Sermon: God Doesn’t Live in Temples Made with Human Hands (Pt. 2) Acts 7:35-53

God Doesn’t Live in Temples Made with Human Hands (Pt. 2)

Acts 7:35-53

Introduction

The first half of Stephen’s prophetic declaration of judgment we looked to last week.  We saw in verses 1-34 how that God loved His people and cared for them and was intimately connected to them in lands far away from Jerusalem and before there even was a Temple or Tabernacle as far as that goes.

In spite of God’s great love for Israel and despite the miracles and signs they witnessed by God’s hand they chronically rebelled against God.  Throughout Hebrew history you can trace the rebellion.  Every once in a while they would repent, but by in large theirs is a history of disobedience and rebellion.  They rejected every prophet sent to them by God.

Primary Claim of the Text

We must always rejoice in God’s finished work of redemption and never boast in anything we achieve.

Acts 7:35-53 (ESV)
35 “This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush.
36 This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years.
37 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’
38 This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us.
39 Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt,
40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’
41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands.
42 But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: “‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices, during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?
43 You took up the tent of Moloch and the star of your god Rephan, the images that you made to worship; and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’
44 “Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen.
45 Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David,
46 who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.
47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him.
48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,
49 “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest?
50 Did not my hand make all these things?’
51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.
52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered,
53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”

1.  They Rejected God in Egypt

35 “This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush.
Last week, we learned from Steven that God was with Joseph in Egypt.  We learned that He heard the cry of His people in Egypt.  God would send a deliverer to them in Egypt and yet God’s people rejected Him in Egypt.

Again remember they were accusing Steven of blasphemy against God because he spoke of Moses and the Temple in terms of Christ’s Messianic fulfillment.  When, in fact, it had been a consistent practice for the Israelites to speak poorly and even persecute those whom God sent, including Moses.

This text comes from Exodus chapter two which relays the account of Moses when in an effort to defend and deliver a fellow Hebrew, another rebukes him and refuses to follow…

Exodus 2:11-15 (ESV)
11 One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people.
12 He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.
13 When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?”
14 He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.”
15 When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. And he sat down by a well.

Steven tells us that even this incident 40 years before the burning bush account, Moses was a rejected deliverer…

35 “This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?

This story is rarely expounded other than to accuse Moses of murder.  Here the prince and someday King of all of Egypt saw (much like God saw the affliction of His people) on of his fellow Hebrews being assaulted and defended him even to the death of the assailant and they reject him as their deliverer.

In fact God would then send him back as the Ruler and Redeemer of His people.

So, Israel rejected God in Egypt.

2.  They Rejected God in the Sinai Desert

36 This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years.
37 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’
38 This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us.
39 Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt,
God was with Moses is the outer reaches of the Sinai Desert when He appeared at the burning bush account.  God was with him and all the Israelites during the Exodus from Egypt.  God demonstrated His power as He worked signs and wonders through the hand of Moses.  They saw the Egyptians hand over their gold and fine jewelry to them, they saw the parting of the Red Sea, they saw cloud of smoke and the pillar of fire by night, they drank from a dry rock, Saw the flashes of lightening and felt the earthquake when Moses ascended the mountain to meet with God, they beheld the face of Moses glowing after being with God, all this and much more and they still rebelled and rejected Moses and really rejected God.

Stephen makes mention that Moses led them out and while leading them performed signs and wonders and that he also told them about Another who was to come, namely Jesus Christ who would also do signs and wonders.  37 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’
Then Stephen gives a very strange but intriguing statement… 39 Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt,
So, at the foot of the mountain, it’s as if they pushed Moses away and went back to Egypt.  They didn’t return to Egypt physically but Stephen tells us they went back in their hearts.  In other words they desired to return to Egypt and slavery.  What would make a whole people who have just been rescued from slavery by the powerful hand of God desire to go back?

3.  The Diagnoses of a Stiff-necked People

40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’
41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands.
42 But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: “‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices, during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?
43 You took up the tent of Moloch and the star of your god Rephan, the images that you made to worship; and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’
44 “Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen.
45 Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David,
46 who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.
47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him.
48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,
49 “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest?
50 Did not my hand make all these things?’
51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.
52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered,
53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”

What does Stiff-necked people mean?

In ancient Middle East, those who were infected with encephalitis we often called stiff-necked.

Stiffness of the neck is a common symptom of encephalitis or “brain fever.  One common trait would be an intense stiff neck due to brain swelling and issues with the brain stem.  It also included hallucinations, and memory problems.

When God called the Israelites stiff-necked He was basically saying that they we suffering from extreme forgetfulness brought on by sin.

Exodus 32:9 (ESV)
9 And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people.
What was it specifically that made them suffer from such “brain fever”?  Why would they rather be back in Egypt suffering as slaves than be free serving a loving God?  What was the cause of this disease?
I prayed and studied and prayed some more and I think I see what was going on.
In Exodus 32, which is the account of the Golden Calf there are two crucial points made.  First, they fashioned with tools this idol to worship.  Second, they declared that these are the god’s who brought you out of Egypt.
Exodus 32:4 (ESV)
4 And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”
Steven then adds something that really makes it clear…

41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands.
This phrase, they were rejoicing in the works of their hands.  In the midst of literally being surrounded by God’s wondrous deeds and miracles, they were hallucinating because none of that caused them to worship the true God.  Rather than giving God the glory they were rejoicing in their works.  They wanted the glory and praise for themselves.  They had just crossed the Red Sea on dry ground and would rather steal God’s glory for themselves than praise Him.

