Meet the “Marble Lady.” Dr. Frederick Augustus Webster, of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, met his stunning wife, Margaret McNaught, in Scotland when he was studying medicine there. The couple soon returned to Nova Scotia, where the doctor set up a practice in his hometown. As a young woman, Margaret contracted a fatal illness and died in the mid-19th Century. Her widower asked a local sculptor to create a fitting memorial for her, and the result was this fine marble representation of a beautiful woman resting in a field and clutching a small sheaf of wheat. It is said to have been taken from a painting on a matchbox, and it can be seen at the historic and serene Town Point Cemetery at Chebogue, Nova Scotia.
I have admired this memorial often, and it always comes to my mind when I read James 1.18:
Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
James’ Jewish readers didn’t have to grab their concordances and look up, “f-i-r-s-t-f-r-u-i-t-s.” They would have known exactly what James was saying, and they would have understood why he said it. We, however, may have to do a bit of research.
Leviticus 23.9-12 describes–actually, prescribes–for the Jews the Feast of Firstfruits, the annual festival meant to celebrate God’s faithfulness in providing another harvest for His people. It was a time of thanksgiving and reflection. The feast required each Jewish family to do three things:
- Take a small sheaf of grain, such as the one in the sculpture, to the priest to be waved before the Lord as a “wave offering.” This demonstrated the worshiper’s dependence on God for the harvest and gratitude for His provision.
- Sacrifice a perfect male yearling lamb as a burnt offering. This was for the purpose of recognizing and confessing one’s sin and receiving atonement for it through the substitutionary death of the animal.
- Offer with the lamb a grain offering consisting of fine flour mixed with oil, and a drink offering of wine. No grain or bread could be eaten on that day before this offering was made.
MY LIFE MUST BE AN OFFERING TO GOD
Now, when James tells me God brought me forth–gave us life–by the Word of Truth in order that I should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures, I can understand a bit more what he means. If I am to be a kind of firstfruits, my life needs to be a daily offering of thanksgiving to God, always with the harvest in mind. In addition, my life is to be the “living sacrifice” Paul speaks of in ROM 12.1,2. What can I offer God, really? What do I have that He doesn’t? Nothing, of course. So He has explained that I can love Him by loving others, and part of loving others is proclaiming to them the good news of salvation in Christ.
MY LIFE REPRESENTS COUNTLESS OTHER PEOPLE
Firstfruits are about the harvest. Just as the Marble Lady isn’t holding a harvest, neither did the Jews offer God the entire crop. It was just a token, and it represented everything that was still in the field awaiting the sickle. In the same way, my life is a small part of an enormous harvest–people from the families, languages, ethnic groups and nations of the world. (REV 5.9,10) God wants to use me in the lives of others in the same way He used others in my life–to proclaim the “word of truth,” which alone brings new life in Christ Jesus.
Paul, another one who understood well the concept of firstfruits, uses this word to describe Jesus in 1 COR 15.20: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Jesus is not the only one to experience this resurrection and receive a glorified body. But He is the first, and therefore represents all who will come after Him.
I AM ON SOMEBODY’S LIST
If you are a child of God today, think of the many people God used to bring you to faith. People who loved you sacrificially, even in those times when you were supremely unlovable and ungrateful. People who patiently and creatively explained the gospel to you, even when you didn’t really want to hear it. People who modeled godly character. You could write a long list, and would miss an unknown number of people of whom you aren’t even aware.
God didn’t save you just so He could enjoy the pleasure of your company in heaven. James tells us what our purpose is–after all, we’ll be far better able to glorify God and live holy lives in heaven. The reason we’re not there yet is that we are to be “a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” The harvest isn’t all in.
If you haven’t yet, embark now on a life of firstfruits living.