A Basket of Summer Fruit

“In the Good ‘ol Summertime,” the local oldie-but-goodie radio station broadcasts Nat King Cole’s song:

Give me those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer,
Those days of sodas and pretzels and beer.
Give me those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer;
You’ll wish that summer could always be here.

How well these words express the natural man’s response to summer! He feels release, even exuberance, as winter loosens its cold grip and the land again becomes fruitful. As the days grow longer and warmer, human nature cries, “Let’s make hay while the sun shines” and characteristically turns summer into a time of “give me,” as the song puts it: Give me those long days to “catch some rays,” to spend time at the beach, or to make money in my business. Give me those warm nights to “eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19).

God’s people are not immune from summer’s contagion of self. Each of us can all too easily misuse summer, devoting ourselves to “sodas and pretzels and beer.” If we dedicate summertime to our own pleasure or to our own business, we turn the blessing of summer into a marathon distraction. We have fallen into idolatry.

Summer can be a real blessing. It is a time of teeming fruitfulness, the land becoming alive with grain and vegetables and fruits. But in this abundance lies summer’s snare. Speaking in a more general context, Moses cites the problem:

    “Then it shall come about when the LORD your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers…to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied, then watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deuteronomy 6:10-12).

The snare is forgetfulness. Depending on our nature, we can make summer either “crazy” or “lazy,” as we fill every waking hour with work, play or sloth. During everything that competes for the limited resources of our time and energy, how do we ensure that we remember God? The basket of summer fruit is a symbol, or emblem, God uses to help keep our focus on Him during summer. It teaches us two lessons: one of remembrance, the other of fear.

Exceedingly Abundantly

God connects the basket of summer fruit with its lesson of remembrance in Deuteronomy 26:1-10. We should note several factors.

    The Setting: The Israelites, having endured decades of Egyptian slavery and wilderness wanderings, are poised on the threshold of the Promised Land. Moses instructs them: “Then it shall be, when you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance, and you possess it and live in it, that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground…and you shall put it in a basket…” (verses 1-2).

    The Symbol: a basket of the woven, wicker sort, filled with summer produce. We might visualize a cornucopia. God instructs the Israelite to take the basket “to the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name” (verse 2b), and there he is to make two declarations, the first to the priest, the second to God.

    The Ritual: To the priest, the offerer briefly declares, “I have entered the land which the LORD swore to our fathers to give us” (verse 3). The declaration succinctly affirms that God has honored His promise to the patriarchs. After handing the basket to the priest, who places it before the altar (verse 4), the offerer makes his second declaration, this one to God. This affirmation recognizes God’s faithfulness to carry out what He has promised: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; but there he became a great, mighty and populous nation” (verse 5).

The declaration also rehearses Israel’s “affliction and our toil and our oppression” (verse 7) in Egypt and mentions God’s deliverance “with great terror and with signs and wonders” (verse 8). Then comes that timeless characterization of the Promised Land:

    “He has brought us to this place and has given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. ‘Now behold, I have brought the first of the produce of the ground which You, O LORD have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the LORD your God, and worship before the LORD your God;” (verse 9-10).

The basket of summer fruit served as tangible evidence of God’s faithfulness to deliver them. Its existence stood firm proof that He was “able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). Remember, God promised the patriarchs land (Genesis 12:7; 13:14-15; 15:18-21; 17:8). But what He gave His people was so special, so grand, that only “a land flowing with milk and honey” could properly describe it.

The “worship” mentioned in Deuteronomy 26:10 was praise and thanksgiving to God for His works “far more abundantly beyond all that we

[in that case Israel]

ask or think.” Yesterday or today, the basket of summer fruit teaches the same lesson: Remember your God amid His blessings to you. Do not neglect Him.

Pretzels and Beer—or Milk and Honey?

Is not God’s “land of milk and honey” a whole lot better than that created by those who have forgotten Him, a land “of sodas and pretzels and beer”?

