The seven men Luke names here were representatives chosen from the different regions where Paul had planted churches. They were carrying a financial gift from their churches to the poor in Jerusalem, but Paul was bringing them to Jerusalem. They were his offering, they were the fruit of his labors, and when he arrived he would go into the Temple, the place where Jesus had spoken to him commanding him to go to the Gentiles (Ac 22:21), and there he would report to Him that he had obeyed. On the day of Pentecost, as the firstfruits of the wheat harvest were being waved before the Lord to honor Him as the Source of the harvest and to declare that the harvest was holy and belonged to Him, Paul, in his heart, would present his firstfruits, to honor God as the Source of all that had taken place, and declaring that the entire harvest, the multiplied thousands of new believers from all around the eastern Mediterranean, belonged to Him. Yes, Paul ministered effectively among the Gentiles, and had become all things to all men (1Co 9:22) to reach them, but he was still a Jew inside, and this was his heart-language of worship. He wasnt performing a ritual, he was coming home. He had observed Pentecost all his life, but never had he presented such precious gifts as these.
In a sense, Paul is modeling that coming day in which all of us will present to Jesus the fruit of our lives. Not as a work needed to earn our way to heaven, though being fruitless is a dangerous symptom of detachment from Christ (Jn 15:2-6), but as the tangible evidence of our love for Him. When all is said and done, the only lasting treasure we will have to offer Him will be the people whose lives we have helped to draw closer to Him.
Returning to Jerusalem (Ac 20:1-6, 16)
Paul is hurrying to reach Jerusalem in time for Pentecost because he wants to use the language of Pentecost to worship the Lord. The Hebrew name for this festival is Shavuat (weeks) and the Greek name is Pentecost (fifty). It is celebrated fifty days after the firstfruits of the barley harvest is waved before the Lord (Lev 23:15, 16). That means the countdown for the fifty days begins on the second day of Passover and after the Sabbath (if it comes in between). If there is a Sabbath, it begins on the third day after Passover. Seven weeks later, on the fiftieth day, another firstfruits offering is waved before the Lord. This time it is the firstfruits (the first cutting of the ripe grain or fruit) of the newly harvested wheat crop. The portion of grain was made into two loaves of bread (with yeast). Every head of a household would bring these loaves to the temple and present them to a priest who would then wave them before the Lord, and the person would present themselves by lying prostrate before God. This offering declared several truths. It said:
1) Youre the Source of this harvest.
You provided the sun, rain, soil, seed, and miracle of life.
2) It all belongs to You. We set it apart as holy unto God.
We arent giving you a portion of our harvest. You are giving us all the rest of Your harvest.
3) This is the first cutting of a much larger harvest to come.
These loaves are made from the first cutting of the grain, and there was, or will be, much more grain harvested.
Note: Do we see the prophetic statements made by the fact that Jesus was resurrected on the day of firstfruits for the barley harvest, and the Holy Spirit was poured out for the first time on the day of firstfruits for the wheat harvest?
Priorities (1Th 2:19, 20)
Listen to what Paul said to people he had led to Christ:
For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus (when we
stand before Him) in His presence? Is it not even you? For you are our glory and joy
(1 Th 2:19, 20, literal).
Paul says here the goal of his life is to present people to Jesus. His hope of pleasing the Lord is to present to Him people who had become His disciples. His joy was seeing them love Jesus and grow closer to Him. His boasting, in other words, what he would point to as the validation of his life, was that he had brought people to Jesus.
His example shows you and me how to keep our priorities straight. Its about people, not position, title, income, or recognition. What matters is: Have I drawn people closer to Jesus Christ? Unfortunately, there is a tendency in all of us to lose sight of this. All sorts of influences distract us. We find our passion, time, energy, and interest going elsewhere. This is why a regular part of our prayer life is repentance, asking God to forgive us for losing sight of His priorities, and asking Him to help us to love and treasure people, and hopefully, lead them to Christ.
