"All those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath" (Luke 4:28).
My notes from that church business meeting some 20 years ago are fun to read from this distance, but that event was not the least bit enjoyable at the time.
Our church was trying to clarify its vision for the late 1990s and into the 21st century. What did the Lord want us to be doing, where to put the focus? Our consultant from the state denominational office, experienced in such things, was making regular visits to work with our leadership. For reasons never clear to me, the seniors in the church became defensive and then combative. No assurance from any of us would convince them we were not trying to shove them out the door and turn over the church to the immature, untrained, illiterate and badly dressed. To their credit, the church's leadership, both lay and ministerial, kept their cool and worked to answer each complaint and every question.
My journal records a late Sunday-night gathering in my home with 30 young marrieds from a Sunday School class. They were a delightful group. They wanted my testimony and had questions about the operation of the church. Then someone asked the question of the day.
A young woman said, "I can understand someone not liking a pastor's style. But why are these people so angry?"
No one had an answer. I certainly didn't, being the pastor caught in the cross-hairs of their wrath.
To this day, I don't know why they were so upset.
I thought of this incident from our Lord's earthly ministry.
Jesus had returned to His hometown, had gone to worship at the local synagogue, and had read the text from Isaiah 61. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." He closed the scroll, handed it to the attendant, sat down, and said, "Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
That was provocative enough for some of them. Then Jesus added something that drove that bunch over the edge.
In time, some of you are going to be saying to me, 'Physician, heal yourself! Do for us what we've heard you were doing elsewhere.' But I remind you no prophet is ever treated with respect in his own neighborhood. In fact, take this lesson from our history. In the days of Elijah there were lepers all over the place in Israel, yet he cleansed only one of them, the Syrian general named Naaman. In the days of Elisha, there were widows everywhere in Israel, but he was sent only to the widow from Sidon (My paraphrase of Luke 4:20-30).
That did it! The very idea that we are not God's favorite and first in line for all His blessings! We must deal with Jesus now, and nip this blasphemous way of thinking in the bud!
"All those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath. They rose up and thrust Him out of the city and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down headlong" (Luke 4:28-29).
Wrath? Indeed. A murderous wrath.
What would do that to the best people in town?
The night of the church business meeting when we would vote on the proposed mission statement, my journal tells of a certain gentleman in the congregation, always negative, approaching as I entered the worship center. He accused me of something harsh and blatantly false, but my note doesn't say what. I assured him that was incorrect, nowhere near the truth. Then I said, "I don't understand why you are so angry."
He bellowed at me, "I'm not angry!"
Ask any pastor.
Many a great church will have a small cluster of angry members. They oppose every proposal that is made, criticize every sermon; nothing pleases them. And yet, that church—as was ours—is doing some wonderful things and reaching a lot of people for the Lord.
So, what's going on? What makes them so hostile to their leadership?
I have an opinion; I think I know their problem. For those who are chronically upset and hostile toward their spiritual leaders, I think I know their problem.
They're lost. Unsaved. The Lord has not forgiven them of their sins, washed them clean and moved in to make them childlike, humble, sweet-natured and loving.
They're outsiders. They do not know the overwhelming love of God. They have never felt the crushing load of their sins and never had a sleepless night pondering the frightening prospect of standing before a holy God at judgement. They have never heard the Savior say, "Son, your sins are forgiven you" (Mark 2:5b).
Because if they were saved, they would be filled with wonder at such a mighty God, amazement at His grace and love and gratitude that He included such an unworthy one as themselves.
Years ago, I probably would have said it was. But no longer. I truly think this is the reason why some people log a full career in the church angry at the ministers and opposing everything being offered for their spiritual welfare.
Consider this, from Exodus: "Then the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Sukkoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. A mixed multitude also went up with them ..." (Ex. 12:37-38a).
Not everyone who followed Moses out of Egypt was a descendant of Abraham or a believer in the Lord God. Some were along for the ride, glad for an opportunity to escape the slavery of the Pharaoh. And these people—pagan to the core—were a constant source of trouble to the Jews, as well as a thorn in the flesh to Moses.
Numbers 11:4a gives us this: "The mixed multitude that was among them lusted ..."
They were not spiritual, not believers and perennial discontents. As such, they were the instigators of the belly-aching which plagued Moses throughout the wilderness wanderings.
They're still among us. They are the tares of which Jesus spoke in His well-known parable (see Matt. 13:24-30). And we remind ourselves, of these people our Lord said, "Let them alone. We will deal with them at the time of the harvest."
Harvesttime is coming, people of God. Until then, be faithful, keep your eyes on Him.
And whatever you do, try not to elect a tare to anything around your church. But if and when they do get elected—as some will, to our shame—do not expect anything from them except carnal perceptions, naturalistic philosophies and ignorance of the Word. Pray for their salvation, which will begin with a humbling from the Father and end with a childlikeness on their part.
When they become childlike and teachable, you know "Today, salvation has come to this house" (Luke 19:9b).
"Heavenly Father, save your church. Amen."
After five years as director of missions for the 100 Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans, Joe McKeever retired on June 1, 2009. These days, he has an office at the First Baptist Church of Kenner, where he's working on three books and trying to accept every speaking/preaching invitation that comes his way.
This article originally appeared at joemckeever.com.
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