So they fashioned a calf out of the gold that God gave them as plunder and made an idol out of it and then declared that these gods delivered them…the real God and this metal calf.
As slaves in Egypt they made things with their hands.  They built massive construction projects out of bricks and they no doubt also had some who were skilled in fashioning metal images of the gods that were worshipping by the Egyptians.  They took pride in their achievements, things they could do with their hands.

41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands.
Whether it was building Pyramids in Egypt or the second Temple in Jerusalem they were boasting in the works of their hands.  Look what we can do!  Since we don’t know what happened to this guy named Moses, we will move ahead and make our own God.  We will even sacrifice to it and declare that it brought us out of Egypt.  In other words, God didn’t do it, we did it ourselves…we are powerful and we rejoice in the work of our hands…There is no other explanation than this people were sick with a disease to the point they were hallucinating.  To think this metal calf led them out of Egypt…

Mankind is always tempted to trust in the work of his hands.  Do you find fulfillment in your hard work that should only be found in God?  Do you pat yourself on the back, for example, when you bring home a paycheck or when someone congratulates you.  Have you found significance in some achievement or meeting a goal or listening to the praise of people?  If so, you are suffering from sinful brain fever.  You are hallucinating.

God is the only place we should find significance.  He is the only One we should be rejoicing in.
For forty years this generation of Israelites brought sacrifices to all the false gods of Egypt and every other nation they came in contact with and never praised God and sacrificed to Him…
“‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices, during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?
43 You took up the tent of Moloch and the star of your god Rephan, the images that you made to worship;

Not only did they make a golden calf to worship, but they made other idols and bowed to them, not God.

Moses was instructed on how to build the Tabernacle or the tent of meeting where God was so gracious to meet with His people…but notice what the people did…

43 You took up the tent of Moloch and the star of your god Rephan, the images that you made to worship;
They had another tent…the tent of Moloch.  Can you believe their rebellion?
That is why God declares,
47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him.
48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,
49 “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest?
God promises that He will never live in a house or Temple built with sinful, self-glorifying human hands.  He will never have anything to do with idols.

Beloved the Temple in Jerusalem had become an idol.

Steven tells them that God is the One who makes things.  He’s the One who creates everything.  God speaks the cosmos into existence and we would rather praise ourselves because of something we’ve done than to praise God?

Rather than being reminded by God that they are sinners so that they would turn and be forgiven…

51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.
52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered,
53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”

They killed the prophets and they Jesus just so they wouldn’t have to hear them any more.   They refused to keep God’s law because they were writing their own laws.  They wanted credit, glory and honor so terribly that they refused to listen or to obey what God said.

Steven hits the nail on the head when he declares that they too are sick in the head because they murdered Jesus just like their father murdered the prophets.

Here’s Steven’s point… Finally, Stephen gets to the point of the temple—the accusation against him. He points out that Solomon built God a house (v. 47)—the temple they prize so dearly and that Jesus said he would destroy and build again in three days—and he says in verse 48, “Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands.”
You cannot pretend any more.  You can’t act like you are worshipping God in the Temple when in fact you are worshipping the works of your hands in the Temple.
And right here we get to the heart of Stephen’s warning for us in this message. What was the root evil in all this resistance to God’s will? Why did they resist the Holy Spirit (v. 51)?
The root evil in many in Israel was that they derived their joy—their fulfillment, their meaning, their sense of significance—from what they could achieve with their own hands. Verse 41: “They rejoiced in the works of their hands.” They wanted a kind of god and a kind of worship in which they could demonstrate their own power and their own wisdom and their own righteousness and their own morality and their own religious zeal. They got their joy from what they could achieve and not from God. Especially not from a God so free and so great and so sovereign and so self-sufficient that he gets all the credit for everything good, and won’t let himself be limited or controlled by anybody’s man-made temple.
The temple in Jerusalem had become for many in Israel a symbol of what they could achieve—the work of their hands. And therefore the worship there had become a subtle form of self-worship—all very religious, using all the right language, but coming from uncircumcised hearts and stiff, unsubmissive, self-exalting necks.
When Jesus said he would destroy the temple and build another in three days “not made with hands” (Mark 14:58), he meant he would destroy this kind of religion. Stephen saw it as clearly as the noonday sun, because he was a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit. He did not look to the achievements of his own hands or to the performances of his own power. He looked to God in faith and relied on the Holy Spirit for power, so that “the God of glory” (v. 2) would get his glory.—John Piper

Where do you find significance and joy?  Is it in your achievements or in God alone?

Because everyone is inclined toward self-deception and inclined toward the works of our hands and our achievements, we must pray that God would cure our sickness and hallucinations and fix our affections entirely upon Him.  He is the One in which we must find fulfillment and meaning.  Brothers and sisters unless God cures our condition, much like the generation during the wilderness wandering and much like those accusers of Steven, is terminal.

Are you stiff-necked?  After witnessing the wondrous works and miracles of Christ in the Gospels and after realizing that He died on the cross to save us and after understanding that He rose from the dead on the third day, we must be brain dead to still desire sin over the risen Lord.  Pray and fight to make Christ your treasure over and above all others.

Primary Claim of the Text

We must always rejoice in God’s finished work of redemption and never in anything we achieve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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