Summary: The Easter message cuts to the heart of those who are devout.
“Luis Palau tells of a woman in Peru whose life was radically transformed by the Gospel. Rosario was a terrorist, a brute of a woman, an expert in martial arts who had killed 12 policemen. When Palau conducted a crusade in Lima, she learned of it, and incensed by the message of Christianity, made her way to the stadium to kill the preacher. When she arrived, however, she heard his warning on hell, was convicted her of her sins, and embraced Christ as her Savior. Years later, Palau met Rosario for the first time. By then she had assisted in the planting of 5 churches, was an active witness for Jesus, and had founded an orphanage that housed over 1000 children.” (Green, Illustrations for Biblical Preaching.)
What a great story. It has everything we want in a Gospel conversion. It has a bad guy (or in this case, a bad gal), a faithful pastor preaching about hell, and a poor sinner cut to the heart then healed by divine grace. Plus her life has “fruit” which lends credence to the sincerity of her faith. It is a perfect Easter illustration. And this morning, in churches all over America, stories like Rosario’s will be told in hopes of seeing one terrible sinner saved.
Maybe you are terrible. Maybe you are involved in serious sin from which you need deliverance. Please know that it is true – God’s grace is greater than all your sin. I hope you, like Rosario, fall under conviction and turn to Jesus for forgiveness and change.
Yet there are not many Rosarios here today, are there? (Have any of you murdered a policeman?) In fact, there will be few Rosarios in any churches this morning. Pastors will preach for their conversion, but they will not likely attend. Instead, however, some of us may leave feeling pretty good about ourselves: “After all, I am not wicked; I do not need to be cut to the heart; I’m in church on Easter Sunday!”
Could it be that some of the hardest hearts are not in the wicked, but the devout? We who do not “need” God like Rosario? Our text describes people who were “cut to the heart,” and then healed. We need that same “hurting” and “healing” – we need preaching like that of Peter. Notice, please, four characteristics of Gospel sermons, and how each speaks to the devout.
1. Even the Devout Need Gospel Preaching (Acts 2.5,37)
Peter in not ministering from a jail, nor in a Roman coliseum. He is not preaching to pagans, not to the Rosarios of the world.
Yes, God’s grace does convert some “terrible” people. The message of “freedom from slavery to sin” went to Milan in AD 400 and saved Augustine (who was promiscuous, rebellious and wicked). It converts murders on death row (today) just as it changed Roman soldiers who were killing Christians when the Bible was written. The Gospel offers grace sufficient for all the depths of human depravity. Yet those are not the people whom Peter is addressing. He is “preaching to the choir.” He is teaching about Jesus to men and women who are already seeking God. And verse 37 tells us, “they were cut to the heart.” (One version paraphrases the Greek with “acutely distressed.” We might say “they were deeply convicted” of their need for mercy.
In 20+ years of being a Christian, I have participated in eight churches in six states. Additionally, I know pastors from all over the country. In all of those years and through all of those contacts, I have never – not once – heard of a church problem caused by those outside. (Of course, I am aware of the reality and terror of persecution in other lands.) But in the American church, every conflict and every problem I have heard of has come from those who were already “devout.”
At a conference on revival and reformation, Dr. Duncan commented that the greatest threat to the church today is from those who profess Christianity but are not truly cut to the heart.
Jesus faced the same threat. When he ate with the irreligious, and with thieves who worked for the hated Roman government, and with those degraded and dismissed by being referred to simply as, “sinners,” the devout said: “Why does he go to parties with pagans?” And Jesus answered: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not came to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9.10-13).
Jesus was rebuking the “religious” with this fact: if you think Rosario needs grace more than you do, then you do not know the first thing about the Gospel. The Gospel has the same message for the devout as for the Rosarios: “You are more wicked than you would have ever dared imagine.”