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-hundredfold. 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: A Reading
Then they said to him, “John’s disciples are always fasting and saying prayers, and the disciples of the Pharisees, too, but yours go on eating and drinking.” Jesus replied, “Surely you cannot make the bridegroom’s attendants fast while the bridegroom is still with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them; then, in those days, they will fast.” — Luke 5.33-35

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 2-3 (Listen 4:43)
Luke 24 (Listen 6:16)

This Weekend’s Reading
Leviticus 4 (Listen 5:17Acts 1 (Listen 3:58)
Leviticus 5 (Listen 3:35Acts 2 (Listen 6:35)

Read more about Bread and Oil
The bread is symbolic of God as the source of life. Jesus was likely thinking of this bread when he said that he was the bread of life.

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Save Yourself (And Us)

Scripture Focus: Luke 23.35-39
35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 

Reflection: Save Yourself (And Us)
By John Tillman

“Save yourself!”
“Save yourself, Jesus!”
“Save yourself and us!”

“Save yourself,” echoed around Jesus with every step toward Jerusalem and the cross. Satan said it. Peter said it. Pilate said it. The religious leaders said it. The crowd said it. The soldiers said it. Even one of the criminals crucified with him said it.

The gospel writers make clear that the cross was not a tragedy or error in judgment. Jesus claimed the religious leaders couldn’t take his life, but that he would lay it down. He claimed angels would defend him if needed, and commanded Peter to abandon the sword. He claimed Pilate had no power over him, yet made no defense. He forgave the shouting crowd, the mocking religious leaders, and the violent soldiers, saying they didn’t comprehend their actions.

Jesus went to Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets, on purpose. He challenged the powerful. He knew the outcome. Jesus chose the cross. The question we can’t escape is…why?

We live in a “save yourself” culture. We are expected to put ourselves first and save ourselves from everything. We must “bootstrap” our way to success. This is one reason Jesus is foolish (1 Corinthians 1.18) to our culture. He could have saved himself. Instead, he chose to save us.

There is a reason Paul preached, “Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 1.22-23; 2.1-3) At the cross, something happened that changed everything. 

“Something … happened on the cross itself, something of earth-shattering meaning and implication, something as a result of which the world was now a different place. A revolution had been launched.” — NT Wright (The Day the Revolution Began)

The second criminal chastised his co-conspirator, saying, “Don’t you fear God?” He understood that Jesus was not being executed by an empire but was inaugurating a kingdom. “Remember me,” the criminal said. He was probably a rebel against Rome but joined a better rebellion through Jesus. 

Like the criminal, we are already condemned. This world is already taking our life. But no matter where you are today or what sins you are condemned for, the cross means you can be saved.

Jesus makes the offer to all. His offer is effectual and real. Like the criminals immobilized on the cross, we can’t do anything to earn what Christ offers. We simply accept or reject his revolutionary kingdom. You can’t save yourself but Jesus saves all those who respond.

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

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 1(Listen 2:37)
Luke 23(Listen 6:39)

Read More about The Ram and the Cornerstone
Jesus entered Jerusalem like Isaac’s ram on the mountaintop. He rammed his head into the thorns to ensure there would be no escape.

Read More about Demands of Faith
The rebel’s “salvation prayer” is special because it shows us how deep the grace of Jesus reaches.

Exodus Terminus

Scripture Focus: Exodus 40:1-2, 33-38
1 Then the Lord said to Moses: 2 “Set up the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, on the first day of the first month.

33 …And so Moses finished the work. 34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

36 In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; 37 but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. 38 So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels.

Reflection: Exodus Terminus
By Erin Newton

This chapter marks the end of an era and the dawn of a new life. Exodus has taken us on the journey of battered people through their healing and restoration. It has been a story of pain and suffering mixed with moments of joy and bewilderment. It has been everything except for easy.

Exodus began with the fall of God’s people from their favored position in Egypt. It ends with meeting God face to face.

The first sounds to break upon the book were the venomous commands to kill the seed of the people, the infant boys. The final sound is the voice of God promising access to his presence for all generations.

The pained and tortured voices of God’s enslaved children rose to the ears of God. “God of our fathers, deliver us!” Freed, dwelling together in the wilderness, God whispers tenderly to them, “Follow me.”

The sun rises on the banks of the Nile where one faithful mother placed the fate of her child in a basket, an ark upon the water. The sun sets in Exodus upon the family of Moses, washed in the water of purification, ready to meet God.

Exodus followed the life of a man, chosen by God to save the people from bondage. It ends with the picture of priests, ready to intercede on their behalf.

Salvation did not come without trial or tribulation. Exodus closes with the God who sends signs and wonders upon Egypt leading his people to new life.

The entire story held its breath on the precipice of the Red Sea, fearing all hope would be swallowed by the watery depths. The next book will open on the edge of the Promised Land.

Exodus is a fascinating story of an epic hero and triumphant people. It is a story of nature turned upside down at the voice of God. It is a story of faith persevering. It is a story of approaching God—and living.

When we read the story of Exodus, we see many echoes of the life of Christ. His life is threatened from birth to final death. He brings the enslaved people to freedom. He passed through the waters of baptism and the dark shroud of death.

