An Easter Message: Jesus as the First Fruits
These notes from Paul Tothill are based a version of his message preached at Gateway Church on 21/4/19.
We live in a time of increasing transition in our post-modern society. Culture is changing quickly. The influence of the church on society is diminishing. We are very much living in not only a post-modern world, but a post Christian world. The values and social norms we once held to are no longer in place in the way they once were.
The internal condition of society is becoming very apparent in the cultural and social trends that emerge in an increasingly developed electronic age. There has never been a greater time in this nation for the church to reveal the life that Jesus has given us- an authenticity that is the incarnation of the life of Christ in our life. An authenticity that is attractional to the world that is crying out for self-worth, identity, genuine love and purpose in their life. Crying out in ways we have not recognised that seeks an authentic expression of Jesus Christ from the church. That authentic expression of both God’s grace and truth in our lives.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
So, this morning is a celebration of God’s appointed times. We celebrate Resurrection Sunday for many reasons.
Historically the seven feasts of God laid out in the Old Testament were recognised as God’s sovereign times, His appointed times. Each of the feasts points to Christ and the time-line of God into this world as He makes all things new and ultimately brings the Kingdom into its full expression.
We can approach this season through the stations of the Cross, or through the Spring feasts, the Passover, the feast of unleavened bread, the feast of first fruits. Both approaches are valuable. However, I want to show you through Paul’s letter to the Colossians how these three Spring feasts are deeply relevant to us today and how by revelation to Paul the mystery of Christ was revealed.
THE THREE SPRING FEASTS
The feast of Passover that Jesus shared with His disciples ran for one day, 14-15 Nisan according to the Jewish Calendar. Then the feast of Unleavened Bread ran for seven days from 15 to 22 Nisan. Inserted within the feast of the Unleavened Bread is the Feast of the First Fruits, yom habikkurim. These were known as the Spring feasts. Indeed, early spring was significant to a farming or agricultural community and the new life that springs forward and the hope of a new full harvest and well-being.
So, we have this God-proclaimed order of feasts and order of events for Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. Jesus was indeed crucified as the Passover lamb, during Paesch or Passover. He was buried during the feast of unleavened bread, and was raised on the third day during the Feast of First Fruits of the spring harvest, then sending the Ruach Hakkodesh, the Holy Spirit, upon His ascension and glorification in heaven on the Day of Pentecost or Shavout.
Jesus rose on the third day, just as He said He would. Upon His resurrection, there were many witnesses. His resurrection is an historical fact. For 40 days Jesus remained in His resurrection body teaching His disciples about the Kingdom of heaven. This is a significant clue to what we should be pursuing as a life-learning priority. Israel was 40 years in the wilderness to humble them. Jesus was 40 days in the wilderness full of the Spirit only to leave empowered by the Holy Spirit. Then upon His resurrection 40 days with the apostles teaching them all about the Kingdom after He breathed on them to open their minds.
Then 10 days after His ascension into glory on the Day of Pentecost, the summer feast Jesus sent the promised Holy Spirit to establish a Spirit people in Christ’s resurrection power.
The idea of first fruits needs to be mentioned briefly. In essence the first part of the crop arose in spring, and would produce an initial yield of about 2.5% of the later full crop of the summer harvest. In the Old Testament, they were to take their first fruits of the crop and wave it before the Lord. It is also known as a “wave offering” that is given to the priest. We have renamed this First Fruits Feast together with the other two feasts as Easter after Ishtar, the pagan goddess of fertility. Hence we give Easter eggs as a pagan “wave offering.” So, to be authentic, we celebrate new life by thanks giving. Not just today, but every day. As the first fruit Jesus guaranteed by that convocation or appointed time that the whole batch, the rest of the crop would be like Him, or of His same quality. Hence Jesus was sown as the first fruit so that many of sons of God may arise in His righteousness and live by the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit.
The church as a Spirit people is founded upon these four feasts that have already been fulfilled in Christ Jesus. They are historically complete as the sovereign work of God. The sending of the Holy Spirit and His birthing of the church on the day of Pentecost confirms as a witness that Jesus has ascended into glory to the right hand of the Father, a place of all authority and power over not just the Kingdom of heaven, but the entire cosmos, with the finished work of the Cross shaping all the present realities of every realm of spiritual authority and power. The loving act of Jesus for the world was to liberate it through His death and burial and give it new life in His resurrection. Paul writes to the Colossians bringing forward this powerful message and revelation. The mystery of God now revealed in Jesus Christ.
