For the text of Acts 2, click here.
Normally I like to work through a text and get to things as they unfold. But this time I am going to do something different. I want to start with the reaction before talking about what caused such a reaction. In Acts 2 the people were “cut to the heart” by the Gospel. The message of God confronts us. It is personal and demands a response. When our hearts are cut there are two possible responses: 1) our hearts are cut and we allow God inside to change us or 2) our hearts are cut and we callous it over again and again until there is no more feeling left.
Response #1 is clearly what is hoped for. I want to talk for a moment about what causes response #2 – having a calloused, hardened heart.
We are bombarded with emotionally charged stories continuously in the news – 3,000 dying in the twin towers, troops killed in Iraq, earthquake kills 150,000, tsunami kills 100,000, Katrina devastates New Orleans and the gulf. How do we respond? At best most of us send money. What does that teach us? We learn that major news requires no response. I wonder how that impacts our reaction to the message of Jesus? Have we been trained to relegate ourselves from having to respond to emotionally charged information by hardening our hearts to it? Or maybe we have heard the message of Jesus and sang the songs so many times that the meaning no longer has an edge to it that is capable of cutting our hearts. Have we dulled down the message or do we put up our defenses to keep the message from cutting us the way it should? For those of us who have been around the gospel for a long period of time we may have forgotten that this story is meant to cut our hearts. It is meant to make us uncomfortable with our sinful lives.
Maybe it is time our hearts became sensative to Jesus Christ again. There are so many people with deep spiritual needs in our auditorium any given Sunday morning and yet when it is time for a response, nothing. I wish all of us could hear the words of Peter today as if you had never heard them before and find out exactly how we would respond to Jesus. It is not “old hat” or cliched. It is the transforming message of the God who was willing to die in our place. Let’s listen in to the words of Peter in Acts 2.
He tells them to “listen” (2:22). With a crowd of thousands, Peter points them to Christ. He doesn’t talk sports or fishing or who came for Pentecost. He shows them Jesus and lays out the original Case for Christ. This was no ordinary man – “Listen!”, Peter pleads!
God has already gotten their attention with the wind and the fire and the tongues. Does he have your attention when the gospel of Christ is presented? Does it pierce your soul? Does it still cut away the sinful habits and reveal the spiritual reality of our lives? Or do we put up walls and keep our comfort level to a maximum when we hear the Gospel? It is no ordinary story that we have heard so many times that it now has no meaning – this is the story of how God is saving the world!
Peter says Jesus “was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know (2:22).” Did you know that the opponents of Jesus who wrote not long after his death did not try to deny his miracles? They admitted that they really happened (See Blomberg Jesus and the Gospels, 241-242)!
“This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge…” (2:23). What are you supposed to do to the Messiah when he comes? You are supposed to crown him, respect him, love him, and revere him! What had they done with Jesus? Killed him. Peter says, “and you, with the help of wicked men,[d] put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” That’s bad news! You mean we killed the Messiah? Yes you did. You are responsible for his death. That is the worst news a Jew could imagine hearing – you killed the Messiah we had all been waiting for!
The entire sermon hinges on the next three letters (both in Greek and English) – B – U – T.
I am so glad that the story didn’t end with an executed messiah and a bunch of guilty people standing around wondering when they would get punished for it. With these three little letters Peter turns the whole story up on its end and shows them the extent of God’s power. “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 (2:24).” Any good western movie would tell us that is bad news – you killed the king but he has returned! Showdown at high noon. That is the way the world would write the story but God is writing this story and he has a different ending in mind.
Peter reaches the climax of his sermon in 2:36 – “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” That is the conclusion you have to draw. Look at the scriptures and prophesy. Remember the miracles he performed. Understand that he was raised from the dead – we are witnesses that it is true. He is Lord and Christ (that is, Messiah).
2:37 – “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
They were responsible for piercing Jesus’ hands and feet and now Jesus pierces their hearts. These men who were responsible for the death of Jesus less than two months prior had softer hearts than some of the people sitting in pews today. They were ready and willing to respond! Learning that you are responsible for the death of God’s Son is BIG news! Yet today people do not feel compelled to do anything about it. Their hearts remain at status-quo. Their comfort zones will not impinged upon. Response is kept to a minimum and rotten, sin-stained hearts remain intact when what they really need is a good cutting.
How have you responded to the gospel of Christ? We often want to jump very quickly to Acts 2:38 and talk about repentance and baptism but that is not the whole story. While that is important and a part of the story, it does not do justice to the facts of who Jesus was that Peter first had to lay out to get people’s hearts ready for those bigger steps. How often have we rushed people toward repentance and baptism but never really spent the time softening their hearts first? Let us never be so hard hearted that the message of Christ no longer seems exciting. Let us keep our hearts sensitive to him, even if it hurts – because it will.
This is a good post. I will have to think about it for some time before I comment.
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Grace and Peace,
Matt thanks for your last couple of articles on Acts. I have been reading through Acts last month or so through the REB and am getting some fresh perspectives.