has been showing me that humanity needs celebration.

  He has been showing me that celebration is a very important part of the Christian life!

  He has been showing me that celebration is of special significance and importance to African-American Christians.

        Life is a struggle for everybody, no matter what your color or nationality, but for African-American people life is even more of a struggle because of the residual effects of slavery.  We must face more than most other races in terms of subtle discrimination, economic reprisals, educational stereotyping, etc.  After we have been beaten up and beaten down all week; after we have struggled and striven to achieve life through material and earthly means, we need to take a break from the rat race and return to the human race by entering God’s presence for a time of celebration.  Therefore, I want our anniversaries to be times of great celebration.

        As I thought about this year’s anniversary, God seemed to impress upon me the idea that this anniversary should be about the future and not the past; about expectation and not just recitation of the past; about preparation and not just complacency.  In keeping with this impression, I believe that God led me to the 23rd chapter of Leviticus.

        The importance of celebration is illustrated in the Old Testament in the 23rd chapter of Leviticus.  This chapter “contains in typical language, a record of God’s dealings with man in grace, from the death of Christ, to His millennial kingdom, and to the eternal glory and rest, which lie beyond it.”[1]  We are not going to study its eschatological import, but its practical meaning and implications for celebrating and preparing for the future.

        The feast, festival, or celebration that we have in mind is The Feast of First Fruits.  It is found in verses 9-14.  Would you turn there with me please?  I will read this aloud for us as you follow along.


The major activity of this festival was offering or rendering to the Lord the first fruits or first produce of the harvest.[2]  Keep in mind the fact that the Children of Israel had been wandering in the wilderness for forty (40) years.  So, “Until this time they had eaten only manna.  In the desert, a roaming people had no fields to sow nor harvests to reap.”[3]  This festival could not be celebrated until the Children of Israel entered into the Promised Land and the manna stopped.  As long as they were wandering through the wilderness, because of their own disbelief and disobedience, God rained down manna from heaven to feed them.  When they entered the Promised Land, the manna stopped and they planted a crop.  No man was permitted to partake of any part of the new season’s harvest until the first fruits had been presented.[4]  Nothing was to be taken from the fields or eaten, until a portion of it had been offered to Jehovah God.

(Before we move more deeply into the practical implications and truths that God wants to impress upon us, we need to get just a little bit of a picture of the actual sacred rituals of the day.)

“It must be borne in mind that this feast was kept on the sixteenth day, and that at that time the day began at six o’clock in the evening (hence the repeated statement in Genesis 1:  ‘And the evening and the morning were a day.’)  Toward the close of the fifteenth day, just before the going down of the sun, three men, each carrying a sickle and a basket, walked out through the city gate.  Separating from one another, each one would move toward one of the three previously buried hoops, and stand there.  These men would be accompanied by representatives of the people, both religious and secular—in other words, priests and elders—who would wait outside the city gate.  Quietly they would watch the sun set, denoting the end of that day.  As it slipped over the horizon the three men would address the priest with the following questions:

        Has the sun gone down?

        On this fifteenth day?

        Into this basket?  (Each man would hold the basked above his head).

        With this sickle?  (Holding the sickle high for all to see).

        Shall I reap?


        To each question the priest would answer in the affirmative.  With the last ‘yes,’ the three men simultaneously would thrust their sickles into the barley within the hoops, and the sheaves would be placed in the baskets that they were carrying.  Then these men, with the priests and elders, would march processionally up to the temple with much rejoicing, where the bundles would be put together into one great sheaf or bundle and handed to the priest.  He, in turn, took the sheaf and waved it before the Lord as a wave offering (this is seen in Leviticus 23:10-11):

‘...When you enter the land which I am going to give to you and reap its harvest, then you shall bring in the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest.  And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord for you to be accepted; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.’

This wave sheaf was accompanied by burnt and meal offerings.”[5]

        You can see then, that the Jews celebrated this festival by waving a sacrificial sheaf or bundle of barley before the Lord.  This is where I want to begin to make application and to give us the fresh word from the Lord, which arises out of the celebration of this feast.

        The sheaf or bundle was the first fruits of the harvest.  There is a harvest before us, but I am not talking about the harvest of barley or wheat.  I am talking about the harvest of souls.  I do so on the basis of the imagery of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Jesus talked about the souls of the Samaritans in terms of the harvest.  I will preach about that tonight.

        God has blessed us with the first fruits of the harvest and we should give them back to Jesus as a wave offering.  You are probably wandering, “What were the first fruits?”  I believe the first fruits were given to us in the month of January, when we saw twenty-six people respond to one altar call.  This was merely the first fruits of the harvest.  They were simply a small part of the harvest that is yet in the field, and we ought to offer them as a wave offering before Jehovah God, because of the implication of this kind of offering.

(Somebody ought to be asking, “How do we do that?”)