Perhaps Peter had Deuteronomy in mind when he penned his second letter. In 2 Peter 1:3-4, the apostle mentions God’s

    divine power…by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.

Peter then urges us to add diligently to our faith moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love (verses 5-7). What is the result of this growth process? “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 8).

In verse 10, Peter cries for “more” diligence in fulfilling God’s calling of us out of this world and into His way of life. By doing so, “the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you” (verse 11).

Israel’s possession of the land serves as an emblem of our possession of God’s Kingdom. Indeed, the Israel of God has already entered that Kingdom in type. Notice the astounding truth God reveals in Ephesians 2:4-6:

    But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

Because Christ dwells in us, God sees His people already sitting with Him in heaven! No wonder Paul exults, “we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). But—it takes diligence. Forgetfulness will not do! This is the first lesson of the basket of summer fruit: Remember God’s blessings, especially His greatest gift, the promise of salvation. He is the God of our salvation, Christ having given Himself “for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age” (Galatians 1:4).

Fruitfulness to Famine

What of the basket’s second lesson? As if the other side of a coin, it is a lesson in fear. Notice Amos 8:1, 11:

    Thus the Lord GOD showed me, and behold, there was a basket of summer fruit…”Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “When I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, But rather for hearing the words of the LORD.”

Amos 8 opens with an image of fruitfulness but closes with a prophecy of famine. Here, the image of the basket is ironic: Seeing it, we are to fear. It is as though the basket is a harbinger of trouble. God makes that meaning clear in verse 2:

    He said, “What do you see, Amos?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the LORD said to me, “The end has come for My people Israel. I will spare them no longer.”

Isaiah 28 best illustrates the link between summer fruit and an impending end, that is, the time of God’s judgment for sin. The context is Isaiah’s prophecy that Ephraim (Israel) will fall (verse 3). Notice carefully verse 4:

    And the fading flower of its glorious beauty, Which is at the head of the fertile valley, Will be like the first-ripe fig prior to summer, Which one sees, And as soon as it is in his hand, He swallows it.

“First-ripe” (bikkoor, bikkoorah or bakkoorah) is a variant of the word firstfruits. A first-ripe fig is a delicacy begging for attention now. When one sees such a “fruit to maturity” (Luke 8:14), dripping white sweet through splitting skin, he should eat it promptly. It does not remain long in one’s hand because it is at its peak; it will never taste better. Thus, Ephraim’s fall will be at “noontime”; her enemies will pluck her at her zenith of power and glory and suddenly devour her.

English readers miss the Hebrew pun between the words “summer fruit” (kahyitz) and “end” (kehtz). But even modern-day Israelites understand that vine- or tree-ripened fruit, picked at its best, does not last long. It has come to the end of its course; the rotting process will soon begin. So, we feel a sense of urgency to act upon the fruit now—to eat it before it is too late. In fact, we use such idioms as, “The time is ripe for action” or “That person is ripe for a fall” to convey the idea that the end of the present circumstance is at hand—and deservedly so. Biblical examples of this metaphorical use of ripe occur in Joel 3:13 and Revelation 14:15, 18.

In Amos 8, God cites examples of the social injustice rife in Israel’s society (verses 4-6) and asserts that He is ready to bring the violent civilization to an end: “I will turn your festivals into mourning And all your songs into lamentation; And I will bring sackcloth on everyone’s loins And baldness on every head” (verse 10).

An End—The End

If that is not strong enough, what about God’s words through Ezekiel?

    An end! The end is coming on the four corners of the land.” (Ezekiel 7:2)

Not just any end! The end (kehtz)! To drive home the urgency of His message, God reiterates it in verses 6-7:

    An end is coming; the end has come! It has awakened against you; behold, it has come! Your doom has come to you, O inhabitant of the land. The time has come, the day is near–tumult rather than joyful shouting on the mountains.

God says, “Now I will shortly pour out My wrath on you” (verse 8; see verse 12). Israel, God says, is ripe for destruction (compare Lamentations 4:18).

