Pricked In The Heart

May 27, 2001 / No. 3047

Dear radio friends,

What a powerful and amazing change took place on the day that Peter preached, the day of Pentecost. You may read of that in Acts 2. Peter there had been preaching to men and women, boys and girls, who had the hardest of all hearts, to those who had been so hard as to take God’s Son and with wicked hands crucify Him.

The audience of Peter that day was composed of men of Judea and all who dwelt at Jerusalem. They were the ones who had been brought up in the religion of self-righteousness. Inbred in them was the notion that they had sufficiency in their own works to save themselves. Still more, these were the men and women who had passed by the cross of Jesus Christ itself and had reviled Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.” They had called Christ a deceiver. They had shouted out for His death. They had said, “He has a devil, why do you hear him?”

Peter had just finished his sermon on the day of Pentecost by putting all of their sin and rebellion right before their face. He had said to them, “Know assuredly that God hath made this same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

But we read that, instead of stopping their ears and in exasperation and hatred crying out for Peter to shut his mouth, “When they heard, they were pricked in their heart, and said, Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

What accounted for that – this change from stone, rock, to sponge and softness? The Word of God. The mighty grace of God through the Word preached, as applied by the Holy Spirit, pricked the heart in repentance. That produced the change. God’s grace, worked through the Word preached, and pressed to the heart by the Holy Spirit, as God had said in Jeremiah 23:29, “Is not my word like … a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?”

The change was not brought about by a clever, psychological ploy. It was not brought about by a persuasive appeal, by skillful crowd manipulation. But the change was brought about by the Word proclaimed, through faithful lips, and by the irresistible grace of the Holy Spirit.

Is this the effect that God’s Word preached has upon you? Is this the effect in your heart – that you are pricked? Not that you respond to God’s Word in the knowledge of Jesus Christ with indifference. Not that you greet Christ today with polite neutrality. Not that you hear the Word of God with cold complacency. But you are pricked in the heart. An arrow shoots into your heart, bringing remorse over sin, and by faith you look to Christ as the Savior from sin.

The Word of God, which is the Bible, the holy Scriptures, never leaves us the same. The Word of God always accomplishes something – and in everyone. It is absolutely impossible that no effect is produced. It shall always, God says in Isaiah 55:11, accomplish that to which I send it. Today there are many in the church world who want to approach the gospel of Jesus Christ and say, “Well, let’s look it over.” The church, they say, should engage in marketing. We should be concerned about our image and the image of the gospel because we want to make it appealing to man. More and more the gospel, the Word of God, is put on trial. The question that is asked is, “What will it do for me? Why should I want to buy into it? What does it have to offer me? I will inspect it, I will look it over, and if I happen to be attracted to it and if you put on a good presentation about it, I might pass a judgment of giving it a place in my life.”

All of that is wrong. Always! It is not man who takes up God’s Word in his hand, but it is the Word of God which takes man up in its hands and searches him out, because it is God’s Word and God’s Word stands!

There are many today who ask for miracles. They say, “Show us some mighty proof of God’s power. You talk so much of God, let’s see some evidence of the God you talk about – some dramatic evidence of the Holy Spirit.” So, in the church world, there is much emphasis on dramatic evidences – tongues, speaking in tongues, miracles, healings, holy twitchings and holy laughter – something that 20-20 would like to do a feature on and come with their reporters and say, “Well, what’s it all about?”

No, that too is all wrong! The greatest miracle is the power of God’s grace, through His Word, to prick the heart in repentance and trust in Christ. The greatest power of God that He performs is not shaking a room or removing a mountain and casting it into a sea. Oh, yes, He can do that. He can, through thunder and lightning, and by mighty power, tear a mountain out by its roots and cast it into the midst of the sea. But that is not His greatest power. His greatest power is compared to a pinprick. Yes, when He touches the heart which is hard and makes it soft with tears of repentance and trust in Christ, that’s the mighty power of God. Do you know about that?

