37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “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. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright (c)2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. http://www.esv.org
Let’s talk about circumcision. This is perhaps not the introductory sentence one might expect for a reflection on Acts 2. Circumcision is nowhere mentioned in chapter 2 or anywhere close. The first time it’s referenced is Acts 7:8 during Stephen’s history lesson from the Old Testament. That’s because it was an Old Testament idea. Circumcision was an act that represented the sign and seal of God’s covenant with Abraham. It marked the Israelites—literally—and set them apart as God’s people.
One of the clearest, sweetest pictures for understanding circumcision comes from C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. One day, after wandering from the group, Eustace (the obnoxious cousin of the Pevensie siblings, Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy) found himself transformed into a dragon due to his own greed getting the best of him. As a dragon, he underwent deep personal transformation, softening greatly despite his ongoing sufferings. After days of pain, Aslan, the great lion, approached him and called, “Follow me.” Leading Eustace to a pool, he commanded him to “undress.” Confused at first, he remembered that reptiles can shed layers, so he began to peel at his skin. Layer after layer, his efforts were ultimately futile. Finally, Aslan responded, "You will have to let me undress you." Eustace complied. Later on, he would describe the experience of Aslan clawing deep into his calloused skin: "The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt."
He then described how he felt once Aslan completed his work: "And there was I smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on — and threw me into the water."
Circumcision. God commanded the Israelites to perform a bloody, painful act as a sign of His covenant with them. But His real desire? That they might circumcise their hearts, not just their bodies (Deuteronomy 10:12-21; Romans 2:25-29). He longed for them to cut away all that was not of Him. But what we learn from history is that the Israelites, like Eustace, were no match for the layers of sin and brokenness around their hearts. The Israelites could not circumcise their own hearts. Only by the Spirit could their delicate, tender hearts be dislodged from their calloused encasements.
While circumcision may not be mentioned in Acts 2, it’s there. It’s the reaction of the people to Peter’s sermon. Verse 37 says they were “cut to the heart.” They were changed. When they inquired about next steps, Peter told them to be circumcised? No. Baptized; the sign and seal of the New Covenant; an outward sign representing an inward reality.
We have been cleansed! God always has and always will desire inward transformation.
What is your response to the Gospel? Have you been cut to the heart? Have you been “thrown into the water?”