************ Sermon on Leviticus 7:11-21 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on November 27, 2014

Leviticus 7:11-21
"The Fellowship Offering"
Thanksgiving Day 2014

The Mosaic law as we find it in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy appears to cover every single possibility. There are moral laws covering murder, theft, honesty, adultery, etc. There are social laws covering property, inheritance, marriage and divorce. There are food laws on what is clean and unclean, on cooking and storing food. There are purity laws covering skin disease, mildew, and bodily emissions. There are laws covering the various feasts. There are laws for all the sacrifices and offerings. There are specific instructions for the priests. There are instructions for the construction of the tabernacle and its furnishings. Looking forward, God even put in instructions for the time when there would be a king in Israel.

But what about when the worshiper wants to enter into God's gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise (as our bulletin covers put it)? With all this structure, regulation, legislation, and ritual you would think there is no room for spontaneous praise and thanks to God. This would be a false assumption, however, because God always delights in special offerings from those who serve Him. Think of God's delight in Abel and his offering (Gen 4:2-5). Think of all the altars built by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Our Bible reading this morning concerns the fellowship offering (also known as the peace offering). This offering shows us that God built an opportunity for spontaneous praise and thanks into the very fabric of Israelite society. On this Thanksgiving Day, let us learn from this offering about our thanks and praise to the Lord.

I The Why
A We begin by looking at the why of the fellowship offering.

The fellowship offering was given anytime people wanted to celebrate the peace and fellowship they enjoyed with God. Don't forget, this is God's provision for sinful people, for broken people, to thank and praise Him. These people were rescued from slavery in Egypt. They were brought safely across the Red Sea on dry ground. But then the complaining started: no water, no meat, we want the melons and leeks we ate in Egypt, we want a god we can see. So they rebelled against God and complained against God and were disobedient to God.

But out of grace and mercy God provided a way of forgiveness through the sacrifice of bulls, goats, lambs, and doves. On the basis of Christ's one sacrifice a sinful people were forgiven and enjoyed peace and fellowship with God.

Now, the fellowship offering was their thankful response. It was the prescribed method for forgiven sinners to offer thanks and praise for fellowship and peace with God.

Isn't this at the top of our list today? We want to give God thanks for many things but especially we want to thank Him for the peace and fellowship He gives us in and through Christ.

Don't forget our natural, sinful condition is the same as that of those in Israel. Because of sin every person here is estranged from God and counted as enemies of God. Our relationship with Him is broken. Yet, ours is peace and fellowship with God in Christ. I love how Paul states this in his letter to Titus:
(Titus 3:3-5) At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. (4) But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, (5) he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.
So on this Thanksgiving Day we undeserving sinners want to thank God for the peace and fellowship we now enjoy with Him.

Israel's spontaneous expressions of gratitude by way of fellowship offerings remind us that we should never forget or take lightly the peace we have with God. We should be moved to praise our God and Father every time we think of the peace that is ours in Christ. In fact, we should view peace with God as a cause for perpetual joy.

B Today's passage describes three circumstances under which the fellowship offering was given.

First, it is a "thank offering" offered "as an expression of thankfulness" (Lev 7:12). We can also call it a "praise offering." It was given when someone was in need of deliverance. Think of Psalm 22. David feels forsaken by God and surrounded by enemies. He is down in the dumps. But what happens? God hears David's cry for help. So David responds with a fellowship offering to thank God for deliverance.

We, too, have times when we are down, when we feel forsaken, when problem after problem rears its ugly head. But God hears our cries for help. He sees our predicament. He knows our situation. Think back on the past year, congregation. Remember His presence and His love. Remember how He never left you nor forsook you. So today we want to offer Him a sacrifice of praise.

Second, the fellowship offering was also given as the result of a vow. The worshiper vowed to praise the Lord if the Lord answered the worshiper's prayer. So the worshiper wants to celebrate answered prayer. The best example is Hannah. She was barren and she and her husband prayed for a child. Listen to their vow:
(1 Sam 1:11) And she made a vow, saying, "O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head."
A couple of years after the birth of Samuel, Hannah and her husband went to the tabernacle to fulfil their vow. The Bible describes a fellowship offering when they slaughtered a bull and brought the boy to Eli the high priest.

Think back, congregation, on all the prayers we have sent up to the throne of God: prayers for those with cancer, prayers for children and grandchildren, prayers for those in the hospital, prayers for rain and snow, prayers for the meetings of Synod and Classis, prayers for our pastors and elders and deacons, prayers for CVC and Hanford Christian School, prayers for our missionaries, prayers for persecuted Christians, prayers for broken marriages, prayers of confession, prayers for forgiveness. Prayer after prayer after prayer. God has heard them all. So, like Hannah, we want to offer a sacrifice of praise.

Third, the fellowship offering was given as a freewill offering. The worshiper simply wants to thank and praise God for all His blessings and generosity. Remember, we deserve nothing. In God's sight we are worms and not man (Ps 22:6). Yet, God has lavished His generosity upon us. As the psalmist puts it,
(Ps 65:11) You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance.
We can say this even though we are in the fourth year of a drought. We can say this even though the economic recovery is not as good as we would like it to be. We can say this even though wells are running dry and the cost of utilities and health insurance and medical care is going up. So, on this Thanksgiving Day we also want to give God a sacrifice of praise.

