#findingtheway: Details of Christ’s resurrection were preanounced

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of Christianity.  Dislodge it, and the whole building collapses in a sorry heap.  The Bible itself acknowledges this and traces out the implications if Jesus did not rise from the dead: it would make Christianity a cruel sham, its preachers liars, its promise of forgiveness an illusion, and it would shatter the basis we have for any hope beyond our current existence (1 Corinthians 15:14-19).

Perhaps the clearest prediction of the resurrection came from the lips of Jesus Himself.  He repeatedly taught His disciples that He would die and rise after three days:

From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. (Matthew 16:21)

Now while they were staying in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, “and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up.” And they were exceedingly sorrowful. (Matthew 17:22-23)

Now Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples aside on the road and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, “and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again.” (Matthew 20:17-19)

Further, His prediction was no secret; even His enemies who crucified Him remembered it after He died.  This was what prompted them to take steps to stop a resurrection being faked by His disciples:

On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ “Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him [away], and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go your way, make [it] as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard. (Matthew 27:62-66)

Jesus’ bold prediction could go only one of two ways.  Three days after His death He would either be confirmed as the Christ, or exposed as a fraud. After all, someone who announces a prophecy in the Lord’s name that does not come to pass is not from God (Deuteronomy 18:22).  The highly specific and short timeframe Jesus gave meant that it was the people who saw Him alive on earth – who ate and talked with Him, and who saw Him die – who would be the first jury to decide whether He really was who He claimed to be.

So what happened three days after He died?  His tomb was discovered empty (John 20:1-2) with the grave clothes left inside (John 20:4-5), eyewitnesses claimed to have seen Him alive (1 Corinthians 15:3-8); and a couple of months later, the church emerged – consisting of people who believed the testimony of those who said they saw the risen Lord Jesus. To those who come to this conclusion today based on the testimony of the word of God, the Lord Jesus made a promise:

Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed [are] those who have not seen and [yet] have believed.” (John 20:29)

The Bible presents Jesus as the Christ of God, and promises all who take God at His word on this matter salvation – the benefit the Lord Jesus’ sin-bearing death provides:

… “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:8-9)

The stakes could not be higher – if it didn’t happen then there’s no basis for hope beyond this life. If it did, then it means faith in Jesus as Lord (an no-one else, for He is the only Saviour on offer Acts 4:12) is the most urgent and important issue to settle while you’re still alive.

#findingtheway: Details of Christ’s burial were preannounced

Biblical prophecy is sometimes described as “history written in advance”, because when reading passages that have already been fulfilled the details read, not so much like the vague predictions of a mystic, but like a news report after the event – with highly specific details.  One such example is Zechariah 9:1-8 which described, in advance, a conquest of Phoenicia that corresponds with what secular history books record of Alexander the Great’s campaign in that area. Tyre’s famous navy succumbed to Alexander’s persistent attack on them (Zechariah 9:4).  Gaza’s king (he was named “Batis” according to Roman historian Quintus Curtius Rufus) was brutally killed at Alexander’s command (Zechariah 9:5).  The Phoenicians’ loss of their distinctive identity is considered to be a consequence of Alexander’s victory over them and his policy of resettling Greek colonists in conquered cities to spread Greek culture (Zechariah 9:6).  Notably Jerusalem, which was nearby and had previously been targeted by many oppressors, was not attacked by Alexander (Zechariah 9:8).

When it comes to the burial of the Christ, a specific detail was given in Isaiah 53,  This is one of the most stunning of all the prophetic passages on the death of Christ.  Written around 700 years before the event, it describes a pitiful figure; despised and rejected by his peers, who died as a stand-in for transgressors, yet who went through it all without resisting.  The chapter also gives God’s perspective on what happened: inspite of human culpability for this death, it was ultimately orchestrated by Jehovah.  Jehovah describes the person who died as “My righteous Servant”, and through knowing Him, “many” will be made righteous.  The most remarkable feature of the chapter, however, is that it’s written as a gut-wrenching confession coming from the lips of the people who did the despising and rejecting:  Israel.  This is incredibly exciting: not only was the Bible spot on when it anticipated Israel’s rejection of her Messiah, it looks forward to a day – that still lies ahead – when Israel will receive Him, and come into the sin-bearing benefits of His death!

But tucked into this chapter is a detail about the burial of the Christ:

And they made His grave with the wicked–But with the rich at His death (Isaiah 53:9)

While Jesus was still hanging on the cross, the Jewish religious leaders’ thoughts were already turning toward carrying on their show of outward respectability:  if they did not deal that evening with the corpses of the three crucified, then they would be ceremonially unclean the next day, compromising their ability to keep the Passover feast.  Their solution was to speed up the death of the three so they could be “taken away” (John 19:31).  An ignominious joint burial along with two other rejects of society was the sum-total of their regard for Jesus.

