Jesus, Our Grain Offering

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 2.1-3
1 “ ‘When anyone brings a grain offering to the Lord, their offering is to be of the finest flour. They are to pour olive oil on it, put incense on it 2 and take it to Aaron’s sons the priests. The priest shall take a handful of the flour and oil, together with all the incense, and burn this as a memorial portion on the altar, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. 3 The rest of the grain offering belongs to Aaron and his sons; it is a most holy part of the food offerings presented to the Lord. 

Reflection: Jesus, Our Grain Offering
By John Tillman

The connection between grain and worship is deep. Its roots go all the way back to Eden, in which, before any other profession, we were gardeners.

The first worship controversy involved Cain’s grains being unacceptable to the Lord. (Genesis 4.3-5) Presumably they were not the best of his crop. Abel’s offering of the “fat portions” of the “firstborn of his flock” was accepted. “Fat portions” does not mean literal fat or waste fat that a chef or butcher might trim from a fine steak and discard. They are the richest part of the animal—the best cut, not the worst. 

All offerings prescribed in Leviticus, whether grain, baked bread, oil, cakes, incense, or animals, were expected to be of the “finest” ingredients. Leftovers, defective animals, second-rate goods, or anything less than the “finest” was an insult to God.

Another way the scripture describes offering God the best is the term, “firstfruits.” Firstfruits referred to the first and best part of the harvest. 

Metaphorically, Israel was the firstfruits of God’s efforts to cultivate righteousness on Earth. Scripture shows Israel as a wild, unruly vine that resists being cultivated. She is a stubborn and unfruitful fig tree that requires great labor to be fruitful. These images show the deep emotional investment God has in his people. God is a cultivator of hearts. He is willing to dig, fertilize, work, prune, labor, and invest in his plan for Salvation. (Luke 13.6-9)

But, until Jesus, all the seeds that God planted failed to fruit. Where he expected righteousness, he would find only leaves—or worse, rot and corruption. (Luke 6.43-44; Matthew 7.19; 21.19; Hosea 9.16)

Jesus recognized that his life was a seed that when planted would fruit one-hundred fold. Paul described Jesus as the “firstfruit from among the dead.” (1 Corinthians 15.20) Jesus is the first and best part of God’s harvest of righteousness. 

When we stand before God, Jesus is our grain offering of the finest ingredients. Jesus is the fully-fruited head of righteousness, from which we can feed and be made fruitful in him. He is the healthy vine into which we can be grafted, so that his life-giving sap can flow in our branches.

Jesus is the bread, the grain, of life. He has offered himself for us and to us. 

Through worship, prayer, and the word of God, may we feed more and more on Jesus, the bread of life, who brings health, strength, and righteousness to the body.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Prayer Appointed for the Week
Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give me this bread, that he may live in me, and I in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen.

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 2-3 (Listen – 4:43) 
John 21 (Listen – 3:58)

Read more about Normal is Dead—Resurrection Appearances
Scripture doesn’t tell us why Peter went fishing but it is not hard to imagine he needed a touch of normalcy. 

Read more about Bread and Oil
The bread represented that God’s words were the sustenance of life that the community needed.

Jesus, Our Burnt Offering — Holy Week

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 1.3-4
3 “ ‘If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, you are to offer a male without defect. You must present it at the entrance to the tent of meeting so that it will be acceptable to the Lord. 4 You are to lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you.

John 20.19-20
19 …Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 

Reflection: Jesus, Our Burnt Offering — Holy Week
By John Tillman

In John’s gospel, he wastes no time telling us, through the testimony of John the Baptizer, that Jesus is the “Lamb of God.” (John 1.29, 36)

John’s gospel often connects Jesus to ritual practices or feasts that were part of the worship of God. Perhaps this is because of his familiarity with the priesthood. John’s rabbi before Jesus, John the Baptizer, was from a priestly family and John, the writer, was allowed into Jesus’ trial before Caiphas because he was “known” to the high priest. (John 18.15)

Many offerings were ritual meals. A representative portion would be burned. The priest would eat a portion as well as the offeror and offeror’s family. Leftovers also were burned. Burnt offerings, however, were different. Everything had to be consumed by fire. In both cases, offerings were to be totally consumed on the day offered, by fire or as food.

When bringing a burnt offering, one placed one’s hands on the animal as a recognition that the offering was a substitute for the offeror. This represented transferring one’s sins to the animal. Burnt offerings for sin made “peace” with God.

The head of a family brought a burnt offering on behalf of himself and his family. God offered Jesus as a lamb on our behalf, to bring us into his family. Jesus is the Lamb of God, a “male without defect,” who takes our sins upon himself. When Jesus spoke to Mary outside the tomb, “peace” had been accomplished in Christ’s resurrected body through his sacrifice on the cross.