What is the heart? We read in Acts 2:37 that as a result of Peter’s preaching of the gospel they were “pricked in the heart.” What is the heart? There are those who say, “It broke my heart,” by which they mean, “It moved and it touched me.” Maybe you say, “Everyone knows what the heart is. Why spend time talking about it? It is very obvious.” But that is exactly the problem. Many think that they understand the term “heart,” but very few do. What does the term “heart” mean in the holy Bible? The word “heart” refers to our spiritual center. The word “heart” refers to the spiritual life that we have before God. It is not simply feelings or emotions. It is the spiritual center that God has created. That heart can assume toward God only one of two positions – either rebellion and hatred, which is the position of all men by nature, or, by the grace of God, the heart is transformed, the life of Christ is placed into it, so that now we stand before God soft, believing, and contrite. It is the center, then, of our spiritual life – our life as it is lived from our heart as we stand before God. That is the heart. It is the source of all of our life. It is not simply feelings. It is much more than that. It is our life as we live it before God.

These men and women, then, were pricked in the heart, pierced in the deepest core of their being, smitten, crushed, their own unbelief exposed to them, their own rebellion and wickedness shown to them, and the gospel and sufficiency of Christ explained to them. They were pricked in the heart.

The Word of God, then, always brings a response, a response in the heart. Stephen, too, had preached. He will preach in Acts 7. After his preaching, we will read, his hearers were cut to the heart and they gnashed on him with their teeth. Stephen, in Acts 7, basically preaches the same message that the apostle Peter preached in Acts 2. The Word was preached to them. And their hearts were also opened and they understood very clearly what Stephen said. They could not simply shrug it off. It got to them and they hated it. They stopped their ears and they ran upon him and they did everything to stop him from saying another word.

Are you that way? Do you tolerate the Word of God just so long as it does not dig too deep and tell you that all is not OK with you? A hard heart also hears the Word of God and rejects it. That Word actually makes them harder. That is always the case.

But then there is the saving work of the Holy Spirit. That saving work is known in this, that, when the Word comes to such a heart it brings a conviction of sin. The same Word of God is preached, not a different Word. What accounts for the difference? The Holy Spirit, who enters into the heart and prepares the heart, by softening it and bringing it to a godly sorrow.

God accomplishes this, both the hardening and the softening of the heart, by the Word, by the preaching of the Word. Peter, in Acts 2, preached with boldness. In fact, all of the preaching of the apostles in the book of Acts was characterized by boldness. Peter was unwilling to compromise any of God’s truth. Peter did not seek first to tailor, to adjust, his message to be acceptable to the ears of the men and women he preached to. No, he took his message straight from God and he delivered the Word exactly as God made it known to him. That he preached in boldness does not mean that he preached rudely or crudely. There was nothing crude or rude in Peter’s sermon. It was straightforward, clear, explicit, hard-hitting, and faithful. Most Christians today look up against preaching which is preaching with boldness and they say that the preacher has a devil in him. Peter was very plain and frank. He was unencumbered by fear. As Peter preached, he did not wonder, “What will they think of me if I say this?” But, rather, “What will God think if I don’t teach and tell His truth?” So he preached the whole gospel of Christ crucified against the background of man’s sin and rebellion before God. This same Peter, who only a little while before, when Jesus was crucified, was afraid that a damsel was going to identify him as a disciple, now, given the Holy Spirit of Christ in his heart, has no fear of men before him. He is preaching in the Spirit of God. That is not a rambling on and on. But it was a careful exposition of the Scriptures, and the speaking of that Scripture, of the truth, in love. Three thousand people in his audience were stung in their heart through the Word preached unto them.

In his preaching, Peter did not hesitate to contradict the expressed ideas of men. Some of them in the crowd, you might remember, had said that the disciples, the apostles, were drunk. When Peter got up to preach, the first words out of his mouth were to contradict that. He said, “These are not drunken as ye suppose.” There are many experts who would say, “That’s a bad way to begin, Peter. Openly contradict your audience? You should try to gain some kind of agreement. You should try to manipulate and bring some selling techniques.” No, Peter is not interested in that. He is interested in the truth. He will speak as one who will bring the truth. Then we read that he went on to tell them exactly what they had done: “You have taken the very Son of God in the flesh and, by wicked hands, you have crucified Him upon a cross.” He goes on to tell them what God has done: “God has raised His Son, Jesus Christ, from the dead and exalted Him to all power.” And he ends up by plainly telling them what they did and what God has done. He is very frank and he calls them to repentance in faith.

