Hearts of Stone

By Joyce Ford

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

As I read this verse in preparation for a women’s Bible study class about the Holy Spirit, I remembered an example of hearts which were softened by the power of the Gospel. “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?’ (Acts 2:37).

Who were these people whose hearts were so affected by Peter’s sermon? In Acts 2:5, we learn that they were God-fearing Jews who had come to Jerusalem for the Pentecost celebration. Pentecost was one of three annual religious feasts which Jewish men were commanded to observe in Jerusalem. “And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5).

The word “devout” (or “God-fearing”) is used in the Bible to describe people who reverently honor God and live, to the best of their knowledge, to please Him by obeying His commands from the heart. The God-fearing Jews in Jerusalem for this Pentecost feast were from “every nation under heaven.” They were so devoted to God, they were willing to endure the hardships of leaving their homes and jobs, and willing to face the dangers of travel. These men were probably very knowledgeable about the Old Testament scriptures and their prophecies. They were probably the Jews who would meet regularly in the synagogues of their hometowns, studying the laboriously hand-copied scriptures and discussing with their local rabbi the possible meanings of the prophecies. They longed to see these prophecies fulfilled in their lifetime. These God-fearing Jews were eagerly looking for the Messiah [the “anointed One,” the “Christ”] whom God had promised through the prophets. They probably knew the scripture in Ezekiel which promised new hearts and the indwelling of God’s very own Spirit who would “...cause you to walk in My statutes, and...keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:27).

On that momentous Pentecost Day, those God-fearing Jews were drawn by the sound of violent wind to the place where Peter and the other apostles were assembled. They saw what looked like tongues of fire on each one of the apostles. They heard the apostles speaking and were able to understand what was being said — these men from Galilee, in the nation of Israel, were speaking all the native languages of those Jews from other nations! The people were amazed and perplexed, and asked one another, “Whatever could this mean?” (Acts 2:12).

Peter, the bold, uneducated fisherman, stood up with the other apostles, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, preached a magnificent sermon. Peter explained that all these things which the people were witnessing fulfilled scripture. He showed how Jesus’ life and death were exactly portrayed and predicted in the scriptures which they had so closely studied. The climax of this powerful sermon came when Peter charged them with murder — the murder of God’s own Son, the Messiah for whom they had longed.

Their “hearts of stone” became “hearts of flesh” when they heard these words: “...they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ ” Can you imagine their feelings of helplessness and guilt? How could they rid themselves of this terrible sin?

Peter had the remedy for their guilt of killing God’s own Son. “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39).

Now can you imagine their relief when they heard Peter’s words? They surely were filled with unspeakable joy to know how they could rid themselves of their horrible burden of sin — not only the sin of killing God’s Son, but of all the sins they had committed! Added to this wonderful gift of forgiveness and salvation was the gift of the Holy Spirit. These God-fearing Jews who studied the scriptures were well-acquainted with the work of the Holy Spirit as seen in the Old Testament. They knew this was a gift to be treasured because the prophecy in Ezekiel had promised this indwelling of the Spirit.

Today, we can take advantage of these wonderful promises just as the God-fearing Jews did when they were baptized in water for the forgiveness of sins (see Acts 8:36-39; 10:47-48; 22:16). Our “hearts of stone” can also be turned to “hearts of flesh” by heeding God’s call through the words He instructed the Holy Spirit to write through the inspired men of long ago: “the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”