Sermon Presented by Rabbi Loren Jacobs
Passover, the holiday of Matzah (Unleavened Bread), and the holiday of First Fruits all take place during the same week. In ancient times, when the Temple still stood in Jerusalem, all Jewish men were required to ascend to Jerusalem, and celebrate Passover, and eat Matzah for a week. The Passover lambs were killed on the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan. Passover and Matzah began later that evening, beginning the 15th of Nisan, and then another holiday -- Yom HaBik-kur-eem -- the Day of the First Fruits, began on the 16th day of Nisan.
On this day Israel's High Priest took the first sheaves of the barley harvest, and waved them in the air. This ceremony was like a prayer: by waving the first fruits of the very beginning of the new year's harvest, the High Priest was praying: "Lord God of Israel, thank You for the beginning of this year's harvest. We offer to You the first fruits of this year's harvest. Lord, accept the first fruits, the beginning and best of the harvest. And O Lord, accept us, Your people, and please bring in the rest of the harvest." If God would accept the offering of the first fruits, it was a guarantee that He would bless us with the remainder of the harvest during the year.
Yom HaBik-kur-eem -- the Day of the First Fruits, was also a prophecy that the Messiah, who died on Passover, would come back to life! Death would not be able to hold the Sinless One. God would raise Him from the dead, and He would be offered as the "first fruits of those who are asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:20). That means that Messiah is the beginning of the harvest of humanity, the First to be raised from the dead. He is the first and the beginning and the best of the sons and daughters of God, the prototype for all those who join themselves to Him. Because God found Him acceptable, raising Him from the dead as the first fruits, it is a guarantee that those who believe in Him, the rest of the harvest of humanity, will likewise be raised and be given eternal life.
It seems likely that Messiah Yeshua (Christ Jesus) was raised from the dead on the holiday of First Fruits. It was "on the third day" that Messiah Yeshua rose from the dead. The Passover lambs were killed on the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan. Passover and Matzah began later that evening, beginning the 15th of Nisan, and You HaBik-kur-eem -- the Day of the First Fruits, began on the 16th day of Nisan. It is likely that the very same day the High Priest was offering the first fruits of the barley harvest, God was raising the Messiah from the dead as the First Fruits of redeemed humanity! The Feast of First Fruits is the true Biblical Resurrection day!
This morning, I want to focus on Messiah's resurrection. If you've been asking yourself whether Christianity or Messianic Judaism is something you should take seriously, it really all comes down to one question: Did Yeshua actually rise from the dead? Is Messiah alive, or is He dead? If Yeshua is alive, you would be a fool not to believe in Him. And if He is dead, you'd be a fool to believe in Him. There's no in-between. It's all or nothing.
You may have other questions about the New Testament, Messianic Judaism, Christianity, but they can wait. First make up your mind whether Yeshua is dead or alive. If you conclude that He's dead, you won't need to bother with the other questions, and you can forget about Christianity and Messianic Judaism altogether. But if you conclude that Yeshua is alive, you'll want to be a Christian or a Messianic Jew, no matter what your other questions might be.
The reality of the situation is this: if the resurrection didn't happen, if Yeshua is dead and His body has decayed and He is not alive now, then the New Testament is a lie -- its claims are not true for you or me or for anyone else. If Yeshua never came back to life, you can have all the feelings and opinions you want, but they won't change the fact that Yeshua is dead and that your faith is worthless.
You see, Christians and Messianic Jews believe that the great and glorious Son of God, through whom the universe was made, became a Man. He was born into a wonderful and very special Jewish family that was part of Israel's royal line. We believe that when the Messiah became an adult, this Carpenter-turned-Rabbi was tortured and executed and buried, but that His dead body was raised to life again by God's almighty power. We believe that certain women spoke with Him and even touched Him after His resurrection, and that the risen Messiah spoke with His disciples, and that He broke bread with them and even ate broiled fish with them.
We believe that today, at this very moment, Yeshua is physically present in Heaven in His resurrected body, and that He will return some day soon to Earth, physically and visibly, to resurrect and transform the bodies of all who have believed in Him, and loved His appearing. This is what Christians and Messianic Jews believe, and they all depend on whether or not Yeshua's resurrection actually happened.
As Rabbi Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15: "And if Messiah has not been raised, then our preaching is vain [empty, worthless, useless, meanigless], your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Messiah, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Messiah has been raised; and if Messiah has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Messiah have perished. If we have hoped in Messiah in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied." (1 Corinthians 15:14-20).
Let's consider several important points here. The first is that if Messiah has not been raised, then the foundation of Messianic Judaism and Christianity is destroyed. If Messiah has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain -- empty, meaningless, useless. If Messiah has not been physically resurrected, then the New Testament is worthless.
