************ Sermon on Acts 2:37 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on May 27, 2007

Acts 2:1-41
Acts 2:37
"Cut to the Heart"

In 1795 Timothy Dwight was elected president of Yale College. Before Dwight arrived at Yale, the students were undisciplined and rebellious, and had little use for the Christian Faith. Even some of the faculty could not claim to be Christian. Soon after Dwight became president, battle lines were drawn. There were two alternatives, Christianity or infidelity, and there was no middle ground. After a while the students learned to admire and appreciate Dwight's abilities, his openness in discussing sensitive subjects, and his concern for their souls. A change began to take place.
Early in the spring of 1802 two students were overwhelmed with conviction of their sins. In a short period they came to faith in Christ and assurance of forgiveness. After making a public profession of their faith, they joined the college church. This made a large impact on the other students. In the ten days before vacation, fifty young men declared themselves to be eager to find salvation. Wherever the students gathered, in their rooms, at meals, and around New Haven, the great subject of conversation was eternal salvation.
Many feared that when the students left for spring vacation, the revival might cease. Instead the reverse occurred. The students carried home with them news of Yale's turnabout, and the impulse spread. When they returned after the summer, more offered their lives to God. Dwight witnessed the conversions of 80 out of the total enrollment of 160 students.

[Christian History : Spiritual awakenings in North America. 1989; Published in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996 (electronic ed.). Carol Stream IL: Christianity Today.]

I Response to the Word
A On this Pentecost Sunday our text from Acts 2 tells us this is what should happen when the Spirit is present and the Word of God is preached. People should feel an overwhelming awareness of God's holiness and their own unworthiness. The preaching of the Gospel, through the operation of the Spirit, should cause spiritual activity among those who hear the Word!

B Yet, I have to tell you that this seldom is the case. People hear the Word. They hear it year after year. They have heard it all of their lives, as little children already. But, as their actions make clear, it has little or no effect on their lives, on their hearts. Or, they hear the Word and think what is being said applies to the sinner sitting in the pew in front of them, or the sinner in the pew across from them, but it certainly is not meant for them. Or, they hear the Word and it makes them angry so angry that it looks like they want to bite and chew on the pew in front of them.

Through the operation of the Spirit, what act or activity follows the spoken Word? Following the public proclamation of God's message, what happens?

Is there a long period of silence, in which heads are bowed and eyes are closed in contemplation and prayer? Or does the conclusion of the sermon signal the start of key rattling and feet shuffling as people get ready to leave? Does it communicate to a few weary travelers the end of restful sleep and slumber? Does the message's conclusion merely mean it is time for a song and a prayer? Or, does it signal the start of a time of fellowship? Or, maybe it provokes no response, other than indifference?

C Through the operation of the Spirit, what should happen after the Gospel is preached? Assuming the presence of the Spirit, what should be the response of God's people to the preaching of the Word?

I've been talking about the operation of the Spirit. On this Pentecost Sunday I want you to be perfectly clear that any correct response to the Gospel, to the preaching of God's Word, is only because of the operation of the Spirit. And, a failure to respond or to respond correctly, that can only mean the absence of the Spirit or that we are fighting and resisting the Spirit.

II Cut to the Heart
A You know what happened on Pentecost. Jesus' followers were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke of God's wonders to people from many countries who were visiting Jerusalem. A crowd gathered. Some of the listeners were curious. Others mocked.

The apostle Peter spoke to the crowd. He explained that the outpouring of the Spirit had been foretold by the prophet Joel.

Peter then presented the Gospel to those who were listening. We can distinguish four elements in Peter's presentation of the Gospel:
First, the Gospel events. At the center of Peter's proclamation was the death and resurrection of the Lord. Peter told the crowd that they put Jesus to death by nailing Him to the cross. But God raised Him from the dead and gave Him the highest place in heaven as Lord and Christ.
Second, the Gospel witnesses. Peter appealed to two witnesses: the Old Testament Scriptures fulfilled by Christ and his own eyewitness experience.
Third, the Gospel promises. Peter proclaimed the promise of forgiveness (to wipe out the past) and the gift of the Spirit (to make us new people).
Fourth, the Gospel demand or response. Peter proclaimed that the Gospel of Jesus demands a response of repentance and faith.

