Something strange happened when I was a kid.
When I was in the fifth grade, my family and I moved to central Illinois. And if you don’t know, central Illinois is farm country. Dairy farms, and hog farms, but most of all corn and soybean farms.
For miles and miles as you drive down the country roads there would be vast acres of corn on this side of the road, and equal amounts of soybeans on the other. And then the next year they would switch.
Everything in this whole society was based on the planting, and tending, and harvesting, and selling of the grain produced by these crops.
Many kids in my high school class would be excused for sometimes several weeks at a time to help with the crops, and our school year was adjusted to accommodate the work schedule of the farmers.
So I remember vividly, that at that time, at that place, grain was life.
But then one day it wasn’t. I don’t know if you remember the time in the 1980’s when they had the FARM AID concerts. They were held in central Illinois, and a lot of big name entertainers like Willie Nelson, and John Cougar Mellencamp, and Bonnie Raitt and a bunch of others who got together and performed to help raise money to save the small farmer.
Cause it seems that starting during the 1970’s these same fields, for a whole variety of reasons, were now producing too much grain. What once was scarce and in short supply, and thus in high demand and sold for good prices, was now hardly worth planting.
As a matter of fact, various government programs were even encouraging the farmers to either NOT PLANT at all, or PLANT, and if the market was poor, plow the grain under. The idea was that if the supply was reduced the market would recover, but it didn’t work.
But that’s the strange thing that happened by the time I got to high school. In the fall, we would sit in our front yards, and unlike all the years before, we would watch the farmers not harvesting, but destroying their crops.
The grain was no longer valuable, and the family farmers one by one went out of business.
When we’re reading Leviticus Chapter 2 today, and it should be made clear that this was not case for the ancient Isrealites.
Even more so that during the heyday of Midwest family grain farming in the US, for them, grain was life itself. It was so hard to grow that it might as well have been made of gold. As a matter of fact, it was readily accepted as currency in most business transactions.
It’s true that the farmers in this country were certainly very sad to plow under their crops, but there was some hope that came from the fact that next year another crop would spring up and produce a bountiful yield.
Not so for the Israelites. A loss of grain this year could mean starvation. Sometimes for many years at a time the ground would not produce any crop at all. There was no fertilization, no irrigation, no hybrid seed. You put grain the ground, and it rained, and it grew, or it didn’t. Usually it didn’t.
So it’s easy to think was we read of the grain offerings in Leviticus that it was no big deal. For us, we’d just go down to a feed store, pay $10 and get a big bag of grain that would last us for months. No problem.
But a big bag of grain at this time was literally blood, sweat and tears. And the giving of the grain to God could mean not eating yourself for a long time to come. It was not only a sacrifice, but a huge leap of faith.
In our modern age, it’s hard to relate because pretty much everything is available to us if we have the money. Yes, gas is expensive, and medicine is expensive, and food is expensive, but you and I can buy whatever supply we want if we are able to hand over enough cash.
But that has certainly not always been the case, even in this country.
Does anyone here remember a time when you couldn’t buy what you wanted if you had the money. Does anyone here remember rationing?
To be truthful, I don’t remember it, I’m too young. I do remember that there was a short time in the 70’s when there were lines at gas stations. I do remember that. But I have read about the rationing, for example, during WWII and I wonder how people did it. How did people go a whole week on only a few gallons of gas.
In many cases, the ration cards were giving only 3 to 6 gallons per week at a time that cars got 10 miles to the gallon or less. It’s hard to imagine.
But what’s even more hard to imagine would be asking people to give up some or all of that gas as a sacrifice to God.
If God said, “take two gallons every week (out of of the six you get) go out to a field, and burn it up.” Do this to honor Me……How easy would that be? Not easy at all.
The simple fact was the Israelites did not have grain to spare, to just burn up into smoke. But God was asking them to have faith and do it.
So as we read our lesson for today, I hope we’ll keep in mind what a real sacrifice this was.
Leviticus Chapter 2 [From the NLT – New Living Translation]
1 “When you present grain as an offering to the Lord, the offering must consist of choice flour. You are to pour olive oil on it, sprinkle it with frankincense, 2 and bring it to Aaron’s sons, the priests. The priest will scoop out a handful of the flour moistened with oil, together with all the frankincense, and burn this representative portion on the altar. It is a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 3 The rest of the grain offering will then be given to Aaron and his sons. This offering will be considered a most holy part of the special gifts presented to the Lord.
