Welcome back to the Sunday Mass notes for 2-14-2016. This week we examine the first fruits offering found in Deuteronomy 26. Then we see how Saint Paul described the necessity for a person to receive God’s free gift of salvation and examine this matter more closely. We conclude this week’s study with the Gospel reading in which we see the temptation of Jesus Christ and how this applies to our lives.
Introduction to the First Reading:
The first reading is from the Book of Deuteronomy, a word that means “second law.” This Book is a retelling, but with many additional details, of the Exodus from Egypt as well as the Law given to Moses. The context of the reading is provided in the first three verses that were omitted from the reading but are shown below.
Deuteronomy 26:1-3 NAS95 1 Then it shall be, when you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance, and you possess it and live in it, 2 that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground which you bring in from your land that the LORD your God gives you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name. 3 You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, 'I declare this day to the LORD my God that I have entered the land which the LORD swore to our fathers to give us.'
Chapter 26 opens with Moses looking forward to when the Israelites enter the Promised Land. God tells them through Moses the laws about the first fruits offering. Each household was to prepare a gift of the best of the land before they utilized any of the harvests from the place in which they were about to enter. As you read, imagine presenting your “first fruits” offerings to the Old Testament priests after you had entered your new homeland.
Deuteronomy 26:4-10 NAS95 4 "Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the LORD your God. 5 "You shall answer and say before the LORD your God, 'My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; but there he became a great, mighty and populous nation. 6 'And the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, and imposed hard labor on us. 7 'Then we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction and our toil and our oppression; 8 and the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror and with signs and wonders; 9 and He has brought us to this place and has given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 'Now behold, I have brought the first of the produce of the ground which You, O LORD have given me.' And you shall set it down before the LORD your God, and worship before the LORD your God;
The reading provides the law of the first fruits offering. The “father” mentioned in verse 5 is Jacob, the father of Israel. After Joseph was appointed a leader in the Egyptian nation, Jacob and his family moved to Egypt because of the drought in the land of Canaan. The future generations then spent four hundred years in Egypt until “a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). At this point, God appointed Moses to lead the people out of Egypt into the Promised Land. The first fruits offering was to be made as an offering to God in remembrance of their deliverance from Egyptian captivity. Second, it was to recognize the principle of giving to God first. By assuming this practice once, the people were settled in the Land and they would remember God’s miraculous provision to them.
A similar offering first occurs in the Bible in Genesis chapter 4 when Cain and Abel brought their offerings to God. “So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions” (Genesis 4:3-4a). The reading continues, which makes an important point about how each man made the offering and therefore how God received them. “And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell” (vv. 4b – 5). Although both Cain and Abel made their offerings directly to God, God honored only Abel’s offering. Why? The answer is found in the following New Testament verses. “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4). “[W]e should love one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:11–12). God accepted Abel’s offering because it was done with love and faith, whereas Cain’s offering came from his evil heart. Likely, Cain’s offering wasn’t the best of the land, but was rather something rather worthless that he had held back for God while keeping the best for himself.
The offering record in today’s reading was during the time known as the theocratic kingdom where the priests were interceding for the people as intermediators with God. This is important to remember because of the great contrast with which we make our offerings in the church today. After Jesus rose from the dead, we see how the priestly class passed away and how Jesus is the only mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). Now each believer comes to God only through Jesus without the priestly intermediaries. Although in the Old Testament the priestly class prefigured the coming High Priest Jesus, they were subject to the human limitations common to people (Hebrews 7:28) and succumbed to this temptation. In contrast, our perfect High Priest Jesus was subject to temptations but was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Therefore, the Old Testament priests never offered a perfect sacrifice to God regardless of their noble intentions while Jesus offered the perfect sacrifice for sin forever (Hebrews 10:14).
In this reading, God provided the law of the first fruits offering. Looking forward to the church age, this offering pointed the way towards how Christians offer their own “first fruits” to God in the things they do. By first taking the best that God has given us off the top, we remember how God provided it for us in the first place. We may find ourselves tempted to hold back in our offerings to God. Later in the Gospel reading, we will see the big idea is the temptation of Christ, the application of which is that we too are subject to temptation. As Christians, God has given us wisdom from His word for successfully resisting temptation. However, this assumes that we are a Christian as defined in Scripture. In the second reading, we will see how becoming a Christian requires a person’s heartfelt commitment to Jesus Christ. Although salvation is a free gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9), God word says that there is a transaction that has to occur during the process of accepting this free gift.
Introduction to the Second Reading:
The reading is from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans. In the reading, we will see how Paul quoted from the Book of Deuteronomy as well as the Prophet Joel.
Romans 10:8-13 NAS95 8 But what does it say? "THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, in your mouth and in your heart" --that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, "WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED." 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; 13 for "WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED."
The only way to understand this reading is to set it within the context of salvation in general which we will explain first, and then we will return to an analysis of the reading. In these verses, Saint Paul describes how a person must receive the gift of salvation from God. When someone is given something, they must first receive it. The prerequisite to receiving this gift is to first understand that all of us are without excuse before God and in need of a Savior. Paul said earlier in Romans 3, “For all have sinned and fallen short or the glory of God.” The penalty for our sin is eternal separation from God as Paul said in Romans, but God has provided a way out of this horrible situation. “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). God said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Our “good” works, no matter how we define them or how hard we work at them, will never result in earning our way to heaven. In order to earn our way to heaven we would have to be perfect, and we see from the Scripture that we are not.