The story Amos, Isaiah and Ezekiel tell—the story all the prophets tell—is the same. They speak of a rich, glorious people, blessed of God, caught up in everyday life, immersed in the around-and-the-about. Their self-absorption brings their downfall, for they forget God’s faithfulness to bless the obedient and to curse the disobedient. The greatest Prophet of all makes the same point in Matthew 24:37-39:

    For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be.

Noah’s pre-Flood contemporaries were ignorant of their spiritual wretchedness. Revelation 3 makes it plain that we can be in the same boat. Thinking we are “rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing” (verse 17), we are blind to our true spiritual state.

Putting God on the Back Burner

In Ezekiel 7:11 the prophet makes plain why the end he describes so vividly is near: “Violence has grown into a rod of wickedness

[lawlessness]

.” Because of rampant sin, “The time has come, the day has arrived” (verse 12). He pursues the same thought in chapter 12:

    Moreover, the word of the LORD came to me saying, “Son of man, eat your bread with trembling and drink your water with quivering and anxiety. 19 “Then say to the people of the land, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD…”They will eat their bread with anxiety and drink their water with horror, because their land will be stripped of its fullness on account of the violence of all who live in it”‘” (Ezekiel 12:17-19).

When will this time of trouble come? Years in the future? Read the answer in verses 22-28. The violent, hedonistic Israelites dismiss Ezekiel’s comments on two grounds:

    1. The gainsayers contend that “every vision fails” (verse 22). They call God a liar! To this claim, God asserts, “For I the LORD will speak, and whatever word I speak will be performed” (verse 25).

    2. The scoffers declare, even if the prophet’s words are true, “The vision that he sees is for many years from now, and he prophesies of times far off” (verse 27). To this God answers, “The days draw near;…None of My words will be delayed any longer” (verses 23, 28).

With this witness, do we dare put the things of God on a back burner between the Feast of Firstfruits and the Feast of Ingathering? Do we honestly think we can get away with playing spiritual catch-up in the fall, a week after Trumpets? Can we defer study and prayer until winter’s long nights and cold days keep us home? Not on our eternal life!

We dare not become distracted by the wealth of summer’s activities. Review these Old Testament witnesses against neglecting God—any time (Zephaniah 1:14-17; Joel 2:1; Habakkuk 2:3). For a New Testament witness, notice Matthew 24:32, where Christ echoes Ezekiel’s comments that, “in your days, O rebellious house, I will speak the word and perform it” (Ezekiel 12:25):

    Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.

His reference to the early fig is reminiscent of Isaiah 28:4.

Remembrance and Fear

So much happens during summertime that it is easy to place God second or third—or lower—in our lives. That is deadly. James, using an agricultural metaphor, exhorts that we counter this natural, downhill tendency by making a conscious decision to await patiently our soon-coming redemption:

    Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. 8 You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near (James 5:7-8).

Peter also recognizes the threat of spiritual entropy, the tendency to let the things of God slip away (1 Peter 4:7-8).

Peter’s solution—sobriety in the face of distractions—stands in stark contrast to the craziness and laziness of which Nat King Cole’s song speaks. We can express this spirit of serious expectation for God by dedicating our summer nights to prayer rather than to parties, and our summer days to looking after others’ needs rather than after our own pleasures. Peter describes how the truly God-fearing spend their summers—and their lives.

In his second epistle, Peter describes in more detail the attitude we should all steel ourselves to adopt in the face of summer’s activities. He begins chapter 3 by mentioning one of the reasons he wrote the letter: “I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder” (verse 1). Then, in verses 3 and 4, Peter foretells of

    mockers will come…saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.”

Mockers indeed! These were the children of the “rebellious house” of whom Ezekiel wrote, those who called the prophet into account for prophesying “of times far off” (Ezekiel 12:25, 27)? “They maintain this (They willfully forget, NKJ)” charges Peter in verse 5, the great Flood of Noah’s day (verse 6). He sets them straight in verse 7:

    But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

In verse 11, Peter asks rhetorically,

    Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness…?

