37) Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?Acts 2:37 (KJV)
I remember my very first course in college. It was a psychology class and our professor was very anti-Bible.
Unfortunately, she had a lot of sin in her life. She was entrapped within a goth lifestyle.
As such, her life was pretty carnal, so much so that she would often brag about it in class as a way to justify her lifestyle.
To be clear, she was not any more of a sinner than I’ve ever been, but it was hard for me as a Christian to see her so ensnared.
However, there was something else she would talk about equally as much as the wilds of her lifestyle.“Have you ever heard the gospel and felt downright confronted by it? What if I told you that was a good thing?”
She would spend a lot of class time talking about God and the Bible. In fact, not a class would go by without her mentioning something about or against scripture.
What struck me was that it was all personal. She would talk about her mom and church and how they would always try to “save her.”
She even said once, “What do I even need to be saved from?!”
The gospel bothered her. It got under her skin. Maybe you can relate? Have you ever felt like her?
Does God’s Word make you feel uncomfortable? Have you ever heard the gospel and felt downright confronted by it? Or perhaps the Bible’s message just rubs you the wrong way?
Now, what if I told you that was a good thing?
In today’s lesson we will be back in the book of Acts, where we will learn what it means to be confronted by the gospel, including why it is actually a good thing to be confronted by it.
Tough, not abusive, love
Before we jump into the lesson I want to make one point clear. When I mention being confronted by the gospel, I do not mean being abused by it.
People must always preach and teach God’s Word out of love. (Eph. 4:15) In addition, we are commanded to speak with grace when we present God’s truths to others. (Col. 4:6)
To be sure, you can present a message with fire and brimstone and do it out of love. But when the gospel is presented purely out of anger, or when people are coerced into converting through manipulation or violence, the gospel is not being presented in a Biblical manner.“Those who witness God’s Word to others are like skilled surgeons and the Bible they hold in their hands is like a fine scalpel. They must use it with tender care and precision, not carelessness.”
Those who witness God’s Word to others are like skilled surgeons and the Bible they hold in their hands is like a fine scalpel. They must use it with tender care and precision, not carelessness.
Surely, the cancers of sin we see in those who are not Christians cause us grief and upset us.
Nevertheless, we must help God cure them because we love them and want to see them healed.
Therefore, when I speak in this lesson about the Bible confronting you, know that it is a tough love, not an abusive one, to which I am referring.
The reason for this disclaimer is that many have been unnecessarily hurt because they were not given the gospel in love. If that is you, I encourage you to read on.
“Pricked in their heart”
Acts chapter 2 verse 37 marks the end of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. He had preached some very strong, but no less pertinent and relevant, truths to those in attendance.
In fact, the gospel message was given so clearly that the hearers were “pricked in their heart.” (Acts 2:37)
The English word “pricked” comes from the Greek word κατανύσσω (katanussō) which means to be pierced or stabbed and left with feelings of bewilderment and shock.
If those descriptors sound harsh it is because they are. You see, the message of the gospel is no simple or lite thing. The truth is, there is gravity to the gospel, and as such it confronts those who hear it.“We who are all born naturally rebellious to God and slaves to sin find the gospel at first listen to be entirely abrasive to everything we know and ‘stand’ for.”
Simply put, the gospel “shocks” us. And why wouldn’t it? We who are all born naturally rebellious to God and slaves to sin find the gospel at first listen to be entirely abrasive to everything we know and “stand” for. (Jas. 4:4, Jn. 8:34)
It requires a 180 degree turn from our ways unto God. (2 Chron. 7:14) This is why Jesus said “go, and sin no more” to the lady caught in adultery. (Jn. 8:11)
The gospel message also confronts us because God’s Word itself is a “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12)
The Holy Spirit searches hearts, and uncovers everything about whoever is listening when the gospel is preached. He makes you see who you really are.
The truth that we are sinners in need of salvation and repentance in Jesus Christ alone cuts straight to our very hearts. (Rom. 3:23, Acts 4:12)“We don’t like to admit that God’s Word stings.”
Jesus said ,“I came not to send peace, but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34) The nature of Jesus’ message divides those who choose to follow Him, from those who do not.
Elsewhere God’s Word is described as “quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow.” (Heb. 4:12)
We don’t like to admit that God’s Word stings. In fact, many churches today present an intentionally watered-down message as not to offend.
Many neglect the doctrine of hell for example while others choose to omit certain sins from the Bible.
While their intentions might appear admirable, they unfortunately do more harm than good.
Sadly, the approaches of these churches have left many bereft of the message they so badly need to hear in its most clear, forthright, and honest way, from God’s Word as reveled by Him alone.
“What shall we do?”
The gospel confronts us because it is a matter of eternal life or death.
Salvation is many things, but it is principally a call from God and a promise. (Acts 2:39)
This is why we are to proclaim God’s Word. Think about it, if you call someone with soft words and whispers, they might not respond or even feel they need to.