Jesus explained to Nicodemus how one must be “born from above,” or “born again,” as the Greek word used has two meanings. Jesus said, “You must be born from above to enter the kingdom of heaven” (John 3:3). Nicodemus, a teacher of the Law, didn’t understand so Jesus explained it to him. Jesus said:
13 No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. 14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:13-18)
Jesus explained to Nicodemus that salvation came through His dying for him and that this comes through faith. Jesus also explained that if someone didn’t believe, then by default they have already been judged (v. 18). Saint John further explained salvation in his first Letter, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him” (1John 5:1). Later he explained, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (v. 13, emphasis added). The way in which a person is made right with God is through belief in the finished work of the Son Jesus Christ.
Returning to the reading, Saint Paul described how a person must receive the free gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. He said, “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, "WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED” (Romans 10:9-11). Paul quoted from Deuteronomy in verse 8, which was part of Moses’ message to the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land. He explained to them how the words of the Law were in the midst of them because it had been explained to them in detail. They couldn’t deny that they knew it when God punished them for breaking it. Finally, Paul quoted from the Prophet Joel a universal message from God, “Whoever will call upon the name of the LORD will be saved” (v. 13).
Having an understanding of Paul’s message of salvation is crucial not only because it is the only way to gain eternal life! Our good works will not, and cannot ever merit salvation for ourselves. As we conclude this week’s study we will see how being a Christian helps us to overcome temptations common to everyone. While unbelievers have little chance of resisting, believers have been given the power to achieve victory over temptation through resting in God.
Introduction to the Gospel Reading:
The Gospel reading is from Luke 4 in which we see the 40-day period in which God allowed the testing of Jesus in the desert (wilderness) area of Israel.
Luke 4:1-13 NAS95 1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry. 3 And the devil said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread." 4 And Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE.'" 5 And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 And the devil said to Him, "I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. 7 "Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours." 8 Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'" 9 And he led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; 10 for it is written, 'HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU TO GUARD YOU,' 11 and, 'ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.'" 12 And Jesus answered and said to him, "It is said, 'YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'" 13 When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time.
We see in verse one that God allowed the temptation of Jesus, and in verse two that the source of it was Satan. The mystery here is that although Jesus is fully God, He also took on human form that was subject to temptation (Philippians 2:7). We are not told the details of the testing that Satan brought to Jesus during this period, but Scripture says that he “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Not surprisingly after such a long period without food, the devil tempted Jesus by asking Him to turn the stones into bread. Likely this was in an area in which the stones were shaped like loaves. However, Jesus responded to this and all of the temptations of the devil by quoting Scripture. He pointed out that His purpose eclipsed the needs of satisfying His body’s needs, which was one purpose of the fast in the first place. The next temptation showed Jesus the truth that the earth was the devil’s kingdom, at least for a short time (2 Corinthians 4:4, the “God of this age.”). The devil’s offer was legitimate, however Jesus answered him by quoting the scriptural truth that worship belongs only to God, the First Commandment (Deuteronomy 10:20, Exodus 20:3). Finally, the devil tempted Jesus by attempting to make Him place the Lord God to the test, something to which Jesus immediately responded from the Law (Deuteronomy 6:16).
What can we learn from how Jesus faced temptation and from other verses in the Bible on this subject? The following is a series of points about the source of temptation and how a believer can choose to resist through power given to them by God.
- James 1:13-14 “13 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.”
God is never the source of temptation, instead the source of it is our own lust.
- 1Pe 4:12 “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you;”
As believers we should expect trials and temptation to come upon us. God allows these things in order for us to grow closer to Him and through our growing learning how to trust in Him regardless of the circumstances.
- 2Co 12:7 “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me--to keep me from exalting myself!”
Even the greatest saints such as Paul were subject to terrible trials and temptations. We as saints of God should also expect temptation.
- Lu 13:4-4 “4 Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Temptation that comes upon a person isn’t because of their sin (although sin can multiply temptation).
- Jude 9 “But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’”
We are to look to Jesus’ example when we are facing temptation by leaning upon the Scripture that we have memorized and placed in our heart. We saw Jesus’ example in the Gospel reading today.
- Lu 22:40 “When He arrived at the place, He said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
Jesus warned His disciples on the night He was betrayed to pray before temptation came upon them. We are to pray in advance of temptation for God to deliver from (prevent it from happening) and through it (help us when it does come, which it will).
- 2Pe 2:9 “then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment”
Since God knows we are to ask Him for help.
- 1Co 10:13 “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”
God has given us tools to resist temptation as we grow in our understanding and reliance upon the Word of God. As you can see from the verses above, resistance to the trials and temptations that we will encounter as Christians needs to begin well in advance of the actual situation. As you contemplate your response to the next temptation comes along, pray quickly to God for the power to resist. After the event, look back and see how holding to God’s Word delivered you. If you failed, discuss this with another Christian whom you trust. Pray together with them and develop some practical methods to resist based upon the Scriptures.
One technique that has proven helpful in increasing our awareness about imminent temptation is the acronym H-A-L-T. This reminds us to be on the lookup for temptation when we are: Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. Perhaps you will find yourself resting in God’s Word to HALT temptation before you fall prey to it.
Bottom Line: Questions for Reflection
1. In the first reading, we learned about the law of the first fruits offering. Today, giving includes not only our monetary gifts to our church and charities but also the ways in which we serve the Lord. In your life, in what ways do you bring your very best, like Abel, or hold back, like Cain, in your offerings to God?
2. From what you learned today, why is it important to memorize Scripture? Would you establish a plan to memorize the verses on temptation?
Note: For a listing of readings for the Roman Catholic Mass, visit this web site:
Online Scripture verses for most Bible versions can be found at: http://www.biblegateway.com/