Let’s see how Paul reveals this mystery through the Gospel and how it coincides with each of the feasts that were shadows and types that have now been fulfilled.
For he is the complete fullness of deity living in human form. And our own completeness is now found in him. We are completely filled with God as Christ’s fullness overflows within us. He is the head of every kingdom and authority in the universe!
Through union with him we have experienced circumcision of the heart. All the guilt and power of sin has been cut away and is now extinct because of what Christ, the Anointed One, has accomplished for us.
This is very powerful. It has happened and this reality is a present reality. So, when we say we believe in Jesus, meaning His death, His burial and His resurrection, the three feasts that foreshadowed the Gospel in history as it was in all eternity, we see how this fits together. The first thing we are believing as true, as people of faith is what I have just said. Let’s see how Paul develops this further. Verse 12
For we’ve been buried with him into his death. Our “baptism into death” also means we were raised with him when we believed in God’s resurrection power, the power that raised Jesus from death’s realm. This realm of death describes our former state, for we were held in sin’s grasp. But now, we’ve been resurrected out of that “realm of death” never to return, for we are forever alive and forgiven of all our sins!
He cancelled out every legal violation we had on our record and the old arrest warrant that stood to indict us. He erased it all- our sins, our stained soul- he deleted it all and they cannot be retrieved!
CIRCUMCISION OF THE HEART AND A NEW NATURE
Let me explain what Paul is referring to as our “stained soul”. As Paul writes elsewhere, we are a new creation in Christ Jesus. The old nature has gone, it has been completely cut away from us as the circumcision of the heart. Once a male has been circumcised, no one runs around looking for the foreskin that has been removed. Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day. Eight is the number of new beginnings. The flesh representing the world was cut away. Now what was circumcision of the genital is a sign as new beginnings of a new heart. Therefore, we must conclude that Paul here is clearly referring to us now having a new nature of Christ, and we no longer carry our old sin nature. It has metaphorically been given the chop. That is witnessed by our faith and identifying completely as one with Jesus in his death including His burial.
The generational nature of Adam, our fallen sinful nature has been removed, cut away, dead and buried. We are now free to live by a new nature, and because living from this new nature is based in love, in our freedom we choose to live in a new way from our new nature by faith. This is what it means to live by faith and to be in the faith. This provides the foundation for Paul’s next verse:
Everything we once were in Adam has been placed on the Cross and nailed permanently there as a public display of cancellation.
So, Paul is merging the feasts of Passover, unleavened bread and the first fruits together. Paul develops this even more powerfully.
Then Jesus made a public spectacle of all the powers and principalities of darkness, stripping away from them every weapon and all their spiritual authority and power to accused us. And by the power of the Cross, Jesus led them around as prisoners in a procession of triumph. He was not their prisoner; they were his.
DEATH AND ALL THE POWERS OF DARKNESS DEFEATED FOR THOSE WHO BELIEVE
Death was the final dominion of Satan. When Jesus went to the cross He was not just atoning for our sin. He was destroying every single work of the enemy, of the Kingdom of darkness. This is what Psalm 22 tells us. This is remarkably accurate biblical prophecy that was perfectly fulfilled by Jesus in every single minute detail. I say that to remind you that the Gospel details bear witness to this prophecy.
I am surrounded by many violent foes; mighty forces of evil are swirling around me who want to break me to bits and destroy me. Curses pour from their mouths! They’re like ravenous, roaring lions tearing at their prey. Now I am completely exhausted; I’m spent. Every joint of my body has been pulled apart. My courage has vanished and my inward parts have melted away. I’m so thirsty and parched-dry as a bone. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. And now you’ve left me in the dust for dead. They have pierced my hands and my feet. Like a pack of wild dogs they tear at me, swirling around me with their hatred. They gather around me like lions to pin my hands and feet. All my bones stick out. Look at how they gloat over me and stare!
Verse 21 says Jesus cried out to the Father, save me from all the power of the enemy, from this roaring lion raging against me and the power of his dark horde.
These were the Bulls of Bashan, the principalities and powers, forces of evil and wickedness, knowing that once Jesus was dead, death would reign supreme over God. However, we know that death could not hold Him. He went to the realm of death in His death. And in the realm of the spirit of death and hades Jesus won the last victory in impressive style. Satan had overplayed his hand but fulfilled God’s sovereign purposes by sending Jesus to the Cross.
