“‘Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus whom you crucified.’ Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself’” (Acts 2:36-39).
Peter didn’t end his sermon with an invitation to accept Christ. Nor did he ask anyone to stand and sing or bow their heads or recite a prayer. He simply and firmly declared that the crucified and risen Jesus is “both Lord and Christ.” Jesus Christ is God. We (that is, our historical representatives, acting on our behalf) killed Him because we hated Him. God raised Him from the dead. Now He reigns and rules over His creation as Lord – and that’s the gospel.
When reading this passage, it’s easy to overlook a little phrase tucked in between the verses, but it’s the hinge upon which the rest of the text swings: “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart” (v. 37). The Greek word translated “pierced” means to be transfixed or impaled. It’s not a nick or a scratch, but a fatal stabbing. John used the same root word when the soldier pierced Jesus’ side with a spear (Jn. 19:34). Luke added a prefix, meaning “against,” to convey the idea of being speared against something. Many of those who’d listened to Peter preach that Pentecost Sabbath, were impaled by the gospel.
Peter was neither a salesman nor a pulpiteer. He had no training in oratory or elocution. Nor was he skilled in debate or controversy. He was a simple fisherman with a single sword in his belt – the gospel of the grace of God in the living Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel was the only sword he needed. “It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). The writer to the Hebrews concurred with Paul’s assessment: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).
The spoken Word of God pierced the hearts of the people that day, not a cleverly told story, or a funny joke, or a moving song, or even a poignant personal testimony. The Holy Spirit moved on the hearts of the people, convicting them of their sins, and leading them to ask, “What shall we do?” (v. 37).
When we try to help out the Holy Spirit, to do in our own strength what He alone can do, we just get in the way. Many preachers give long, drawn out invitations, dangling every imaginable enticement before an indifferent crowd to cajole someone to “step out in faith.” I sat once in an anxious congregation as someone tried to stir them up to get a response to the message preached. Once the tears started, People burst forth with prayers and praise in apparent contrition and repentance. Then, as soon as the meeting ended and folks stood outside, the same people who seemed broken for sin and grateful for salvation were laughing and giggling and telling stories and carrying on just as they had been before the meeting began.
What’s the difference between contemporary methods of evangelism and the New Testament practices? Today, there’s no piercing of hearts. There’s only tickling of the ears. There’s nibbling about the outside, but there’s no genuine penetration of heart and soul.
True, some preachers enjoy beating up on their congregations, but they’re relatively few in number. The great error in our generation is the desire to soften the blow of divine wrath against the horror of our sins. The god that many preachers present today doesn’t really have a problem with sin; people just choose to go to hell and that makes him unhappy because we’re unhappy; and he desperately wants us to be happy, if only we’d choose to believe.
Heart piercing is what the Holy Spirit does with the Word of God. He turns cold, stony hearts into warm flesh. He cultivates the soil of souls in preparation for the gospel. He opens blind eyes and deaf ears. He turns hate into love. He converts objects of wrath into children of the heavenly King.
When we preach, teach, or share Christ in whatever fashion, we’re to point people to Jesus by making much of Him. We’re not to pressure or seduce or manipulate them into making an artificial resolution that will not last the night.
When the Holy Spirit pierces the heart of the dead sinner, He regenerates him, awakening him to understand his desperate state and leading him to call on the Lord Jesus in faith. By grace, the newborn believes, that is, he loves Jesus with saving faith.
Has the gospel so pierced your heart that you love Jesus and hate your sins?