Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Midweek Grace - Acts 7.

For many of us history was not our subject of choice in high school. It seemed an interminable bore of long dead people, long forgotten dates and long irrelevant events that had no connection with the here and now. However, once and awhile a history teacher came along that made the subject come alive. He or she relayed the people, places, dates and events as if we were there and living through it ourselves. Of course, the best history teachers connected past events and people with today’s socio/political realities.

The first martyr of the New Testament church was one such instructor. Stephen was one of the first deacons of the church and was a man full of God’s grace, Spirit and wisdom. He also was a dynamic evangelist with an incisive, Christ-centered knowledge of Scripture. He put this knowledge to use as he witnessed of the risen Lord.
It’s what Stephen said about our Lord that aroused opposition and thus provided him the chance to give a scintillating account of redemptive history. Remember, redemptive history is the history of God’s people recorded and interpreted in Scripture that leads up to the redemption of all God’s people through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
What did Stephen say that provoked such anger among the people that they dragged him before their rulers for an impromptu trial? We’re not sure, but from their false accusations Stephen may had declared that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was the final and ultimate satisfaction for sin and thus there was no longer any need for ritual animal sacrifices. These statements of truth were twisted into lies that seem to center on three crucial issues: 1. Where does God dwell, 2. How does one obtain and maintain a right relationship with Him, 3. Who is Jesus Christ.

Stephen’s response is a riveting, Spirit-filled account of redemptive history. He begins with the story of Abraham the great patriarch of God’s people and the father of the faithful. Stephen points out that Abraham’s part in God’s story wasn’t confined to him getting a new place to live or to show us how to get the material things we want with God’s help. Instead God chose Abraham to be the father of a nation that after a period of time would live in their own land with the singular purpose of worshiping Him (see Acts 7:7). Despite the strength of the nations that surrounded Abraham, his apparent vulnerability and that fact that he was given this promise while still childless God was faithful. Abraham with Sarah bore Isaac. Isaac with Rebekah bore Jacob and Esau. Jacob with Leah, Rachel and their maidservants bore the twelve tribes of Israel. In time a famine threatened wipe out Jacob and his fledgling family.

But God was faithful. He preserved His people from starvation through their brother Joseph. Joseph, the one rejected by his brothers ends up becoming the instrument of their salvation. The people of God enter Egypt with 75 people (70 from Jacobs family plus five from Joseph’s who were already in Egypt). There they prosper, multiply and most of all preserved the knowledge of the One, true and living God for the world. However a new pharaoh who didn’t know or acknowledge Joseph’s contribution to his nation arose and brutally oppressed God’s people to the point of threatening a genocide (Acts 7:19).

But God was faithful. He preserved Moses His servant and through His sovereign care caused him to be reared in the palace of the king. One day Moses decided to check out how the boys in the hood were doing and witnessed an incident of police brutality. He intervened, killed the oppressor and hid the body. After trying to break up a fight between two Hebrews Moses learned that his crime had been discovered and has to run for his life into the land of Midian. Moreover, his people questioned his authority asking sarcastically ‘who made you a ruler and judge over us’. While Moses is gone and builds a new life his people continue to suffer from the harshness of slavery.

But God was faithful. After forty years He appears to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai within a bush that burned yet was not consumed. As Moses approached the bush the Creator of heaven and earth spoke to him and said ’I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob‘. Moses shook with fear. God would send Moses back to Egypt to rescue His people from the power of Pharaoh. Moses led the people out of slavery with powerful displays of signs and wonders. It was this Moses that solemnly told the people ’God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren’. (Acts 7:37) Despite their miraculous deliverance which included crossing the Red Sea on dry land, the people rebelled against God, His servant and His law. Through there own rebellion and disobedience God’s people aroused His anger and if God had been completely just would have endured His complete punishment. God however dealt with His people graciously instead of fairly. He gave them the tabernacle of testimony while they lived in the desert. The tabernacle made exactly according to the pattern God had shown Moses traveled with God’s people throughout their wandering assuring them that He indeed was present with them. At times it seemed with their rebellion and disobedience that God would finally reject and destroy them.

But God was faithful. He brought them into their own land and raised up a leader who gave them rest from all their enemies. King David became the shepherd of God’s people and through God’s power guided them to live in the land of promise safely. It was this David the poet of Israel who one day reflected on all the blessings the Covenant Lord had granted to him and His people. David wondered why he lived in a palace of cedar while the ark of God sat in a tent. Though David desired to build a house for God, the Lord promised He would raise up David’s son to build a temple for Him. God further promised that David’s throne would endure forever. David’s reign however was not without trouble. Through his own sin and the attacks of Satan his rule and legacy was jeopardized as the kingdom threatened to be torn apart.

But God was faithful. Solomon ascended the throne of his father David and began to build the temple of God. Upon its completion Solomon stood before the great God and His people and declared the wonders of God’s majesty by stating ‘"But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! (1 Kings 8:27)
That’s a fascinating question. Will God in fact live on the earth? Will He continue to strive with rebellious, disobedient people who reject His authority? Stephen rightly pointed out the people’s continued rebellion and stubborn hard-heartedness. It was about 500 years after the completion of Solomon’s temple that the building lay in ruins, God’s people were scattered to the nations and the throne of David sat empty. How was God going to keep all His promises, finally deal with the sin of His people without eternally judging them and at last live with His creation?

But God was faithful. Enter Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ the eternal Son of God. Jesus the Son of God, begotten, not made. Jesus who is very God of very God. Jesus who is the blessing and inheritance of Abraham. Jesus who like Joseph is rejected by His brothers, but ends up being the instrument of their salvation. Jesus who is the final deliverer of all God’s people setting us free from the penalty and power of our own sin. Jesus the prophet that God raised up who was like Moses. Jesus who is the shepherd of God’s people and the One who right now sits on David’s throne and rules God’s eternal, righteous kingdom. Jesus who finally and fully answered Solomon’s enigmatic question. Jesus who is the actual temple of God. Jesus who now lives among His people by His Spirit and therefore fills heaven and earth by His presence. Where does God live? Is He confined to a narrow parcel of land about the size of New Jersey located in the mid-east? No, God lives among His people who now make up the temple of the living God and offer our sacrificial worship through the living lamb Jesus Christ. How does God rescue the wicked, deal with sin and still uphold His holiness? Through the sinless life, sacrificial death and glorious resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. Who is Jesus Christ? He is the theme, subject, substance, point and culmination of Scripture, history, salvation, life and our faithful God.
Let the church say ‘Amen’!

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

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