Ronny H. Graham: Have we ever wanted to be a part of an entourage? According to the Random House Dictionary, an entourage is "a group of attendants or associates, as of a person of rank or importance. ...
Mark Schindler draws an analogy from the My Fair Lady, a musical adapted from George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, in which Phonetics professor Henry Higgins changes a Cockney working-class girl into a cultured member of elite aristocratic society by altering her pronunciation and other speech patterns. Higgins ultimately falls in love with his creation. Jesus is also transforming His Bride (the Church) into something exquisitely beautiful, mirroring His godly character. He is preparing us as First Fruits, ready and equipped to carry out our responsibilities. God has deliberately chosen the foolish and the base (like the guttersnipe of Pygmalion) to bring to shame those who are, in their own eyes, wise. Proverbs 31 provides an important key to understanding the role of Christ's Bride. The passage, beginning in verse 10, reveals a woman displaying the seven Christian virtues listed in 1I Peter 1:5-7. The composite picture of Proverbs 31 represents God's view of the Bride of Jesus Christ, excelling all other heroines of the Scriptures, the end-product of a meticulously executed transformation which theologians term "sanctification."
Richard Ritenbaugh, observing that pagan fertility rites and sun worship have nothing to do with the resurrection or ascension of Christ, asserts that Christmas, Easter, as well as the concepts of "amazing grace," and "unmerited pardon" are far cries from the Bible's definition of Christianity. Because he sought to avoid the appearance of endorsing the syrupy cheap grace advanced by Protestant thinkers, Herbert W. Armstrong de-emphasized the birth, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. As a result, the Church came to lose some valuable insights about those events. Neither Christmas or Easter appear in the Feasts of the Lord (Leviticus 23), but we find plenty of emphasis on the resurrection and ascension of Christ in the Holy Days. The wave-sheaf offering, for example, appearing between Unleavened Bread and Pentecost and symbolizing the Father's acceptance of Christ as First of the First Fruits, provides the means for our ultimate acceptance as First Fruits as well. Christ's ascension enables Christ to serve before the Father as our High Priest, mediating between man and God. It also facilitates 1.) His gifting the Church for equipping the saints, 2.) His pouring out the Holy Spirit on us, 3.) His aiding us when we are tempted, 4.) His healing us when we are sick, 5.) His guarding us from the evil one and 5) His preparing a place for us in God's Kingdom. Realizing that the apostles wrote frequently about Christ's resurrection and ascension, we must be willing to share their perspective.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the correlation between the wave sheaf offering, beginning the count to Pentecost, and the wave-loaf offering on Pentecost, reminds us that Jesus Christ is the First Born from the dead and the Firstfruits. Like Christ, we too are firstfruits, represented by the leavened loaves picturing our acceptance by the Father. Both offerings depict a harvest as well as the same resurrection—the First,. Pentecost also envisions a time when God will repair the chaos caused by sin. For example, He will eliminate today's confusion about gender identification. Further, because God's Spirit will eventually unite everyone, people will be able to communicate with one another. We are a tiny smidgeon of all those who have been called over the ages, exercising faith that God will work with us if we yield to the power of His Holy Spirit—an invisible force which enables overcoming. God guides us through this period of sanctification to Eternal life. After 6,000 years, God's family will be building on the foundation God has established by sealing the Church with His Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
Ronny Graham, focusing upon the topic of entourages (bands of people accompanying "the rich and famous") reminds us that many kings and would-be kings in the Bible, such as Adonijah and Absalom, used entourages as a means to telegraph their political prowess. The greatest entourage that will ever assemble will be the 144,000, described in Revelation 14:1-5 as the firstfruits who will be identified with a special seal, perhaps both figuratively and literally, on their foreheads, emphasizing the sophisticated thinking skills possessed by God's firstfruits, as well as their guilelessness and purity. As God's called-out firstfruits, we must guard God's name from being sullied by the world. The world has nothing to offer which is more important than being in this assembly. David will be in the entourage—will we?
