25 April 2011Acts 2:14, 22-32
"But God raised him up, havnig freed him from deathm because it was impossible for him to be held in its power." (v. 24)
Today's passage comes several weeks after the events of Easter,
but the message of Easter is still very fresh. People have gathered
in Jerusalem from all over the world for the Jewish festival of
Pentecost - a feast with sacrifices to celebrate the grain harvest
50 days after Passover. Still contemplating Jesus' ascension into
heaven (Acts 1:1-11) and inspired by the newly-given
Holy Spirit, Jesus' disciples went out and started to speak to the
crowds - and thousands of people began to hear messages in their
native languages (Acts 2:1-13). Historian Luke records that Peter
stood up to address their bewilderment.
After explaining about the Holy Spirit that they are experiencing, Peter speaks about Jesus of Nazareth, crucified at the Passover seven weeks earlier, who holds the key to all that is happening in their midst. At first, Peter isn't telling them anything they don't know - many present for this festival would have been in Jerusalem then - but then he goes on to claim that Jesus has been raised from the dead.
The New Testament writers frequently point back to the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) to reveal fulfilment of words that were only partially understood. For resurrection, Peter quotedPsalm 16:8-11 (in verses 25-28) to find prophetic evidence for Jesus' rising from the tomb in ancient words ascribed to King David. Peter unveiled new meaning to Psalm 16:10 in particular - "For you will not abandon my soul to Hades [the place of the dead, or destruction], or let your Holy One experience corruption." The resurrection of the dead was a common point of theological debate in first century Judaism, but such a bodily resurrection of the Messiah was perhaps more unexpected. Peter pointed out that David couldn't have been talking about himself in the psalm (because he died and is still very much dead), but rather Jesus, whom God raised up - to which those disciples could testify.
But it is Peter's earlier comment that holds the key: God freed Jesus from death "because it was impossible for him to be held in its power". It was impossible for the pure and sinless to be held in the grip of corruption and decay; it was impossible for ultimate goodness to be consumed by evil; it was impossible for the world's light to be overshadowed by darkness; it was impossible for an eternal love to meet its end. Jesus would not go the way of the rest of creation, but would unleash new potential for the whole of creation. God's grace, revealed in Jesus Christ, released a power into human history which was not based on fear, abuse or manipulation, but on faith, hope and love - a power that invites us to respond, and to share his rewards.
Read Psalm 16. What other echoes of Jesus can you see in there?
When we speak of the 'after-life' we can imagine disembodied souls floating to heaven. To what extent do you think this is really the resurrection Peter and the others were talking about?
What does it mean to you to put your trust in a power that is greater than even death?