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We Need Preachers (Acts 7)

Why do we need preachers? After all, the Holy Spirit is unlimited and all-powerful, able to go anywhere and open up the hearts and eyes of individuals. Why, then, does He send preachers? We may not come to a complete answer on this side of eternity.

Yet, perhaps the Spirit uses preachers because a voice crying out to many hearers is harder to dismiss than a private whisper in our conscience. Throughout the Bible, the voices of God’s spokesmen interrupted the world around them. They carried unthinkable life-changing salvation to some, but to others the same message presented an irritating obstacle to self-righteousness and an unwelcome reminder of guilt. Those in the second category had long been careful to silence their own consciences, eventually searing them into utter numbness. What a blissful relief they must have felt! But then, to their horror, preachers began to pop up and to declare aloud the same bold objections their consciences had once made! It is no surprise, then, that those who had squashed the whispers of the Holy Spirit and seared their own consciences would go and kill such preachers who spoke by the Holy Spirit and appealed to the conscience.

We need preachers due to our tendency to be blind to our sin. At a student-run prayer night years ago, we were told to listen to the Holy Spirit and write down anything He said. Such an exercise can be fruitful when we have an attitude of repentance, submission to the Word, and openness to correction. But when the students shared, every word without exception was along the lines of, “You are doing well,” or “I am pleased with you,” or “Don’t stress.” Please understand, I am not doubting that God’s Spirit may have impressed this upon the students. But knowing so many of us at that time needed to overcome sin, I wondered why there was not also a “Nevertheless,” like in Revelation 2-3, where God commends the churches but then calls them to repentance. We need preachers, so we do not filter out God’s rebukes in our zeal for the verses that comfort us.

How could it be that Stephen was inspired to give a lengthy review of biblical history to the scribes and elders, who had spent their lives studying it? I believe, in all their hours, years, and decades handling the scriptures, these men had not seen themselves. This Spirit-filled preacher retold how Joseph’s brothers had sold him in their jealousy (Acts 7:9), how the Israelites in Egypt had not recognized the deliverer God sent but rebelled against the very one who preached peace (7:25-27). Refusing to obey Moses, they had reverted to idols (7:39-40). The Spirit then used this preacher to tell the scribes and elders what they were unwilling to consider: “you are doing just as your fathers did” by betraying and murdering Jesus (7:51-52).

Stephen did not call them “stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart” out of personal offense. He did not charge them with “always resisting the Holy Spirit” out of anger. He actually asked God to forgive their sins while they stoned him to death (7:60). Stephen spoke these things because he was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (7:55), and the Spirit found him willing to speak the truth they did not want to hear. This was obedience to God, not a critical spirit.

Beware of sitting under preaching and hoping someone you know in the room is listening closely, because they “need” this message. Instead say, “Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Psalm 139:23). Offer your whole being to the Holy Spirit as a willing vessel. He may then use your life and words to convict others, but usually without you knowing it.

Alex Mack

Teaching Pastor

The Rock Church

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