Reader: “The Most High doesn’t live in temples”
Response: “made by human hands.”
Scripture: Acts 7:44-53
“Our ancestors carried the Tabernacle with them through the wilderness. It was constructed according to the plan God had shown to Moses. Years later, when Joshua led our ancestors in battle against the nations that God drove out of this land, the Tabernacle was taken with them into their new territory. And it stayed there until the time of King David.
“David found favor with God and asked for the privilege of building a permanent Temple for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who actually built it. However, the Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands. As the prophet says,
‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Could you build me a temple as good as that?’
asks the Lord.
‘Could you build me such a resting place?
Didn’t my hands make both heaven and earth?’
“You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.”
This particular passage comes at the very end of Stephen’s defense of his faith. You can go back to the beginning of chapter seven to read the entire masterful argument he unfolds. At this point historically, Christianity was spreading rapidly and the Jewish religious leadership who had rejected Jesus were threatened and angry and had Stephen arrested. He spoke the gospel with grace and power and had performed amazing miracles. The people were responsive to his message but out of jealousy the Jewish leadership had Stephen arrested accusing him of speaking against the Temple and the law of Moses, both hot topics for the Jewish leadership. Their accusations were that Jesus said he would destroy the Temple and that he would change the customs Moses had handed down. At that point we enter chapter seven.
Stephen brilliantly walks this hostile crowd through Israel’s history beginning with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob down through the twelve patriarchs of Israel, ending with Moses and the Exodus. (Note: he started his argument on common ground by repeating what they all knew and would accept. Good advice when sharing the gospel.) He reminded his listeners to think back of their rebellious ancestors and their wandering the forty years in the wilderness.
He then moves to the Tabernacle question they raised. The Tabernacle had been the dwelling place of God during the desert years. God gave Moses very specific plans as to how it was to be constructed. The presence of God hovering over the ark of the covenant housed in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle was a continual visible reminder to the people that God was always with them. Later, King David got plans from the Lord to build a glorious, permanent Temple for God in Jerusalem, which his son, Solomon, built. Stephen then quotes three rhetorical questions of Isaiah, which in essence say that God won’t be confined to a man made building. After all, heaven is God’s throne; earth his footstool. Humans could never compete with what God can do.
The truth is that Jesus Christ is the new temple. God is to be worshiped in spirit and in truth. No building is necessary to house God; no specific place confines his presence.
Stephen then calls out the people’s rebellion against the prophets and against the witness of the Holy Spirit in their betrayal and murder of the Messiah. They have in essence killed the Temple of God. The Jewish leadership exploded in anger at being confronted with the truth of their own sin and stoned Stephen to death, he becoming the first Christian martyr. Interestingly, a man holding the coats of those doing the stoning was none other than Saul of Tarsus who later became the Apostle Paul.
What are some lessons we might learn from Stephen’s argument for faith? 1) Start a conversation on common ground, something true you can both agree on. 2) Stick with facts. 3) Build your case progressively. 4) Seek for clarity. 5) Draw it to a close, to a point of decision. 6) Rest in God’s hands for whatever the results may be.
When we go to church to worship with God’s people as the visible body of Christ, we are not dependent upon a building to make worship happen. True worship happens when our hearts commune with the Holy Spirit and we engage in the truth of Jesus Christ as our Incarnate mediator. Buildings can provide places and resources but unless the worship is offered in spirit and in truth we have only religious activity. God does not dwell in temples made with human hands but in the hearts of those who call him their Lord. “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price.” (I Corinthians 6:19) Just ask Stephen.
Music: “Mary Did You Know?” Mark Lowery and Voctave A repeat from another year. A great recording of this sung by the guy who wrote it! Fantastic singers! (I know you heard this a few weeks ago with another group.)
Father in heaven, the words of Stephen, “you are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth” is too often true of me. I go through worship with my heart too often in neutral, drifting “in and out of gear.” Help me to better understand what it means to have my body as your temple, your dwelling place. It’s hard for me to realize I’m that significant to you. I pray to have a clearer picture of your perspective. This I pray through Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.