You see, words are powerful. Words can cut to the deepest parts of who we are and change how we think, how we act. Sometimes, that's a good thing. Other times, not so much.
For instance, in Acts 2, Peter delivers the first gospel sermon, and boy is it a good one! He goes back to the Old Testament and proves to the Jews who are listening that the Jesus they murdered was the One who was promised all those years ago. In verse 37 we read,
"Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, men and brethren, what shall we do?"From those bold words Peter proclaimed, these men were cut to the heart, realizing they had to make a change. Their hearts were pricked into submission. What a beautiful, powerful thing words can do!
Sadly, the same is not true later in the book of Acts. Stephen, a deacon and proclaimer of the message of Christ, is delivering a sermon similar to Peter's to another Jewish audience. He tells them that they murdered Jesus. He tells them that their forefathers had murdered the prophets. He spoke boldly these very true, very moving words, yet in verse 54 we read,
"When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth."These men shut their ears to the words of Stephen, literally. Verse 57 says they stopped their ears and ran toward him to stone him. Ultimately, they were successful in killing Stephen, most notably known as the first Christian martyr.
But wait, weren't these sermons similar? Weren't Peter's and Stephen's words nearly identical? Doesn't the Bible record that both groups of listeners were cut to the heart? What was the difference?
The difference is in the heart that's cut.
You see, our hearts show who we really are. When your heart is cut, pricked, it shows what kind of person you are. Either you are pricked with guilt and anguish, knowing you need to change, or you are pricked with anger and resentment. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 2:15-16,
"For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life."How is it that the same fragrance can smell like death to some and life to others? It's all about the heart.
You see, I don't believe that those men to whom Stephen was speaking were incapable of feeling guilt. I don't believe they were incapable of repentance. Why, then, did the words provoke such a rage within them? Because their hearts didn't want to change. Their hearts didn't want to be different. They were scared of that change, angry that they needed to change, and ultimately took that hurt and insecurity out on a man of God.
When the gospel is preached in any given setting, people are going to respond different to the same, powerful words. On Mars Hill, Paul spoke the same words to a crowd of people, and yet the Bible records for us that some mocked, some said they would hear him again, and some believed (Acts 17:32-34). Again, it all comes down to heart.
What does your heart say? When the powerful words of Jesus are given to you, what is your response? Do you examine yourself and seek out ways to change to be more like Him? Do you repent of your evil ways and vow to return to them no more? Or do you resent the fact that someone wants you to chance? Do you hear that sermon and think of how it applies to others? Do you, quite simply, respond more like the men in Acts 2, or the men in Acts 7?
It is my prayer that I will always have a heart like the men in Acts 2. You see, I will always struggle with sin. I will always commit sin. I will never, ever, be free from the temptations of the devil--not until I die. That is why I pray to always be cut to the yielding heart. I pray that I will always seek out ways to better serve my risen Lord.
How is your heart today? I pray that it is willing and yielding. But if not, if your heart has been hardened by sin and by hurt, I pray that it will be changed, so that one day you will be able to.