Cut to the Heart – A Gracious Work of the Holy Spirit
“Let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” These are Peter’s words to the people upon proving to them from their own Scriptures that Jesus, the one they crucified but who rose from the grave, was indeed the Christ. The coming of the Messiah had become the great hope of the Jewish faith. And why not? They were an oppressed people suffering under the heavy hand of Rome. They were but a shell of the people they once were roughly a thousand years before under Kings David and Solomon, when Rome didn’t even exist. Every Jewish girl dreamt of bearing the Messiah, every Jewish boy of fighting along his side. The Messiah was that great prophecy that gave them hope for a bright future, when Zion would be established.
And Peter was now telling them: “He came … and you missed it. Not only did you miss it, you crucified him!” We can’t imagine how horrifying Peter’s sermon must have sounded to his Jewish hearers. But truly there was something even greater at work than experiencing the shock of murdering the Messiah by the hands of the Romans; after all, Stephen was stoned to death when he preached the same, only with a longer introduction (7:1-60). The passage goes on: “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” You can hear the desperation in their plea. It’s as if they were crying out, “Is nothing to be done? Are we condemned for all eternity?”
So what was the difference between this day and the day that Stephen was stoned? And the answer is that here we see the work of the Holy Spirit in his ministry of conviction (John 16:8-11). Conviction is among the first steps to salvation. One must know that one is a sinner, a condemned sinner, with no defense. There should be a sense of heaviness, and fear, that all is lost. I am aware that there are those who cannot remember a time when they were not saved (I am told Ruth Graham was such a one). But I must still insist that such people be aware of the gravity of their sin, their personal rebellion against God, and the price that was paid for their sin by the very Son of God. And I fear that this element is missing in today’s preaching. We have been saved from something horrible that we justly deserve. This should make every Christian both humble and grateful. It is the Spirit’s task to “cut to the heart.” When you see someone under conviction, don’t comfort them to the point of letting them off the hook, as many ignorantly do. Allow the Spirit to bring relief in his own time in this gracious work.