As we enter this next week of Eastertide, marvel at the image of salvation in Exodus and the reality of the true salvation we have in Christ. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone. — Isaiah 9.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 40(Listen 4:07)
Luke 22(Listen 7:58)

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Fasting Uncovers Our Hearts

Scripture Focus: Luke 21.34-36
34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” 

From John: How’s Lent going for you? With only 13 days left until Easter, we are looking back on this Lenten reflection from 2019. What is being exposed in your heart?

Reflection: Fasting Uncovers Our Hearts
By John Tillman

During Lent we often focus on the fasting component of the season.

Our fasting in Lent is often compared to Christ’s fasting in the wilderness prior to his testing by the Devil. One of the chief temptations involved in public fasts such as Lent is to defend them publically or engage in them privately by citing worldly benefits.

We can focus too much on how we might lose weight by constraining our consumption of certain foods or gain time by constraining our consumption of digital content or entertainment. But our physical gains and losses are of little spiritual consequence. If all we get from fasting is a measurable, earthly ROI, we will be unlikely to reap a spiritual benefit.

Richard Foster, in his devotional classic, Celebration of Discipline makes it clear that we must engage in fasting with our eyes focused only on heavenly, not worldly benefits:

“God questioned the people in Zechariah’s day, “when ye fasted…did ye at all fast unto me, even to me?” 

If our fasting is not unto God, we have failed. Physical benefits, success in prayer, the enduing with power, spiritual insights —these must never replace God as the center of our fasting. John Wesley declares, “First, let it [fasting] be done unto the Lord with our eye singly fixed on Him. Let our intention herein be this, and this alone, to glorify our Father which is in heaven…” That is the only way we will be saved from loving the blessing more than the Blesser.

Once the primary purpose of fasting is firmly fixed in our hearts, we are at liberty to understand that there are also secondary purposes in fasting. 

More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately. David writes, ‘I humbled my soul with fasting” (Psalm 69.10).

Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear—if they are within us, that will surface during fasting. At first, we will rationalize that our anger is due to our hunger; then we will realize that we are angry because the spirit of anger is within us. We can rejoice in this knowledge because we know that healing is available through the power of Christ.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed. — Psalm 51.8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 39(Listen 5:24)
Luke 21(Listen 4:18)

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Fasting may be the most important spiritual discipline for the church to focus on in the next decade.

God Forbid

Scripture Focus: Luke 20.1-4, 14-19
1…the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. 2 “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?” 
3 He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me: 4 John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?” 

14 “But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 
“What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” 
When the people heard this, they said, “God forbid!” 
17 Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: 
“ ‘The stone the builders rejected 
has become the cornerstone’? 
18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” 
19 The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.

Reflection: God Forbid
By John Tillman

The religious leaders were the theological gatekeepers for Israel. It was their job to confront false teaching and promote godly teaching. Jesus acknowledged their positional and intellectual authority. He described them as “sitting in the seat of Moses,” acknowledging the authority they held by their positions of power. Jesus also acknowledged the authority of their scholarship and expertise, by telling people to “do everything they tell you.” (Matthew 23.3)

It may seem like Jesus dodged their challenge to his authority, but he didn’t. Jesus asked them to demonstrate their authority by weighing in on whether John’s baptism was from God. In their deliberation, there was zero consideration of the theological question. They were only concerned about the political optics. (Luke 20.5-7) Jesus exposed the fact that they were interested not in spiritual truth but in political power.

Because they refused his question, Jesus said that he wouldn’t answer theirs. But then he did. In the parable of the tenants, Jesus told everyone exactly where his authority came from and what would happen to those who reject him. 

Some of Jesus’ parables were opaque or confounding. Not this one. Everyone recognized who the tenants were. When Jesus described what would happen to them, the people, not just the leaders said, “God forbid!” (Luke 20.16) They meant it as, “may these consequences not happen to us.” But it is a prayer we can take up today to help us avoid the condemnation of the vineyard tenants.

James tells the church that teachers will be judged more harshly. (James 3.1-2) This applies to pastors and leaders, of course. But all of us are sent out to teach with the authority of the Great Commission. (Matthew 28.18-20) Whether or not we consider ourselves “gatekeepers” or “teachers” we all bear the responsibility of spreading the gospel.

God forbid that we would fall into errors of pride, errors of selfishness, errors of sinfulness, or errors of cowardice.
God forbid that we would mistake our positions of authority for incorruptibility.
God forbid that we would mistake our scholarship and study for infallibility.
God forbid that we would make decisions based on politics rather than truth.
God forbid that we would stumble upon the rock of truth we should proudly stand on.

Let us build our lives on the rock of Jesus and let his authority crush anything in our lives that opposes him. God forbid that we reject Jesus.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your Name give glory; because of your love and because of your faithfulness. — Psalm 115.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 38(Listen 4:23)
Luke 20(Listen 5:07)

Read more about Mirrors and Sanctification|
It is appropriate that mirrors were transformed and used for ceremonial cleansing. Confession is self-reflective.

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