Here, then, is the fourfold Gospel message of Peter (and the apostles): two events (Christ's death and resurrection), attested by two witnesses (the prophets and the apostles), two promises (forgiveness and the Spirit), and two responses (repentance and faith).

B So what happened? What was the response to the preaching of the Word? We are told "they were cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37). Through the operation of the Spirit, when the Lord speaks, people are cut to the heart. As I told the boys and girls, it is not a pleasant feeling. In fact, it may be the most painful and terrifying feeling a person on this earth can have. The Greek word is very descriptive. Think of a soldier's spear being run through the body of an enemy, think of a bee stinging its victim, think of a boxer stunning his opponent with a blow to the head, think of an arrow striking a deer or a bird. It is not something you can ignore and it demands a response because it is shocking and surprising and painful all at the same time. That is the kind of response Peter's audience had to the preaching of the Word.

When you are cut to the heart, you find God to be so pure and holy and glorious that His presence terrifies you. When you are cut to the heart, you are overwhelmed by your sense of sin and shame and guilt. When you are cut to the heart, God and hell become overpowering realities. When you are cut to the heart, you don't want God to be close but you don't want Him to be far away either; His presence scares you but His absence scares you even more. You feel repelled because of the darkness of your sin. And, you feel attracted because He is the light. Like the Pentecost crowd, you may not know where to turn or what to do.

In the mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, people were cut to the heart by the greatness of Jesus and the extent of their own sin. So they cried out, "What shall we do?" Peter answered:
(Acts 2:38) "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
About three thousand people accepted the message that day and were baptized. No longer were they torn by terror and guilt. Instead, they were "filled with awe" (Acts 2:43), and they enjoyed Christian fellowship "with glad and sincere hearts" (Acts 2:46).

It hurts to be cut to the heart, it hurts terribly. But the Holy Spirit uses that hurt to bring about joy and holiness and grace.

C "They were cut to the heart." Let there be no doubt about it, my brothers and sisters this response to the preaching of the Word is through the operation of the Spirit. Listen to what Jesus says about the coming of the Spirit before His ascension into heaven:
(John 16:7-11) But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (8) When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: (9) in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; (10) in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; (11) and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
It is the Spirit Jesus calls Him the "Counselor" Who convicts us of our guilt and sin and shame. It is the Spirit Who cuts us to the heart. It is the Spirit Who makes us respond properly to the preaching of the Word. And, a failure to respond either means we don't have the Spirit or we are fighting and resisting the Spirit.

I am sure you realize what this means. It means none of us can respond to the Word on our own. It doesn't come naturally for us to admit our sin and our guilt. It doesn't come naturally for us to admit we are dead in our sin, that we have offended God, and that we deserve eternal hell fire. It doesn't come naturally for us to admit we are lost and helpless and in darkness.

God heaps blessing after blessing upon us, but we take them for granted and keep on ignoring Him. God sends us warning after warning, but we shrug them off and refuse to repent and seek after God. No amount of blessings or burdens can really change us. But when the Holy Spirit comes to us in power, we are cut to the heart. By the operation of the Spirit, when we hear the Word, our lives are forever changed. Only through the operation of the Spirit do you hate your sin, fear God's wrath, and plead for mercy.

III Examples
A "They were cut to the heart." You know, we sometimes make the mistake of thinking certain people are beyond saving. But even the proudest, hardest heart can be reached when the Holy Spirit pierces their defenses. Even the most godless and corrupt of societies can be turned around when the Holy Spirit comes in power. We see this happening at Pentecost. We see this happening throughout history. We see this happening today.

