First fruits

“Consecrate to Me all the first-born, whatever opens the womb among the Children of Israel, both of man and beast; it is Mine” (Exodus 13:2 NKJV).

“Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the Lord. You shall bring from your dwellings two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the firstfruits to the Lord” (Leviticus 23:16-17).

We arrived in Bangladesh in late July, which is the middle of the rainy season. At this time of year the harvest has been completed, land is beginning to be prepared for replanting, trees are ready to bloom, and the cycle of growth and fruit-bearing is beginning.

For this reason I was surprised to walk out under the mango trees on the Khulna Bible College campus and find a very few remaining fruits ripening. Since the people on campus had enjoyed the bulk of the harvest they were happy to reserve these last few mangos for Brenda and me. We enjoyed them tremendously.

The last of the ten plagues of Egypt was the death of the first born. Every household in Egypt which was not protected by the blood of the Passover Lamb lost its oldest son, and the oldest male offspring of its livestock (Exodus 12:29-30).

This formed the basis of the principle preserved in the Law of Moses that the first-born belongs to the Lord. Whether of person, livestock, or crops, Israel was to dedicate the first fruits of every harvest to God.

I remember as a teenager working for a supermarket in the U.S. that every summer when the first watermelons came in the prices were very high, yet they sold quickly. After a few shipments had arrived and there were plenty, prices settled down and the demand moderated. There was just something special about that first taste of melon in the summer.

It is ingrained that first is best. The winner of a contest achieves first place. After a period of doing without, the first taste of almost any desirable food or drink seems especially good. No one aspires to second place. It is a cliché that while many remember the teams that win championships, few know whom they beat in the final game.

What has all this to do with a few late season mangos? In his teaching, Jesus presented many paradoxes. One of the greatest is “So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen” (Matthew 20:16). Sometimes what we think is first is not actually the best. God evaluates by a different standard (1 Samuel 16:7; Proverbs 16:2).

To the Banglas who had enjoyed a full season of prime fruit, those last few mangos were small and of little appeal. But to Americans who had not tasted tree-ripened mangos for a year, they were a rare and special treat. To us they became first fruits.

Measured by the world’s standards many righteous Christians seem to be of little worth. They are poor, relatively un-educated, humble, without power or fame (1 Corinthians 1:26). They may never accomplish anything that the world will notice.

Jesus said, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all” (Mark 10:42-44).

True worth is not measured by wealth, fame, worldly power or other material standards. It is judged by God on the basis of faith and humility (James 4:7-10). In Christ, it is the servant who receives the greatest honor. We learn that from Jesus himself, the greatest servant of all (Philippians 2:5-9).

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