The Transcendent God Can’t Be Confined — Lesson from the Tabernacle and the Temple — Acts 7:44-50

This is the final OT history lesson from Israel’s past —summing up a long period of time from the days of Moses to King David.  Stephen has already covered the life of Abraham – a man full of the Spirit and of grace and especially of faith.  He took us through the difficult experiences of Joseph – a man blessed with wisdom to understand how God could take something that man intended for evil and turn it around for good.  He walked us through the challenges faced by Moses – God’s chosen redeemer who was rejected at various times by his own people but a leader through whom God demonstrated great power.  We have come to a better understanding of what it means to be filled by the Spirit of God and how Stephen fits that profile.

Now we come to lessons related to the tabernacle and the temple that will speak directly to the root spiritual problem of the Sanhedrin leaders.  Stephen had been charged with speaking against the temple – the sacred dwelling place of God and speaking against the whole worship system of the Jews.  He is not only concluding his defense but he is going on the offense big time as he turns the tables and brings an indictment against his judges.  They have put their trust in a superstitious and ritualistic sense in their close connection to the temple in Jerusalem.

IndictmentMatt. 22:29You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God.”

But now that Christ had come as the fulfillment of the OT sacrificial system, the true Great High Priest, the purpose of the temple in God’s program had been fulfilled. It would soon be destroyed in judgment.  The veil in the temple had been ripped apart from top to bottom.  God was moving on … but the Sanhedrin leaders were not – they wanted to box God in and control Him so that they could take security in some type of automatic blessing due to their association with the temple in Jerusalem.

For background we need to understand the teaching of Jesus in John 4:19-24 where he corrects a similar error on the part of the Samaritan woman at the well.  Worship in spirit and in truth

THE TRANSCENDENT GOD DICTATES THE NATURE OF HIS DWELLING PLACE – NATURE OF TRUE WORSHIP

Where are you going to find God?  How should you be approaching God in worship?

In what country – not tied to the United States

In what denomination – be very careful not to think you have your arms around God

In what church . . .

I.  (:44-47)  TWO EXAMPLES OF GOD DICTATING THE NATURE OF HIS DWELLING PLACE – NATURE OF TRUE WORSHIP

A.  (:44-45)  Example of the Tabernacle in Days of Moses and Joshua … Until David

1.  (:44a) Remote Location — Not restricted to Jerusalem

“Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness,

Stephen continues to show his respect for the Jewish fathers – “Our fathers” – his argument revolved around key historic figures: Abraham, Joseph, Moses – showed he followed in their footsteps but also did not cover over the sins of the people – their idolatry, their unbelief, their stubbornness – Sanhedrin had rose colored glasses when looking at history very selectively

Called the tabernacle of testimony – had the two tablets of the law in the ark of the covenant within the tabernacle; also called the tent of meeting – where the Almighty God met with His people and gave revelation and gave direction

Stephen emphasized many examples of God working outside of the borders of Jerusalem and the promised land – here in the wilderness

Stott: The God of Israel is a pilgrim God, who is not restricted to any one place. . .  God’s presence cannot be localized, and no building can confine him or inhibit his activity. If he has any home on earth, it is with his people that he lives.  He has pledged himself by a solemn covenant to be their God.  Therefore, according to his covenant promise, wherever they are, there he is also.

2.  (:44b)  Divinely Directed Pattern – Not designed by man – God must be worshiped in the matter in which He decrees

just as He who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern which he had seen.

great exhaustive detail given by God on Mt Sinai for the blueprint of the tabernacle – read through the chapters at the end of Exodus – why did God give so much detail?

Tabernacle filled with the Glory of God – this is a big deal – Ex. 40:34-38

God is very particular about the directions He has given about how to worship:

-         look at judgment against Cain

-          look at judgment on those who offered strange fire (Num. 3:4 Nadab and Abihu) – something God had not commanded; adding something to the worship that was not authorized by God

-          look at judgment on those who mishandled the ark of the covenant – 2 Sam. 6:6But when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of it, for the oxen nearly upset it.  And the anger of the Lord burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there for his irreverence” – David was upset with God’s judgment

What’s the big deal you say about practicing baptism or observing the Lord’s Supper??

If it is important to God it should be important to you.

We must worship God in truth – according to what God has revealed in His Word about how He must be approached and worshiped; we cannot make up our own rules; pattern of NT worship is very important to us; not called to invent something new but to reproduce what Christ and the apostles wanted to see as the practice of all the churches

Cf. parallel of passing along the Scriptures as we have received them; teaching the whole counsel of God

Cf. parallel of ministering after the pattern of the apostles and Paul – not charged with being inventive but being faithful to the pattern of what a NT church should look like and how it should function

3.  (:45)  Associated with God’s Power and Blessing for Many Generations

And having received it in their turn, our fathers brought it in with Joshua upon dispossessing the nations whom God drove out before our fathers, until the time of David.