As we pass through Holy Week, we see Jesus offer his back to the whips, his hands to the cruel nails, his body to the abuse of those he came to save. We see his blood sprinkled on those who assault him and on the cross that became an altar. We see him poured out before God as a drink offering. We see him raised in the air as a wave offering. 

In Holy Week, Jesus was being consumed. He was burned up for our sin. As we reflect on Holy Week, as we watch him burn, may we humble ourselves and repent. 

Rather than us placing our hands on a lamb’s head, let us bow our heads in humility. The resurrected Lamb of God, who died to take away our sin, will lift our heads to see his loving face.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter them; I will offer thanks to the Lord. — Psalm 118.19

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis TickleToday’s Readings
Leviticus 1 (Listen – 2:37) 
John 20 (Listen – 4:17)

Read more about Ladies First—Resurrection Appearances
Like the women, we will be doubted. But let us still run and tell, “I have seen the Lord!”

Read more about Last to Believe—Resurrection Appearances
Related post either “from” the same author/source or “about” the same topic

Were You There? — Lenten Hymns

Scripture Focus: John 19:16-18, 28-30
16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Reflection: Were You There? — Lenten Hymns
By Jon Polk

The hauntingly beautiful hymn, “Were You There?” poses profound imaginative and reflective questions. 

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when the sun refused to shine?
Were you there when they pierced him in the side?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

Each verse paints a bleak and dismal picture which, upon contemplation, can only cause us to shudder and tremble as we are confronted with these ugly realities.

One of the most recognizable African-American spirituals, “Were You There?” emerged from the slave experience in the U.S. in the mid-1800s. While outwardly the song asks us to imagine ourselves at the scene of the cross, when sung by slaves, it metaphorically connected Jesus’ suffering to their own.

Henry Proctor, minister at the First Congregational Church in Atlanta, referenced the hymn in The Southern Workman journal in 1907. Proctor, whose parents were both former slaves, described the work of Christ as found in slave spirituals,

They bore testimony to [Christ’s] divinity by their belief in his supernatural power, resurrection, royalty, regnancy, and atoning work. But to them he was also human. He was “a man of sorrows.” He could sympathize with those “acquainted with grief.” How solemnly and sweetly they sang of his crucifixion, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

Modern American theologian, James Cone, notes in The Cross and the Lynching Tree, that the same is still true in African-American churches today,

During my childhood, I heard a lot about the cross at Macedonia A.M.E. Church, where faith in Jesus was defined and celebrated. We sang… and asked, “Were you there?” There were more songs, sermons, prayers, and testimonies about the cross than any other theme. The cross was the foundation on which their faith was built.

The season of Lent culminates in Passion Week, which does not allow us to arrive at the joy of the resurrection without passing through the pain and tragedy of the crucifixion. Lent gives us an opportunity to consider our response to the cross and, likewise, to injustices in our world.

“Were you there?” is a question that asks us to reconcile our present with the past. It calls us to measure what impact the events of the past have had on our lives in the present. It forces us to deal with the ugly realities of our personal and communal pasts.

Remembering the cross should be painful. Remembering the past may also be painful. Both encourage us to cling to the future hope we have in what Christ has accomplished for us through the cross.

Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Music:Were You There?” by Mahalia Jackson
Lyrics:Were You There?” lyrics from Hymnary.com

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For who is God, but the Lord? Who is the Rock, except our God? — Psalm 18.32

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Exodus 40 (Listen – 4:07) 
John 19 (Listen – 6:23)

Read more about Beneath the Cross of Jesus — Lenten Hymns
Not only do we find rest in the cruel cross of Jesus, but his sacrifice compels us to give our own lives away for others.

Read more about King on the Mountain, King on the Cross
The king on the mountain demanded righteousness. The king on the cross provided it.

Called and Gifted

Scripture Focus: Exodus 37.1
1 Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.

Exodus 36.1-2
1 So Bezalel, Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord has given skill and ability to know how to carry out all the work of constructing the sanctuary are to do the work just as the Lord has commanded.” 
2 Then Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord had given ability and who was willing to come and do the work.

Reflection: Called and Gifted
By John Tillman

The descriptions of building the items for the tabernacle should seem familiar. They are nearly quotes of the descriptions of the instructions from Exodus 25 and following. This repetition shows the faithfulness and attention to detail with which the tasks were carried out.

Bezalel took the holiest object in God’s instructions as a personal project. The building of most other objects is attributed to “they.” When building the ark, “Bezalel” or “he” is used.

Bezalel, according to traditional Jewish sources, was Moses’ grand-nephew and was only 13 years old when the project began. 

