The resurrection is, next to the virgin birth and perhaps the crucifixion, the most well known event associated with Yeshua of Nazareth. However, the end result of this great familiarity is a form of contempt, what I call “the ho-hum factor” or perhaps “the so-what factor,” or even “been there, done that.”
In this posting, on a day when the Western Church celebrates the resurrection, and especially in view of the Haftarah read yesterday in our synagogues concerning the Valley of Dry Bones (Yechezk’el/Ezekiel 36:37 – 37:14), I want to refresh our enthusiasm for the resurrection of Yeshua of Nazareth, borrowing some of my arguments from Jon D. Levenson’s marvelous Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006).
Let’s start with yesterday’s Haftarah reading, the story of the Valley of Dry Bones. In this story who is resurrected? What is the nature of this resurrection, in other words, what happens? The answers are that it is the people of Israel that is resurrected, and this resurrection entails a return to the Land, where they they would then serve God faithfully, risen from the grave of exile, where they were banished because of their violation of his statutes and ordinances.
The resurrection of the Jewish people from the grave of exile is a demonstration of the faithfulness of their all-powerful Living God. This is really what resurrection is all about in any context: the Living God of Israel demonstrating his faithfulness. The Amidah, the core prayer of every Jewish service says as much in the second blessing, “Gevurot,” stating that HaShem “keeps faith with those who sleep in the dust,” and that He is “faithful to revive the dead.” In this Haftarah, languishing in pagan exile, the House of Israel complains “our hope is lost, we are doomed” (v. 11). In the poem “Hatikvah” Naftali Herz Imber references and contradicts this statement, writing “our hope is not yet lost” (od lo avdah tikvatenu), and of course this line became part Israel’s National Anthem, Hatikvah (The Hope), Israel’s tribute to persistent hope in a world that sometimes seems formless, void, and chaotic, upon which the God of Hope may still breathe His life-giving Spirit as, when, and where He chooses.
Where God has promised life, the end of the story cannot be death, because the all powerful God of Israel is faithful. And where God has promised his faithfulness, the end of the story can never be abandonment.
We find in the story of the Prophet Elisha and the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:8-37), another example of this principle of God never allowing the promise of life and the promise of his faithfulness to end in death. The key in this story is that the Prophet of God had brought life out of death as a reward for the woman’s faithfulness. She was barren, her husband old, and as far as having a son, they and their situation were dead. The Prophet promised her life in the midst of death, that she would have a son. She does, but when the son then dies prematurely, she comes back to the Prophet. Notice what she says to him: “Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, Do not mislead me?” In other words, I didn’t ask for this, but you promised me a live son, and now I have a dead one. You promised me life, instead I have death.
Elisha quickly moves to reverse this situation not simply because he is compassionate, but because it is contrary to the faithfulness of God and his prophet to promise life and deliver death. It would bring dishonor to God to leave things that way.
Resurrection is all about God’s almighty power and his faithfulness to his promises to his people. In Psalm 16, we read this:
8 I always set ADONAI before me; with him at my right hand, I can never be moved; 9 so my heart is glad, my glory rejoices, and my body too rests in safety; 10 for you will not abandon me to Sh’ol, you will not let your faithful one see the Abyss. 11 You make me know the path of life; in your presence is unbounded joy, in your right hand eternal delight.
For the people of the Bible, it makes no sense whatsoever that the people who prove faithful to the God of life should end up extinguished by death. God’s faithfulness precludes this. Peter taps into David’s logic about God’s faithfulness to his promse in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost:
Acts 2:22 “Men of Isra’el! Listen to this! Yeshua from Natzeret was a man demonstrated to you to have been from God by the powerful works, miracles and signs that God performed through him in your presence. You yourselves know this. 23 This man was arrested in accordance with God’s predetermined plan and foreknowledge; and, through the agency of persons not bound by the Torah, you nailed him up on a stake and killed him! 24 “But God has raised him up and freed him from the suffering of death; it was impossible that death could keep its hold on him. (Why was it impossible? He tells us in the next verses. It was impossible because God had promised something) 25 For David says this about him: ‘I saw ADONAI always before me, for he is at my right hand, so that I will not be shaken. 26 For this reason, my heart was glad; and my tongue rejoiced; and now my body too will live on in the certain hope 27 that you will not abandon me to Sh’ol or let your Holy One see decay. 28 You have made known to me the ways of life; you will fill me with joy by your presence.’ 29 “Brothers, I know I can say to you frankly that the patriarch David died and was buried – his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Therefore, since he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn an oath to him that one of his descendants would sit on his throne, 31 he was speaking in advance about the resurrection of the Messiah, that it was he who was not abandoned in Sh’ol and whose flesh did not see decay. 32 God raised up this Yeshua! And we are all witnesses of it!
So what is the point? The point is that where God has promised life, life is all we can expect. It is impossible for God’s promise to be broken.
What does this have to do with us? Just this. There are promises connected with Yeshua’s resurrection, promises of life. And it is impossible for these promises to be broken, just as it was impossible for Israel to remain in the grave of exile, and just as it was impossible for Yeshua to remain in the tomb of Joseph of Aramathea. This is what makes the resurrection of Yeshua such unsurpassable good news. In Yochanan, chapter eleven, a connection is made between all of these great things and Yeshua’s contemporary people. The story concerns Marta’s disappointment at Yeshua’s unavailability at the time of the deat of her brother, El’azar:
21 Marta said to Yeshua, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” 23 Yeshua said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Marta said, “I know that he will rise again at the Resurrection on the Last Day.” 25 Yeshua said to her, “I AM the Resurrection and the Life! Whoever puts his trust in me will live, even if he dies; 26 and everyone living and trusting in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
Yeshua was promising Marta the same thing that David expected. He expected not only for God’s ultimate Anointed but also for himself that death would not be the last word. God would not let his Holy One remain in the grave, and because of that, David could say that his own “heart was glad, and (his) soul rejoiced; (his) body also dwelt secure.” He knew that where God has promised life, the end of the story cannot be death, because the all powerful God of Israel is faithful. And where God has promised his faithfulness, the end of the story can never be abandonment.
And that is why the promise of life in Messiah, God’s Holy One, and faithfulness of God, and the resurrection of Messiah are the best news going today and every day. He is Risen! And because he lives, we will live also.
And just as surely as God raised Israel from the grave of exile, and Yeshua from the tomb, so the end of the story for all of God’s redeemed will never be death: it can only be life.
It is impossible that it could be otherwise.
Od lo avdah tikvatenu!