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Bible spine dwtx.orgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 7:44-50

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.[a] 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?’

————————————————————————————————

This post concludes the apologetic of Stephen, who defended himself against charges of blasphemy in the temple court.

Stephen, one of the first deacons, was also divinely given the gift of ‘doing great wonders and signs among the people’ (Acts 6:8). He also spoke openly about Jesus in Solomon’s Portico (Porch) at the temple. For this, he was arrested on charges of blasphemy: blaspheming God, Moses, the law and the temple. Acts 7 contains his address and the council’s action against him.

Stephen first got the council’s attention by saying he had revered the same traditions as they and respected the history of the people of Israel. He related the story of Abraham, then of Joseph.

At that point, he accomplished two objectives: holding his audience’s attention and defending himself against the charge of blaspheming God.

As Stephen related his scriptural knowledge of the early patriarchs, he also indicted his audience for rejecting Jesus. His reason for mentioning Joseph was to get them to realise that Joseph’s brothers treated him the same way the Jews treated Jesus.

Stephen went on to discuss Moses scripturally, to show that he had not blasphemed him. He began with Moses’s childhood, then his early adulthood, which included self-exile to Midian. After 40 years, an angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush and told him he would be going to Egypt to deliver the Israelites.

Last week’s post discussed the next part of the apologetic: the Israelites’ rejection of Moses and their turning to idolatry, which was part of their way of life for generations to come. God had left them to their own devices.

What Stephen did throughout his entire apologetic — case for, defence of religious doctrine — was to demonstrate that God’s chosen people had rejected those He sent to them. Similarly, they had rejected Jesus. Stephen exhorted them to consider those rejections very carefully.

In this final part, Stephen had to defend himself against charges that he blasphemed the temple. Therefore, he gave a true, scriptural account of its history, beginning with the tent in the wilderness, crafted according to God’s instructions to Moses (verse 44).

Exodus 25 documents those instructions fully. Although it was portable, God commanded parts of it to be made out of gold, silver, bronze and semi-precious stones.

There was the Ark of the Covenant:

16 And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you.

On top of the Ark was the mercy seat of pure gold:

21 And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. 22 There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.

God also commanded that a Table for Bread be made out of acacia wood and gold:

29 And you shall make its plates and dishes for incense, and its flagons and bowls with which to pour drink offerings; you shall make them of pure gold. 30 And you shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before me regularly.

Finally, there was the elaborate Golden Lampstand.

God was preparing the people of Israel — His chosen — for Christ. The Table for Bread had the holy bread of the Presence, a precursor to the Christian Holy Communion.

The Golden Lampstand was to be tended such that its light never went out, suggesting the light of Christ: the Light of the World.

Recall that in Revelation 1, Christ tells St John of the seven lampstands: the seven churches.

GotQuestions.org has a good article on the lampstand in the Bible, excerpted below (emphases mine):

In the tabernacle, the lampstand was to be placed in the first section, called the Holy Place (Hebrews 9:2). The lamp was to be tended by Aaron and his sons so that its light never went out. The lampstand was to give forth light day and night (Exodus 27:20–21). The lampstand’s being the only source of light points directly to Christ as being the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5). Jesus is the “true light that gives light to everyone” (John 1:9) and the only way anyone can come to the Father (John 14:6).

Jesus also calls His church the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), not of their own doing but because Christ is abiding in the church (John 1:4–5). A Christian who is shining with the light of Christ will live a godly life (1 Peter 2:9). Scripture is overflowing with references that compare and contrast light and darkness, believer and unbeliever, right up through the book of Revelation. In Revelation 1:20 Christ says the “seven lampstands are the seven churches.” The churches of Christ are to walk in the light of God (1 John 1:7) and spread the light of the gospel so that all people will glorify God (Matthew 5:16).

There is other symbolism in the lampstand: it was made of one piece, as Christ is one with His church (Colossians 1:8); the six branches (6 being the number of man) plus the main shaft equals seven lights (7 being the number of completion)—man is only complete in Christ (John 15:5).

Returning to Stephen, he said that when Joshua led the Israelites, God had cleared the Promised Land — Canaan — of Gentiles so that it could be theirs. The tent of witness continued (verse 45).

What follows are verses of interest about the Promised Land.

Joshua 3:10:

10 And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites.

Joshua 23:9:

9 For the Lord has driven out before you great and strong nations. And as for you, no man has been able to stand before you to this day.

2 Chronicles 20:7:

Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?

Acts 13:19:

19 And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance.

Returning to Stephen’s apologetic and the tent of witness, he said that the people continued to use it for worship until the time of King David, who found favour with God and wanted to build a dwelling place for Him among His chosen (verse 46).

Stephen wisely omitted mentioning David’s sins, of which he had later repented. One of these, which relates directly to the history between the tent of witness and the first temple is documented in 1 Chronicles 21, where David disobeyed God and took a census of Israel. God then used David’s seer Gad and an angel to bring the king to repentence by building an altar to Him:

1 Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.

But God was displeased with this thing, and he struck Israel. And David said to God, “I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have acted very foolishly.” And the Lord spoke to Gad, David’s seer, saying, 10 “Go and say to David, ‘Thus says the Lord, Three things I offer you; choose one of them, that I may do it to you.’” 11 So Gad came to David and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Choose what you will: 12 either three years of famine, or three months of devastation by your foes while the sword of your enemies overtakes you, or else three days of the sword of the Lord, pestilence on the land, with the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.’ Now decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.” 13 Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is very great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”

14 So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel, and 70,000 men of Israel fell. 15 And God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but as he was about to destroy it, the Lord saw, and he relented from the calamity. And he said to the angel who was working destruction, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the Lord was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.