That is not what happened however.  Enter Joseph of Arimathea: a member of the Jewish council (the very group who led the calls for the crucifixion), but who was evidently out of step with his peers.  He begged Pilate for Jesus’ body so he could give it a respectful burial,  Upon receiving permission he supplied a fresh grave for Jesus’ body, and bought fine linen to wrap it in (Matthew 27:57-60).  Enter also Nicodemus: a leading teacher in Israel (John 3:10), who up until that point had been a secret follower of Jesus. He lavishly supplied expensive ointments and spices (John 19:39).  Together these men of wealth honoured their Lord in His death by giving Him the finest burial money could buy (John 19:40).  It matters not whether these men were acting deliberately or unwittingly to fulfil Isaiah 53:9.  Either way, 700 years earlier God said this is how the sin-bearer would be buried, and that is exactly how it happened!

#findingtheway: Details of Christ’s death were preannounced

If Christianity was cunningly devised by human intellect it’s doubtful the script would have started off by arranging the death of its hero.  If you’ve followed earlier posts in this blog, the next point won’t be a surprise: the Jewish scriptures predicted that their Messiah would be dealt a mortal blow.  Consider the following statements from their Prophets:

“…they will look on Me [i.e. Jehovah] whom they pierced” (Zechariah 12:10)

“Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, Against the Man who is My Companion,” Says the LORD of hosts. “Strike the Shepherd, And the sheep will be scattered (Zechariah 13:7)

“And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself (Daniel 9:26)

In addition to plain predictions like these, the scriptures record a number of pictures of Christ’s death that in retrospect make sense of otherwise obscure historical events.  In Genesis 22 God commanded Abraham to sacrifice to Him his only son Isaac, whom he deeply loved.  In the end Abraham was not asked to follow through.  The episode’s primary purpose was to probe Abraham’s faith: did he trust God to fulfil the promises He made to Abraham – which relied on Isaac staying alive and having a family. Read Hebrews 11:17-19 to get the answer.  But the idea of a father willing to sacrifice his son is exactly what happened when Jesus died on the cross.  Deliberately putting a loved one in a position of suffering is unthinkable to our minds.  Yet that is how far God went in His love toward us.  He sent Jesus Christ, His only Son whom He loved, into this world – to the shame and pain of death on a cross – to meet our deepest need (John 3:16).

In addition to predictions and pictures, the scriptures also contain particulars of His death – tiny details about how He would die.  John draws attention to four scriptures that found a fulfilment at the cross (John 19:24, 28, 31-36, 37).  Ponder one of them: John’s record of the purely functional act undertaken by the Roman soldiers, to speed up the death of the three people crucified that day:

Therefore, because it was the Preparation [Day], that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and [that] they might be taken away. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, “Not [one] of His bones shall be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.” (John 19:31-37).

The reference to unbroken bones appears at least twice in the scriptures, first in Exodus 12:46 which in context gives instructions to the Jews on how to treat their Passover lamb.  This reference implies that the death of Jesus Christ fulfilled the meaning of the Passover ceremony and provided redemption from sin.  An unbroken bone reference also appears in Psalm 34:20 which in context describes God’s care of the “righteous”.  This reference hints at the tender care of God toward His righteous Son even at the moment He was suffering crucifixion, at the moment men were treating Him as unrighteous by awarding Him a criminal’s death.

There is a great irony in Jesus’ death – His own people turned against Him because they did not want to accept Him as their Christ (John 10:33).  Yet in crucifying Him in blind rage they fulfilled their own scriptures.  Instead of crushing His claim to be Christ, they confirmed it (Acts 13:27-29)!  The Roman soldiers could hardly be accused of having an agenda to fulfil the Jews’ scriptures – they were simply doing their job, unaware that their actions were prophetically significant.  Taken in isolation, one fulfilled prediction might be regarded as coincidence. However when many prophecies are fulfilled the odds of them all being coincidental are mind-boggling.

What do you think? Have we shown you enough evidence yet in this blog series to convince you that Jesus is the Christ?

#findingtheway: Details of Christ’s life were preannounced

When asked outright if He was “the Coming One” (Luke 7:20), Jesus gave a better answer than a simple “yes”, or “no”.  Instead, He listed the kind of things He was doing for people – blind  people were receiving their sight back, lame people were walking, leprous people were being cleansed, deaf people were hearing, dead people were being raised back to life (Luke 7:21-22).

His list was significant for two reasons. Firstly, because it mirrored the words of the Jewish prophet, Isaiah, who about 700 years earlier looked forward to a time when God would come to visit His people – and do exactly the kind of things Jesus was right then performing (Isaiah 35:4-6).  He was effectively saying to His inquirers – don’t take my word on whether I am your Messiah or not, look at what I am doing and ask yourself – does it correspond with what your prophets told you to expect? The conclusion He intended them to draw is obvious. He was pointing them to the word of God to confirm His identity.

