In Easter’s wake we visit the Apostle Peter attesting to the importance of Jesus. Peter spoke to a group of likely critics, yet he reached out to those able to hear, the true “Israelites” as he referred to them. Nonetheless, Peter placed guilt for Jesus’ crucifixion upon his fellow Jews. Such blame is an ongoing controversy because of the implications and ramifications of anti-Semitism. Many scholars emphasize how the Romans who occupied Judea in the first century were ultimately responsible for Jesus’ death. Whatever is the case, there seems to be sufficient culpability among the various authorities and powers in ancient Jerusalem.
Now, brace yourself for a little lesson in textual analysis. Please, don’t be put-off. It is good to be reminded about how the biblical record is part of larger process. So, in this case Peter in the book of Acts quotes the Old Testament in relation to how Jesus could not be held in death’s grip. In the text, Peter cites King David’s words as evidence for Jesus’ life after death. Peter was familiar with the Old Testament King David and this in itself may not surprise us. However, quoting scripture involves considerations not immediately obvious.
The problem goes something like this: Modern Christians quote Peter as his words are found in our Bibles. So far so good. The situation is a bit more complicated because Peter, whom we quoted in his letter, is himself quoting the Old Testament King David, who supposedly wrote Psalm 16: 8-11. As you may notice, the situation is multi-layered. The problem arises from passing words down through time, where we are quoting a quote of a quote.
A further twist is that Peter’s quote of King David is likely based on a version of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint (wherein the original Hebrew has been translated into Greek before Jesus’ time). All of this is to say that layer upon layer of connections and complexities underlie any attempt to retrieve ancient words and ideas. And while on the one hand we like to give God credit for coherently holding it all together, there are powerful forces at work in our universe constantly evolving who and what we are as well as who and what we think we know. Deep stuff.
Okay, enough textual criticism and the associated philosophical and theological controversies. Let us return to Peter, who in his letter of 1 Peter presents a hopeful, energetic message. “By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope . . . and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you . . . “ (1 Peter 1:3-4).
Peter realizes that Jesus’ ongoing role in heaven is central. We share in that heavenly life as we embrace God’s promises and hope, realized through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Jesus did not fall into obscurity after the crucifixion. Instead, David’s descendant—Jesus—is active in heaven and through his sacrifice we claim our salvation. Peter shares in King David’s joy in celebrating a heavenly Messiah who sets us free from death’s grip.
It is good to be reminded that we have something worth living for. Our religion can be more than an emphasis on dead men’s words and historical oddities. Indeed, Easter demonstrates that our faith and the God whom we serve are alive and well. Yes, Jesus the Messiah is made real through God’s love and truth. Has hope been resurrected within you and are you alive today in the power of God?
–Reverend Larry Hoxey