        Well, we no longer offer physical sacrifices from our physical harvests, but we still offer sacrifices.  The Bible says in

Hebrews 13:15-16, “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.  And do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”


The writer of the Hebrews says that we ought to continually offer up the fruit of our lips that give thanks to His name, our doing of good, and the sharing of our material goods.  We offer up the sacrifices of our mouths in thanksgiving; our manners in how we live; and our material in tithes, offerings, and benevolences.  Before we partake of any of the Jehovah’s blessings, i.e. personally or corporately, we should first thank God, live compassionately, and give to Him, His Church, and His causes.

        But God’s message to us today has much more to do with us corporately than it does individually.  Yet, we must keep in mind that the church is composed of individuals.  So, corporate unity and action always entails individual responsibility.

        Before God can be released to bless us with an abundant harvest, we must give Him our sacrifices.  The harvest that I have in mind is the harvest of souls that is yet in the fields of this world.  The salvation of many is dependent upon our worship of God and celebration concerning the coming harvest through thanksgiving for what He has done and is going to do, compassionate living, and the giving of our material!!!

(Let’s see what else God has to say to us!)

“According to Exodus 9:31-32, barley was the first of the grain; flax was second; wheat was third.”[6]  So, “According to the Jewish Calendar, this takes place in the spring of the Jewish year.”[7]  “The beginning of barley harvest was marked by the waving of the sheaf of the first ripe grain, announcing the death of winter and the arrival of spring.”[8]

        We ought to wave the first fruits of the harvest before God in worship, praise, thanksgiving, godly living, and giving to announce to all that winter has died and spring has arrived.  We have gone through the winter of our experience at this church.  The spring has arrived.

·        Spring denotes the end of the cold.

·        Spring denotes the end of the blight of winter.

·        Spring denotes the end of shorter days and longer nights.

·        Spring denotes the beginning of warmer weather.

·        Spring denotes the beginning of the planting season.

·        Spring denotes the warm rains that will nurture crops.

·        Spring denotes the longer days and shorter nights, for growing the crops.

·        Spring also denoted the first ripe harvest of three major crops.


(Let’s continue on.)

The act of waving the sheaf from one side to the other before the Lord held the suggestion that the sheaf, which was a memorial, was waved sideways to indicate that it represented the whole harvest yet in the field, from one side to the other side of the land.

        In brief, men gave thanks to God for the harvest while it still stood in the fields.  We must learn to give thanks to God, by faith, for the harvest that is still standing in the field.  When we sacrifice to God the fruit of our mouths, manners, and material, we are saying thank you Lord for what you are about to do—for the blessings of harvest that will soon come.  We need to begin to sacrifice to God and thank Him now for the future harvest of souls that is still standing in the fields of this world.

        When we wave the first fruits of the harvest before Him in thanksgiving, we are also thanking God, in advance, for the harvest that is yet in the field.  Somebody start thanking the Lord right now!!!

        There can be no true worship or celebration without thanksgiving.  And there can be no true thanksgiving without sacrifice.  Therefore, the main rudiment of this festival and the principle of celebration that we want to learn and apply is rendering, sacrificing, or thanking God for His blessings by giving Him the first fruits or first part of that which He has blessed us with!!!

        I believe God has laid upon my heart a special offering that He wants from us.  I’ll tell you about this at the end of the message.  It is in the same spirit as the Daniel fast.

(This is good stuff.  Let’s continue on.)

        “The sheaves were brought to the Lord as an acknowledgment of His goodness.  There would not even be a harvest were it not for the goodness of God!  Israel would not even be in their land were it not for the faithfulness of the Lord.  The Feast of the First Fruits was a reminder to them that everything they had came from God.”[9]

We must be reminded of that same truth!!!  We must be reminded that we would not be saved, there would be no church, and there would be no first fruits of the coming harvest, if it were not for the goodness and faithfulness of God.

·        Every time we give the sacrifice of our lips, we ought to be reminded of God’s goodness and faithfulness.

·        Every morning that we are allowed to get up and experience His fresh, new mercies, we ought to be reminded of God’s goodness and faithfulness.

·        Every time we give our tithes and offerings or help a needy person, we ought to be reminded of the goodness and faithfulness of Jehovah God.


“There can be no doubt that the sheaf of first-fruits reaped from the harvest field, on the day after the Sabbath, and waved before Jehovah in His temple for acceptance¾was a type and foreshadowing of Christ risen from the dead.”  Jesus was the First-Fruit of the resurrection, raised on the day after the Sabbath¾Sunday, and waved before Jehovah God in the true tabernacle in heaven for His acceptance!!!

        “The very name of that sheaf, is the name given to Him as the One risen from among the dead¾‘Christ the First-fruits.’”

