1. You know, sin is a gritty subject. It would be awfully nice if you did not have to deal with grimy issues when trying to bring the lost to Christ. But there is no other way to deal with matters pertaining to sin and damnation than to roll up your sleeves and slug it out in the trenches.
2. Of course, when you are engaged in the battle for lost souls you have two parties to contend with. There is the preacher of God’s Word and there is the sinner who needs to hear God’s Word preached. And, of course, there are those on the scene who are hopefully converted who always derived great benefit when the gospel is preached.
3. That means, you effectively have three parties involved: There is the preacher. Then there are those who are unconverted. And then you have the hopefully converted, who you hope will benefit from the ministry of the Word, and who you hope will not negatively affect those unconverted souls by careless or troublesome behavior.
4. Those of you who know anything about bringing the lost to Christ know that God’s plan is law and then gospel. The law is for the purpose of knocking down and clearing the way for what needs to be in place. Paul wrote, “for by the law is the knowledge of sin,” Romans 3.20.
5. God uses the preaching of the law to slay, to trouble the complacent soul, to arouse the conscience, to weigh down under a burden of guilt, and to squeeze the false sense of hope out of the sinner so that he sees no alternative to Jesus Christ for his soul’s salvation.
6. The problem is, once a sinner is hopefully converted he may still have ill feelings toward the law. There are, no doubt, some of you here this evening who remember with much pain and soreness of the soul the law work that was done on you to prepare you for Christ. So much so that you have a gut level aversion to ever going to camp, where you know you will hear very direct and white hot law preaching.
7. May I tenderly rebuke you? May I admonish you to grow up and mature a bit in this most holy faith? In Romans 7.12, Paul wrote, “. . . the law is holy.” So, how dare you shun it? In Romans 7.14, he wrote, “. . . we know that the law is spiritual.” So, how dare you avoid those places where it will be preached? In First Timothy 1.8, he advised Timothy, “. . . the law is good, if a man use it lawfully.” I submit to you that we use the law lawfully around here, as well as at camp.
8. Thus, if you stay away from camp because the preaching will be hot, meaning the law will be vigorously applied, and you are afraid that you will have bad memories or that you will feel uncomfortable, then you are in the wrong. Such feelings may indicate that you are not a Christian. Or that you are very immature and weak of faith, if you are a Christian. In either case, solid preaching would be good for you and you need to do what you can to attend camp.
9. For those of you who are attending camp, I have a message from God’s Word. Turn to Acts 2.37. While you are turning to Acts 2.37, let me mention something that you who will be at camp have in common with those 3,000 souls who were in Jerusalem on that Day of Pentecost when Peter stood to preach that powerful law sermon: They had no place to go.
10. Think about it. Those observant Jews were in Jerusalem for the Jewish feast of Pentecost. To be observant they had to be there. They could not be any place else and be true to their religion. So, as Peter stood in that “one place” mentioned in Acts 2.1, I am utterly convinced that he was standing at the top of the stairway that leads into the temple courtyard, the very stairway where Jewish men would have to ascend in order to proceed into the courtyard to approach the temple for the feast of Pentecost rituals and ceremonies.
11. Thus, they were in a place where they could easily turn around and walk away if they wanted to, but they knew in their hearts that it would be wrong to leave. So they stayed. And because they stayed, they heard Peter preach. And because they heard Peter preach they were saved from their sins.
12. Those of you who are going to camp are in a similar type of situation as those Jews gathered in Jerusalem. Though attendance at camp is not a ritualistic requirement of Christianity, and there will be no particular ceremonies there that are prescribed in the Bible, you know camp is someplace you need to be. To be sure, it will be fun at times, and you will meet new people and see old friends you have not seen in a while. The same thing was true of those Jews in Jerusalem. But you will also hear some preaching night after night that being in camp makes it just a bit more difficult to get away from than if we had services night after night right here.
13. If you have found our text for tonight, Acts 2.37, I want you to stand and read along with me. This is a verse that shows what is supposed to happen to sinners when their hearts are prepared for conversion. You see, your heart needs to be prepared by the Holy Spirit of God to come to Christ. You can listen to preaching all the livelong day and not see, not really see, the need to be saved.
