It Was Not Possible
Picture from The Bible Project video Acts 1-7.
The first reading set from Sunday came from the Acts of the Apostles.
But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him,
“‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
“Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.
There is a telling sentence tucked away in Peter’s Pentecost sermon. It reads: “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it”. In this verse we find hidden a theological treasure-house! There are three things we can see.
First of all, God raised Jesus up. Surely this demonstrates to us that all that Jesus taught and did received a divine ‘Amen’ at the resurrection. What more could the Father do to demonstrate his favour? If Jesus had misled, if his teaching was false, if his miracles mere conjuring tricks why would God have raised him up? No - the resurrection acts as a divine seal of approval.
Then we read of the ‘pangs of death’. Here Jesus’ human nature is revealed in all its mortality. Jesus suffered as he died. The pangs were real and not an illusion. Jesus was as fully human as you or I - even to the extent of death.
Finally, it was not possible for Jesus to be held by death. Here the divinity of Christ is laid bare. Decades later the Apostle John says of Jesus “in him was life, and the life was the light of men”. Jesus himself, later in that same gospel, says: “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” John 5:26. He is the ‘resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). Jesus is life itself, and death finds that indigestible.
Here, mere weeks after the resurrection, we find Peter looking into the bright mystery of the divinity and humanity of Christ. And then proclaiming it to the world.