The First Sunday in Lent

March 10, 2019

Deuteronomy 26:5-10

Get Ready for Easter—

Remember the Grace of God!

 

Then you shall declare before the LORD your God:  “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous.  But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor.  Then we cried out to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression.  So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders.  He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O LORD, have given me.”  Place the basket before the LORD your God and bow down before him.  (NIV1984)

 

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

 

What were you doing about the middle of last November?  If you are having a hard time remembering, let me ask that same question but in a different way.  What were you doing about six weeks before Christmas?  Would it be safe to say that you were probably getting ready for Christmas?  There is usually so much to do in order to get ready for Christmas that we spend weeks preparing for just that one day!

 

Why don’t we do something similar for Easter?  We, of course, realize that Easter is equally as important as Christmas.  Yet, the amount of time that we devote to getting ready for Easter is probably just a fraction of the amount of time that we spend getting ready for Christmas!

 

With that reality in mind the sermon series that we will be following on the Sundays in Lent all revolve around the theme:  Get Ready for Easter!  On each of the Sundays in Lent we will turn to God’s holy Word for some specific guidance on how we can indeed prepare our hearts and our lives to celebrate the glorious festival of Easter.

 

Today as we begin this sermon series the Lord’s servant Moses helps us to Get Ready for Easter by encouraging us to:  Remember the Grace of God!  There are two things I want to emphasize from this text.  First, let’s see that remembering the grace of God includes looking back at what the Lord has done for us.  Then let’s see that remembering the grace of God impacts the offerings that we place on His altar.

 

You may recall that the book of Deuteronomy is kind of Moses’ “farewell address” to the Children of Israel.  Even though Moses would not be leading the people into the Promised Land of Canaan he wanted to prepare them for the life that was waiting for them once they had crossed the Jordan River.  This portion of Deuteronomy then is designed to help God’s people get ready for that new life, the new life that they were about to enjoy as a result of God’s amazing grace!

 

As Moses tried to help God’s people get ready for their new life in the Promised Land he first encouraged them to remember God’s grace by looking back on all the wonderful things the Lord had already done for them.  Look at what Moses writes in the opening verses of our text, “Then you shall declare before the LORD your God:  ‘My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous.  But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor.  Then we cried out to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression.  So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders.’”

 

As Moses directs God’s people to look back and see the grace of God at work he highlights two details.  The first detail centers on the question— Why?  Why did the Lord choose the descendants of Abraham to be His covenant people?  Was it because there was something “special” about them?  Was it because they had proven themselves to be a powerful and prosperous people?  Not at all!  Moses reminds God’s people that their father Jacob was a “wandering Aramean” who went down to Egypt “with a few people.”  Why then did God choose these people to be His very own?  Why did God Himself transform them into a powerful and prosperous nation?  Why did God give them the Promised Land of Canaan?  The one word that answers all those questions is the word— grace!  (See Deuteronomy 7:7-8)  Moses wanted God’s people to remember that they are who they are purely because of the amazing grace of their God!

 

The second detail that Moses encouraged God’s people to remember as they looked back at what the Lord had done for them centers on the fact that when the Egyptians oppressed God’s people and caused them to suffer the Lord rescued His people from their enemies, “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders.”  I am sure we all remember the Ten Plagues, the exodus of God’s people out of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea.  Moses and the people who were with him knew from first hand experience how the Lord their God had indeed rescued His people from their enemies!  And why did the Lord rescue them from their enemies?  Again, it all comes down to grace— the amazing faithful grace of the Lord, the one and only Living God!

 

Once Moses had encouraged God’s people to stay focused on the amazing grace of God by looking back on all the wonderful things God had done for them he goes on to encourage God’s people to remember the grace of God as they bring their offerings to Him.  Look at verses 9 & 10 of our text, “He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O LORD, have given me.  Place the basket before the LORD your God and bow down before him.”

 

When it came to the offerings that God’s people were to bring to Him there were two things Moses wanted the people to remember.  The first— and most important point— was once again:  Why?  Why were God’s people to bring their offerings and humbly place them before the Lord?  Was it to earn God’s favor?  Did they have to buy their way into God’s good graces?  Absolutely not!  God’s people were to bring their offerings to the Lord as a way of saying, “Thank-you!”  “Thank-you, Lord, for all that you have done for us!”  “Thank-you, Lord, for all the blessings that you have so richly showered upon us!”  “Thank you, Lord, for giving us this land, a land ‘flowing with milk and honey.’”  “Thank-you, Lord, for your grace— the grace that we do not deserve!”