The answer is clear from verse 13; We need to live by faith in the promises of God: “[W]e are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” Peter ends his letter as he began it, calling for our intransigent diligence in the faith. His conclusion should set the tone for the way we spend this coming summer:

    Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless…You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness. (verses 14, 17-18)

Peter takes us back to the lessons of the basket of summer fruit: Remember that God keeps His promises and bestows blessings on us. Fear lest the end come suddenly, and we have been too busy or too lazy to see the ripening fruit—too caught up in the around-and-about to prepare.

This summer, amid all the things we do—and before all the things we do—let us call to mind the two lessons of the basket of summer fruit. Make this a summer of thanksgiving, praising God for the above-all-we-think-or-ask cornucopia of blessings He continues to bestow on us. At the same time, always recognize that today’s world is ripe for judgment, ready for picking. The end is near. Refusing even the most appealing distractions, let us diligently prepare for the fall harvest so soon to begin.

Perspectives of the Cross

“I just don’t get this religious stuff? Why all this talk about crosses and death? Religion is about being good, not about blood sacrifices and executions.” This young man was arguing about the message he was hearing in his church. He just could not understand why there would be so much emphasis placed on an ancient method of execution. “Maybe the Romans killed people on crosses 1900 years ago, but what has that got to do with me today? What has that to do with my life?” was his question.

Throughout history, mankind has viewed the cross in a variety of ways. In ancient times the cross was a symbol of a terrible death. Crucifixion came as a result of committing a capitol crime within the Roman Empire. But this mode of execution was so despised that Roman citizens were exempt from crucifixion. Only those who were not full Romans could be killed in this fashion. As a result, the cross came to represent all that was evil about society, all that was corrupt about the Roman empire, all that was despised by mankind. When Jesus died on the cross, the prevailing views of the cross caused people to look at His death in a variety of ways. As today, there were many perspectives of the cross of Jesus.

When Jesus died, His enemies ridiculed Him. They taunted His power and His claims. “And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross'” (Matt. 27:39-40). This abuse came from people who had seen His miracles and heard His sermons. Yet, they rejected Jesus as the Christ and insisted He be crucified. When that awful sentence was carried out, they laughed at Him. In spite of all the evidence about His status, they ridiculed the Son of God.

People today still miss the significance of the cross. In failing to see who Jesus is, they fail to see the importance of His death. Even today people ridicule the idea of the cross. They misunderstand its place in God’s plan of salvation. Those who saw Jesus firsthand ridiculed Him; so will some people today ridicule Him and reject the crucified Savior.

The soldiers who executed Jesus seemed to be oblivious to His death. Perhaps that is because they had killed many condemned prisoners. So, after nailing this man to His cross, they gambled for His clothes and sat and watched for Him to die (Matt. 27:35-36). They knew how the process worked. They may have grown used to it all. Even as the only Son of God died before them, they seemingly could care less.

Installed Plugins

Even today people are indifferent to the cross and its meaning. The cross represents death in its most humiliating and horrible terms. No wonder people choose to ignore it rather than come face to face with it. Looking at the cross reminds all of us that we too will die. The cross reminds each of us that death (in some form) will overtake each of us. The soldiers were indifferent to the cross, perhaps as a way to stave off the feelings of mortality it brought. People today turn away from the specter of death, unwilling to look into the face of one dying, afraid to be reminded of their inevitable death.

But indifference plays another role as well. In calling on us to be His followers Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). Jesus forces us to take a stand. We may not like looking at the cross of Christ. We may not like contemplating death. The Lord actually challenges us to accept death by carrying our own means of execution, the cross. Jesus calls us to do as He did. We are asked to die to self, accept the price of following Him, even death. We are to give up our own passions and serve God instead. In fact, religion isn’t about just being good, it is about accepting an altered lifestyle that forces us to submit and die to self, just as Jesus died on the cross.