David Grabbe, cuing in on Genesis 1:1 and the Hebrew word translated "in the beginning," informs us that this is also the word for "firstfruits." God takes greater delight in a first fruit than those coming in a later harvest. Wisdom is a first-fruit, and has, itself, first-fruits, including the fear of Lord. The first-fruits were set aside for the priests who served the temple. The firstborn of a man's family is designated as first-fruits, receiving double honor. The physical nation of Israel was God's first fruits, planted to bear fruit, but sadly, like the cursed fig tree, it failed to produce much more than weeds. As Christ's called-out ones, we are the current crop of First Fruits, given a new spiritual birth. God has ordained that we bear spiritual fruit, in a totally different dimension from the first fruits of physical Israel.
Richard Ritenbaugh, aligning Book Three of the Psalms with the hot summer months, the Book of Leviticus in the Torah, the Book of Lamentations in the Megilloth, and Summary Psalm 148, indicates that this portion of Scripture deals with the somber theme of judgment on a people who have rejected their God and have produced a plethora of rotten spiritual fruit. Summer suggests military campaigns that have switched into high gear, a time when plowshares have been reshaped into implements of war, bringing on God's judgment on a faithless, rebellious people who should have known better. The 9th of Av, occurring this year the eve of July 25 and the day of July 26, constitutes the anniversary of the destruction of the first and second temples, bringing captivity for Israel and Judah for their overweening pride and vile sins. The major theme of Book Three of Psalms is that God wants repentance; He absolutely cannot tolerate sin. The keynote psalm, Psalm 73, describes the reaction of discouragement of a faithful person witnessing the prosperity and ease of the wicked person, while the righteous seem to be facing endless trials and harassments. When we finally see God's perspective from the tranquility of His sanctuary, we realize that the respective ends of the righteous and the wicked will be vastly different. We come to understand that not all who are in Israel are Israel, but only the ones with which God is working. The evil are currently in slippery places, destined for destruction, while God's chosen people, the Israel of God, are being groomed for a priceless inheritance. If we stick with God, we will acquire our inheritance in the fullness of time.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the apostasy and diaspora of our previous fellowship in the 1990s, observes that those reveling in the new 'freedoms' cannot be persuaded to return to former beliefs because they no longer believe in the sanctified Word of God. Instead, many seek scholarly 'higher' criticism of the Scriptures to provide license to various varieties of sin. Like Thomas Jefferson's redaction of Scripture, modern biblical scholars, much further away (in time and understanding) from the original intent of the Scripture than contemporaries of the apostles, presumptuously pontificate, without accurate knowledge, on the intent of the Scriptures. Consequently, 'biblical' scholars, steeped in post-modernist deconstructionism, pick and choose what they pompously believe to be significant. Today, the main representatives of nominal Christianity (Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant) may believe God exists and may believe in various aspects of His character, such as omnipotence, omniscience, omnipotence, love, and grace; nevertheless, they do not want to do what He says, discarding the Old Testament (and much of the New Testament) and that 'horrible' Jewish Sabbath as well as God's commanded Holy Days. Unlike the majority of nominal Christians who believe in God, the First-fruits (a select group of individuals called and set-part by God), as depicted by the Holy Day of Pentecost, faithfully follow Christ's example, allowing God to knead, pound, shape, and bake them in the intense heat of trials, making them acceptable to God, with the goal of becoming the 144,000, redeemed from the earth who will follow Christ as His collective Bride. As we grow toward that goal, we are commanded by Almighty God to live a life of obedience to His Commandments, walking as Christ walked, practicing righteousness until we get it right, and knowing that faith without works is stone dead.
Ronny H. Graham: What does it mean to be first? Those who have children have heard them say, "I want to be first!" or "I want to go first!" or "Pick me first!" or "I want the first bite!" Human nature has a desire to be first. God has certainly created us with the ability to compete or a desire to win. Maybe a better way to put it would be a desire and an ability to overcome. ...
