Month 1:16, Week 3:1 (Rishon/Pesach), Year:Day 5941:16 AM|
Gregorian Calendar: Wednesday 12 April 2017
Yom haBikkurim 2017
II. The Resurrection Day of Firstfruits
Continued from Part 2
Chag sameach Yom haBikkurim kol beit Yisra'el, Mishpachah Lev-Tsiyon and all the congregations of the New Covenant Assemblies of Yahweh internationally. Welcome to the second day of Chag haMatzah (Feast of Unleavaned Bread) which is also Yom haBikkurim, the Day of Firstfruits, on which we celebrate the Resurrection of our Master Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). Today, then, is the equivalent of what the pagan-compromised churches call 'Easter' which they will be observing in four days' time on the Roman Day of the Sun or 'Sunday'.
The Key Doctrine and Event of the Faith
Brethren and sisters, today we are looking not only at the key doctrine of the Christian/Messianic faith but the key event in history barring the creation event itself. All that we stand for rests or falls with the resurrection of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) being an actual historical happening or not. If it never happened, then Christianity is an utter waste of time. "By His power Elohim (God) raised [Yah'shua/Jesus] from the dead, and He will raise us also," said the apostle Paul (1 Cor.6:14, NIV). Therefore if Yahweh did not raise the Son of Elohim (God) from the dead, neither will He raise us. Or as Paul conveyed this in his own words:
"If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Messiah has been raised. And if Messiah has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your emunah (faith). More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about Elohim (God), for we have testified about Elohim (God) that He raised Messiah from the dead. But He did not raise Him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Messiah has not been raised either. And if Messiah has not been raised, your emunah (faith) is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Messiah are lost. If only for this life we have tiqveh (hope) in Messiah, we are to be pitied more than all men" (1 Cor.15:13-19, NIV).
These are sobering words indeed and what is all the more shocking is the number of clergymen and women in the tradional churches who are denying the physical resurrection, claiming it was just symbolic. What they mean is that they do not believe in it. They do not believe it ever happened and they do not believe in the testimony of the apostles. They do not, if the truth be known, believe the Bible is reliable. They do not believe it is historical. They are unbelievers, without hope and lost. They are to be greatly pitied and are doing much spiritual damage to those they are supposed to be serving.
Job's Testimony and Hope
And yet the resurrection hope is to be found throughout the Tanakh (Old Testament). Arguably the oldest book in the Tanakh, the Book of Job, which many believe recounts a time before the flood (a position I hold), makes no bones about the resurrection, and in graphic terms too. That venerable patriarch, who suffered so much in order to put the fallen malakim (angels) to shame and so vindicate the Name of Yahweh, declared in a song of triumph:
"For I know that my Redeemer lives
and at last He will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been destroyed,
then from my flesh I shall see Elohim (God)" (Job 19:25-26, RSV).
He does not leave any room for ambiguity - he knows that he will stand in his physical body again after he has died, not merely as a disembodied spirit, and will see Elohim (God) his Redeemer. Were that the only testimony in ancient times it would be enough but Yahweh always gives two or three witnesses in order to establish an emet (truth). Two other great nevi'im (prophets) lent their testimony to the resurrection, beginning with Daniel who declared:
"Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting chayim (life), others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever" (Dan.12:2-3, NIV).
Yahweh also spoke through the navi (prophet) Isaiah and testified:
The Valley of Dry Bones Prophecy
"...your dead will live;
their bodies will rise.
You who dwell in the dust,
wake up and shout with simcha (for joy).
Your dew is like the dew of the morning;
the earth will give birth to her dead" (Isa.26:19, NIV).
Not only are the individual dead raised but also the whole nation of Israel, a scripture incidentally often misapplied to the modern Israeli Republic but which has, in fact, to do only with the restoration of Messianic Israel in the Second Exodus:
When Bodies Arise From the Ground
"The hand of Yahweh was upon me, and He brought me out by the Ruach (Spirit) of Yahweh and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, 'Son of man, can these bones live?'
"I said, 'O Yahweh-Elohim, You alone know.'
"Then He said to me, 'Prophesy to these bones and say to them, 'Dry bones, hear the word of Yahweh! This is what Yahweh-Elohim says to these bones: I will make ruach (breath) enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put ruach (breath) in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am Yahweh.''
"So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no ruach (breath) in them.
"Then He said to me, 'Prophesy to the ruach (breath); prophesy, son of man, and say to it, 'This is what Yahweh-Elohim says: Come from the four winds, O ruach (breath), and breathe into these slain, that they may live.'' So I prophesied as He commanded me, and ruach (breath) entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet - a vast army.
"Then He said to me: 'Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up and our tiqveh (hope) is gone; we are cut off.' Therefore prophesy and say to them: 'This is what Yahweh-Elohim says: O My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am Yahweh, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put My Ruach (Spirit) in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I, Yahweh, have spoken, and I have done it, declares Yahweh'" (Ezek.37:1-14, NIV).
