Cut to the Heart
This Sunday’s first reading is another extract from Peter’s Pentecost sermon;
But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
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?” And Peter said to them, “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. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
Acts 2:14a, 36–41
The great reformer, Martin Luther, liked to draw a distinction between the Law and the Gospel. The Law - he taught - convicts us of our wrongdoing, and the gospel shows us the path to be forgiven. The law exposes the problem, and the gospel gives the solution.
We can see something of this at work in this passage. Peter has convicted his audience, he has convinced them that in calling for the crucifixion of Jesus they had done a great wrong. They cry out in despair as they recognise their sin, and it is precisely then that Peter applies the balm of the gospel.
Talk about ‘sin’ is not at all popular in today’s society, and most of us assume we are pretty good people. When Christians talk about ‘self-examination’ it is seen as gloomy, and downbeat. Yet the opposite is true - it is when we realise the wrong that we have done, that we realise the sheer grace of God in forgiving us. As the ex Slave Trader John Newton (1725–1807) put it:
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav'd a wretch like me!