Easter: So what?

Given at Hills Church
21 April 2019


Shalom! Thank you to Pastor Nicholas and all my mates here at Hills Church. If you are watching this via Live Stream, I particularly welcome you as well. Today is what some call Easter Sunday, others use the term “Resurrection Day”. And as you have heard from the reading and from the singing portion of the service today, and you may already have known this, Easter is a significant day where Christians worldwide sing because Jesus rose from the dead. You might also know there are other events that happen in the world including Easter Egg hunts and Cadbury marketing gone mad. Is that what we should take away from this holiday and from this event? 

I want to share with you the background to the date in both Older and Newer Testaments, the lessons the Apostle Paul gives us to learn, and some final comments from me about lessons I don’t want us to miss. All the while I say, “Jesus rose from the dead. So what?”

Firstfruits in the Older Testament 
In the Jewish religion, today is actually a day found in the record of Scripture. Let me read it to you from Leviticus chapter 23. 

On the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day, you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work…And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest, and he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, so that you may be accepted. On the day after the Sabbath, the priest shall wave it. And on the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a male lamb a year old without blemish as a burnt offering to the LORD. And the grain offering with it shall be two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, a food offering to the LORD with a pleasing aroma.”

The day is titled “First Fruits” in Judaism. And it’s the day after the Sabbath during Passover. Firstfruits, the 3rdday of the Passover feast, has its place in salvation history.  We will look at that from our main reading of the day, 1 Corinthians, chapter 15 in a few moments. Thank you to each reader who made this much more interesting than simply reading it by myself. 
Because God created the world and all that it contains, the inference is that He owns it all. Thus, the Bible instructs believers to give God the best of the sacrifices of both land and animal. Other first fruits are to be given to him, not only crops,[1]but also olive oil[2], the finest new wine,[3]honey,[4]sheep’s wool (as above), and fruit.[5] 
In the biblical world, the first sheaf of the crop was to be brought to God[6]as a guarantee that the rest of the harvest was coming.  The first fruit offering was a down payment of what would be forthcoming later.
In that regard, consider this. The people of Israel are titled “first fruits” in Jeremiah 2 verse 3. And God identifies with my people so much that anyone who touches us is held guilty. In a way, our being ‘firstfruit’ shouts loudly to me that we are not the only fruit. We are the first. Of many. Israel was to be part of God’s family, not his entire family. 

First Fruits in the Newer Testament
This last point may help you hear what Paul and James say in the Newer Testament. Believers in Jesus are also called the “first fruits of all he created" (James 1.18). Paul uses the term to reference the initial spiritual converts in an area (Romans 16.5). As "first fruits" believers are a testimony to God's power in salvation. They are his firstborn, redeemed by Messiah’s blood. In having the "first fruits of the Spirit, " the work of the Holy Spirit in effecting the present redemption of their souls, believers are given the guarantee that they will have the future final and complete redemption of their bodies at the second coming of Jesus (Romans 8.23).

Yet, there is something even more important than our role in this salvation history. In our reading today, in 1 Corinthians 15:20, 23, Paul teaches that Messiah Yeshua in his bodily resurrection is the "first fruits of those who have fallen asleep." As such, he is the guarantee, the down payment, that all those who belong to him will be raised from the dead at his second coming. So it is in God's redemption harvest. First, Christ the "first fruits" has triumphed in his resurrection; then, the rest of his "crop," the redeemed, will be raised triumphantly at his second coming (1 Corinthians 15.23).

What is Paul saying?
With that in mind, let’s back up and see a few more points from Paul’s letter he wrote to the believers in Corinth. Turn with me to the text, please. 

The Resurrection of Yeshua (1-11). The Gospel’s kingpin 
Paul describes The Resurrection of Yeshua, the Messiah in the first 11 verses. He calls it the basis of the Gospel itself. This, which he preached to the people of Corinth, is what he preached, and what you believed, he says. Messiah died for our sins, as the Older Testament predicted, and Messiah was buried and rose from the dead as other Older Testament verses predicted. 

Mind you, two things have to be present for proof or validation of the story to be true. The two things are 1) the tomb has to be empty and 2) Yeshua has to appear to others. Both of those realities are present in the Bible. 

What happens If there is no empty tomb but the appearances took place? Then the bones of Yeshua would have shown up and the whole resurrection thing would be proven a hoax. That would mean that each of these alleged appearances was a mere illusion. The disciples, all the 500 Jewish people mentioned in our text, were mesmerized by a cult leader who convinced them that he had risen when he was really dead. 

On the other hand, what if he didn’t appear to anyone but the tomb was empty? Then my guess is that he would have been buried somewhere else or his bones removed and burned or such. But this is challenged by the appearances. 500 Jews saw him alive, and many ate with him. 
The proof: empty tomb and appearances. So that dust has settled.

BUT not everyone believes that story!

Consequences of not believing (12-19)
You are right, not everyone believes that. The other night I was in my book shop in Bondi in Sydney and three Jewish men came in to have a discussion. Not one of them believed in the miracle of the Red Sea parting but had issues with my being an evangelist among Jewish people. They didn’t believe in a personal God, but my representing Him was out of bounds for these three. 
Pinchas Lapide was a rabbi and Jewish theologian who wrote in his book[7] in 2002 -- his  conclusion was that there is sufficient evidence to convince him that the resurrection of Jesus actually took place, however there are many prophecies concerning the Messiah that have yet to be fulfilled and so therefore he cannot conclude that Jesus is The Messiah. Wow… so close!