14. But when the Spirit of God uses the preaching of the law to show your sinfulness to you, to reveal your wickedness and your utter helplessness before God, He will do so by pricking your heart so that you will want more than anything you have ever wanted before to become a Christian, to get your sins forgiven, to be reconciled to God, to have as Savior this One Who was crucified by your sins, but who rose from the dead on the third day and who is not seated at God’s right hand in heaven.
15. Acts 2.37: “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
16. There are three parts that can be observed in this single verse: First, there is reference to what they had heard, which was Peter’s indictment of them, his powerful sermon. Next, we are told what was done to them, “they were pricked in their heart.” Then, finally, we see their response. They yielded to the direction and guidance of Peter and the rest of the apostles. People who truly know they are lost have no trouble whatsoever following the direction of those they are persuaded know the direction to go.
17. Tonight I will focus on the second thing mentioned in our text, “they were pricked in their heart.” Why does it say, “they were pricked in their heart” and not “they were pricked in their hearts”? This is not a mistake. This is the intentional text inspired by the Holy Spirit to show that those in Peter’s audience were all in the same boat, guilty of the same spiritual crimes, deserving the same punishment, and affected in the same way by the same Holy Spirit.
Three things to bring to your attention tonight.
Three things to ponder as you go home alone.
And even if you are in a car with others in your family, please go
home alone in your thoughts, alone in your mind, alone in your condition.
You are all in this together, but if there are any of you who will
be converted tonight, or Sunday, or at camp, you will be converted alone.
It will be just you coming to the Savior, by yourself.
1A. First, NOTICE THAT THEY DID NOT PRICK THEMSELVES
“. . . they were pricked”
My friends, it had to be this way. And it will have to be this way with you, if you are to be saved.
1B. This is because you will not seek the Lord to be saved from your sins.
1C. Your heart is so cold, so calculating, so antagonistic toward God, that you will not take the initiative to be reconciled to Him. You like the estrangement. You like being dead in trespasses and sins. You like the spiritual isolation and loneliness. You feel safe and unthreatened the way you are, despite how miserable you are and where you are headed.
2C. This is called depravity. This is the result of your sinfulness. It is the expected and predictable course of action for someone who is the enemy of God, as you are. No wonder Paul echoes the psalmist, in Romans 3.10-11: “There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”
2B. But there is another reason why your heart will have to be pricked before you will come to Christ. You not only will not prick your own heart because you will not seek the Lord. You will also not prick your own heart because you cannot seek the Lord.
1C. In John 6.44, the Lord Jesus Christ made what is to many these days a startling statement. He said to a group of unsaved men, “No man can come to me.” Was he referring to approaching Him physically, walking up to Him? Obviously, no. He was referring to coming to Him by faith, to embracing Him as Lord and Savior, taking Him to be your own Savior from sins. You cannot just come to Christ.
2C. Why not? Because you are spiritually dead. The result of this spiritual lifelessness is a complete inability to do anything that is spiritual, to do anything that is beneficial, to do anything that is worthwhile, to do anything that will improve your condition and lot in life.
3C. You are the fellow who could save his life by pushing a button with your finger, except you have no hands. You are the fellow who could save his life by speaking a single word, yet you have no voice box. You are the fellow who could save your soul by identifying the color of the wall, except that you have no eyes.
4C. In Romans 5.6, the apostle Paul describes you as being “without strength.” It is true that Jesus Christ died for those who are without strength. So, people without strength can get saved from their sins. You can get saved from your sins. But not by any means requiring strength, because you do not have any strength. None. No sufficient strength of body, no strength of soul, no strength of mind or intellect.
Again, they did not prick themselves.
“They were pricked.” You
cannot prick your own heart. Were
you able to do that you would have done that by now.
2A. But, WHY WOULD THEY NOT AND WHY COULD THEY NOT PRICK THEIR OWN HEART?
1B. The reason the Jews who heard Peter preach on the day of Pentecost could not prick their own heart, and the reason those same men would not prick their own heart, is because of the kind of heart they had. And since all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, the condition of their heart was exactly what the condition of your heart is. What was their problem is your problem.
2B. In Ezekiel 11.19 and 36.26, God explains His complaint to the Jewish people. Their problem, which you can read for yourselves, is that they have “the stony heart.” As well, when the Lord Jesus Christ taught the parable of the sower who went forth to sow, he made a point of mentioning one aspect of a sinner’s resistance to the gospel message that was cast forth as a seed: “stony places” and “stony ground.” This is no accident or coincidence.
