Having twice preached through the book of Acts, something I found remarkable there is burned into my heart. Consider the faithful support and defense preachers received from their brothers and sisters in Christ from the beginning of the Christian Church.
Go over the accounts of the persecution suffered by the church’s preachers Peter, John, Stephen, Silas, and (neverendingly) Paul. It seems impossible there’s no mention of men or women in the Church blaming the preachers for all their troubles.
Consider, for instance, how the Apostle Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost:
Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.
“This Jesus whom you crucified.” Pretty intense, isn’t it? Peter cries out to the conscience of his listeners, warning them they crucified the Man God has now made Lord and Messiah. It’s not a gentle and lowly theme. No one at the time would have found it graceful or comforting, and we know this because of what happened as soon as he’d said these words:
Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?”
How did our Pentecost preacher end his sermon?
Peter said to them, “Repent” (Acts 2:36-38)
Listening to the Apostle Peter’s boldness and faith condemning the wickedness of his listeners that day, it seems unlikely reformed church members and officers would still respond the same. This is much more likely:
Peter, what’s wrong with you? Jesus is grace. He’s not condemnation. Don’t you believe in God’s grace? You’re not doing Christ-centered preaching. Do you think you’re some Old Testament prophet or something?
You wasted a perfect opportunity to extend an olive branch. They just killed Jesus! They know it. Don’t insult them by pointing out the obvious. Watch out or they’ll kill you, too. And us!
The same preaching to the conscience, convicting listeners of sin and righteousness and judgment, is documented repeatedly across the pages of Acts.
Shortly after Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, we read how the Apostles Peter and John were again preaching the Gospel and it infuriated the “rulers and elders and scribes” of Jerusalem. Calling Peter and John into their assembly, after interrogation and debate “they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.”
The account continues,
But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
This is the classic text demonstrating the proper time to refuse to obey civil and ecclesiastical authorities whom God otherwise commands us to obey.
Next comes what I’m trying to draw our attention to. We read that when Peter and John “had been released, they went to [their brothers and sisters in Christ] and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them.”
Note what they reported to have been said to them was intensely hostile, and that the authorities said it in the immediate aftermath of their murder of Jesus. Every brother and sister in Christ knew what was at stake—not just with the Apostles Peter and John, but also with all five thousand of them now joined together in the Jerusalem Church. The livelihood and life of each of them was on the line, and they knew it.
Did they respond by gagging their preachers? Did they tell Peter and John to be quiet? Did they demand Peter and John take steps to de-escalate the situation?
No. Listen to their response, in prayer:
O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said, “Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples devise futile things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ.”
For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.
And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.
No flinching, appeasement, or suing for peace. Were there any “peacemakers” in the church at that moment?
How did God respond?
And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness. And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. (Acts 4:24-33)
When I was an undergrad at University of Wisconsin in Madison, I watched a Christian street-preacher torn viciously attacked out on Library Mall. I’d often watched and admired his zeal. His pertinacity. Standing there behind the crowd of hundreds, I’d watch him getting mocked and man-handled by wicked women and men, even to the point of one man physically assaulting him, sexually. The police present joined the mob in their laughter, doing nothing to protect him. Students of the Evangelical parachurch ministries on campus whined about how wrongheaded and unhelpful he was to their campus evangelism.
After the pagan picked God’s servant up and held him in a bear hug while pantomiming buggering him, the campus vice-president and president, Leon Varjian and Jim Mallon, arrived pulling a Radio Flyer wagon filled with cases of eggs. Leaving their wagon at the back of the crowd, Leon wended his way up to the front and, at very close range, began pelting the preacher with dozens of eggs.
The crowd of students and law enforcement officers were in a large circle around the assault, laughing and applauding it. It grew unbearable, and while their attention was on Leon assaulting the preacher with eggs, I walked over to the wagon and began picking up the eggs, one by one, and smashing them 0n the concrete. I was slow and deliberate.
At that moment, mob psychology became a real thing. The crowd that had been surrounding the preacher shifted. It was like a wave and in seconds the preacher was outside the circle and I was the center. I hadn’t accounted for this. Their laughter had turned to fury. It was astounding. Never having experienced such a thing, my hair stood on end. The danger was visceral.
A young girl watching over my left shoulder as I write this just now asked, “Is this about you?”
No—it’s not about me.
It’s about the preacher of Jesus Christ—my hero.
I’m ashamed it took me as long as it did to stand up and defend him. By God’s grace, I left without even getting punched. Thankfully, the assaults on the preacher stopped and I don’t remember them returning.
From the smashed eggs on the pavement of Library Mall, I walked up State Street and across Capital Square to the city police headquarters. Entering, I asked if I could speak to the officer in charge. He met with me and I filed a formal complaint against his officers.
He listened patiently and I left relieved he hadn’t gotten angry and seemed genuinely concerned.
Understand why I’ve always had a love for men who are hated for righteousness’ sake—particularly pastors.