18 Now the angel of the Lord had commanded Gad to say to David that David should go up and raise an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.

25 So David paid Ornan 600 shekels[a] of gold by weight for the site. 26 And David built there an altar to the Lord and presented burnt offerings and peace offerings and called on the Lord, and the Lord[b] answered him with fire from heaven upon the altar of burnt offering. 27 Then the Lord commanded the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath.

Returning to Stephen and his apologetic, he said that it was King Solomon, David’s son, who built the first temple (verse 47). That is documented in four places in the Old Testament, one of them being 2 Chronicles 3:1:

1 Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord[a] had appeared to David his father, at the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.

Stephen then gave his audience a warning about the temple: that God does not dwell in manmade houses (verse 48). To support his argument, he cited Isaiah 66:1-2 (verses 49-50). God’s throne is in heaven. The earth is his footstool. Anything man can build to honour God comes from things God Himself created.

John MacArthur analyses this. Ironically, the words in verse 48 came from Solomon himself:

Solomon said, when he built the house for God, “It’s not going to hold Him.” And Stephen’s saying, “I’m not blaspheming the Temple, friends. I’m saying God is bigger than the box you’ve got Him in, and I’m only saying what Solomon said. So don’t accuse me of blaspheming your temple. Solomon would be accused of it, too. Look what he said.”

Stephen’s citing Isaiah 66:1-2 offered further support for Solomon’s words and the fact that whatever we build in homage to God is, really, nothing much in His eyes.

Matthew Henry’s commentary points out that what matters is making God’s world a place that honours Him in all things, beginning with us and the state of our souls:

And as the world is thus God’s temple, wherein he is manifested, so it is God’s temple in which he will be worshipped. As the earth is full of his glory, and is therefore his temple (Isaiah 6:3), so the earth is, or shall be, full of his praise (Habakkuk 3:3), and all the ends of the earth shall fear him (Psalms 67:7), and upon this account it is his temple.

Acts 7:51-60 are in the three-year Lectionary for St Stephen’s feast day, December 26. However, they bear discussion here to give you the end of the trial and what happened next.

Stephen ramped up his indictment of the temple leaders, accusing them and their people historically of persecuting anyone God sent to them up through and including Christ. He charged them with a continuous, stubborn, historical rejection of the Holy Spirit. Just as bad, he accused them of not keeping the law:

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.”

That was the final straw:

54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.

Death by stoning was on its way. Stephen became the Church’s first martyr.

Stephen had held a figurative mirror up to them, making them look at their hypocrisy and spiritual blindness. They could not respond in any way other than with murderous anger. Even then, they never repented.

MacArthur offers this insight regarding Jesus’s words coming to fruition:

Jesus, speaking to Israel, Luke 13:28, “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth when ye shall see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves thrown out.”

See, the Jews had waited all along for the kingdom. They had dreamed of the kingdom. The King came, offered them the kingdom, and what did they do to the King? They killed the King. They forfeited the kingdom. Jesus says, “You’re going to spend forever grinding your teeth at God when you see you didn’t get into the kingdom.”

And in Matthew we have it again, in chapter 8 and verse 12. Listen to these words. They’re fearful words. “But the sons of the kingdom,” you know who that is? That’s Israel, the rightful heirs to the kingdom. “Shall be cast into outer darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Then you go on in Matthew to chapter 13, and you have it all over again. Whenever you hear something once in the Bible, it’s absolutely important. Whenever you hear it repeated over and over again, it is extremely important. Matthew, chapter 13, and verse … 41, “The Son of Man shall send forth His angels and they shall gather out of His kingdom all those that offend and them who do iniquity and cast them into the furnace of fire. There shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” You know, hell’s going to be full of mad people, angry people. Verse 50, “and shall cast them into the furnace of fire. There shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

Chapter 22 of Matthew, verse 13, Jesus isn’t finished. He says, “Then said the king to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, cast him into outer darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'” You find it again in chapter 24 of Matthew as He’s still talking about the kingdom. Verse 51, “shall cut him asunder, appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

God was merciful to Stephen before he died. Note how St Luke describes him and the moment before the Jewish leaders took him out of Jerusalem to be stoned to death:

55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

Stephen was brimming with faith — and forgiveness — until the horrific end. What a role model for Christians:

59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

In closing, it’s worth pointing out verse 58:

58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.

MacArthur does not mention Saul in his sermon. However, Matthew Henry states that this is the Saul who would convert and become Paul, the last Apostle, who actually referred to Stephen in his ministry:

Now, the stoning of a man being a laborious piece of work, the witnesses took off their upper garments, that they might not hang in their way, and they laid them down at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul, now a pleased spectator of this tragedy. It is the first time we find mention of his name; we shall know it and love it better when we find it changed to Paul, and him changed from a persecutor into a preacher. This little instance of his agency in Stephen’s death he afterwards reflected upon with regret (Acts 22:20): I kept the raiment of those that slew him.

Saul and Stephen, incidentally, are the subjects of next week’s verses.

Next time — Acts 8:1-3

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