3B. You see, the Bible is very clear when it teaches that “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness,” Romans 10.10. But the unaffected and unprepared heart is a heart of stone, and stone is no place for the seed of the Word to take root and flourish. So, it needs preparing. It needs to be pricked.
Has your heart been prepared to receive the seed of God’s Word?
Not here it hasn’t. At
least not yet. My suggestion, therefore, is that you take steps to be where
some deep plowing will occur, where the fallow ground will be broken up,
where some pile driving sermons will be preached in the hopes that your
heart will be pricked. You
cannot prick your own heart. You
will not prick your own heart. But
you can place yourself in an environment where you are less likely to
leave, more likely to stay, and more likely to attend to preaching
designed to forcefully declare God’s law, in the hopes that your heart
will be pricked.
3A. Finally, WITH HEARTS THAT ARE HARD AND STONY, IT CAN ONLY BE THAT GOD PRICKED THEIR HEART
From time to time you have heard me make reference to what is called the divine passive. The divine passive is a form of expression in which something is done to a person, something which cannot be done by the person himself, but the One doing that something is not specifically named. The implication, of course, is that the One doing the action of the verb is God. That is precisely what we have here. “They were pricked.” By whom? Certainly not themselves, since they could not and they would not. Only God can prick the heart. Only God will prick the heart. But He will only prick the heart that is exposed to the preaching of His Word. What does this show us about God? Three things, at least:
1B. First, it shows us God’s power.
My friends, only God has the power to prick a man’s heart. The heart is so cold, so stubborn, so hard, so lifeless, so stony, and so very difficult to reach by means of logic and persuasion about spiritual things, that only God possesses the requisite power to prick it.
2B. Next, it shows us God’s sovereignty.
1C. There is a difference between what God can do and what God will do. He can prick anyone’s heart. He has not pricked everyone’s heart. What determines the difference between those whose hearts He has pricked and those whose hearts He has not pricked? God’s choice. Not your choice, or my choice, or anyone else’s choice. Only God decides whose heart He pricks and whose heart He does not prick.
2C. But God has also sovereignly chosen to make use of means to work in the lives of sinners. And the primary means He has sovereignly chosen to make use of is preaching. He pricked their heart on the day of Pentecost after they had heard and been affected by Peter’s law preaching. That was the Holy Spirit who did that.
3C. So, bowing before God’s sovereignty, let us also not be so foolish that we avoid the means He has ordained, which is preaching. God does what He will do, but He has informed us that when He does what He will do He uses preaching to make it happen. So, my friend, listen to the preaching. Pay attention to the preaching. Get sinners to where the preaching is.
3B. Finally, it shows God’s mercy.
1C. Who does God just have to save? No one. Who deserves to get saved? No one. Who does God have to have in heaven with Him? No one. What does God need from sinners, from any sinner? Nothing.
2C. Thus, when God works in the lives of sinners to prick their heart so they will come to Christ and be saved, He is showing mercy. Let me read some verses to you:
“But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and
plenteous in mercy and truth.”
109.26: “Help me, O LORD
my God: O save me according to thy mercy.”
136.26: “O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth
1. Some are of the opinion that a sinner can just come to Christ anytime he wants to. That wrong-headed notion is shown to be wrong with just a little Bible study. Before any sinner can come to Christ his heart must be prepared by the Holy Spirit, using the preached Word of God.
2. How long does this preparing work of the Spirit of God take? As near as I can tell, the Spirit of God worked on me intensively for about 24 hours before my conversion. We have some here in the auditorium who were under strong conviction for some months.
3. I suppose we can safely agree that the preparation of the heart varies from individual to individual. We can also agree that no individual prepares his own heart, but must be prepared by God . . . typically using the Word of God.
4. Is it fun to have your heart so prepared? If the word God uses to describe it, piercing, is any indication, no, it is not fun. It is a miserable time of guilt and horror, with feelings of great confusion and hopelessness overwhelming the sinner.
5. But the preparation of the heart is necessary, so do not scorn it, do not avoid it, do not be afraid of it. It is necessary for the surgeon to first make the incision, before he can remove the cancer that will kill you. Thus it is with the pricking of your heart.
1  Matthew 13.5, 20; Mark 4.5, 16