Moreover, when we call someone, it is done clearly and intentionally. We want them to hear and come to us. The same applies to God.“We cannot hide God’s Word under a bushel or sugarcoat it to say what we want it to say. It is God’s Word, not our word.”
We cannot hide God’s Word under a bushel or sugarcoat it to say what we want it to say. (Matt. 5:15, Deut. 4:2)
It is God’s word, not our word. We must proclaim God and let Him call sinners to Himself. We must remember that we plant, but God gives the increase. (1 Cor. 3:6)
The gospel must be clearly and directly presented. Those who hear it must be left knowing they have a decision to make.
A decision is exactly what was left to those who heard Peter’s sermon. Those present asked “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37)
Peter then told them to repent and be baptized. (Acts 2:38) Then he continued to testify and exhort.
He also told them to save themselves from the perverse generation that they were a part of. (Acts 2:40)
The gospel not only draws a line in the sand betwixt us and the world, asking us to step over or remain, but it also shows us the futility of the world, and of every sin we have come to enjoy.
In that moment, we see the sinful company we’ve always kept, and our entire generation, for what they really are, wicked and perverse.“The gospel not only draws a line in the sand betwixt us and the world, asking us to step over or remain, but it also shows us the futility of the world, and of every sin we have come to enjoy.”
If that does not confront you, I don’t know what will. I can still remember how tense I felt when I saw and understood the gulf between what I had grown up around (the world) and what I was being called into (the family of God) when I was confronted with the gospel for the first time.
When that tension hits us, we are left like Peter’s hearers asking “What shall we do?”
This awareness is the first step to salvation. Then, after awareness comes acceptance.
Each and every sinner must accept Christ, and step out of their own sinful generation to follow God.
It was scary for me to comprehend that reality. Yet I chose to accept Jesus as my savior and I’ve never looked back.
And you know something? That’s what happened to those who responded to God’s call through Peter’s message.
At first those present were merely enemies of God. But they heard the gospel, it confronted them, and they were pricked in their hearts as God called them.
They became aware of their sin. They knew they had to make a decision with eternal ramifications.
Then, the remarkable and the truly supernatural happened!
After they questioned what they had to do to be saved they “gladly received” Peter’s message. (Acts 2:41)
In fact, about 3,000 people placed their faith and trust in Jesus that day. (Acts 2:41)
What is more, the same people who had condemned Jesus to death, were now praising God. (Acts 2:23, Acts 2:47)“Be it through tears, leaping, songs or quiet thankfulness, those who come to Christ are moved by a deep gladness for what He has done for them.”
Confrontation led to a glad response. They made the connection that the author of Hebrews so beautifully elucidates, that those who accept Christ “must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (Heb. 11:6)
And what a rewarder He is! Eternal life, justification, the Holy Spirit, restored fellowship with Him, adoption and so much more flow out of the riches of His abundant grace. (Eph. 2:7)
They were glad to have escaped death, and they gladly answered God’s call. The gospel appealed to them. Joy overflowed.
That is what the gospel does. It begins by confronting us, but it ends its work by eliciting a glad response.
The pricked heart, the call to leave their own generation and the world, and the confrontation of the message, were all heeded. Their stony hearts were melted. They received salvation gladly.
God opened their hearts for them to see the gravity of their situation, their great need and most importantly His great love for them. (Eph. 1:18, Acts 26:18)
God’s love for sinners, His very love for you, is an everlasting love. (Jer. 31:3) He knows you, and is drawing you to Him for salvation.
Have you acted on the realization of God’s great love for you?
Be it through tears, leaping, songs or quiet thankfulness, those who come to Christ are moved by a deep gladness for what He has done for them. They realize His great love for them, and they respond.
This is what happens to everyone who accepts Christ. Through this we see that being confronted by the gospel is a good thing indeed.
Conclusion – Triumph
In today’s lesson we found ourselves back in the book of Acts. We learned what it means to be confronted by the gospel, and we discovered why it is actually a good thing to be confronted by it.
Remember the professor from the start of today’s lesson? I ran into her randomly years later walking the halls of my old college.“Jesus takes us from anger to comfort. From despair to strength, from being lost to being found, and from eternal death to being joint-heirs with Christ in glory.”
She was talking to a student and as I stepped by not only did she look completely different, she was sharing the gospel message to the student!
She had become a Christian…and she was glad to be counted among the family of God!
This is the pattern of all believers. Jesus takes us from anger to comfort. From despair to strength, from being lost to being found, and from eternal death to being joint-heirs with Christ in glory. (Lk. 15:32, Rom. 8:17)
From a confrontation comes a supernaturally remarkable triumph. May you accept His grace today and may your words echo the Psalmist…
“For thou, Lord, hast made me glad through thy work: I will triumph in the works of thy hands.” (Ps. 92:4)
Let today be the day you triumph in God’s work of salvation in your life. Amen!
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The Denial of Saint Peter, 1610, Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi) (Italian, Milan or Caravaggio 1571–1610 Porto Ercole). Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gift of Herman and Lila Shickman, and Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1997. 1997.167.