John O. Reid (1930-2016): Back when many of us were called, it all seemed so simple. Our big tests were keeping the Sabbath and holy hays, attending church, and making sure that we tithed and gave offerings ...
Mark Schindler, reflecting on the television program Shark Tank, which displays a nexus of entrepreneurs and wealthy investors who have the power to make things happen, draws some spiritual analogies examining what makes and breaks deals. The wealthy investor (or the shark) desires to make ambitious entrepreneurs successful by combining their investments with the entrepreneur's desire to be successful enough to willingly sacrifice everything for the sake of the project. Interestingly, the investors find pride a disgusting deal breaker, while they look favorably upon wholehearted zeal and willingness to work 24/7 with a single-minded focus to get the job done. God can take misdirected zeal, as in the case of Saul, who became the apostle Paul, rechanneling it to a positive purpose. God wants to protect His investment in us, calling those whom He knows will exercise the ardency, zeal, willingness to sacrifice, and pure sitzfleisch to stick with the project until it is completed. Are we able to see the investment God has made in us? Are we willing to make a 24/7 commitment to our calling?
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Leviticus 23:9-21 covers God’s instructions concerning making the wavesheaf offering, the counting of the seven weeks, and the observance of the Feast of Weeks, called Pentecost in the New Testament. ...
Sometimes it is difficult to see how unique each one of us is among the nearly seven billion people on earth. John Ritenbaugh explains, however, that we are not only physically unique, but we are also spiritually unique through God's calling and by our receipt of His Holy Spirit. Our special position before God gives us an equally unique opportunity that we do not want to squander.
The stories of early American pioneers read like adventure stories, as those intrepid people overcame rugged terrain, hostile natives, frequent deprivation, and their own limitations to open and settle the West. Mike Ford focuses on the story of Daniel Boone and his exploration of the frontier, drawing parallels to a Christian's journey as a firstfruit of God's Kingdom.
David C. Grabbe: In Daniel 7, God foretells of a blasphemous end-time king who will, as it says in the King James Version, "wear out the saints of the Most High" (Daniel 7:25). ...
The church of God has long acknowledged the biblical analogy of a harvest representing the gathering and eventual resurrection of the saints. Bill Keesee speculates that we can perhaps expand our understanding of the harvest analogy to include other aspects of our preparation for God's Kingdom.
Richard Ritenbaugh, pondering why some authors chose the enigmatic titles of their books, observes that the name of Boaz (a type of Christ) appears many times more than Ruth (a type of the church), indicating Christ's intensive work on behalf of the church, harvesting the firstfruits to the Lord. The whole period from the wavesheaf offering to the offering of the baked loaves constitutes God's harvesting of the firstfruits. It is our obligation to get in line to do our part, as Ruth diligently did her part. Ruth originally was a foreigner (a Moabitess) a type of worldly person outside the covenant, who nevertheless commits herself to Naomi (a type of Israel) and her God, and ultimately becomes redeemed by Boaz, a gracious provider, who instructs the reapers to leave Ruth a generous portion of grain as well as offering her protection and safety, admonishing her not to glean in another field, but to stay close to his women servants, keeping her eyes on the field, following the examples of the other servants, drinking only from what the young men have drawn. In addition to providing graciously, Boaz was a righteous judge, having gathered all the details of Ruth's virtuous and selfless life as he had gathered the grain, winnowing the chaff from the good kernels. After Boaz judged Ruth, he lovingly and lawfully redeemed her as Christ has redeemed His Church.