You can worship in the right way … in truth …. But you must also have God’s power and presence and blessing – you must be worshiping in the Spirit

Presence of God should bring much blessing and victory and deliverance and prosperity and peace and dominion

For hundreds of years this mobile tabernacle was all that Israel had – and yet they clearly enjoyed God’s presence and blessing

Sanhedrin was all about trying to be right in their interpretation of the law and understanding of the system of worship – but they had erred greatly – added in human regulations; made worship a burden; did not know anything of the person or power of the God they claimed to worship; just ritual and outward show

B.  (:46-47)  Example of the Temple Built by Solomon Rather Than David

1.  (:46)  Man’s Initiative Rejected

And David found favor in God’s sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.

Even the greatest man that you could imagine = David

you did well that it was in your heart” – 1 Kings 8:18

Motivation was the best – looked around and compared his nice palace to the temporary tabernacle and felt that God deserved a permanent temple – but God did not want or need a permanent home on earth in a structure made by man

2.  (:47)  God’s Initiative the Determining Factor

But it was Solomon who built a house for Him.

Progression from mobile tabernacle to temporary palace to understanding the transcendence of God

[Temple of Herod’s day was not even the same edifice as the glorious one built by Solomon … even Zerubbabel’s less glorious temple was long gone; Sanhedrin had put exaggerated emphasis on the temple]

Once again, God made known the details for the construction of the temple

Look at the beautiful cathedrals over in Europe – as if beautiful stained glass windows and ornate artwork and sculpture could somehow compensate for a lack of spiritual vibrancy …..

Lenski: How, by whom, and in what spirit temples are to be built Solomon and Isa. 66:2b show us.  But to build temples and churches, to make them grand and imposing, to fill them with crowds for great services while hearts are without contrition, obdurate before God’s Word, is to treat God as an idol to whom we may dictate as we please, to invent what his will and word is to be to suit our own perverted hearts.  That is the kind of house many still build, a place where they offer rest to the Highest.

Solomon understood that God was not limited in any way by this new temple:

1 Kings 8:27But will God indeed dwell on the earth?  Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built!”

II.  (:48-50)  DIVINE CORRECTION OF MISCONCEPTIONS REGARDING HIS  DWELLING PLACE = HOW TO APPROACH GOD IN WORSHIP

A.  (:48-49a)  God is Too Transcendent to be Confined to Human Made Structures – Since God Reigns Over All

“However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says:  ‘Heaven is My throne, And earth is the footstool of My feet;

Transcendence of God – God is distinct from the world, does not need it and exceeds the grasp of any created intelligence in the world; much greater and far above His creation; independent of it

Eph. 4:6 speaks of both transcendence and immanence of God –  “one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all

Must capture sense of the greatness of God; He is a transcendent God

Roman Catholic mass: Transubstantiation is the teaching that during the Mass, at the consecration in the Lord’s Supper (Communion), the elements of the Eucharist, bread and wine, are transformed into the actual body and blood of Jesus and that they are no longer bread and wine, but only retain their appearance of bread and wine.

The “Real Presence” is the term referring to Christ’s actual presence in the elements of the bread and the wine that have been transubstantiated.

http://carm.org/transubstantiation

Must understand the significance of the body of Christ in this whole temple discussion:

Remember confusion over the teaching of Jesus which was viewed as an assault against the temple:  John 2:18-22 The new temple is Christ Himself – His body made up of both believing Jews and Gentiles – great turning point – gospel going to be introduced to the Gentiles; God doing something new here

B.  (:49b-50)  God Needs Nothing From Man — Since God Created All Things

What kind of house will you build for Me?’ says the Lord; ‘Or what place is there for My repose? ‘Was it not My hand which made all these things?’”

Huge correction here – this was the point the Sanhedrin stumbled over – they had put themselves in the position of Supreme Court justices who were actually over the Creator Himself – need to re-orient their thinking and become a footstool; need to worship and submit to the Creator

How vast is heaven?  How big is our view of God?

Don’t act in presumption

What does God need from us?  What ministry does God need from us??

Jesus went back to heaven to build a home for us for eternity – does not need us to build a home for Him; we could never accomplish this

Apostle Paul drove home these same lessons to his audience at Athens in Acts 17:25-31

CONCLUSION: Where does God dwell today?

God dwells with His people – we are the temple of God – blessed with direct access to God; able to worship Him in spirit and in truth —  1 Pet. 2:4-5

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