Cut to the heart
When we’re “cut to the heart” it’s usually because we’ve been insulted or betrayed or broken up with.
But three times in the book of Acts, the Israelites are ‘cut’ or ‘pricked’ to the heart (Acts 2:37; 5:33; 7:54). Yet with them it’s different. Here’s what pricks their hearts: the preaching of the Apostles. As the sins of the Israelites are uncovered so it feels like a dagger in their chest.
Let’s examine the first instance of hearts pricked by the gospel…
Do you know the girl at the centre of this picture? She was bullied terribly at school (not the school pictured, a later one). Have you guessed it yet?
It’s the Duchess of Cambridge of course. Though nobody knew it at the time.
While Kate Middleton was at Downe House school she was bullied so badly that her parents took her out after just two terms.
I wonder what those bullies think now?
Maybe the last time they saw her up close they had reduced her to tears. Maybe they laughed and cheered and said good riddance when Kate finally left. Maybe they thought that nothing would ever come of the most unpopular girl in school.
How wrong they were! Through her Prince, she’s now royalty. And one day she will be Queen over those bullies! I’m guessing that her old class-mates have changed their mind about Kate Middleton.
Acts 2 speaks of a similar but vastly more significant change of mind. Peter is addressing the crowd that, 7 weeks earlier, had bayed for Jesus’ blood. Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, pulls no punches:
Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. (Acts 2:36)
The charge here is nothing short of deicide – the murder of God Himself! You see, they might have thought little of Jesus in the days of His flesh, but in resurrection God has declared the truth about Jesus: He is Lord and Christ. How would you feel if you were in the crowd?
If you had bullied someone at school, and it turned out they were the son of the headmaster, you would be worried.
What if you’d bullied the Son of God, how much trouble do you think you’d be in?
What if you’d killed the Son of God, what then?
Peter says “You crucified the LORD of Glory.”
How do you respond to such a message? Here’s what the people do. Verse 37:
Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
Pricked in the heart. Peter’s words are like a sword straight through them. What should they do?
Should they try to run and hide? Where would they hide? God’s quite good at hide and seek. He usually wins that one.
Should they hope that God forgets? He’s not particularly absent minded, God.
Should they try to make it up to God? How could they make it up to God? They haven’t just stolen stationery from the workplace – they’ve killed the Lord of Glory!
What should they do? What could they do? Surely this is it for these bullies, these murderers. What hope could there be? Well Peter gives some incredibly good news:
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:38)
This is unprecedented grace. Peter says that God wants to forgive the killers of His Son. And not just forgive them, He wants to give them a gift.
Have you ever heard of a Judge who says “I know you’re guilty but I forgive you.” Can you imagine a Judge whose son was murdered saying “I know you’re guilty but I forgive you”? Can you imagine a Judge whose son was murdered saying, “I know you’re guilty, but I forgive you and I want to give you a gift.” And imagine he says “Here’s my gift – have my daughter’s hand in marriage!” Unthinkable. But that’s just what God is like. He wants to forgive us and give us a gift – the gift of His Spirit. Another Family Member if you like.
He gives us One Family Member – His Son. We kill Him and He pays us back by giving us His Other Family Member, His Spirit! That’s everything He has to give us. It’s incomparable grace. And in the light of it, Peter implores them to change their mind.
That’s what repent means: change your mind. Jesus is Lord. He is the Christ.
It’s like with Kate Middleton. Those bullies used to call her Flaky Pimpletongue. Now she’s the Duchess of Cambridge. One day they will call her Queen. I imagine those bullies have changed their mind about Kate. But the world needs to do the same with Jesus. We used to think He was an inconvenience. We used to try to silence Him. Perhaps we used to use Jesus’ name as a swear word. At best we used to think of Him as a mere teacher or example. We were wrong. He is Lord and Christ and raised to God’s right hand to rule the world. So repent – change your mind… and be baptised.
You see, Jesus was baptised into our kind of life – He stood in our shoes to do life in our place. Now, says Peter, you should get baptised into Him. Be clothed in Him – in His kind of life.
United to Jesus, the gift of the Holy Spirit is freely offered as well as the remission of all our sins. It’s the most incredible promise. Who’s it for? Surely it’s for good people, religious people, respectable people, the super-keen? No, says Peter. Verse 39 – this promise is for you. The promise is for Christ-killers!
For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
You can’t be too bad, you can’t be too immature, you can’t be too far from God – the promise is for you. Because Christ is for you. He’s even for His killers. He is most definitely for you.
In spite of the worst crimes imaginable we are given God’s Son, we are given His Spirit, we are forgiven all our sins and called home to God’s Family Life. All we’ve ever done is cause His death. All He’s ever done is give us more. When we see this gospel reality, our heart are not just pricked, they are melted.
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