Cut to the Heart (sermon text version)

Monica Lewinski.  Oscar Pistorius.  OJ Simpson.  Lindsay Lohan.  Tiger Woods.  Lance Armstrong.  Richard Nixon.  Pete Rose.  The list goes on of people who actually had a lot going for them until they did stupid things, immoral things, and/or illegal things that got them noticed for the bad in their lives instead of the good.  The bad ranges from shoplifting to gambling to lying to murder.  In the case of all the living ones, they’re still paying a price in one way or another.

Pete RosePete Rose—the Hit King–was interviewed on ESPN in a program “Outside the Lines” remembering the 25th anniversary of Rose’s banishment from baseball and he said,

I’ve been led to believe America is a forgiving country, and if you do the right things – keep your nose clean, be a good citizen, pay your taxes, do all the things you’re supposed to do – eventually you’ll get a second chance.”

Rose, you may remember was banned from organized baseball for gambling.  In the program, the interviewer, Jeremy Schaap, asked Rose to role-play his pitch to the commissioner for reinstatement.  Rose’s response was:

I wish some way in your heart you’d find an opportunity to give me a chance, a second chance…”

He’s looking for forgiveness actually—well, enough to get him into the Hall of Fame, though he admits he still gambles in legal ways.  When you think about it, professional sports figures and celebrities these days can get away with steroid use, beating up women, hiring prostitutes, fast driving-before-crashing cars, being drunks, being drug addicts; they get suspended for shoplifting, for dog fighting, for bullying, and host of other things we would be less likely to tolerate from lesser known people.  They get a pass because they’re famous.  Rose’s offense stands as remarkably tame in comparison to many of these things and yet, he’s still banished from baseball 25 years later.  His response?

skeleton in the closet“For anybody listening out there that has a skeleton in the closet, get it quickly as you possibly can,” Rose tells Schaap.  “Because as soon as you get it out, the healing starts; the process starts.”

We all have skeletons in our closet…and not because Halloween is coming up.  Because they’re there year-round, year after year, and many of us hope to take our skeletons—our offenses, our sins, our lies, our secret embarrassing mistakes of varying magnitude—to the grave without their ever becoming public. These skeletons of shame haunt us.  Fear of their becoming known while we’re still alive is a thought that keeps us awake at night.  So we try to push it out of our minds…but it silently consumes us.  Sin is that way.

Monica Lewinski can testify to how stupidity at the age of 19 still haunts at the age of 41.  Haunted for 2 decades.  22 years lost in bitterness and humiliation.  More than half her life has been spent carrying that weight of shame.  She’s been cut to the heart by the public exposure, but what has she done with it?

Even trying to cover it up with a crusade against cyber-bullying doesn’t take it away.  Talking about it doesn’t take it away.  A therapist, a social worker, a psychologist, and water under the bridge does not take it away.  Not when you’ve been cut to the heart like that.

Have you ever been cut to the heart?  By someone pointing out something you did?  By bringing it to light?  In a public way?  The Jewish hearers of the Apostle Peter in the book of Acts found out exactly how that feels.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been breaking apart Peter’s sermon to bring the various points to emphasis.  Today I’d like to read the whole thing, end to end, not because I’m looking to plagiarize Peter’s sermon as my own, but because now we can hear it how the Jewish hearers would have heard it.  It will make their response of being cut to the heart all the more understandable.

The text of Peter’s sermon is in our passage for today, Acts 2:14-36.

Acts 2:14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ 22 “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25 David said about him: “‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, 27 because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. 28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’ 29 “Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand 35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”‘ 36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” 37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 Peter replied, “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. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off– for all whom the Lord our God will call.” 40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Peter doesn’t pull any punches.  He delivers the one-two punch:  You crucified the Lord.  You crucified the Messiah you’ve been waiting for.

36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.

jesus cross black and whiteIt’s no wonder that the people were cut to the heart.

For those who had been listening, knew their Jewish prophecies, and had been taking the message to heart, their skeleton was out. 

They’d killed the Messiah!  Now what?

37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

What shall we do?

Once you’ve crucified your Messiah, there is no going back and undoing it.

One day a little boy said some awful things to his parents.  As punishment, the dad sent the boy out with a box of nails and told him to nail all of them into the fence.  So the boy did and thought his punishment was through.  He said, “Pop, I finished.  All the nails are in the fence now.”  The dad brought him back outside and said “Now I want you to remove them all and put them back in the box.”  The little boy found it was harder to remove them than to drive them in…and he also found that they no longer fit in the box.  Finally he finished and came to his dad and said, “OK, Pop, I’m finished.  They’re all out.”  The dad took him outside and they sat on the grass and looked at the fence.  Light from the setting sun peeped through all the holes.  The dad said, “Son, what do you see?”  The boy replied, “I see a lot of holes.”  The dad proceeded to explain that careless words were like nails into a fence.  You can apologize and try to remove them, but there’s always a hole left behind.

