What We Must Do (3)
“However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says:
‘Heaven is My throne,
And earth is My footstool.
What house will you build for Me? says the LORD,
Or what is the place of My rest?
Has My hand not made all these things?’” Acts 7:48, 49
Eager to prove
Stephen’s testimony before the Jewish court had the effect of making angry men even angrier. Angry enough to take drastic measures to silence him. One of those angry young men present at the trial and murder of Stephen was a young zealot from Tarsus, an up-and-comer in Jewish religious and intellectual ranks.
His name was Saul.
When we first meet him, holding the coats of Stephen’s murderers, he seems to be still an apprentice – not ready to get his hands dirty, but available to assist those who were. He was of the same mind as those who tore at Stephen. He was just as hostile to the Gospel as they (Acts 8.1), and he was eager to prove his commitment to root out the Christian menace.
Be assured, such angry, ready-to-strike people exist in our secular age, eager to prove their bona fides as advocates of the secular status quo. But be assured also, they are part of God’s greater plan and economy for bringing forth Kingdom fruit in the field of the world.
The true house of God
We recall that Stephen was charged with sinning against the temple of the Lord, by insisting that God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of His Spirit, was now building a new temple, the Church. Stephen’s defense against his prosecutors focused on that charge; he was determined to demonstrate that the charge was baseless and, even more, that his accusers were completely mistaken concerning God’s intentions with respect to His dwelling among men, and that they were to ones guilty of blaspheming against the Lord.
Having laid a foundation for his main point, by agreeing with the idea that God is determined to dwell among men, Stephen pointed first to the tabernacle in the wilderness (Acts 7.44-46). Undoubtedly those generations served by the tabernacle were of the mindset that this tent, constructed according to God’s own design, was to be His permanent dwelling-place among His people.
But, Stephen continued, we know that was not the case. For Solomon built a house for God (v. 47), which had subsequently been destroyed and replaced by the present house, against which Stephen was accused of making threats. Stephen is building the case that we should not be surprised if God chooses to make a new dwelling among His people, especially if He says so in His Word. And we certainly should not resist Him as He does.
Because, Stephen continued, God Himself had made it known through the prophet Isaiah that this earthly temple was not to be His true or final dwelling. “What house will you build for Me? says the LORD, or what is the place of My rest? Has not My hand made all these things?” (vv. 49, 50; cf. Is. 66:1, 2). Stephen’s point was a subtle one: Had his accusers not understood their own prophet? Had they failed to look beyond the existing temple to a greater and more permanent dwelling-place for God? Had they, in fact, made an idol of the temple, just, as he explained earlier, the people had made an idol in the wilderness (vv. 38-42)?
Blind to the truth
And just so they didn’t miss the point, Stephen put the cards face-up on the table: “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you” (v. 51). It’s as if Stephen had said, “You self-deceived, power-hungry fools, who think you can control God and His people by making the temple and your traditions your own special order of operations! You read your traditions selectively, or not at all, so it’s no wonder you’re so blind to the truth about God.”
You don’t get much more in-your-face than that. But the Jews had heard enough, and their fury could not be contained. Nothing would keep them from silencing such impertinence.
Except one thing: Stephen’s example of boldness and suffering made a permanent impact on Saul of Tarsus.
It is very interesting to note, in Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill, that he took off on the Greek philosophers from the same place Stephen had taken off on him and his cronies, so many years earlier (Acts 17.24). Evidently, Stephen’s bold and daring witness made a lasting impression. Was his suffering and death worth it? Paul never got over the shame and sorrow he felt over his role in Stephen’s murder, as we see in Acts 22.20.
Stephen’s confrontational manner before those who presumed to try him may have infuriated them all, including Saul, to the point of murder. But he was welcomed into glory by the Savior, standing to receive His faithful witness. And the long-term value of his sacrifice cannot be measured, given the role the apostle Paul fulfilled in the wide-spread establishment of the Christian faith throughout the world of his day.
Is God preparing you for such a role? Does He intend to use your boldness to shake-up the smug, rattle the railers, and prepare the proud for the work of Christ in their lives? You can’t know, but you must be ready. A hostile age, after all, can only destroy our bodies. But who knows what power may be unleashed by our in-your-face witness and willingness to suffer for the Lord?
1. Do you think it’s every appropriate for Christians to “get in the face” of those who oppose the Gospel? Explain:
2. How should we try to balance the command to be respectful and gentle (1 Pet. 3.15) with the need to confront and challenge those who oppose the Gospel?
3. What might we expect as outcomes when we get in the faces of those who oppose Christianity?
Next steps – Conversation: Meet with some of your Christian friends to discuss the following questions: What is it about our faith in Jesus Christ that makes unbelieving people not like us? Can we do anything to avoid making them angry? How can believers help one another to stand strong for Christ in a hostile age?
T. M. Moore
We must be ready with the Gospel as the Lord gives us opportunities in our Personal Mission Field. Our little book, The Gospel of the Kingdom, can help you to be ready to give an answer and explanation for the hope others see in you. Order your copy by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.