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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Our Gifts: from God and for God
Text:Leviticus 2:1-16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Thankfulness
 
Preached:2017
Added:2017-08-13
Updated:2017-11-05
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 81:1,2                                                                                     

Ps 147:4,6                                                                                                      

Reading – Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Matthew 5:13-16

Ps 81:3,4,9,14

Sermon – Leviticus 2:1-16

Ps 65:3,5,6

Hy 78:1,2,3,4,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, if you have some time today you should go to Mount Sinai. On the Google Earth app on your device you can look at Mount Sinai from above, and get a fascinating 3D view of the landscape all around it. Now, it’s not known for sure that this was the mountain where God spoke to Moses and gave the people his law—it’s considered the “traditional” site, one possibility among others. But looking at it, you still get a good sense of the kind of terrain that the Israelites were traveling through on their way to Canaan. It’s a mountainous country, and it’s very desolate. Not a lot of trees or other vegetation, just grey rocks and deep canyons.

In Leviticus, this is where the people of Israel are encamped. They’ve been here for some weeks already. God first spoke with Moses up on the mountain, and now it’s Phase 2 of God’s speaking—for He talks to Moses from within the newly built tabernacle.

And in our chapter, the LORD speaks about something that the Israelites might’ve had a hard time to imagine. For God outlines his law for the grain offering. He talks about the fine flour that they should present, the oil, and the incense. He speaks about baking cakes and loaves,  and giving the first portion of their harvests. All this was a long way from where they were, among the rocks and sand of the wilderness. For months already, they’ve been living on manna, since they had very little other food. At Sinai, Leviticus 2 might’ve seemed strange.

Yet God had given his Word, and promised them a fruitful and abundant land. A land of fertile soil, and plentiful rain—it’d be a place where they would grow all kinds of crops: wheat, barley, flax, grapes, figs, olives, and more. The Israelites weren’t there yet, but God had set that as their destination. So his people could be sure: one day soon they will have opportunity to present grain offerings, to give the fruits of that good land back to God.

Not many of us produce crops, besides through our veggie gardens. But we still produce. Not crops, but revenue. Not grain, but income and grades and products with our hands. And all of this abundance still comes to us from the hand of the LORD. In his generosity, God our Father provides for us, day after day. This means that we also need to be instructed from Leviticus 2. I preach God’s Word to you on this theme,

            The people devote their grain offerings to the LORD:

1)     the thankful reason

2)     the required ingredients

3)     the dedicated remainder

 

1)     the thankful reason: As God explains this kind of sacrifice to the people, a number of times He refers to the grain offering, like in verse 1, “When anyone offers a grain offering to the LORD…” The Hebrew for “grain offering” means literally a “gift” or “tribute.” That meaning reveals something basic for this sacrifice: it is presented to acknowledge God, to honour the LORD with a material gift.

To begin, let’s note a few things about the grain offering. First, this is a public offering. An Israelite might’ve felt grateful toward God for his many blessings, and then offered a personal or family prayer to acknowledge the LORD’s care. But private worship isn’t where thankfulness ends. He would also go to God’s house with a gift.

A second thing to note is how the grain offering is similar to the whole burnt offering, the sacrifice that is described in chapter 1. Like the burnt offering, this one needed to be completely turned to smoke on the altar—the gift being consumed showed how the worshiper was completely devoted to God.

Third, the burnt and grain offerings often went together as a pair. The burnt offering was presented first, followed by the grain offering. Those animals that were completely burned up on the altar made atonement possible—remember how God accepted the animal’s life as a substitute for the worshiper’s life, and how through that death God could forgive sin. Right on the heels of  that atoning sacrifice comes the “gift” of the grain offering, as the worshiper offers thanksgiving to the LORD. As always, grace inspires gratitude. Salvation leads to service!

A fourth thing to note is that the grain offering is one of three sacrifices that are said to produce “a sweet aroma” to the LORD. We can see that for the burnt offering, we see it in this chapter, and we can see it for the peace offering in chapter 3. These three offerings give God a special pleasure, because they often express the spontaneous adoration of his people, their gratitude to Him and their desire for his mercy.

