Cut to the Heart

close up photo of man crying in pink shirt

When Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, thousands of people were baptized and were added to the body of believers that day. What would lead to such a great revival? When we think revival, we think of motivational speakers who connect people to the heart of God, convincing them to believe and keep their life right with God. But what happened on Pentecost was less of a revival and more of a mess of brokenness.

Peter was blunt: “Men of Israel, hear these words: ‘Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know–this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men'” (Acts 2:22, 23 ESV). Peter again made his point clear: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (vs. 36).

“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart” (vs 37). That word was used only here in the entire Bible. It literally means to pierce down, meaning that they were pierced all the way down to the bottom of their heart. This was not just a shrugged off sadness. Rather, it would have been a violent piercing of their emotions. It shook them to their core that they chose a prisoner to be released over Jesus. The irony is that, as they were celebrating the Passover, they were sending God’s Lamb to be slaughtered. It was a dark day for them, but their asking Peter and the other apostles what they should do shows us that they were genuinely repentant.

Peter told them to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins and they would receive God’s Spirit. The response was swift and encouraging. The crowd responded in the best possible way and so began the church.

Burial of your old self

new age with redemption

Paul told the Ephesians that we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). He told the Romans that where sin increases, so does God’s grace. But he was sure to tell them that we shouldn’t sin more so we receive more grace: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2 ESV).

When we are baptized, we are baptized into his death: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (vs. 4). Paul says that if we were united in death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (vs 5). Paul tells us that our baptism brings our old self to death and we are raised a new person. This is a work of God. When our old self dies and our new self rises out of the water, “you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive in Christ Jesus” (vs. 11).

Peter agrees. He uses the death/life language and links it directly to the waters of baptism. Peter says that through Christ’s death and resurrection he was “being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). He immediately shifts to the flood waters where Noah and his family were brought safely through the water. “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Christ” (vs 21).

What Peter says makes perfect sense because, like Noah, there is death under the water. At the same time God saves us by carrying us through the water. Christ is the vessel who carries us safely through the water as we become united with him.

Three baptisms in the New Testament

celebration of baptism of adult

In order to fully understand baptism in the New Testament, we have to begin with John’s baptism. John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, calling people to repentance and baptizing them: “Then in Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:5-6 ESV). We know that it was a baptism of repentance when Paul asked a group of new converts in Ephesus if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed. They said they had not even heard there was a Holy Spirit. When Paul asked what they were baptized into, they replied, “John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus” (Acts 19:4). After hearing this, the new converts were re-baptized and then received the Holy Spirit.

Jesus, having no sin, was baptized by John. If John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, why was Jesus baptized? When John questioned why Jesus felt the need to be baptized by him, he replied, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Unlike John’s other baptisms, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus immediately after his baptism (vs. 16). John prepared the way for Jesus by baptizing for repentance but Jesus fulfilled all righteousness by being baptized.

But after Jesus died and was raised, the Christian baptism now took effect. Hebrews 9:17 gives us a clue into why John’s baptism shifted after Jesus died: “For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive.” We see the change in language immediately after Jesus died and was raised when Peter explained, “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” (Acts 2:38). In order for Christ’s will to go into effect he had to both die and be raised: “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22).

Hebrews tells us that under the old covenant blood had to be shed over and over again. But when Christ died his blood covers believers completely through Christian baptism.

To Follow Jesus Into the Water

gonyuk canyon in turkey

The end of John’s gospel has a dialogue between Jesus and Peter where Jesus predicts Peter’s death. “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go. (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God). And after saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me.'” (John 21:18, 19 ESV).

As divine fate would have it, tradition says that Peter was fleeing Rome due to the severe persecution of Christians under Emperor Nero. Peter saw the risen Jesus and pater asked, “Where are you going?” To which Jesus replied, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” Peter courageously turned around and followed Jesus into the city where Peter was captured and crucified upside down. It’s a grim picture but also a very real call that Jesus gave his disciples. He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

Following Jesus is not supposed to be whenever it suits us. Jesus is clear about this when he said, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” Jesus calls us to follow him everywhere and all the way! This means we follow him into the waters of baptism. It means we follow him in the way we live our lives. And it means we follow him in his suffering and resurrection. Christians cannot write off baptism as no big deal any more than they can write off suffering as something that’s not necessary. Christ commands his disciples to follow him no matter what.

