In Easter’s wake, the Apostle Peter attests to the importance of Jesus. In today’s message text Peter reaches out to those able to hear, the true “Israelites” as he refers to them. Nonetheless, Peter places 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 guilt among the various authorities and powers in ancient Jerusalem.
Now, brace yourself for a mini-lesson in Bible quotations. It is good to be reminded about how the biblical record is structured so that we can put it all into a proper context. 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. Peter cites King David’s words as evidence for Jesus’ life after death. As with many Jews of his day, Peter was familiar with the Old Testament King David and this is not surprising.
What at first seems like a simple process of quoting scripture involves considerations not immediately obvious. The problem goes something like this: Modern Christians quote Peter as his words are found in today’s Bible selection from 1Peter. But Peter quotes 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. This does not mean that there is anything wrong with Peter’s words just that we need to know what’s going on behind the words.
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 even in something as seemingly simple as the story behind a Bible quotation.
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’ living 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, King David’s descendant—Jesus—is active 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, historical oddities, and ancient languages. Indeed, Easter demonstrates that our faith and the God whom we serve are alive and well. 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? Now’s as good a time as any to enthusiastically embrace God’s presence and promises.
–Reverend Larry Hoxey