Pete Rose found that out. You can say you’re sorry and even try to make up for mistakes by spending time in jail, but 5 months for tax evasion still doesn’t take it away!  You can try to make up for it by being baseball’s biggest fan and promoter!  You can try to make up for it by giving interviews and pleading with authorities to take the punishment away.  But like the fence, only forgiveness fills the hole left behind.

Forgiveness doesn’t come cheap.

It’s not enough for people to forgive you and for you to forgive yourself, but it’s a start.

All sins committed are actually committed against the Image of God in you and in me.  Because when we sin, we make the Image of God (broken through sin but never removed) shoplift or gamble or lie.  The offense is against God.  For these Jewish hearers, it was one step worse than that.  When your sin is crucifying God’s only Son, the Messiah, repentance is all you can do because the offense was eternal and limitless.

That’s the bad news: your skeleton is out and it’s huge and never goes away on its own.  It will haunt you ‘til the day you die and without God’s forgiveness, it will haunt you beyond the grave. 

Here’s the Good News:  God’s forgiveness is eternal and limitless…and enough to pay for any sins, even for crucifying your Christ…because God knew beforehand that you were going to do it.

So in verse 38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.

Then Peter continues by saying “And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off– for all whom the Lord our God will call.” 40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”

Peter is not advocating a do-it-yourself salvation program, but he is begging them in every way he knows how to realize that the blood of Christ covers sin—the small secret ones and the great big public ones.  The blood of Christ forgives and takes away fear of the skeletons in the closet, under the bed, on the porch, or on the street corner for all to see.  There’s forgiveness in the shed blood of Christ.  You can “save yourself” by repenting and by identifying with the death of Christ through public baptism.  God is the One who fills the holes in the fence, but we can agree with God that only Jesus can give us victory over sin, only Jesus can save us, and that while our sins are as scarlet, God can wash us as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18).

41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

That’s the key, isn’t it?  Accepting the message.  Accepting the Good News.  Accepting that we cannot do anything about our sins.  And accepting that God CAN and DID do something about our sins in the death of the person of Jesus Christ, your Messiah, the Son of God.

It’s amazing that this altar call at the end of one sermon produced about 3000 converts…

  • 3000 people who were no longer in bondage to their sins,
  • 3000 people whose skeletons were out before God, had been covered by the blood of Christ, and therefore were nothing to fear anymore,
  • 3000 people who were set free to be the Image bearers God always intended that they would be…
  • 3000 people who heard that there is a solution for sin and that His Name is Jesus.

And while it’s amazing that 3000 heard and responded, what’s even more amazing for us today is HOW it happened.  Peter preached a message that focused on sin and the Cross…something that’s suspiciously missing from much of Christianity today.  What is preached today is often what Richard Niebuhr famously described as,

A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

We tiptoe very carefully to avoid talking about sin.  But if we have no sin, what use is there for a Savior?  We’ve been convinced that we can’t—in a culture of moral relativism—even talk about sin without someone being offended and saying so.  We can’t talk about sin without someone turning on you and asking “Who are you to judge?”…and it’s no wonder the Church in America is slowly being made irrelevant at best and dying out at worst.  It’s what happens when we don’t have sin.  We don’t need a Savior.  We’ve come a long way since Jonathan Edwards preached about “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and brought about the Great Awakening.  Today, it’s more like Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s “Defining Deviancy Down,” by normalizing sin instead of repenting it.

Being cut to the heart means we know the truth of who we are and the forgiveness God offers.  In the movie, Walk the Line about the life of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, Johnny has just made it through a rough time of getting off drugs.  Johnny Cash thanks June for seeing him through this tough time and she simply replies that she had a friend who needed help.

  • Johnny Cash: But I’ve done so many bad things.
  • June Carter: You’ve done a few, that’s true.
  • Johnny Cash: My Daddy’s right. It should have been me on that saw. Jack was so good. He would have done so many good things. What have I done? Just hurt everybody I know. I know I’ve hurt you. I’m nothin’.
  • June Carter: You’re not nothin’. You are not nothin’. You’re a good man, and God has given you a second chance to make things right, John.

The next scene shows them going to church with June reassuring him that it was OK.  God’s house is a place to hear about forgiveness.  Forgiveness by God is even better than a second chance to do it right by ourselves.

Some of us are waiting for second chances when what we really need is forgiveness.

Where are you?  Are you waiting for a second chance to do things right?  Or are you waiting for a clean slate and a fresh start?  Are you looking for forgiveness?  That’s what being “born-again” is all about and it begins with being cut to the heart about our sins.  So where are you today?  Let’s pray.


Categories Chapel Worship/News | Tags: | Posted on October 29, 2014

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