Cut: Something sharp making secure the highest.
In these next chapters, we will be considering those factors that make up the experience we call “redemption”, “being born again” or “salvation”. When we use these terms, we are considering God the Father’s plan to see us moved from a place of union with the false vine, into a relationship of living communion with His Son, Yeshua, the True Vine.
You may be wondering why it is necessary to look at what it means to be “born again”. I have two reasons for addressing this crucial area. Firstly, my own experience in being born into the “church” and spending 35 years in that environment before I experienced what the Bible teaches about being “born again”.
Secondly, I had the opportunity to observe a teenage girl being “born again” at an evangelistic Gospel Music concert. What immediately followed when an appeal was made at the end of the concert was a classical evangelical conversion experience for this teenage girl. I did some follow up with her and I was convinced that she was in the Kingdom of God; however, within a matter of weeks this girl was pursuing Satanism with a vengeance and finding it very much to her liking.
Faced with these two experiences I was forced to go back to Scripture and painstakingly review my classical evangelical view of “being born again”! What follows here is the result of that journey.
In the natural realm, if a vinedresser wishes to graft a branch from one vine into another vine he must first cut that branch from its parent vine.
The thought of a parent vine takes us to those words, spoken by Yeshua, to the Pharisees in John 8:
43 “Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. "You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.
Clearly, Yeshua saw the Pharisees as being attached to the devil, the false vine, and their parent vine.
It is crucial to stop and realise that this was Yeshua’s assessment of the spiritual state of one of the most influential religious groups in all of Israel! In Yeshua’s opinion the Pharisees had aligned their desires with the desires of the devil, just as Adam and Eve had done in the Garden of Eden.
If this is true, then what is Yeshua’s assessment of those of us who make up the influential denominations and movements of our day?
What is His appraisal of you?
What is His assessment of me?
These are important questions because they clarify for us personally our need to be cut to the heart, which is the first step towards being cut free from the false vine. It also serves to focus our attention on where we are at “spiritually” right at this moment.
The phrase: “cut to the heart” only occurs twice in the NT and both occasions are in the Book of Acts:
2:37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?"
7:54 When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth.
Before we look at the context of each of these verses let us look more closely at the meaning of the words in this phrase. The word “cut” in Verse 37 means “to pierce thoroughly” and the word “cut” in Verse 54 means “to saw in two”. The word “heart”, in both Verses means “the middle” or “the thoughts and feelings”.
To my way of thinking what is described by this phrase is not a positive, emotion-charged, pleasurable experience, rather it is an intensely painful process. There is a direct parallel between the physical cutting of a branch with a knife, or a saw, and the cutting through or the piercing thoroughly and exposing the centre of the thoughts and feelings of a human being.
This is the starting point for people really encountering the Gospel.
If I understand the Scriptures aright encountering the power of the Gospel is not intended to be a wonderful, enjoyable and warm emotional experience. Experiencing the vitality of the Gospel is intended to be a painful encounter, a devastating occurrence, something that tears at, and through, our flesh.
How foolish this Gospel is, in that it must bring such intense pain to our human flesh before we can ever begin to understand its truths!
Let us look firstly at the context of the verse in Acts 2. It was the Day of Pentecost. It was the day that the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples who had waited for this promise of the Father in that upper room in Jerusalem. As the impact of the Holy Spirit’s entry into the lives of these people became public, in the streets of Jerusalem, Peter began to preach. Peter preached in the power of the Holy Spirit. The condition of “being cut to the heart”, recorded in Verse 37, is directly attributable to Peters’ preaching in this manner.
This fact leads us to a very important verse in Hebrews:
4:12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
We see this verse in full action mode as Peter preaches on the Day of Pentecost. The word of God, flowing through Peter as a channel, is cutting those who hear this word to the very centre of their being. It is here, at the centre of their being, that their thoughts and attitudes are exposed and they are seeing the thoughts and intentions of their hearts in all their gory detail, perhaps for the first time in their lives. They were under the conviction of the Holy Spirit (see John 16:8).
