"God Raised Him Up" (Acts 2:42)
I. Chief Futurist vs. Carpenter?
Did you know Google has a corporate position called “chief futurist”? That job is held by Ray Kurzweil, a prolific inventor and long-time technology guru. What does Ray Kurzweil have to do with Easter? Well, this morning, I reference him and his position because Kurzweil believes we as human beings could start living forever by 2029. Listen to his explanation in a 2016 interview:
“As they gain traction in the 2030s, nanobots in the bloodstream will destroy pathogens, remove debris, rid our bodies of clots, clogs and tumors, correct DNA errors and actually reverse the aging process. I believe we will reach a point around 2029 when medical technologies will add one additional year every year to your life expectancy. As the rate of progress of medical technology accelerates the years will pile up for decades, centuries, and beyond, possibly to forever. At some point it will be prudent to upload your mind—your self, your soul—into a computer to avoid the problems that a biological substrate like a brain entails. When that happens humans will achieve immortality.”
Kurzweil, along with many others, believes technology will soon allow us to beat death. Sound reasonable? Well, whatever your thoughts are about technology and immortality, I think it's important to point out that, if his goal is beating death, Kurzweil is almost 2000 years too late.
It wasn't a chief futurist who figured out the dilemma of death and achieved human immortality. It was a carpenter... from Nazareth. Turn in your Bible to Acts 2:24.
II. The Passage: "Loosing the Pangs of Death" (2:24)
Last time, we looked together at what the Bible teaches us about death. In doing so we came to understand, in a new way, our desperate need for and the glorious reality of... resurrection (or using our keyword, being “raised”). You may recall that last week we said this about death...
“...according to Scripture, death is being cut off from the blessings of God's world (physical death), it is being cut off from the blessings of God's Spirit (spiritual death), and it is being cut off forever from the blessings of God's presence (eternal death).”
So how exactly does the reality of resurrection address this awful reality of death? Well, this morning, let's tackle that first aspect of death... physical death. It's the very thing that people like Kurzweil have in mind. And like the rest of us, it's the very thing these techno-immortality seekers want to avoid. And so they theorize and test and innovate in order to extend our physical lives through science and technology.
But listen to what the Apostle Peter declared 2000 years ago about Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, a man who had been crucified by the Romans only seven weeks earlier. Peter said...
God raised [there's our keyword] him [i.e., Jesus] up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.
The NIV translates verse 24 this way: 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.
The NASB renders that verse like this: But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.
Let's talk real quickly about both halves of that verse.
1. God's Power to Raise (v. 24a)
When Peter said, “God raised him up”, it clearly doesn't mean God appointed him to some new position, like you might raise up someone to fill a job vacancy. No. The previous verse (v. 23) tells us that this Jesus was “crucified and killed”. Additionally, the phrase right after the opening phrase of verse 24 explains what Peter meant when he said God “raised up” Jesus. He mean that God powerfully loosed or freed Jesus from “the pangs [or agony] of death”.
Well, maybe that just means God raised up the spirit of Jesus. Well, in the Gospel of Luke, the book to which Acts is the sequel, we read about that very question. Peter was among the group of grieving disciples mentioned in Luke 24:36–40. We read...
As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!”  But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit.  And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?  See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”  And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.
So when Peter said “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death”, he was talking about the body of Jesus... the same body that had been crucified... the same body that had died. By the power of God, this body was raised up to new life.
And Jesus really had died. This is not fairy tale, or the product of someone's imagination. This is an historical event. Listen as pastor and writer Steven Mathewson talks about the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. He writes...
“With one hundred pounds or so of spices and gummy substances encasing his body, and with a typical Palestinian rock-cut tomb requiring a stone weighing close to two thousand pounds to cover the entrance, it is far-fetched to suppose that Jesus was not fully dead when he was buried. The circumstances surrounding a typical first century burial in Jerusalem rule out any idea that Jesus had only passed out and somehow revived in the cool of the tomb, thus enabling his escape. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was also witnessed in history by his appearance to more than 500 people after he was raised to life (I Corinthians 15:5-8). The sheer number of the witnesses and their backgrounds—at least one, James, was an unbeliever prior to seeing the resurrected Lord— testify to the reality of this event. In fact, when the Apostle Paul wrote I Corinthians, most of these witnesses were still alive and thus available to be interviewed (v. 6).” (Risen, Steven D. Mathewson)
2. God's Plan to Raise (v. 24b)
But what about the second half of verse 24? Look again at what Peter tells us: God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.