 

The second point that God’s people were to remember when it came to their offerings is summed up in one word:  “firstfruits.”  As the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth, as the God who has both the power and the love to reach down and rescue His people from their enemies “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm,” as the God who faithfully fulfills all of His promises to His people— as the one and only true God the Lord is not pleased with “leftovers.”  He expects that His people will remember His grace and bring their “firstfruits” as an offering to Him.

 

As we turn now to apply this text to our hearts and to our lives today it is not difficult for us to see how this portion of Scripture helps us to get ready for Easter by encouraging us to remember the grace of God.  As you and I look back over the course of our lives we too can see all the wonderful things that the Lord has done for us— including the fact that we are now the chosen people of God!  (See 1 Peter 2:9)  And why?  Why did the God of heaven choose us to be His very own?  Was it because we were such “good” people?  Was it because God saw our “potential.” Not at all!  The Lord God chose us to be His own purely because of His— grace!  (See Ephesians 1:3-14)

 

The amazing grace of God is also what led Him to rescue us from our greatest enemies:  sin, death and the power of the devil.  While Moses could remind God’s people of old that the Lord rescued them from their enemies “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” I can point you to the cross (Pointing) and remind you of how the “mighty hand” of God’s justice and the “outstretched arms” of God’s Son came together there on the cross to rescue you!  Because of God’s grace your enemy the devil has been defeated!  Because of God’s grace the entire debt of your sin has been paid— in full!  Because of God’s grace you do not need to fear death and the grave!  Because of God’s grace He has indeed rescued you from your enemies.

 

It is in the light of that grace, my friends, that you and I now bring our offerings and humbly place them on the altar of the Living God.  And just as Moses reminded God’s people to remember two things when they brought their offerings to the Lord, so also I want to remind you of those same two points today.

 

First, our offerings are to be an expression of our love and our thankfulness to the Lord for all that He has done for us.  We are not trying to earn God’s favor.  Our offerings are not an attempt to try to buy God’s grace.  We look back at everything the good Lord has done for us, we look back at all the times that He has been there to guide us and protect us, to comfort us and to strengthen us, we look back to the cross and see His amazing love for us and then we humbly and gratefully and willingly bring our offerings to Him.

 

How much?  How much are we to give back as an offering to the Lord?  Perhaps the best way to answer that question is to simply remember the very same word that Moses placed before God’s people here in our text.  It is the word “firstfruits.”  How are we to define “firstfruits”?  We don’t define it, my friends.  God defines it— right here in His holy Word.  Not surprisingly, God keeps His definition of “firstfruits” very simple by emphasizing just two things.  The first one is quite obvious:  “Firstfruits” means just that— firstfruits”!  God doesn’t say, “After you have paid all your bills, after you have set aside some money so that you can go out and have some fun, after you have taken care of all the things that you consider to be important— then see what you have left over and consider placing an offering on My altar.”  “Firstfruits” does indeed mean firstfruits.”

 

Secondly, the Lord anticipates that we will give back to Him a specific percentage of what He graciously grants to us.  In the Old Testament era God required His children to tithe— to give back to Him 10% of their income.  In the New Testament era the good Lord treats us not as children but as responsible mature adults.  In the New Testament era the good Lord points us to the cross to remind us of what He has done for us and then in the light of the cross He lets us determine what percentage of our income we will return to Him as our way of saying “Thank-you!” to our God.  (See 2 Corinthians 8:12; 9:6, 7)

 

As we get ready for Easter, my friends, this is indeed a very good time for us to look at the offerings we are placing on the altar of our God and ask ourselves two questions:  “Am I giving my firstfruits” to the Lord?” and, “Does the percentage of my income that I am giving back to my Savior God accurately reflect my love and my thankfulness for all that He has done for me?”  We need to take our offerings just as seriously as God does.  Therefore, if we can not answer “yes” to both of those questions then perhaps it is time for us to re-examine the offerings that we are bringing to our Lord.

 

Six weeks from today you and I will be gathering together to celebrate the joyous victory called Easter.  My prayer is that we will all make very good use of this time.  May God therefore grant that we consciously strive to get ready for Easter by remembering His grace.  Remember God’s grace as you look back on all that He has done for you.  Remember God’s grace as you place your offering on His altar.

 

To God be the glory!

 

Amen