Stephen’s famous speech in Acts 7 is a bit of a ‘well what do you think about this then?’. It comes to a conclusion with ‘God is not in your temple’ and cos you think so you really are a stubborn people, opposing what God is doing. (The presence of the Temple – the place made for God to dwell in was so richly symbolic; it signified to so many that Jerusalem would always be safe. This was how it was in the days of Jeremiah, and in the Roman War epoch. Imagine the rise of faith when the Romans had to go home and sort out home base in the middle of that period, the time of civil war over the future of Rome.)
So he ends with ‘God is not here’, something that was evident with the death of Jesus when the temple curtain was torn top to bottom. And he ends there because he has been emphasising ‘but God has always been there’. He starts with the patriarch Abraham:
The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia.
Joseph has the presence of God with him in Egypt:
The patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him.
Moses – born in Egypt:
At this time Moses was born, and he was beautiful before God.
Moses has a visitation in Midian:
When he heard this, Moses fled and became a resident alien in the land of Midian. There he became the father of two sons. Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning bush.
Miracles in Egypt, sea of reeds and the wilderness:
He led them out, having performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years.
A lot of activity outside the land of Israel… then they come into the land, bringing with them the tabernacle, and eventually to the building of the Temple. Rather than present this as the highpoint which would be the narrative of those within the land he uses it with a twist. The punchline is delivered:
Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands.
Blunt, blunt, blunt. Stephen the Subtle does not seem an appropriate description! Oh maybe there are other nuanced perspectives in the speech, such as,
David, who found favor with God and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the house of Jacob.
Nuanced but the end-product Stephen claims was not approved of – that of building the Temple. God does not dwell there, or in the case of the audience ‘God is not here’. Their history, as Stephen presented it, told them that God was to be found there, outside the safety of the land, outside the city that they knew God would defend; of course he would defend it, the magnificient buildings (occupying around 0% of the entire city) spoke loud and clear – or as they were to find out that not only was God not going to defend it, but there would be an unequivocal sign that it was Jesus, the son of man (human one) who had received the kingdom (Dan. 7:13, 14). In the light of that none of the stones that made up the supposed dwelling place for God could remain one on another. Such a sign revealed a different story to the one the audience narrated. The sign, and Stephen’s speech contradicted their belief that the glory of the Temple surely pointed to the glory of God, and the glory of God promised protection and survival.
Protection and survival? If we desire God here there is a new narrative that needs to be told. God is there.
One thought on “If we cannot see God there then he is not here…”
When I was living in America heading to Brazil, I saw someone reading a book and the title struck me, “What got us here, will not get us there” by Marshall Goldsmith. I bought the book but the contents weren’t that relevant, the title though still sticks with me. How many times do we think that the recipes to “success” is to keep going with the same successful recipe? There are times maybe to be grateful for what got us to this point, but the next turn will be different, because it won’t take us to where we need to be.
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