God raised and loosed because... “because it was not possible for [Jesus] to be held by [death]”. Now what exactly does that mean? Well, I believe the answer to that question has many layers. But the immediate context gets us started in the right direction. Listen to what Peter goes on to explain, starting in the very next verse, verse 25:
“For David [that's King David] says concerning him [quoting Psalm 16], ‘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.”
So notice how Peter explains this. It was not possible for Jesus to be held by death because Jesus was a descendant of David. And not just any descendant of King David. He was THE descendant; the expected one; the coming king; (v. 31) “the Christ”, that is, the Messiah. And when David, in Psalm 16, talked about God not abandoning his soul to the grave or allowing his flesh to see corruption, according to Peter, he was speaking prophetically. He was speaking about Jesus; that Jesus would be raised up from the dead. This is connected (v. 30) to David's throne. For remember what God promised David in II Samuel 7:16...
“And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” (II Samuel 7:16)
So it was not possible for Jesus to be held by death because God's plan for the Messiah included an eternal throne. But God's plan for the Messiah also included him suffering and dying for the people. So if both of these things are true (i.e., eternal throne and death), and God's plan cannot be derailed or undone, then there's only one solution: resurrection! When Peter said “because it was not possible for him to be held by it”, he was at the very least saying, “because God's purposes for the Messiah would be fulfilled, and that not even death could stop that.”
Jesus understood this. After his resurrection, in Luke 24:26, he asked two disciples, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Using our keyword “raised”, we also see that before his resurrection, Jesus knew exactly what would happen:
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Matthew 16:21)
Of course, using that same keyword, we discover other layers of this “it was not possible” factor when it came to Jesus and death. Look at Acts 3:14–15. This is Peter again. He declares:
But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.
If Jesus was the “Holy and Righteous One”, then based on what God tells us about sin and death, did death really have any claim on a perfectly innocent human being? If Jesus was the “Author of life”, how in the world could the power of death continue to hold him? As we heard in our earlier reading together:
We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. (Romans 6:9–11)(it only had dominion as long as God's plan decreed)
III. Have You Heard the News?
Let me tie together what God has shown us. Long before the speculations and ambitions of today's techno immortality seekers, Jesus of Nazareth did what no human being has ever done: he didn't cheat death; he beat death. And he didn't do so thru innovation. He did it through resurrection, by God's power, not man's.
But think about it: if in the next few years if there was even the slightest advancement toward substantial longevity (and please hear me, I'm not arguing against medical progress), it would be big, big news, right? Everyone would be talking about it. You would be talking about it. But are we thinking and talking about what Jesus did, with the same interest, the same investment, the same enthusiasm as many in our world would be about a new medical breakthrough?
Brothers and sisters, friends, Jesus Christ didn't speculate about beating death. He actually did it. And for almost 2000 years, that Good News has been big, big news... news taken to every corner of the planet. That's not in question this morning. Today, over 2.1 billion people identify as 'Christ ones'. The only question this morning is this: have you heard it and do you believe it? And if you have, does it change you as radically as it should?
To appreciate the power of God and the plan of God at work in the resurrection of Jesus, you must first appreciate something our world works very hard to keep you from appreciating: the awful, the frightening, the ugly, the sobering reality of your own death and those of everyone you know and love; the grievous reality of being cut off from the blessing of God's world. Even in the worst of times, deep down, we know life in this world is a gift. We might want it better, but we all want it. But death is indifferent to all this. If we are willing to stop and face that fact, honestly, to dwell on death, unfiltered, we will feel the ugliness and evil of that indifference.
But when we do that, we come to experience the sheer wonder, the overwhelming joy, of what happened to Jesus. “God raised him up”. And because God did, Jesus has become the source of hope and life for all who trust him. As the Apostle Paul would later write, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
Just as death was not the end for Jesus, neither will it be for those who confess and believe. God's incomparable power and inviolable plan will also be at work in the lives of everyone who belongs to Him through faith, by the grace of God. “God raised him up”, and everything has changed because of it. Won't you ask Him this morning to help you experience that change, more and more? Let's pray and give thanks to God for the resurrection of Jesus
More in Raised
April 26, 2020"The Dead Will Be Raised" (I Corinthians 15:50-52)
April 19, 2020"And Raised Us Up with Him" (Ephesians 2:6)
April 5, 2020Why We Need to Be Raised (Hebrews 2:14, 15)