And although this is very a parabolic description of the end-time restoration of Messianic Israel as a nation, it is simultaneously a visual description of the resurrection process in action. This is likely how it will appear when it is done. The earth will heave and bodies will be reconstructed and arise out of the ground. The doctrine of resurrection was well and truly established in pre-Messianic days and by the time Yah'shua (Jesus) was born it was the premier doctrine of the sect of the Pharisees  unlike that of the aristocratic Sadducee sect which denied it entirely.
Believers Exist Because of the Resurrection
For Yah'shua's (Jesus') first talmidim (disciples) the resurrection of their Master was not merely a single detatched article of emunah (faith) - it was woven into the very structure of Christian/Messianic life and thought. Thus were you able to travel back in time as a reporter and ask those first century talmidim (disciples) the question, 'Why did Christianity arise?', they would have unhesitatingly answer: 'We exist because of Yah'shua's (Jesus') resurrection'. There is no other explanation.
Even the Sceptics Admit Something Strange Happened
Historians like the late Professor Geza Vermes of Dead Sea Scrolls fame (whom I personally knew in Oxford) who have studied the resurrection narratives and don't necessarily believe in the resurrection, nonetheless believe that something very strange happened and assert that the tomb really must have been empty and that the talmidim (disciples) could not have been responsible for stealing the body . Coming from a secular Jew, that is admitting a lot. That is why N.T.Wright, the former Anglican Bishop of Durham, and, in my opinion, the leading Pauline historian of our time, is such a passionate believer in the resurrection, making him stand out amongst the Church of England hierarchy which is cluttered with liberals and unbelievers who deny the resurrection.
A Totally Historically Verifiable Faith
Christianity is, above all, an historical faith. It is both spiritual and earthy. It relies on no myths to prop it up. The resurrection was a physical event which hundreds of people witnessed. And because it was historical - because it happened in time and space - and because there were so many witnesses, the evidence is amenable to close scrutinty. So many lawmen and judges have examined the evidence as police detectives would and have concluded the story has to be true and have converted. One of the most compelling investigations I have read is that of Sir Norman Anderson, Professor of Oriental Laws and Director of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in the University if London, who wrote:
Resurrection Empowers Faith
"...it is vital to remember that the Christian faith did not emerge from some popular legend (largely based, like most of those mystery religions which preceded, accompanied or followed the advent of Christ, on the phenomena of nature), nor yet from any process or metaphysical speculation. It owed its origin to a life that was really lived and a death that was really died by a fully historical person about whom we have documentary evidence recorded while many of those who knew him intimately were still alive. Incredible though it may seem, these people unite in their testimony not only about his life, teaching and death, but in their assertion that he was raised again from the dead - and their testimony is supported by a wealth of circumstantial evidence" .
One thing is also very clear. Had the resurrection been a myth or had it been faked, Christianity would never have taken off so spectacularly, nor would so many have sacrificed so much over the centuries - you don't willingly die for a mere fable. Therefore it had to be real, tangible and empowering for the new religion to have any hope of becoming so widespread and society-transforming.
Michael Ramsey's Witness
Michael Ramsey, former Archbishop of Canterbury (1961-74), said this:
Resurrection and Incarnation are Closely Tied Together
"Without the Resurrection the Christian movement would have petered out in ignominy, and there would be no Christianity. It is not too much to say that without the Resurrection the phenomenon of Christianity in the apostolic age and since is scientifically unaccountable. It is also true to say that without the Resurrection, Christianity would not be itself, as the distinctiveness of Christianity is not its adherence to a teacher who lived long ago, but its belief that 'Jesus is Lord' ('Yah'shua is Master') for every generation through the centuries.
"The Resurrection is something that 'happened' a few days after the death of Jesus (Yah'shua). The apostles became convinced that Jesus (Yah'shua) was alive, and that God (Elohim) had raised Him to life. It is not historically scientific to say only that the apostles came to realise the divine meaning of the Crucifixion for them, or that the person of Jesus (Yah'shua) now became contagious to them. Something happened so as to vindicate for them the meaning of the Cross, and to make the person of Jesus (Yah'shua) contagious to them. The evidence for a stupendous happening which the New Testament writers mention, was the survival of the Church (Messianic Community), the appearance of Jesus (Yah'shua) in a visible and audible impact on the apostles, and the discovery that the tomb was empty.
"The several elements in this threefold evidence no doubt had different degrees of evidential weight for different people, and they have had such varying degrees ever since. As to significance: if it were the existential encounter of Jesus (Yah'shua) which alone mattered, then the empty tomb would have little or no significance. If, however, Jesus (Yah'shua) has a cosmic meaning with cosmic effects, then the empty tomb has great significance, akin to the significance of the Incarnation itself" .
Resurrection and Incarnation are very much bound up together. The 'Incarnation' was the one-and-only entry by the Ruach (Spirit) of Elohim (God) into the human body of Yah'shua (Jesus) of Nazareth at conception where it remained until His crucifixion and death on the cross whence it left His body to return to Heaven. It is the same with all humans. We begin as pre-existent spirits, enter or incarnate into human bodies in the wombs of our mothers, are born, live and die whereafter our spirits depart our dead bodies to return to Elohim (God) in the spirit world. What we theologically call the 'Incarnation' was different from ordinary human incarnation, though, because Yah'shua (Jesus) was a unique incarnation - the Creator of the Universe entered a human body and became a mortal man. Why is this important? For many reasons but one of them is that it was only as mortal man that He could die and atone for our sins and make us right with Him through our emunah (faith, trusting).