1 Corinthians 15:20,  “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.”

Christ was the first one to be permanently raised from the dead, but He won’t be the last one.  He is the first fruits of the harvest of all the saints who shall one day trade in their coveralls of flesh for a robe of glory; who will be changed from mortal to immortal and perishable to imperishable.

(Are you starting to see it yet?)

The Feast of First Fruits is about expectation and anticipation.  In all of these examples and applications, there is a great expectation and anxious anticipation of the harvest, which is represented by the wave offering.  I believe that God has given us a glimpse of the harvest that is about to come.  Several weeks ago, we experienced the electric blessing of the Lord when 26 people came to the altar in once service.  We should take those first fruits and wave them before the Lord in worship.  We should render, sacrifice, or thank God for those blessings and know that those people are but the first fruits of a great harvest that lies in the field.  They represent the first fruits of those whom God is going to save through this ministry.  They represent the first fruits of those who are being resurrected from the dead to eternal life.  This should be a time of great expectation and anticipation.  This is the time to look forward to the future harvest that God is about to pour out upon us.  This is a celebration of anticipation!!!  Anticipation builds great excitement.  The greater the anticipation, the greater the expectancy, the greater the excitement and the fulfillment.  Come on; let’s get excited about the future of our church!!!

        So, we are celebrating the future.  Some of you are thinking, “How can we celebrate the future, when it is not here?”  Because, we can see the future, by faith, through the first fruits that God has given us!!!

        If this is going to happen, we must also understand that this is a celebration of preparation.  There is a great harvest that we need to reap for the Lord—The harvest is plentiful, but the labors are few.


(I want to begin to talk about that preparation this morning and finish the teaching this evening.)

        “As no person was allowed to move a sickle in the field until the first fruits were presented, so we take nothing to ourselves until we have presented our all to Him.”[10]

        “In the Feast of the First Fruits God is saying to us, ‘Bring Me the best.  Bring Me the first of everything.  I must get first place in your life.’  Before the people were allowed to eat of the harvest or make any bread, they had to bring the first sheaf to the Lord and wave it before Him in dedication.  The wave offering, as well as the burnt offering and the meal offering that were to accompany it, speak of dedication¾of giving our all to God.  In New Testament terms this is

Romans 12:1, ‘...to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.’”[11]

        In our time, we don’t understand that true consecration is costly.

·        It may cost you your acquaintances?

·        It may cost you your friends?

·        It may cost you your peace?

·        It may cost you your job?

·        It may cost you your family?

·        It will cost you your self!!!

To live a Spirit-controlled life that is consecrated to the Lord, you must pay a high price!!!  Yet, to the person who really desires to please Jesus this is a delight.

        On the other hand, consecration is also very costly to others.  When Jesus was being driven through the streets of Jerusalem, Simon of Cyrene¾probably a man of color¾was pressed into helping Jesus carry the cross.  When we decide to fully follow Jesus Christ it will cause misunderstanding, pain, confusion, etc. to others we have relationships with.  This causes us to shrink back, because we don’t want to cause others suffering.  But God will take care of them, if we take care of His business.

        Let us prepare ourselves for the great harvest that God is about to pour into our hands.  Let us prepare ourselves through consecration, expectation, anticipation, thanksgiving, incarnational living, and sacrificial giving.  Let’s prepare ourselves for a great harvest!!!


(Now is the Day of Salvation.  Come to Jesus, Now!)

Invitation

Call to Discipleship

A wave offering, next year, on anniversary Sunday, of one week offering.  One week’s take home pay, one fifty-second of what is in the field of our lives to thank God for the remainder of the harvest.


----

[1] John Ritchie, Feasts Of Jehovah, Kregal Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1982, p. 9.

[2] C. W. Slemming, Thus Shalt Thou Serve, Christian Literature Crusade, Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, 1974, p. 104.

[3] C. W. Slemming, Thus Shalt Thou Serve, Christian Literature Crusade, Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, 1974, pp. 101-102.

[4] C. W. Slemming, Thus Shalt Thou Serve, Christian Literature Crusade, Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, 1974, p. 104.

[5] C. W. Slemming, Thus Shalt Thou Serve, Christian Literature Crusade, Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, 1974, pp. 102-103.

[6] Ruth’s Romance Of Redemption, Edward Boone, The Boone Publishing Company, Des Moines, Iowa, 1936, p. 60.

[7] Ruth’s Romance Of Redemption, Edward Boone, The Boone Publishing Company, Des Moines, Iowa, 1936, p. 74.

[8] Ruth’s Romance Of Redemption, Edward Boone, The Boone Publishing Company, Des Moines, Iowa, 1936, p. 60.

[9] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be God's Guest, Back to the Bible, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1982, p. 40.

[10] C. W. Slemming, Thus Shalt Thou Serve, Christian Literature Crusade, Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, 1974, p. 107.

[11] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be God's Guest, Back to the Bible, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1982, p. 40.

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