Also, the Emissaries (the Apostles) would be false witnesses about God, for they "testified against God that He raised Messiah from the dead." And if the Emissaries are false witnesses, then the entire New Testament is a spider's web of lies. It's deceitful and deadly, and must not be believed.
If Yeshua has not been raised, then the One we call the Messiah, the Founder of Messianic Judaism, was either a liar or a lunatic. After all, Yeshua claimed to be equal with God. The claimed to be the Messiah and the Savior of mankind, and our only hope of redemption. He predicted that He would die for the sins of His people and then be raised again by the power of God. Obviously, if Yeshua didn't overcome death, He was wrong and wasn't Emmanuel -- God with us, at all. In that case, this man who claimed to be God and Messiah was either a deceiver or someone who wasn't in his right mind. Either way, His message is not worth listening to.
However, if Yeshua has been raised, if He's alive right now, then the situation is completely reversed: the foundations of Messianic Judaism are firm and immovable. If Yeshua has been raised, then He was and is exactly who He claimed to be -- the almighty Son of God, the Messiah of Israel and the only Savior of the world!
What's more, His hand-picked Emissaries who testified as eyewitnesses to His resurrection are accurate and inspired, and we should believe every word they wrote. If Yeshua is alive, then the New Testament is rock solid and reliable. If His resurrection is real, it proves that Yeshua is Messiah, and the divine Son of God; it confirms that the Bible is true, and thus firmly establishes the foundations of Messianic Jewish and Christian belief.
If Messiah has not been raised, our faith is based on a deception. It is vain, empty, worthless, useless; but if He has been raised, our faith rests on a foundation that cannot be destroyed. It's all or nothing, and it all depends on the resurrection.
Rabbi Paul then makes another point in verse 17: If Messiah has not been raised "you are still in your sins." The New Testament teaches that only by means of Yeshua's death and resurrection is genuine forgiveness and final atonement possible. If Yeshua was not raised from the dead, then God did not accept Yeshua's death as a sufficient sacrifice to atone for the sins of the world. If God didn't raise Yeshua, then the death of that Carpenter-turned-Rabbi was just another case of a man getting himself killed.
But if God did raise Yeshua, then He accepted Yeshua's death as the perfect sacrifice and final payment for sin. Everyone who belongs to Yeshua receives full and final atonement, is reconciled to God, from whom the whole world is estranged, and is restored to life and joy and blessing. But if Yeshua has not been raised, His death did not atone for anyone, and we are still in our sins -- unatoned for, alienated from God, headed toward death and Hell and eternal separation from God. But if Yeshua is alive, then believing in Him, welcoming Him, joining yourself to Him by placing your faith in Him, is the only way to experience God's forgiveness and receive atonement. It's all or nothing and it all depends on the resurrection.
Rabbi Paul makes a related point in verses 18-19: If Messiah has not been raised, then Messianic Jews and Christians have no future. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Messiah have perished. If we have hoped in Messiah in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
We believe that our bodies will be raised and that we will live forever only because Messiah arose again, overcame death, and makes it possible for us to live forever. But if Messiah didn't rise, then we won't rise. Once we die, we will remain dead. If that's so, argues Paul, Messianic Jews and Christians are the most self-deceived, pathetic fools around. We make sacrifices for the wrong things. We are wasting our time, wasting our resources, wasting our energy on a false belief system.
On the other hand, if Yeshua has been raised up, then those who have gone to their graves trusting in Him will also be raised to everlasting life. Death is not the end of the story. Life has conquered death, and the followers of Yeshua can look forward to a glorious future. They will enjoy eternal life and unending joy and pleasures and blessings that last forever!
So, we have either a bleak future or a blessed one. Either we are the most pitiful people on Earth, or we are rich beyond measure. It's all or nothing, and it all depends on the resurrection.
Paul makes another point about the significance of the resurrection in verse 32, where he says that without the resurrection, life has no final meaning or purpose, except to maximize our pleasure and minimize our pain: If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."
Why would anyone stand up for his beliefs, even to the point of being thrown to the lions, if death is the end? If there's nothing beyond death, then it's stupid to be a hero. Be a hedonist instead. Grab all the gusto while you can. Have as much fun as you can before you die. "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die."
If death is the end, then there's no ultimate meaning to life. If death is the end, then there is no Day of Judgment; God won't punish you for your sins, or reward you for your righteousness. If death is all there is, you might as well live by seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. If the dead are not raised, then the saints are stupid and the those who devote their lives to having fun are smart.
But if Messiah has been raised, then death is not the end, and each of us must stand before the Great White Throne, the Judgment Seat of the Son of God. Selfishness will be punished, and self-sacrifice will be rewarded. Hedonism will turn out to be stupid, and heroism will turn out to be smart. Rejecting Messiah will prove to be Hell, and accepting Messiah will turn out to be Heaven.