When Jesus warned the disciples of His coming death, they could not understand His meaning. In fact, Peter attempted to correct Him. “Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!'” (Matt. 16:22). For people of the ancient world, a death on the cross was the worst imaginable fate. It not only meant terrible pain and agony but it also meant utter humiliation. The cross was reserved for low-lifes, for the dregs of society. For Jesus to predict that this would happen to Him offended Peter. He was ashamed to think Lord would die in such a way.

This is what Paul had to overcome in every ancient community in which he preached. The Jews were offended that a Holy God could be brought so low as to die on the cross. Gentiles looked at the crucified God as foolishness. The cross represented shame and humiliation, not glory and power. But Paul said, “but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24). Jesus accepted the shame of this sort of death in order to save mankind. This was and is God’s only method of redeeming sinful man.

What does the cross have to do with being good? “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Jesus endured the shame of the cross in order to achieve the glory of God. We are to look to Him, walking in His steps (1 Pet. 2:21). This means (as Peter explains) accepting the humility of Jesus’ path. It means enduring shame, ridicule, and punishment in order to be what God wants us to be. Submission and suffering may look shameful and weak, but God asks us to walk in that path anyway.

God sees the cross, in all its pain and shame, as a way to demonstrate the two sides of His character. “To demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). God hates sin (1 John 1:5) and yet loves sinners (1 John 4:8-10).

In the cross, God found a solution to His need to be just. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). God’s nature demands that He condemn every sin and every sinner. God had to find a way to save mankind that would satisfy His justice. Yet, He also wanted to demonstrate His love for us. In the cross His love was shown. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Rom. 5:8-9). There is God’s view of the cross. In the sacrifice of His Son, God was able to show his love while also seeing justice done. In the death of the sinless Christ, sinful man can now be forgiven. The cross stands at the center of God’s work to redeem man. What is the cross about? It is about the triumph of good over evil. It is about the victory of life over death. It is about the love of God being demonstrated. It is about the wrath of God being appeased.

For Jesus, the cross was a terrible experience. “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'” (Matt. 27:46). He was sinless, but at His death the sins of all mankind were heaped upon Him. God, who cannot be where sin is (1 John 1:5-6), turned His face away from His only Son. For the only time in His existence, Jesus experienced separation from His Father. It is no wonder Jesus had asked God “let this cup pass from me” (Matt. 26:39). No wonder the task of submitting to God’s will was difficult for the Lord. He was being asked to give up His relationship to God, so that others could have a relationship with the Father.

Here again we see God’s great love at work. He was willing to sacrifice His obedient Son in order to redeem disobedient man. He was willing to accept the death of a sinless man in order to forgive sinful man. For Jesus the cross meant a difficult death separated from God. The shame was hard, the indifference painful, the ridicule cut Him, but the real cost to Jesus was “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

What does the cross have to do with us today? It means our only hope for salvation. It is our only means of access into the Father’s presence. It means our only source of power to change world. It means our only way of being right with God and with other people. That is why we are still asked, “Take up your cross and follow Me.” We are still challenged by God to accept the way of submission and humility. We are still asked to walk in the path of Jesus, even as it leads to our own experience with a cross.

This is why we preach about the need to die to self and live for God. This is why the experience of baptism is so crucial to salvation. It is in the act of submission at baptism that we experience the power of the cross. It is in baptism that we die to self so that we can live for God. It is in baptism that we gain the full effect of the life and death of Jesus Christ. “Or do you not know that who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we to might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4). When we are baptized, we die to self and arise to walk in newness of life. As the cross stands at the center of God’s effort to redeem man, baptism is at the center of the cross. In that act of submission, you die to sin and are born again to a new life, free from the penalty of sin, free from the fear of death. Having accepted death in baptism, death loses its grip on your life. What does the cross mean today? It means Life and Death.