At this point let us shift our attention to the context of the verse in Acts 7. Here we find Stephen preaching under the power of the Holy Spirit. Again we see Hebrews 4:12 in full action mode as Stephen preaches. The word of God, flowing through Stephen as a channel, is piercing those who hear this word to the very centre of their being. This second group of people are also having their thoughts and attitudes exposed and they are seeing them in all their gruesome detail, they too have come under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Here again, the condition of “being cut to the heart” is directly attributed to Stephen preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit.
It is more than interesting to discover such strong parallels between these two passages, up to this point!
Whilst the means of being “cut to the heart” are identical (i.e. the Word of God being preached under the enabling of the Holy Spirit) in both passages, the response of the hearers could not be more contrasting.
In Acts 2 the hearers respond by asking: “What must we do?” The hearers in Acts 7, on the other hand, respond by getting so angry that they begin to grind their teeth!
This presents us with a mystery: how could the Word of God working as the Sword of the Spirit, bring about such differing responses? How can 3,000 people be added to the Church in Acts 2 and yet not one soul be saved in Acts 7?
The answer to this mystery is to be found in studying the vine and the branch. Remember, we said earlier that before a branch can be grafted the vinedresser must cut the branch from the parent vine? Initially, the vinedresser will cut the branch to its centre, or its heart, but in so doing the vinedresser has not separated the branch completely from the parent vine, it is still half attached.
This was the case when Peter preached and when Stephen preached. As they preached, the Word of God cut like a knife to the centre of each listener (branches on the false vine) exposing the thoughts and attitudes of their hearts. But, despite this fact, all those who heard the Word were still firmly attached to the parent vine, satan!
Something more was required to see these people cut free from the false vine; that “something” is found in Acts 2 but is noticeably absent in Acts 7.
What is it?
It is Verse 40 of Acts 2:
And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!"
It was the “many other words” and Peter’s continued “exhortation” that saw the Word of God cut through the remaining half of these hearts (branches). Stephen did not have the opportunity to “solemnly testify and exhort with many other words”, because his hearers in their anger at being cut to the heart murdered him; hence he was no longer able to preach. So it was that his hearers remained in that place of being attached to the false vine.
There is no detailed identification of those who murdered Stephen. Hence, we do not know whether there were Pharisees actively involved in his death. However, we do know that a young man called Saul, who was a Pharisee, is identified as being present at the murder of Stephen and Scripture records this fact: “Now Saul was consenting to his death.” (Acts 8:1)
Saul must have heard the Word preached through Stephen, he must have been cut to the heart. However, we know that Saul did not experience salvation; he was not born again at this point in time but continued to be a branch attached to the false vine.
In Saul’s case it was not until he was confronted with the Living Word Himself, Yeshua, on the road to Damascus that the other “half” of Saul the branch was cut through.
The point, which must be made, the point that we must comprehend is this: you can be “cut to the heart”, you can have a spiritual experience of hearing the Word and yet still remain in a place where Yeshua would say: “You are of your father the devil”.
This leaves a devastating question hanging in the air: How many people are there in Christian communities, as we know them today, who have been “cut to the heart” by the Word of God, maybe once, maybe many times, but have never been cut free from the false vine?
That young teenage girl was “cut to the heart” on the night of that concert, but she was not cut free from the false vine; hence it was quite easy for her to have a classical evangelical conversion experience and then plunge headlong into the worship of satan. You see, despite hearing the gospel she was still under bondage to the law of sin and death.
There are numerous ways in which a human being can react to being “cut to the heart” by the Word of God. What happened in Acts 7 is one of the more extreme reactions of human nature, as was the reaction of the teenage girl I have spoken about. Other people, after being “cut to the heart” develop a fascination for the Word of God and for Christian community, but their true allegiance remains in, and with, the prince of this world, the false vine! Their lives continue to be dominated by the law of sin and death, manifesting itself in the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life.
Obviously, in the light of these facts, we need to develop our understanding of the human heart a lot further if we are to comprehend what occurs when people are “cut to the heart”.
