Monday, April 27, 2015

A Good Shepherd Speaks Truth to Power

Jesus had plenty of trouble with the Sanhedrin, Jerusalem’s most powerful religious and governmental movers and shakers; Peter and the rest of the apostles didn’t experience any better.  The larger and more powerful the institution, the greater chance you will run into “keepers of the rules”. 
Whether its clergy leaders in a denomination, members of Congress, or business leaders in the community, there are those who are the self-appointed “permission-givers;” they’re in charge, and they will remind you of that in a New York minute!
Rev. Alan Bevere shared this in a clergy Facebook group this week:
The religious leaders argued with Jesus over his interpretation of the law because they wanted to be the permission givers. They could not rejoice in the good Jesus was doing-- healing the sick, reaching out to the marginalized, and offering words of comfort to those who were suffering. Jesus was doing good without authorization from those who were God's permission givers.[2]
Our text naturally divides into two sections, the Pharisees’ point of view (vs. 1-7), and the Truth of the Good Shepherd as told by Peter (vs. 8-12).

Pharisees – Speaking Power Over Truth

While Peter and John were speaking to the people, they were confronted by the priests, the captain of the Temple guard, and some of the Sadducees.  These leaders were very disturbed that Peter and John were teaching the people that through Jesus there is a resurrection of the dead.  They arrested them and, since it was already evening, put them in jail until morning.  But many of the people who heard their message believed it, so the number of believers now totaled about 5,000 men, not counting women and children.  The next day the council of all the rulers and elders and teachers of religious law met in Jerusalem.  Annas the high priest was there, along with Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and other relatives of the high priest.  They brought in the two disciples and demanded, “By what power, or in whose name, have you done this?”  Acts 4:1-7 (NLT)
It’s really difficult when you’re in charge to sit-by while the unauthorized change everything.  To this collection of Pharisees, Sadducees and other Jewish religious power brokers of the Sanhedrin, Peter and the other uneducated nobodies, fishermen, tax collectors and other riff-raff, were claiming theological ground which belonged to the rulers.  They were going to teach them a thing or two about respect.
The problem was the religious leaders had (as one writer put it) confused the power of position with the power of God.[3]  It works that way when you’re given power; you begin to think you can’t make a mistake, or somehow you are smarter than you really are.
I’ve made that mistake.  In our first pastorate, while we were still in seminary, Elizabeth and I served a little church on the outskirts of New Orleans.  We had a preschooler, and several new babies showed up in the first few weeks.  So, we got the bright idea that the nursery, which was a tiny little castoff room, would be better in the large room behind the sanctuary. 
I was the new pastor and therefore the source of wisdom for all things at the church, so, without telling anyone Elizabeth and I moved all the baby stuff on a Saturday evening as a big surprise for the church.  Come Sunday morning we were in the middle of World War III.  Surprise indeed!
The Pharisees were convinced their position gave them ultimate power from God, and they immediately rejected Peter’s words because he wasn’t one of the certified and approved power brokers.  Ordination withheld!
Question:  What are you in-charge of that would get you angry if someone messed with your space?
The answer that just popped into your mind is that area which poses the greatest possibility of you acting like a Pharisee.
Let’s see how Peter turned this upside down.  Instead of speaking power over truth, here we see:

Peter – Speaking Truth to Power

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of our people, are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man?  Do you want to know how he was healed?  Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead.  For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says, ‘The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’  There is salvation in no one else!  God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”  Acts 4:8-12 (NLT)
Speaking truth to power is a common phrase of contemporary “progressive” thinkers (those who reject historical, orthodox Christian theology and doctrine…but speaking truth to power isn’t owned by any group.  Rather its a powerful tool of God in the mouth of a humble and obedient servant to bring justice and God’s healing as God chooses. 
Sometimes He uses people like us. 
What does it look like to speak truth to power?  Two components:


Did you notice Peter was “filled with the Holy Spirit”?  Peter was not just ticked-off because they Pharisees made him angry.  Along with the other disciples he had spent long days in the upper room, praying and waiting for the Holy Spirit to move.  And when the Spirit moved, Peter spoke.
Peter had a history of speaking before his brain was in gear; but becoming a man of prayer he began to know the difference…and so should we if we are to be like the Good Shepherd we serve; we wait for the Spirit.


Everything Peter said had a clear focus on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  It was all centered in the Gospel.
What Peter said was God has Power to give life over death
Central to all apostolic preaching is the resurrection.  Without the resurrection there is no Christianity.  Paul said that if there is no resurrection we are still in our sins…we’re dead.
When you speak truth to power, speak in the clarity and certainty that even if the powers that be put you to death for daring to stand up for righteousness, God will raise you up and accomplish His will.
What Peter said was God’s Purpose is to save all who “will”
Peter referred to Jesus as the stone the builders rejected, a bold picture of Jesus as God-incarnate…worthy of worship.  He said this cornerstone of truth was sent to save us from sin and death. 
Peter spoke the truth that you can choose Jesus, or you can choose sin and death; but you can’t have both.
What Peter said was the ONLY Pathway to God is Jesus
In some circles[4] Jesus is not the only way to God.  If you claim that Jesus is the only way to God, you’re deemed an exclusivist and narrow-minded. 
But that was what Peter said – no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.
The choices are obvious when it comes to speaking Christian Truth to power – Christ, crucified, risen and coming again….OR…heresy and death. 
You can be a Good Shepherd follower, or you can follow the crowd.
As for me and my house, I’ll follow the Good Shepherd!
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, amen!

[1] Title image: By Diana Ringo (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons
[2] Alan Bevere, Not Just Good Work, But Kingdom Work, April 20, 2015
[3] Mitzi J. Smith at, Commentary on Acts 4:5-12
[4] By this I mean progressive-thinking persons who hold that Jesus is not the only way to salvation.

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