God uses the preaching of the Word of God to prick the heart. God does that through one who brings the Word faithfully, a preacher who will feed God’s people with the living and nourishing God, faithful preaching.

Now we know that the apostle Peter on that day had direct revelation from God. That is no longer the case today. Today we have the Word of God. The Word of God is the perfect Word of God. It is inspired, that is, breathed or given of God so that the Bible is word-for-word the Word of God. Of this Bible we read in Hebrews 4:12 that it is quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and the intents of the heart. The Bible is the expression of God’s heart. The Scriptures tell everything. The Scriptures lay open the heart. The Scriptures reach down into the soul. All that is necessary is for the church faithfully to preach the Word of God. The way to the heart of man is to preach the Word of God. We read in Psalm 68:11, “The Lord gave the word: Great was the company of those that published it.” How tragic it is for men to mount pulpits in the church and prattle about the ideas of men, or to consult the latest fads or take their sermon from some secular event, or to apply mass marketing techniques to the church. How sinful. Food has been provided by God. The means are given by God. The mighty power of God is in His holy Scriptures.

That is the calling of the church. The calling of the church is to preach the Word of God. And your calling, as a believer, is to hear that Word of God and to attend a church where the Word of God is preached to you in truth. The organization of the worship service is not something that is incidental. But the organization of your worship service must be around the Word of God, the preaching of the Word of God in all of its truth, and aimed at reaching the heart.

This pricks the heart. This hardens so that some go away hardened in their sin. But this is also the way of peace and pardon in Jesus Christ. They said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” They must admit that what Peter said was the truth. They acknowledge that they have sinned.

Understand their words. When they say to Peter, “What shall we do,” they are not thinking of doing something themselves to remove the burden of their guilt. They are saying, “We are at an utter loss as to what we are to do in this terrible situation.” Their question means really, “We completely confess our guilt and our helplessness before God. We submit to the Word that you have preached. The Word has produced the consciousness of our sin. But that Word now must also show us the way of deliverance from our guilt and sin.”

So Peter says to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” That is the way: faith and repentance. This, too, is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who pricks and it is the Holy Spirit who works faith and repentance. An irresistible work – it is all of grace that God performs through His Word.

That same instrument, the preaching of the Word of God, is what you must hear. As a member of the church, whatever church that may be, you must hold fast to this in a day when the preaching of the Word of God is substituted for all kinds of things which claim to be able to do the work of God. You must see to it that your church faithfully, carefully, and unashamedly preaches the Word of God. You must be aware of this personally. You must go to church. You must attend a church where the Word of God is proclaimed in its purity. And under that preaching you enter into God’s workshop. There God will give you to know your heart. There God shall expose sin, for sure. But He shall also comfort. He shall inflict wounds, but He shall bind them up in the balm and healing ointments of Jesus Christ. There God will bring to you the knowledge of Christ and Him crucified. You need to be there and you must pray that that Word of God does its work in your heart.

Does the Word of God convict you? Does it slay you? Does it prick? Does it bring to you a knowledge of sin? Does it comfort you, the glorious gospel of Christ crucified and risen? Does it leave you with no place to turn, except to the cross and Christ, producing a change of heart in you so that you are broken up in holy sorrow and brought to the amazing joy of Christ given for me, all of the grace of God?

May that Word be spoken to you in boldness and truth. May you seek out that truth. And may that Word continue to accomplish God’s purpose in you, to prick your heart so that it bleeds in sorrow and is filled with the glorious Christ of God.

Let us pray.

Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word. May the church not sell the truth. May the church not express unbelief in Thy Word by looking to other things to accomplish Thy purpose. But may Thy church be faithful to preach Thy Word in boldness and in truth. Continue to gather unto Thyself, to Jesus Christ, through Thy Word, Thy church. Defend and protect her by the truth of Thy Word. Give to us a love for the sound preaching of Thy Word, Amen.