4 “If your offering is a grain offering baked in an oven, it must be made of choice flour, but without any yeast. It may be presented in the form of thin cakes mixed with olive oil or wafers spread with olive oil. 5 If your grain offering is cooked on a griddle, it must be made of choice flour mixed with olive oil but without any yeast. 6 Break it in pieces and pour olive oil on it; it is a grain offering. 7 If your grain offering is prepared in a pan, it must be made of choice flour and olive oil.
8 “No matter how a grain offering for the Lord has been prepared, bring it to the priest, who will present it at the altar. 9 The priest will take a representative portion of the grain offering and burn it on the altar. It is a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 10 The rest of the grain offering will then be given to Aaron and his sons as their food. This offering will be considered a most holy part of the special gifts presented to the Lord.
11 “Do not use yeast in preparing any of the grain offerings you present to the Lord, because no yeast or honey may be burned as a special gift presented to the Lord. 12 You may add yeast and honey to an offering of the first crops of your harvest, but these must never be offered on the altar as a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 13 Season all your grain offerings with salt to remind you of God’s eternal covenant. Never forget to add salt to your grain offerings.
14 “If you present a grain offering to the Lord from the first portion of your harvest, bring fresh grain that is coarsely ground and roasted on a fire. 15 Put olive oil on this grain offering, and sprinkle it with frankincense. 16 The priest will take a representative portion of the grain moistened with oil, together with all the frankincense, and burn it as a special gift presented to the Lord.
So we’d already established that this would have been a difficult offering for most ordinary Israelites.
But consider this…these were no ordinary Israelites…. these specific Israelites we read of here were the ones traveling in the wilderness.
There were no Safeways or Wal-Marts to pop into and grab supplies. What you had was what you carried. What you had was what you found. What you had was what God supplied to you. And that made them very nervous and insecure at times.
And yet, in the midst of that, God is requiring them to give back.
Consider what that kind of Exodus would mean if God called you and I do do it today…..
If God says to you…Pack up, you’re hitting the road.
You’re leaving your homes here in Sprague River, Oregon and traveling by foot, and it’s going to be a long trip. You’ll sleep by the road and I’ll provide for you as you go along. You will take no money, no credit cards, no resources at all. I’ll help you to find what you need.
Would that idea make you nervous and insecure? Would you be ready to just leave everything today and start walking? How will you do it? What will you do if something bad happens? Do you have that kind of faith?
But then, if that would be not hard enough. God says “You have to give me half the food back each month in the form of an offering, and a very difficult offering at that.”
Each day you will take half the food you have, give it over to someone else, who will simply burn much of it up while you watch.
It was a very difficult thing.
And yet, we do not read that this offering was a demand of God. Rather, this is a freewill offering.
There were other offering that God demanded, like the burnt offering, which enabled one to stand before the Lord God as acceptable. But this offering was an act of gratitude, freely offered, when you stand in hopes of Grace before the Lord.
What can we learn for our lives from this text?
The New Testament tell us that sacrifice is still to be a part of our life in Christ. And even though the Old Testament sacrifices and offerings were demanding, ours are to be even more so.
For Jesus, we are to give up our very lives. Not a certain percent, but the who thing as a living sacrifice to Him.
If you are not doing that, you are not giving enough. If you don’t wake up each morning and rededicate yourself to His glory and His kingdom, you are not giving enough.
Now, we don’t talk a lot about guilt, in Protestant churches, but we should feel guilty when we think of ourselves before Jesus. He gave enough. He gave everything. He did not hold back for us.
And if we hold back from Him, we should feel guilty about that.
And our reading tells us how of our sacrifices and offerings should be.
We’ve seen so far that they should be valuable.
The grain was valuable, the meat was valuable. From time to time, the people tried to cut corners by offering up the seconds, and the leftovers. God was not pleased.
God gave His best. And in return, he expects our best.
And we are the most valuable of God’s creations to Him. So when he expects us to offer ourselves, he is expecting the best of us. Nothing less than all, is acceptable. That is what he wants, and no cutting corners and offering whatever we have left will be good enough.
We don’t reach down to the bottom of the barrel for God, we skim the cream off the top and give that to Him first.
We are to only offer to God what is valuable.
Second, our sacrifices and offerings should be difficult.
Jesus says, “drop your nets, and follow me.”
He didn’t just say that 2000 years ago, he says it to you and I today. The disciples all became homeless people for Jesus. They left their jobs and their families and their possessions, and started walking. A few asked if they could go home and finish up some business but Jesus said it didn’t work that way.
When I call, you go.