Therefore, Jesus has defeated and reigned victorious over all the work of the enemy and all the power of the enemy. Now if you have been joined with Him in death, you have also been joined with Him in burial and also joined with Him in resurrection. Your life in every stage is joined with and identifies perfectly with Jesus in all of the three feasts that “Easter” celebrates. We live in this historical-spiritual past-present reality by faith. Hence we are saved by believing continuously in the death (burial) and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In doing so we have been brought into not only new life but a new way of living.
Chapter 2 Verse 20
For you were included in the death of Christ and have died with him to the religious system and the powers of this world. Don’t retreat back to being bullied by standards and opinions of religion.
CHAPTER 3 - THE RESURRECTION AND FIRST FRUITS REALITY
Christ’s resurrection is your resurrection too. This is why we are able to yearn for all that is above, for that is where Christ sits enthroned at the place of all power, honour, and authority. Yes, feast on all the treasures of the heavenly realm and fill your thoughts with heavenly realities (or eternal truths) and not with the distractions of the natural realm. Your crucifixion with Christ has severed the tie to this life, and now, your true life is hidden away in God in Christ. And as Christ himself is seen for who he really is, who you really are will also be revealed, for you are now one with him in his glory!
This is what it means to believe into Jesus Christ. This reality and fulfilment of these three spring feasts leading up to, at and after the cross, leading to resurrection of Jesus and His glorification shifts our way of thinking and our way of living.
CHAPTER 3:10- NEW CREATION LIFE
For you have acquired new creation life which is continually being renewed like the likeness of the One who created you; giving you the full revelation of God. In this new creation life, nationality makes no difference, or your ethnicity, education, or economic status- they matter nothing. For it is Christ that means everything as he lives in every one of us!
What a remarkable truth. Even now let us re-ignite our faith! Let’s renew the pattern of our thinking from old religious thinking and worldly principles to Christ and the mind of Christ and the power of the finished work of the Cross working in you even now in resurrection power!
You are always and dearly love by God! So, robe yourself with the virtues of God, since you have been divinely chosen to be holy. Be merciful as you endeavour to understand others, and be compassionate, showing kindness toward all. Be gentle and humble, un-offendable in your patience with others. Tolerate the weaknesses of those in the family of faith, forgiving one another in the same way you have been graciously forgiven by Jesus Christ. If you find fault with someone, release this same gift of forgiveness to them. For love is supreme and must flow through each of these virtues. Love becomes the mark of true maturity.
Let your heart be always guided by the Peace of the Anointed One, who called you to peace as part of his one body. And always be thankful. Let the word of Christ live in your richly, flooding you with all wisdom. Apply the Scriptures as you teach and instruct one another with the Psalms, and with festive praises, and with prophetic songs given to you by the Spirit, so sing to God with all your hearts!
Let every activity of your lives and every word that comes from your lips be drenched with the beauty of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One. And bring your constant praise to God the Father because of what Christ has done for you!
THE WISDOM OF GOD IS OUR LIFE REVEALING THE POWER OF THE CROSS AND THE AUTHENTICITY OF JESUS TO THE WORLD AND PRINCIPALITY AND POWERS
Authentic believers become the authentic incarnation of the new life of Christ through the empowering grace of the Holy Spirit who leads us and walks along side of us every step of the way of our development and our mission into the world.
Authentic faith, incarnational faith is attractive to the world, and conflicts with the spirit of this age and the spirit of religion. We are to show ourselves in this new life first to one another and also into the world. As Jesus was the light, so Jesus draws us to a parallel, we also are the light into the darkness. His light shining through us into the darkness.
We are told not to put our light- our new life in Christ, under a bushel, hidden away from the world. Instead we are to be a city on a hill, God’s light into the darkness. Hence we too are to be the grace and truth of God through our lives towards others. This vocation is our very commission. Every single one of us. This commission destroys all the power of the enemy when we walk in the virtues Paul speaks of and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let us reconnect to our baptism into Christ, knowing this Easter and beyond we are joined with Jesus in every single feast of Passover, unleavened bread and first fruits. Let us now live by a heart filled with excitement and overflowing joy, full of hope and faith and we allow the Cross, the death and burial of Christ to work completely in our life; that like Paul we may known and experience this reality of Christ's death including His burial so as to attain to the resurrected life and the resurrection.
We live from the finished work of Jesus by faith into the world, knowing that Jesus has completely overcome the spirit of this world and completely delivered us and destroyed all the works of the enemy. We are born again into a present finished reality so that we can make the Gospel known through our lives. Our lives become the platform for God’s proclamations and demonstrations about the Kingdom that is at hand.
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