Listen to the audio of today’s Reflection:
I’m trying to catch my breath a little this week after the hustle of Holy Week, so we’ll be re-posting a few past Reflections. This one was originally posted on April 17, 2017. Thanks for your patience with these re-runs.
Acts 2:14, 22-32
Peter Addresses the Crowd
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.
22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25 David said about him:
“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.’
29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.
Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles comes from the account of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was sent to the church. If you remember, “tongues of fire” appeared over the heads of the assembled followers of Jesus, and they suddenly found themselves able to speak languages they had never learned. They spilled out into the street, acting so strangely that the people passing by assumed they were drunk. But then Peter stood up and spoke to the people standing around, and this passage recounts part of what he said.
The sentence I’d like to call to your attention is what Peter says in verse 32: “We are all witnesses of the fact.” The fact he’s talking about here is the resurrection of Jesus, which we celebrated yesterday in our Easter services of worship.
Lots of people, even some of those who consider themselves Christians, tend to assume the resurrection is just an ancient legend. They assume that Peter and the others either lied about it to get people to join their new religion, or that they were just too gullible to realize that people just don’t rise from the dead.
As far as the gullibility thing is concerned, it’s a mistake to assume that people in first century Palestine were any more gullible than people today. (Stop and think about some of the bizarre things people believe today.)
But the closer you look at the Biblical account of the life of the early church, the harder it is to dismiss the claim the followers of Jesus made about seeing him risen from the dead. A pretty sizable group of people (apparently 500 of them) were telling anyone who would listen that they had seen Jesus after the resurrection. Ever try to get 500 people to swear to something that wasn’t true? And there’s no historical record of any of those who claimed to see the risen Jesus later recanting their testimony.
Actually, these people believed so firmly in what they had seen — remember, Peter refers to it here as a “fact,” not a belief — that many of them backed up their testimony by allowing themselves to be killed. (In fact, the word martyr is the Greek word for ‘witness.’) Those who had seen the risen Jesus just weren’t scared to die anymore, because they absolutely believed that he had defeated death and that they would share in his resurrection. The Romans who executed some of the followers of Jesus were freaked out by the experience. (‘Unnerving’ is the best translation of the word they used in writing back to Rome.) The people being martyred were strangely lacking in fear.
If you testify to something with your words, you might believe it, or you might not. But if you testify to something with your life, you definitely believe it. That’s why the followers of Jesus exploded into the world in the powerful way they did: They had seen Jesus raised from the dead, and so they definitely believed in the resurrection we celebrated on Easter Sunday.
Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for raising Jesus from the dead, and for the boldness of his followers in proclaiming what they had seen. We thank you for their willingness to testify to it with their very lives. Amen.
(The other readings for today are Psalms 19 and 20; Jonah 2:1-10; and John 14:1-14.)