John Ritenbaugh asks the question, "How much leavening would God allow to infiltrate into the church, society, or the individual before He steps in to correct it?" Leaven can symbolically represent false teaching, as in the stifling traditions of the Pharisees, the skepticism of the Sadducees, and the secularism of Herod, all producing deadly cynicism and pessimism. With immense forbearance and patience, God carefully timed the cumulative wickedness of a people (when every thought would become saturated with evil) before He intervened. Likewise, we have no insight as to how much sin God will tolerate in the church or our own lives before He will sternly intervene. The tares and wheat (sin and righteousness, heresies and truth, or unconverted and converted) must coexist until the harvest when the fruit will become clearly seen, at which time a separation and judgment will take place, when the good will be contrasted from the evil. In the meantime, the persecution we receive now will show God definitively where our loyalties lie.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the account of Simeon in Luke 2:25-30, speculates about the specific things Simeon did to sustain his hope. Simeon's life serves as a precursor to that of God's called-out ones, demonstrating the elements necessary to bring a person to spiritual maturity. The first is hope in God's law. Like Moses, we as firstfruits stand as a kind of mediator, meticulously digesting God's law in order to teach it to the rest of mankind. The second is hope in God's Holy Spirit, which enables us to overcome, produce fruit, and provide witness. The third is hope in God's judgment of the Pentecost offering, representing us, presented to God for inspection, evaluation, and acceptance. The fourth is hope in being God"s firstfruits, the wave loaves that are totally consumed by the Priest in His service, giving us hope that we will indeed be in His Kingdom.
Pentecost is known for its stupendous signs, particularly the display of power in Acts 2. David Grabbe shows that Pentecost teaches us of another, more personal witness: our own display of Christ's way of life in us.
We in God's church generally know very little about the wavesheaf offering, even though it represents one of the most significant acts of God's Plan: the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ! John Ritenbaugh explains its relevance to us today.
This is a subject that has long been a source of controversy. However, when we let the Bible interpret itself, the answer is plain!
Summertime reminds us of "those lazy, hazy, crazy days" of our youth. Charles Whitaker shows that biblically summertime sounds a warning to us to prepare for the fall harvest.
When we sing this popular hymn, are we singing a lie? No, this is a commision to apostles, and right now we are doing what God desires of us.
John Ritenbaugh again focuses on the meal offering, typifying the intense self-sacrifice required in service to man. Oil (symbolic of the power of God's Holy Spirit), frankincense(symbolic of character sweetened under intense heat) and salt (symbolic of preservation from corruption) are poured on this fine flour (ground to talcum powder consistency). A small portion (representing Christ's perfect sinless sacrifice) is burned on the altar and two loaves (representing the first fruits -I Corinthians 15:20, James 1:18) baked with leaven (typifying the presence of sin) are waved before God (Leviticus 23:20) and consumed by Aaron and his sons as compensation for their service and sacrifice.
A scriptural explanation of the time of Christ's death, burial and resurrection, showing that He died on a Wednesday and rose from the dead on the Sabbath.
In this sermon on the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, Richard Ritenbaugh, using three consecutive Psalms (22-24), affirms that Jesus Christ was the antitype, perfectly fulfilling the Old Testament types, slain as the Lamb of God on Passover, Nisan 14, resurrected with the cutting of the wavesheaf at the conclusion of the Sabbath, and ascended to His Father at the time of the waving of the sheaf.
John Ritenbaugh refutes the erroneous belief that glossolalia (or speaking in tongues) constitutes a sign or condition of having received God's Holy Spirit. The dramatic manifestations in Acts 2 (cloven tongues of fire, rushing wind, and the miracle of speaking and hearing extant languages and dialects) were event specific, and not to be a perennial spectacle in so-called "Tarry meetings." Adherents to the Pentecostal movement try to mimic some of the superficial surface manifestations (noise, commotion, and unintelligible gibberish) rather than follow the teaching given on that day- including repentance, unconditional surrender of our will to God, and keeping His Commandments through the power of His Holy Spirit. Receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit (the power to subdue our carnality and live righteously) is dependent upon repentance and baptism. The ability to speak in tongues, although a legitimate spiritual gift for a very specific purpose, is not the identifying hallmark of God's Holy Spirit.