Acts meditation 2:36 – Cut to the Heart

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” – Acts 2:36

These words cut the hearts of the Jewish pilgrims that fateful day, and they cried out, “what shall we do?”

The Holy Spirit not only gives signs and wonders pointing people to ask, what is this? The Spirit also gives us boldness and words to proclaim Jesus as Lord and Christ.

This message Peter proclaimed was based on factual testimony, rooted in Jewish history and theology, and called for action.

Peter recognised Jesus as the Lord (adonai) prophesied by King David. Two Old Testament passages, Psalms 16 and 110, he quotes as having been fulfilled by Jesus through His resurrection and ascension. Jesus’ resurrection proves Psalm 16:10–the Holy One will not see corruption. Since King David has died and remained dead, this prophecy can only be fulfilled by one who lives forever. Jesus’ ascension proves Psalm 110:1–He has ascended to sit at the right hand of God the Father.

In the Old Testament, the formal Hebrew word for Lord, adonai, is predominantly used to refer to Yahweh in title form so as not to speak His name. It could also mean master. The Greek word in this Acts 2 passage is kyrios, which can also mean master or sovereign. For Peter, as for King David, this Lord Jesus is certainly a sovereign; but is he merely an earthly sovereign that King David, probably the greatest human king of Israel, should call this sovereign his “Lord” and recognise this Lord as the Christ?

This Lord is the prophesied Christ, the Holy One. For as prophesied in Joel 2 and by other ancient prophets, in the days of the Christ, God will pour out His Spirit and there shall be signs and wonders. This was not only fulfilled at Pentecost. Peter directs his listeners to Jesus, through whom he says God had done mighty works and signs and wonders. And even at Pentecost, it was Jesus who poured out the Spirit upon the disciples. This is evidence that Jesus is God’s appointed Christ, along with His resurrection foretold by King David. Peter spoke many more words not recorded for us. He must have ploughed through the Old Testament to connect the dots and reveal for his audience the grand picture of Jesus as Lord and Christ.

There is more to this Jesus. Peter quotes Joel that those who call on the “name” of the LORD, Yahweh, will be “saved”. And then declares that by repentance and baptism in the “name” of Jesus would one be “saved” from this crooked generation. Either Peter was equating Jesus with Yahweh or he was making a connection which was not elaborated. What is clear is that this Jesus is no mere human Lord. In His name, we shall be saved.

And Jesus, this sovereign Lord and chosen Christ, was crucified by Peter’s audience. This was done indirectly, through the hands of lawless men, but Peter imputes responsibility to them. Perhaps they were there in the crowd who shouted, “crucify him!” Or at least, they did not object to it. These listeners who responded seemed to accept that responsibility. Indeed, for this, they were cut to the heart.

Whereas some of the onlookers accused the disciples of being drunk at 9 AM, Peter boldly accused his audience that they had crucified the prophesied Christ and sovereign Lord. Whereas Peter had previously used the sword of the world to cut a man’s ear, he now used the sword of the Spirit to cut men’s hearts. Yet, if they had hearts of stone, the sharpest sword would not be able to cut through. Ezekiel prophesied that at the appointed time, God Himself would remove from His people their hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh; God would put His Spirit within them and by this they would walk in the way of God. This time has come. The time for tender hearts to undergo surgery for a new lease of life.

Whereas Peter had previously used the sword of the world to cut a man’s ear, he now used the sword of the Spirit to cut men’s hearts. Yet, if they had hearts of stone, the sharpest sword would not be able to cut through. Ezekiel prophesied that at the appointed time, God Himself would remove from His people their hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh; God would put His Spirit within them and by this they would walk in the way of God. This time has come. The time for tender hearts to undergo surgery for a new lease of life.

We too are responsible for crucifying Jesus, the appointed Christ and sovereign Lord. We need not debate whether we are the causa sine qua non or causa causans. If not for all our sin, would Jesus have had to be crucified? Is it not drops of water which make the ocean?

And like the people moved by Peter’s words, we must ask “what shall we do?”

Peter declares “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins”. Then one would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This was an assertion of faith. The Holy Spirit would dwell in anyone who believes. Not just some but all.

Faith in Jesus calls for repentance. Repentance is turning back (Acts 3:19). If we were on a journey to return home, and discovered that we were on the wrong direction, would we continue on that wrong path without a care? No; we must turn back. Or indeed, if we discover that the things we have been toying with are traps, would we not turn our back on them and flee to safety? When we are cut to the heart, we must make the decision: the Cross before me, the world behind me, no turning back, no turning back.

It calls for a burial of our old life in the waters of baptism that we may be rebirthed, raised to a new life and to enter a new community. And our sins will be blotted out.

But it is a common tendency for many of us to veer off course. If so, we must keep turning back and return to the path of life. It was said at the end of that passage that 3,000 souls were added that day. Added to what, one might ask. To heaven? Not only heaven. Added to the fellowship of believers described in Acts 2:42-47.

When we walk with a community in Christ who keeps us in the right direction, when we keep in faith and repentance, we are more likely to walk well in the way of Jesus, our sovereign Lord and God’s promised Christ. And again and again, we may be cut to the heart and open our heart afresh to Him.

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