Temple

Bigger and better. In our way of thinking, this is progress. Bigger. Better. Nicer. Taller. Finer. Stronger. Faster. More. These are the words we use to measure success and achievement.

TABERNACLE

The Tabernacle that Moses and and Israelites carried around the desert for 40 years was sufficient for God. He had authored its design and materials and Moses and his artisans carried out God’s instructions to the letter.

Model of the tabernacle in Timna Valley Park, Israel

The Tabernacle sufficed as a tent of meeting between God and man for almost 500 years’ worth of High Priests. After all, at the dedication of the temple that was to replace the tabernacle, Solomon himself asked, ““But will God really dwell on earth with humans? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” (2 Chronicles 6:18, NIV).

TEMPLE

Bigger. Better. Nicer. Taller. Finer.

But still insufficient.

By our standard Solomon’s Temple was among the most glorious structures of the ancient world. Yet, 400 years later the temple would be destroyed by the Babylonians, the ark of the covenant would be lost forever and the people of Judah would be exiled to Babylon.

After the return from exile, Ezra returned with his construction crew to rebuild the alter and lay out the foundations for the temple’s replacement. When the old men who remembered the glory of Solomon’s Temple saw the smaller foundation stones of its replacement, they wept in mourning (Ezra 3:11-13).

SECOND TEMPLE

So, another 500 years later, Herod would renovate and expand Ezra’s temple into an even more grandiose and magnificent structure. This would be the pinnacle of his building projects in Jerusalem. The disciples looked around and marveled at the buildings only receive the sobering reply from Jesus that one stone will not be left upon another (Matthew 24:1-2, Mark 13:1-2; Luke 21:5-6, NIV).

Indeed, 40 years later, the Romans would raze Jerusalem–including the temple–to the ground.

Bigger. Better. Nicer. Taller. Finer.

But still insufficient.

Jesus had spoken clearly about the religious rulers and their specious, hypocritical rules about oaths and the various items of the temple (Matthew 23:16-22). When Jesus ‘cleansed’ the temple, He told the religious rulers that they had turned His Father’s house of prayer into a den for robbers (Matthew 21:12-14; Mark 11:15-17, NIV). When He spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus was very clear that true, spiritual worship will no longer be identified with a specific location (John 4:19-24, NIV)

Bigger. Better. Nicer. Taller. Finer.

But still insufficient.

REDEFINING TABERNACLE AND TEMPLE

So, there was a sense in which Stephen’s accuser’s were correct when they spoke to Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the temple and the changing of Moses’ customs (Acts 6:14, NIV). Certainly, Jesus did predict the destruction of temple and His death, burial and resurrection was the once-and-for-all time sacrifice. There would no longer be a need for sacrifices at the temple because of what God had done through His Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9).

Jesus Christ.

Sufficient.

Hence, Stephen’s point, quoting Isaiah 66:1-2:

…the Most High does not live in houses made by human 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 where will my resting place be?
50 Has not my hand made all these things?’

The apostle Paul tells us that our bodies are now God’s temple (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) and that we, the church, are God’s temple (2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:19-22).  The Hebrew writer locates the new tabernacle in heaven (Hebrews 9:11) and in Revelation 21:22, John tells us that God and Jesus Themselves are the temple of the New Jerusalem.

CONCLUSION: STEPHEN & THE TEMPLE

When Stephen drove his point home he had turned the tables on his accusers. It is not him but they, themselves, that have blasphemed God, disregarded the Law and Moses, and murdered the last and greatest of a line of martyred messengers that God has sent to His people.

This made his audience angry and this distinguished body of community leaders got really, really mad at him (Acts 7:54). But, once he proclaimed that he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56), that was all it took for these Jewish leaders to throw dust in the air, stop their ears, start screaming and drag Stephen out into the courtyard to publicly stone him (Acts 7:57-60). Stephen was right. Nothing had changed.

The One and Only Constant in this equation is The One, Great I AM, Yahweh! His desire has always been to receive those whose hearts are turned towards Him and His promise is to dwell among them (Deuteronomy 30:9-10; 31:6, 8). This has always been true. It certainly was truly detailed in Stephen’s speech. It is true today.

“Temple” Sunday, February 3, 2019

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