It’s a good reminder for us: God delights in our grateful hearts. Yes, after everything He’s done for us, He expects us to be thankful. Yet when we happily acknowledge God’s hand in every part of day, He is pleased. When our prayers to Him are long strings of thank-you’s, when we’re humbled by the Father’s generosity, then our prayers are like a sweet aroma.

So let’s take a closer look at the grain offering. There are two major types of grain offering: with grain that is uncooked (vv. 1-3) and grain that is cooked (vv. 4-10). We’ll see that this chapter deals with the preparation, the presentation, and the burning of this sacrifice—and also what to do with the leftovers.

For the uncooked offerings, what did God want the people to bring? Look again at verse 1, “When anyone offers a grain offering to the LORD, his offering shall be of fine flour.” That word doesn’t describe what we’d call fine flour, which is almost powdery, very smooth in texture. But the point was, this was not the ordinary Israelite flour, which was a coarse mixture of crushed grain and bran. This “fine flour” was taken from the inner kernels, then ground and sifted. It was choice food, and for the Israelites, grain products like this were basic for sustaining life. They lived by it—as Jesus would say, this was their “daily bread.”

Ingredients are added to the flour, as we’ll see in the next point, and then the priest “[burns] it as a memorial on the altar, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the LORD” (v 2). When the grain offering is burned on the altar, it’s a memorial, God says. Now, when we see a memorial like the ones in city parks, we know that we have to remember something. So for the worshiper in Leviticus 2: this grain offering reminded him how much he owed God, that he owed God everything, the good land, this produce, his daily bread. Not all of it was going to be burned on the altar, but God accepted this part as a token. It was a memorial to God’s providing grace. So when the worshiper brought this offering, he probably spoke some words of praise and thanksgiving to the LORD, maybe sang a song like Psalm 65 or 81.

And as we said before, this simple gift honoured God as the giver of daily bread. That flour poured out—or that cake broken into pieces on the altar—this acknowledged the LORD as the source of everything that nourishes the body and meets it needs: food, drink, clothing, housing, money, health.

The same thing was expressed through one of the cooked grain offerings; it’s described in verse 14, “If you offer a grain offering of your firstfruits to the LORD, you shall offer for the grain offering of your firstfruits green heads of grain roasted on the fire, grain beaten from full heads.” There an Israelite wasn’t presenting a ground wheat product, but something fresh, still green—grain just reaped form the field. Why was it presented in this form? Because it is the “firstfruits,” the first part of the harvest.

In Deuteronomy 26 you can picture an Israelite going from his harvest straight to the tabernacle. He’s carrying his basket of produce, and he presents this to God at his house. He wants to do this very first, because before he starts filling up his barns he wants to show his gratitude to the LORD.

And listen to what the worshiper says, “I have brought the firstfruits of the land which you, O LORD, have given me” (v 10). It’s a circular gift, like all our gifts to the LORD: from God to us, and then from us back to God. The LORD didn’t need it, but the people do, for the gift is a memorial, a reminder, presented to God “lest we forget.”

As we said before, we still produce today. Maybe it’s success in a business venture, or productivity on the jobsite, or it’s abundance in the home, your pay for the week, or the marks on your report card—it’s God who gives every good gift. It’s all from the LORD, who is the fountain of every blessing. He gives you the brains to work, the strength, the opportunity, the talent—and then He blesses our labours. The harvest is not from you, it’s from him!

Then take it one level further: think about our massive amounts of spiritual blessing, the Lord’s rich goodness to us through his work of redemption. Like that Israelite standing at the sanctuary, we realize that apart from the LORD’s grace, there’s no salvation, no hope. But in Christ it’s all ours! He has provided.

We see that in how Jesus in John 6 called Himself “the Bread of Life.” When we believe in Him, when we are filled with Him, Christ meets our deepest needs. He satisfies us more than any food or money can, more than any position or pleasure or person. Christ feeds us and gives the life that is truly life.

