Summary: Worship the Lord with "Offerings" not "Surrenderings" 1) Because He chose us; 2) Because He saved us; 3) Because He blesses us
Last Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, marked the beginning of Lent. It’s traditional in many circles to give up something during these forty days before Easter. Some people give up coffee. Others give up meat. Catholics in Germany are being urged to give up driving this Lent. What have you given up? Perhaps you’ll continue to give up your money when we pass the plate after the sermon. But is that a good way to think of Christian stewardship? Are we "giving up" money or do we "offer" it? There’s a difference. "Giving up" money is something done grudgingly, like surrendering your wallet to a mugger, while "offering" it implies a willing act of worship.
Our text this morning gives us three reasons why we want to put our money in the plate as an offering and not a surrendering. We’ll happily carry out this act of worship because God chose us, he saved us, and he blesses us.
Our text is taken from the book of Deuteronomy, which records Moses’ last words to the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land. In our text Moses told the Israelites that once they were settled in their new home they were to bring God a firstfruits offering. In the same way God has commanded that we give him our firstfruits. That means before we spend our money on anything else, we are to set aside some of it to give to the Lord. What will motivate us to do this? Well, as the Israelites gave their offering they were to confess: "My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous" (Deuteronomy 26:5b).
The Israelites were to give their firstfruits in an act of worship because God had chosen them in spite of their humble beginnings. The Israelites were not descended from people who were known for their military might. Their forefathers were not inventive geniuses who developed new ways of farming or building cities. They were not even spiritually superior to the people around them. Take the patriarch Abraham, for example. He was a man of faith - even willingly offering his son as a sacrifice because God told him to - but Abraham was this way because God had made him this way. Abraham hadn’t always been so trusting. He lied not once but twice about Sarah being his wife. He even slept with Sarah’s maidservant, Hagar, in an attempt to fulfill God’s promise that he would have a son. Even though God knew Abraham would act this way he still chose him as his child.
Like Abraham God has chosen us to be his children in spite of our failings. Sure, we too have moments where we show brilliant God-given faith in the Lord’s promises. Maybe you declined, at great social cost to you, an invitation to a party where you knew alcohol would be served to those underage. Or perhaps you turned down a promotion so that you could continue to be close to your family and your church. But then again we also have moments of tremendous unbelief like when we added hours to our timecard so that our paycheck would be higher, or when we gossiped about our classmates so we could get in with the cool crowd.
If we fail to remember our humble beginnings, we’ll start to think that God owes us something. We’ll start to think that everything we have is a result of our hard work instead of God blessing our efforts. Because that would be a temptation for the Israelites once in the Promised Land, Moses wanted them to confess their humble beginnings whenever they brought the Lord an offering and to remember that they were blessed because God had chosen them, not because they had chosen God.
God did more than choose the Israelites; he also saved them. When Abraham’s descendants ended up slaves to the Egyptians, God did not forget his choice of them as his people. When the time was right he saved them in dramatic fashion. And so when the Israelites brought their offerings to the Lord in the Promised Land they were also to confess: "the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor. Then we cried out to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders" (Deuteronomy 26:6-8).
It’s important to note that although the Israelites were God’s chosen people they, like all of God’s people, had to endure tough times. One way Moses described the suffering was as "oppression." That Hebrew word is the same one used to describe what happened to Balaam’s foot when the donkey he was riding crushed it against the wall to avoid the Angel of the Lord. Perhaps you feel a bit like Balaam’s foot this morning. Pressure is closing in on you from all sides. If it isn’t work demands scraping you against a concrete wall, your family responsibilities are weighing on you so that you can’t sleep at night because it feels like a heavy burden sits on top of your chest. Don’t worry; there’s help. The Israelites knew this and so cried out to the Lord who answered them when he delivered them with an "outstretched arm" (Deuteronomy 26:8). Isn’t that a neat picture of God’s concern for us? He doesn’t stand idly by with his hands behind his back as we flounder in our problems. No, like a dad watching his child learning how to walk, his hands are out, ready to react and save us from any peril that comes our way.