Hundreds of thousands of Jews milled the streets of Jerusalem shopping, talking, and laughing. In a moment everything average about that day stopped. They heard a whooshing sound, and it drew everyone’s attention to a group of crazy men who were marginalized when their leader was punished for blasphemy. Now they were drunk at nine o’clock in the morning, spouting gibberish, and making a spectacle of themselves as the multitude watched.
Then Peter stood, saying, “These people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:15-16). He went on proclaiming Jesus was the Messiah foretold by the prophets. Then he indicted the Jews, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).
The reality of their crime tormented some. Jesus was the Son of God? And we killed him? The questions must have been infinite and the terror palpable as they realized they killed God’s only begotten son. If God could do those things for Jesus, what could he do to us? What will he do to us?
Luke describes this moment in Acts 2:37, “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart.” The word of God is a sharp, two-edged sword. It pierces and penetrates hearts, minds, and souls. Like the surgeon’s scalpel it is precise and purposeful; it cuts to the problem so the doctor can fix it. Peter cut them to their hearts.
Out of their compunction they cried, “Brothers, what shall we do?” It’s one of the most poignant questions in the Bible. Their guilt, shame, and remorse fused into a perfect storm pounding their conscience into admission.
Their use of “brothers” indicates a shift in their opinion of the apostles. At the arrest and trial of Jesus they considered the apostles followers. After Jesus’ death they thought the apostles were like scurrying rats. When the body went missing the apostles became suspects. When they started saying Jesus had resurrected the people looked upon them with pity—duped by a lying, ambitious, opportunist. The apostles were anything but brothers. However, that changed in the convicted minds. Now the once crazy apostles were the keepers of wisdom and knowledge. Surely these apostles would know how to escape the wrath of God.
This question shows they understood the wage of sin. Later Paul would reveal the wage of sin as death (Rom. 6:23). However, the Jews had long known the link between sin and death. For centuries, Jewish parents used Achan (Josh. 7), Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1-2), and Uzzah (2 Sam. 6:5-8) to teach children that sin led to death. If God did not spare these men from death, what would he do to those who killed his son? What could they do to avert his anger?
Peter told them what God demanded, “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). Peter began with their faith and built from there. Repentance meant changing their mindset; changing their worldview; changing how they viewed sin. As man’s heart changes, his actions follow because actions issue from the heart (Prov. 23:7; Mark 7:21). If the heart does not convert, any outward changes would be superficial and short-lived.
After repentance God requires baptism. The obedience of baptism invokes God’s grace, and his Spirit erases their sin (Titus 3:5-7). Without baptism, their sins would not be forgiven, removed, or remitted.
The same warning convicts our hearts today. Our sins drove the nails into his hands. Our iniquities lifted him on his cross. And our hearts cry out, “What shall we do?” The answer echoes from the day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized.”