“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.”
Now, it may seem a bit strange to use this reading during these 40 days of the Passion Season.
Why? The words you read above were uttered by St. Peter after Jesus had been raised from the dead and after he had ascended into heaven, but we’re still walking the Lenten road to Jerusalem.
This road culminates in the betrayal, arrest, torture, interrogation, trial, condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus. This, on the other hand, was part of Peter’s call to faith many weeks later.
But note the reaction of the crowd in Jerusalem as Peter concluded: “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart.”
When is the last time you could have said this about yourself?
Even though the same words aren’t used, Saul of Tarsus (soon to be known as Paul) was pierced inwardly as Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9). His damaged heart then became a healed one.
And take King David, who was accused of adultery and conspiracy to commit murder in II Samuel 12. David’s confession of sin in Psalm 51 and record of absolution for it in the same chapter tell us all we need to know when we are jabbed by the Holy Spirit.
Think of the residents of Nineveh who were, quite literally, filled with the fear of God when Jonah’s words moved them to repentance. They were spared because they repented.
Being cut to the heart is not a physical thing, but a spiritual event. One is convicted of guilt — before God and perhaps man as well — and turns to the same Lord for pardon.
Peter would not have been doing his job if he’d let those people “hang fire” and said something like: “Well, ponder the seriousness of this, and maybe we’ll talk later.”
The gift of forgiveness in Christ belonged to Peter and to the other apostles for giving, but most definitely not for holding back.
When human hearts despair, then our Lord Jesus calls us to speak his own peace to them, peace that passes all understanding.
The waters of Holy Baptism conveyed that gift to those people on that day.
You see, this peace had been won by Jesus on the cross. He is the Lamb of God, who is put forth as the One upon whose person is placed all the sin, evil and wickedness of all time and of all people.
That includes you, dear reader. God’s Law cannot be trifled with, and it cannot be avoided. All people stand guilty of breaking it even from the moment of conception.
But while this truth can and should and must cut us to the heart, the blood of Jesus alone heals that wound. That’s the good news that Peter had for those terror-stricken folks on that day — and upon this one.
This is what the Passion Season is all about as we remember what Jesus did and why he did it for us upon the cross. “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1, 2)
The Rev. Bernard J. Schey is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Copperas Cove.