So if the Old Testament people willingly gave gifts to God, what does that mean for our own response to God? In Christ, we have more. In Christ, we’re even richer! So worship the gracious God through what you offer, through what you give back to Him. Look at what He’s enabled you to earn, consider what gifts and time He’s entrusted into your hands, and then gratefully lay a portion before him. Give to him, because you’re thankful. Give to him before you do anything else. Give it as a memorial, a reminder: “Everything I have, I have received.”

 

2)     the required ingredients: In most kitchens you can find a spice rack with the full range of spices: cumin and rosemary and pepper and more. A decent cook will struggle without these things, because they’re needed for enhancing a dish, making it come alive. Well, the LORD also gave “enhancers” to his people when they brought their grain offerings. As it says about the fine flour in verse 1, “He shall pour oil on it, and put frankincense on it.”

Oil was added to an offering of uncooked flour so that it would burn more easily on the altar. And for the Old Testament people, oil was associated with prosperity. In other texts we can about “the oil of gladness,” a symbol of joy, a marker of God’s blessing.

Not only oil was added, but frankincense, or simply “incense.” There were certain plants in Canaan that you could dry and shred, and then burn—this was mixed in with the flour, and then when it was burned, it made what was quite literally “a pleasing aroma.” Like it says in Proverbs 27:9, “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart.” The presenting of a grain offering was usually on a joyful occasion, so even the smell of it should be pleasing.

Earlier we said that a grain offering could be presented to God uncooked, or cooked. Our chapter describes three ways of cooking the grain offering: you could cook it in an oven, you could roast it on something like a griddle, or fry it in a covered pan.

You’ll notice that each time oil is added to these cooked offerings, but not incense; this might be because incense was more costly, and not everyone could afford it. From the oil and flour, a worshiper could cook up a small loaf or fry something like a pancake. Verse 6 says that sometimes the cake would be crumbled up and oil poured on it before it was offered on the altar. That way of preparing the cake—breaking it up, pouring on oil—was the ordinary way that people ate. It’d be kind of like us, buttering a slice of bread. This showed again that the people were offering to God something that was their everyday diet: from their daily bread, they were giving bread back to God.

There were required ingredients, and also ingredients that were forbidden. Look at verse 11, “No grain offering which you bring to the LORD shall be made with leaven, for you shall burn no leaven nor any honey in any offering to the LORD made by fire.”

The first part of that is no leaven, or no yeast. This was because adding yeast to dough wasn’t considered entirely clean. For yeast is a fungus that spreads throughout a lump of dough, fermenting and forming those little air pockets that make bread so soft. Fermentation is a form of decay, and decay is associated with death. In Leviticus we’ll often see that death and impurity stand over-against life and holiness, so they need to be kept separate at all times. So there should be no leaven in the flour presented to God.

When we get to the New Testament, yeast is sometimes a metaphor for sin. “Be careful,” Jesus said to his disciples, “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees” (Mark 8:15). Jesus saw that their teaching was able to corrupt people with its legalism and empty religion. Beware that dangerous yeast, before it sinks in.

Paul too rebukes the Corinthians, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (1 Cor 5:6). He uses that image of leaven, or yeast, to show how sin can deeply affect us and those around us. Just like yeast in unbaked dough will gradually work its way through, so sin will work its way around. It’s like a stubborn fungus, able to multiply in the church, and in our hearts. When we leave sin alone, it’ll never remain as is, but it always spreads and grows. So what’s the solution? Paul says, “Purge the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened!” (5:7). Get rid of every offending crumb of sin.

That’s a good lesson for the Christian life in general—put away whatever contaminates. It’s also a good lesson for when we bring our gifts and worship to God—it should be pure. It’s hard not to have mixed motives; it’s impossible not to have sin fouling our very best works. Maybe there’s a hint of pride in our giving to church, because we can give so much. Maybe there’s distraction in our singing Psalms and Hymns, because our thoughts are busy with something else. There could be a dash of bitterness in your prayers, because God hasn’t been answering you. But strive to bring unpolluted offerings to God: genuine, real, devoted.