At the elders' meeting on Monday night I told the brothers about a rather rough lady who rode with our cycling group. Her language was rough. Her appearance was rough. Her heart was rough. One time I had to stop a fist-fight between her and a guy of our cycling group. I witnessed to her more than once. I tried to be as nice to her as possible. I sent her flowers when her mother died. I listened to her when she talked about problems with her kids. Last week she pulled me to the back of the group when we were riding. She asked if I had noticed a change in her. I told her I had seen changes for the past 3 or so months she is kinder, gentler, her language isn't rough (but she still continues to beat us to the top of Rocky Hill). With obvious joy, she told me she is now going to church and attending a Bible study. Only the Spirit can do this.

B You all know the story of Saul. He was one of the great persecutors of the church of Christ. But then one day his life was changed and he became the Apostle Paul. What happened? Under the operation of the Spirit he heard the Word of Christ and his life was forever changed (Acts 9:17-19).

The Philippian jailer suddenly realized that everything he had been living for was worthless. He realized he was helpless and hopeless. Using almost the same language as the Pentecost Day crowds he said, "Sirs, what must I do ..." (Acts 16:30). Under the operation of the Spirit he heard the Word, he believed, and he was baptized.

C I spent some time this past week looking at Christian History's issue on "Spiritual Awakenings in North America." In a section entitled "Cane Ridge" I read the following description of the Cane Ridge camp meeting in 1801. Roads were crowded with wagons, carriages, horses, and footmen as a crowd numbering between 10,000 and 25,000 came together. This is what happened:
The careless fall down, cry out, tremble, and not infrequently are affected with convulsive twitchings.
Nothing that imagination can paint, can make a stronger impression upon the mind, than one of those scenes. Sinners dropping down on every hand, shrieking, groaning, crying for mercy, convulsed; professors praying, agonizing, fainting, falling down in distress, for sinners or in raptures of joy!.
As to the work in general there can be no question but it is of God. The subjects of it, for the most part are deeply wounded for their sins, and can give a clear and rational account of their conversion.
[Christian History : Spiritual awakenings in North America. 1989; Published in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996 (electronic ed.). Carol Stream IL: Christianity Today.]
Under the operation of the Spirit, this is what happens when the Word is preached. "They were cut to the heart."

D America, of course, is not the only place that has experienced revival. In 1908 some missionaries among the Chinese reported, "A power has come into the church that we cannot control." It was the power of the Holy Spirit. The Chinese people were breaking down in tears and admitting their sins against God and other people. What made it shocking was that these heartbroken confessions were coming from people who previously were unemotional, sure of themselves, and concerned about their pride and public image. Yet they were confessing sins that no amount of torture could have forced them to admit. "They were cut to the heart."

Something similar happened in Korea in 1907. The Spirit was convicting in regards to sin and righteousness. One night, after a short sermon, a Korean church leader called for prayers. As the prayer continued, over on one side someone began to weep. Listen to what happened next:
Man after man would rise, confess his sins, break down and weep, and then throw himself to the floor and beat the floor with his fists in a perfect agony of conviction.
The missionaries became alarmed by all this and asked each other, "What shall we do?" But they had prayed to God for an outpouring of His Spirit upon the people, and it had come. So they dared not interfere. "They were cut to the heart."

Distress over sin and anguished cries for forgiveness may sound embarrassing to us. We may think we will never stoop that low. But you know, that is what happened at Pentecost. And people filled with embarrassment and pain were instead filled with joy and life.

Today we celebrate the outpouring of the Spirit. Today we celebrate the new life the Spirit brings through the preaching of the Word.

Today, as we look at Pentecost, as we look at Paul, as we look at my cycling friend, as we look at the Great Awakening here in America and China and Korea, we rejoice that revival is always possible. Even among those with the hardest of hearts. Even among the most godless of people.

The question is this: has this revival been experienced by you? Through the operation of the Spirit have you been cut to the heart by the preaching of the Word?
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