Secondly, the list of actions that Jesus drew attention to were not ordinary works. They were genuinely miraculous – far beyond the reach of mere mortals.  The reason His miracles are important is that they provided those who saw them self-evident confirmation that He was from God, and therefore worthy of their faith: “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; “but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father [is] in Me, and I in Him.” (John 10:37-38)

Because of the uncanny link between what the Jewish scriptures announced their Christ would do, and what Jesus actually did – some people attempt to sidestep the implications by claiming a conspiracy theory.  They suggest that the Jewish scriptures were constructed after the event to give credibility to Christianity. To a Jew, the idea that the scriptures they had guarded for well over 1000 years by the time of Jesus’ life, and that contain a record of their national history – the idea that they were fabricated during the life of Jesus would not simply be ludicrous, it would be offensive at the deepest possible level.  It would be to tamper with their entire national identity.  But the fact is, the complete Jewish scriptures had been available in a Greek translation called the Septuagint for over a century before the birth of Jesus Christ. Even the most hard-nosed conspiracy theorist is therefore looking down the barrel of more than a century between the completion of the translation of the Jewish scriptures into Greek, and the life of Jesus. This doesn’t help them much however, because to look ahead with pinpoint accuracy over a century instead of a millennium is still impossible for humans. And that brings us back to the point of the Bible’s prophecies: their precise fulfilment self authenticates the Bible as a book from God: “when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that [is] the thing which the LORD has not spoken…(Deuteronomy 18:22).

#findingtheway: Details of Christ’s birth were preannounced

The Jewish nation is unique among all others in that they were specially chosen by God.  This privilege also made them the custodians of God’s word:

What advantage then has the Jew…Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God. (Romans 3:1-2)

God made promises to the fathers of the Jewish nation, beginning with Abraham to whom He said: “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 22:18)

The Jewish people learned through God’s word to look for Abraham’s descendant: the “seed”, who would come to them bringing promised blessing.  They sometimes referred to this person as the Messiah (Hebrew word), or the Christ (Greek word) (John 1:41). In addition to being Abraham’s descendant, God announced the Christ would be the son of David – meaning He would be born into the Jewish royal family (Isaiah 9:6-7).

But I want to turn your focus to the remarkable prediction of the town in which Christ would be born. When Jesus was born (into the Jewish royal line, note!), King Herod took the news of a potential rival so seriously that he made plans to execute Him while still an infant. He called for the Jewish religious leaders, to find out the name of the town in which they expected their Christ to be born. Without objecting to his request as strange, they replied: “In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, [in] the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.” (Matthew 2:5-6)

They were quoting Micah’s approximately 700 year old prophecy (Micah 5:2). They believed it, and Herod believed it too – as shown by his later slaughter of all infants under 2 years old in that town, in the hope of eliminating a rival king.

Because Jesus was born in Bethlehem He fulfils one of the most basic criteria (acknowledged by the Jews themselves) required of the Christ (Matthew 2:1).  But there is more – Luke gives extra detail, showing that the town in which Jesus was born was not manipulated by Mary His mother:  the reason she and Joseph were in Bethlehem at the time of His birth was that Augustus Caesar, the Roman emperor, had issued a decree requiring all people to go to their birth town for a census.  Unless this had happened Jesus would have been born in Galilee (Luke 2:4).  God brings His word to pass with style!

#findingtheway: The reasonableness of faith

Faith is not a leap in the dark.  At its simplest, it involves placing your confidence in someone else.  We place our faith in drivers we don’t know every time we use a zebra crossing –  relying on them to uphold the rules of the road and stay stopped until we cross over.  We place our faith in our employers every time we turn up to work – it’s an expression of confidence in them to pay us at the end of the month for the work we have done up until that point.  In a Biblical context, faith means taking God at His word.  Many people wrongly think that this involves intellectual suicide, but nothing could be further from the truth.

The God of the Bible who calls us to place our confidence in Him has given us reasonable grounds for doing so in His book.  One feature of the Bible that demonstrates its Author is worthy of our trust is its many fulfilled prophecies.  Humans’ inability to tell the future is well documented; and no surprise, for this, Isaiah tells us, is something God has reserved for Himself:

“Present your case,” says the LORD…declare to us things to come. Show the things that are to come hereafter, That we may know that you [are] gods…(Isaiah 41:21-23)

This week our blog will focus on some of the prophecies fulfilled by the person at the centre of the Bible: Jesus Christ.  Each day we plan to look at a plain prediction made about His birth, His life, His death, His burial and then His resurrection.

If you’re in the area, we have our doors open from 6pm every night where you can view “Finding the Way”, an exhibition introducing the Christian faith.  At 8pm each evening this week we have a short presentation of Christianity’s good news message.

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