No leaven, and also no honey was to be added to the grain offerings. This probably refers to honey taken from fruit, rather than what is produced by bees. The syrupy juice you could draw from things like dates was fine in itself, but it could easily ferment. So it was better not to include it with the offerings.

Finally, one more required ingredient—and this was required for every offering, whether grain offering, or burnt offering, or anything else: salt. We read in verse 13, “And every offering of your grain offering you shall season with salt; you shall not allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your grain offering. With all your offerings you shall offer salt.”

That’s a lot of salt—what’s the meaning of it? For the LORD, salt was a symbol of the covenant that He had with his people. And it showed that His covenant was permanent. Think of how still today, salt is a preservative; for example, you can salt your fish to make it last longer. Salt is also not something that can be destroyed by time or fire: it endures. Having salt added to grain offerings, and every other offering, showed that God’s relationship with his people was permanent and binding. It would not be destroyed, it would not be broken. This is what the LORD says in Numbers 18:19, “It is a covenant of salt forever before the LORD with you and your descendants with you.” That’s a striking phrase: a covenant of salt, a preserved covenant, one to remain forever.

When a worshiper added salt to his grain offerings, it was like another memorial, a cue to remember: “God and I are in a lasting covenant together. God will never forsake me, no matter what. And I must never forsake my God.”

That’s still a great encouragement for us, who live in covenant with God through Christ. For our part, we can be so inconstant and weak. Our zeal for the LORD can be rock solid one day, and be completely dissolved the next. But God is faithful. He’s given his Word to us, sealed and promised it, guaranteed it through the work of Christ. As lasting as the mountains, as reliable as the sun—with us He has a covenant of salt.

Now think of how Jesus calls us the salt of the earth. In this sinful world, and though sinful ourselves, we can have a positive effect. We can enhance the lives of those around us, and we can even preserve them. For when others see how we live, when they hear how we talk, God can use that to bring them to faith—they can be preserved, saved from condemnation. “You are the salt of the earth.” Or as Paul says in Colossians, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt.”

But to be salty for others, to have salty words and to help them, we first have to know the “salt of the covenant.” Jesus says that we have retain our saltiness, keep our distinctiveness—that’s how we make an impact. And the only way to stay salty is to be in a living relationship with God. Without knowing God and walking with God, we’ll be bland, lifeless, and empty of anything to give. But when we know God in Christ, we can be living sacrifices, salty sacrifices, to his glory.

 

3)     the dedicated remainder: When an Israelite brought his grain offering, everything he put on the altar was burned up entirely. But not everything was put on the altar: only the memorial portion, while the remainder went to the priests. See verse 3, “The rest of the grain offering shall be Aaron’s and his sons.”

Once they got out of this desert and into the land, every family would receive a plot of land—everyone but Levi. The Levites were called to work at the tabernacle, so they’d have no time for tilling the soil or raising flocks. The priests didn’t have regular income, so everyone else had to share their harvest with them. One way that happened is when the priest kept part of the grain offering, after he scooped a handful from it and burned it to the Lord.

Also this ancient teaching connects to today, for God commands his church to support the gospel ministry. In fact, when Paul talks about supporting ministers in 1 Corinthians 9, he refers to this very practice: “Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (vv 13-14).

I’ve heard that in earlier times in our churches, church members would drop off sacks of potatoes at the minister’s door, or maybe half a cow for the freezer. Today, ministers might get a deposit into the bank account and a house to live in. Support for the gospel ministry takes different forms, but the principle remains: through our thankful giving, we should support those who work in the gospel. We do it so that Christ’s Word of salvation can continue to be preached.

And even when part of the grain offering went to the priests, the whole gift was consecrated to God. As verse 3 says, “It is most holy of the offerings to the LORD made by fire.” This wasn’t simply a matter of paying the priests—a transaction of money paid for services rendered. This gift too was a way to thank God, to acknowledge his care, to give him worship.

Beloved, when we look around at our lives and where we are, we should see that it’s all come from God. In Christ and for his sake, God has given so much. So it’s our joy to return it to God. With our giving and with our worshiping, let us thank and praise God’s Name!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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