Gospel Gazette Online
Volume 17 Number 10 October 2015
Page 14

The Latter First fruits

Mark McWhorter

Mark McWhorterThe Jews had a day of thanksgiving to God for the first fruits of harvest. This was held on the day after the Passover. This harvest was primarily the barley harvest.

The Jews also had a day of thanksgiving to God for the first fruits of harvest 50 days later. This day was known as Pentecost. This harvest was primarily the wheat harvest. The wheat harvest celebration was known as the “latter first fruits.” This is because it was the second main harvest, and God required first fruits in sacrifice for it.

Barley was known as the grain of the poor. It made a bread of less quality than wheat. Wheat was preferred. During the early first century, the Romans took almost all of the wheat from Palestine and used it throughout the Roman Empire. The Jews had to settle for the poorer barley grain. Thus, at the time of Christ, wheat was especially valued.

This brings us to the Day of Pentecost when the church was established. God had let it be known that something special would occur in the “last days.”

And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of this ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2:2-3)

The writer of Hebrews (1:2) says that God has spoken to us through His Son in “these last days.” Peter on the Day of Pentecost told that Joel had prophesied that the Holy Spirit would be given in the “last days” (Acts 2:17).

Thus, in the “last days” on the Day of Pentecost (the celebration of the “latter first fruits”), God established the church. The first fruits of God’s kingdom came through baptism on the Day of Pentecost (2:41).

The Book of Hebrews talks about how the New Law is so much better than the Old Law. The first fruits of the New Law were valued like the wheat of the latter first fruits. It is not that the first fruits of the Old Law were not valued by God, but the salvation coming through the New Law (the blood of Christ) was what the Old Law could not give. This is why Christ said in Luke 8:28, “…but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he,” speaking of John the Baptist.

I am glad we are the under the New Law. I am glad that we have salvation through Christ. Study your Bible. Obey God, and if any of this is hard to understand, ask an adult to help you.

Praying for Sinners

T. Pierce Brown (deceased)

T. Pierce BrownIn a recent Bible class, the question was raised about whether God knows all that will take place, and if so, how can man do anything except what God knows he will do? We tried to point out that foreknowledge and predestination are two different things, and that what we call “foreknowledge” is simply “knowledge” with God, for with God there is neither past nor future. God is. However, that caused another question to be raised that may need to be addressed.

That is, if faith comes by hearing the Word of God, and a person is himself responsible for hearing, believing and obeying the Gospel, is there any value in praying for the conversion of a sinner? That is, what will God do that He has not already done, inasmuch as we have no scriptural authority for assuming that the Holy Spirit is going to have an influence on the heart of a person separate from the Word of God?

Let us address two aspects of that question. First, if we never are able to answer the question, “What will God do, or how will He answer our prayer on behalf of the sinner?” we may with full assurance know that it is proper for us to pray for the conversion of a sinner, or anything else good for all men, for God has specifically commanded that in more than one place.

When God told us to pray for daily bread, we are not to understand that there must be some special, supernatural intervention by which we are to receive it, as manna that fell from heaven. Nor do we need to know what elements or agents God may use, or how He may use them, in order to answer our prayer. We usually recognize that the farmer who prays for food knows that he is expected to plant the seed, cultivate the soil and gather the harvest. Yet, God is the one who gives the rain and sunshine, puts the power of growth in the seed and gives the circumstances that make the production of bread possible.

So, when a person prays for the conversion of a sinner, he does not need to assume that God has to operate on the heart of the sinner apart from the Gospel or perform some miraculous act to overthrow the will of the sinner in order to answer the prayer. The fact that we may assert that there is no authority in God’s Word for assuming that God exercises some influence on the mind of man to convert him except that which comes through the Gospel does not mean that we may, with equal assurance, assert that God cannot providentially use whatever means or agents are available to get the Gospel to that person.

An illustration or two may help to explain that. There is nothing in the Bible that would lead us to conclude that God supernaturally influenced Moses’ mother to put him in an ark in the river, nor that He caused the daughter of Pharaoh to come down at that time and bathe. They chose of their own free wills to do what they did. Yet, there should be no question in the mind of one who believes the Bible that God’s providence was at work in that situation.

The same is true with the story of Joseph. It would be almost blasphemous to say that God supernaturally or otherwise influenced the evil brothers to put him in a pit or sell him to the Midianites. That was their choice, and they were responsible for it. Yet Joseph plainly says in Genesis 45:5, “And now, be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.” The fact that God used the free choice of wicked men to fulfill His purposes is not more clearly stated than in Acts 2:23. “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hands of lawless men did crucify and slay.” Although it was by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, it was still lawless and responsible men who did the deed.

There are two points we are trying to make in this case: First, the fact that God had determined that Christ was to be offered did not remove the guilt and freedom of choice of the men who did the deed. Second, Christ prayed for those who crucified Him, but the prayer was not answered by their hearts being changed in some miraculous way by the arbitrary will of God or miraculous operation of the Holy Spirit. It was answered by the Holy Spirit operating in pricking their hearts by the preaching of the Gospel. Acts 2:36-37 says, “Let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brethren, what shall we do?”

So, although we may not be able to either understand or explain how God providentially provides the answers to our prayers, there can be no question for one who is willing to accept the Bible as authority that it is proper to pray for the conversion of sinners. Let us not make the mistake of assuming that because the Holy Spirit does not operate directly on the heart of a man to convict or convert him that the Holy Spirit therefore does not operate. Also, let us not assume that since the Holy Spirit only operates through the Gospel in converting the sinner that the Holy Spirit cannot operate in any situation except through the Gospel. Let us also not assume that if God does anything to bring about an event that it has to be a miraculous intervention. It is sad that even those who claim to be preachers of the Gospel do not know the difference in a miracle and some wonderful event in which God acts.

[Editor’s Note: Miracles were God-powered events that were visible, usually instantaneously bringing about results supernaturally, which were intended to prove or validate something to onlookers. Miracles accomplished the will of God. True miracles no longer occur. Providence was and is God-powered events that are not visible and behind the scenes to human observation, which are not intended by God to prove or validate anything. Providence accomplished and still accomplishes the will of God (e.g., answering prayers, arranging circumstances so that truth-seekers can come in contact with the Gospel). ~ Louis Rushmore, Editor]

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