Some of you know that the Sadduccees who were in political control during Paul’s public ministry, didn’t believe in the resurrection. They believed that our lives are all there is, here, now, no more. Paul addresses their ‘faith’ by saying, “Some say there is no resurrection.” Also Paul is answering the rabbinic objection that continues to this day, that Jesus cannot be the Messiah because the General Resurrection didn’t happen at that time. (Ezek 37.12)

What they miss is that little, and dare I say weird, verse in Matthew’s gospel. He writes, “And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.” (27.51-53)

Older Testament saints (whose names we don’t know) were there at the beginning of the resurrection of Jesus story. The General Resurrection began already!

That said, let me ask-- what are the consequences of this resurrection story still not being true? Paul says
1) The apostles' preaching and the Corinthians' faith is vain (verse 14), 
2) the apostles are liars, that is, false witnesses (15-16), 
3) the Corinthians are still in their sins (17), 
4) those who have died in faith in Yeshua have perished (18), and 
5) those who hope in Jesus are the most miserable and to be pitied among all men (19). 
But God’s answer to our longing is the resurrection of Messiah! 

Confidence in the Resurrection (20-34)
Why? Jesus is the First Fruits!  (20) That’s God’s guarantee; his down-payment on what is going to happen later, for Corinthians and Ferntree Gully residents and even those who barrack for the Sydney Swans! You want a guarantee that’s greater than a Brownlow Medal? It’s eternal life in Yeshua! How do I know that’s forthcoming? Jesus rose from the dead. That elevates my confidence to sky-high level.

Everything we see is not all there is. We are only looking at human levels and human experiences, with Rome breathing down our neck, but there is eternity. You can have confidence in the God of Eternity!
But, in what body? 

Confused about the resurrection of humans (35-58)
Paul answers the question of “With what body will we rise?” by saying it’s going to be a different body, to be sure. And aren’t you glad? Our bodies are not the bodies of sports stars. We are not featured on the television advertising Fitness First products or in the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Each of us fancy changing a bit of this, or tucking some of that, and aren’t you glad we are going to get new bodies to enter heaven? Our natural body is weak and weakening, dishonourable, and corruptible. But the new one will be incorruptible, and full of glory and power. What a day of rejoicing that will be, amen? We will be changed. At one moment. In a flash; in a heartbeat. 
Flesh and blood cannot obtain eternal life. (50) Is that confusing? Didn’t Jesus rise from the dead and wasn’t he flesh and blood? How could he be the first fruits? Look again at two Bible verses.

Luke 24: From the Easter day story with Cleopas, which I understand Linda addressed last week. Jesus invites the disciples, fearful, worried, full of anxiety, to trust him. He appears to them in Jerusalem and tells them “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (38-39)
Note: flesh and bones, not flesh and blood! He is not an apparition; He is God in the flesh!

The other verse is Isaiah 63. (not 53)
            “I poured out their lifeblood on the earth…For He said, “Surely, they are My people, Sons who will not deal falsely” so He became their Saviour. In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; In His love and in His mercy He redeemed them, and He lifted them and carried them all the days of old. (6-9)

Whoever this one is in Isaiah, he poured out his lifeblood on the earth, for us! That is, he had none left, and he was only flesh and bones. 

Conquest assured (57-58)
We have victory because Jesus rose. 
We will be finally victorious; our bodies will be different. The resurrection has begun; it’s not a one-moment thing; it happens one person at a time. Those in Jerusalem which Matthew recorded, and all the rest of us in due course.
What then should I be doing until He returns?

Calling others: Resurrection invitation
Jesus said this in his last words recorded in the Gospel of Matthew: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (28.19-20)

Or as Paul might have said, If He has been given all authority, let’s go tell others! The call of God on the Jewish people to be first fruits, and the call of God on each of us here at Hills Church, is to know Him and to make him known among people in Knox, in the CBD, through our social media networks, in all our travels… come on, If the resurrection is true, let’s tell others!

Today is First Fruits. We are not the only fruit. We are the beginning of what God wants to do in Melbourne. We are observers of the reality of the resurrection of Yeshua; let’s be about our Father’s business and proclaim Him Lord of all to Jews, to Greeks, to Indians and Kiwis, to all the world. Amen?

Bob Mendelsohn is the leader of Jews for Jesus in Australia. He writes blogs regularly
Bob also has over 57,000 photos on Flickr that are searchable if you want to use some in public domain. 

He first delivered this message on Easter Sunday 2019 in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

For further study, this Greek word for First Fruits (aparche) is used 8 times in the NT:

Romans 8:23: "also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we"
Romans 11:16: "For if the first fruit be holy, the lump is also"
Romans 16:5: "Epaenetus, who is the first fruits of Achaia unto Christ."
1 Corinthians 15:20: "from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept."
1 Corinthians 15:23: "his own order: Christ the first fruits; afterward they that are Christ's”
1 Corinthians 16:15: "of Stephanas, that it is the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves"
James 1:18: "that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures."
Revelation 14:4: "These were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits unto God”

[1]Exodus 23.16, 19, the wheat harvest Ex. 34.22, Lev 2.14, 23.20 
[2]Numbers 18.12, Deuteronomy 18.4  
[3]Numbers 18.12, Deuteronomy 18.4   
[4]2 Chronicles 31.5  
[5]Nehemiah 10.35  
[6]Leviticus 23.10,11,17
[7]The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective


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