To accomplish this let us consider the example of Pharaoh, in the Book of Exodus. Pharaoh is a particularly interesting case because we find clear evidence of God “hardening Pharaohs’ heart” and of “Pharaoh hardening his own heart”.
10:1 And the LORD said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh: for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might show these my signs before him:
9:34 And when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants.
Here we are confronted with the sovereignty of God. It was for the accomplishment of Divine purposes that the Lord God moved to harden Pharaohs heart. This is a difficult issue for us to comprehend and yet it is a fact that God took an active role in hardening Pharaoh’s heart.
Nevertheless, an equally impelling fact is that Pharaoh played an active part in hardening his own heart. It is this aspect that we need to focus on if we are to understand what happens when people are “cut to the heart”.
In Exodus Chapters 7, 8 & 9 it is stated again and again “Pharaoh would not hearken”. In Hebrew that old fashion sounding word “hearken” means “to hear intelligently with the intention of obeying”.
It is clear, from this definition, that there are two important factors involved if we “hearken” to the voice of someone. First, we must listen to what is said, and secondly, we must obey what we have heard.
"But why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do the things which I say? (Luke 6:46)
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. (Matthew 7:21)
People who suffer from hardness of heart refuse to listen and refuse to obey; that is, they refuse to act upon what they have heard. Those who heard Stephen preach were suffering from hardness of heart. Even though the Word of God cut them to the heart, when that Sword of the Spirit hit its mark they refused to hear or obey. They refused to respond to the stark reality of the evil thoughts and intentions that existed in their hearts.
The second symptom of hardness of heart is also a recurring theme through these chapters in the Book of Exodus. It is Pharaoh’s refusal to “let go” of the Children of Israel:
Exodus 10:27 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let them go.
Clearly, the Children of Israel had become such an asset, such an important element in Pharaoh maintaining his image as a god, (in the eyes of the Egyptian people), that he could not even entertain the thought of letting them go. This was a direct result of his hardness of heart.
People who suffer from hardness of heart refuse to let go of those things that they consider as being able to control their destiny. Their focus is not on the reality of God being well-able to guide and guard their steps; it is on the false reality of the power of people, material possessions, status, political power and a host of other things, to control their destiny. Hence, they refuse to let go of these things. Look back at Yeshua’s words in Matthew 10:34-38!
Also, if you read Stephen’s sermon, in the Book of Acts very carefully, you will see that he was homing- in on this point and that his hearers flatly refused to consider letting go.
What I am about to say few people will be willing to accept. Nevertheless, I consider it to be an essential truth that we need to be confronted with. I have noted that there exists a deep and profound unwillingness amongst people within Christian communities to “let go” of the man-made denominations and movements in favour of acknowledging Yeshua as the only Foundation of the Body of Christ. Hand in hand with this goes an unwillingness to “let go” of relationships that are based on the “club mentality” of the denominations and movements of our day. Hence, hardness of heart prevails and an environment has been created in which people who have been “cut to the heart”, yet still remain attached to the false vine, live very comfortably.
The third symptom of hardness of heart is that it causes us to harden our hearts even more.
Exodus 9:34 And when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants.
Hardening your heart is a sin. It puts you in a place of rebellion against God the Father. That is why it says in this verse that Pharaoh “sinned yet more, and hardened his heart”.
So too, in the case of those who listened to Stephen preach. Initially they hardened their hearts, which led them to sin yet more. They went from being angry with Stephen to murdering Stephen!
In a nutshell these are the symptoms of hardness of heart:
(1) Refusal to listen with the intention of obeying.
(2) Refusing to let go of those things that we consider as having the power to influence our future life.
(3) Keeping on sinning, keeping on hardening our hearts in rebellion against God.
When that sharp blade, which is the Word of God, comes and cuts us to the heart it brings each one of us to an important cross road in our lives. Here, we have concentrated on the negative response, which the Bible calls hardness of heart, but now we can move on and look more closely at the “positive” response to being cut to the heart.