So when you think about the final meaning and purpose of your own life, you have two basic choices: you should either live it up and do whatever you like, or you should devote your life to following Yeshua, loving God and loving others as He commands, even if it means making great sacrifices.
I think you can see why we can't afford to be fuzzy in our thinking when it comes to Yeshua's resurrection, because so much depends on it. The foundations of Messianic Judaism and true Christian teaching, finding genuine atonement and peace with God, our future destiny and the ultimate meaning of life all depend on whether Yeshua was raised from death. If He's dead, the only choice is to forget Him. If He's alive, the only sensible choice is to follow Him.
Once we clearly understand what's at stake in this issue of the resurrection, the next thing to do is find out whether it actually happened. What evidence do we have? Are there any solid reasons for thinking that Yeshua is alive? Is there any more reason to believe that Yeshua lives than to believe that Elvis lives? The answer to these question is that the inspired Word of God encourages us to look at the data, to consider the evidence, to weigh the arguments.
One line of argument is that the resurrection fulfills the words of the Tenach (Old Testament), the Hebrew Scriptures. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 Paul writes, "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures".
Some prophecies about the Messiah's death and resurrection are found in: Zechariah 12:10: They will look on Me, whom they have pierced. Psalm 22: Messiah dies a death that can only be by crucifixion, and yet later in the Psalm He is once again alive! Psalm 118:22 describes that the leaders of Israel will reject a stone -- the Messiah, but God overrules them and makes Him the cornerstone -- the foundation for everything that God is building in time and eternity.
Perhaps the clearest is found in Isaiah 53. Verses 8-9 predict that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of His people. His grave was assigned with wicked men, and He was with a rich man in His death. Messiah is clearly dead. But then in verses 11-12 it says, "If He would render Himself as an offering for sin, He will see His seed, He will lengthen His days, and the good pleasure of Adonai (The Lord) will succeed in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied. ... Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors." Messiah is once again clearly alive!
Still, if prophecy had been the only proof, it's unlikely that any of the early Messianic Jews would have come to believe in the resurrection. As Yochanan -- John puts it, "For as yet they did not understand the Scripture that Yeshua must rise again from the dead" (John 20:9).
John tells us that what first convinced him of Yeshua's resurrection was His empty tomb. It wasn't the Scriptures, it wasn't the testimony of Mary, who had seen the resurrected Messiah earlier that morning.
This emissary who was loved by Yeshua went into Yeshua's tomb, and saw with his own eyes that Yeshua's body was gone. He saw the linen wrappings and the face-cloth that had been wrapped around Yeshua's head, but Yeshua Himself was nowhere to be found. When John saw that, and he finally believed (John 20:3-8).
Some of Yeshua's enemies spread a rumor that the reason for the empty tomb was that Yeshua's disciples had come and stolen the body and then had tried to fool people into believing that Yeshua was alive. But how likely could that be? The disciples were shattered by Yeshua's death. They were in no mood to pull a practical joke and try to fool everyone into thinking He was alive. Besides, a squad of heavily armed soldiers was guarding Yeshua's tomb. How could a few heartbroken fishermen sneak past those professional troops?
And what did the disciples have to gain by stealing the body and preaching Yeshua's resurrection? This wasn't some elaborate swindle that made them all rich. All they got out of it was persecution, prison, and death. All of the Emissaries were either martyred or exiled, so it's downright silly to explain the empty tomb by saying the disciples stole the body and then lied about the resurrection. They had no earthly gain, and if they lied about Yeshua's resurrection, they would have been advocating a false Messiah, and could look forward to God's punishment on the Day of Judgment.
And, if His body was still around somewhere in the vicinity of Jerusalem, when the disciples started claiming that Yeshua was alive, the Roman and Jewish government officials, and the Jewish religious authorities, who were hostile to Yeshua and His disciples, would have produced the body to show that Yeshua was still dead. But Yeshua's body had completely disappeared, and they were unable to produce His body. The only explanation that makes any sense of the empty tomb is that Yeshua actually came back to life!
But even the empty tomb didn't really convince most of the disciples. It was enough to convince John, but most of the others were convinced only by an actual encounter with the risen Messiah. In 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 Paul mentions these encounters as a primary reason for believing the resurrection: Yeshua appeared to Peter, then to the Twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the Emissaries, and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.
According to the New Testament record, which is based on eyewitness testimony, the risen Yeshua appeared on quite a number of occasions. And these weren't just mysterious visions or apparitions. No, Yeshua actually spoke with His followers, and He broke bread with them, and He ate fish with them. He even allowed Thomas, the most skeptical of the disciples, to touch His scars. When Yeshua appeared to some women, they fell before Him and actually held on to His feet and worshiped Him. On some occasions, He even appeared to large groups of people, some 500 at one time, who all saw and heard Him at the same time. There was no way they could all be dreaming or hallucinating together.