In ancient cultures, boys were considered adults at around 13. This spares us from imagining trusting the entire architectural construction of a new church building and the crafting and design of the most precious object in our church to a 13-year-old. But even with some cultural adjustments, could we imagine trusting a 17-year-old with the project?

Moses and Bezalel make a great pair for us to consider when thinking about the persons whom God may call to his service.

When Moses was called he was washed up. At the burning bush, stood an 80-year-old refugee sheepherder. He was a failed revolutionary and a wanted murderer. He was rejected by his adoptive royal family and his race. The only thing in his favor was the calling and gifting of God.

Bezalel was a youth. He was untested, unproven, untried.  The only thing in his favor was the calling and gifting of God.

But God called and gifted each of these men into work that would define their lives. Moses would go on to become one of the most revered leaders in history. Bezalel would design and build history’s holiest of objects. Eventually, the ark would disappear into history. Bezalel would likewise disappear without further biblical mention.

Whether old or young or in between, we may be called to something great, or holy, or life-defining that we can’t now understand. Whether infamous or unknown, we may be called to lead in God’s kingdom. Whether we have a criminal past or no past at all, we may be called to a holy task. The only thing we need in our favor is the calling and gifting of God.

Whatever we may be called to, may we be as humble as Moses in taking up our calling, and may we be as faithful as Bezalel in obeying God’s instructions word for word.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Lead me, Lord, in your righteousness,… make your way straight before me. — Psalm 5.8

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Exodus 37 (Listen – 3:14) 
John 16 (Listen – 4:14)

This Weekend’s Readings
Exodus 38 (Listen – 4:23) John 17 (Listen – 3:40)
Exodus 39 (Listen – 5:24) John 18 (Listen – 5:16)

Read more about The First Spirit-Filled Work
The first Spirit-filled individuals, Bezalel and Oholiab, were artisans, builders, makers.

Read more about Unveiled
When it comes to what God will reveal to us, and the love we will show the world, we haven’t seen anything yet.

Countering Hatred

Scripture Focus: John 15.18-25
18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ t If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. 24 If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25 But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’

Reflection: Countering Hatred
By John Tillman

Hatred has grown in the two years since I first wrote on this passage. Hatred is big business. 

Hatred sells papers and generates page views. Hatred fuels political fundraising. Hatred builds audiences. Selling hatred earns advancement in a world where every follower and every click means not just money, but power.

It should be no surprise when the world’s hate machine turns on Christians. It’s not like Jesus didn’t warn us this would happen. When Christianity was a cultural norm, Christ’s words about the world hating us because it hated him first could seem odd. In today’s world, they make sense.

True persecution around the world has risen. Christians who aren’t facing hatred or persecution from governments or other religions are, increasingly, facing it from each other. Some Christians are embracing or expressing hatred in other ways, including violence. 

Christians engaging in violence based on misguided interpretations of scripture is, sadly, nothing new. Christians brutally criticizing each other to the point that people part ways with their denominations or the faith is also, sadly, not new.

Even if we are hated by the world, we must not be tempted to embrace worldly solutions. The world says to acquire power and crush our haters. This is unacceptable and antithetical for Christians. 

Power can’t make someone not hate us. The solutions to hatred are relational, not political. If our truly persecuted (not just hated) brothers and sisters are courageously loving and forgiving Muslims, Atheists, and others who torture and kill them, how can we do less from our relatively safe position?

Jesus said, “they have seen [his works]…yet they have hated.” (John 15.24) The mission Jesus gave his disciples in the face of hatred was to show them the Father’s works. Have we done so? Or have we reflected hatred back to the world?

The gospel solution to hate is to love our enemies, overcoming evil with good. It is better to suffer worldly loss (an election, our lives, or anything else) than to win using the tactics of the world. (Temptation of Jesus: Matthew 4.1-11; Luke 4.1-14)

Perhaps one reason we hold on to hate and power, refusing to love our enemies is that at heart, we really don’t want to end up like Jesus—powerless and crucified. Yet, ending up like Jesus is the chief goal of Christianity.

May the Holy Spirit work in us to make us more willing to lay down on a cross than to crucify someone.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
Today if you shall hear His voice, harden not your heart.

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis TickleToday’s Readings
Exodus 36 (Listen – 4:47) 
John 15 (Listen – 3:20)

Read more about Ending up Like Jesus
Christians must recognize that there are no political solutions to being hated.

Read more about Overcoming Hatred :: Worldwide Prayer
This prayer’s blunt confession is one that our culture deeply needs to pray. We are consumed by hatred. God have mercy on us.

Spur a spiritual rhythm of refreshment right in your inbox
By joining this email list you are giving us permission to send you devotional emails each weekday and to communicate occasionally regarding other aspects of the ministry.
100% Privacy. We don't spam.