Friday, April 11, 2014

Cut to the Heart

"Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. "For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call." (Acts 2:36-39 NKJ)

Cut to the Heart
I had a strange dream last night. I was at a Bible study with my pastor and some people I knew—mostly some co-workers of mine and some nondescript college students. We were discussing the Crucifixion. Somehow we ended up talking about Isaiah 11, where the Savior is described as "a Rod from the stem of Jesse" (v.1) and "a Root of Jesse" (v.10). Someone asked what that meant, and I explained how Jesse was David's father, and how Jesus was descended from David—hence, our Savior was from the family "stem" of Jesse. But for some reason the discussion wandered away from the discussion of the Crucifixion, and my Pastor and I had to reign in the off-topic speculating and get back to the Cross. People just seemed to trivialize the Crucifixion, to take it for granted, not realizing what it was or what it had done for them. The people there didn't seem ready to discuss it. So let's discuss it today.

The Crucifixion is the tipping-point of human history. While we may count days and years by a calendar reckoned from the Birth of our Savior, it is really only His Death that makes a difference in the world. To put it bluntly, Jesus lived to die. While we celebrate Christmas with reckless abandon every year, we ought to remember that for sixteen-hundred years, Christians spent more time and effort focusing on Easter—the Crucifixion and Resurrection—than on Christmas. The Crucifixion is important, folks, and we must not forget that.

In today's verses from the book of Acts of the Apostles, we have the tail end of Peter's first sermon to the Jews of Jerusalem during Pentecost. The end result was that "about three thousand souls" came to Christ that day. (Acts 2:41) And what did Peter talk about? The Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ. In this last bit quoted above, we see the first result of such preaching: they were "cut to the heart" and asked the apostles what was required of them. (v.37) And what is the Peter's response? "Repent" and be baptized "for the remission of sins." 

What cut them to the heart? Peter told them that THEY had crucified Jesus, who is now "both Lord and Christ." In fact, Peter told them that TWICE. In Acts 2:23, Peter said that Jesus they had "taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death."

At this point, some will say, "Quit accusing the Jews of killing Christ! Jesus was a Jew, you know!" Yes, and every other persecuted prophet of Israel was a child of Abraham, too, but that didn't stop the Israelites from seeking their deaths.

Others might try to get technical and say, "But the Romans crucified Jesus, not the Jews." During the religious wars in Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages, people were impaled on long stakes just the same way that the Romans used crucifixion - as a "deterrent" to other rebels and "infidels." But the Christian rulers didn't want the stain of such cruel deaths on their hands, and so they hired non-Christians to do the actual impaling for them. Did that make the Christians any less guilty? It was the Pharisees and Jewish leaders who brought the charges against Jesus, and who called for Pilate to free Barabbas instead of Jesus. But that's not all that Peter was talking about.

What put Jesus on that cross was the sin of all the generations since Adam, and the sin of all generations until the end of time. WE put Jesus on that cross with our sin, rebellion, and lawlessness. We nailed Him there with our own hands as we performed acts that were not in keeping with the will of God. Our society put a spear in Jesus' side with our belittling of God and our self-interest and pride. Our nation put a crown of thorns on His head instead of a crown of glory, because we seek glory only for ourselves. We ourselves have beaten and mocked Jesus from the court to Calvary every time we allow bitterness and anger and hatred to reign in our hearts. We stripped Him naked every time we ignored the poor and the fatherless, every time we allowed injustice and oppression to reign in our lands. As surely as any Roman soldier, as surely as any mocking Jew in first-century Jerusalem, you and I have nailed our Savior to a cross so He could die.

Does that cut to the heart? It ought to. It's meant to. The Crucifixion is not just some "read it and forget it" moment of history, it is the turning point of God's plan for the world. The violence done to the Son of God was the result of our sins - AND it is the moment when one Man bore those sins away and washed us white as wool. It is cruel and heartless and painful, and it is something we would just as soon forget. But we MUST remember it, and we must remember that although it was horrible, it was necessary. The sentence of death is no longer ours, for the Lamb of God was slain for the sins of the world. Christ defeated death, but He had to die to do it.

Today, dear sisters and brothers, remember the Crucifixion of our Lord Jesus. Don't gloss over it as some inconvenient fact, some unexplainable glitch in the course of Jesus' life. The Cross is the bridge between us and God, the place where our salvation was bought and paid, where we were ransomed from the slavery of sin. Yes, let us read and preach the words of our Lord, and let us talk freely about His unswerving obedience to God the Father. And then, when necessary, let us be like Peter and talk freely about the Crucifixion.

Let's not forget the Crucifixion and why and how it happened. Let us remember that even as non-believers are confused by the Crucifixion and cannot understand it, to those whom God has called, our crucified Lord is wisdom and power. (1 Corinthians 1:20-25) Remember this, too: If thinking about the Cross cuts you to the heart, then that is a good thing, because it means God has touched your heart and elected you to join His Son in glory. Glenn Pettit 

Precious God and Father, I have sinned so much and am so broken today. Your blessed Son was broken and beaten and He bled for me, a sinner and fool for so long. I am cut, dear Lord, deep into my stony heart. Thank You for the Cross that showed us Your mercy. Thank You for dying for me so that I might live. All I ask today, Lord God, is that You teach me how to live again in this new life I have been given. Amen.

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