So that’s an important question to ask ourselves. It’s true. Jesus does not ask most of us in our lifetimes to literally walk away from every earthly thing we have, but if he could. And he does from time to time. There are believers around the world today who have to leave every single thing they have including their families to follow Jesus.
This is absolutely the case in many fundamentalist Muslim countries. Follow Jesus, you lose everything else.
We may never face that, but if you were to face it, could you walk away from all your stuff, all your security, all your friends and family to follow Jesus?
That is the level of offering and sacrifice that Jesus requires. Our sacrifices and offerings should be difficult. And yet, many if not most of us, are unwilling to give up too much for Jesus unless it’s convenient, and practical, and doesn’t hurt too much. That wasn’t how it was for the ancient Israelites, it’s not how it was for Jesus, or the disciples, and it’s not how it should be for us.
So our offerings should be valuable, and they should be difficult. What else does Leviticus tell us about the nature of our sacrifices and offerings to God?
They are not forced or demanded. They are to be given freely.
Have you ever gotten a gift that you know someone was obligated to give you or even forced to give you. I had a little bit of that growing up, and you could just tell. Sometimes it was a family gift exchange, and you’d get some item from Aunt Pearl that you didn’t even know but she drew your name, so as a 14 year old boy I get a Care Bears tea set.
Or sometimes it the obligatory gift from a sibling.
We didn’t have dollar stores back then, and that a good thing, because my brothers weren’t willing to spend a whole dollar on a gift for me. So back then we had dime stores. And since it was required that they get me a gift, I got a 10 cent eraser, or a pack of gum.
I knew they really didn’t want to give it to me, so it wasn’t much of a gift. And certainly the same is true with God.
He doesn’t force us in our lives to love Him. We wants us to come freely and offer up ourselves to Him. That’s when it really means something.
And in the midst of that, he want us to come a certain way to Him. He want our offerings to come in a particular form.
They should be carefully given with thanksgiving.
Just because you have gratitude doesn’t mean you can’t be sloppy or reckless in how you approach something. And the same is with God.
We DO HAVE gratitude and ARE thankful for God sending us His Son to save us…Amen?
Then God has given us his Word to refer to so we know how to carefully live our lives for him with thanksgiving.
The bible is painstakingly detailed. Just like the instructions here in Leviticus are detailed.
Our God is a God of details and he keeps track of all things.
So it’s not the slightest bit odd that he asked his offering to be presented in a certain way. Let’s look at it closer.
In verses 1-3 it speaks of the uncooked grain offering. It is to be of fine flour, that in itself talks of the grain being well ground. Not fine in the sense of good but rather it’s well ground. And that tells us that a lot of hard work, a lot of physical effort is put into it. People didn’t have electric flower grinders! You had to sit there and grind the grain between two stones.
Just like here in Leviticus….as we offer up our very lives to God as offerings, they should include certain ingredients and those ingredients are spelled out in the bible for us very clearly. He doesn’t want us giving over just any life, he wants ones made of of the right things as clarified in His Word to us.
We should pour over his recipe book carefully, and sift though the flour in our lives to make sure it is fine. We should avoid being “puffed up” by the wrong leavening. We should be sure there is the appropriate saltiness.
The bible, in it’s eternal words of wisdom, let us all learns about this, in careful detail. It tells us what God wants, and what he does not want. It tells us how to prefect our grain offering, and how we can ruin it.
It tells us how our offering for Jesus can be the best it can be.
And to be the best, all our offerings, should be ” the first portion of your harvest”
In verses 14-16, we have Early grain offerings, the first fruits.
Once again, God wants only the best from us. He has given us the best, and he expects the best in return.
Romans 12:1-2 tells us all about this.
1 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice-the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
Given the great mercies of God, given His great love for us, given that he has chosen us before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight, the only logical thing to do is to respond!
And some will preach this like the only thing to gain is feeling bad that you don’t write a larger check to put it the offering plate. That’s not what this is about all. Money is only the smallest of things we can give to Jesus. He’ll do fine without your money. His will shall still be done.
He won’t be fine, if we don’t truly trust Him, and give ourselves completely over to Him. He want us to want Him.
And yes it will hurt.
We are speaking of grain today, so we should know that our lives following Jesus will sometimes can be grind.
And that’s what He wants. If we let Him, Jesus will grind our lives into the fine flour that pleases God.
He can make holy every single thing we do every day, as we glorify him in our lives.
So may we take our grain offering, which is our very being, and present it fully to God. May we say, “Here I am, Lord; I have come to do your will! Take me! I am completely yours. Use me for your glory.”
(c)2011 Timothy Henry