Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brothers…
1. Peter having explained the events of Pentecost, an immediate effect was produced. "They were pricked in their hearts." So the Holy Ghost was poured out upon them as He had been poured out upon the assembly of the Church. We see here, therefore, the double action of the Holy Spirit. He is poured out upon the Church to sanctify and to confirm in the faith; and upon those who are outside that He may alarm and quicken and direct to right conclusions.
2. This was the first Christian sermon that had been preached. Jesus Christ was no longer present in the body. Now we are curious to know how the truth will make its way upon its own merits, apart from that magnetic influence which attached to the audible voice of the Divine Master. Will the truth make its way by sheer force of its celestial beauty and grace, and comfort, or will it perish under other voices than Christ's own? So we wait, we hear the discourse, and when it is concluded we read — that when the people heard this they were pricked in their hearts.
3. Observe the peculiarity of that effect. Not, they were awed by the eloquence, excited in their imagination; gratified in their taste; the result was infinitely deeper and grander. An arrow had fastened itself in the very centre of their life. In their conscience was inserted the sting of intolerable self-accusation. This was the grand miracle. Truly we may say this was the beginning of miracles of the higher, because the spiritual kind. Great effects are produced by great causes.
4. A reflection of this kind would, however, have a very remote interest for us were it confined to an ancient incident. As a matter of fact, the apostle Peter preached the only sermon that any Christian minister is ever at liberty to preach. This is the model sermon. No change must be made here or a corresponding change will be made in the effect. Men may be more eloquent, literary, technical, and philosophical; they may use longer words and more abstruse arguments, but the effect will be like other talk, pointless, and there will be no answer in the great human heart — no conscience will accuse, no eyes will be blinded with tears, none will cry, "What shall we do?" Let us look at —
I. THE SERMON and see how it is made up.
1. It is full of Scriptural allusions, as is every sermon that is worth listening to. The reason why our preaching is so powerless is that we do not impregnate it with the inspired word. Peter did not make the sermon. He quoted David and Joel, the Psalms and the prophets, and set these quotations in their right relations to what had just happened, and whilst he was talking history he made history. Faithful to God's word, God's Spirit was faithful to him, and herein was realised "My word shall not return unto Me void." Peter's word would have returned void, but God's word is as a sower in the eventide bringing back his sheaves with joy.
2. It is full of Christ. But for Christ it never could have been delivered. From end to end it palpitates with the Deity and glory of the Son of God.
3. It is full of holy unction. It was not delivered as a schoolboy might deliver a message. The great strong rough frame of the fisherman-preacher quivered under the feeling of the sacred message which the tongue was delivering.
4. It is full of patriotic and spiritual tenderness, and all the while without art or trick or mechanical skill, it led up to a vehement and solemn demand. When that demand was thundered upon the people they did not applaud the man, they were concerned about themselves; they were not pleased, they were pierced; and they were not gratified, they were convicted.
II. But even this great sermon of Peter's does not explain the full result. THE PREACHER must have had something to do with the effect. He had just received the Holy Ghost. An inspired doctrine demands an inspired ministry. The Book is inspired, but when uninspired readers read it they kill the very fire of heaven when it touches their reluctant tongues. It is there that the holy influence is lost. When the Holy Ghost is both in the doctrine and in the people who profess it, the mountains of difficulty will fly away like dust upon the mocking wind.
III. Nor have we read the full account yet of the production of this mighty effect. THE PEOPLE were prepared for vital statement; anything that was beautiful in nature, or in music would not have satisfied them. They would have resented any discourse that bristled with merely clever allusions or curious conceits of expression. The fire fell upon prepared material, therefore the Word of the Lord had free course and was glorified. How can we preach to a people unprepared to hear? The work is too great for any man. A prepared pulpit should be balanced by a prepared pew, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters." To the unthirsty man the Bible spring is without attraction, but to the thirsty traveller, sun-smitten and weary, how like the music of running streams! A very solemn reflection occurs here. Where the heart is unaffected, Christian service is more mischievous than beneficial. What if our notions be increased, if our motives be left unbaptized? And what if we have been flattered and cajoled and "daubed with untempered mortar," if the Word has not reached the very seat of the disease? Pray for a ministry that shall affect the heart. He who seeks after a comforting ministry only, and a restful one that shall give him no disturbance, wounds his own life.
IV. THE EFFECT was grand in every aspect.
1. Three thousand souls were saved. And this will be the effect of Christian teaching everywhere under the right conditions. Again and again we read that the people who heard the apostolic preaching, "cried out." We have lost that cry: we have succumbed to the cold and benumbing spirit of decorum. And whilst it is perfectly true that there may be an irrational excitement which ought to be subdued and controlled, it is also true that there is a spiritual enthusiasm, without which the Church may be but a painted sepulchre.
2. The people continued steadfastly in the apostle's doctrine, and in fellowship, in breaking of bread and in prayers.
(1) The flock kept well together for fear of the wolf. Were we ourselves in heathen lands we should realise the joy of keeping closely together. But Hying in a Christian land where Christianity has become a luxury, or in some instances even an annoyance, what wonder that we do not realise the primitive enthusiasm, and enter with delight into the original fellowship and union of the Church?
(2) The people continued in the right teaching. Until our teaching be right our life must be wrong. We must ask for the pure bread, the pure water, the undefiled Bible, and live on that; out of such nutritious food there will come proper results such as fellowship, sacramental communion, and common prayer. A man says, "I can pray by myself," that is perfectly true, but you should realise that you are something more than yourself; you are part of a sum total. A man is not at liberty in the Christian sense of manhood to detach himself from the common stock to which he belongs. Herein is the advantage of common prayer and common praise. "Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together." There is inspiration in sympathy, there is encouragement in fellowship. It does the soul good to see the hosts gathered together under the royal banner stained with blood; to see the great army marching shoulder to shoulder under the blast of the great trumpet. "No man liveth unto himself" who lives aright.
(3) They had all things common. This is the sternly logical outcome of true inspiration. But having regard to all the social conditions under which we live this mechanical form of union is impracticable. But having lost this form, which broke down under the eyes of apostles themselves, we still reserve the spiritual outcome and meaning. My strength is not my own, it belongs to the weakest child that I may see groaning under oppression. If I interfere, and the oppressor say to me, What have you to do with him — he is not yours? Christianity obliges me to say he is mine. If you see an animal ill-used and ill-treated, though it be not yours in any technical or legal sense of the term, you are called upon to interfere by an earlier right, and by a diviner law. Whoever has strength owns it for the benefit of those who have none.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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?