Now, if you were part of a jury and you had the testimony of hundreds of reliable, level-headed people who all said they saw a certain person -- and those people were even willing to die rather than change their story -- wouldn't you believe them? Sir Edward Clark, a British lawyer, wrote: "As a lawyer, I have made a prolonged study of the evidences for the events of the Messiah's resurrection. To me the evidence is conclusive, and over and over again in the High Court I have secured the verdict on evidence not nearly so compelling."
Dr. Simon Greenleaf was one of the greatest legal minds that we have had in this country. The rise of the Harvard Law School to its eminent position is partly due to his efforts. Dr Greenleaf was an expert on evidences in law. While professor of law at Harvard, Greenleaf wrote a book in which he examined the legal value of the Emissaries' testimony to the resurrection of Messiah. He concluded that the resurrection of Yeshua was one of the best supported events in history, according to the laws of legal evidence administered in our courts of justice (From More Than a Carpenter, p. 97).
Rabbi Paul mentions a final kind of evidence that is also very important: the change that Yeshua makes in people's lives. In 1 Corinthians 15:9-10 Paul points to himself as a prime example: I am the least of the Emissaries, who am not fit to be called an Emissary, because I persecuted God's Messianic Community. But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and His grace to me did not prove vain. Yeshua didn't just appear to Paul; He transformed him. Paul was once a self-righteous Jewish leader who helped to imprison and kill the truly righteous Jews, the Messianic Jews, but the living Messiah transformed Paul into one of the greatest spiritual forces the world has ever seen!
And Paul wasn't the only one Yeshua changed. Simon Peter had denied Yeshua, but after the resurrection, he became a courageous leader and teacher. Yeshua's half-brother, James, along with the rest of His brothers, had once thought that their brother Yeshua was out of His mind. But when Yeshua appeared to His brothers after His resurrection, they believed in Him, and they became completely different people. Yeshua makes a difference whenever people put their faith in Him.
That's been true for nearly 2,000 years, and it's still true today. Physically Messiah has remained in Heaven since His ascension, but by the written testimony of His Emissaries and by the power of His Spirit, Yeshua continues to convince people that He is real, and He turns them around and changes their lives. Millions of people from every nation and racial background, young and old, rich and poor, illiterates and geniuses have been transformed by the Messiah. They have a dynamic, living, vital relationship with Him that transforms them into happier, better people.
You see, when God reveals the Messiah to us, that He is alive, and real, and the Savior and Redeemer and Transformer of mankind, and we believe in Him, and welcome Him, and we receive Him, and follow Him, then God and Messiah send their Holy Spirit to dwell in us. He gives us new life, God's life. He enables us to become partakers of the divine nature, and escape the corruption that is in the world.
The Holy Spirit enables us to start breaking away from those sinful things that have enslaved us. We begin to recognize that they really are wrong, and displeasing to God. We begin to cry out to God for help to break free from our sinful habits, and the Lord responds, and He fills us with His Holy Spirit, and we gain new power, new strength, and a new measure of victory!
When you put the evidence together -- the predictions from the Tenach, the empty tomb, the hundreds of calm, rational people who insisted they saw the risen Messiah and even talked with Him and touched Him, and the millions throughout history whose lives have been transformed by Yeshua -- it only makes sense to believe His resurrection. It only makes sense to say, along with rabbi Paul, Messiah has been raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). It also makes good sense to become a Messianic Jew, or a Christian -- to put your faith in Yeshua, the risen Lord and the eternal Son of God.
If you are not a true Christian or Messianic Jew, why not become one today? How? My advice to you is seek, and you will find. Knock on the doors of Heaven, and they will be opened. Ask the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to reveal the truth to you. Ask Him to show you whether or not Yeshua is alive now, and the eternal Son of God and the Savior of mankind. Read the New Testament. Investigate the Messianic prophecies. Talk to those who have encountered the Risen Messiah. You will know. Once you're convinced of that He is risen, you must give yourself to Him completely. It's all or it nothing.
And if you are a true Christian or Messiah Jew, rejoice that Messiah has been raised, and because He has, you will be raised too, and any sacrifices you make will be nothing compared to resurrection glory. And out of your joy, out of your love, out of your gratitude, won't you serve this great God who has saved you, Messiah who has raised you? Won't you dedicate yourself to bring the Message of the Resurrected Messiah to those who don't know Him yet?
Eternal and Almighty God, we praise You for conquering sin and death, and for giving us hope. Thank You for making the good news of Messiah's resurrection so clear in Your Word. Now, by Your Spirit, touch the hearts of those who have heard or read this message. Fill their minds with the certainty that You are real, the Living God, and that Messiah Yeshua is alive, a living Savior, and fill their hearts with Your love and joy.
This article is only slightly modified from the original article, "All or Nothing", by Rev. David Feddes. All copyrights are retained by the Back to God Hour.