‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him,
“I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover, my flesh will live in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”
‘Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
“He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.”
This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’
This is the speech that cut its hearers to the heart and, according to Luke’s telling of the story, led onto three thousand people accepting Christ and being baptised. Like many of the sermons in Acts it focuses on the essential elements of the gospel and above all the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Peter ends by proclaiming the crucified Jesus as Lord and Messiah, through the work of God. He challenges his hearers to look at a man hanging on a brutal cross and see God at work.
Death is part of our lives. People may try to distance themselves from it, living as if they were immortal and the deaths of others were unfortunate distractions from the business of living, but to try to live life that way is neither real nor healthy. We may want to say ‘death is nothing at all’ but it feels all too real, as we look at the seas of the Mediterranean, the towns of Syria, the A and E departments of our major hospitals or among those now dead who have touched our lives down the years.
Death is real enough, but the reality of God is bigger than death and bigger than the death-dealing work of humanity. It was impossible, Peter proclaims, for Jesus to be held in death’s power. Here is our hope – in the One God has raised and presented to us as Lord and Messiah and the One who pours out God’s Holy Spirit into the lives of his followers. The Spirit the crowd sees at work in the disciples is none other than the Spirit of Jesus, now set free to work through all who are open to his way.
Two days after the UK’s General Election it is good to reflect on the different kind of power we see in the One stretched out on a Roman cross, the One who could not be held in death’s power, the One who pours out God’s Spirit into our lives.
Come Lord Jesus, touch our hearts with your power shown in your death on a cross and by your rising to new life. Come Lord Jesus, pour out your Spirit of grace and peace on our churches and our communities, our politicians and our people. Challenge the powers of death and destruction, by your liberating love and shattering truth.
The Rev’d Terry Hinks is the Minister of Trinity URC, High Wycombe and Cores End URC.