I was sent a PowerPoint this past week that reminds us of God's many blessings:
If you could fit the entire population of the world into a village consisting of 100 people, that village would consist of 57 Asians, 21 Europeans, 14 Americans (North, Central and South), 8 Africans.

80 would live in poverty, 70 would be illiterate, 50 would suffer from hunger and malnutrition, 1 would be dying, 1 would be born, 1 would own a computer, 1 would have a university degree.

If you woke up this morning in good health, you are better off than one million people, who won't live through the week.

If you have never experienced the horror of war, the solitude of prison, the pain of torture, were not close to death from starvation, then you are better off than 500 million people.

If you can go to your place of worship without fear that someone will assault or kill you, then you are better off than 3 billion people.

If you have a full fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, you are wealthier than 75% of the world’s population.
Do you see how blessed we are and why we should want to give a sacrifice of praise?

II The What
A We also want to look at the what of the fellowship offering.

The fellowship or peace offering is distinct from all the other offerings.

First, the animal offering did not have to be a male without defect, as was required for all the other animal sacrifices (Lev 3:1; cf Lev 22:23). The offering also included leavened and unleavened cakes. We notice God was making it as easy as possible for His people to celebrate His goodness. That's how much God loves our praise and our thanks. He is honored and glorified when we celebrate His blessings.

Of course, in the New Testament we no longer bring an offering from the flock or herd. Instead, through Christ our sacrifice of praise is the fruit of lips that confess His name (Heb 13:15). And, through Christ we offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is our spiritual act of worship (Rom 12:1). And through Christ we offer gifts of money and time. Our heart's desire is to thankfully dedicate all our life to His service.

B Second, the fellowship offering is the only offering that was eaten by the worshipers. The blood, the fat, the kidneys, and the liver belonged to the Lord. The breast belonged to Aaron and his sons. The right thigh belonged to the officiating priest. The rest of the meat belonged to the offerer, his family and friends, and any others who were there for worship. So, for instance, at the dedication of the temple, Solomon sacrificed 142,000 peace offerings – 22,000 cattle and a 120,000 sheep and goats – and the people feasted for two weeks (1 Kings 8:62-66). By way of contrast, our feasting is usually for two days – on Thanksgiving Day and leftovers the next day.

In that time and place, to eat with people is to make them your friends and allies. It means the end of hostilities, such as we see with Jacob and his father-in-law (Gen 31:54). It means the sealing of friendship, such as we see with Moses and his father-in-law (Ex 18:12). Today, it is especially the Lord's Supper which shows the unity of God's family (1 Cor 10:17). Hence one of its names is "communion."

When we look at the fellowship offering we see that God especially delights in communal praise, worship, and thanks. He loves it when His people praise Him as a people. He loves our time of worship today. He loves our songs. He loves our prayers. He loves our gifts. He loves it when together we hear His Word. He loves it when we open our homes and invite others to eat and celebrate with us.

III The How
A We continue by looking at the how of the fellowship offering.

Like everything else concerning His worship, God leaves nothing to the ingenuity and imagination of man. He lays out the process whereby His people give thanks.

The animal and cakes were presented at the entrance to the tabernacle. The worshiper presses his hand on the head of his offering and slaughters it. The priests sprinkle the blood against the altar. Except for the portions burned on the altar or assigned to the priests, the body of the sacrificial animal was given to the worshiper, his family and friends, and any others in the tabernacle area.

B Now, think about this. Part of the offering was burned on the altar; this was God's portion. Of course, God has no need to eat like we do. The rest was eaten by the priests and the worshipers. Telling us what? Telling us that the persons giving thanks are eating a meal with the Lord. Telling us that the Israelites who sacrificed fellowship offerings were in an intimate covenant relationship with the Creator.

Similarly, we celebrate a fellowship meal every time we partake of the Lord's Supper. At that time we enjoy intimacy with God and are thankful for His goodness toward us in Christ.

IV The Who
We end by looking at the who of the fellowship offering.

It should be clear by now that the fellowship offering is given by thankful people. It is given by those whose hearts overflow with love for God. It is given by those who love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. It is given by those who are in an intimate covenant relationship with the Lord.

On this Thanksgiving Day, as well as every Sunday, we gather together to give thanks to the Lord. We celebrate His goodness toward us in Christ. We praise the Lord Jesus that in Him we have peace with God.

Now, we have been looking at the tabernacle on Sunday nights. All along I've been reminding you of what is written in Hebrews: namely, that the earthly sanctuary is but a copy and shadow of what is in heaven (cf Heb 8:5). What is on earth is only a copy and shadow. The real deal is in heaven.

With this in mind we turn to Revelation 19. What does John see in heaven? His vision starts with a great crowd shouting, "Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!" (Rev 19:6-7). This is a thankful crowd, an exuberant crowd, a joyful crowd. The vision ends with the intimacy of the "wedding supper of the Lamb" (Rev 19:9). This can only be regarded as a New Testament fellowship offering for it starts with praise and thanks and ends with an intimate meal with the Lord.

Whether God's saints are on earth or in heaven they are pictured as thankful people who enjoy intimacy and peace with the Creator because of Christ. What a wonderful picture for us to keep in mind on this Thanksgiving Day.
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