Paul was bringing these representatives to Jerusalem to say to the Lord: Youre the Source of this harvest. Without You, nothing would have happened. And these beautiful believers, and the many others they represent, belong to You, not me. These men are only a small portion of so many who have come to You through the gospel. And there is a much greater harvest yet to come.
Our future offering
Pauls worship models a deep truth to us. The day will come when you and I present our firstfruits to Jesus as well. Paul (and Jesus, Mt 25:14-30; Jn 15:2-8) says that believers will appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his (or her) deeds in the body, according to what he (or she) has done, whether good or bad (2Co 5:10). And in the next verse, Paul says something very revealing. He says, Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men
(v11). In other words, knowing Jesus would evaluate his faithfulness helped motivate him to continue reaching out to people. But then he revealed a deeper and better motivation than fear. He said the best reason for serving Jesus is because we love Him so much. We see what Hes done for us, and that presses us to stop living for ourselves and focus our entire lives on serving Him (vs 14, 15).
Why does it matter?
It matters, because people who are separated from God when they die, remain separated from Him forever. It is not possible to repent or change on the other side. Based on what I see in the scriptures, I dont believe God tortures anyone, but I believe eternity will be filled with people who are weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth (Mt 25:30). The Bible says everyone will be resurrected, the good and the bad, and the universe will be filled with the brilliant, fiery light of Gods presence. To those of us who love God, being immersed in His glory is heavenly. Being close to Him is our greatest joy and fulfillment. But for those whove separated themselves from God, its not, its miserable. They will be captives, living in the darkness of spiritual separation, a separation which they themselves have created, one choice at a time. They will spend eternity living with memories, passions, and spiritual influences that became part of their lives here on earth. They will be in a place apart from those who love God, a place never intended for human beings (Mt 25:41). In effect, they will suffer a hell they have created for themselves, and it will be perfectly just. God will do nothing to them, but give them what they wanted: Spiritual independence from Him.
And it matters for another reason as well. It matters because God loves people. He wants everyone. He longs after us, searches for us, pursues us. He created us in His own image so He could be with us, and in doing so, He gave us a will, the ability to choose, so we could choose to love Him and obey Him. But the enemy deceived us and we rebelled. Now its a war for souls, with God drawing to Himself all who will come, and the enemy enslaving all he can. If God didnt care, if He had already decided who will be saved and who wont, it wouldnt matter whether or not we bringing people to Jesus was our priority. Whatever was supposed to happen, would happen. But thats not the way it is. There are many people who would spend eternity with Him, if someone would come after them. Yes, there are highly resistant people in the world, but there are so many who could be led to Him. Some prayer, some kindness, some time spent in selfless service, and there will stand new brothers and sisters in Christ. Its just not that hard, at least it doesnt seem that hard, when our priorities are straight.
This kind of sermon can be frustrating for all of us. It reminds us that we need to be fruitful, to reach out to people, but if we dont know how to do that these truths can make us grow angry at ourselves and worried. Some of us do know how God wants us to serve Him, and we only need an occasional reminder to do what we already know how to do. But others dont. They have no idea where to start. They need someone to help point them in the right direction.
If youre someone who doesnt know where to start, heres what I would suggest. Ask yourself this question: Who do I love enough to give time and energy to drawing them closer to Jesus? Gods call is always focused on people. He gives each one of us a special compassion, a gift of His love, which is focused on a particular human need. So, in seeking His call Im asking myself, For whom do I feel Gods special love? For what areas of human need has He given me an enduring concern? And then, look for a way to bring Gods love to them and share the gospel when you can. Someday you and I will have firstfruits to bring to the Lord in worship.
1) Has God ever used you to lead someone to Christ? If so, tell us what happened.
2) Has God given you a special love for certain kinds of people? Who?
3) Name one way God regularly uses you to help other people. Has this ever opened doors for you to talk to them about Jesus?