Dear reader, do you know how many of them are punished for their faithful pastoral care and preaching each and every week? Do you know and grieve how many of them are fired every month by evil men who hate God and His Word? Do you know how many of their wives are intensely hurt? How many of their godly wives have had to fight off bitterness at their husband’s persecution, usually by the rich members and officers of the church? Do you know how many pastors’ kids become pastors’ kids because of the suffering they watch their loving and zealous fathers endure?
These past two weeks, I’ve been talking with two pastors whose jobs are on the line. Both of them are humble and godly. Both have excellent wives. Both love their sheep. Both have been on the hot seat, and now one of them has been fired.
Nothing that we don’t read about over and over in Scripture.
So why do so few of us recognize these same things when they happen in our churches today? These conflicts are all over the book of Acts.
Both of my fellow pastors are being opposed because they are doing their work faithfully, in the fear of God. But oh how their rich and proud members (egged on by their wives) hate them for it.
It’s a very old story:
We have Abraham and Moses for our fathers. We are circumsized. You shut up. We don’t need you. We’ve made our separate peace with Herod and Rome. Don’t mess with the good thing we’ve worked so hard to get. Go away and leave us alone!
Updated, it has now become:
We are Christians. We are baptized. We gave the money to build this church. We own this place. Don’t mess with the good thing we’ve worked so hard to get. We don’t need you. Shut up and leave us alone!
Have you noticed that nobody gives the right outline of the book of Acts? All the outlines are too complicated. It’s should be a single sentence: “Paul preached in one city and caused a riot, but God protected him and he started over again in the next city.”
Even this outline, though, leaves out what I want to point out once more before bringing this chapter to an end.
The brothers and sisters in Christ defended and prayed for the Apostle Paul. They weren’t silent. They didn’t blame him for the riots. They didn’t punish him for making their city and synagogue angry. They rejoiced in the truth and were in lockstep with God’s servant.
Did you know Luther preached through Galatians twice because he needed to get its truths back into his thick head a second time? Me too, and maybe my favorite verse is Paul’s plaintive lament to the church members there in Galatia he was warning and rebuking:
So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth? (Galatians 4:16)
All that’s required to fire a good shepherd is for the good sheep to be silent.
John Calvin was expelled from Geneva twice.
Jonathan Edwards was prohibited from preaching against the Lord’s Supper sacramentalism he had inherited from his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard. It was the leading men of his church in Northampton who refused to allow him to preach against giving communion to the “unconverted.” They told him “no,” but agreed to read a book on it if he wrote one.
He did, and then they refused to read his book.
A bit later Edwards was gone.
What you might not know is that Edwards next took a call to serve a small town out on the edge of the frontier where he defended the Native Americans, preached them simple sermons, and worked for their literacy. But there in Stockbridge, once more he suffered under the intense opposition of the wealthy leading men of the church.
Job’s comforters today will tell us how Calvin made mistakes and Edwards shouldn’t have done this or that if he wanted to stay in Northampton.
So? What now? Are these men also going to tell us what was wrong with Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, and Amos? Do they dare to oppose the murdered prophets Zechariah, John the Baptist, and Jesus. Would they oppose John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul using the same sort of criticisms they have used to shout down their own pastors, today?
No, of course not. They know which side of their bread is buttered and would never think of attacking Scripture’s prophets and preachers. After laying garlands on the tombs of Isaiah and John the Baptist and Calvin, they attack their own pastors.
But hey, their own pastors and preachers are so abusive. They think they’re such hot stuff. They’re egotists. They always demand people listen to them, but they have nothing encouraging or uplifting to say.
Our pastor thinks he’s a prophet and can rebuke us, but he’s no Isaiah. He’s no Amos or Zechariah. He may think he’s Jesus, but he’s not.
During a life in which Mary Lee and I have loved pastors who fear God and ask for the Holy Spirit to lead their preaching and pastoral care, we’ve heard it all. The rich and influential church members are brutal to faithful pastors.
So, good sheep, let us ask you this question:
Has your pastor become the enemy of your church’s rich elders by telling them the truth?
If you have been blessed by God with a pastor who is one of Christ’s good undershepherds, love him. Thank him. Love his children. Thank his children. Love his wife. Thank his wife. Give her some good tins of tea. Buy her the sofa she can’t afford, but would love. Secretly give her money to take her family on a vacation, or her and her husband to go on a second honeymoon.
Aside from such acts of love, though, do please defend him by silencing the schismatic women and their husbands who hate him. (And yes, of course no one would ever use that word).
Good shepherds deserve to be loved by those they shepherd.
Another of the Apostle Paul’s statements in Galatians I love almost as much as the first:
The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him. (Galatians 6:6)
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If you aspire to shepherd God’s flock, forget the legacy seminaries. Trust me. I have personal knowledge of most of their administrators and profs. They are not your friends. Come to New Geneva Academy. We feel the weight of responsibility for Christ’s sheep. We’ll train you to bear that responsibility. By faith. Your training will not be a head trip, but rather personal and spiritual and weighty. You don’t need to move. Contact us.