Pentecost Revival


Pentecost, or Feast of Weeks, was celebrated seven weeks after Passover. It was one of the three annual pilgrimage feasts where Jews from all over the world made the trek to Jerusalem to celebrate. They were celebrating the first fruits of their crops and would offer up some of the crops as a way to thank God our Father.

Jesus was crucified on the Passover, fifty days before Pentecost. During Pentecost, Jerusalem was packed with people. The disciples were gathered together in one place and the Spirit descended on them, entering like a mighty rushing wind and descending like dividing tongues as of fire, resting on each one. God’s Spirit was given as a sort of “first fruits” to the Christians that day.

As the Feast of Weeks was a celebration of plentiful harvest, so the ushering in of God’s Spirit commemorate a plentiful harvest of souls. Disciples began speaking in different languages, so that everyone could hear the message in their native tongue. Peter preached a sermon on the resurrection of Jesus, a fitting message for the celebration of the new crop. Peter said, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24 ESV).

Peter delivered the rest of his message, which cut the people to the heart and prompted their question, “What shall we do?” 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. 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” (Acts 2:38, 39).

Luke says that those who received his word were baptized, and about three thousand were added to the church that day. This is the Good News for those of us who were once dead in our sins. There is a first fruit of the Spirit that waits for us, which will renew us and give us power over death. There was revival on the day of Pentecost!

Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash

Communion as Sacrament


John Mark Hicks was a professor of mine at grad school and has written some very good books on communion. His book Enter the Water Come To the Table is an excellent book on communion. I’ve always heard communion referred to as one of the “acts of worship.” Unlike most denominations, we celebrate communion every Sunday. I think viewing it as an “act of worship” is OK, but it’s not completely sufficient. Communion, also known as the Lord’s Supper, is a proclamation of the Lord’s death until he comes. Jesus took the Passover, which was meant to memorialize the saving event of God passing over the Israelite homes and sparing the firstborn sons, and gave it new meaning. Passover continues the story of God’s salvation and applies it to Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb of mankind.

Hicks argues that communion is not merely an ordinance, because “ordinances are often regarded as mere acts of human obedience” (pg. 12). While, in one sense, communion is an ordinance, Hicks argues that it’s also a sacrament. He says that the central idea of sacrament is that “God acts through appointed means to impart grace, assurance, and hope” (pg. 12). In other words, when we, the body of Christ, participate in communion God is acting through this means to impart grace, assurance, and hope. It’s more than remembering; it’s about participating with and communing at God’s banquet.

Very significantly, Hicks also rightly points out that “Jesus himself, as the Incarnate God, participated in Israel’s sacramental journey. He was baptized with Israel, assembled with Israel in its festive celebrations (Sabbaths, Passovers, Feast of Tabernacles, etc.), and ate at those tables” (pg. 15).

For Hicks, there are three important themes to God’s story where we all participate in communion with God. Those are baptism, the Lord’s supper, and assembly. He says that these three are “dramatic rehearsals of the story through which God renews communion, empowers transformation, and realizes the future” (pg. 16). This cycle of death (burial) new birth (emergence/passing through) and resurrection (future) can be seen over and over, beginning with creation. Our participation in baptism, the Lord’s supper, and the assembly bind us in communion with God and we retell the story of salvation.

Peter binds Christian baptism to Christ and the Flood narrative. He says that in the ark, only 8 people were saved as they passed through the water (death below the water, emergence/passing through with God on the ark, look to the future). “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). We commune with God and Christ in our baptism, just as Noah “passed through” the water to find new life as the old died and also just as the Israelites “passed through” the Red Sea to a new life as the Egyptians were swallowed up by the water.

So also, the Lord’s supper is where we participate in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and we experience His grace as he communes with us at the table. Paul says that, at the table, we proclaim Jesus Christ’s death until he comes. This is both an ordinance (what we do) and a sacrament (how God shows up and imparts his grace, assurance, and hope.

Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash