Once a week, summer camp staff woke before sunrise because, as tired as we were, we found Matt Lantz’s Bible studies more invigorating than sleep. I admit I was disappointed in 2008 when Matt announced his series on Leviticus. “Twelve weeks on Leviticus?!” I groaned, “you mean that boring book of unapplicable rules? Can’t we learn about something more relevant?” Until that summer, I had divided the Old and New Testament eras as if God had changed sometime around 1 A.D. from rigid to merciful. I had put God in a wonky box and did not see him as “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb. 13).
I am so thankful Matt drug me into this ancient book. In Leviticus, I saw God’s unchanging character. I also discovered that the sacrificial system, celebrations, and offerings aligned perfectly with the events of the Holy Week: I learned that Palm Sunday (the day Jesus entered Jerusalem) coincided with Passover lamb selection day, Good Friday (the day Jesus was crucified) coincided with the sacrifice of that substitutional Passover lamb, the hour of his death coincided with the daily evening sacrifice for atonement for sins, and Easter (the day he rose from the dead) coincided with the Celebration of the First Harvest. Suddenly I was convinced that God had not flip-flopped. Instead, nothing else in the world looked so consistent.
THE HARVEST. The Celebration of the First Harvest stood out to me. Each spring, the Hebrews were to offer the firstfruits of their barley crop to God. They waved a sheath over the altar to demonstrate their faith that more would follow. Later, God sent Jesus to offer himself as the firstfruits of a greater harvest, a harvest not of barley but of men. We are that great harvest. Jesus is the firstfruits of thousands of believers who will live after they die (1 Cor 15). Leviticus foreshadows the gospel.
Awesomely, God does not wait for our physical death to make new our souls; he can transform our hearts and minds during our lives on earth (2 Cor 5:17).
THE SEEDS. Seeds cannot shoot up into new leafy stalks until after they have died and broken open in the dirt. Like a barley seed, Jesus had to be broken and buried before he could be resurrected (1 Cor 15). Likewise we must die to ourselves before we can sprout up new, different and beautiful.
Before we die to ourselves, we are like little hard barley seeds clinched tightly until our beauty unfurls. Many live their whole lives proud and stubborn, unwilling to break open and let Christ make them new (Luke 9). They hide as if God does not already know the depths of their hearts. They cling to the world instead of to its creator. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:20, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” How can we be made new if we do not first sluff off the old? Let’s die to our fleshly desires and empty glory; let’s trust God more than our intellect and choose obedience over control.
WORKERS IN THE HARVEST. Also, Jesus calls those who bask in the bliss of resurrection to go out and bring others into the storehouse. Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 9:37-38 that “the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send more workers into the fields.” Discipleship is at the center of our mission. Jesus told Peter to become “a fisher of men.” How much greater to fish for men than for fish. How much greater to work for a harvest of people than of barley. Those who live missionally without first submitting and unfurling, will find their mission will become unsustainable and less impactful.
Before sunrise in that camp dining hall, I realized that God did not change 2,000 years ago. No. 3,300 years ago God planned to free me from death and live with me forever starting now. We mortals cannot overcome death on our own, but because God offered himself up and conquered both death and selfishness first, we can follow.
PRAYER: Victorious Jesus, you defeated death! You fulfilled every letter of the law so that we can live forever in your victory! Thank you for bolstering our hope and showing us through the breadth of scripture that you never change. Help us to die to ourselves daily and send us out into the harvest to tell others this great news. Amen.
This devotional appeared, in part, in a Lent Devotional book for Christ Chapel in 2016.