What the Resurrection Proves
What does Yah'shua's (Jesus') resurrection prove? It proves that there is life beyond the grave for others too - and this is the motif of the whole of the 15th chapter of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians which I invite you to read carefully. Yah'shua (Jesus) is risen, and because He is risen, He will come back to "prepare a place" for His followers (Jn.14:2-3). Thence we will "see His face" (Rev.22:4) and at last "be conformed to [His] likeness" (Rom.8:29):
Accomplishing the Purpose of Creation
"Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Deliverer (Saviour) from there, the Master Yah'shua the Messiah (Lord Jesus Christ), who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly [mortal] bodies so that they will be like His glorious [resurrected] body" (Phil.3:20-21, NIV).
Not only will our nature and character be images of His own but our resurrected physical bodies will be of like glory. Then we shall share with Him a life which is "imperishable" and "immortal" (1 Cor.15:52-54) and in a sphere in which Yahweh will be "all in all" (1 Cor.15:28). Then the purpose for the Creation, which I discussed in the Pesach (Passover) sermon, will have been accomplished, namely that Elohim (God) will be living in us. The resurrection, then, is the apex and completion of the imaging process that began when we were born again and acquired His nature as sons and daughters of adoption. Then our physical bodies, resurrected and glorified, will reflect outwardly what we are inwardly by His imaging.
What is the More Believable?
Philip Yancey the resurrection moment as "a morning beyond belief". And it is absolutely incredible because it represents the conquest of death itself. Because it was so fantastic, so real, the first believers staked everything on it. Of course, those who disbelieve the resurrection of Yah'shua (Jesus) are forced to conclude that either the talmidim (disciples) were "as gullible rubes with a weakness for ghost stories, or a shrewd conspirators who conceived a resurrection plot as a way to jump-start their new religion" . It takes more faith, in my opinion, to believe in either of those two scenarios than it does to believe what the Bible plainly states - that the talmidim (disciples) actually witnessed the Master restored to physical life in a glorified and immortal body. They didn't dream or imagine it - it happened in real time and in physical space. Yancey notes:
Arramged in Such a Way as to Be Undeniable
"The Gospels do not present the resurrection of Jesus (Yah'shua) in the manner of apologetics, with arguments arranged to prove each main point, but rather as a shocking intrusion that no one was expecting, least of all Jesus' (Yah'shua's) timorous disciples" .
Heaven arranged the resurrection in such a way that none of those first talmidim (disciples) could ever forget what he or she had seen and to record their testimonies in such a way that anyone acquainted with detective work would be convinced that this was not made up:
A Rational Faith
"In the six-week interlude between Resurrection and Ascension, Jesus (Yah'shua), if one may use such language, 'broke his own rules' about faith. He made his identity so obvious that no disciple could ever deny him again (and none did). In a word, Jesus (Yah'shua) overwhelmed the witness' faith: anyone who saw the resurrected Jesus (Yah'shua) lost the freedom of choice to believe or disbelieve. Jesus (Yah'shua) was now irrefutable. Even Jesus' (Yah'shua's) brother James, always a holdout, capitulated after one of the appearances - enough so that he became a leader of the church (assembly) in Jerusalem and, according to Josephus, died as one of the early Christian martyrs" .
For myself, I, as a scientist trained to be rational, don't need further proof. Even if He had not appeared to me personally, even if I had had no supernatural experiences, I would have been compelled to believe by the overwhelming evidence. The evidence for the resurrection is so compelling that there really is no other way to explain the "whiplash change in men known for their cowardice and instability" . So if I take the first Messianic Yom haBikkurim - the Day of the Resurrection - as the starting point, the one incontrovertible fact about how Elohim (God) treats those whom He loves, then human history becomes the contradiction and the first Messianic Yom haBikkurim becomes a preview of the ultimate reality...which you will recall is the meaning of the Divine Name, 'Yahweh'. Tiqveh (hope) then flows like lava beneath the crust of daily life.
This, them, is the ground of our emunah (faith) - not a wild, blind faith, but a faith rooted in incontrovertible evidence and backed up supernaturally by spiritual transformation within. Our tiqveh (hope) is pretty sound, don't you think? Praise Yahweh for the witness of the first Messianic Day of Firstfruits. Amen.
 For a thorough study of the historical evolution of the doctrine of resurrection, see N.T.Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (SPCK, London: 2003)
 N.T.Wright, The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is (IVP Academic, Downers Grove, IL: 1999), p.129
 Sir Norman Anderson, Jesus Christ: the Witness of History (Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England: 1985), pp.7-8
 Michael Ramsey, Through the Year With Michael Ramsey, ed. Margaret Duggan (Hodder & Stoughton, London: 1975), p.71
 Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan: 1995), pp.211-12
 Ibid., p.213
 Ibid., p.216
Continued in Part 4